Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Disney Dilemma

My daughter recently came up and asked if we could plan a vacation to Disneyland this year. My heart sank. I would love to take the family to Disneyland. Or better yet to Disneyworld. But we probably can’t swing it financially this year.

It costs a lot of money to take a family of seven to a Disney (or Disney-like resort). We are incurring a number of new expenses this year to provide opportunities for our older kids. Our investments still haven’t fully rebounded from the market downturn, so we have fewer resources to draw on.

We’ve done the Disney theme park thing a few times, and we’ve enjoyed each trip. My wife and I did Disneyworld before we had any kids. Nearly a decade later we did Disneyworld with four kids after I finished graduate school. It was a deal we cut with them for putting up with me being so involved with school. We’ve done Disneyland a few times, but my daughter was so young the last time we went that she doesn’t remember it.

I went to Disneyland with my family twice when I was a kid; once when I was nine and once when I was 12. One of the hot features back in those days was the Enchanted Tiki Room. Friends had raved about it. But the feature was closed for renovation or mechanical problems both times I was there.

I didn’t get to see the Tiki Room until I was an adult. By then, the technology that had made it spectacular was pretty retro. The show lasted way too long. And frankly, it was pretty lame. What was cool in the 60s was much less cool years later.  Some audience members simply walked out during the show.

The last time we went to Disneyworld, we spent very little time in the Magic Kingdom. We spent most of our time at Epcot, but we also enjoyed the Animal Kingdom and the Hollywood Studios. Although we quite liked the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios, I was pretty disappointed in the Backlot Tour. It literally looked like nothing whatsoever had been done to update or even maintain it since we had been there years earlier. Peeling paint, and all that. I hope they’ve fixed it up since then. I heard that poor theme park maintenance was Michael Eisner’s doing. He got the boot half a decade ago.

The last time we went to Disneyland, one son had me ride the Indiana Jones Adventure with him multiple times. Another son had the whole family ride Pirates of the Caribbean over and over again. That was before it was renovated to include features from the movie series.

Disney isn’t the only enterprise out there with theme parks in the Anaheim and Orlando areas. The last time we went to Orlando, we spent a day at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure. It was a blast, but there are a couple of things you should know. One is that the music and sound effects are so loud in some parts of the park that you can barely communicate with the person next to you. Another is that you need to be prepared to get wet — very wet. There are so many features that are designed to get you wet that one reviewer quipped that you will get as wet as if you had participated in a full-immersion baptism. So wear swimwear (or something like it), and prepare some way to keep your electronics and valuables dry.

The last time we went to Disneyland, we took a trip to Legoland one day, and to Sea World another day. We had to do Legoland since two of my sons are true Lego maniacs. It was fun, but the park is really aimed at the under-12 crowd. It is not maintained or run at the same level you expect from a Disney park. Maintenance and management reminds me more of the Lagoon amusement park in Farmington, Utah.

It was quite rainy the day we went to Sea World. The shows were fun but were often wet even without sitting in the “splash zone.” One of our favorite features was the Journey to Atlantis ride. Since most park visitors had been driven away by the rain, there were no lines. So we rode the thing over and over again. Another fun attraction was the “4-D Theater.” The shows change from time to time. Just be aware that if you go to one of these shows, you will get wet.

When you go to a theme park with young kids, there is always the worry of getting separated. On our last trip to Disneyland, another family showed us their secret. One of the kids turned up his arm to reveal, “Mom’s cell #” followed by a phone number, written in bold characters with permanent marker from his elbow to his wrist.

We have found our visits to theme parks to be important family bonding experiences. Each time we have gone with the realization that everything you buy in a theme park — food, souvenirs, necessities — is horrendously expensive. We have tried to budget enough in advance that we could enjoy the trip without having to worry about every penny spent. When you add up these items with park tickets, transportation, lodging, and other meals, you run into a chunk of money. It’s just not something that we can afford to do very often.

On most of our theme park trips in the past we have avoided the summer season. While the parks have more features running during the summer, the crowds are unbearable. But then you end up taking kids out of school. We have generally worked around school holidays to minimize this impact. As our kids advance academically it becomes increasingly difficult to take them out of school for even a few days.

But we are also looking at the ages of our kids. The oldest two would likely find a theme park trip pretty lame at their current stages of life. But they would probably come with us anyway. The three younger kids are right in the prime range for such a trip. The longer we wait, the less suitable a theme park trip would be.

