Memorial Day


michael_joan_wall_2004

Those soldiers, sailors, and Marines who gave their lives for their country would want us to enjoy Memorial Day weekend: they fought for that right along with so many others.  But, Memorial Weekend is not just the “beginning of summer” as it has unfortunately become in the media and advertising.  This is no more clearly indicated than in the oxymoronic greeting, “Happy Memorial Day!” all over the media and even in local communities.  People wishing others a “Happy Memorial Day” do not mean to further wound people who have in fact lost their loved ones in war–but they do.  That greeting indicates unconsciousness about the history of Memorial Day and what it actually commemorates.

My beautiful Michael laid down his life defending his squad in Vietnam, August 28, 1969.  He loved people, who returned his love many fold.  He played the guitar, wrote poetry, and sketched.  He even sent a sketch home–a sailboat he was longing to sail again.  He was a philosophy major who wanted to come home to finish his degree and go on to graduate school, becoming a college teacher. Michael was a Marine, whose letters were filled with love for his family and longing to come home to Houston.  But his letters were also filled with admiration for the beauty of Vietnam and its people.  He had hoped  to be promoted to Sergeant, to be pulled from the front lines after his last mission, and to be trained as an interpreter, working with the Vietnamese people.

Instead, during a major operation near Chu Lai Province, several regiments came under fierce mortar attack.  As the squad leader, he motioned his men to protective positions, then ran across the battlefield to cover his  wounded Marines with his own body and return fire on the enemy as the helicopter came in to rescue them.  Even as he saved many of their lives, he gave his own when a mortar took him even as the last of his comrades was being lifted to safety.  Among his many medals, he was awarded the Bronze Star with Combat V for valor.  But, of course, I would much rather he had come home. His love for me–and losing him–changed my life forever, and I have never stopped loving him.

I maintain a web site for Michael at https://sites.google.com/site/yuponst/home so that what he meant to his family and friends and what the world has lost in this gentle, sweet man will not be forgotten.  Michael was honored at the 2000 Memorial Day Concert in Washington DC; an exhibit in a local library to honor veterans, and in two books featuring letters written from combat sites.  Though we lost him over 40 years ago, and he missed another of his birthdays in May, he is never forgotten, and he is teaching as he wanted to through remembrances of him.

So–please take a few minutes out of the holiday to think of us, bless the memories of those who gave their lives for their country, and say a prayer in their memories.  That is what would really make us happy on this day.

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The Relationships Between Reading and Writing


Generally, students who write exceptionally well also read: novels, biographies, histories, poetry, plays, sports columns, political opinions, personal interests, news articles, magazines, newspapers, etc. That doesn’t mean all readers are good writers, but it does mean it would be unusual to receive a poor essay from a person who reads regularly and follows all directions in class; it would also be unusual to receive a superlative essay from a person who says he/she has never been a regular reader.

Here’s why: people who read widely and deeply usually pick up writing skills like thesis, purpose, focus, paragraphing, syntax, vocabulary, spelling, logic, critical thinking, transitions, key words, closures—even grammar because they unconsciously ‘hear’ the language of grammar as they read. In other words, they learn about style, arguments, issues, ideas, flow and organization, rhythms, voice, and tone. They also generally follow essay assignment directions more carefully because they understand the purposes and goals from years of their own reading. People who read are almost always more comfortable writing their own essays because they are comfortable with other people’s writing from years of being immersed in reading and the flows of human thought and ideas.

I know the ‘reasons’ why many students don’t read: too busy with classes, keeping up with course texts and assignments, jobs, families, personal life etc. But you might be surprised by how much you could read in a year by picking up a book, article, or other work thirty minutes a day. You might also be surprised by how much you will learn on many topics—knowledge and independent critical thinking skills gained as an individual and citizen. You might further be surprised by how your own writing will improve, becoming more mature and enjoyable for both you and your audience. Both reading and writing skills naturally assist students’ work in other courses, on the job, employment applications, advancement in careers, helping one’s own children by providing a reading environment in the home.

Reading is fun; it is educational; it is essential in all aspects of human life. So, if you don’t currently read—start. And if you do—good job. Bottom line: Reading will always be an important and enjoyable part of your life, even enhancing your family and social relationships, as well as your chances of success in your careers and responsible citizenship in your communities and nation.

