Saturday, November 30, 2002

SATURDAY: Lookin' Up


Stories about the Greek gods are now considered myths. Will the same thing happen to the stories about the God of the Bible?

No. Greek mythology has no corroboration. There were no eyewitnesses and no evidence regarding any of those myths and legends. The myths weren’t about real people whose lives can be historically tracked and cross-referenced. There are no archaeological objects or writings left over to be studied and verified by independent means and the scientific method.

On the other hand, we know the stories in the Bible are true and the people in it really existed based on archaeology, the writings of historians from surrounding countries, objects in Egypt, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the historical record of Israel, the writings of people who knew Jesus Christ in the flesh, and many other sources. Not a single sentence in the Bible has ever been disproved or shown to be false.

For example, there’s the story in Joshua 6 about the ancient Israelites following Joshua by marching around the city of Jericho with the ark of the covenant. On his signal, they blew the seven trumpets, everybody shouted . . . and the pagan city’s protective walls came a-tumblin’ down.

That seems like a preposterous myth today, until you look at the facts. Archaeological work on that site has shown that the walls did indeed collapse outward, not inward. So they were not broken down by an attacking army, which would have pushed the walls in. They must have been knocked outward by a force . . . such as an earthquake. So God’s perfect timing, matched to the trumpets and the shouting done in obedience to Him, could indeed have done the job.

That’s not myth. That’s history.

There’s nothing even close to that, in the way of corroboration, for any of the Greek myths and legends, nor for the stories told by any other religion on the face of the earth, ever in history. There are hundreds more examples of ways that we can show that the Bible is about truth, not fiction, and reality, not fables.

The Bible is not a myth-tery . . . it’s the true story of the one true God.

For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. – 2 Peter 1:16

Friday, November 29, 2002

FRIDAY: Vitamin Mom


Nothin’s as lovin’ as somethin’ from the oven, especially if Mom and kids cooked it up together. Shoot for at least a little time spent in the kitchen each week with your child, perhaps on a Saturday or Sunday.

A weekly cooking experience is great for kids in a number of ways. It introduces new vocabulary words . . . teaches about nutrition . . . requires reading for accuracy . . . leads them to follow directions in a particular order or process . . . helps with math skills when recipes are halved or doubled . . . literally gives them a taste of other times and other cultures, if you select recipes for that purpose . . . and most of all, gives the child a hands-on memory of your love and attention.

Buy an index card file or rolodex and each Saturday or Sunday throughout the year, have your child copy the recipe and then write a comment: “add extra salt,” “yucky,” “serve with a fruit salad,” and so forth.

When your child leaves home someday, he or she will have a strong set of culinary skills, a whole lot of good recipes, and a feeling of competence in one of life’s most important skills. Besides, you’ll have a lot of fun and some tasty dishes to try. Nothing’s ever as good as something your child made just for you!

Thursday, November 28, 2002



In the aftermath of the failed OPS spending-lid override earlier this month, one claim left hanging is the OPS contention that they do not, indeed, overspend on administration.

In a Nov. 14 column, retired World-Herald publisher Harold W. Andersen quoted Superintendent John Mackiel as saying that OPS spends 1.5 percent of its operational budget on central administration.

That sounded terribly efficient. It gave readers the idea that the other 98.5 percent was going straight into the pockets of those hard-working teachers . . . which would be great. But this is Omaha . . . not Fairytale Land.

That 1.5 percent is an enormous understatement. It tallies costs for only central-office educrats. It leaves out a large number of other nonteaching school district administrators, including principals and their staffs.

OPS actually spends 15.1 percent of its operating budget on administration, which is more than the average of 55 similar large, urban school districts, according to the Common Core of Data of the National Center on Education Statistics of the U.S. Department of Education. Based on statistics provided to the Education Finance Statistics Center for fiscal year 1998, OPS' 15.1 percent on administration compares to 12.7 percent on average for the other 55 larger districts deemed to be OPS' peers.

The Omaha district also slightly underspent on core instruction compared to its peers, devoting 68.2 percent of its funds to teachers, student support such as health, attendance, guidance and speech, and staff support such as curricular development, in-staff training and educational media. The 55 other large districts devoted 69.5 percent to core academics.

The comparison showed that OPS enjoyed a more favorable student-to-teacher ratio of 16:1 compared to the peer districts' 17.8:1.

One of the most important factors in evaluating a district's performance is the educational attainment of the parents of its students. The better-educated your population, the easier it is to teach their kids. OPS has a better environment than its peer districts: 80.8 percent of the residents of OPS were reported to be high-school graduates, compared to 73.6 percent of the people who live in the peer districts.

The higher the household income, the easier the education job, and this is another measurement that appears favorable for OPS. Median income of all households within OPS was slightly higher than the peer districts, at $26,098 per household vs. $25,946.

OPS also had far fewer minority children enrolled -- 26.4 percent compared to 50.2 percent as an average of the other 55 districts -- and fewer children in poverty, 19.6 percent for OPS vs. 27.9 percent for the other districts.

To sum up: it looks as though OPS really does spend a little bit more than the going rate on administration, spends a little less than the going rate on actual instruction, and has a little bit easier education challenge than its peer districts.

Its actual spending on administration is 10 times higher than the 1.5 percent that might have been inferred from the World-Herald article.

Does this mean a whole bunch of OPS administrators ought to be drop-kicked from the top of the TAC building straight to the unemployment line?

Of course not.

We ought to send them in district-owned vehicles. They have ENOUGH of them, don't you know. :>)

Just kidding. I think competent administrators are vital for any school district and I don't think administrative staffing patterns in our schools are all that outrageous.

I just think we ought to lay all the cards out nicely on the table and start playing this game fair and square.

Wednesday, November 27, 2002



Our family is getting really, really old and really, really boring. Last Thanksgiving, after the big blowout feast, we were all sitting around in my brother and sister-in-law's living room sprawled out on our respective chairs, bellies bulging.

Not a single one of us moved for about two hours, except the one lively family member, our "whoopsie daisy" baby, Maddy. She was 1 and everybody else was a senior teenager on up.

She sat there for two hours and entertained us . . . with a piece of waxed paper. We were all in such a stupor, none of us can remember exactly what Maddy's repertoire with waxed paper was. We just remember that for two hours, she was moving and nobody else was.

Wonder how she'll top the show this year? FOIL?

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Tuesday: Hot Potatoes


A 51-year-old Christian woman who went straight to a homosexual coworker's home after taking communion to try to talk with him about his self-destructive lifestyle was beaten, tortured and strangled . . . but there's a strange media hush about the whole thing.

According to one of the few published accounts of the crime, an online article in the Nov. 26 reports that Chicago police say Nicholas Gutierrez confessed to killing Mary Stachowicz in his apartment after she asked him, "Why do you (have sex with) boys instead of girls?"

He told police he punched, kicked and stabbed her until he was tired, then pulled a plastic garbage bag over her head and strangled her. Then he jammed her body under the crawlspace of his floor.

Now, let's compare: Matthew Shepard propositioned those men in a Wyoming bar, and then they brutally tortured and killed him. This Christian lady went to the defendant's home to try to talk him out of a lifestyle she was convinced would keep him from happiness and eternal life.

So I ask you: which victim was more innocent?

Matthew Shepard was a guy being beaten, tortured and killed by guys he had approached for sex out of the clear blue sky. Mary Stachowicz was a 51-year-old woman beaten, tortured and killed by a 19-year-old man she knew and worked with, for asking a radically different question about sex.

So I ask you: which crime took more hate?

I ask you again: where's the media outcry about this woman's death?

There were thousands of media outcries for Matthew Shepard's killers to be fricasseed. They became the national poster boys for why we "need" hate crimes legislation. Homosexual activists still raise the specter of Matthew Shepard-style crimes when they call for special programs and privileges in schools for homosexuals, above and beyond existing student-protecting discipline codes.

Where are they now? Nowhere.

Where is the outcry for special programs in schools to protect people who act on their sincere, Christian convictions of caring for others? Nowhere. Quite the opposite.

The silence is shameful, but at least it points out the extreme hypocrisy of hate-crimes laws, and their real intent: to make some murder victims appear better than other murder victims.

Ask the families of Matthew Shepard and Mary Stachowicz whether that's true.

Ask yourself why you could ever support hate crimes activism, after this exposes it for what it is: hateful.

Monday, November 25, 2002

Monday: Show 'n' Tell for Parents


Environmentalists often study frogs to see if they show any signs that pollution is running rampant in a given habitat. Amphibians are an early-warning system of trouble because they’re extra-sensitive to stimuli.

Well, writing is my habitat, and when it comes to evaluating writing instruction in public schools, I say: Ribbet! Warp!

As a writer, an education activist and a parent, I’ve sprouted three heads and five legs in recent years trying to get educators, administrators and parents to see what is going wrong with the way we’re teaching writing . . . or should I say, not teaching it.

Over the years, I’ve watched schools mutate their writing instruction with invented spelling, collaborative group writing, an emphasis on creativity over accuracy, “correction” by classmates instead of teachers, the abandonment of penmanship, and other well-intentioned but boneheaded “innovations” that are making student writing worse, not better.

