Mud and Sand

stafford“It was all the clods at once become
Precious…”
-William Stafford

My kids don’t know about dirt clods.

The realization hit me this weekend as I read Learning to Live in the World, a posthumous collection from the Oregonian poet William Stafford. So many of Stafford’s poems brought me back to the untamed acre at the edge of the urban growth boundary where I grew up.

Mine was a childhood of mud and tansy ragwort, of blackberries and tree sap. I remember a lot of digging as a boy, often with my hands, an upbringing that would appear feral to my own kids.

Careful not to sentimentalize, or at least not overly much, I made myself put the volume of Stafford down long enough to consider the opportunities my kids have that I didn’t.

My kids go to a great school, where they can learn coding, recreate “Gold Rush Days,” and go on field trips to museums. When I was in elementary school, student enrichment meant going to the music room once a week to sing “The Streets of Laredo.” We live ten minutes from the beach, and have weather that allows them to put on swimsuits almost all year round. Growing up in Oregon meant that when my folks said we were going to “the coast” I sensibly grabbed a sweater.

My kids know sand, but they don’t know dirt clods.

They don’t understand the unfettered joy of mud.

“The coast” is something they see in Irish movies, and rain is an anticipated event, not the moist reality of October through April.

…and maybe that’s overwhelming okay.

They are not me. Their lives are their own. Their childhood memories, so different from mine, are theirs, as mine are different from my mother’s Minnesotan youth or my dad’s childhood in Los Angeles.

It’s a reality that I’m wise to understand as a high school principal; these amazing students at my school are constructing their own high school experiences, independent of their parents’ or grandparents’ experiences. Or mine.

Every generation, every graduating class, has its own personality, its own memories, and its own impact on the world. The schools they return to visit on class reunions aren’t the same as the schools they attended, even if some of the buildings, or even teachers, haven’t changed.

704The world around us is constantly in flux, altering in little ways and large, at different rates and with differing results. I might return to a driveway where at ten I’d written my name in wet cement and find my initials still there but the house and yard around it changed past understanding.

Our memories may be able to hold a constancy, albeit romanticized, but time has no soft heart.

Still, I do.

And Stafford’s precious clods are my own, those moist, crumbling handfuls of childhood. That they do not belong to my kids sobers me, and challenges me to embrace that for them the most precious memories are their own.

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1958

As a snapshot in history, yearbooks are a great way to see what was happening on campus in any particular year. Over the next few months I’ll choose a yearbook from each decade of San Dieguito’s history and share a few of the highlights, photos, and memories, doing my imperfect best to remind our 21st century audience what life at San Dieguito was like in years gone by.

photo-3-2After years of Mustangs galloping across the cover of San Dieguito’s Hoofprint, the student editorial staff of 1958 made the bold and incongruous decision to put a bonsai tree on the cover of their yearbook.

Breaking from expectation is a part of San Dieguito, where independence of spirit is embedded in the school’s DNA, and in 1958 that looked decidedly Asian.

Sputnik had reached orbit by 1958, and the duck-tail hair cuts and horn-rimmed glasses that look out from the pages of the Hoofprint speak to a time when the cold war was raging and Elvis was on every hi-fi, well, before he shipped out to Germany.

1958 was a busy year at San Dieguito, with a homecoming bonfire, a host of school activities, and a western themed Sadie Hawkins Dance.

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Athletics were big at San Dieguito in the 1950s, and from track to field hockey, smiling students show that representing the school brings pride and camaraderie. These athletes from half a century ago look so similar to the students of 2016; their determination, commitment to their sports, and sense of fun are familiar to those of us who cheer on Mustang athletes today.

photo-3-1Clubs abounded at San Dieguito in the middle part of the century, as they do now, though the clubs themselves were different in 1958, more focused on professional life after high school, including Future Farmers, Future Nurses, and a Rifle Club. Seeing students in military uniforms toting firearms in front of the school feels out of time today, but this was an age where fears about communism had Mr. Davidson, the superintendent, reminding the world that “The class of 1958 goes out into the world with one of the greatest privileges of freedom-the right to make choices.”

photo-5-1Formal photos fill the Hoofprint, as was usual for the first few decades of the school’s history, but 1958’s yearbook includes a few more candid pictures that show the smiles and laughter that filled San Dieguito’s campus. Students show up in fanciful hats, clowning in the quad, and a convertible filled with balloons.