On Turning Seventy


To 5yo Joanie Who is Seventy

Michael


Michael Alan McAninch

Fact-Checking the News and Social Media


Fact-Checking the News (Print, Electronic, Television/Radio) and Social Media Stories/Rumors (Email, Internet, Facebook, Twitter, etc.)

 

We want a free press that is also accountable for publishing the truth and facts they have verified (rather than just opinions and bald-faced lies) in a sea of fake news and political commentary washing over journalism and social media. Below are links to some respected sites in journalism where you can check news articles and television/radio commentary for responsible journalism; you can also check email/internet/social media stories and claims for truth.

The Bottom Line: Don’t believe everything you read and hear or even see as absolutely true–from anyone; don’t believe something just because you’ve “always heard that” or you’ve “always been told that.” Know the difference between a story and satire. Satire is a deliberately humorous and skewed take to make a point—these pieces can be wonderful nuggets of truth underneath the humor and take sophistication on the part of the reader. In short, to ferret out actual fake news and rumors, be skeptical: check the publisher (is it a politically slanted publication?); check the writer’s credibility (he/she should provide at least a brief bio; if not, look up the writer); check the writer’s sources (does he/she provide them? Are they credible?); if someone tells you an alleged story or rumor, check the individual’s credibility: where did this person hear or read it?

Fight back against the fake news industry and sometimes irresponsible media outlets by holding them accountable. And, of course, be responsible in your own writing or claims you pass on to others. Warning: If a media outlet, journalist, politician, or other venue/individual persists in spreading fake news/rumors, refuses to fact check, denies facts and the truth when presented to them, deflects, and returns to persisting the lie is the truth, these individuals may have an agenda, and it may also be personal or political propaganda designed to fulfill that agenda, which you must be ready to call out with facts you have researched from credible sources. If we all work hard at this, we can help the Press be the accountable force for truth most journalists sincerely wish to be–and we all need.  Fact Check.

http://www.politifact.com/ [this site won the Pulitzer for journalism]

http://www.factcheck.org/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/?utm_term=.a585e32f1dd5

http://www.snopes.com/ [this one for checking out email and internet ‘rumors’ etc.]

 

The Nazi Death Marches


1389.4 Holocaust D

Death Marches

The Nazi Death Marches

 

The Student


He called me “Doc”; he was young, beautiful, good-humored, and bright.  He sat in the back of the class room and delighted in challenging me–eyes twinkling, laughing when his challenges were countered, a bit comically nonplussed for a few minutes, then trying again.  He came by the classroom at end of day to borrow my books and return others, to talk about the novels–Steinbeck, Tolstoy, Austen, Bronte–and to try more challenges.  Laughing as they were met again, he would toss a wry comment over his shoulder, and trot off after a promise to return with the books, his ideas after he read them, and another challenge. He was the student who chose to test himself (and me) in serious discussions and hilarious banter that delighted us both and made me a better teacher.

Eventually, I moved on to another teaching position, and he wrote that he felt lost without his teacher to tease and talk with. But moving on is both natural and required as we set our students free to explore and discover on their own.  We hope we gave them a few  tools and helped build their confidence to take on the world.  But years later, as a college senior, he suddenly appeared again, this time in my office.  Laughing, hugging, and asking for more books, he was a revelation: the student who not only remembered but also cherished those years of sharing laughter and books. We talked again for hours, and I felt touched because it is rare that a student who moves on comes back to touch base with the teacher who was there when he was younger, testing himself, and beginning to set out on his own life.

I have not seen that student since–he had a life, family, and career to build.  But as I reflect on my teaching career–now on a retirement path–I think about the thousands I have taught, and the dozens who became friends, hoping I made a small difference in their lives because they gave so much to mine. This bright, laughing young man was the one I had the most responsibility for, who had the most trust in me, and who gave so much more back than he could have known.

It is true that teachers touch the future through their students, but students also touch teachers’ lives and are remembered for years after they have disappeared into their own lives. We remember them as they were: beautiful, smart, funny, challenging–on the thresholds of newly-minted adulthood and so precious. They become metaphors for all we do in the classroom and beyond: the truth about teaching that flows both directions between teacher and student. It is all about the students and the sacred relationships between students and teachers.

Now I approach the end of my career, as this forever young student still twinkles, challenges, and laughs from the back of the class room.  I am grateful for and blessed by this memory and those of other students whom I have also loved, miss, and remember. They are the inspiration and the sound track of my life.

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