The current fad, Six-Traits Writing, takes a process that should be a wonderful balance of perspiration and inspiration, and dumbs it down into a mechanized, standardized pile of goo.

Schools list the six things they’re teaching as:

1) ideas
2) organization
3) word choice
4) sentence fluency
5) voice
6) conventions

I list them as:

1) no spelling
2) no grammar
3) no punctuation
4) no sentence diagramming
5) no research techniques
6) no way can these kids write a decent paragraph, much less a cogent, solid, expository report

I should know. I’ve taught writing on the college level. I’ve seen the near-illiteracy of students upon whom we’ve spent nearly $100,000 apiece in 13 grades in public schools. All I can say is: oy.

The furor over the recently-released writing “assessments” from across the state here in Nebraska, as well as nationwide, exposes the controversy over writing assessments, and how silly and counter-productive they can be. But we can fix things.

Here’s a look at “Six Traits of Effective Writing Instruction” that I wish our schools would adopt:

1. School boards should pass new mission statements that direct a return to traditional academics instead of Outcome-Based Education. When educators caved in to OBE a few years ago, they took the focus off the “inputs,” or how and what students are to be taught, and onto the “outputs,” or how students should perform on various tasks as measured by costly, hard-to-score, subjective “assessments.” This had drastic implications for the quality of writing instruction, K-12.

2. School boards should get rid of “Total Quality Management” or “Continuous Progress” systems thinking from the classroom, and restore traditional concepts of teaching and assessment. TQM is fine for manufacturing but lousy for education because the “products”
are human beings. Just as widgets are continuously taken off an assembly line to be benchmarked and inspected for quality, student “progress” is being constantly checked and tweaked and measured . . . producing the educational equivalent of “analysis paralysis” that plagues many businesses. That’s what makes the new forms of subjective assessments such an expensive, time-consuming pain for educators now. They have unfortunately taken the emphasis off meeting kids’ needs and put it onto the educational process. It’s wrong, and it shows.

3. Schools should dump Six Traits Writing and put teachers back in charge of writing instruction. Right now, systems and numbers rule instead of teachers. With Six Traits Writing, a student’s score on the rubric, or scoring system, is the only thing that matters, not whether the writing is well-composed, reveals truth, touches the soul, or shows imagination and compassion and ingenuity and critical reasoning. Young writers need to be taught, not scored. Let teachers teach.

4. Principals should insist that each teacher in each subject, K-12, circle errors and demand that students rewrite their papers until they’re perfect, or darn near.

5. Teachers should insist that they be given the tools of the teaching trade, if the public expects them to turn out competent writers. That means an end to whole-language philosophies in the early grades and a return to systematic, intensive, explicit, multisensory phonics. Why? Because the best way to teach reading is with writing, and vice versa. The way most schools operate now, kids learn neither very well.

And last, but certainly not least:

6. The State Education Department should scrap these goofy, scatter-shot assessments. Then it should coordinate a sensible approach: Nebraska schools should all go back to giving their kids the same single, simple, familiar standardized test each year. It doesn’t matter if they want to switch from year to year and give the Iowa Basics, the Stanford, the CAT, whatever. As long as all Nebraska kids take the same test, it’ll be useful. Not a nationalized, government test such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress . . . but a solid, commercial, machine-scored, objective, inexpensive, truly standardized test.

The frog has roared. Ribbet! Warp!

We all want writing instruction that works. C’mon, schools. Hop to it.

Sunday, November 24, 2002

SUNDAY: Radiant Beams


Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.
— Revelation 7:12

Tim McCormick was 10 days post-op, recovering from heart bypass surgery in his west Omaha home. At just before 5 a.m. on Oct. 1, he was awake. He heard two car doors thud shut, and an engine start up. He knew someone had been messing with his son’s truck in the driveway.

The father of six children, ages 14 to 26, padded out to it and saw that the radio had been ripped out and things were strewn all over the seat.

Then he heard a noise down the street. He saw men starting to break into a car that belonged to an elderly neighbor who had just put her husband in a nursing home.

McCormick padded down closer. They saw him. He called to them, “I got your license number. You’re not going to get away with this!”

They rushed to their car to get away. He saw a hand coming up with something silver in it. He was looking down the barrel of a gun. It fired.

“The worst thing is, my wife had to see me get shot,” McCormick said. “She started praying, ‘Oh, dear Lord, our Father, save my husband! Help my husband!’”

The second bullet jammed in the mechanism.

But the first one hit McCormick in the thigh, shattering his femoral artery. That’s the second largest artery in the body, a mainliner to the heart. McCormick said when it gets taken out, it’s like taking the plug out of a water bottle and holding it upside down.

He fell to the ground, blood whooshing out of his body. His wife Jinnie covered him. As neighbors poured out of their houses in response to the gunshot, she asked one to call 911, and then told the others, “We’re all going to join hands and pray.”

McCormick said, “When I was surrounded by 20 of our neighbors, Jinnie and I saw angels. They were large and powerful and gentle. We knew they were there to protect me, not to take me.”

The ambulance arrived in four minutes. Police saw how much blood there was in the street, and started thinking homicide.

They dispatched the ambulance immediately to the trauma center at Creighton University. Jinnie ran inside the house to change and hopped into a squad car with a police officer to race to the hospital.

They joined hands and started praying.

Simultaneously, as the ambulance crossed the 84th Street bridge on Interstate 80, the femoral artery suddenly clotted. The driver later said that in 31 years, he had never seen a femoral artery clot. What’s more, as a post-op heart patient McCormick was on blood thinners, which makes clotting much more difficult.

The artery stayed closed ‘til they got to the hospital, then reopened. The leg wound up going without blood for about five hours.

The police officer said later that in 26 years, he had never seen anyone survive that injury. Medical personnel told Jinnie that he probably wouldn’t make it, and even if he did, they might have to take his leg.

Her reply: “Take his leg. Take his arm. Take anything you have to. Just give me back my husband.”

She made a few calls to loved ones, and within hours, prayers were going up for McCormick from all over the country, including many people he didn’t even know.

He was in surgery for 5 1/2 hours. They started pumping in blood and fluids immediately, and had to cut open up the skin of his leg to allow the muscles to expand again with the restored blood supply. They put in a bypass graft of Gore-Tex tube, hip to knee.

Normally, with a heart bypass, the surgeon uses a vein from the patient’s leg. Well, McCormick’s surgeon happened to prefer using a radial artery from the patient’s arm. If McCormick’s leg had been missing that vein after heart surgery 10 days before, doctors said he probably would have been a goner. But it was in place. And his heart stood up to the surgery.

McCormick said, “Because they knew what they were doing, I got to keep my leg, and Jinnie got to keep me.”

And all of us get this story, an uplifting message for Thanksgiving.

McCormick said, “It’s been revealed to us that things aren’t just luck and things don’t happen just by chance. Evil can happen any time, any place, but if you look at it very closely, God prepares you to face that evil. He knew this was going to happen to me about a year and a half ago, and He started lining up things in my life to help me stop these guys.”

McCormick said he had realized that he was out of shape and had started exercising at about that time. He lost weight. He had the heart attack anyway, but was in better shape to survive it. Then his heart was fixed just in time to face the gunshot.

His attackers are in custody, facing first-degree assault charges.

He credits the outpouring of prayer for saving his life. “The really touching thing is that, every time we drive by a mortuary, we realize we were blessed in being able to hear the thoughts of friendship and love that normally aren’t expressed until you’re in the back of that place.”

McCormick, a Mutual of Omaha employee, shared what happened at his church, Countryside Community near 90th and Pacific Streets, because he feels it is important to tell people what happened: that crime and evil exist but that God rules and will be there for you.

“People believe that these things happen only on television, or on the East Coast or the West Coast,” he said. “They never realize it happens to people just like them, and I am just like them.

“It can happen and you’ve got to be ready.”

What about Thanksgiving? “Well, we’ve had it every day since then,” McCormick said with a smile. Twenty loved ones will gather at their home for a feast that will go far beyond the food.

Amen. That will be a great day, with thanks and tears in equal measure.

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow . . . praise Him for miracles, here below.

Saturday, November 23, 2002

SATURDAY: Lookin' Up


It’s a good question: why is there evil, if God created everything and said in Genesis 1:31 that it was “very good”? What’s good about sin and disease and war and parents who decide they don’t love each other any more?

Doesn’t the fact that the world is imperfect disprove the idea of a perfect God?

Not at all. Our imperfect world simply points out to us the separation between man and God. As a painting may be perfect in the artist’s imagination but never quite perfect on canvas, we all fall short of God’s perfection . . . by His design. There are obvious differences between that which has been created, and the One Who created it all.

By making His creation “very good,” but not perfect, God was setting it up so that we could have a relationship with Him, but not think that we ARE gods. Our imperfections are what make us realize that we need God. That’s what He made us for: to need Him and to love Him.