Even the faculty, so often pictured in rigid poses and starched collars, is allowed some levity in the 1958 yearbook, and it’s a treat to see these adults in more relaxed poses smiling, clowning, and even laughing aloud. Life at San Dieguito has always included teachers who care, and these are folks who helped to shape the students’ San Dieguito memories.

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But, as always, school is about the kids, and the kids in this mid-century San Dieguito with their poodle skirts and plaid shirts, their letter sweaters and lopsided grins, occupy the pages of the Hoofprint with an attitude of school pride that is bold and courageous and looks ready to try something new, maybe even planting a bonsai tree.

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Yoda Silences His Phone

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A gentle rain pushed through San Diego today, graying the skies enough to justify a pot of tea, a sweatshirt, and curling up on the couch to watch Star Wars with my eight year old son.

As educators, and maybe as humans, it’s easy to push and push and push and lose track of the importance of slowing to almost stopping and renewing ourselves. A good wet day helps.

So as Chewbacca howled and Han Solo shot stormtroopers, my son and I took time to be together and relax as more people took to computers and tablets, picked up their phones, and made Sunday a work day.

photo-2Back in 1977, when the first Star Wars movie came out, technology wouldn’t support seven day work weeks. My dad, who worked hard, left his work phone on his desk; any connection with his office was severed by the time he pulled into our driveway.

Email had arrived by the time of the prequels, though fewer phones than today allowed folks to search “Darth Maul.”

By the time the force awakened, technology was so enmeshed in our lives that the line between home and work, free time and time on the clock, had a blurrier edge than Kylo Ren’s lightsaber. Left unchecked, it could cut as deep.

photo-3This isn’t to decry technology; good things aren’t limited to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. What these changes mean for me is that I need to set up boundaries on how much I stay connected to work in the evenings and on weekends. Being a high school principal means the opportunity to work is always there. Emails slow, but don’t stop, on Saturdays and Sundays, social media always beckons, and a text messages about school is perpetually ready to ping.

What would Yoda do?

He told Luke, that confused youngster of the first trilogy, “You will know when you are calm, at peace.”

That’s not plugged in. That’s not forgetting where we are or what we are doing.

I’m no Jedi, but slowing down and allowing myself to leave work at work, at least for a little while, is a lesson I’m ready to learn on a rainy day like today.

Norm

photo 1 (2)He stood in the doorway of the girl’s house, his date smiling at his elbow, her father eyeing this boy in the cardigan sweater and blue suede shoes. “Dad,” she said by way of introduction, “this is…”

She paused, leaned close to his ear and whispered: “What’s your real name?”

Later he made a point of reminding his dates that his given name was “Norm.” Getting introduced to parents as “Gimpy” simply did not cut the mustard.

Gimpy left San Dieguito early, dropping out his junior year to work at his father’s filling station. He reconsidered after a year and a half of watching his former classmates honking as they drove by with their arms around girlfriends, and during the summer of 1954 he walked into the office of Mr. Davidson, the superintendent, who was planning for the next school year with Principal Korwin. He explained that he wanted to come back.

They told him that over the years many students had left San Dieguito, but none had ever returned. He would be their first.

photo 3Gimpy had many pals at San Dieguito, and when he came back for his senior year he and his brotherhood of friends embraced all aspects of student life. Gimpy ran for student Activities Coordinator, elected after a campaign that included tri-colored cards printed on a friend’s mini printing press inviting students to “String along with Gimpy,” a piece of string stapled to each card.

He helped plan activities, served as the master of ceremonies at assemblies, and honed the leadership skills that he would take with him to college and later into a forty year career at General Dynamics. “The key,” he explained to me one afternoon in my office, “is to get involved. Volunteer. When there’s something to be done, say without hesitation: ‘I can do that!’”

He did.

“I left school in Levis and engineer boots with horseshoe metal on the heels, so I’d click on the wooden floors,” he remembered with a grin, “and came back wearing slacks, sweaters, and white bucks.”

Well, truth be told, it looks to me like a checkered shirt and pegged pants show up in a few of his yearbook photos, beneath rebellious sunglasses and a mischievous smile.

traffic courtIn addition to student council, Gimpy and some friends started a nationally recognized student court to help address community concerns about students driving recklessly at lunch. They monitored student drivers, offered warnings, and in some cases held a court of peers to mete out consequences. Working closely with Mr. Davidson and Mr. Korwin, Gimpy and his chums “helped run the school.” That investment in San Dieguito has stayed with him and his classmates, many of whom still meet every year. They see San Dieguito as their own.

