Thirty Years Ago… 1987

 

1987.  The year of Glasnost and Oliver North.  My junior and senior years of high school.

I look back to 1987 as a pivotal year in my existence.  For a teenager, there were some pretty major events in my life that year.

The biggest was my first grandparent passing.  My paternal grandmother died of cancer in the Fall of ’87 and it shook me up.

Another big thing was something called “Emmaus”.  This was a church retreat through my Catholic church in Ridgefield, CT.  For first-time Emmaus attendees, you were a candidate.  Those who had already been on these weekends were the workers who ran the whole thing.  I was a candidate in February of ’87 and got to work on the Liturgy team on a weekend in September of ’87.  This was a life-changing experience for me in a lot of ways.  I had always been somewhat religious, but this cemented it for a long time.  As well, I lived in New York but a part that was very close to the border of Connecticut.  I could walk through the woods behind some neighbor’s house and be in CT.  As a result of Emmaus, I met many wonderful new friends including one of my best friends in high school.  I spent a lot of time in Ridgefield, more than hanging out with people from my own high school.

I had four jobs that year.  The first was working for a comic book price guide in Ridgefield.  The owner of that magazine was also a co-owner of a comic book story in Danbury, CT so I would help out up there at times.  That summer I worked at Smith Ridge Market, the local grocery store.  I was “poached” by the nearby Vista Pharmacy in late summer and worked there the rest of the year.  I always worked throughout high school.

I didn’t get my driver’s license until after high school but I managed to take Driver’s Ed in the fall of 1987.  That made for some interesting rides.  I still remember the instructor having to hit the brake pedal on the passenger side as I was driving.

What I remember the most about 1987 was the music.  I wrote about 1986 last year, but 1987 just added to the list of alternative bands I discovered that year.  Bands like 10,000 Maniacs, Crowded House, Echo & The Bunnymen, Aztec Camera, and Erasure.  Bands I enjoyed before only got bigger, such as The Smiths, New Order, The Cure, Alphaville, INXS, R.E.M., Gene Loves Jezebel, The Housemartins, and Depeche Mode.  U2 had their biggest album to date with “The Joshua Tree”.  Rush had an awesome album that year and I got to see them in New Haven, CT that November.  For me, the best album of the year was New Order’s “Substance”.  That Christmas, a bunch of bands contributed to an album called “A Very Special Christmas” which I still listen to every year around this time.

There was a freak ice storm in early October that year.  It knocked out power in a lot of areas around us.  But the real “white-out” happened in the summer but I’ll hold on to that one!

The Yankees were my team and I saw them a few times that year.  Don Mattingly was my hero! The New York Giants won their first Super Bowl that year, beating the Denver Broncos in a close game.

There weren’t a lot of memorable movies that year.  The #1 grossing movie was “Three Men And A Baby” which tells you something right there.  I would say my favorite movies that year were “The Lost Boys”, “The Untouchables”, “Good Morning Vietnam”, and “Innerspace”.

In my family, the dynamics changed a bit.  Two brothers went to college and a third returned home for a bit after graduating college.  The youngest (me) and the oldest in the house.  That was different, but fun!

I spent a lot of time cycling into Ridgefield that year after school when I wasn’t working.  It kept me in shape but it was usually to go see about a girl.  True story!  The late days of Spring and early Summer were spent at “The Reservoir”, a local spot where a bunch of us would jump off a cliff and rope-swing.  I tried my first cigar that year.  I learned quickly I don’t like cigars.

I started “clubbing” at a place called Kryptons that year.  A friend of mine who bartended there would always help me get in.  Those were crazy times with my friend Pete.  I spent a lot of time “partying” that year.  I was young, crazy, and a bit wild.  I remember after my grandmother passed, one of my cousins got married.  I had a few at the wedding reception and somehow I wound up on stage singing Michael Sembello’s “Maniac”.  Not one of my prouder moments for sure!

I was in a school play called “The Boyfriend” that year.  I was an Assistant Stage Director for the school’s annual “Variety Show”.  My favorite classes were AP American History and Creative Writing.

I got my wisdom teeth out that Spring and a couple of weeks later managed to get a sausage seed stuck in one of the sockets.  Now that was pain!

That fall, the beginning of the end of the Cold War between the U.S. and Russia was starting.  We all tuned in to see if Jessica McClure could get out of that well.  Pope John Paul the II came to New York City. That summer, daytime tv was hijacked by the Iran-Contra hearings with Oliver North famously pleading the 5th Amendment. I was still creating pinball games on our Commodore 64 on snow days.

1987 was the height of my teenage years.  The best of times before the “real world” fully kicked in.

The January Shuffle

Music.  It reverberates the soul.  It brings back memories of good and bad times.  When I listen to music, every song brings back something for me.  It could be sadness, anger, hope, triumph, or happiness.  It can remind me of a time period in my life or a specific person.  One of my favorite things to do is put music on shuffle and see what comes up.  I love the shuffle cause you never know what is going to come up.  Anything goes.  I thought I would write a post about what songs come up and what those songs mean to me.  Something a little different.

“Where’s The Ocean”, Toni Childs: The album came out a few years earlier but I first heard this song in 1990.  It was a very difficult time for me.  I was in college, taking six classes after switching my major from business to psychology.  I was working part-time, had a girlfriend, and was cast in a play at college.  It was too much and I fell apart for a while.  I was only 20 and it felt like I was spinning my wheels in ice.  As a result, I wound up switching my major the next semester to communications.  It was a tough time but the lessons I learned from it still help me now.

“Sounds Like A Melody”, Alphaville: Like the last song, I didn’t get into Alphaville until a couple of years after their debut album came out.  But 1987 heralded many changes in my life.  Especially once I became a senior in high school.  I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life.  I had already decided to skip a year after high school instead of going to college.  In the meantime, I partied and partied hard.  I used to go to a nightclub called Kryptons back then.  I was, of course, under age, but having a friend as a bartender helped a lot!  They would play this song there and my friends and I would attempt to dance and probably looked like idiots.  I have lots of memories at Kryptons and most of them are fun times.  I have no clue if the old club is still there.  It changed owners and names a lot in the decade after that.

“Absolutely Still”, Better Than Ezra: Better Than Ezra is one of my favorite bands of all time.  Most people know them by their biggest hits, “Good” or “Desperately Wanting”.  But for me, all their albums are a gold-mine.  This song came out in 2009.  I remember the first time I heard this song.  I was driving my son to daycare and the words just hit a chord inside me.  It made me think of family and the blessings we take for granted.

“I Won’t Let You Go”, Switchfoot:  This band is a Christian band.  Most people don’t know that.  They hit the mainstream back in the early 2000s.  This song came out this fall but I just heard it last month.  When you really listen to the words, it can be confusing.  At first I thought it was about a guy swearing not to give up his woman.  But I soon realized the singer is actually singing through God’s viewpoint.

“Selling The Drama”, Live: 1994.  Senior Year of College.  Senior Week.  I can’t remember for the life of me if I was sober at any point that week.  Live hit it big with this song.  Ed Kowalcyzk has an amazing voice.  This was in the middle of the grunge movement and Live was right up there with Nirvana and Pearl Jam that year.

“In Your Eyes”, Peter Gabriel: Most people know this song from the movie “Say Anything” from 1989.  But the song came out in 1986.  I remember going up to Cape Cod with my cousin Liz one weekend to see our grandparents.  We listened to this album on the way up along with a few others.  I remember walking on the jetty at the beach one night.  I spent many summer days growing up on that jetty.  It was before my junior year of high school.  My life changed a lot during my sophomore year.  New friends, new hang-outs.

“San Diego”, Blink 182: This is from their album that came out last year.  This band is from San Diego.  I lived north of San Diego for a few years back in 2001 to 2004.  My future wife and I moved out there.  We actually lived in a small suburb of San Diego called Rancho Bernardo for about eight months before we bought a house in Riverside County.  But I worked in Rancho Bernardo the entire time I lived there.  California is an awesome place to live.  And no place is better than San Diego.  You can go to the beach and then to Julian about an hour away if you want to see snow in the winter.  I did that one day.  It was awesome!

“My Fault”, Imagine Dragons: I always think of the first year of the Firefly Music Festival when I hear any song from Imagine Dragons first album.  I also think of my mom, who was very sick at that time.  It was 2012.  I felt massive change coming on the horizon.  I knew my Mom wouldn’t last much longer (she passed away in May, 2013).  My son’s disabilities were growing.  Things weren’t good.  But I tried to hang on to hope as best I could.

