Thursday, February 24, 2011

Write and Bear Arms

I moved to Texas in 1983 with the intention of staying maybe two or three years, however long it took for me to earn my Master’s degree. Twenty-eight years later I am still here, having now lived in Texas more than half of my life. Until moving to the Dallas area, I had never lived in any one place longer than four years. Just in case you are wondering, my family was not on the run from the law or in the Witness Protection Program; my dad was in the Navy. When duty called, we moved, usually from one coast to the other.

There is much that I love about Texas – the wild flowers, many of the people, chicken fried steak, and the Texas State Fair. But, like with anything, Texas also has its negatives. Right now, in my mind the biggest negative in the state of Texas is the unfortunate marriage between politics and education. Education has become the abused spouse in this partnership. As with any marital relationship, when the two “parents” don’t support and respect one another, it is the children that get hurt. The children I speak of here are our students.

I could pontificate here on my feelings about state mandated testing, our legislature’s censuring of our nation’s history in adopting textbooks, or the severe budget cuts being faced by our schools all the way from pre-school to college, but I’m not going to do that. I want to talk about something that is truly a matter of life and death – the bill before our state legislature, which is probably about to be passed, that allows the carrying of concealed weapons on college and university campuses.

What are they thinking? How can anyone truly believe that such a proposition is worth debating let alone worth passing into law? The sad reality, at least to me, is that over half of the Texas House of Representatives supports this measure and the Senate already passed a version of the bill two years ago and is expected to do so again.

In one of my classes this morning, the topic of handguns on campus came up. Only about half of the class was aware that such legislation was pending. When they heard about it, their response was a unanimous, “That’s scary!” Yes indeed. That is scary. This particular class, which is diverse in every way-age, race, and gender-wanted me to explain to them why handguns on campus are necessary. I couldn’t do it. Most days I feel competent to stand before my class and educate my students. Today I felt woefully unequipped to answer their questions and address their concerns.

Those who support an individual’s right to “conceal and carry” purport that guns on campus will create a safer environment for our students. They offer support for their argument by saying that in light of the shootings that occurred on the campus of Virginia Tech and more recently on the University of Texas campus in Austin, if more people had been armed, someone else could have shot the original shooter and lives would have been spared. Would lives have been spared? Or, would there just have been more bullets flying around? The truth here is that no one can say what the outcome of any of these tragic situations would have been had more students or faculty members been armed, but I stand by my opinion that the greater the concentration of deadly weapons in any one place, the greater the number of potentially dead human beings.

Though shootings on college campuses have been in the news of recent, the ratio of shootings to institutions of higher learning is quite small. I have spent nearly every day of my life for the past thirty-two years on a college campus as either a student or faculty member. I can honestly say that I have never felt the need to be armed. Looking back, there may be a few times when I am quite thankful that some of my students were not armed. I say that somewhat jokingly; however, if the legislation allowing guns on campus passes, such a statement will no longer be said it such a way, but rather in an air of fear. Fear. That is an awful environment within which to work or to learn. Seemingly, our state’s lawmakers don’t seem to agree. Or, maybe they do. For them perhaps being unarmed in the classroom generates an atmosphere of fear. Surely not.

In Texas, all public high school students must pass the TAKS test – the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. This test evaluates a student’s potential for success upon graduation. Students are tested in reading, writing, math, science and social studies. Should the “conceal and carry” bill pass, perhaps a sixth test should be added – marksmanship. If students are going to be protecting me while on campus, I want them to be as skilled with their guns as they are with their words and numbers. And as an added bonus, this will provide jobs for all those teachers who are being laid off because of cuts in the budget for education. And, the state would collect money for all those teachers who would then have to pay to take the test for this additional certification.

I am not speaking poorly of education in Texas. Really, I’m not. I am married to a teacher and both of my children graduated from public high schools in Texas. The education my children received has served them well in their college careers. I must say, however, that I am glad that neither of them is attending a public college or university here in Texas; nor in Utah, the only state that has already passed conceal and carry legislation with regard to college campuses.