“San Dieguito is my school,” he told me emphatically, sure to keep the tense present. “When people visit me, I still drive them to campus and tell them ‘I went there.’”

Being on student court, however, didn’t mean that Gimpy and his friends followed every rule. They still sometimes rushed down to Mel’s on 101 to get cheeseburgers and root beer at lunch, a hurry even in their cars. Some smoked cigarettes, and once, reminding us that misbehavior isn’t a trait only of “kids today,” Gimpy, his friend, and “three gals” played hooky from school and drove to San Diego during the day. They didn’t count on the small town detective work of Mr. Davidson.

photo 4 (1)When Gimpy and his friend got back to town they drove to the restaurant owned by his friend’s parents. They settled in for sodas and were asked where they’d gone that day. “To school,” they answered. “Then why did Mr. Davidson and Mr. Korwin come by the restaurant asking where you were?” They knew they were in trouble.

The year before two student council members had been suspended for cutting school, and neither Gimpy nor his friend wanted to lose their positions. That evening they hopped in the car and drove to their superintendent’s house. Mr. Davidson greeted them in his driveway, a beer in his hand and a serious look on his face.

They apologized. They explained. They told Mr. Davidson how much they loved San Dieguito and their roles as student leaders. He listened, gave them a week of lunch detention, and let them keep their jobs. “He could tell how much it meant to us,” Gimpy explained. “He really cared about his students, and knew we cared about our school.”

That caring underpinned life at San Dieguito in the mid-1950s of Gimpy’s memory. “Everyone was happy to be here,” he remembered. “So happy to be together.” Students looked out for each other, and teachers cared. “I remember walking through campus and having teachers say ‘Hi, Gimpy!’ when I got back in my senior year. They knew my real name, but it was kinda neat that they were willing to call me by the name the kids did.”

Just how neat this was, and how special a place San Dieguito was, Gimpy understood better than many of his peers. He had the perspective of having taken time away. When his classmates, flush with spring fever, started counting down the days until graduation, it was Gimpy who told them: “Not so fast. I’ve been out there. The parties stop. The dances stop. The classes stop.” Gimpy never took his senior year for granted, and never forgot how precious those moments were.

photo 5More than sixty years later he still hasn’t. With joy in his voice he described the parties he and his classmates had in undeveloped areas of Rancho Santa Fe, where ground had been cleared for new housing, large flat swaths tailor made for a ring of cars, their headlights illuminating the impromptu dusty dance floor, music provided by every car radio tuned to the same station. “Don Howard had a radio program that ran from six to ten o’clock,” Gimpy recalled. “He’d play the latest and greatest music that teenagers were listening to, and we’d call in requests. I remember being out at the party, dancing, necking, and horsing around, and hearing him on the radio saying ‘Hi to the gang from San Dieguito!’”

The students in our classrooms now, some of the same classrooms that Gimpy learned in back in 1954, are the grand-kids of Gimpy’s generation. When I asked what advice he’d give them, what he’d tell an incoming freshman, he looked me squarely in the eye and said: “Treat people right, all people, and they’ll treat you right right back.”

True San Dieguito spirit.

Cramming

 

ComplicatedWith our San Dieguito Book Club set for tonight, I’ve had a number of folks come to me with ideas and questions about the subject of our discussion, danah boyd’s book It’s Complicated.

My favorite comments have come from students, who have their own ideas about the issues raised in the book, and who shared their thoughts when I asked them some of the questions boyd uses to frame her argument about “the social lives of networked teens.”

With just hours to go, not everyone who has an opinion may have time to read the book, not even the free PDF of It’s Complicated, so I’ll use this post as a cram session of sorts, a shortcut to encourage folks to attend tonight, even if it’s just to listen.

Boyd uses these questions as the backbone of her book, building a chapter around each as she addresses the parents and educators who live and work with students.

 

  • Why do teens seem strange online?
  • Why do youth share so publicly?
  • What makes teens obsessed with social media?
  • Are sexual predators lurking everywhere?
  • Is social media amplifying meanness and cruelty?
  • Can social media resolve social divisions?
  • Are today’s youth digital natives?

