September 30, 2009

Texas Book Festival schedule announced

Saving Your Children: Dads on an Uncertain Mission
with Michael Greenberg, Rupert Isaacson, and Robert Rummel-Hudson

Date: Saturday, October 31, 2009
Time: 12:00 - 1:00
Location: Capitol Extension Room E2.030

Being a parent is hard enough without having to cope with a sudden, inexplicable illness striking your child, challenging you in ways that seem inhumane. Even with today's modern medical advancements, there are still little to no explanations for what causes autism or severe psychotic episodes. In this session, three fathers who've had to confront such confounding illnesses in their children discuss their long, often arduous journeys to understanding and dealing with such issues that seem to have no explanation behind them. Michael Greenberg's teenage daughter was struck mad on a New York City street, Robert Rummel-Hudson's beautiful infant daughter soon revealed that a monster within her had stolen her ability to speak, and Rupert Isaacson seeks the guidance of Mongolian shamans as he tries to keep his five-year-old autistic son from unraveling completley. Antonio Ruiz-Camacho, an experienced journalist who is currently writing a memoir about his upbringing as a part of a Mexican mixed-class family and his relationship with his father, will moderate the session.

Robert Rummel-Hudson
Rupert Isaacson
Michael Greenberg

Moderated by: Antonio Ruiz-Camacho

September 27, 2009

On Limits

I just read post by Anne Newman on the "Working Parents" blog, part of the online edition of BusinessWeek, titled "Do Kids with Disabilities Strain or Strengthen Our Schools?".

The bulk of the post involved Dan Habib, the father and filmmaker responsible for Including Samuel, which tells the story of his family's fight for inclusion for his son Samuel, who has cerebral palsy. The BusinessWeek post asks Habib about public acceptance of inclusion, and the citizens who are quoted sound identical to many whom I've heard from on the subject, including in the comments to my own blog. Habib's answer is brilliant.

But in this economy, just how much enthusiasm is Dan getting for inclusion? Not everyone is a fan—not by a long shot, judging by some of the comments on my blog last May. "Why do we even bother paying for education for these kids?," wrote a commenter named Lilly. "Their parents chose to have kids and now their disability and special needs amount to a rise in taxes. Their parents just get a lawyer and fight and fight until the school district ends up paying for special programs. Why? Why not divert the funds for gifted and talented students instead of kids who will need societal support their whole life."

Lilly's anger about how taxpayers' money is spent is not so uncommon. How many of us have heard the same complaint in our own school districts? And how many Lillys does Dan run into on his?

I pitched that question to him by e-mail, and he replied with a list of "myths and realities" about inclusion. One myth, he says, is the notion that taxpayers are throwing away money by educating kids with disabilities. His response: "How can Lilly or anyone else predict which child will contribute to our society? Would Lilly really argue that Bernie Madoff … added more to the world than the physicist Stephen Hawking (who wrote his greatest work after he was severely disabled by ALS)? How about Albert Einstein (widely thought to have had Asperger Syndrome), Helen Keller (blind, deaf, and unable to speak) and Vincent Van Gogh (mentally ill)? People are not limited by their disability, they are limited by a lack of opportunity."

"People are not limited by their disability, they are limited by a lack of opportunity."

I could try for a year to find the words to describe my own philosophy of inclusion, and I couldn't do better than that.

September 26, 2009

School of Hard Knocks

NPR reported on a new study ("Does Spanking Make Kids Dumber?") by Murray Straus, professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire, which shows that children who are spanked have lower IQs. The results are being published in the fantastically-named Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment and Trauma.

In a study of American kids, Straus and a colleague asked parents of about 1,500 young children participating in an IQ research project how often they spanked their children.

The findings? The 2- to 4-year-old kids who weren't spanked at all, according to their parents, had IQs that were, on average, about five points higher after four years than the kids who were spanked. The same trend held for 5- to 9-year-olds, though the differences were less pronounced.
Straus doesn't pull any punches in his opinion of what this study means for parents, and for our society:

"It is time for psychologists to recognize the need to help parents end the use of corporal punishment and incorporate that objective into their teaching and clinical practice. It also is time for the United States to begin making the advantages of not spanking a public health and child welfare focus, and eventually enact federal no-spanking legislation."

I don't say this very often, but I think NPR was being extremely lazy in the way they chose to present this information. I don't think spanking your kids makes them dumb. I don't believe that those of you out there who choose to strike your children are actually beating their brains out of their little heads.

