One of my favorite television shows while growing up was Green Acres. The basic premise of Green Acres was that a successful New York City businessman Mr. Douglas, played by Eddie Albert, and his wife were leaving the big city for a more peaceful and serene life of blue skies, fresh air and farm living in a small rural town. It was that TV show that prompted me to set a similar goal for myself many years ago. My biggest dream since childhood has been to work hard and achieve enough success in my career so that one day I might own a horse ranch of my own in a nice peaceful rural community. At age 44 I thought I had reached that goal – then came the urbanites.

Swoosh, was the sound that I heard as I placed the serrated edges of my wine cooler’s screw-off top between my thumb and index finger and gave it a twist. A gurgling sound followed as I gently poured the lime green fluid from my bottle of Bartle’s and James’ Melon Splash into an ice filled glass. It was a familiar fizzle, causing my mouth to water in anticipation of the cool tangy sensation that was about to strike my palette. As I gleaned out over the backyard and then beyond, past the green pasture that followed, I saw a striking silhouette of the San Gabriel Mountains as the sun became poised to set in the western horizon. The day’s chores had taken their toll; my body ached in an almost pleasurable way with the satisfaction gained from putting in a long day of manual labor mowing pastures, repairing irrigation lines, and caring for the animals that inhabit the ranch.

Bluesy jazz-guitar reverberations from Peter Frampton’s latest album, Fingerprints, pierced the air in a quiet calming manner. I had intentionally kept the volume low so that I could soak up the auditory ambience of the glorious nature that surrounded me. I heard Turkey, our tall, statuesque, lace feathered rooster, calling his hens to retire for the evening with a boisterous cock-a-doodle-doo followed by the sounds of cackling hens waddling to their roosting spots. Laredo, our four-year-old Paso Fino gelding, gave a whinny as he kicked up his heels and made one last jaunt around the back pasture before retiring to his nightly quarters. Looking closely I could see the wild cotton tail’s heads begin to populate the pasture as part of their nightly grazing routine. These small furry creatures, for the most part, stay under cover in their burrows during the day both to avoid the heat as well as the detection of the vigilant red-tailed hawk that frequents the area hunting for prey and whose screeches can be heard daily.

Even though I had selected this moment for a period of rest and relaxation I couldn’t help but notice the flaking white paint on the wooden pasture fencing. This gives it a rustic charm but my brain told me otherwise. I knew if it is left exposed to the weather much longer instead of just re-painting the fencing I would eventually end up having to replace it, requiring much more of my time and money than a new coat of paint would – mentally, I added it to my list of future chores. As I leaned back in the patio chair in which I was seated I viewed a seemingly un-ending sky of blue, bordered by the orange glow of the sun slowly setting in the west. There was not a cloud to be found as the afternoon breeze had whisked them away. My wine cooler was almost gone as my eyelids grew heavy and I drifted off into a peaceful serene bliss. I slinked back deeper into my lounge chair and rolled to my side, pulling my legs to my body in a fetal position. My body succumbed to exhaustion as my brain finally slowed and let go of its agendas. There was a sweet smell of spring blossoms and lemon scented Eucalyptus trees in the air. I had worked long and hard throughout my life to enable myself to experience moments like this. I savor these times dearly. Soaking up the ambience with all my senses, I was now at rest, feeling content as I dozed off, but still absorbing the beauty of my surroundings – life doesn’t get any better than this.

Suddenly, I was rudely awakened by the sound of waaaaaaaaah, wah, wah, which blared from the air horn of a semi-truck as it bolted down the grade of the neighborhood street I live on. Rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat screeched from its diesel engine as the driver applied the Jake brake and slowed his tractor-trailer momentarily before taking on the curve in the road ahead. More horns blared and more engines roared from speeding automobiles as they tried to pass each other on our two-lane road. My peaceful serenity had been broken by the daily barrage of commuter traffic that cuts through our neighborhood in an effort to bypass the congestion of the freeway interchange. The housing boom of the past several years has surrounded us with a plague of urbanites that disrupt and raise havoc in our once rural, peaceful and serene town of Woodcrest. Five days a week they commute from their little cookie-cutter boxes south-east of us, through our neighborhood, to their jobs in cubicles located to the west of us. I grabbed my empty cooler, headed inside the house and turned on the television to help mask the curse of urbanization and numb my soul to its remorse only to be lambasted by commercial after commercial professing the ways of a more modern society.

