Category Archives: education

Stranger Than Fiction

The Albany Smudge has been on my mind lately. One of the things I loved about the site’s satirical stories were the ridiculous quotes from clueless people with an overblown opinion of themselves.

In case you’re missing The Albany Smudge, don’t worry: sometimes real life is just as funny. Here’s Shenendehowa school board member Robert Pressly in a TU story about why superintendent L. Oliver Robinson gets paid so much:

“Our desire is to have a district where people can proudly state they’re from a certain school,” Pressly said. “We think we’re definitely on track with that in terms of what people say about us and perceive about us.”

Well, Mr. Pressly — I have a pretty good idea what people say and perceive about you, but it’s not what you think it is.

Ah, and the story had a pretty great headline, too:

Shenendehowa superintendent gets another raise

My italics.


Artists. They’re nothing but trouble!

Case in point: An art student at Shenendehowa High School tacked up pictures of President Trump and allowed his classmates to express themselves by drawing or writing on them. When school administrators discovered that people were scrawling obscenities on the pictures, the art installation was removed.

I’m pretty sure somebody also drew a dick on Trump’s face, which was as predictable as it was appropriate. And as predictable as the response from the school principal, who told WTEN, “Anytime we allow students to write whatever they want there’s a very good chance it won’t come out the way we want it.”


It reminds me of when I got in trouble as editor of the Carle Place High School newspaper, The Crossroads. One time I was interrogated by the gym teachers over writing an editorial about Title IX; on another occasion, the principal dragged me out of class for having the audacity to visit the district office and ask for a copy of the school budget. The same principal, Edward Leistman, later sacked the paper’s  academic advisor and ended up in court over it.

We all thought it was outrageous that our tyrannical principal wanted to reign over our newspaper with an iron fist — but he did have a point. The school district was the paper’s publisher, Leistman explained. If we wanted free speech, we were welcome to pay for printing the paper ourselves, write it on our own time and not use his staff to help get it done.


The lesson: When someone else pays for your free speech, free it ain’t.

That Thing You Do

Every now and then, I like to bore people with one of my rants about media literacy.

The Times Union recently published a story about the rise in six-figure salaries for New York school employees. Then they went ultralocal and published a blog post listing the 44 Bethlehem school employees earning more than $100-thousand per year.

It’s a small town. One of the top earners lives down the street and I’ve met several of the others.

The question: why do they print things like that?

Sure, it’s public information, and yes, we have a right to know, but the TU’s motive in publishing it is far from being a public service. They do it because everybody wants to read the names, regardless of their opinion about the salaries. Some people will be outraged that school employees they get paid so much and others will think they deserve every cent, but everyone wants to know what other people earn. It’s always interesting.

Look, printing things that people want to read is a newspaper’s job, but don’t mistake it for serving the good of the community. That’s a childish and naive notion — and one that you often hear from newspaper people.

Why can’t they be more like plumbers? You don’t hear plumbers saying that they do their work to contribute to the betterment of public sanitation, allowing us to live as clean and healthy people. No, there are no lofty pronouncements; they proudly do it because it’s a business. To say anything else, as my father the plumber would put it, is bullshit.

Like plumbers, the people at the newspaper get paid for their work. That’s why they do it. Well, except for the bloggers, but that’s a different post.

Have a Cigar, You’re Gonna Go Far

This is one of my favorite pictures.


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.


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.


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.