 

One question that generated a great deal of conversation as I talked with students was the second, about sharing “so” publicly, and a couple of answers worth passing on came from thoughtful students who wrote:

I really think a lot of it has to do with social games, and comparing yourself to others. I am guilty of this too, which is why I limit my social media, hence not having an “instagram” or “facebook”, which to most of my friends is “absurd”. And even though many people might not have the intent to show off or be trying to impress or make others jealous, I think that’s a big subconscious reason. … Especially with teens, although I hesitate to admit it, we are all insecure, and in a way I think social media is a coping way for many teens and their insecurities. “I look good in this photo, so I’m going to post it”, the amount of times I have heard that exact line from friends, haha. It is really helping with their self confidence, yet like anything I also believe social media can have very negative impacts on confidence as well. That’s a whole different story though.”

This kind of thoughtful reflection is not the exception, but the rule with regard to the students I talked with. So too was a level of objectivity that might surprise someone who doesn’t work with students.

This question is unclear about what it means to share so publicly, but there are reasons why the younger generation shares so much of their lives to the world. The easiest, more generic answer would be, because they can. We are growing up in a world where we have, at our fingertips, a portal into the lives of billions of people online. And just like a kid who is newly born into the world, we are exploring the turf that we were born into to. In this case, we were born into a world that is connected by the internet. The reason teens share so much is because they can, without realizing that there may be consequences in response to the content that they are posting. But our youth is finally given a venue to express themselves, to share with the world what they have never been able to share so freely in the past, and that is, “look at what I can do,” “look at what I made,” “look what I’ve been, what I’m doing,” and the most importantly, “look at who I am.”

In addition to thoughts about the quantity of sharing, students were open to discuss the quality of what they shared. Some talked about the lack of importance of the information they put online, while others discussed context and the audience they believed would see what they posted as meaningful.

It’s Complicated author danah boyd has talked about some of these same ideas in interviews she gave when the book first was published. Three worth a look are:

http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/03/22/a-conversation-with-danah-boyd-author-of-its-complicated-about-teens-online/?_r=0

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marcus-t-wright/social-media-teens-and-a-_b_4934844.html

http://www.npr.org/2014/02/25/282359480/social-media-researcher-gets-how-teenagers-use-the-internet

So what will tonight’s discussion look like? I hope the students, parents, and educators who come will bring with them open minds and personal stories. I hope to put a San Dieguito face on boyd’s ideas, seeing how her more general observations from across the country jibe, or don’t, with what our students experience in this Mustang blue corner of the world.

If you’ve read the book, or even if you haven’t, I hope you might join us for conversation tonight, October 16, 2016 from 6:00-8:00 pm in our Media Center.

Life is a Cabaret

cabaret-night-poster-2016Humbled to be included, I had the great pleasure of being invited onstage this weekend to play with our Comedy Sportz team. The eight ridiculously talented student comedians, a powerhouse of whimsy, did more than just call my name when it came time for a “volunteer” from the audience (“Is there anyone here named ‘Bjorn?’”); smiling and waving me forward, they made me feel welcome and showed a generosity of spirit that, at least for a few minutes, made this old man feel like the star I never was.

It all happened at Cabaret Night, a marvelous San Dieguito tradition that sees student performers fill an evening with entertainment and good will. It’s a mélange of music, dance, and acting, showcasing students from across our performing arts department.

With music from Hamilton and The Sound of Music, classic brassy horn tunes, and a rousing version of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River,” the night highlighted musical theater, band, and that “very SDA” idea that adding an electric guitar has the potential to make any arrangement even better.

The evening saw a little Mancini and a lot of Stevie Wonder, a handbell choir performing Adele, and an amazingly brave and talented student performing a solo dance routine to Alabama Shakes.

photo-2-2Actors had the audience laughing with a skit from Monty Python, and when students sang “All of Me” and “Dream a Little Dream of Me” it was as if Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald were there on stage.

My invitation to join Comedy Sportz came in the second half of the night and followed a rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight” that had the crowd in a frenzy.

I’m not an actor, just a principal, so the walk up to the stage had my heart in my throat. The last time I was in a play I was in third grade. I was a weasel in The Wind in the Willows, and during the weasel dance in Toad Hall the tail of my homemade costume, so thick as to be dangerous, knocked over scenery. I never acted again.

But not being an actor doesn’t mean that I don’t know how to play the fool, and as I stepped onto the stage the students helped me feel as comfortable as I could in this unscripted moment.