The human being – body, mind and spirit – is so fabulously made, and knit together so close to perfectly, that we can sense that there is no way we just came together by chance, and that there is something vastly smarter and more powerful than we are out there, that created us.

Not something. Someone.

God allows enough of Himself to be revealed in the Bible for us to get a glimpse of what the standard of perfection is. He, and only He, ever can or ever will meet that standard. We are separated from God and, as “very good” as we are, we still sin:

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” – Romans 3:23

It doesn’t matter how “good” a life you lead. It still isn’t perfect – could never be perfect -- and therefore no matter how “good” you are, you can never be equal to or worthy of God, all by yourself. Without God, you are toast:

“For the wages of sin is death.” – Romans 6:23

However, our perfect God has provided one way, and one way only, for us to be forgiven of all our sins and worthy to be redeemed and to live with him in heaven forever. That one way is belief in and relationship with the one perfect Man, who was fully human and yet, like God, never sinned . . . because He is not just LIKE God. He IS God. He is Jesus Christ:

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” – John 14:6

No, we aren’t perfect . . . but we were still created by God, and, warts and all, we are an important part of His perfect plan.

Friday, November 22, 2002

FRIDAY: Vitamin Mom


Thanksgiving gatherings can be a lot more fun for the kids if you can find a new way for them to express their thankfulness each year.

One idea is to enlist their aid in making pretty place cards for each person's seat. They can have fun lettering and decorating each place card.

Then, when everyone is seated, it's time to play "musical place cards," which is a lot like musical chairs. The children can play their favorite song on a boom box. While the song is playing, everyone keeps passing their place cards to the right.

After a few seconds, stop the music. You hang on to the place card you were holding when the music stopped.

Then, everyone takes turns saying one thing about that person for which you are thankful. It's amazing how profoundly meaningful this can be. For some people, it's the most affirmation and praise they will receive all day, all month or maybe even all year.

When everyone has shared a brief thought, it's time to give thanks to God, the One who gives each of us our place . . . and then dig in to that delicious turkey!

Thursday, November 21, 2002


(For more stories, see


The Nebraska State Education Association did not spend a dime on the Nebraska gubernatorial race earlier this month, but its political action committee sent $1,000 down to Florida to try to defeat Gov. Bush.

Duane Obermier, NSEA president, said the PAC dollars were sent at the request of the Florida teachers’ union, and that Nebraska union officials felt it was appropriate to respond to the request for help. “We are all colleagues nationwide,” Obermier said.

Nebraska, Georgia and Rhode Island teachers’ unions sent money to the Florida effort, which failed. The donation was revealed by the watchdog group, Education Intelligence Agency,

Wednesday, November 20, 2002



I saw a mom do something really smart and practical at our recent high school parent-teacher conferences. These days, they're held all over the school with teachers at tables for four-hour stints, and parents taking time off from work or evening activities making the rounds.

You shuffle from teacher to teacher in zombie-like fashion, waiting in long lines as chit-chatting parents almost always exceed the five-minute limit. The long waits may be one reason why many schools are noticing such a bad dropoff in parent participation as the years go on.

This mom was having none of that. She set out a kitchen egg-timer whenever her conferences began. Both she and the teacher could glance at it as the five minutes ran out. It helped them stay up to speed. I'm sure everyone else in the room noticed it, and bet the average conference length dropped precipitously that day, just because of her innovative idea.

Since most kids have six or eight teachers in secondary grades, it'd be easy to take more than two hours to accomplish your parent-teacher conferences without some way to keep on-task. I bet if each teacher next year would put out a little egg-time or five-minute hourglass, if there is such a thing, this important procedure could be done in half as much time.

Would bringing a kitchen timer to the parent-teacher conference signify that your child's goose was cooked? Naw. It just shows that you value each teacher's time, and you value other parents' time . . . eggs-actly as much as you value your own.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

TUESDAY: Hot Potatoes


A strong case can be made that government-imposed capital punishment for a particularly heinous murder is Biblically Correct . . . but is it fair, in today's Politically Correct society?

Arguments against the death penalty often center around the contention that racial minorities and low-income defendants are executed disproportionately compared to white, better-off defendants.

It is very difficult to pierce through the rhetoric and strong emotion on both sides to see what the facts say. But, ironically, when a nationally-known advocate against the death penalty studied Nebraska's statistics, he found out that, at least with regard to race and the socioeconomic status of the murderer, there is no bias.

The study was commissioned by the Nebraska State Legislature and carried out by David Baldus, an expert witness in the anti-death penalty McCleskey case in Georgia nearly 20 years ago.

In a review of the study published Aug. 1, 2001, by the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation ( the Baldus conclusion was that there is "no significant evidence of disparate treatment on the basis of the race of the defendant," nor of the victim, in Nebraska death penalty cases.

The Baldus study also reported that there is no apparent unfairness with regard to the imposition of a sentence of execution based on the perpetrator's socioeconomic status -- in other words, poor defendants got the chair just as often as better-off defendants.

However, the study does indicate that when the murder victim is poor, the death penalty is less often imposed.

In response to that, the criminal justice group pointed out that when cases stem from poor, high-crime neighborhoods where such victims often live, particularly in urban settings with defendants that have criminal records, prosecutions tend to have a different character than those that take place in better-off, low-crime areas where defendants may have no criminal records at all.

Complicating things even further in Nebraska is the relatively low number of death-penalty cases that contribute to the statistics, making analysis of the statistics very tricky.

While another complaint about the death penalty is that innocent people have been executed unfairly and erroneously, in the 20th Century, Nebraska executed 23 men, but according to the group, Nebraskans Against the Death Penalty (, any doubt remains about the true culpability of only one of those, Mead Shumway, who was executed in 1909 in a Gage County murder. Even the doubt is fuzzy, too. Today's forensics technology and knowhow is said to be a much better protection against the wrongful prosecutions and convictions of yesteryear, too.

It's important to have a complete and balanced set of facts when analyzing claims from either side of the death penalty issue, as well. If someone claims that 67 percent of those executed in Nebraska since 1973 were African-American, that sounds like a huge racial injustice . . . but the figure represents two out of three people, and reflects so many other factors, from the criminal record of the defendant to the heinousness of the crime, that statistics like that are practically insignificant.

Because of appeals court rulings of late, several of the Nebraska Death Row scheduled executions are on hold or in doubt. As of last check, there were seven men awaiting the death penalty: Carey Dean Moore, Charles Jess Palmer, Michael Ryan, John Lotter, David Dunster, Raymond Mata Jr., and Arthur Lee Gales Jr.

Monday, November 18, 2002

MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell for Parents


Let’s face it: while most teachers do an adequate, good or even great job, your child is still likely to have a year or two with a “problem teacher.” It’s Murphy’s Law, and the best way to get through such a year is to just get through it.

No sense going over a long laundry list of what can go wrong, since the symptoms are endless. Suffice it to say that most problem teachers are struggling with low self-esteem that prevents them from adapting themselves to your child.

Therefore, you will have to help your child adapt to the teacher, instead. I know, I know; it should be the adult’s job. But when that’s not possible, you can either have a lost, crummy year in which you spend all your energy fighting with the teacher instead of helping your child . . . or you can act like a grownup and take steps that will teach your child important life lessons about positive responses to problem personnel.

Here’s a three-pronged approach:

1. Problem teachers usually are “flooded” with negative emotions and, like a flooded engine, can’t run smoothly without your skilled assistance. If your child’s grades are slipping, a problem teacher usually will express frustration, but have few positive suggestions or options. You need to think of them if she can’t: suggest that the child take practice tests, get in a study group, get matched with a study buddy, receive tutoring from an older student before school, etc. etc. Problem teachers literally can’t think of things like that because they are paralyzed by fear. They fear being undermined and sabotaged more than anything else, so don’t talk about her behind her back, don’t go over his head to his boss, and don’t come in with stacks of material on how she SHOULD be doing her job. Instead, ask a lot of questions to understand her philosophy and methods better, affirm the things he is doing that you like, try to put it gently and tactfully when you don’t, and quietly supplement at home that which the teacher does poorly, without getting up a posse of other disgruntled parents to get everybody all worked up and ruin your child’s year. For example, if her math class is terrible, send your child to a math tutor or buy a Saxon Math textbook for at-home supplementation ( Yes, you can and should document the teacher’s many shortcomings in writing, but turn it in at the end of the year instead of raising a ruckus midstream.

2. Problem teachers often have anxiety problems that prevent them from understanding your child. Teachers who are struggling with competence issues often are battling depression and other emotional disorders that are made worse when a parent mouths off and gets the teacher and the kids in a tizzy. So keep calm, and interpret your child to the teacher instead of expecting her to be able to connect with your child emotionally, and perceive your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Again, it’s not fair, but when a teacher is on the brink of incompetence, she usually is hyper-defensive, hyper-insecure and in a “survival” mode that demands courteous, firm, even nurturing communication from parents to overcome the anxiety that’s blocking the teacher’s performance.