“Hey Jude”, The Beatles: There will never be another band like The Beatles.  My earliest musical memories involved The Beatles.  They broke up the year I was born but my parents had many of their albums.  I remember listening to them all the time.  But it would be years until I got “Hey Jude”.  This is one of McCartney’s best songs in my opinion.  I saw him in concert back in 1990 up in Philly and the crowd went nuts when this song began.

“Wake Me Up When September Ends”, Green Day: While this song came out in 2004, 9/11 was still very fresh in my mind.  I don’t know if this song is about that tragic day, but I always think about it when I hear this song.  No event in my lifetime left a scar like that day did.  I still remember every single second of that day and the night before.  We had just bought a large screen TV but there were issues with the first one we got.  The screen would get blurry and we couldn’t see anything.  This was when I lived in California.  I got up for work at about 5am, which would have been 8am on the east coast.  I had a horrible dream the night before.  Guerilla soldiers were cutting people with knives at some camp.  That wasn’t something I normally dreamed about at all.  I remember taking a shower and remembering the dream.  It disturbed me on many levels.  The day before I read something in the local newspaper about two nuns who had been freed by the Taliban.  They were recounting their experience with the Taliban.  One of them remembered seeing an office.  On the wall was a calendar of planes.  After I got ready for work, I was drinking a cup of coffee.  My wife and I drove together to work since we both worked in San Diego and we lived an hour north.  I heard something on the tv (with no visible screen) about a plane flying into a building.  I assumed it was in the Mid-East.  I went outside for a smoke and when I came back in the reporter said “another plane has flown into the World Trade Center.”  I sat there with my jaw wide open.  I yelled to my wife what happened.

“Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season)”, The Byrds: When I was about seven or eight, my family and I were driving to church one day.  I had heard this song before.  But for some reason I can’t remember, my mother began explaining how this song came from Ecclesiastes in The Bible.  I remember thinking it was really cool that such a popular song came from The Bible.  It is one of my favorite parts of The Bible.  “There is a time for every purpose under Heaven.”  I actually try to hold on to that when things get rough.  How there is a reason for everything.  We may not know it at the time but sometimes we understand why and what it led to later on.

“Sleepwalker”, The Wallflowers:  In October of 2000, my future wife and I moved to California.  We packed up a U-Haul and drove across the country.  I drove the U-Haul and towed my car behind it.  My wife drove her car behind me.  It took about five days.  On the fourth day, we left our hotel in Amarillo, Texas.  From there we hit New Mexico and then Arizona.  We stopped by a mall in Flagstaff, Arizona.  I heard “Sleepwalker” a few times in the weeks before we moved.  As I passed a record store, I saw the album it was on just came out.  I instantly bought the CD.  From Flagstaff, we drove through mountains that take your breath away.  All the way down to Phoenix.  I replayed “Sleepwalker” a lot during that long winding journey through Arizona.  I saw the sun set to the west as I drove through terrain I had never seen before in my life.  Majestic doesn’t even describe what I felt during this ride.

“Sold Me Down The River”, The Alarm:  I moved to Pennsylvania in 1989.  Remember how I said I was taking a year off after high school?  That year was up.  My parents moved from New York and I went with them.  I decided to start college at Bucks County Community College.  A new friend of mine introduced me to The Alarm.  This song had just come out and I heard it on a Philly radio station called WMMR.  I used to take drives up and down the Delaware River back in those days.  This song was on a lot back then!

“The Space Between”, Dave Matthews Band:  This song reminds me of my fiancé.  Who is now my wife!  This song came out shortly after we became engaged.  The lyrics don’t match what was going on with us, but it reminds me of that time.  The love of my life!

“Communication”, The Cardigans: Shortly after my son Jacob was born in 2004, my wife and I made the decision to move back east.  She was off work for maternity leave for six weeks and then it was my turn.  When I wasn’t spending the day with my son, in those rare moments when he consistently slept, I was packing things up for the big move.  I bought the album “Long Gone Before Daylight” one day and it became my soundtrack for that time.  I remember playing this song as Jacob was sleeping in his aquarium swing.  He looked so peaceful, just rocking back and forth.  When our children are babies, we can remember these moments.  To this day when I see him sleeping, I have that same feeling.  Peaceful.

“Human”, The Killers: Fall 2008.  No one knew what the heck Brandon Flowers was talking about with this song.  “Are we human or are we dancer?”  It didn’t matter.  I loved this song and still do.  I was in the midst of some adult growing pains when this song came out.  Without going into details, it is something we all go through at one period in our lives.  When we mistake confidence as hubris and we become arrogant.

“Take It All Back”, Judah and the Lion: Right now, this is probably my favorite song.  Ever since Mumford & Sons came out, banjos have become a bigger part of music.  At least the music I like to listen to.  This song actually mentions the word banjo.  And then slides into one of the best banjo riffs I’ve ever heard.

“The Tide Is High”, Blondie: If you were alive in December 1980, you know this song.  I lived in Roanoke, Virginia at the time.  I knew we would be moving to New York the next Spring.  But life was good when you are ten.  I remember roller skating to this song at Olympic Skating Rink in Vinton, VA.  I had been a big Blondie fan ever since “Heart of Glass” came out.  Still love this song!

“Let Go”, Frou Frou: In January of 2005, we had been in Delaware for a few months.  I was working at the Bank of America call center in Dover.  I remember a lot of snow.  I had just watched the DVD of “Garden State” and bought the soundtrack.  I remember leaving work one night.  The snow was coming down.  There weren’t many cars on Route 13 in Dover.  This song came on.  I hate driving in snow.  It gives me this weird agita I don’t like at all.  I remember hearing this song and saying to myself “Let Go” as I drove through the snowy roads back home.

“Strangelove”, Depeche Mode: Remember that night club Kryptons I talked about earlier?  This is another one of those 1987 songs that always reminds me of Kryptons.  My friend Pete and my second cousin Krista who was visiting from Oregon decided to go out one night and we wound up there.  I remember having too much Cranberry and Vodka that night.  My bartender friend used to hook me up!

“Come Original”, 311: 1999:  Autumn.  I had just turned 29.  My twenties were crazy.  Maybe it was because I knew I would be turning thirty soon.  I felt my need to party diminish greatly that fall.  Going out three to four nights a week were starting to show.  I wanted, no, needed something more.  After a while, I felt like I was just playing the same record over and over again, every week.  I began dating my future wife that December.

“Blessed”, Elton John: This song reminds me of November of 1995.  Before I moved to Sweden in 1996, I spent about a week there visiting someone.  As she drove me to the airport that snowy, cold, and dark November morning, I already knew I would be moving there.  So did she.  This song was playing as she pulled out of her driveway.  It was 5:30 in the morning.  Flash forward to last week.  I hadn’t heard this song in years.  Whenever I heard it in the past, it reminded me of that person.  For a long time.  I put all that behind me a long time ago, well before I got married.  But when I heard it, I actually listened to the words.  It is about a man getting ready to have a child.  I couldn’t help but think of Jacob and how blessed I feel to have him in my life and proud I am of him.

“Smoky Mountain Rain”, Ronnie Milsap: Yes, you will find me listening to a little bit of country.  Not the modern-day country music, but music from when I lived in Roanoke as a small boy.  This was one of those songs.  I believe it is another 1980 song.  A lot of the songs from that time period I would hear listening to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 every Sunday night.  I used to tape them on my tape recorder.  I think I may still have one of those cassette tapes lying around somewhere!

“City Of Blinding Lights”, U2: This is in my top five favorite U2 songs.  Easily.  Everything just flows, the piano, the guitar, the bass, the drums.  But Bono’s words hit home with me the first time I heard it.  “Blessings not just for the ones who kneel, luckily.”  When Bono sings “I’m getting ready to leave the ground”, The Edge takes off with this swirling riff that leads to the main chorus.  Aside from being a great song, it also reminds me of one dark night in my life.  I got into a terrible fight with someone in my life and it led to a very strained relationship between the two of us that has never quite been the same since.  It was stupid and silly stuff that started it.  I lacked the patience at the time to deal with that stupid and silly stuff and it is something I regret to this day.