Unlike some families and institutions, however, our family is not prone to spend money we don’t have — especially for entertainment. Ah, dilemmas. You can’t have everything you want.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What I Did When My Wireless Network Stopped Working

I just had a disconcerting experience with my home network.  The wireless network suddenly stopped working. I checked the router's external displays, and everything looked fine.  But my password didn't work when I tried to login to the router.  It finally dawned on me to try the original default password.  I got in and discovered that everything had been reset to factory settings.

For over two years I have had a Linksys WRT610N dual band router.  It has been remarkably stable.  It is fast and reliable.  However, the internal antennae aren't that great.

The 5.0 GHz connection works great on my laptop, which is usually in the same room as the router.  It functions OK in other rooms on the same floor, but I live in a multi-level house, and the connection becomes somewhat flaky if I take the laptop to other levels of the home.

The 2.4 GHz connection, on the other hand, seems to have a more limited range.  But I have computers half a level down and a full level down from the router.  None of these has an adapter that will connect to the 5.0 GHz band, so they rely on the 2.4 GHz band.  The main interference with this band has been our microwave oven.  But standard human activity in the home has caused problems as well.  Even with a high gain antenna, the adapter on the basement computer was pretty shoddy.

Last year I had had enough of these problems.  I bought a Hawking 300-N Range Extender, which is a wireless network repeater that works on the N protocol 2.4 GHz band.  If it had been available at the time, I would have gotten the Wireless-N Dual Radio Smart Repeater, since it would work with both bands.  But since I don't currently have a computer distant from the router that can use the 5.0 band, the 300-N works just fine.

The 300-N is a very good repeater.  It is very stable.  The 2.4 GHz band is still subject to interruption from the microwave oven, but the repeater regains the connection almost immediately.  It has been very stable.  But if you get one, DO NOT use the automatic installation.  Follow the instructions for manual configuration instead.

I learned by sad experience that the automatic configuration grabbed an IP address for the device without checking whether the address was available.  This caused a conflict that crashed my whole network.  It took me a couple of days to figure out what was going on and to remedy the problem.  Fortunately, resetting the device and following the manual installation instructions worked like a charm.

A good thing to do with any wireless device following configuration is to go to the administration page of the device's configuration utility and backup your settings.  A file will be created, and it is important for you to remember where this file is stored.  Then if you have to reset the device — or if it resets itself — you can get back in business quickly by going to the admin screen of the device and restoring the configuration from the backup file.

I was able to get my router up and running again, but the repeater did not automatically reconnect.  Moreover, I couldn't get the repeater's configuration utility to come up using a web browser.  I had to bring the repeater into the office and connect it to the router with a cable before I could get to the repeater's configuration utility.  I re-applied the network settings, and then the thing worked fine.  I was able to put it back where I had it.

Still, the whole episode was kind of scary.  There was no reason for the router to reset.  My previous router started doing that kind of thing intermittently until it finally completely died.  I suspect that once a router starts resetting itself, it's only a matter of time before it will need to be replaced.  Fortunately, if that happens there are now better devices on the market that cost less than my current router did when I bought it.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Klondike Derby Lasts Nearly Until Summer

Last January I presided over our Scout district’s Klondike Derby — an overnight outdoor winter camping experience, complete with winter scoutcraft games. All Boy Scout units in the district are invited to participate. We had 39 of 68 units attend. Of the 450 people in attendance, about 70% were youth and the rest were adult leaders.

I have a love-hate relationship with Klondike Derby. Let me explain.

I attended my first district Klondike overnighter 31 years ago. I had been on winter campouts prior to that, but just with my own unit, not with a whole district. The event was held at a county campground, the same location where we held this year’s affair. But the location was far more rustic back then. Since that time, I have attended many winter camps, often camping in snow shelters.

While some adventurists go winter camping for enjoyment, that is hardly my purpose. If that were my sole concern, I would never go winter camping again. Ever. As lame as it sounds, I do this for the kids.

Comedian Jim Gaffigan quips that his parents never took him camping as a kid because they loved him. You’d think that would apply to winter camping to the 10th power. But I take youth camping:
  • To help them learn the basics of winter survival.
  • To help them find out that they can do (and even enjoy doing) something they thought was impossible for them.
  • To provide an adventure.
But it takes a lot of work. It takes an awful lot of work to go winter camping. Every time I go, I lament to my wife that it takes as much work to go on one winter overnighter as it does to go to a week of summer camp.