3. When things aren’t going well for a child, problem teachers have a tendency to blame the child, ambiguous (and nonexistent!) learning disorders, gender, birth order, parents’ marital status, family finances, the fortunes of the school athletic teams, the time of day class is scheduled, the number of windows in the room, the staff-to-child ratio . . . anything and everything BUT the quality and consistency of the curriculum and instruction. That’s nuts. But that’s reality. It will be your task to constantly keep the teacher focused on the relationship between input and output . . . what’s happening in the classroom and going, or not going, into your child’s mind and heart. A problem teacher will try to nudge the spotlight off the teaching onto some psychosocial problem, and the parent’s job will be to keep that spotlight right where it belongs: on the educational process.
SUNDAY: Radiant Beams


Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.
-- Genesis 9:6

I was a naïve, impressionable cub reporter on my first day on the courthouse beat of a daily newspaper. I was introduced all 'round in the county attorney's office, gripping my brand-new, totally empty briefcase.

A bunch of county prosecutors gathered informally with me discussing felonies and pre-trial investigations and sentence hearings, what court records I could see and where to find them, and just how it all worked.

I was more than a little intimidated. I realized for the first time how important court proceedings were and how lives were changed forever in that courthouse every day.

They sent people to the Big House . . . or even to Old Sparky, the electric chair at the penitentiary in Lincoln.

I spotted a model of the electric chair made out of balsa wood in the attorney's office where we were meeting. It was displayed on a wide ledge along with law memorabilia, the scales of justice and that sort of thing. I supposed the model electric chair was a silent reminder to him of the profundity of his work and the ultimate outcome of the most heinous crimes he prosecuted.

"Go ahead; pick it up," he said solemnly. So I did.


It gave me such a shock, and I jumped so high, that 17 government attorneys fell to the ground laughing and I think they had to have the carpets cleaned and everything.

Death penalty humor: it's murder.

That was years ago. I had forgotten that old practical joke when I boarded a plane the other day and sat next to a guy who is at the epicenter of Nebraska’s death-penalty battle going on in Lincoln right now.

He was so delightfully insightful and funny that I have a whole new take on the death penalty now.

It's not about death. It’s about life.

And if more of the people involved in this public-policy debate are like the man I met on the plane, we’re going to come out all right on this.

This man's name was in the paper that morning, and people on that plane were reading about what he was saying in public, expounding on the complicated death-penalty issues that he has dealt with for years.

Right now, it's on the front burner because of the Legislative special session going on in Nebraska in response to U.S. Supreme Court rulings and the Norfolk bank-robbery mass murders.

Should we keep Old Sparky even though we're the only state that offers only the electric chair? Should we keep it and add the option of lethal injection? Or should we permanently unplug Old Sparky? Or maybe stay away from lethal injection because it’s too much like the "bad medicine" of euthanasia?

Should we keep judges in charge of weighing the aggravating and mitigating circumstances to determine whether a murderer should get life in prison, or the death penalty? Or is that a decision that should be made by the same jury that convicted? Or possibly a whole 'nother jury?

And then there's the, excuse the expression, killer question:

Should we even have the death penalty at all?

My airplane seatmate has heard all the arguments on all sides:

Death penalty: no-brainer in the Old Testament, not so clear in the New.

Death penalty: you can read the one million squillion words written about it in all the legal-beagle journals and still not come out with a clear, cogent answer.

Death penalty: he has been around enough criminal cases and read enough pre-sentence reports to know what kinds of backgrounds murderous sociopaths come from, and they ain't "Leave It to Beaver" scenarios . . . but neither are they any excuse for the brutal murders that they commit.

Bottom line, and this surprised me: he’s for it. He thinks it's correct. He takes no joy in it; he just believes in justice, and sometimes, to be blunt, justice sucks.

Like that model in the county attorney's office, this man uses humor as a bit of insulation or maybe sedative to keep himself sane during the long and winding public-policy debate.

His humor was rather biting toward those who oppose the death penalty with naïve arguments:

"They always say, 'But executing that defendant won’t bring the victim baaaaaack.'"

He always feels like slapping his forehead in mock surprise and exclaiming sarcastically, "Oh, no! That’s what I was HOPING!"

Or death penalty opponents will bring up statistics that show that capital punishment is not a deterrent to crime.

"You’re kidding!" my seatmate feels like replying, in reference to the deeds of those presently on Nebraska's Death Row. "And all this time, I thought guys who would skin their victims alive or shoot somebody dead over a few bucks in a robbery were carefully weighing the consequences of their actions, minute by minute and step by step."

Or the anti-death penalty people will say, "We shouldn’t 'play God' and determine these people's fates; if they serve life in prison, there’s time to redeem them."

He just sighs at that one. "So, redeeming people is our job, not God's? So, taking another person’s life is just water under the dam and when first-degree murder takes place, we ought to just fuhgeddaboudit? Since when is a human life 'just water under the dam'?"

But he’s no hangin' Sam. He's also a father, a gentle man, and someone who reveres God. He said that in many of the murder cases he has studied, he can see the hand of God at work saving innocent bystanders and minimizing the carnage. He sees God in the diligence and luck that often combine to catch the suspects and nail them in court.

He thinks that even if we keep the death penalty, it won't signify that we are brutal, oppressive and valuing the State above individual rights. Actually, in his view, it'll all work out the same whether someone dies by the State’s hand sooner, or after a long incarceration, later.

"I have a hard time believing that a merciful God would put a convicted murder that the State has executed into the 'down' elevator, push the button and say, 'See ya later,' without some kind of 'debriefing' or chance to repent," he said.

Of course, orthodox Christians don't buy the idea of a post-death "last chance." There's no "Salvation Blue-Light Special," or else Jesus would have told us about it. The point is, it's heartening to know that the people involved with death-penalty battles are thinking about the eternal fates of those it will affect. That's the whole point.

Ironically, this man has been greatly encouraged by unexpected supporters in unexpected quarters. One day, he was talking with an ultra-liberal minister in Lincoln, someone he assumed would be soft on crime and hard on death-penalty proponents such as himself. He has been called a "Nazi," and worse, which hasn’t been fun.

A little fearfully, he asked the big question: from a religious standpoint, in this day and age, should we still have the death penalty?

To his surprise, the minister looked him in the eye and said, "You know, there’s only so much we can take."

Grace! Affirmation! A soulmate, who knows, as he does, that the death penalty is not about death. It’s about life.

And so the debate rages on, full of passion and ideas and conflict and compromise . . . and unexpected rays of humor, like the model that shocked me, and the airplane seatmate who made me laugh about something that used to make me want to cry.

I guess he has found out that, when you deal every day with life-and-death issues that are dead serious, a little gallows humor helps.

Because, you know . . . there’s only so much we can take.

Thursday, November 14, 2002

SATURDAY: Lookin' Up


Human beings are certainly not perfect. They make mistakes. And human beings -- 40 of them over the course of more than a thousand years -- wrote the Bible.

So it must not be perfect. Eh?

Enter God. And yes, it is.

Believers say that He inspired every word that His human servants put into the Bible. So that keeps it totally trustworthy, explainable, understandable and free from error.

The Bible writers' individual personalities and experiences still shine through, and it is their work. That's part of its beauty and power. The Bible is full of diversity both in viewpoint and form of expression. There are chronologies and figures of speech, precise historical record and pure poetry. Every word has been translated from the original Hebrew and Aramaic into Greek and then English and other languages, and there are natural shades of differences in the meanings of words between cultures that even the most exacting translation cannot cover perfectly.

But that doesn't mean that what the Bible affirms isn't perfect. Because it is.

The point is, each of the 66 books of the Bible was entirely written under God's direction, and that makes the Bible a representative of God's character: perfect, infallible, inerrant and totally trustworthy.

Year by year, more and more of the content of the Bible is being reinterpreted in the light of new scientific and archaeological discoveries, and more and more we realize that it is indeed without errors, and even more of it is confirmed and understandable today than ever before in history.

Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. -- John 17:17

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

FRIDAY: Vitamin Mom


Now is the perfect time to help your child plan a service project in time for the holidays. One of the most important aspects of solid citizenship is loving to do things for others. Children need to learn for themselves how much you gain when you give.

Idea: visit the local veterans home or call the veterans organization and find out if there is someone who may be a shut-in but not able to afford a computer, internet service or email. Have your child's classroom, scout group, Sunday School class or other youth group research how much a web TV system would cost. Since everyone seems to have a TV set, all that's needed to get that veteran going on the internet is a web TV keyboard and monthly service fees. Total for the hardware and a year's service: probably about $250.

Now, get together the group of children over the next few weeks to rake leaves, walk dogs, pooper-scoop, pick up litter, go door to door, or do whatever it takes to raise the money. Then buy the web TV set-up, take it to the veteran and offer "consulting advice" on how it works from the kids for as long as it takes.

You'll light up an old soldier's life, connect him with the world and make an interesting older friend and probably email penpal for your child and other kids.

What's not to like about that?



You know the communist slogan: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

So all the workers in one big, happy collective would basically work for the same subsistence wage, even though some were responsible for a valuable work product that really helped people . . . and others were about as productive as a husband in a post-feast stupor on Thanksgiving Night.