“Take It Easy”, The Eagles: Glenn Frey passed away last year.  It bummed me out for a while.  Probably more than David Bowie who passed a week earlier.  When I lived in Roanoke as a child, I considered this my golden years.  When life was innocent and pure.  Not tainted by politics and real-life issues.  Just being a kid.  Playing with friends.  Taking long walks for hours without worrying about someone kidnapping me like we tend to think nowadays with our own kids.  Exploring the world I lived in every chance I had.  Making all those kid mistakes and just bouncing right back.  I miss those days.  Not days I could or would live in again, but with a fondness that brightens my soul.  And The Eagles were right there the whole time!

“When You’re Falling”, Afro-Celt Sound System and Peter Gabriel: This reminds me of the move from that suburb of San Diego to Riverside County in May of 2001.  To a little town called Menifee.  To our beautiful two-story home with the small back-yard.  Watching the sun set over Mount San Jacinto those first times.  Fixing up our home.  Buying a lawn mower for the first time.  Painting rooms.  Sitting on the patio with the love of my life on those warm nights.  It all seemed so simple and easy back then.

“I Will Follow”, U2: back again!  I saw them in 1985 during their Unforgetable Fire Tour.  In New Haven, Connecticut.  It was the first concert I ever went to.  Bono would just grab someone from the audience and let them play his guitar or dance with them.  As the band has aged over the past thirty-five plus years, it can be hard to imagine them back in those younger days.  How many bands stick around for this long with the same line-up from when they first started?

“Still The One”, Orleans: This reminds me of the summer of 1978.  I was eight years old.  We belonged to this swim club called Aquanet.  My brothers and I spent many of our summer days there.  Swimming, shooting pool, buying candy from the food court, running around, the life guard telling me not to run, listening to the songs of the summer.  Those were the days!

“Since You’ve Been Gone”, The Outfield: This song has a specific story and meaning.  I was in a fight with a friend and I stopped myself from picking up the phone for a long time.  I heard this song in August of 1987.  Right after, I picked up the phone and just said “Let’s meet.”  Sometimes when we let go of our stubbornness it can be a good thing!

“Reunion”, Collective Soul: May 1995.  A transition.  Letting go and letting in.  “Change has been what change will be.  Time will tell then time will ease.  Now my curtain has been drawn and my heart can go where my heart does belong.  I’m goin’ home.”

“Rock The Casbah”, The Clash: Once upon a time, The Clash was the best band in the world.  During their latter days, they hit it big when “Combat Rock” came out in 1982.  There was no more tubular song that fall then “Rock The Casbah”.  This is one of those songs that never seems to come off my MP3 player!

“I Will Follow You Into The Dark”, Death Cab For Cutie: As we get older, we tend to lose people we love more and more.  Sometimes it happens unexpectedly and others it is a long road to travel.  This song reminds me of the fear the dying must have.  A terrifying feeling of an ending.  I believe in Heaven and eternal life.  I believe our souls embark to a life greater than one we can ever imagine.  But that one moment scares me.  I pray I don’t die alone.  I can think of nothing more miserable.  I want those I love to be around me so I can hopefully say goodbye.

“The Sound of Sunshine”, Michael Franti & Spearhead: Another Firefly song.  When this band played, the sun came out after a morning of rain.  Soon, the band played this song.  Beach balls started flying through the crowd.  Everyone was singing along.  People were smiling and dancing.  Enjoying life.  It was the sound of sunshine.

“Times Like These”, The Foo Fighters: In the fall of 2002, I remember driving down the 15 (yes, on the West Coast people put “the” before major highways) and hearing this song on 91x.  That journey from Menifee to Rancho Bernardo.  Menifee to Murietta to Temecula to Fallbrook to Escondido to Rancho Bernardo.  Through the mountains.  The endless line of stopped cars no matter what road you think will be a short cut.  Road rage all around you.  Motorcycles whizzing by as you sit there forever.  Sometimes you just crank the volume all the way to the top and sing your ass off.

“Rain In The Summertime”, The Alarm: Another Alarm song.  But this is my all-time fave of the Welsh band.  “And then I run ’til the breath tears my throat and the pain hits my side.  As if I run fast enough, I can leave all the pain and the sadness behind.”  I’ve run a lot in my life.  I’ve run towards things and away from things.  I’ve physically run.  Away from bullies.  For exercise.  For work.  I’ve run after my dog when she got out of the house a few times.  What has always fascinated me about long-distance runners is the wall.  That moment when they go past that point of exertion and get that extra shot of adrenaline and keep going.  Lately I’ve been looking for that wall.  I want to tear it down and go to that next level.

“What You Need”, INXS: It is hard for me to think of any INXS song without thinking of Michael Hutchence.  He was the lead singer and he died twenty years ago.  He killed himself.  He couldn’t hold on for just one more day.  As Bono from U2 said, he was “stuck in a moment you can’t get out of”.  A decade before that, INXS was on top.  Before “Kick” shot them through the stratosphere, they came out with “Listen Like Thieves”.  “What You Need” was the lead single and it showcased INXS at their musical peak.  Hutchence wailing, the horns blowing, building up to the crescendo.  Some music is just about the band.

“One More Time”, The Cure: In the fall of 1987, my paternal grandmother passed away from cancer.  It hurt, a lot.  She was the first major family member I lost.  My first grandparent to leave this earth.  We were close.  A few years before, I spent a week with her and my grandfather up at Cape Cod.  It wasn’t really on the Cape, but we always called it that.  It wasn’t far from the Cape though.  A beach town called Mattapoisett in Buzzards Bay.  They lived in this enclave called Antossawamock.  I remember one evening during that week, my grandmother and I just sat there talking on the couch, for hours.  She understood me in ways others didn’t.  I tell people the best way to build a relationship with my son is to make that connection.  Once you have that, you are golden.  I had that with my grandmother.  After her memorial service, I walked along the beach listening to this song.  I just wanted one more time.

“Swing Life Away”, Rise Against: Another song from 2004 that reminds me of my son’s first few months.  Wondering what his life would be like.  All the hope and promise.  Watching him during those May and June days sleeping in that aquarium swing.  Taking him for walks to Lake Menifee.  Waiting for his Mommy to get home from work.  Changing his diapers.  Just holding him for what seemed like forever.  Rocking him in the rocking chair listening to a Reggae nursery rhyme CD.  Reading tons of books to him.  Days I cherish.  Days I wouldn’t trade for any other day in the world.

“Ordinary World”, Duran Duran: I wasn’t expecting a great Duran Duran song driving back to college in January 1993.  But there it was.  Driving down the Pennsylvania Turnpike back to Cabrini College.  For months after, I would pop this song on.  I remember working on the school newspaper, The Loquitur.  I was the Associate News Editor.  On Tuesday evenings, you could count on myself and the other staff toiling away until way after midnight putting the paper together to send to the printer the next morning for a Thursday release.  We were a team.  We disagreed, we fought, we argued.  But when it came time to getting it done every week, we laughed, we joked, and we worked.  We made it happen.  And we never failed.  This was in the days before the internet changed journalism by leaps and bounds.  So we literally cut and pasted.  We cropped photos by scissors.  And then scanned them in.  It was fun!

“Don’t Ask The Reason Why”, Restless Heart: Growing up is tough enough.  Trying to cross that bridge between your teenage years and adulthood can be very tough.  It always helps when you have a friend to travel with.  I like to look back now and realize that I once had a best friend and we helped each other on that journey.  Through the laughter and the pain, we both made it to adulthood.  We all have those people where things get so bad you don’t talk to them anymore.  Far too much scar tissue.  But as the years have gone by, I recognize that place and time in my life with purpose.  How it wasn’t as bad as I once thought it was.  That time led to my carefree and reckless twenties.  Which led to settling down from that.  Which led to meeting Deb.  Which led to my incredible and awesome son.  Which led me to now.  I let go of the angst from that time period a long time ago.  Sometimes I want to say hi to my old friend.  But I understand the distance has a reason.  I hope you are well.

“Red Skies”, The Fixx: Back in 1982, the Cold War was in full swing.  We were all scared of the bomb.  Both the USA and Russia continued their nuclear buildup and we lived on the razor’s edge.  No one could have foreseen the collapse of the Soviet Union years later at that time.  It was the most important world event of the time.  After seeing “The Day After” in 1983, the horror of nuclear war came home on the TV screen.  People vaporized in an instant.  I tried to understand how two countries were hell bent on destroying each other.  It never made sense to me.