Everything takes much longer when participating in cold weather camping, but you generally have quite a bit less daylight. Moving gear, setting up a shelter, building a fire, preparing a meal, changing clothing, or anything else you usually do when camping takes much longer when you’re winter camping. A good rule of thumb to use when planning a winter camp is that everything you do will take three times as long; even longer if it’s windy or precipitating. Cleanup is a chore as well, because you’ve got to dry everything out before you put it away.

To some that have never been winter camping, it seems counterintuitive to think that a snow cave can provide good shelter from the elements. But a foot of solid snow can provide enough insulation to keep an enclosure much warmer than the outside, especially when temperatures plummet at night.

Despite the wonders of snow caves, I have never liked them. Six years ago I learned to hate them when I had one cave in on me during construction. Since then I have avoided spending much time inside any snow cave, although, I have helped with construction. I prefer to sleep in a snow trench. Or if there’s no wind, I like to set up right on the top of the snow. That works better if you can find a spot that has some kind of natural wind break. But I have found that many Scouts crave the adventure of camping in a snow cave.

Getting back to this year’s Klondike overnighter, some lament the lack of participation by the 29 units that didn’t come to the event, but I’m not unhappy with the turnout. Finding a venue that can handle that many winter campers, most of them camping in show shelters, is problematic. The venue must:
  • Be big enough to accommodate the group.
  • Be accessible by vehicle.
  • Have adequate parking.
  • Have decent annual snowfall.
  • Be relatively close to the homes of most campers.
  • Not be too expensive.
  • Have low avalanche danger.
  • Be able to be reserved months in advance.
Despite the extensive outdoor recreation possibilities in my area, there aren’t many venues that meet all of these criteria. The venue we use has its problems as well. Almost every year when these problems are noted, I tell those complaining to find me even one other place that would work. They always end up perplexed enough to conclude that we picked the right place.

Another possibility — and one that would be more in line with Leave No Trace principles — would be to split up the event. Instead of inviting all of the district’s units to the same event, several smaller events could be planned throughout the winter. Each event could be for two or three zones so that 15 or fewer units would be in attendance at any of them. Less parking would be needed and impact on natural resources would be more dispersed.

The problem with multiple small events is the coordination effort. A volunteer staff would need to be recruited for each event. Those that work with volunteer organizations know that this can prove difficult. Perhaps an even greater challenge is the cultural shift. One of the reasons that some attend these events is for the camaraderie of being around hundreds of others that are pursuing similar goals. (Of course, there are those that stay away because they dislike big camping events.) Fewer units can also mean less keen competition. Still, the dispersed Klondike is something that I will encourage district leadership to consider.

Last Saturday also brought home another thing I dislike about Klondike Derby. Saturday was the BSA’s national day of service. My son’s unit went back up to the site where we held the Klondike overnighter to do some cleanup. There was still too much snow to clean some parts of the venue, but other parts were relatively clear of snow.

While most units strictly obeyed the rules on having fires only in raised fire pits and hauled out their ashes, a few dunderheads built fires right on the ground and left their ashes. Although vegetation was scarred, none of these fools succeeded in starting wildfires. Scouts — and especially Scouting leaders — should know better. It steams me when Scouts mistreat camping resources. We cleaned up their messes and hauled away the ashes.

The worst offenders were other users of the area, which is groomed during the winter season for cross country skiing. These fires were never near the remains of snow shelters. They were always adjacent to the ski trail and were almost always littered with beer bottles. I suppose it may be too much to ask of the general public to follow the Outdoor Code.

We still have one more major project next weekend to do some rehabilitation and summer season prep work at the campground where we held Klondike Derby. And then we put the event to bed until next fall when we start getting everything ready for next winter’s event.

Although I have been winter camping for years, I still have a number of years left to go winter camping with my kids before I can hang up my snow gear. I delight in the adventure this provides. But I hate doing it.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Coolhunters

A number of years ago there was a strange phenomenon at the local high school. Many high schoolers just had to have this certain brand of designer jeans. Adjusted for inflation, a pair of these pants cost $128 in present day dollars.