I am extremely thankful that my childhood dream of living life like Mr. Douglas of Green Acres fame has actually become a reality. However, during moments like the one I’ve described here, I reflect back upon times when reaping the fruits of my labor had seemed a worthwhile goal and ponder whether or not my efforts have been negated by industrialization and modernization; wondering if the reality is that I’m only being taunted by the promise of serenity?

The Shameful Truth

This is a story about conscience.

I can’t really say whether I had just turned four or was closer to age five, I just remember distinctly that I was four years old. The day started out as any other day. I can almost see that moment now, like I’m watching a video replay. It was a weekend day and I was at the next door neighbor’s house, playing with a couple of childhood pals, Dwayne and John. Dwayne was my age and John was a year older. We were playing in the second story of a fairly new wooden playhouse built for my chums by their father Dewey. It was the most awe inspiring thing on the block, to a four-year-old boy anyway. I can’t remember specifically what we were doing and I vaguely recall the moments that led up to the horrible event, but I vividly remember that fateful moment and the events that unfolded afterwards. An instant in time frozen into my brain, a terrible memory that constantly reminds me of the day I was ripped from my protective womb of innocence and serenity. Other than being raped or kidnapped, I don’t believe that there is a tragedy that could be any more impactful or frightening to one so young, as was the events that took place that disastrous afternoon.

“Dwayne, John,” exclaimed a voice from inside the house.

The distinctly female voice continued “please come down from your fort, I need to go to the store and I can’t leave you here alone.” Of course I recognized the voice as that of the boys’ mother, a fairly fit and youthful looking lady. She was, I’m guessing, in her late 20’s at the time. The boys climbed down from the fort and hopped into the family station wagon where their mom was now poised behind the steering wheel. I can still picture that Ford Falcon with its huge white fins. Each fin contained three red taillights, increasing in size from top to bottom, like a snow cone, and protruded outward from the rear of each fin.

About a half an hour or so before going next door to play and prior to the “big event,” I was in the kitchen at my house. We had a babysitter that day, when I say we, I mean my 2-and-a-half-year-old brother Tom and I. My folks had their own business, a weekly newspaper called the Riverside County Record and so my mom worked a lot. During my early years I didn’t always get to see my dad very often either as their business was pretty much a two-person operation. For whatever reason the babysitter was nowhere to be found – a perfect opportunity for a boy of four to fetch an item of curiosity that had been beckoning my attention for quite some time now. An item that so peaked my curiosity that I had been planning for this very moment long before it actually arrived. And now, that moment of opportunity was upon me.

My heart kicked into overdrive, flowing blood through my veins like a river whose dam had burst following a torrential downpour. It was also a moment of giddiness like none I had ever experienced before. Quickly, excitedly, I climbed up onto the counter top and opened the cabinet door, which had a slight creaking sound to it. I reached for the “special” jar, thee jar I had ogled so often from afar, dreaming of acquiring its magical contents. The very same jar I had seen my dad take from the cabinet so many times.  I used to eye him ever so closely as he’d spin open the lid, and then peer intently as he extracted his own set of neatly arranged goodies, standing like soldiers all in a row.  I could feel the overwhelming sense of panic and anxiety as I violated the sanctity of my dad’s domain. A place, things, that were meant only for dad – all others beware the consequences. I just couldn’t help myself. The thirst to satisfy my curiosity kept driving me on. Without any hesitation, into the glass encased vault I thrust my left hand, which by now was shaking considerably. Into the jar it went and in seconds I had retrieved my prize. A sense of wrongness pulsed from every cell in my body as I completed the unnerving deed. Then, with my coveted prize in hand, I bolted off to the neighbor’s house.

“Sally, I’m going next door to the Beasley’s for a while, see ya later!” I yelled as I rushed out of the house, not knowing, or even caring, if the babysitter had heard me. I had only one thing on my mind at that point – get next door to my friends’ house with my heisted treasure. From then until the boys’ mom called them to leave and go shopping with her, the interim events are mostly a blur. After the neighbor kids had left the playhouse and climbed into their mom’s trusty automobile, I, from a little 1’ X 1’ window cut into the wall on the top floor of the neighbor’s playhouse, ever so sneakily peered out towards the driveway, and watched as they all pulled out and headed off to the store.

“Wow, look at me, I’m now king of the castle,” I thought to myself, and all alone! What a perfect time to do some experimenting with my new found toy. A toy it was not, but for me they seemed like something that would be fun to play with; rather like pulling the legs off of a live cockroach. I was a pretty bright four-year-old so I took a minute to plan out the next few seconds, seconds that would rudely and abruptly introduce me to the realities of my ignorance.