Texas likes to think of itself as a leader in the nation. Right now I wish that our legislators would become followers, followers of their counterparts in twenty-seven other states who have voted down this type of legislation.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Prepare for the Expected

Last week in North Texas we found ourselves dealing with weather related school closings, battling icy roadways, and trying to stay warm despite single digit temperatures. Today, I have no heat on, the windows are all wide open, the house plants are on the back patio basking in the sunshine and eighty one degree temperatures. You often here people around here say, “only in Texas,” when referring to these drastic weather changes. I will not argue that here it is possible to experience the weather of all four seasons in a single week, sometimes even within a much smaller time span, and that these changes are often rather dramatic, maybe even more so than in other geographic locations, but the truth of the matter is drastic and dramatic changes happen everywhere and all the time. I’m not sure why we all seem so surprised when these extremes are manifested in our weather patterns.

Often in life such extremes occur in a matter of a mere second – birth and death, the transition from child, in legal terms, to adult, single to married and vice versa. I still remember the morning that I left for school married, again in legal terms, and about halfway through the morning was struck with the realization that after twenty-six years of being married, I was now again single.

With the present state of the economy, many people these days wake up as gainfully employed citizens and by the end of the day are jobless. On the flip side, there are also those who get up in the morning wondering how they are going to pay their rent or buy groceries this month and suddenly find themselves millionaires after winning it big in the lottery. I could go on here, but you get the idea; for every condition and state of being, there exist extremes on a continuum. In most instances, we live our lives somewhere near the middle of these extremes. This is known as balance.

I suspect that at some point in each of our lives someone has said, “you need to be prepared for the unexpected.” Translation; “You need to be prepared in case someone or something throws you off balance. On the surface this sounds like good advice, but is there really any such thing as “the unexpected”?

Anyone who does not expect that things – whether it be the weather, state of health or marital or financial status – can and probably will change at some point in their lives in not only woefully unprepared but is delusional.

Society tends to think of “the unexpected” as some catastrophic event. Reality check. Catastrophic events happen every day. Automobile accidents, home fires, school shootings, severe weather phenomena, deaths; they happen every day. Maybe not to you or me today, but they could. Would we not be better advised to prepare for the expected? Are we not better off if we have prepared for the “worse-case scenario” and never have to rely on those action plans rather than find ourselves in the place of never having considered them and suddenly finding ourselves in a place whose existence we have never acknowledged?

I am not suggesting that we breed a culture of pessimism; however, I do think that we need to admit that we live in a society where, for whatever reason, people are faced with difficult and painful circumstances every day. A vigilant awareness of this reality will help us to be better prepared should we find ourselves in such a situation as well as better prepared to give aid and comfort to others whose lives are disrupted.

And just in case you are wondering, I have not had a bad day. In fact, I have had a wonderful day. It is 81 degrees and I learned how to send a 100 foot snake down a pipe. Was that what I expected to do today? Not exactly. But, I know that pipes sometimes clog up and that it can happen here just as easily as it can happen at your house. (If it does, call me. I now know how to snake a pipe.)

As I have progressed through this post I have been thinking about how I am going to get myself out of this discussion. I think that means that I have been trying to figure out exactly what the point of all this is. As circumstance would have it, the following quote just came to me in a forwarded email, which, by the way, has nothing to do with anything that I have said here, but I think is nonetheless an appropriate closing to my present thoughts.

"Life is not the way it's supposed to be; it's the way it is. The way we cope with it is what makes the difference.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Winter Break

We have one more day of winter break, a winter break that we did not know we were having until Monday night. Usually as the spring semester begins, students and faculty are all counting the days until spring break, which occurs midway through the semester. By that point, everyone is ready for a break - either to get out of town for a real vacation or to just sleep late and enjoy quiet time at home. We have barely started this semester so it is hard to truly appreciate a nearly week long break, a break “scheduled” by mother nature, not dictated by an academic calendar. In fact, this break is wreaking havoc with the academic calendar, but we’ll not worry about that right now.

