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Action is Worry's Worst Enemy

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Each year my seniors conclude by presenting ten-minute long commencement speeches. It has become a tradition for me to write one as well, my final message as they head out into the world that awaits. Here is this year's speech. 

Some morning near the end of high school, I stood on the beach in Ocean City and watched the sunrise. I remember seeing that sunrise as the perfect symbol of my own new beginnings. I was only weeks away from graduation, and I was ready for the next step in my life.

That year Nelson Mandela had been elected the first black president of South Africa, and I was positive that was proof of the world leaving racism behind. That year the Irish Republican Army agreed to a ceasefire, ending years of bombings and shootings, and I was certain that was evidence of the world turning its back on terrorism. That year the United States and Russia agreed to stop pointing nuclear weapons at each other, and I was sure that signaled end of governments threatening mutual annih…

This Memorial Day, I Would Still Take a Knee

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When Colin Kaepernick first decided to take a knee in protest of the unlawful use of excessive force by white police officers against unarmed black men, I wrote that I would take a knee.  If I were fortunate enough to be an athlete whose natural talents and hard work had placed me on a national stage, I would still take a knee. I would walk out of the invisible world of the locker room and onto the televised field of play, and I would kneel. I would do this because peaceful protest is just as much a part of our collective history as are slavery, segregation, and suppression of black Americans.

A couple days ago NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made an announcement. “This season,” he said, “all league and team personnel shall stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.” Right there, he misses a fundamental truth: kneeling is a respectful gesture; a gesture meant to draw attention to a gross social injustice is not synonymous with disrespecting the flag, the anthem, or the countr…

The Case for Arming Teachers

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“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand.” 
That is what Atticus Finch says to his children in To Kill a Mockingbird. His words have always pretty much summed up my beliefs about guns: one can live a life of courage without ever touching a gun. His brand of courage - fighting with words and ideals - could do all that was necessary in the face of malevolence. I was certain of it. 
Still, when an angry mob comes to lynch Tom Robinson, Harper Lee places another character up in a nearby window. He leans out watching the scene unfold, his double-barreled shotgun trained on the angry mob - just in case Atticus’ brand of courage is not enough of a deterrent. Little kids and their lawyer father appealing to human decency might stop some crimes, she seems to hint, but there are others that need something more lethal. Despite Atticus’ crusade for justice, it is a gun that slaughters Tom Robinson. Courage can only take you …

AR-15s: An Education

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Science. The human brain is not fully developed until the age of twenty-five. Fully developed adults process the world relying heavily on the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for good judgement and understanding long-term decisions. Kids under the age of twenty-five  rely heavily on the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for processing emotion. The amygdala develops first. This is why my seven and eleven-year-old sons have more emotional outbursts than I do. They just feel hurt and angry in a maelstrom of childhood emotion. Logic has not kicked in yet. It won’t fully until they are twenty-five.
Still, a nineteen-year-old boy, who I wish the media would stop calling a man, legally bought an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle. 
My amygdala says, that thing would be awesome to square up some grudges I feel against the legislators who have wronged me and this country by weaponizing our citizenry, and profiting off of the carnage. My prefrontal cortex, however,…

Bringing back an old favorite post in honor of the ice. Pond Hockey.

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Pond hockey is a simple game.  Wait for the lake to freeze, find a bunch of guys willing to put on ice hockey skates, buy some Advil and a bunch of extra pucks for all the shots we will miss, and play.  Those of you who have played know what I am talking about.  For those who don't, I am talking about a slip in time that lets you be a kid again.  I am talking about the reality of time travel. 
The excitement surrounding pond hockey begins early in the day, the first time one of us goes out and measures the ice.  Drill in hand we drive the bit into the frozen surface of the lake hoping like children that it won't give too soon, that we will feel at least four inches of resistance before hitting water.  We are dying to send out the text telling everyone that the ice is thick enough to skate, that the game is on. 

Once the news is out, we feel ourselves getting more and more distracted as the day goes on, maybe cutting corners on some task at work or reading a bedtime story a …

Literature After Las Vegas

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I try to start each class with a quote. I hang a new one up on the board each morning when I arrive at school. They come from books that have entertained me with page-turning plots and enlightened me with revelations about the human condition, books that have cheered me up, challenged my beliefs, and captured my imagination. Today the quote was from Abraham Verghese’s brilliant novel Cutting for Stone. “We are all fixing what is broken,” it reads. “It is the task of a lifetime. We'll leave much unfinished for the next generation.”

When I read it to my first period class, a room filled with bright and curious ninth graders, I could not make it through the short quote without my voice breaking. I had to stop and regroup so that I did not simply start bawling right there in front of my students.

When I picked out that quote in June, in preparation for this school year, I saw it as uplifting and positive. I read it as words of hope and progress. We are all actively fixing what is brok…

I Would Take A Knee

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I would take a knee. Absolutely and without any question. I want everyone to know that.

First of all, taking a knee is a gesture of respect even while it is a gesture of protest. Taking a knee is what young athletes are taught to do when their coaches speak, as well as when one of their peers is injured on the field of play. They do so out of respect. Kneeling is what people do when they pray, when the circumstances of life demand deep reflection and faith. The circumstances of our world demand both. Eric Reid, the San Francisco 49er who first took a knee beside Kaepernick in 2016 has explained, “We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking,” he continues, “our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.” The senseless slaughter of unarmed black men at the hands of white police officers is a tragedy. Those taking a knee are simply trying to mark that, to draw attention to it, and to encourage all of us to raise our voices in defense of the…