“Next Generation”, Alphaville: I found this song as a b-side on a 45.  For those who may be too young to understand what the hell I’m talking about, back then songs from albums had singles.  You could get them as a smaller vinyl record called a 45 or as a cassingle (a cassette single).  This dovetails with the last song somewhat.  Alphaville is a German band.  At that time, Berlin was still divided by a wall.  An East and West Berlin existed along with West Germany and East Germany.  It was the settlement Germany had to give to make peace after World War II.  The Russians got part of the country resulting in two different countries, a democratic and free state and a communist one.  Alphaville sang about that dynamic in a lot of their earlier songs.  When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, many folks in the world were terrified of a reunified Germany.  They thought they would go back to their old habits of the earlier 2oth century.  But the next generation made sure that didn’t happen.

“You Are Not Alone”, The Eagles: In 2007, after 27 years, the Eagles were reunited and it felt so good!  One of the songs on their new album, “You Are Not Alone”, was sung by the late Glenn Frey.  I wrote earlier about that moment of death and the horrifying feeling it must be.  I like to think of this song as that next step as our spirit soars to Heaven.  Into the loving arms of Our Father.  Death is very tough for the living.  But it is life for the dying.  That can be a hard concept to grasp for some people.  In the years since my mom passed, I’ve tried explaining this to my son who still has tough moments with it.  But I tell him she is happy now and she wouldn’t want him to cry about it anymore.  And that she wants nothing more than for him to be happy.

“Forever Young”, Alphaville: The first Alphaville song I ever heard.  The one that made me understand things on that cold and snowy Tuesday morning in December back in 1986.  The song that made me see a different world where we can be whatever we make of ourselves.

“We’ve Got Tonight”, Bob Seger: When we are young, we so desperately want to love and be loved.  We make so many mistakes trying to find that one person.  We stumble down that tricky road.  We dream and hope.  We cry and yell.  We fall and rise.  We find new loves in the wake of the old ones.  Love can take a long time to discover the central mystery to it all.  That defining moment when you realize what life is really about.  When you put away the toys of youth and see life in a new way.  I won’t tell you what it is.  If you don’t know, you aren’t there yet.  And that is a journey we all must make ourselves.

Okay, enough for one night.  I’ll have to do this again sometime!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Conversation With Diane Ravitch & Clarification On Opt Out

Since myself and several other education bloggers came out with articles yesterday pushing for parents to opt out of more than just standardized assessments, we are being questioned by several in the fight against corporate education reform and the privatization of public schools.  Many of us found that social media groups where we regularly post articles were censoring us by not posting our articles.  This led to some anger and hostility.  Some felt we were undermining their own group goals with opt out.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Those of us who posted yesterday have been sounding the alarm about the ed tech invasion taking place in our schools even before the Every Student Succeeds Act bill was fully seen by everyone.  We believe the once a year assessments will be replaced by constant “stealth” assessments in a competency-based education set up by a constant digital learning environment.  We also believe that the ability to opt out will not be so easy when this happens.  Which is why we want to stop this from happening in the first place.  Sometimes you have to draw people into a conversation.  This was our attempt and it appears it is working.

As part of my article yesterday, I wrote about Diane Ravitch’s role in all this and how some felt she wasn’t speaking loud enough about these issues.  Last night into this morning, I had a very long exchange with Diane on her blog about this.  I want to share this conversation so that some who were misled about the intentions of my article understand where it was coming from.  It began with a comment from someone called “Digital Skeptic” (which is not me nor do I know who it is).  There is one part of the conversation that is bolded for emphasis as I feel it was the most important part of it.  The full story behind where all this came from and where the actual exchange took place can be seen here: BIG NEWS! DISCOVERY! One (1) Funder That Supports Public Schools!

Digital Skeptic, 9/14/16, 10:43am:

Well, you need to get up to speed on digital badging and learning eco-systems ASAP then. Maybe set up a google alert for “personalized learning?” That would give you a lot of material to start with. Also Knowledgeworks is one of the main promoters of this new way of looking at “education.”

Kevin Ohlandt, 9/15/16, 6:43pm:

Why is Diane refusing to answer questions about digital badging? She addresses everyone else but won’t answer this question. I don’t get it.

Diane Ravitch, 9/15/16, 9:50pm:

Kevin, I don’t understand your hayloft. I have written many posts opposing data mining, data tracking, Gates-funded galvanic skin monitors. I oppose any digital monitoring, tracking, badging or spying on children.

Diane Ravitch, 9/15/16, 9:56pm:

Kevin, I was driving from Brooklyn to Southold. Traffic was heavy. It took four hours. That’s why my response to you was delayed. Other than not commenting on digital badges, which I never heard of, what else have I not written about?

Kevin Ohlandt, 9/15/16, 10:13pm:

Many of us are finding out about big things going on with Competency-Based Education tied to digital learning and personalized learning. Some of us have been writing about this since last year. A lot of us got involved when ESSA came out. We have tracked companies and documents and found more than sufficient evidence that leads to the death of brick and mortar schools and teachers being eliminated. I think it concerns many that you aren’t aware of this. People look to you as the go-to person on this kind of thing. When there is silence on the issue, it is concerning. The fact you haven’t heard about digital badges is even more concerning. To some, and I will throw my name out there, it feels like you pick and choose what to write about. That is certainly your right. I don’t know how much you read other blogs or engage on social media. There isn’t enough time in the day to read everything. Our fear is that Hillary will be a HUGE supporter of all this when it goes down. It is already taking place in pilot districts across the country. This is the next battle. ESSA is complex but embedded in it are easter eggs for the corporations that are going to continue to data-mine students. The career pathway programs being set up by the Feds is also not a safe thing. When you combine all this, it is a frightening future. I think it caught many by surprise with your post about that foundation you wrote about yesterday. The fact you didn’t name them, but when people looked into them a relation of yours appeared. It was a culmination of events that have been building up. I am begging you… you have a very wide audience… please start to write about this stuff.

Diane Ravitch, 9/15/16, 10:25pm:

Kevin, send me articles and I will post them. I am 78 years old. I spend 6-8 hours daily reading and blogging. Most of what I post comes from things that people call to my attention, either on my email, the comments on the blog, or Twitter. There have been nearly 400,000 comments on the blog. I have read all of them.  If you want me to write about digital badges, write a piece and send it to me.

Kevin Ohlandt, 9/15/16, 10:26pm:

Thank you, I appreciate that.

Diane Ravitch, 9/15/16, 10:34pm:

Kevin, If you disagree with something I post or think I should post something different, write me. You don’t have to attack me to get my attention.

Diane Ravitch, 9/15/16, 10:34pm:

My son invests in many businesses, his specialty is sports and media. If you want to buy or sell a sports team, he’s the go-to guy. He is not a hedge fund manager. He doesn’t play the stock market. He invests in new companies that he believes in them. I don’t know what he invests in but I have his promise that he will not invest in anything that promotes or supports or builds charter schools. He doesn’t tell me what his companies he invests in, and frankly I don’t give a damn. A mention in my blog does not help or hurt a company. If it did, Pearson would be bankrupt.

One more thing: Ari Emanuel, Rahm’s brother, has a partner of my son. This has zero influence on me. I have never said a good word about Rahm. When I met him in 2010, he was rude, condescending, and offensive. I have never forgotten or forgiven. Karen Lewis is one of my heroes, and I have condemned Rahm’s destruction of public schools in Chicago.

Kevin Ohlandt, 9/15/16: 11:01pm:

Diane, I totally agree with you on the investments in charters being a very bad thing. But there are inherent dangers when firms like Raine invest in companies that will immensely benefit Pearsson and other ed tech companies. The charters are just one part of the whole equation. When I talk about digital badges, these are badges students will “earn” in the future based on curriculum provided by ed tech companies. It won’t be about what happens in the classroom because they will be digital classrooms where the teachers I fight for every day will become nothing more than a glorified moderator to ed tech developed and created by companies.

In 2011, the Family Educational Privacy Rights Act changed. It allowed student data to go out to education “research” companies. I firmly believe, as do many others, this was intentional. It allows student identifiable information to go from schools to state DOEs to outside companies. It is a complete invasion of private information that should stay in public schools. Students shouldn’t be judged like this. They are creative and wonderful children, not guinea pigs for companies to make a profit off of. 