Meanwhile, if the central organizing committee –- a political group driven by political concerns -- decided that the collective needed seed corn more than the kiddies needed textbooks, well then, seed corn it was.

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

Hmm. Why is it, every time someone refers to “state aid to education,” I keep hearing that song they used to play when someone from the former USSR won at the Olympics?

Because more and more, the way we finance public education in Nebraska looks like the way they finance everything in communist countries.

The more the funding has come from sources far away from local control, the worse the schools have gotten. It’s the old reporter’s battle cry: “Follow the money.” Why? Because then you’ll see who’s holding the reins. And the farther away that source of power is, the more unfair things tend to become.

Last year, state tax aid to schools in Nebraska totaled $793 million, which was 30 percent of the state’s $2.6 billion budget. Instead of just figuring out how much money there is available in state tax funds for schools and divvying it up on a per-pupil basis statewide, there’s a tangled web of formulas, incentives and disincentives that makes every district’s piece of the pie a little different, per pupil . . . in some urban-rural comparisons, drastically so.

Now the state’s in a big budget crisis, so everybody’ll be clamoring for a bigger piece of the same size pie next legislative session. You can see it coming: the big, powerful, urban districts are going to elbow the smaller ones right off the bargaining table onto the ground, if we keep doing state aid the way we’ve been doing state aid.

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

The way we figure up state aid just doesn’t match the classic model of capitalism, where the wealth is supposed to flow from person to person based on investment principles and payment rendered for value received.

Another key precept of capitalism is that the owner of the wealth has control over it and quite a bit of say-so over how that wealth is invested and employed.

One of the reasons I opposed the tax-lid override in the Omaha Public Schools even though I don’t live in OPS is that I’m technically very much a tax patron of OPS anyway. That’s because local property taxes within OPS, which used to pay for upwards of 80 percent of what was spent in the state’s largest school district, now are covering less than 45 percent of the cost. Other local taxes and fees, state aid, and federal tax dollars now fund more than half of school district operations. Every time I buy something from a business within OPS boundaries, or pay certain fees, or pay my state sales tax, or any kind of income tax, I am technically helping fund OPS.

Yet the elected OPS school board is making decisions on how that money is spent with no way for tax patrons like me to have any say-so about it. And even though their voters turned them down flat at the polls when they asked for more money earlier this month, now they’re going to go to the Legislature to try to get it, anyway.

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

Now, look. I know lots and lots of kids who go to school in OPS among the 43,039 they reported for the 2000-01 school year. And I know a couple of kids who go to school in the tiny McCool Junction district in east-central Nebraska, which boasts 151 students.

Here’s my question:

How come each kid in OPS got $2,183.27 in state aid to education . . . but each kid in McCool Junction got only $142.89?

(Figures are the most recent available online, according to 2000-01 annual financial reports posted by the Nebraska State Department of Education on

Now, think about it. Is each student within OPS really worth 15 times as much as each student in the rural district?

Oh, really?

Is each property taxpayer within McCool Junction really able to pay 15 times more per pupil in local funding than each property taxpayer within OPS?

You don’t say!

Is each student within OPS really 15 times needier, educationally speaking, than each student within McCool Junction?

No kidding!

But then again, you say, property valuation within OPS amounts to $292,783.84 per pupil, while those few kids in McCool Junction are backed by $567,147.66 worth of property apiece.

Aha! Those rich farmers can afford to pay plenty more in local property taxes than the city mice property owners in OPS.

But farmland is needed to make income for families and has nowhere near the liquidity of urban property. Farm prices are so lousy that it would be a gigantic kick in the pants to expect farmers to come up with still more in taxes, raising their cost of production far beyond market.

And it’s much harder to find and afford high-quality teachers and staff in the hinterlands than in urban settings. That’s expensive.

And there are far fewer community resources, far less infrastructure, cultural opportunities, and philanthropic patrons from whom to draw in the rural schools than in the urban ones, and yet those contributions from outside school districts often can make all the difference between an OK educational experience and a great one.

You know, the Russians have a word for situations like this: “Borscht.”

Heyyyy! We’re supposed to be the state where “the girls are the fairest and the boys are the squarest.” So what are we doing with this commie pinko school finance system?

I know. I know. I exaggerate. But not by much.

Here’s what true capitalists would do: since the purpose of education is providing equal opportunity to each Nebraska student, I hope our legislators will simply figure out how much tax money they have and divide it up evenly. State aid would be the same amount per pupil no matter where that pupil lives, city mouse or country mouse.

No muss, no fuss, no politickin’, no nonsense.

I’ll drink to that. And it won’t be vodka, either. It’ll be good old Nebraska corn liquor . . . served straight up, just like we ought to be serving all of Nebraska’s kids.



There's a little old lady who's a little bit of a chubby little old lady although not much, but she wants to lose weight and so she goes to a water aerobics exercise class with other cute but chubby little old ladies.

Well, at Halloween, she made a . . . splash.

She came in her swimming suit with love handles and turkey wattles and upper-arm hammocks and thunder thighs exposed for all the world to see. But she also came in a funny hat to which she had attached a Krispy Kreme doughnut box.

She was a Krispy Kreme calendar girl for Halloween, you see.

Everybody loved it, and wanted to know where all the Krispy Kreme doughnuts had gone, for the box was empty.

"Here's one," she said, patting one of her upper-arm hammocks. "Here's another," patting her delightfully padded granny belly. And so on.

Doughnut expect old age to be glamorous all the time. But do expect it to be fun with people like that around.

Thanks, Mom: you're funny.

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

TUESDAY: Hot Potatoes


Eek! Eek! Eek! Nobody wants to use the "r" word -- "racism" -- in discussions about why children of color aren't doing as well as white children within the Omaha Public Schools.

But it's going to come up as people tussle with why massively expensive busing for racial-integration purposes failed, and what that should tell us about devoting more millions to inner-city schools now.

Despite years of pouring extra millions of dollars into busing, we now have as many or more minority students who are truant, in alternative schools, failing their standardized tests, struggling with poor grades and dropping out.

People also are asking why the millions poured into the new "academies" within inner-city OPS are so far producing only meager results. There are legions of inner-city kids revealing themselves on standardized tests to be functionally illiterate or nearly so, despite millions of extra dollars spent on them.

Is it possible that racism has clouded the real cause of academic underachievement among certain student groups within the state's largest school district?

Is it possible that more money won't solve it . . . but proper teaching methods will?

Is it possible that the answer is staring us in the face, and that inner-city and minority kids don't need more millions . . . but the equal opportunity for academic achievement that comes only with plain, old, simple, tried-and-true, effective reading instruction in the early grades?

Have we forgotten to "Keep It Simple, Stupid"?

I think so. I think that's why disadvantaged kids are struggling so much. Kids from families with moderate or high incomes have ways to compensate for ineffective curriculum and instruction to help develop them, outside of the classroom. Poor kids have only their schools. When they're good, poor kids will succeed, and have done so throughout American history. But when they're bad, poor kids show it first and most.

The high price of whole language, whole math, child-centered classrooms and other costly school "deforms" is being paid most of all by disadvantaged and minority kids who are denied a level playing field by not being taught to read, write, think and figure in those early grades.

But it's not that white people with money don't care. They do; I can promise you that. They want what's best for all kids from all demographic groups. They just don't think that has to come at an exorbitant cost, as shown by the 60%-40% vote in OPS last week against higher taxes. And they're right. Good education is NOT high-priced . . . even for those children with the most learning challenges.

I also think there is a strong undercurrent of racial tension going on in all of this, and it needs to be exposed, dealt with and put behind our community and our state, once and for all.

What other explanation is there besides racism for the fact that children of color whose families have the same incomes as children of the beige persuasion still do worse on standardized tests?

Are we racist, Omaha? Have we been denying equal opportunity to children of color and children from poverty?

Just a few minutes of studying what other inner-city educators have been doing, and the good results they've been getting, in books like "No Excuses" (, and it becomes pretty apparent that OPS has been doing the wrong things for the right reasons . . . for years . . . and it's long past time for them to set a course for success that, paradoxically, will cost taxpayers less money, not more.

The possibility of widespread, systemic racism within Nebraska in general, and the Omaha Public Schools in particular, has to be included in the upcoming debate over what should happen with the hundreds of millions of dollars in state aid to education.

OPS is apparently getting ready to argue that because it has so many more low-income, minority and immigrant children, it deserves more money per pupil than other Nebraska districts.

But enter one of Nebraska's best-known black leaders . . . with a serious message.

Glenn Freeman is an Air Force veteran with 30 years of service who rose to assistant chairman of the Nebraska Republican Party and member of the State Equal Opportunity Commission, along with numerous other public-service positions. He's a black conservative and an elder in society -- someone to be listened to.

The dangers of throwing money at a problem like black underachievement in schools are addressed in his book, "Good Racism -- Bad Racism" (Vantage Press, 516 S. 34th St., New York NY 10001, ISBN 0-533-12748-3, 1999).