I do think that, in general, people with poor communication skills and a lack of education are less equipped to deal with their children in a logical, intelligent way. As a result, they lose their tempers more quickly, turn to violence and frustration more easily and, most importantly, teach those same "skills" to their kids.

Or perhaps it is simply the fact that the same intellectual incuriosity that leads these families to turn to violence to address their issues is also present in other areas of their intellectual development. Smart people don't hit their kids? Perhaps they don't need to. I would suggest that contrary to what the NPR headline suggests, it's not the kids who are made dumber by being hit.

I've written about my feelings on corporal punishment before. ("Spare the child", July 2006) It was a pretty comprehensive statement on corporal punishment, so I don't think I need to say it all again. But I think the last few paragraphs bear repeating. My feelings haven't changed one bit, except that I believe them more strongly than ever.

"You know, I was spanked as a child, and I grew up to be perfectly healthy and have raised my kids just fine."

Did you? You think? You were, as a small child, routinely subjected to violence by someone probably five times your size so that you would be subject to their demands? As a result, you grew up, had some small children of your own, and then proceeded to beat them into submission as well?

We have a different definition of "perfectly healthy", you and I. We have a wildly different idea of what it means for an innocent child to be "just fine".

You may think that I believe that if you as a parent spank your children, I automatically believe that you are a bad parent. I don't, not necessarily and not without knowing what kind of parent you are as a whole. Nor do I think your children are necessarily going to grow up to be damaged.

But I do think you are wrong. And as much as you might feel sorry for my kid for having me as a father, I guarantee I feel more sorry for yours.

September 23, 2009

Things to do in Wylie TX on a Thursday night

September 24, 2009
Author appearance
The Authors Express Event
Sponsored by the Wylie and Sachse Public Libraries
Bart Peddicord Community Center
100 West Oak Street
Wylie TX 75098

The Authors Express features local authors at Barnes and Noble, Firewheel, Sachse, and Wylie from Saturday, September 19 through Monday, September 28.

Authors Express Kick-off at Barnes and Noble featuring Paranormal authors Maria Lima, Lorraine Heath, and Sandy Blair on Saturday, September 19 at 2:00pm.

Maria Lima, author of Matters of the Blood talks about her book at the Wylie City Hall on Monday, September 21 at 7:00pm.

William Manchee, author of the Tarizan series, will present a talk on Tuesday, September 22 at 7:00pm at the Sachse Public Library.

Robert Rummel-Hudson, author of Schuyler’s Monster, will talk about his experiences with his learning disabled child. Rummel-Hudson will speak on Thursday, September 24 at 7:00pm at the Wylie Community Center.

Frank Luksa, author of Cowboys Essential: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Real Fan will be at the Sachse Public Library on Thursday, September 24 at 7:00pm.

Bob Huffaker and Bill Mercer, were reporters at the Kennedy assassination. When the News Went Live describes their experiences. Join them at the Sachse Public Library on Monday, September 28 at 7:00pm.

The Authors Express is a partnership with Barnes and Noble, Firewheel, the Sachse Public Library, the Smith Public Library, the Friends of the Sachse Library and the Friends of the Smith Library.


(And yes, Schuyler will be there.)

September 16, 2009

A Bad Word: UPDATE

First of all, Schuyler's ARD meeting went very well, as they usually do.

Well, okay, stop. Before I get to that "first of all", I should actually define what that means, for those of you who don't know. Here's how the Texas Education Agency's A Guide to the Admission, Review and Dismissal Process defines the ARD committee:

Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) Committee: The admission, review, and dismissal (ARD) committee is composed of a student’s parent(s) and school personnel who are involved with the student. The ARD committee determines a student’s eligibility to receive special education services and develops the individualized education program (IEP) of the student.

So yes, this meeting went well. Now that we're in Plano, ARD committee meetings usually run pretty smoothly. We all tend to be on the same page, after all, and the members of Schuyler's team seem to take us seriously and behave as if they are genuinely happy that we're as involved as we are. Our input seems to drive these meetings, which is as it should be, and yet I know better than to believe that's how most parents feel when they are meeting with their kid's IEP committee.

The issue of the three-year evaluation was only discussed in passing since we put it off until early next year. No one seemed to mind; I actually felt an almost palpable sense of relief in the room. In talking to Schuyler's teacher after the meeting, we learned a little bit more about the process. It looks like we do in fact have the option of choosing not to have this evaluation administered, and since she already qualifies for special education services, there doesn't appear to be anything she'd stand to lose by skipping it.