We need to get FERPA restored to what it was before 2011. That will stop this and we need you to help us get people to understand what is going on out there. Our next President (God help us all if it is Trump) needs to do this. The plans are in place and time is running out for today’s kids as well as future generations of students.

Diane Ravitch, 9/15/16, 11:11pm:

Kevin, I strongly support the revision of FERPA to protect student privacy. Google my name and FERPA, and you will see that I wrote several posts condemning Duncan for weakening FERPA in 2011.

I am on the board of Leonie Haimson’s Class Size Matters, which sponsors Student Privacy Matters. Leonie and Rachel Strickland led the fight to kill Gates’ inBloom. It brought the issue of data mining to public attention. I supported their campaign to protect students. You criticize for not doing things that I did.

Diane Ravitch, 9/15/16, 11:19pm:

My son has read my books. He stays far away from the education sector. He invested in VICE, a youth-oriented media company that produces cutting-edge documentaries and has its own cable station, in connection with HBO. One of the companies he backs created South Park and The Book of Mormon. He introduced the NBA to China. He invested in the Yankees cable station. He financed a guy who was creating a free and independent news outlet in Afghanistan. I am very proud of him. He is a good man.

Kevin Ohlandt, 9/15/16, 11:21pm:

I’ll be honest with you. I didn’t get involved in all of this “destruction of public education” until about 2 1/2 years ago when a charter denied my son an IEP and I started digging to find out what was going on in education. A lot of what you are talking about is “before my time” so to speak. I can’t change anything that happened before. And those things you did, they are huge! I apologize for not knowing your role in those events. I have a lot of respect for Leonie and Rachel and I engage with them regarding these matters quite a bit through an email group I belong to.

I’m not criticizing you for President Obama weakening FERPA, but with your legitimacy, saying how important it would be to undo that 2011 change to FERPA would add great weight to the fight for student data privacy. Our next president could repeal the 2011 change. Do you think Hillary would do that? I don’t know if you are in a position to ask her, but if so, is that something you could do?

Kevin Ohlandt, 9/15/16, 11:23pm:

Well if he got the Yankees cable station into being, he is an awesome person!

Diane Ravitch, 9/15/16, 11:47pm:

I promise you I will fight to restore FERPA, to protect your children, my grandchildren, and every child.

Diane Ravitch, 9/15/16, 11:52pm:

Kevin, I hope you will reconsider your dismissal of the power of opt out. 20% of kids opted out in 2015, 21% in 2016. Lots of new kids added because the 8th grade moved on. Because of the opt out, Cuomo shut up about his plans to break public schools. The State Board of Regents has new progressive leadership. Opt out is powerful. The legislature is back pedaling. Suppose they gave a test and no one took it. No data. No data mining.

Kevin Ohlandt, 9/16/16, 12:23am:

I don’t dismiss the power of opt out at all. But opt out as we know it has to evolve. I spent a considerable amount of time in the first half of 2015 fighting for a bill in Delaware that passed overwhelmingly in our House and Senate. It codified a parent’s right to opt out. And also would have made sure our DOE and schools didn’t punish students. Our Governor vetoed the bill.

In the competency-based education arena, tests like SBAC and PARCC will change. The once a year test will be gone but will instead morph into mini-tests. Delivered online, but they will happen weekly, or bi-weekly, or at the end of each unit. Delaware put out an RFP for our new Social Studies state assessment that our Secretary of Education said will be delivered throughout the year. Make no mistake, these will be the same type of standardized tests parents are opting out of. But if they replace teacher created tests and student’s grades depend on them, it will make opt out very difficult.
Tom Vander Ark, who used to be an executive for Gates, and is now with Global Futures, told everyone about this here: http://gettingsmart.com/2015/05/the-end-of-the-big-test-moving-to-competency-based-policy/

This is happening now, in real-time, and it is only a matter of time before the “pilots” go national. I don’t want that for my son or any other child in this country. If it stayed the same as it is now, I would still be fighting the same fight. But ESSA will deliver this into our schools. Once that happens, what can a parent do? This is why I am so passionate about this stuff. Time is running out. ESSA calls for more pilot states for many things. My philosophy has always been the same, if it isn’t good for kids, I can’t support it. But when I see teachers fully embracing ed tech like it is the best thing since sliced bread, it is very worrisome.

Diane Ravitch: 9/16/16, 8:25am:

Kevin, I totally agree with you about the dangers of online assessment. I have written many posts criticizing online assessment. Among other things, they will be data mining students nonstop. The same parents who fought for opt out will fight against continuous online assessment. Saying opt out is dead demoralizes them and takes away the most powerful tool that parents have: the right to say no. The opt movement in New York has achieved incredible results. They will keep fighting against online assessment but they need support not negativity.

Kevin Ohlandt, 9/16/16, 9:04am: 

Diane, You keep talking about New York. I live in Delaware. While I think New York tends to set the pace for the rest of the country, followed closely by NJ, opt out is not as big in my state. The title of my article was “Opt Out As We Know It Is Dead”. Meaning it has become so much more than just opting out of assessments. Opt out is very powerful, but somewhere along the way the reformers learned how to take advantage of it. As opt out grew, so did the need for “reduced assessments”. What I found hysterical was that the state assessment, at least in my state, was not allowed to be on the table for change or elimination. It was talked about in meetings, but nothing came of it in the final report. I don’t underestimate the power of the parent voice at all. But I see so many parents who don’t seem to have a problem with the technology in classrooms. The biggest complaint from the opt out crowd in the beginning was too much assessment. And then certain civil rights groups (who get tons of funding from Gates et al) started speaking out against opt out. All I’m saying is parents need to use the tool they have and make it louder, much louder. To be very clear, I am NOT against opt out. We haven’t come this far to throw it all away now.

It was my idea to have multiple bloggers write about this topic yesterday. It was meant to draw attention to other issues going on besides just the state assessment. It is creating dialogue and conversation in the past 24 hours that many didn’t even know about. While I don’t think a “shock and awe” approach is always appropriate, in this situation I felt it was needed. Every single state will be submitting their ESSA plans in the next six months. A crucial part of that process will be what they hear from parents. By alerting parents to the dangers embedded in ESSA, it is my hope they will really look into what the entire law means, and not just the parts that the State DOEs and the reformers are choosing to show the public. The law was meant to give states more education power than the feds. But far too many states are aligned with what the feds have been doing. It will only solidify the power the reformers have. Sometimes you need to wake the sleeping giant.

Kevin Ohlandt, 9/16/16, 9:12am:

To illustrate what is going on with ed tech, I just got this email from Ed Week about ed tech in early education and a webinar next week. The assumption is already made that ed tech is a part of these environments. It is already there. They are trying to mitigate that by showing “hands on” approaches as well. I see more and more of this happening every day. Early education should be about many things, but I don’t think having ed tech for toddlers and pre-K students is the right way to go. These are developing brains getting flooded with screen time and things they may not neurologically be ready for. Event Registration

Digital Skeptic, 9/16/16, 10:09am:

“My son invests in many businesses, his specialty is sports and media.” Raine Group is also invested in Parchment, an online credentialing company. From your comments, it sounds like you talk about his business investments as they relate to education. I think it’s important that you follow up with him about that particular investment as it relates to digital badges and the changes that are coming under the new ESSA roll out. http://venturebeat.com/2014/03/19/credential-verification-startup-parchment-raises-10m/

Diane Ravitch, 9/16/16, 10:21am:

Skeptic, I don’t discuss my son’s investments with him. He told me he does not invest in companies related to charter schools. The company you mention stores graduation diplomas and makes them available. From what I read in the article you sent, if a person tells a hospital he has an MD, they can check if it is true. There are frauds, and I assume this service is a verification to prevent fraud. I saw nothing that suggests this company awards credentials. In any event, he doesn’t ask me what he should invest in, and I don’t tell him what to do.

Digital Skeptic, 9/16/16, 10:32am:

Actually, it is much more complicated than that. Arthur Levine, formerly President of Teachers College at Columbia University-now working with MIT and the Woodrow Wilson Institute on a Competency-Based Education Teacher Training Program, gave the keynote at the annual Parchment conference on “innovating academic credentials.” It’s a pretty fascinating talk, and in it Levine poses a pretty radical idea of calling for a “DSM for Achievement.” https://medium.com/learning-machine-blog/a-dsm-for-achievement-9e52fd881428#.1byckgdps

The push for standards-aligned workforce development by reformers goes from “cradle to gray” as they say. Through blockchain and other means (Kevin can talk about recent developments in Blockchain/Bitcoin legislation in DE), they are looking to break education down into these bits and pieces. People will accumulate them through “lifelong learning” as they call it. Which is a pretty unpleasant take on the concept. The goal is that there will be a seamless experience, no preschool, elementary school, middle, school, college, post-secondary, workforce certification—just badges and micro credentials that define you as a digital citizen.