"Affirmative action, set-aside programs, busing, Head Start, and redistricting all support the premise that Blacks are inferior," Freeman writes on p. 8. "The simple reality is that racism against Blacks will continue to flourish as long as Blacks are willing to accept the premise that they are inferior."

He adds, "What Blacks need is freedom and opportunity, not quotas and handouts."

Freeman wisely points out that affirmative action, multicultural education, Afrocentric history, busing and other "good racism" programs may have been well-intentioned, but in the end are demeaning and counter-productive for children of color . . . not to mention colossal wastes of taxpayer dollars.

"Too many of our people, young and old, use racism as an excuse for not trying," Freeman writes (p. 16). "We have to spread the word that racism, unfair though it may be, need not stand in the way of their success. . . . Opportunity alone isn't enough. We must also teach the value of preparation and application."

You know . . . he's right.

Any claim OPS tries to make, that it needs more money because it has more minority and poor children, needs to be swatted flat.

Any approach OPS tries to take, other than classic children's literature, systematic, intensive phonics and traditional math in those early grades, needs to be swatted flat.

Education is the key to equal opportunity, and the right methods are key to the quality of education that our neediest children need most of all.

Let's not shut up 'til they get it.

For more on education issues, see

Monday, November 11, 2002

MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell for Parents


Have you ever thought about what it means that so many schools are making so much money off selling soda pop, junk food and snacks to kids?

There's a direct correlation between the self-defeating stupidity of that practice, and the boneheaded educational philosophies such as whole language and whole math that are replacing cost-effective academic instruction with highly expensive and counter-productive social engineering.

More and more money is being spent to do less and less that's good for kids, both in food service in schools, and in many of the curricular and instructional practices they're serving our kids.

It could be that advocating for healthier nutrition in schools may lead to a healthier academic smorgasbord, too. So give it a try.

The more calories, fat, sugar, sodium, additives, synthetic colors, chemicals and who knows what else are packed into the breakfasts, lunches and snacks kids can buy or receive free at school, the worse their academic achievement because those are nutritional nightmares for the brain right along with the rest of the body.

Duhhhhh! Think what all that junk does to a child's ability to focus and concentrate on school. ADHD didn't used to be too common, back when most children ate real food. Malnutrition is even more common today despite much higher calorie consumption per capita, because the nutrient consumption per calorie has gone downhill, especially in kids. Malnutrition causes real, live brain damage. Think about it: there are serious consequences to bad nutrition. Sugar highs and food-induced after-lunch mental siestas do not promote much higher-order thinking.

Schools that have thrown out vending machines and junk foods are posting better achievement, less skipping school, lower dropout rates, fewer drug busts, less vandalism and most of all, brighter-eyed and bushier-tailed students who are more fun to teach.

Now, that has to be appetizing for everybody, especially parents.

Schools that are hooked on the few extra dollars provided by junk food marketing within their walls are contributing to the epidemic of obesity, eating disorders and malnutrition among our nation's youth.

THAT'S disgusting.

Parents who want to stop this and reverse course back to good nutrition in schools should bring a contingent of pediatricians, dentists, exercise physiologists, eating-disorder counselors and any other health professionals they can muster to testify before school boards and collaborate on a sea change in the cafeteria.

I'm not calling for a return to Mystery Meat and yucky mounds of tasteless vegetables on those lunch trays . . . just for smart food choices so that kids can grow up eating smart, and being smart, too.

Sunday, November 10, 2002

SUNDAY: Radiant Beams


The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father’s God, and I will exalt him. The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is his name.
— Exodus 15:2, 3

I used to think warriors were like comic-book action figures. You know: rippling muscles, arms like pistons, barrel chests and clenched teeth. Umgawa! Aaaiiieee!

And then I met Joe Wherry, man of war. Now I know what real strength and courage look like.

Joe Wherry is a shriveled up little guy who lives a few blocks from me. He has so many health problems he’s pretty much stuck at home in a hospital bed, contacting the outside world mostly by telephone and fax.

He got that way because of me.

He was over in Vietnam, risking his neck so I could continue to live my cushy, clueless life of liberty and privilege, like so many other Americans who may let this Veterans Day come and go with barely a thought.

Joe used to be a comic-book style hunk who could bench-press 300 pounds and leg-press 500 pounds. A Boys Town graduate, he volunteered for the Navy at the height of the Vietnam War, got special-ops training, and became a river rat, engaging the Viet Cong in firefights along the Mekong Delta.

He doesn’t like to talk about it much, but his stories are riveting and poignant, magnificent and sad. It took him years to figure out why he couldn’t stand to take hot showers; it reminded him subconsciously of those dangerous days. He has been tortured by flashbacks, recurrent dreams and debilitating depression. Not even his two Purple Hearts and other awards could ever cover up the horrible memories of war that battle on in his mind and heart today.

Joe got shot in the knee, got shrapnel in his back, saw buddies blown away, and had little kids melt dead in his arms after being napalmed by the Viet Cong.

His own health was nuked by Agent Orange, the defoliant our side sprayed on the jungle to help us fight the guerrillas. It was a paradox: the toxic chemicals helped with visibility which might have saved lives in the short run, but stripped many of our soldiers of their lives and their health, long-term. It was a chilling precursor to the chemical warfare that so many fear today.

Because of Agent Orange, Joe lost most of his insides in surgeries in 1984. They removed 85 percent of his intestine, his ileum valve and a lot of his colon. His pancreas is diseased, his stomach and gallbladder are gone, and he has recurring blood infections.

He had to go on intravenous feeding for years and lost 100 pounds because nutrients streak through him so fast. He slipped into eight comas, and has been too weak to walk or work for many years. He can get around in an electric cart, when he can get a ride. He has had pain all over, from top to toe.

It was a struggle to raise four children on disability income, especially since when they were still pretty small he lost his beloved wife to breast cancer. He slipped into alcoholism and eventually made his teenage son drive him to stores late at night so he could roll down the lonely aisles and buy himself root-beer schnapps, vodka or even Nyquil, which he drank for the alcohol content.

His dental health is shot, his sex life is a distant memory, and he has struggled with self-esteem problems most of his adult life.

Physically, he’s practically “gutless.”

But I’ve never met anybody with such inner strength . . . such guts.

You see it in his humor. He kids people that his digestive system is now so short that when he gets hemorrhoids, his nose bleeds.

It would have been easy to give up when his health went. But he didn’t.

It would have been easy to give up when his wife died so young. But he didn’t.

It would have been easy to just drift to his death as an alcoholic. But he quit drinking and now helps others quit, too.

It would have been easy to wallow in self-pity at his disabilities. But he has fought for and won better handicapped access to many local buildings.

It would have been easy to get angry at the USA. But instead he’s a tireless advocate for his fellow veterans, helping them get their records in order and their rights in place, and was largely responsible for recruiting 350 volunteers to bring the traveling Vietnam War Memorial to Omaha one weekend, which 75,000 people came to see.

It would have been easy to get mad at his fellow man. But Joe has done the opposite, as a faithful visitor to the local nursing home and a leading volunteer for the Boy Scouts of America, tirelessly giving his time and money to inspire and guide youth.

It would have been easiest of all to get mad at God. And Joe has. But he also has come to terms with what has happened. After all, he got out of there alive; many others didn’t. He sees God’s purposes in all that he has gone through.

“When life is at its worst, God is at His best,” Joe says.

He has shared his faith as the first handicapped Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist in the Omaha archdiocese and has taught confirmation for years, with a special interest in special-needs kids, challenging them to set goals and go beyond their limitations.

Once, he was sent in to a nursing-home room to give communion to a really angry, lonely, elderly lady, who had just found out she had terminal cancer. She was facing the wall in her wheelchair when Joe arrived in his electric cart. He introduced herself. She sat still, then spun around in her wheelchair, and spat out: “Do I have to take the pain with me?”

Joe’s eyes locked onto hers. He surprised himself with his calm answer: “No.”

A slow smile of relief spread across her face. At the same time, Joe felt as though his insides were filling up with joy. He realized at that moment that his pain was only earthly, too. You know the empty place where his guts used to be? It was filled again . . . filled with faith.

The old soldier had done battle once again.

And once again, he had won.

I’m going to go see Joe, this Veterans Day, and bring him a flag, and maybe a flower or two. I hope to hear another one of his stories, and touch his hand, and look into his all-American eyes and tell him, hey, Joe, by the way, thanks, from me and a couple of hundred million other people.

Oh, yeah. And Joe? By God, Joe. You’ve got guts.

Saturday, November 09, 2002

SATURDAY: Lookin' Up


A reader writes that he is an atheist, he doesn’t need religion in his life, and what the heck do Christian believers get out of practicing religion, anyway?

I’ve got news for him. I don't have a religion, either.

What born-again Christians have is a relationship with the living God. There’s a humungous difference.

As an example, my best friend and I talk on the phone almost every day. Whenever I have something “really good” to tell her, I can’t wait to talk to her. I really look forward to it, because she always does me good, and she means so much to me.