We're all going to follow up to find out if there are doors to services that might actually be opened by this test, but unless they include a free pony, I can't imagine why would would go through with it. The benefits (aside from possible additional federal reimbursements for the school district) seem intangible at this point. The consequences, on the other hand, seem all too real.

This is hard. Even if she never takes the test, it's still out there. The word is still there, and there's at least one person on Schuyler's team who seems eager to attach it to her. Not out of any malevolent intent, but because in her eyes, it's important knowledge, and knowledge is power.

Except to me, it isn't, not when this knowledge is gained through questionable means. And make no mistake. Assigning an IQ score to a non-verbal child is a subjective process at best. One commenter on my last post put it best:

"To administer the test via AAC breaks the procedural integrity of the test. The norm table that the scores are based on are set using a sample of speaking children. […] The testing may bring some valuable insights to her reasoning, an error analysis might teach the team some things about deficits that may be addressed, but the number is not valid. Unfortunately, numerical scores are easier to read while you are skimming a report than the paragraph of disclaimers that dismiss that number as questionable."

I know that the lens of fatherhood is coloring my thoughts and judgments on this issue, and Julie's objectivity is equally suspect. But I asked myself a question, and in my answer to that question, I knew the right thing to do. My question was simply this. Which would I feel comfortable with as a mistake, one for which I might find myself apologizing to Schuyler one day? My decision to skip a test that might have possibly helped her out of my fear of stigmatization for her? Or a decision to allow someone to attach that awful word to her, despite being mindful of the risk, all on a stranger's assurance that doing so might ultimately benefitted her one day?

That was easy. We don't get many simple or straightforward questions where Schuyler's future is concerned, but that one was no challenge at all.

A Bad Word

There's a word that people in the disability community get very worked up about, and perhaps rightly so. It's a word packed with powder, ready to be ignited by a callous popular culture. And yet, I never joined in any of the "Spread the Word to End the Word" campaigns, nor did I join in the indignant angry protests at the use of this word in the movie Tropic Thunder. (The latter is primarily due to the fact I felt that in the particular case of Tropic Thunder, the word was being used in a way that aimed cutting humor not at those with disabilities, but at the shallow Hollywood entities who have used those with disabilities as vehicles to Oscar success.) I understand the outrage at the word, both in that case and in general, but in the same way that I've rejected the "universal" acceptance of People First Language, it's not a cause that resonates with me.

This is not to say that I'm never put off by that word. I find it offensive when it wanders too close to my weird and wonderful monster slayer. It is then that I rise up against it. Not when it is used casually or ignorantly, but rather when it arrives with full authority into my world. Insensitive teenagers and edgy comedians don't have power. Professionals do, at least as much as we allow them to have, which is plenty.

We had a meeting yesterday with Schuyler's teacher and the school's diagnostician in preparation for Schuyler's annual ARD meeting later this morning, where her IEP for the coming year will be finalized. With our permission, this diagnostician evaluated Schuyler three years ago, despite my reservations, because the school felt it was important to get a clear idea of where Schuyler stood cognitively.

This evaluation three years ago would determine her IQ (a frankly subjective process of which I am skeptical when it comes to assigning a score to a non-verbal six-year-old), and that IQ rating would put her into a cognitive range. My fear was that this numerical determination would place her within the range described by this word, this very loaded word that I felt had no place hanging around the neck of my determined and bright little girl.

Three years ago, we swallowed our hesitation, trusting in this new school and these new teachers for whom we had moved so willingly. The test was administered, a number was assigned that was high enough to dodge the word, and we went on with our lives.

Last week, we were informed that the diagnostician wants to re-evaluate Schuyler, and we set up yesterday's meeting to discuss that evaluation. And it was at this meeting that Julie and I were gently informed by the diagnostician that based on Schuyler's problems with abstract thinking and her significant delays in her academic and verbal skills, she feels confident that the new test score is almost certain to be significantly lower.

Low enough to assign that word to my little girl.

The diagnostician wants this word to become part of Schuyler's lexicon, not because she has a bad soul, but because she wants Schuyler to become eligible for additional services that this new assignment would bring. She wanted to do the test soon, but suggested that if we wanted, we could wait until after the holidays. "I just need to administer it by May," she told us.

I'm unconvinced. I'm unconvinced that there are services that Schuyler isn't receiving that this bad word would suddenly bring her. I'm unconvinced that these additional services would be enough to balance the feeling of wrongness at having this word, this fighting word of all fighting words, attached forever to Schuyler. It's not a word that can ever be taken away. It's a bell that can never be unrung.