Their outstretched arms and easy smiles went a long way to erase the fact that I was unprepared, unshaven, and underdressed (in my usual Saturday outfit of shorts and a hooded sweatshirt). The students absorbed me into their line of comedians and the referee was patient as he included me in the performance.

I may have had more fun than the audience, and I know I jogged back to my seat happier than I’d been all week.

And then, as I settled back into my seat, a student stepped to the stage and delivered a heartbreakingly real cover of “Human” and the crowd wiped their tears to applaud.

photo-4The evening ended with some more horns and a medley from Chicago that brought down the house. For everyone who came to the show there was something to remember and a tune to hum all the way home.

Cabaret Night shows the heart and soul of San Dieguito, beautiful, funny, moving beyond belief, and always ready to welcome someone who is a little nervous, but willing to give it a try.

 

For a peek at the show, here’s a link to a few minutes of fun:

  

 

It’s Simple

ComplicatedWhat we do as educators and what we do as parents is support kids.

At our best, when stress, or anxiety, or frustration doesn’t cloud our actions, we approach that even headed wisdom of Atticus Finch, who told his boy: ““There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep ’em all away from you. That’s never possible.” I’ve been a dad for a great many years and I seldom come anywhere close to living that kind of perspective.

Even so, it helps us all to reflect on our work with students and ask ourselves the questions that make us the best contributors to these young lives we can be. For me, that means reading books that challenge me, and engaging in conversation with others who care.

In less than a week a group of such kindred spirits will gather for our first San Dieguito Book Club of the year, when we’ll discuss a topic on many minds of parents and teachers of teenagers: technology.

Specifically, our discussion will center around It’s Complicated, a book by danah boyd (no caps, her idea) subtitled “the social lives of networked teens.” For any of us who have been around a teen with a phone, this is ground rich with relevance.

I suppose I should have spotted the irony that when I introduced the book, and the idea of living in an age when folks (not just teenagers) are glued to phones and other electronic devices, at a “Coffee with the Principal” it was a parent who raised her hand halfway through my talk to let parents know that they could get a copy of the book for free by downloading the PDF at http://www.danah.org/books/ItsComplicated.pdf

Point proven.

…and point expanded upon, as we all realized that this parent had not only underscored the idea that we’re all more connected than we’ve ever been, but that sometimes that kind of immediacy and connection is a very good thing. Heck, it just saved parents $10.95.

It’s Complicated takes an equally positive view of the “social lives of networked teens” as it describes the world our students live in, virtually at least, in a way that doesn’t alarm, but does inform.

The book’s eight chapters are formed around questions: “Why do teens seem strange online?” and “Are today’s youth digital natives?” to name two. They’re questions many educators wonder about and parents spend time struggling to find answers to.

As I prepped for Tuesday’s book club, I asked some of my students what they thought the answers were to the author’s eight questions. A sampling looks like this…

“Why do youth share so publicly?”

“We share a lot, but not a lot that is meaningful. That’s kind of the beauty of social media.”

“A lot of the time when adults see us on our phones we’re just communicating with another person, a private message to them, not social media.”

“What makes teens so obsessed with social media?”

“No more than adults. It’s just part of what we do.”

“Is social media amplifying meanness and cruelty?”

“It amplifies the negative and the positive. I go to social media for inspiration and find it.”

“People who are going to be mean or cruel are going to be mean and cruel in person too.”

These are just a few thoughts; I’m hopeful more students will come on Tuesday and be willing to share. As a parent and a principal, I found their points of view honest and thoughtful.

In addition to individual students, I was able to talk with a couple of classes about their relationship with social media, and the result was …reassuring.

Certainly social media plays a part in many of the students lives, often providing information, inspiration, and connections to friends near and far. There are downsides too, and they were quick to identify that seeing some posts made them feel bad about themselves, and that on occasion the anonymity of the internet allowed people to be negative in ways they wouldn’t if their name was attached to comments.

The thoughtful conversations I had with these students inspired me, and reassured me that kids today have more poise than my own generation had when we were in high school.

I look forward to our discussion next week and the possibility of leaving the evening a little more informed and a little more connected to people who are all working toward the same simple goal: helping students.

The San Dieguito Book Club will meet on Tuesday, October 18, from 6:00-8:00 pm in the media center. Students, parents, teachers, and all members of our SDA family are welcome to attend.