I don’t know about you, but that’s an awful steep price to pair for a pair of everyday breeches. These pricey pants were of no higher quality than much cheaper run-of-the-mill jeans. The “unique styling” really wasn’t very unique at all. But stores that sold these things couldn’t keep them on the shelves. Telephone chains spread the news whenever it was leaked that a store had gotten a new shipment. People would wait in line and stores sometimes sold an entire shipment in minutes.  Ka-ching!

Within a few months, other manufacturers put out specialty jeans, seeking to capture a piece of the hot market. Some even had styles that looked nearly identical to the preferred brand. But snobbish teens with a heightened sense of coolness could easily detect those wearing pants with an inferior label.

I assumed that the designer jeans fad would fade away by the next school year, but it didn’t. The French clothing designer brought out a greater variety of styles and had ramped up production so that stores usually had adequate supplies.

A coworker at that time reported that she gave her high schoolers a clothing allowance. One daughter spent nearly her entire allotment on a single pair of French designer jeans and a pair of “must have” designer tennis shoes (that she didn’t dare wear when it was wet or snowy). The other daughter, deciding that status was less important than variety, bought enough sensibly priced clothes to last the season and put the leftover funds in her bank account.

By the next summer, the French designer jeans fad went bust in our area. Stores were slashing their prices by late spring and the once expensive jeans soon found their way to bargain racks.

After availability increased, pent up demand kept prices high for a few months. But once that demand was met, retailers had a hard time moving the pricey products. Gradually they eased prices to free up space for better selling products. Decreasing prices meant that more people could afford the pants.

As the French jeans proliferated among the high school students, the utterly cool pants suddenly lost their coolness. No longer able to distinguish themselves by wearing expensive designer jeans, the status conscious crowd soon shifted to a different fad.

We like to think that we outgrow this kind of childish one-upmanship as we mature. But I’m not sure that we do. It seems, rather, that we simply shift to more elaborate ways to demonstrate our supposed superiority over others. A certain segment of our adult population is forever on a coolhunt for the next elite status symbol. Most of the rest of us pursue the coolhunt at least in a minor way.

Of course, we don’t ever see ourselves as being into superficial fashion the way some others obviously are. Rather, we seek to demonstrate our superiority in the stuff we own and in our various pursuits; our hobbies, the things we eat or drink. Sometimes we wear the fa├žade of piety either in spiritual or secular religious pursuits.

Latter-Day Saints along the Wasatch Front like to be seen in the finest Mormon Assault Vehicle. Some secular religionists show their devoutness to the god of social consciousness by driving a politically correct hybrid. Aging baby boomers dress like bad boys and gals tearing up the roads on expensive Harleys.

Our continual quest for higher status doesn’t stop with what we drive. We engage in myriad fads, not unlike the high schoolers in my story. One entire line of high end media devices is almost wholly aimed at those that willingly pay more to have products that are perceived to be more elite than the devices used by the masses. Almost from its inception, this company has sought to carve out a niche for smug status hunters. I’ll let you guess which firm that is.

Sometimes we seek to demonstrate superiority in our ability to get deals on stuff, in the amount of food storage we have, in our educational credentials, in the music we enjoy, in the causes we support, etc.

The main goal of our coolhunting is to achieve a sense of being exclusive — of being superior to others. The most elite coolhunters are constantly changing their target because the moment anything that is exclusive reduces in cost to the point that it achieves more general usage, it is no longer exclusive. Thus, the never ending pursuit of the next exclusive thing.

The human tendency to seek for superiority often gets a bad rap. It is frequently viewed as a moral negative. And sometimes it definitely is. But it is also a very important and essential piece of human nature. Despite constant pleas to compete only with ourselves, we simply cannot help competing with others. It is this competition that defines who we are — that helps us discover who we are.

It is this very competition that is responsible for almost all advances in quality of life. But like all good tools, it is a double-edged sword that can be used for good or evil, for mutual advancement or for stupidity. But even in using this tool for what we believe to be good, it is wise to avoid the smugness that so easily accompanies any sense of superiority.

I may know this, but I’m a long way from that ideal.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A (Wonderfully) Fateful Meeting

The first thing I noticed about my wife upon our initial meeting was her smile. When I first saw her, she was seated in the passenger seat of my friend’s car. Her blue-jeaned legs were sticking out of the open door. Her feet were on the ground. She was bent over tying her hiking boots so that I couldn’t see her face.