But the bulk of my anxiety tonight comes from the fact that the diagnostician might be right. She's likely to be right, and in fighting this word, I may simply be living in denial, to no one's advantage.

Today's ARD meeting will be a hard one, and we will be listening very carefully to hear what the advantages to having this evaluation really are. More importantly, I want to know what happens if we ultimately decline (or refuse, I guess) to have the evaluation performed at all.

Don't be surprised if I elect not to share the final results of this evaluation, should it actually take place, and please don't feel insulted if we choose to keep it to ourselves. In this blog and even more so in my book, I haven't granted Schuyler a great deal of privacy, for which I don't feel guilt but do often feel trepidation.

But this is different. This is a word, a very bad word, that I will fight, rightly or wrongly, from ever being associated publicly with my sweet and ferocious and clever little girl.

September 7, 2009

Here's how he's going to destroy your children, America.

Okay, I was wrong. The White House has released the text of President Obama's speech to schoolkids tomorrow, and the Conservatives were right. It's nothing less than a manifesto for turning your kids into little Socialist zombies. God, I only wish I'd listened to you. All I can say is that I am so, so sorry. America, I'll miss you. I should have listened. Oh God, why, WHY DIDN'T I LISTEN???

Here's the full text, so you can read for yourself the horrifying vision this man has for the future. Whatever you do, however, don't let your kids read it. Or any persons with sensitive constitutions, particularly pregnant women. Obama will turn your fetuses into Socialists, too. Don't think he won't do it.


Prepared Remarks of President Barack Obama
Back to School Event

Arlington, Virginia
September 8, 2009

The President: Hello everyone – how’s everybody doing today? I’m here with students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. And we’ve got students tuning in from all across America, kindergarten through twelfth grade. I’m glad you all could join us today.

I know that for many of you, today is the first day of school. And for those of you in kindergarten, or starting middle or high school, it’s your first day in a new school, so it’s understandable if you’re a little nervous. I imagine there are some seniors out there who are feeling pretty good right now, with just one more year to go. And no matter what grade you’re in, some of you are probably wishing it were still summer, and you could’ve stayed in bed just a little longer this morning.

I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived in Indonesia for a few years, and my mother didn’t have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday – at 4:30 in the morning.

Now I wasn’t too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I’d fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I’d complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, "This is no picnic for me either, buster."

So I know some of you are still adjusting to being back at school. But I’m here today because I have something important to discuss with you. I’m here because I want to talk with you about your education and what’s expected of all of you in this new school year.

Now I’ve given a lot of speeches about education. And I’ve talked a lot about responsibility.

I’ve talked about your teachers’ responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn.

I’ve talked about your parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox.

I’ve talked a lot about your government’s responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working where students aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve.

But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.

And that’s what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself.

Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide.

Maybe you could be a good writer – maybe even good enough to write a book or articles in a newspaper – but you might not know it until you write a paper for your English class. Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor – maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone or a new medicine or vaccine – but you might not know it until you do a project for your science class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team.

And no matter what you want to do with your life – I guarantee that you’ll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You’re going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.

And this isn’t just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.

You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.

We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.

Now I know it’s not always easy to do well in school. I know a lot of you have challenges in your lives right now that can make it hard to focus on your schoolwork.

I get it. I know what that’s like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn’t always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn’t fit in.

So I wasn’t always as focused as I should have been. I did some things I’m not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.

But I was fortunate. I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to college, and law school, and follow my dreams. My wife, our First Lady Michelle Obama, has a similar story. Neither of her parents had gone to college, and they didn’t have much. But they worked hard, and she worked hard, so that she could go to the best schools in this country.

Some of you might not have those advantages. Maybe you don’t have adults in your life who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job, and there’s not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don’t feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren’t right.

But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying.

Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.

That’s what young people like you are doing every day, all across America.

Young people like Jazmin Perez, from Roma, Texas. Jazmin didn’t speak English when she first started school. Hardly anyone in her hometown went to college, and neither of her parents had gone either. But she worked hard, earned good grades, got a scholarship to Brown University, and is now in graduate school, studying public health, on her way to being Dr. Jazmin Perez.

I’m thinking about Andoni Schultz, from Los Altos, California, who’s fought brain cancer since he was three. He’s endured all sorts of treatments and surgeries, one of which affected his memory, so it took him much longer – hundreds of extra hours – to do his schoolwork. But he never fell behind, and he’s headed to college this fall.