“My son has read my books. He stays far away from the education sector.” I think once you look into what Parchment is really about, you will see how it is tied into the education sector. These are really new markets, once that the average person is not necessarily family with unless they enjoy delving into topics like block chain and learning eco-systems.

Diane Ravitch, 9/16/16, 10:48am:

Skeptic, I have no control over investment decisions by my son’s company. I don’t think he is a Pearson stockholder. Actually, I bought 10 shares so that my vote could be cast against present management. But you are wasting your time haranguing about Raine investments. I don’t know about them. My son doesn’t support me. His investments don’t affect my views.

This was where the conversation ended, but I certainly hope it continues.  It is far to important not to.  To point out one important thing: I am not Digital Skeptic nor do I know who it is.

This morning, the United Opt Out National group came out with the following position statement, in large part, I believe, as a reaction to the blog posts from yesterday:

“As the opt out movement grows, we grow – sometimes in different directions and sometimes together – as we adjust to policy changes that impact our schools.” United Opt Out National. Growth is necessary to ensure we continue to refuse to accept the privatization of our schools and communities.  As a form of resistance, opt out threatens those who seek to push their toxic brand of reform on public education.  And as the tactics change and evolve, opt out is needed more than ever.  

            Opt out is a type of civil disobedience. It is a form of protest where parents, students, and teachers refuse to submit to the perverted use of high stakes standardized testing. We never wanted permission to opt out.  We never asked for an opt out clause. We promoted opt out as a tool for stopping the corporate assault on public education. Opt out was to be the first domino that sends the rest falling down. If a whole class opts out then there is no need for test prep and if a whole school opts out then there is no need to use valued added measures (VAM) to evaluate teachers.  And one by one the dominoes fall as we get closer to tearing down the school reform house of cards.

            Since ESSA was passed, we at United Opt Out National have encouraged parents, students, and teachers to refuse indoctrination through digital learning. As we became aware of how the reformers would use ESSA to push through their new scheme we restructured our goals to include:

Push for protections for quality pedagogy, the teaching profession, and public school funding that the newly legislated Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) attempts to tear down via the push toward isolationist computer based digital instruction that facilitates indoctrination, free for all data mining, and compromised cognitive, physical, and social development; the alternative teacher certification programs that place unqualified people in classrooms, and the unregulated charter industry that strips public schools of resources, increases segregation, and allows for theft of public money.

 Instead of only opting out of high stakes standardized tests, we have promoted opting out of all digital learning and assessments. In fact, given the documented negative effects of excessive screen time on children’s healthy development, our revised opt out letters must call for no screen time or a very limited amount each day (see sample letter below).  We must make it clear that no matter what legislation is passed or what new gimmicks they create; we will not be tricked into thinking that corporations have our best interest at heart.

            You see, those who seek to privatize education are always promoting choice. They promote charters because it gives parents choice. They support competency based education and personalized learning because it is tailored to the needs of children and gives them choices.  Well we support choice too. And opt out is a choice. A choice to just say no. No to the privatization schemes. No to turning education into a business. No to replacing teachers with computers. No to non-educators controlling education. As parents, students, and teachers we get to choose what type of education system we want. And when we opt out our choice becomes crystal clear.

In fact, we at United Opt Out National are working to broaden the opt out movement by hosting a Civil Rights Summit in Houston, Texas October 14-16. Our goal is to work with Houston AFT and civil rights groups who have historically misunderstood the opt out movement, to determine if we can build common ground around the harmful effects high stakes standardized testing is having on black and brown communities. Broadening opt out to be more inclusive of the needs of communities of color is another way we keep opt out alive and well and counter the myth that opt out is for white soccer moms. Opt out is about reclaiming our people power to fight back against what we know is wrong.  Opt out is only as strong as the people who use it. And the more we continue to resist the stronger we become.

I think we are all looking at the same book, but some of us appear to be on different chapters or pages within those chapters.  I agree with every single thing in United Opt Out’s statement.  Things have been very heated in the past few weeks.  It is more important that we talk with each other and reach out to each other.  We aren’t always going to agree, but our end goals are all the same: to get this horrible corporate invasion of public schools to come to an end once and for all.  Some feel that the discussion is the solution.  I don’t always agree with that.  I feel finding common ground or compromising only gives more power to the “other side”.  It is my contention they (the ed reformers and their legion of supporters in positions of power and commerce) put stuff out there knowing it will be sacrificed to make themselves look good.  But there are some who straddle between us (the rebellion) and the reformers (the empire).  There is value in swaying those groups, parents, and power figures to our side.  Some of us (like myself) take a very direct approach and the result isn’t seen as a soft touch.  Trust is a fragile thing in this environment.  I’m sure many groups and people who have been fighting this fight can attest to this.  This is what prompted the Diane Ravitch conversation.  I am taking Diane at her word that her son stays away from the education sector with the business he co-founded.  Even though others in the very same company are investing in ed tech, it is not my place to get involved with a son’s word to his mother.  I very much appreciate Diane engaging in this conversation.

 

John King Blames Remedial Classes On His Failure As NY Commissioner Of Education

I don’t think anyone intended for science or social studies or art or music to get less attention when No Child Left Behind was adopted. -John King

When asked by New York Rep. Elise Stefanic at last week’s Every Student Succeeds Act hearing what lessons he learned and what mistakes were made during his time as Commissioner of Education of New York State, John King blamed remedial classes and circumvented giving a direct answer to Rep. Stefanic.  He refused to take any personal blame for what many in New York see as a very flawed Commissioner.  For someone who wants “Educational Excellence”, or in other words, more accountability for “failing schools” based on very flawed high-stakes testing scores, King is unable to be accountable to himself or his own actions.  If the Common Core standards were as great as King believes, it would not take this long to implement them.  King didn’t even address Rep. Stefanik’s comments about some schools in her district having 80% opt-out rates.

Badass Teachers Association: Rejoiced Over Arne Duncan & Horrified Over John King

The Badass Teachers Association, a group of over 70,000 teachers nationwide released a press statement on Arne Duncan’s resignation as the United States Secretary of Education and President Obama’s selection of former New York Commissioner John King as his replacement.  The BATs are NOT happy about this, and I don’t think anyone who cares about public education should be either…

BATs Respond to Duncan Leaving USDOE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 2, 2015
More information contact:
Marla Kilfoyle, General Manager BATs or Melissa Tomlinson, Asst. General Manager BATs
Contact.batmanager@gmail.com
The Badass Teachers Association at badassteacher.org
Today the White House confirmed that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan would be stepping down. The Badass Teachers Association, an education activist organization with over 70,000 supporters nationwide, celebrate this decision. Sadly, at the same time we rejoice the resignation of a man who has done more destruction to public education than any other sitting Secretary, we are horrified that President Obama has chosen to replace him with John King. John King is the former Commissioner of Education in New York.
John King’s tenure in New York was one of controversy and with an established agenda of dismantling public education by using corporate education reform tactics. King was run out of New York in 2014 because of a staggering test opt out rate, because he ignored and dismissed parents at education forums, and because he refused to fix an education system that he himself destroyed. The state teachers union, NYSUT, had a unanimous vote of no confidence in him prior to his departure.
“While we are glad to see Arne Duncan leave his post as one of the most destructive people to hold the title of Secretary of Education, we remain concerned that he will be replaced with yet another non-educator that will continue the Corporate Education Agenda. What we need now more than ever, is a compassionate, knowledgable, and experienced educator at the helm of this country’s highest education post.” – Gus Morales, Massachusetts BAT and Public Education Teacher 9 years
“John King did more destruction to the New York State education system than any sitting commissioner I have known in my tenure as an educator in New York State. He dismissed the parents, teachers, and students of New York State by calling us “special interest groups.” The fact that he has been elevated to the U.S. Secretary of Education is beyond appalling.” Marla Kilfoyle, New York BAT and Public Education Teacher in New York for 29 years.
John King taught for three years in a “no-excuses” charter chain that had a high suspension rate. His agenda in New York State was to attempt to destroy the public’s confidence in public education. He grossly miscalculated the parents, educators and students of New York State. We anticipate he will continue his failed New York agenda while head of the United States Department of Education.