As I neared the car, she looked up and flashed a dazzling smile at me, gazing at me in a way that said that she already cared about me. My heart picked up a few beats as I felt something inside that told me that she was special.

My wife’s memory of our first meeting is different. She recounts how we had met five years earlier at the local LDS institute of religion. Upon later being reminded of that event, it took quite a bit of work for me to fully retrieve the memory. Following a Friday evening dance at the institute, I was playing a currently popular song on the piano when two girls approached.

Having grown up with only brothers, I didn’t know that girls never do anything by themselves if they can get another girl to go with them. Heck, they even go to the restroom together. One of the young ladies standing near me asked where I had served my LDS mission. Upon answering, she asked if I knew another missionary serving there. I did. In fact, we had worked on Boy Scout camp staff together.

A conversation ensued. Being kind of shy around girls and having only brothers, I was oblivious to the fact that the girl was trying to come on to me. I wanted to ask for her phone number, but I felt uncomfortable asking only one of the girls for contact information, and asking both seemed ridiculous. My limited understanding of female social customs prevented me from realizing that the other girl was merely providing moral support.

As the next five years passed, my wife served a mission for the LDS Church and completed more schooling. I did school and advanced in my career. On several occasions friends ask me if I knew this girl. I didn’t (or at least I thought I didn’t). Several remarked that they needed to get the two of us together because it seemed like we would hit it off well. But no arrangements were ever made.

Then one day I was called by one of my former Boy Scouts. He asked if I would double-date with him on an excursion to the mountains to do some Dutch oven cooking. I said that I’d be more than happy to oblige, but that I didn’t have any prospect for getting a date on short notice. No problem, he explained, because he had already arranged a date for me. I had been on plenty of blind dates, so I didn’t mind, especially since I would be helping a friend.

I was unprepared for how beautiful my blind date ended up being. She was friendly and outgoing, quite uninhibited about the situation. She put me at ease. Then when my friend and I started building the campfire, she jumped right in without being asked. Moreover, she knew what she was doing. I was very impressed. About 4½ months later, my former Boy Scout acted as my best man when my wife and I wed.

A number of years have passed since that day, but my wife’s beautiful smile still makes my heart beat a little faster. We’ve had our challenges. Facing them together hasn’t always been comfortable, but it has strengthened our bonds of love.

I thought I loved my wife the day we knelt over the altar and were joined in matrimony. And I did. But today there is a depth and a breadth to our love that I couldn’t have even fathomed back then. I hope that years from now I will be able to look back on this day and honestly say the same thing.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Our List of Charter School Pros and Cons

In my last post I began discussing our two-year experience with our children’s charter school. In this post I will list some of what we view as the pros and cons we have observed during this experience.

What we like:
  • Dedicated and innovative teachers. The expeditionary learning model encourages (requires) innovation. Perhaps that’s why none of the teachers are union members.
  • Our kids like the charter school.
  • Minimal administration and red tape.
  • High percentage of motivated parents.
  • Mixed grades and mentoring.
  • Collaboration and teamwork are integral.
  • Hands-on learning, including frequent forays outside of the classroom.
  • Comprehensive learning modules (“expeditions”) where learning from all subjects is actually applied. (This doesn’t work well for some students. More below.)
  • Frequent leadership opportunities for most students.
  • Personal ownership of expeditions as demonstrated at public events. (More below.)
  • Opportunities for motivated parents to actually be involved.
  • Quality music band program.
  • No extracurricular sports programs.
Expeditions require a high degree of student responsibility and teamwork. This works quite well for the majority of the students, but some students just don’t mesh well with this model. They end up being outcasts. Actually, some of them prefer it that way. But they miss out on a lot of valuable learning. My wife believes that many of these student would actually fare worse in the traditional system.

Older students and students with more knowledge on a given topic are tasked with mentoring and tutoring other students. This seems to work very well both for the tutors and the learners. You learn much when you have to teach someone else. And there’s nothing like feeling needed and performing a truly worthwhile service.

Once each week, all crews in a pod get together for a short student-led program where a particular crew reviews its progress on its current expedition. Every few weeks the entire student body gathers for a similar program on a school level. We recently attended one of these events where our first grader was one of the MCs. It was very impressive to see how these young kids handled the program.