So what does one do with a nearly weeklong unplanned break?

We are still sort of camping out at our still-not-completely-finished-being-remodeled house. The good news is that as of last Friday, only three days before the frigid temperatures hit our area, we became the owners of new bedroom furniture. The significance of this is that we are no longer sleeping on an air mattress on the tile floor. Make that the cold tile floor! All of the humans, canines, and felines living here are quite happy with this particular home improvement!

In addition to a new, big, warm, king-sized bed, we also have a microwave, coffee pot, TV, Internet, and lots and lots of books. In addition to the master bedroom, the other room in the house that is done is the library. Weber and I have managed to sort, combine, unpack and shelve all of our books. That is no minor task, trust me! It took many trips to Recycled Books to weed out enough books so that what we are keeping fits on the designated shelf space. Between the two of us, we probably have a bigger poetry collection that the public library. For some reason, the cats also seem to love this room. FYI, bookshelves can double as pretty fine kitty bunk beds if necessary.

I have had several big music composition projects hanging over my head lately. Time has been such that I have an hour here or thirty minutes there to work on them and nothing much really was getting done. I have to admit that I am not one who works well like that. I like big blocks of time where I can concentrate on what I am doing; time where my train of thought is not continually interrupted. I got that this week. It was awesome! It is a great feeling to have a pair of those “monkeys” off my back. I am looking forward to turning over these newly completed composition to their respective owners should we ever get back to school!

Our lack of a kitchen has been the toughest part of this week. Though there are pretty good things that can be cooked in the microwave, even good canned soup and instant oatmeal get boring after a while. We decided this afternoon to do something to break our mealtime monotony. With nearly an inch of solid ice on the driveway and much of the street that leads out of our neighborhood in the same condition, it was clear that attempting to drive anywhere was not our best choice. So, we decided to walk. We have a grocery store, a 7-Eleven, and a Burger House within minimal walking distance from the house.

We bundled up in coats, hats, and gloves and set out on our way. There were small spots along our street that were completely ice free. By carefully stepping,much like in a game of hopscotch, we made our way to the main street, which we expected to be much clearer than our neighborhood side streets. We were wrong. The only thing that was clear were two twelve inch tracks down each lane. The rest of the street and the adjacent sidewalks were solid ice. Not only were they incredibly slippery; they sloped toward the street. The possibility of sliding off of the sidewalk onto the street (and the oncoming traffic) was very real. Though the city had not done anything to make the sidewalks safe, we could see that some of the businesses along the way had spread sand and cat litter on their sidewalks. By choosing our route carefully, we figured that we could make it safely to our destination. And, we did. We enjoyed a nice hamburger with many other locals who were nursing a bout of cabin fever.

After lunch we slid across the parking lot to the grocery store. This became more of a sightseeing excursion once we realized that we couldn’t buy anything that was breakable or could be smashed if we fell on the way home; we couldn’t buy anything too heavy because balance was key to getting home in one piece; and the truth of the matter was, we didn’t really need anything anyway.

The Dallas area is expected to remain below freezing for another 36 hours and more snow is predicted for tonight. By 5:00 this afternoon, school had already been cancelled for tomorrow, the fourth day in a row.

Having accomplished several major tasks this week thus shortening my To-Do list, I’m not sure what we’ll do tomorrow. Perhaps we’ll surf the 300 channels of U-verse for that one TV show that is worth watching. Weber and I have watched more TV in the past three days than we have watched in the last two an a half years. That sad reality here is that I don’t think that we have missed much in all that time.

Once you get beyond House Hunters, Bridezilla, and Wife Swap it is all downhill!

In lieu of watching TV, I think I’ll just curl up with a cup of coffee, a book, a few animals, and my wonderful husband and try to stay warm.