It’s the same thing with God, only better. It’s wonderful to relate to Him, and believers are doing it constantly. We get more out of it than the promise of eternal life. We get to live life with God as our best Friend.

Church stuff -- pretty buildings, public meetings, out-loud prayers, rites and rituals, and everything else associated with "religion" – isn’t really what it's all about.

A relationship with Jesus Christ is much quieter, deeper and more private than that. It revolves around prayer and Bible reading. Sure, I go to church and worship Him with others, and I teach Sunday School and try to do good deeds.

But the key is what happens in my heart during quiet time with the Lord, and as I go about my daily activities in constant connection to Him, relating everything to Him and what He wants for us in general and me in particular.

Relationship. That’s when I get the spiritual food that nurtures me and helps me grow.

Rather than being tied to a particular building, denomination or group of people, my faith is anchored in my trust in Jesus Christ. He has shown me that He knows me better than anyone human ever could. He has miraculously planned my life and is helping me live it with the most meaning and enjoyment possible.

I used to think that He died, went to heaven and now hangs out up there, remote from us, maybe just hurling thunderbolts at the bad guys from time to time, and that’s about it. Now I know that He is very much alive, right here on Earth, and is active and involved and working in all of our hearts, all of the time.

I have talked directly to God a number of times. Now, don’t go calling the funny farm: it wasn’t audible. I didn’t see anything, and His voice didn’t come into my ears. I “hear” Him within my heart. It’s a miraculous, supernatural relationship that goes far beyond anything humanly possible. Because it isn’t. It’s impossibly good, because it’s God!

How do you get this relationship with God? Well, how do you start any kind of relationship? Make a move.

With a human, it starts with a simple smile and a “hi.”

Try it, with a little prayer, to God. Tell Him “hi” and ask Him to show you that He’s real. Keep it up, and He will.

It helps to read a few chapters of the Bible every day, too. Start with Proverbs, Psalms or the Book of John. It helps a lot to listen to Christian radio, attend a Bible-believing church, and to make friends with believers who will share their lives with you, and include you in spiritual things that will help you strengthen your connection.

But it starts . . . and ends . . . with God.

Want to know the best thing about connecting with Him?

He’s always really glad you called . . . and He’s always got something good to say.

Friday, November 08, 2002

FRIDAY: Vitamin Mom


How many kids are there growing up today in a happy, healthy, wholesome home with their own mother and their own father in a first marriage, and everybody gets along with everybody else in the family, and they all live in the same town and have a great time during the holidays?

Maybe . . . zero?

For all the rest of us, the challenges of motherhood are much more easily met if we always remember that we’re never alone.

Kids need extended family. Don’t let anything come between your child and those absolute jewels known as aunts and uncles, great-aunts and greater-uncles, cousins and shirttail kin, second cousins once removed and Grandma’s sister-in-law’s ex-nephew’s daughter.

Call it the "Auntie Trust." When it comes to putting people in your child’s life, the more, the merrier. If you fan the flames of intergenerational relationships, you’ll always be glad you did and your kids will be better off.

It doesn't have to be a female relative. Whoever acts in the spirit of a cute "auntie" will do.

One of the neatest graduation gifts I ever saw was a box of old thank-you notes, birthday cards, photographs and carefully-folded school papers that my niece’s elderly great-aunt gave her, along with a small check and a very warm, wonderful letter.

She lived in a small town pretty far away, but my sister had made sure their relationship went beyond a token one, by insisting that my niece send her old great-aunt mail. The sweet lady had kept them thoughtfully and carefully, through the years. Now she was giving them back to the girl, to help her see how much she’d grown and changed and what a joy it had been to watch that process.

My niece’s eyes were just shining as she looked back through this tangible record of the good relationship they’d maintained through 18 years. Gifts that were far more costly just couldn’t measure up to it.

So no matter how old your child is now . . . call up the nicest, sweetest relative you’ve got and be a matchmaker. Encourage that connection and watch it grow.

One of the best ways to be pro-child is to be . . . pro-auntie. :>)

Thursday, November 07, 2002

(For more on Nebraska education issues:


There’s a very bad joke about kids whose native language is not English. They often go to public schools where the education is so poor, they can be illiterate in not one, but TWO languages.

Ba-bum crash!

But of course that is an exaggeration. Schools have tried to meet the needs of non-English speaking students for many years now, and while there are abuses and disappointing results from place to place, success has not been, well, completely foreign to them.

But there are some exciting, cost-effective and sensible things happening with bilingual education that could have a positive impact on the Nebraska education scene.

Omaha Public Schools, for example, says in its 2002-03 budget that its limited English student population has risen to more than 4,000 in the past decade. That’s going on 10 percent of total enrollment. That influx of immigrant children has had a significant impact on how OPS uses its money and space to deal with the special learning challenges of those who can’t read or write in English very well.

Finding a better, cheaper way to make immigrant kids literate in English would seem to be a godsend in this economic climate, which prompted 60% of the voters in OPS Tuesday to say “no” to a request for extra funding from the state’s largest school district.

Maybe the answer is English immersion, where, generally, immigrant children get one year of special, separate bilingual education to learn English on a fast track, and then they join the general student population.

Voters in Massachusetts Tuesday said “hola” to English immersion and “hasta la vista” to the traditional model of bilingual education, which separates non-English speaking kids into classes taught in their native languages and keeps them from assimilating into the mainstream.

The traditional style of bilingual education – called “English as a Second Language” locally, or “Limited English Proficiency” -- has been called “language apartheid” in the way it separates immigrant children from their peers for most of each school day, often for five to seven years or more. In many cases it is said to cripple their practical understanding and usage of English for the rest of their lives, because they never quite blended into school because of the language barrier.

Ironically, since separate bilingual education got started in Massachusetts, it is interesting to note that Massachusetts voters dumped that format with a 68% voting majority Tuesday, including big wins in heavily minority neighborhoods, directing a change to English immersion.

English immersion is what California and Arizona voters put in place in 1998 and 2000, respectively, by majorities of 61% and 63%, respectively. Why? Because it makes so much sense and it works: California’s test scores have improved dramatically among immigrants. The percentage of Hispanic students who scored above the median in reading shot up from 21% to 35% in just three years.

Efforts in those states were led by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ron Unz, as was the campaign to dump bilingual ed and switch to English immersion in Colorado.

However, the Colorado ballot measure failed by 12 percentage points Tuesday despite early polling months ago that showed it had 78 percent support in Colorado. What happened in the interim? A Colorado heiress put up $3 million for last-minute ads by the education establishment to fight English immersion.

Those ads have been deemed “race-baiting” in the way they played on fears of white parents that their kids would be slighted in the classroom by infusions of non-English speaking Latinos.

The last-minute ads also used fraudulent financial figures, and the pro-bilingual forces have acknowledged that. The ads had claimed that Arizona spent an extra $442 per ESL student, which amounted to tens of millions of extra dollars . . . but the fact is, the extra spending stemmed from a federal lawsuit settlement, not the vote.

Proponents of English immersion programs say the additional costs to schools are minimal. They say there are significant savings from it in the prevention of future learning difficulties, reduction of extra LEP staff, elimination of onerous federal regulations such as excessive space-per-pupil requirements that cramp regular classrooms in favor of ESL classrooms, and reductions in dropout rates among immigrant children. All of these, they say, more than offset start-up costs.

Best of all, proponents say, English immersion works a lot better for kids than the separate bilingual programs that cost more and employ more staff.

Works better? Saves money? Sounds like an “ole.”



A check of federal education statistics about the nation’s largest 100 school districts shows that some of the peer districts of the Omaha Public Schools have a higher percentage of their students in “Limited English Proficiency” programs yet spend less per pupil overall than the Omaha district.

If the growing number of LEP students in OPS is used in an attempt to gain more state aid from the Legislature next year with claims that the OPS student body is more expensive to educate than available revenue can support, these figures should be cited in rebuttal.


Omaha Public Schools
Operating expense per pupil: $5,741
Percentage of LEP kids: 7.7%

Albuquerque, N.M., Public Schools

Broward County School District, Florida

Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District, Texas

Houston, Texas

Tucson, Arizona

Source: National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, Common Core of Data, “Characteristics of the 100 Largest Public Elementary and Secondary School Districts in the United States, 2000-01,”

Wednesday, November 06, 2002


One of the best "morning after" election stories comes from former Nebraska Gov. Kay Orr.

She was higher than a kite on the morning after her election as the first woman governor of the great Cornhusker State, and attended a number of festive events and meetings before coming home to "crash."

And there she found a note from her occasional cleaning lady, which brought her back down to earth and put the whole thing into perspective:

"President Reagan called," the note said.

It added:

"We're out of stool cleaner."

Tuesday, November 05, 2002

TUESDAY: Hot Potatoes

Judging the Judges

Were you 100 percent sure of every vote you cast to retain or reject a judge on Election Day?

Gulp. I sure wasn’t. I should have been, too. I used to cover the courts for the daily paper, and know many of those in office. I served on a jury a couple of years ago and admired the job done by the district judge in that case.