# #  #

Smiley The Terrible

One friend.  Just one.  Sometimes that’s all we need.  Just one, in a lifetime of people that pass through.

In 1981, I moved from Roanoke, VA to South Salem, NY.  Entering 6th grade, I was scared and nervous.  I was an okay student, but I had some minor disabilities in the form of attention deficit with a touch of hyperactivity.  When we moved that May, our new house wasn’t finished yet, but we sold the prior house so we had to rent a home for about three months.  For a month and a half, I went to an elementary school in Chappaqua, NY.  For about three weeks in July, we moved in with my Aunt and Uncle in Brookfield, CT, on the shores of Candlewood Lake.  Finally, in the beginning of August we moved to our new home in a small residential neighborhood in the bottom southwest corner of NY state.  If you walked through the woods about 1/2 a mile, you would be in Connecticut.

Within days of moving in, I met the Eds.  Two boys, my age and in the same grade, both named Ed.  All three of us had a love of comic books, so the first day we met, we were trading comics left and right.  Both of them played soccer, but I wasn’t interested in the game having done horrible a year prior.

I had a very difficult time making friends at my new school.  I had a southern accent, and it quickly became apparent I was a little different.  As well, I stupidly asked a question in 6th grade math when talking about rocks.  “Are rocks alive?” branded me for a few months as the village idiot.  And a month into school, when we could run for town positions, I decided to run for town clerk.  I had to give a speech at an assembly, and after uttering the words “My name is Kevin Ohlandt, and I’m running for town clerk”, most of the school was heard repeating these words when I would walk by.  My reaction was fierce!  I started talking back to those who taunted and teased me, and threats of “kicking my ass” soon followed.  It became a vicious cycle of taunt & tease, react, threats, and then me backing down and often crying or running away from the situation.

The two Eds though, they never joined the crowd.  After school, I would often hang out with them, usually exploring the vast amount of woods behind our houses.  Sometimes a bunch of neighborhood kids would play football or baseball, or in the summer, very large games of Flashlight Tag at night.  We would ride our bikes, go to new houses being built, or throw rocks on a frozen pond in the winter.  Eddie and I would walk to the bus stop almost every day.

As sixth grade led to junior high school, things got progressively worse for me.  Instead of battling one school, it was now four rolled into one.  More enemies.  Fights happened, usually with my “ass getting kicked”, but I still reacted without thinking.  Before too long, I was the one starting things.  But through it all, every day, I would sit at lunch eating with the two Eds and some other kids.  After school, more of the same.

During 7th and 8th grade, with my obnoxious big mouth and instigating tactics, I was often told to sit at the front of the bus.  Usually one of the Eds would sit with me.  He was called Eddie by most.  Eddie was the tallest of the three of us.  He was a gentle soul, always smiling.  He could be quiet and reserved at times, but for the most part we would talk and joke around.  I nicknamed him Smiley the Terrible.  I can’t for the life of me remember the context of the nickname, but terrible is the last adjective I would ever use to think of Eddie.

In 9th grade, still in Junior High School in our district, Eddie would share stories he wrote.  For a 14-15 year old, he wrote some very intelligent, well thought-out stories.  It was better than a lot of the stuff I had to read at school!  His imagination knew no bounds, even getting into some physics stuff before our time.

Things started to change when we entered high school.  Our interests changed.  The two Eds were heavily involved in soccer or other sports, and our four years of shared CCD classes ended after we were all confirmed.  I was still into comic books, even working at a comic book store over the border in Connecticut on Saturdays.  As friends tend to do at different points in our lives, we drifted apart.  I was very involved in youth groups and church activities, but that was in Connecticut.  We still talked, all three of us, but the conversations were more about what was going on or what girls we liked.

When I was in 11th grade, in 1987, I participated in a large church retreat called Emmaus.  For first-time participants, we were called candidates.  Emmaus was essentially an unconditional love fest retreat from Friday evening to Sunday evening.  Prior attendees, both teenagers and adults, would work the retreat.  As part of Emmaus, parents were encouraged to reach out to their teenager’s friends to write letters  to the candidates.  I received letters from the two Eds.  Eddie wrote the following:

Many people used to ask me why I was your friend.  “Why not?” was my usual response.  Perhaps they understood, perhaps they didn’t.

Eddie went on to write about some other things, but he concluded with this:

I’m glad you are my friend just because you are.

I received many letters from friends and family that weekend, but this was one of the ones that touched me the most.  No matter what, even if I embarrassed him with my actions, Eddie was committed to being my friend.  I had other friends, but it’s rare to have a friend that goes back years as a kid with disabilities.

Towards the end of our Senior year, Eddie and I talked a bit more.  Perhaps it was nostalgia creeping in as we prepared to embark on the next chapter of our sheltered lives, or maybe we found common ground.  Whatever it was, it culminated at a party at my house a month after graduation.  My parents were away, and my two older brothers and I had a huge party.  The two Eds came, and I remember the three of us talking in my backyard.  We made a toast to the past and to the future.  To my recollection, it was the last time all three of us were together.

After a year of trying to “find myself”, I moved to Pennsylvania with my parents and attended community college.  The first few years there were very rough for me.  Transition and I have never been good friends.  In the Fall of 1992 I would transfer to Cabrini College in Radnor, PA as a junior.  The summer before, I had the coolest job ever.  I was an editor for a magazine called Comics Values Monthly.  The owner of the comic book store I worked for back in 1985 started this magazine a year later after he closed the shop.  I continued to work for him throughout high school.  In 1991, his magazine was really taking off, and I offered to help.  Once a month, I would go up to Connecticut and New York during weekends and submit freelance work I did for the magazine throughout the month.  I went over to Eddie’s house one night during the summer, and we chatted a bit.  He was attending Washington College in Chestertown, MD.

On October 16th, 1992, a friend was driving me to a party.  A wicked storm came in, thunder and lightning all over the place.  As we were driving, I felt something.  I knew something happened.  My heart felt a sudden emptiness, a vacancy.  I didn’t know what it was, and it scared the hell out of me.  All I knew was that someone, somewhere, that I was once close to died.  I knew it in my conscious mind and I was sad.  By the time we got to the party, I put it out of my mind and had the kind of fun you can only have in college!

The next day, I felt a need to go home.  I was at Cabrini for a month and a half, and it was a whirlwind of studies, partying, working on the school newspaper, and working for the magazine.  I needed a break.  My parents had gone away that weekend, so I had the house to myself.  Early that Sunday morning, I received a phone call.  It was the other Ed’s mother.  I will never forget the words.  “I hate to tell you this, Eddie died Friday night.”

Eddie became involved in theater at Washington College.  While working on lighting for an upcoming play, he was electrocuted.  He died instantly.  The horrible loss I felt that Friday evening, over 100 miles away from Chestertown, MD, was Eddie passing away.  I found out later it was the exact same time of his death.

The next few days were a blur.  The following Wednesday was Eddie’s funeral.  I was unable to attend the wake the night before.  In Pennsylvania, it was raining non-stop.  I left very early, at 5:30am in the morning.  As I drove along the Delaware River on the New Jersey side, I put a tape on of U2’s Unforgettable Fire.  The title track of the album was playing and I felt Eddie’s loss more than I had at any other moment.  After the song finished, I put on a tape by a singer called Michael W. Smith.  He is a Christian singer who had some moderate mainstream success in the early 1990s.  He had just come out with a new album, and one of the songs was called “Friends”.  Another singer released this song years prior, and the first time I heard it was on my Emmaus weekend back in 1987.  As the song played driving up to Eddie’s funeral, I thought of his letter and the words he wrote.

Packing up the dreams God planted, in the fertile soil of you.  Can’t believe the hopes He’s granted, means a chapter in your life is through.  But we’ll keep you close as always.  It won’t even seem you’ve gone.  Cause our hearts, in big and small ways, will keep the love that keeps us strong.  And friends are friends forever, if the Lord’s the Lord of them.  And a friend will not say never, and the welcome will not end.  Though it’s hard to let you go, in the Father’s hands we know, that a lifetime’s not too long to live as friends.”