Being sharp as a tack, I thought to myself, “let’s see, this playhouse is made of wood. If I want to play with these matches I can’t light them on the wooden floor, because it might catch the playhouse on fire.” In my infinite wisdom, I concluded that the best solution, the best way for me to be able to play with these mesmerizing glowing embers would be to light a match, and then, as it burned down towards my fingers, I figured I’d just toss it into a nearby cardboard box – so as not to catch the playhouse on fire. As it turned out, if that was the only damage I induced, I would have been lucky.

If it only had been the playhouse that burned that day, I might now hardly remember it. However, after realizing that the matches I had been tossing, without concern, into the cardboard box, had now grown into somewhat of a blaze, I continued to use my stellar intellect and quickly scampered down the stairwell of the playhouse with the box in tow. As I headed down to the safety of the concrete carport below those quick movements must have fueled the flames even more as I now realize that the entire box is almost engulfed in flames and my hands and arms are about to be burned. Frantically, I tossed the box into the dirt breezeway between the concrete and the porch because I knew dirt didn’t burn. Unfortunately for me, and the neighbor’s parents who owned the home, the box slid across the dirt breezeway and up against the outside of the living room wall.

Even to this day I can still recall just a glimpse of that moment, a single solitary image now seared in my memory. There I was, a four-year-old boy with a box of flames blazing out of control like a freshly stoked camp fire. I bolted through the breezeway towards my house hoping to warn someone that there might be a problem here. My flight was also an attempt to skirt detection of having been the cause of what was quickly blossoming into a catastrophic event. I’m not sure if that was the scariest moment of my life, shaking me down right to the very core of my soul, or, if it was being interrogated by the Riverside Fire Chief when the fire department showed up to put out the fire after the neighbors’ house was half burned to the ground.

Blogging in Education: Pros and Cons

So here I go blogging again. This will be the third time I have been prompted by an educator to blog. I really don’t see the point of writing a blog nor do I read or subscribe to any. When I am searching topics on the Internet, I don’t recall having ever been directed to someone’s blog. The intention of this blog (not the entire entity, but just this post) is to research and examine the literature that is out there regarding blogs to see what, if any, value they have in education.

According to Wikipedia, blogs are supposed to be digital communities evolved from online diaries. Functionally speaking blogs allow the owner of the blog to post some information for others to read and comment on, and they can be subscribed to using RSS feeds so that all participants can be notified when there is an update. A 2008 video from Palm Breeze Cafe’s Kim Cavanaugh (view below) cites the Pew Research Center’s 2008 data on blogs saying that 70% of students under age 18 have a blog. My guess is this statistic is much lower in 2010 with the advent and popularity of Twitter. A quick search of the Internet using Google shows numerous Web sites singing the praises of “blogs in education,” but oddly most are dated around 2003 or 2004 and very few seem to be current. One current blogger I found at had a post dated Monday, April 13, 2009 which is very thorough, comprehensive and contained a considerable amount of valuable links. Like most of the Web sites I found touting blogs in education this one too starts with a discussion about what is a blog. In his archived post the writer, Stephen Downes, states that according to edublogs they have hosted over 400 thousand educational blogs since 2005.

Pros: Some of the student benefits listed by Mr. Downes are the ability of students to take ownership of their own learning and providing them with an authentic voice in order to give students the opportunity to articulate their needs and inform their own learning. He also cites Bortee, D.S. (2005) as having said that blogs have been shown to contribute identity-formation in students. However I found no empirical studies which back up any of these claims.

Cons: Among the drawbacks I found while searching the Internet for information about educational blogging is the issues of privacy. Privacy of our students is a large concern of educators and so the question arises as to how much personal information, if any, can be requested or required of a student posting to a blog in order to complete a school assignment. Another issue is student motivation which falls in two categories, 1) getting students motivated to write a blog in the first place, and 2) the technological novelty of blogging seems to wear off very quickly and therefore students can become bored with it just as quickly. On another front one complaint I saw made by several posters was a complaint about the slowness of edublog. Edublog is a site set up for educators to give them and their students free blogging. Ostensibly this was a ground breaking site when free blogging was not as prevalent as it is today, but apparently their number of subscribers now outnumber its technical capability to provide blogging services which meet their expectations of responsiveness.

At this point I would say the results are inconclusive and much more research is needed to confirm whether blogs are making a difference in education or not. Subscribe to this blog if you would like to read my further research. I can guarantee you there will be at least two more posts made by me (they are assignments I am required to complete).