Category Archives: education

Have a Cigar, You’re Gonna Go Far

This is one of my favorite pictures.

2006

That was at the CBA Mothers’ Review in 2006. It’s the JROTC’s major ceremony of the year, during which the students parade, command is passed to the younger class, and the mothers are invited onto the field to “inspect” their sons. In many ways it’s a more emotional and significant event than graduation.

And then there are the cigars.

I don’t know how it started, but it’s tradition for the seniors to light stogies after they toss their hats in the air at the end of the ceremony — except this tradition is now forbidden by the administration. Agree or disagree, no smoking on school property means no smoking, but that didn’t stop a herd of students from migrating across the street, where they lit up off school property.

2013

I don’t know what’s sillier: smoking the cigars or telling the kids they can’t do it. There’s no harm really — except to that parent who wades into the cigar smoke to take a picture — he might walk away feeling a bit queasy.

 

The Fortune Cookie

I remember the afternoon that my freshman football coach, Mr. Redden, yelled at me, “Madeo! Do you want to be a lawyer?” This was after I tried to explain  why I’d done something stupid like missing a block or forgetting a play.

To Tom Redden, high school gym teacher and officer in the Marine Reserves, a man who could climb the gym ropes upside down with his feet pointing at the ceiling, this was what lawyers did, stood there and tried to explain doing something stupid. And he didn’t really want to hear it.

But what he said struck a nerve. I stopped by my guidance counsellor’s office and borrowed his copy of the LSAT study guide. For a month or two I browsed through the thick book, trying to work through its complicated logic and reasoning questions. Eventually I kind of forgot about it.

The truth is, I never got much in the way of career advice, and that’s how I ended up working in TV. Fast forward to 2013.

fortuneBroccoli in garlic sauce is my go-to meal when it comes to Chinese takeout. I figure the healthful benefits of broccoli balance the oily goodness of the brown sauce and we come out even. Like most people, I shrug off what I find in fortune cookies, but this one took me aback. Suddenly, I was standing in the huddle at practice and Mr. Redden’s voice was echoing in my head. “Madeo! Do you want to be a lawyer?”  Holy crap, did I miss something?

You can’t expect teenagers to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives, and maybe trying to talk to them about careers is a waste of time. But now it seems the only solid career counseling I ever had was from Mr. Redden and a fortune cookie. Better than nothing, I guess. Pass the soy sauce.

Writing Lesson #47

Some people will never use one word when two words will do.

If composing a road sign they would write, “Bring your vehicle to a complete halt,” instead of “STOP.”

This is the sort of thing that makes editors and teachers want to beat somebody over the head with a copy of The Elements of Style. Strunk and White may be a small book, but that would still get you fired.

So, what do you tell the writer? How about this:

You are not getting paid by the word. Instead, imagine that I gave you $400 and for each word you use I will take back one dollar. You get to keep whatever you don’t spend. I bet that would convince you to cut out unnecessary words and phrases, wouldn’t it?

Remember: it’s your job to stomp out verbosity. And if my suggestion doesn’t work, let the beatings begin.

A Stroll Down Cherry Lane

One thing leads to another. First my mind drifted to Dondi, the poodle who was hit by a car and fell down the storm drain. Naturally, I had to look at the actual site of that incident in Google Street View. There it is.

Since I was in the neighborhood, I took a virtual walk down Lexington Street to Cherry Lane School. It hasn’t changed that much.


View Larger Map

It was here that my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Rice, wrote in my permanent record that I had a tendency to begin ambitious projects and fail to complete them. Was she referring to my papier-mâché volcano? Or the elaborate diorama of a TV studio I tried to make out of clay? Maybe she was right.

It was also here at Cherry Lane that Miss Salerno tried to put ChapStick on Joe Sergio. She hated chapped lips and would chase him around with the ChapStick, trying to smear it on his lips. This was bad, but not as bad as when she tried to cut his hair. She was obsessed with Joe Sergio.

And it was at Cherry Lane where Mrs. Kennedy would award JFK fifty-cent pieces to her third grade students who did fine work or distinguished themselves in some way. I was among the handful of kids who never got one.

But what I remember best are the air raid drills. Sometimes we would get under the desks, other times we’d kneel in the corridor with out faces to the wall and our arms shielding our heads.

Of course, there were never any bombs, but it seemed like great fun at the time to pretend they were coming. At that age, everything is about fantasy and play. After the drills we would follow up on the playground, where we would make believe that the teachers were all vaporized, and climb from the rubble of Cherry Lane to rebuild the world.

The Origins of Pizza in America

There’s nothing more annoying than parents who argue with teachers about their kids’ grades. I swore I’d never be one of those people and have lived up to that standard. Except once. That was the pizza incident.

My older son’s 8th grade social studies class were assigned to write an essay from the perspective of one of their ancestors. He wrote as my grandfather, telling his tale of arriving here from Italy. In the story, my grandfather laments that America has lousy pizza.

He did a great job and would have had a perfect score, except his social studies teacher knocked off five points due to the pizza reference.

“Pizza,” she wrote in big red letters, “was invented in America after WW II.”

Pizza was invented in America? WTF?

This prompted a phone call.

“Look,” I said, trying not to sound confrontational, “I’m pretty sure there was pizza here before 1945 — and I’m positive we didn’t invent it.”

Editor’s note: beginning a statement with “look” always sounds confrontational.

She bristled. “No, it was first created by American troops returning from World War II. It was inspired by what they ate in Italy.”

The steam was beginning to build in my head. “Well, according to everything on the internet, you’re wrong.”

“Mr. Madeo. Maybe you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet.”

This was eight years ago, back when everything on the internet was true, so I  called the principal. He wisely said he wasn’t interested in getting involved in academic disputes.

Harumph!

Just as I am not one to complain about grades, I am not one to insist on having the last word, so when I saw the teacher at my kid’s 8th grade graduation I was nothing but gracious and humble. “I just wanted to thank you for everything this year. But I still say you’re wrong about the pizza thing.”

She glared at me. I smugly turned away. So there.

The Graduate

Are we not graduates?College graduation season is coming. These are special days full of celebration and ceremony, grand events that mark an important moment of passage.

And that’s why you never, ever want to graduate in December.

It’s a long story why I graduated from SUNY Plattsburgh in December — but I like to think that I got more education by being there an extra semester. What I remember best about graduation was that it was firmly second-rate. When they started playing Pomp and Circumstance on a rickety old piano, we all looked at one another thinking we’d been gypped. The whole thing had the rag-tag feel of an afterthought, sort of, “Oh… we need to throw something together for these December graduates.”

I’ve been to kindergarten graduations that were better planned.

We were increasingly skeptical as fellow student Roger Sadler took the stage to give the commencement address. They couldn’t get anybody else to speak? Rodger Sadler? But Sadler was funny and had a disarming way about him. He seemed to recognize the absurdity of our low-budget graduation — and that made us all feel good.

Plattsburgh has cleaned up its act since 1983. This year they had singers, bagpipes, and other music  – and in the press release it sounded pretty good. But just pretty good. Take my word on this: attend the May graduation, not the December one.