And then there’s Shantell Steve, from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Even when bouncing from foster home to foster home in the toughest neighborhoods, she managed to get a job at a local health center; start a program to keep young people out of gangs; and she’s on track to graduate high school with honors and go on to college.

Jazmin, Andoni and Shantell aren’t any different from any of you. They faced challenges in their lives just like you do. But they refused to give up. They chose to take responsibility for their education and set goals for themselves. And I expect all of you to do the same.

That’s why today, I’m calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education – and to do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you’ll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you’ll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn. And along those lines, I hope you’ll all wash your hands a lot, and stay home from school when you don’t feel well, so we can keep people from getting the flu this fall and winter.

Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.

I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work -- that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things.

But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.

That’s OK. Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, "I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

These people succeeded because they understand that you can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.

No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You’re not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note the first time you sing a song. You’ve got to practice. It’s the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust – a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor – and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.

And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.

The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.

It’s the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.

So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?

Your families, your teachers, and I are doing everything we can to make sure you have the education you need to answer these questions. I’m working hard to fix up your classrooms and get you the books, equipment and computers you need to learn. But you’ve got to do your part too. So I expect you to get serious this year. I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things from each of you. So don’t let us down – don’t let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.

September 5, 2009

Citizen Rob: UPDATE

(From the Dallas Morning News Plano Blog, emphasis theirs)

4:49 PM Fri, Sep 04, 2009
Matthew Haag/Reporter

I'm getting emails from schools and a call from a parent saying that Plano ISD has reversed its initial decision to not show any of President Barack Obama's planned speech to schoolchildren Tuesday. Plano ISD originally said the speech wouldn't be shown live and that a link to the speech would be added to Plano ISD's Web site.

The speech still won't be shown live, but Plano ISD has let each school decide whether they want to show it a day or so later. For example, Schimelpfenig Middle School will show the speech Thursday between between 2:50 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. A parent whose daughter attends Plano East Senior High School said the school will air the speech after Tuesday, as well. And students who don't want to watch it must go to the school cafeteria and work on a brief assignment.

"It sounds like punishment to me," said the parent, who refused to give me her name.

I have a suggestion for that brief assignment:

"Research the actual definition of 'Socialism'. Compare and contrast what you discover with the inane bullshit your parents have told you about Socialism and how it applies to the president. Bonus points will be awarded for epiphanies regarding anything else your parents might have told you over the years."

September 4, 2009

2009 Texas Book Festival

Yesterday, former First Lady Laura Bush announced the author lineup for the 2009 Texas Book Festival, and lo and behold, I was on the list. I've actually known about this for a while, but was sworn to secrecy until yesterday's announcement. I wouldn't want to steal Mrs. Bush's thunder anyway. Her life can't be a picnic on the best of days.

(Because my narcissism is as vast as the sea, I actually spent yesterday evening looking for video of the announcement, just to see if she actually read my name off a list. I have Issues.)

Anyway, it's official now, and I'm happy as a clam (clams being notoriously jolly and well-adjusted mollusks). From the moment I found out that Schuyler's Monster was going to be published, I wanted to be a part of the Texas Book Festival. Back in my Austin days when I was employed at the big fancy Barnes & Noble Arboretum, I actually worked at one of the festivals, selling books. Coming back as an author feels like a real homecoming, and I'm thrilled that my book was selected this year.

(Congrats also to my friend, the very cool Gwen Zepeda, who will be presenting as both a children's author and novelist. Nobody likes a showoff.)

The schedule of events hasn't been released yet, and I'm not sure if this is supposed to be a secret, too. (I hope not, because here I go.) Apparently I am to appear on a panel with Rupert Isaacson, author of The Horse Boy: A Father's Quest to Heal His Son (about his efforts to reach his autistic son through equine therapy and Mongolian spiritualism) and Michael Greenberg, author of Hurry Down Sunshine: A Father's Story of Love and Madness (about his experience as a father with his teenage daughter's sudden manifestation of bipolar disorder). I've read Greenberg's book, which is really exceptional, and I'm working on the Isaacson now.

Both of their books have received a tremendous amount of critical acclaim and media attention, and I'm really honored and pleased to be able to join them as we talk about… whatever we talk about. As I said, the panel information is still being put together, but I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that we'll be discussing fatherhood and our relationships with the "different" child. Because otherwise, I might need to learn about horses in a hurry.