I am frequently amazed at the depth of knowledge our children exhibit about their expeditionary subjects. Our youngest knows more about arthropods than does the average high school biology student. Our fourth grader can still give details about the Transcontinental Railroad (from last fall’s expedition) that I never learned about before.

Some would say that the lack of extracurricular sports programs is a drawback, but we think it’s a plus. Instead of blowing funds on a handful of jocks, the school is able to use those resources to provide more opportunities for field learning for all students. For example, a few months ago I accompanied our junior high schooler on a SCUBA diving activity. Besides, there are plenty of non-school athletic programs available for those that wish to enroll their kids in sports programs without eating up educational funds.

Drawbacks:

  • Few schoolmates are neighbors. This complicates friendships. (More below.)
  • Inadequate performance feedback mechanisms. We too often find out about problems only after it’s too late in the term to do anything about it.
  • Commuting.
  • No foreign languages are offered at our school.
  • The kids complain about short lunch breaks.
Let’s face it; the social aspect of school is a big part of life. When our kids attended the elementary school a few blocks away, all of their classmates lived fairly close. Now they have friends that live as much as 20 miles away. Moreover, they don’t share school experiences with the kids in the neighborhood, so they have less in common with neighbors.

The local junior high and high school have individual student web portals where parents can see how a student is performing in any given subject. Of course, not all teachers keep these up to date, but enough of them do so to make it a valuable tool. Our charter school doesn’t have anything like that.

Like most bright junior high aged boys, our son sometimes acts like he’s brain dead. Or he fails to turn in assignments. Or he goofs off in class and doesn’t get his work done. Unfortunately, we usually only find out about this at the end of the term when it’s too late to effect any grade improvement. This is perhaps our biggest complaint. We understand that systems like those used by the school district are expensive to obtain and maintain and that the school has limited funds. But the lack of timely feedback is a problem.

With 10 grades in the school, it is a challenge to efficiently move all of the students through the lunch process. Our kids complain that lunch breaks are too short. Sometimes they feel like they don’t get enough time to complete their meals. (This may be perception. The kids might just be messing around. We haven’t actually spent time hanging out at lunch. Perhaps we should.)

Overall, we have to say that we think the charter school is proving to be a better educational experience for our children than our traditional public schools. And that is saying something, because our local public schools actually rank pretty well. Still, we are considering enrolling our junior high schooler in the local junior high so that we can do a better job of staying on top of his performance.

We have a very positive view of expeditionary learning. Even for those that have difficulty with this model, it may be better for most of them than traditional pedagogical methods. I hope that more charter schools come into being. Different schools with different approaches would allow for more educational experimentation and opportunities to fit students into models that most suit them.

How the Charter School is Working Out for Us

We started sending our three youngest children to a charter school at the beginning of the 2008-09 school year. We are now less than two months away from the end of our kids’ second school year with the charter school. I figured that it would be good to analyze how it has worked out for us.

Our kids’ charter school didn’t exist at the time that we applied. A charter had been granted by the state (and believe me, that requires a lot of work and dedication), but no school facility had yet been built. Our involvement began when my wife saw a lawn sign about the school and visited the website shown on the sign. Eventually we attended parent information meetings and we decided to apply.

One of the early drawbacks was that the construction project fell through when the contractor failed to obtain financing. School officials scrambled and arranged to lease a vacant school in the Ogden School District for the 08-09 school year. The building didn’t really meet the needs of the charter school, but they made it work.

The new building was constructed in the meantime and was ready for the 09-10 school year. It’s a decent facility that lends itself well to the school’s methodology. But parking is inadequate for larger evening events to which families are invited. The facility is about seven miles from our home. The drive to or from the school takes 10-15 minutes depending on conditions.

When I say “school officials,” I mean the principal and the all volunteer board made up of parents of students. The school also has a secretary and a part-time vice principle. That’s the extent of school administration. Some administrative tasks are handled by volunteers.

Our children’s school uses the expeditionary learning model. There is a greater focus on hands-on learning, getting out of the classroom, and using all skills learned in a comprehensive way. So the basic teaching style is somewhat different than the traditional public school model. Each teacher must certify in expeditionary learning.

Busy classrooms and field trips are expected in expeditionary learning. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t quiet times. But students often work in teams and participate in collaborative activities. Schoolwork is peer reviewed and improved before being handed in.