But I can’t say that I’ve followed judicial decisions very closely over the last five or 10 years, maybe because the daily paper no longer covers the courts very thoroughly and I don’t subscribe to the local legal newspaper to even try to keep up with things.

The best voter’s guide in the area, on, didn’t have anything on judges this election cycle. Apparently, in the past they have refused to fill out questionnaires for voters’ guides, because they consider it unseemly to campaign and prefer to be judged by the voters on their judicial records . . . about which the voters have no clue.

Now, the bar association rates judges, but that’s a little bit of a beauty contest that isn’t all that helpful to us regular joes.

Meanwhile, judges are making some of the biggest decisions our government ever makes with regard to individual families and businesses, and they make some serious dough at taxpayer expense as well. They really should be scrutinized a lot more carefully than they have been in the past.

Next election, I promise to get a group of people together and figure out a fair and useful way to get this done and bring solid information about judges to the voters. The next time the gavel slams down to end Election Day, it is hoped that there will be at least a little bit more information available on the the chief officers of our courts.

MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell for Parents

There's a dangerous trend among the educrats to try to discredit standardized tests. They point out, and rightly so, that a lot of the things that count when it comes to academics can't really be counted. Standardized tests don't measure a child's creativity, imagination, initiative, ingenuity and drive to succeed.

But that's not why the educrats want to downplay test scores. They want to escape accountability.

If the kids in your district take the same objective, standardized test as the kids in the neighboring town or state, and do much worse, then the educrats in your district have a PR problem on their hands.

But if the kids in your district take a subjective, carefully-crafted assessment instead of a standardized test, and that assessment was prepared by your staff and carefully aligned with the curriculum your school teaches, then there's nobody to compare your school's results to, and even if the kids did terrible, that can be "spun."

They're called "criterion-referenced assessments," and they're bad news. When the educrats get to pick the criteria on which the kids will be assessed, it's like fixing a card game to come out the way you want it to. Norm-referenced testing, by contrast, sets "norms" based on how the entire pool of students do on a particular test. As long as your students are "normed" with other students similarly situated, norm-referenced tests present a fair comparison.

Criterion-referenced assessments do not, but they are an integral part of outcome-based education, which is basically to "test what's taught." So there's no getting rid of these assessments until and unless we can get rid of OBE, which isn't likely any time soon.

However, don't let the educrats get rid of objective, standardized, norm-referenced tests, either. They're important to maintaining accountability . . . what there is of it.

Sunday, November 03, 2002

SUNDAY: Radiant Beams

Opposites Attract

Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.
— Philippians 2:2

Grandpa was rough and loud and bombastic and dashing and hilariously funny and a rascal through and through.

On the other hand, Grammie’s hands were the softest I’d ever touched. I never heard her raise her voice. She was gentle and sweet, quiet and patient.

Grandpa was from a broken home and grew up almost as a street urchin. He swore he was part Cherokee, claimed to have lived among gypsies, and told us grandkids that the scar on his upper lip was from his days on a pirate ship.

Grammie, in contrast, grew up in a genteel, close, conservative, Danish immigrant home with lots of siblings and aunts and uncles and relatives around. She was classy and civilized, and played the cello for events at downtown hotels during her teen years.

Now, Grandpa ran booze up to Omaha from Missouri during Prohibition, kept illicit slot machines in his basement, and owned a couple of racehorses that allowed him to pal around with some rather tawdry and therefore fun and exciting characters.

Grammie, in contrast, was totally G-rated and loved hearth and home. She was famous in her neighborhood for the beautiful roses and columbines she grew, and I can still taste her sweet, paper-thin pancakes, which we ate by the dozens.

They both worked hard, Grandpa as the owner of a small aluminum foundry that he built up from scratch, and Grammie as a longtime employee of Mutual of Omaha, one of its highest-ranking women when she retired as head of the Index Department.

They were totally united in their marriage of over 60 years, and had their two children and eight grandchildren at the top of both of their priority lists throughout their lives.

I can’t think of a better example of a couple who were so different and yet made their marriage work. They were Exhibit A of the adage, “opposites attract.”

I often think of them on Election Day. Grandpa was a flaming liberal, a Democrat who didn’t have much faith in the ability of the family to meet the needs of people. That probably stemmed from his abandonment by his father and the lifelong consequences of that early shock. He tended to put people’s needs ahead of profit, which was admirable, but made things a little chaotic and insecure at times.

Grammie, on the other hand, was an arch conservative, a Republican, who thought people did best when whatever they did was all on their own. She didn’t like it when taxes went up and she didn’t like to see the government giving out freebies and entitlements. That probably stemmed from the fact that her immigrant family had bootstrapped themselves into the middle class by hard work and thrift that eventually paid off.

What probably appealed to Grandpa about her was her wonderful, stable family and rock-solid, high-principled values. Vice versa, I’m sure Grammie loved Grandpa’s flair for people, his initiative and thirst for risk.

So during every political season, he would talk about the Democrats, and she would talk about the Republicans.

Ideas would get tossed around at their house. It was OK to disagree, to express, to get exasperated, and to keep trying to change the other’s mind about who would do the best job in each office.

He would vote pretty much a straight Democratic ticket, and she would mark her ballot on down the line for the GOP, for the most part.

They argued, of course, but things never got strained between them.

Except for one year. That election season was particularly competitive, and there had been many arguments in their home about who was better for this or that office. After much conversation, Grammie and Grandpa decided that their votes really would cancel each other’s out in every race.

So, they decided, neither one of them would bother to vote that year. Why waste the time, when they would just cancel each other out?

So he went to work that day. And she went to work.

That afternoon, at about 5 p.m., he was coming down the stairs outside their customary polling place . . . and ran smack dab into HER, coming UP the stairs.

They stopped. And stared.

“What are YOU doing here?”

“Well, what are YOU doing here?”

Then they laughed.

And Grandpa waited for Grammie to go in and cancel out his votes. Then they went out to dinner to celebrate how much fun it was to be a Cherokee / gypsy / pirate married to a stubborn, savvy Dane.

I’m thinking of them this Election Day once again, and hoping that Americans will see how much we are just like them. We are diverse, and yet likeminded. Our opinions are drastically different, and yet in the end, we all want the same things.

Is this a great country, or what?

We are Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, hearts that focus on people and hearts that focus on principles.

We’re all going to vote. And though many of us will cancel out each other’s votes, eventually someone or some stance will win.

And that’s OK.

Because like Grammie and Grandpa, we’ll still be married, in this endlessly interesting and eminently noble American experiment. Ours is a household based on liberty and equality, where ideas get tossed around and it’s OK to disagree . . . but in the end, we can always celebrate together.

Because we live in a wonderful country, greatly blessed by God, where freedom rings and opposites attract.

Saturday, November 02, 2002

SATURDAY: Lookin' Up

Barriers to Belief

It's hard to believe people don't believe in God.

Why don't they? I used to think it was because they preferred the instant gratification of sin to the eternal benefits of living life God's way. But then I met a series of atheists and agnostics whose piles of sins were much lower than mine. Oops!

A good book by Neil T. Anderson, "The Bondage Breaker," finally set me straight. On p. 262, there's a graphic that lists the reasons people fail to understand the truth about God:

1. Ignorance

2. False prophets and teachers

3. Blasphemous thoughts

4. Unhealthy interpersonal relationships during the early developmental years

5. No good role models or positive authority figures

Most people with a distorted view of God believe He is mean, unforgiving, unconcerned, a "killjoy," critical, rejecting, unjust, untrustworthy, and a number of other bad things that simply aren't true.

It takes a little digging to expose the reasons for these false beliefs, but in every case, at least one of them is there.

If you encounter someone who claims not to believe in God, or to dislike or distrust Him and His word, and if you are in a position to inquire about that person's background, you are likely to come across one or more of these. Often, just by helping the person see the barrier to belief, you knock it out of the way.

That's your starting point, for helping the person struggle toward awareness, understanding and, the ultimate goal, acceptance of God's love and His plan for each person to join the kingdom of believers.

Friday, November 01, 2002

FRIDAY: Vitamin Mom

Drive-Time Serenade

Resist the temptation to “veg out” and listen to the radio when you’re driving places with your child or children. Don’t be passive. Be active! No matter if you’re tone deaf or a former opera star, drive-time is the perfect time to practice one of the most fun brain-builders of all: singing.

Think about all that’s going on when your child sings even the simplest song along with you: the child’s brain can listen to you while simultaneously singing, remember what words come next, match the words to the pitch of a musical note, calibrate that note to the tune, shift both note and lyric to the next syllable, keep in rhythm and, an especially good activity for the passengers but NOT for the driver (!), perform hand actions that go along with the song, such as the traditional ones for “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain When She Comes.”

So even if your 2-year-old can only sing, as mine does, “Old McDonald Had a Farm – E I I I I O,” there’s a whole lot of good in singing. Make it your goal to teach your child all the old folk songs you can. Other motorists will be jealous even though they can’t hear you, when they can see how much fun you’re having in your car together as . . . merrily you roll along.