If you're in Austin at the end of October, I hope you'll attend. Schuyler will be there, and she's as jazzed as ever about her participation in all the book madness. Yesterday she was showing me a new book she'd gotten. She pointed to the cover of Judy Moody Gets Famous! and then pointed to herself.

"Like me!" she said.

Princess Protagonista. I've created a monster.

September 3, 2009

Citizen Rob

The Plano Independent School District initially planned to broadcast President Obama's September 8 address to the nation's school children, but after a much-publicized letter by a local conservative parent, the Plano ISD made the following policy decision:
Upcoming Presidential Address

The United States Department of Education sent a letter to all school districts on August 25 announcing a presidential address to school children on Tuesday, September 8. The topic of this public broadcast is the importance of education. To clarify questions and concerns about this presidential address, Plano ISD notes the following:
  • This event is not a component of the Plano ISD curriculum and is therefore not a mandatory activity.
  • Viewing the broadcast is not a planned classroom activity for September 8.
  • Like many historical events, the address will be made available for students and teachers via the digital video library.
  • The video will also be posted on this home page.
As much water as I have carried for this school district and its commitment to education and to community, I can't tell you how disappointed I am. I've heard the arguments, about how that scary socialist Obama is going to hypnotize our precious children and read Karl Marx to them. I'm sure I'll read some more of those arguments in the comments of this blog.

Here's the thing. HE'S THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. Much like Ronald Reagan was the President of the United States when he spoke to the students of America, Barack Obama was elected by the majority of the citizens of this country. I think it's safe to assume that at least some of those citizens DON'T hate America. I can't tell you how many times I heard conservatives go on about respecting the office of the president during the years that said office was being held by George Bush. And all that talk? Complete and total lip service.

The simple truth is that for all our talk about patriotism and love of our country, Americans have completely lost their sense of community. You see it in the arguments against providing health care for every American, because it might have some small detrimental effect on some people's bottom line, and that, friends, is socialism, plain and simple. You see it in the "us versus them" in our political dialogue. You see it every time you hear someone describe an America that only reflects their ideology and rejects the beliefs of other citizens.

Where does your community end, America? Does it stop at the wall surrounding your gated neighborhood? The boundaries of your church, or your political party headquarters? Because if your community stops anywhere short of the edge of the map, then you are not a patriotic American. You are the problem.

I was especially annoyed to see the president of the Plano ISD Council of PTAs, Cara Mendelsohn, quoted by The Associated Press as saying that President Obama is "cutting out the parent" by sneakily addressing students while they are in school. This is the PTA President, being quoted in her capacity in that position. Does her conspiracy theory represent that of the Plano ISD PTA? Should it?

I was annoyed, but also intrigued. Oddly enough, the Plano PTA's site doesn't seem to prominently display information on how to actually join the PTA, but that's okay. I'm a smart guy. I can find it.

Insult + Injury

So I've been having a pretty sorry run of luck in recent years where television is concerned.

This past year or so has been particularly bad, with the (planned) ending of my favorite show, Battlestar Galactica. (The new, bleak, 9/11-metaphor version, obviously, not the goofy Tribute to Feathered Hair from 1979.) I didn't like having to deal with BSG going away, not at all. But almost as bad was the cloud of doom that seemed to be hanging over my other favorite show, a phenomenally well-written and well-acted cop drama on NBC called Life.

My worst fears were realized when NBC decided to give Jay Leno his own show five days a week during prime time. Not being very industry savvy, apparently, I was confused. Doesn't Leno already have a show five nights a week, conveniently programmed at a time when I can easy avoid it? Ah, yes, but this new show will air at 9pm Central, during the time that was usually reserved for dramas. Sure enough, NBC cancelled Life after only two seasons.

It occurs to me that NBC and high-quality L.A. cop dramas are not a match made in heaven. (Look out, Southland, which is a great show but one that I am trying not to fall for, lest it break my heart, too.) First came Boomtown, easily the best show I have ever seen on television, after one season. I've still never gotten over that one. Then came Raines, also done by the same writer and producers of Boomtown and Band of Brothers. Raines only lasted for seven episodes, even though it starred Jeff Goldblum. Come on, NBC. Jeff Goldblum? You don't cancel Jeff Goldblum. Jeff Goldblum cancels YOU.

Anyway, I recently ordered the newly released box set of Life: Season 2, and it arrived yesterday. It was bittersweet, of course, but I decided to make the best of it, right up until I opened the case and saw the ad that NBC included with the set.

Dick move, NBC. You are dead to me.