The school is divided into pods: K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9th (that sometimes joins with the 6-8 pod). Each pod has a number “crews” consisting of a teacher and 25 student crew members. Except for Kindergarten and 9th grade, grades are mixed in each crew. Older students mentor younger students.

The school has a uniform policy that is more like a dress code. Students don’t have to wear official school clothing. The clothes can be obtained from any source, as long as styles and colors are right. Shirts may be one of three solid colors. Pants and skirts may be one of two solid colors. Certain styles are prescribed, including collar size, sleeve length, pant/skirt length, and waist style (no low riders).

Nobody gets uptight about the uniform policy. It provides for plenty of flexibility, but the policy is strong enough to keep students looking modest.

That provides some of the background about the charter school. In the next post I will list pros and cons. Some of the latter are nontrivial. But for us, the pros presently outweigh the cons.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

That Old Time Rock and Roll

One day while riding to college with my oldest brother, we discussed some aspects of the music we were listening to on his car radio. I laughed derisively when he suggested that once I hit age 30 I would never listen to rock and roll again.

Well, my brother was at least partially wrong. I have continued to listen to rock and roll in the years since I turned 30. But my brother was also partially right. My consumption of rock and roll (and of all pop) music dropped off precipitously somewhere along the road of life.

I have recently been finding clips on the Internet of artists I used to appreciate. I have also started looking into what has become of some of these people. It has come to my attention that during my teen and early adult years I liked a category of music I never even knew existed. At least, I never realized there was such a classification as American progressive rock. I liked music from various other categories as well.

My first thought on finding more recent clips of some artists I used to listen to was, “Geez, these guys are old.” Some of them look like they’ve seen a lot of years of hard living. Indeed, the profiles available for these artists often tell of difficult challenges they have faced, frequently the result of their own self destructive choices. A few, on the other hand, seem to have lived full and happy lives.

Video clip comment streams are often quite polluted, so I usually pay them no heed. But sometimes useful information is offered. I clicked on a link to a 1996 performance by a band I once enjoyed. The lead singer was terrible; certainly a far cry from his earlier days. But a comment explained that the concert had taken place at a low point in the singer’s life. He didn’t start to get cleaned up from his addictions until the following year. The singer was indeed much improved in 1999 and 2002 performances.

A few of the artists from back in the day have passed away. But it is surprising to me how many are still active in the music industry. Some have been involved in a broad range of activities, from writing ad jingles and video game tunes to performing with symphony orchestras and producing works for other artists.

Another thing that I have realized is how young a lot of these artists were when they hit the big time. I never thought about it back then, but most of these people are only about 10-15 years older than me.

What must it be like to hit the spectacular apex of your career by the time you’re 30? Maybe a life of huge arena tours isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Maybe playing studio backups for obscure bands and TV shows isn’t such a bad life. Less fame, more stability.

The kids of my day (me included) listened to music that drove their parents nuts. Today’s kids do the same. One of my teenagers is a fan of metalcore music. My brainiac son (my wife says he’s got the brain of an engineer and the heart of a poet) is drawn to the genre’s highly technical riffs and breakdowns. He has written metalcore songs for his own band. (To be fair, he has also written and performed classical piano pieces.)

Even though some of the metalcore lyrics my son likes have distinctively Christian messages (if they could be understood), I doubt I will ever arrive at a point in life where I will enjoy such music. I find it harsh and agitating. Even beautiful lyrics can be unpleasant when shouted in a death growl. When my son alerted me to the actual words being screamed in one Christian oriented song, I explained that I find it inappropriate to discuss divine matters in such a tone of voice.

My son’s fascination with metalcore music bothers my wife. I kind of take it in stride, figuring that he will work through this phase at his own pace. Trying to prevent him from accessing this style of music wouldn’t be any more successful than were my parents’ attempts to turn me from the music I listened to during my teen years.

I can’t help but wonder, however, what kind of music my grandchildren will listen to that will drive their father nuts. I hope to have a good laugh at that point in time.

In my mind’s eye I can see my currently teenage son as a middle aged father sitting in front of whatever media device they have at that time, searching out clips of artists he liked when he was a teenager. I see his kids standing in the background rolling their eyes at their father’s odd musical choices as the generational cycle repeats itself.