While the words gave me comfort, I was also angry.  How could God strike someone down in the prime of his youth.  22 years old.  He had a whole lifetime ahead of him.  I regretted losing touch with him over the years.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but he inspired me to write.  He got me to take a journalism class in high school, and his many stories spurred my own creativity.  But somewhere along the way, the focus shifted between us.  When I was in high school, I was very involved in theater, whether it was bit parts in plays, or helping to be stage manager during our high school’s variety shows.  This extended into community college for many years as well.  Even after college, I still got parts at my old community college.  But this evolved into writing.  Eddie went from writing to theater.  He was one of those guys who really didn’t have a hateful bone in his body.

As I was writing this, I decided to Google Eddie and Washington College.  I knew he had been electrocuted while working on lighting.  But I didn’t realize he was working on a particular chandelier in the auditorium as part of his drama thesis.  Something about this gnawed at me.  Being the packrat I am, I tend to keep everything.  When I pulled out Eddie’s old Emmaus letter, I remembered he wrote me a letter when he was at Washington College.  There was something about a light in the letter.  I pulled it out of the dusty bin, and read it…

There’s a neat light in the theater that I was shown my freshman year here, it’s kinda like a night light, but it isn’t.  It’s really peaceful though and if you ever get a chance to get down here, I’ll show you it.

I wish I would have taken him up on his offer.  It’s been 23 years since Eddie died.  Whenever I used to go up to our old town, I would always make it a point to visit him at his grave.  In the year after he passed, sometimes I would spend hours there, talking to him, or just thinking, or praying.  I haven’t been up in that area in a long, long time.  The last time I was there, I was married and had my son for quite a while.  Gone were the days of my youth.  This was before I knew of my son’s disabilities and the battles ahead.  Before a blog even entered my mind.  I was just a dad, struggling with myself during those transition years.

A couple years after I moved to Delaware, I played hookie from work one day.  I went for a long drive, not sure where I was going.  I just went where my car took me.  I found myself in Maryland, in a place called Chestertown.  I drove past an old college, but I didn’t make the connection.  This was where Eddie breathed his last.  Even after I left this town and the beautiful river that went into the Chesapeake Bay, I didn’t know.  It wasn’t until years later when Facebook took off and I reconnected with old friends, that I found out.  Someone said Washington College when talking about Eddie, and my answer about why I found myself at Washington College was answered.  I suppose my subconscious knew.

I think about Eddie from time to time.  If I hear mention of Chestertown or Washington College, his smiling face appears in my mind.  Recently, a friend of mine was telling me about how her daughter goes to Washington College, and I started thinking about Eddie again.  I wanted to write about him, and honor my friend.  My friend who was there for me when so many others weren’t.  When peers were saying why and he didn’t care.  Everyone needs a friend like that.  Everyone needs that one person they can turn to, no matter how bad it is, and just knowing they care makes all the difference.

Sometimes I wonder about how I find the things I do with this blog.  How I find the strength to keep going, to put something up on here every day.  The little things, like looking for an answer to a question, never finding it, but the seeking opens up a door to something else.  I’ve written before about how another person in my life gave me inspiration when I first started this journey.  We have no idea how much the departed can impact us, how they push us in certain directions if we are open to it.  If we listen.  Sometimes, when I write, I go back and read it months later and wonder where I got those words.  I like to think Eddie, and others gone before and since, are guiding me under the watchful eye of God, who I have never given enough credit for the wonderful things in my life: my wife, my son, my friends, my family.  The sunset that stretches across the sky at night on my way home from work.  The moments of absolute stillness when you feel like you are one with the world.  The nights when you are alone with nothing but the stars and you get lost in the vastness of it all.  That’s all God.  Something I need to remember.

It was so long ago, when my friend was in my life.  But he is still here, in my heart and even in my words.  He reminds me that God is still a part of my life, even when I don’t think He is there.  Part of the reason I stand up for children with disabilities is because long ago, Eddie stood up for me.  Eddie may be gone from this world, but he still burns brightly in my mind.  A light that he found, an unforgettable fire.

Flashback: September, 1986.  The three of us go to a movie in New Canaan, CT.  It’s a movie about a group of friends who have a moment in their lives when they have to make a journey to find a dead body.  But like most things in life, it doesn’t go the way they planned.

I never had any friends like the ones I had when I was twelve.  Jesus, does anyone?

I cry every time I see the end of Stand By Me now.  Every single time.  I think of Eddie, and what he meant to me, and still does.  Thank you Stephen King, for writing those words in your original short story called “The Body”, adapted into Stand By Me.  Just seventeen words to encapsulate a time when one person made a difference.

Interim Delaware Secretary of Education Godowsky Needs To Learn From New York Superintendent Elia

State Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia says she won’t prevent parents who want their children to skip the state’s standardized tests from doing so.

Diane Ravitch is reporting New York State Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia will not try to stop parent opt-out.  This is a welcome relief for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers I’m sure.  New York had the highest opt-out rates of any state in the country last spring, and all indications are pointing to these numbers increasing nationwide next year.  Bottom line: parents are fed up and sick of their children going through these state assessments.

In Delaware, we will find out how our state did tomorrow when the mighty Markell and the distorted DOE release the 2015 results for the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Will they release the participation rate for the test?  Or will we have to wait for the State Board of Education presentation on September 17th for that?  Whatever the opt-out numbers are, they WILL increase in 2016.

I’m already hearing about how districts are bragging that they did better than they thought.  But there is no indication if this is better than the proficiency rates for DCAS from last year.  One common thing I am hearing in Delaware as well as the rest of the country: students with disabilities did very bad on the Smarter Balanced.  Really bad.  Single digit proficiency in a lot of cases…

Will Dr. Steven Godowsky, the Interim Delaware Secretary of Education do anything?  He has been very quiet since the “resignation” of Mark Murphy two and a half weeks ago.  Will he be a Markell puppet or his own man? One thing is for sure, if districts, charters and the DOE thought they had their hands full with opt-out requests this year, they might want to fasten their seatbelts, because REFUSE THE TEST DELAWARE is going to give them a long and bumpy ride!

Feds Turn Down NY’s Testing Accommodations for Students withDisabilities

Delaware just passed a similar law. Does that mean the Delaware law is shut down too? Senator Poore will be very angry if this is the case. As will several other parents. This is where it begins folks.

Diane Ravitch's blog

New York proposed to exempt up to 2% of students with severe disabilities from federally required state tests.

The U.S. Department of Education said no. Last year, 95% of students with disabilities failed the new Common Core tests in New York.

Leaders of national organizations supposedly representing students with disabilities hailed the DOE’s de is ion to hold these students to the same standards, which the overwhelming majority will fail.

Peter Goodman wrote about the Common Core exams:

“Parents and teachers across the state protested – the exams were poorly prepared, school staffs not trained and parents of SWD were especially critical – the tests were far beyond the cognitive ability of their children and were emotionally harmful. After months of discussions the state, in its application for an extension of the NCLB Flexibility Waiver asked for a change.

New York State had proposed allowing up to 2 percent…

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Horrible Special Education & Discrimination in Charter Schools isn’t just a Delaware thing, USA Snapshot #netde #eduDE @delaware_gov

Delaware charters have become well known for being very bad at accommodating children with special needs.  It’s not all of them, but the bulk of them have a very hard time giving children what is required by federal law.  Recently, Kendall Massett, the executive director for the Delaware Charter School Network, wrote an article on a Delaware blog asking parents to tell why charters are so great.  To get the word out about why parents should choice their children to charters.  She also talked about how her organization wants to get more charters in Delaware’s other two counties, Kent and Sussex.  No thank you, Kendall.  We have more than enough.  Until your “great” charters fully follow the law, I don’t want to hear about MORE charters in Delaware.

To be fair though, I decided to see if this is just a Delaware issue.  It’s not.  It’s all over the country.  New York, Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and more.  I went through different search sites, and found an overwhelming amount of links.  All I put in was “charter schools not accommodating special needs”, and they appeared.  I’m going to put several links up, and I encourage every special needs parent and non-special needs parent around the country to pass the word around about America’s charter schools!

Included in these articles are special education issues, as well as numerous other tactics and illegal activities America’s charter schools have accomplished in their 18 year existence.  Well done charters!

Massachusetts: http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2014/07/13/charter-school-battle-erodes-middle-ground/ehBkNEg8rtplHN1Gta18CK/comments.html?p1=ArticleTab_Comments_ Continue reading