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March 1, 2012

I want to ask Rick Santorum what his stance on abortion is in the case of a 12 year-old girl raped and impregnated by a psychopathic moron. Would he insist on inflicting a lifetime of misery on this young girl by consigning her to early motherhood? Would he dare to sanctify this union by calling it “God’s will”? And finally I would ask the good senator, would these questions be answered differently if they involved his own daughter?

The abortion debate has taken front and center once again with elections upon us, with the usual sides being drawn and the same old questions being asked. How is it, for example, that men from their legislative and legal and religious perches, insist on ruling with such finality and with such certainty over what is essentially a woman’s domain?

The religious objections to abortion, if I may lump them all together, are based on the “sanctity of life”, even a potential life, and they always seem to involve invocations of God’s word between every thump of their holy books and every self-righteous proclamation that God has spoken only to their sect. In their many manifestations and permutations, all religions profess an inside track on what God has planned for us, asking lost souls and free thinkers alike to climb on board their particular faith train.

And so I would ask, which version of God’s plan is THE TRUTH? Can any religion (or political candidate) say with absolute certainty that an aborted fetus is the ending of life? Isn’t it just possible that God has made provision for each soul’s entry into this temporal existence that is not so easily interrupted by man’s intervention? It is ironic that the self-appointed spokesmen for God have so little faith in His plan that they believe we humans have the power to disrupt that plan.

February 22, 2012

The suicide of one of our children has stunned a community and traumatized an entire school. Whenever this happens the same questions are asked and always we are left without answers. How could someone so young have reached such a state of desperation that he chose to end his life? Why weren’t the significant people in his life—family, friends, teachers etc.—more in tune with this boy to see that he was struggling, hanging by a thread?

In my first year of teaching I vividly recall the principal calling me out of my classroom to inform me that one of my students had put a pistol to her head that morning and killed herself. She was only 13 years-old, was a good student, very pretty, well-liked by everyone and a delight to have in class. At the time I wondered how I could not have had an inkling that something was so wrong with this child. How could one so full of promise have come to such a point of desperation?

There were no answers to the questions that her teachers and her fellow students had—only the numbing realization that someone we thought we knew was suffering silently, and we had no idea.

From that time forward in my career as a teacher, I pleaded with my students at the beginning of each year to talk about what is troubling them. Talk to a relative, to a friend, to a teacher—anyone. Bottling things up only magnifies the stress, the confusion, the self-doubt, the pressure to succeed, the desire to conform. It’s a lot to handle for some of these kids, who are feeling adult emotions but are still little children inside.

Some of our students carry burdens that no child should ever have to deal with. It can make a world of difference to a young person that his or her affliction is not unique, and that others have suffered and struggled as they have, and got through it. But looking beyond the symptoms in search of a cause, there surely is a common basis for these kids, at some level, of feeling unloved. Their need for love is no different than anyone else’s. It is with them from day one, and never diminishes, for as long as they live. If that simplifies things, then so much the better. What can be more basic than communicating to our children that we will love them, no matter what? When their worlds are shattered, it is the one assurance that will, at the very least, keep them in this life.

The world can be a cruel and very forbidding place for some adolescents, especially when they feel that they are alone in their pain. The suicides of my students (six in 36 years) have been acutely painful reminders that my job as a teacher entailed more than teaching history. While we educators strive to engage the minds of our children and tap their potential, we should also be mindful that some of them are hurting inside. If all they need is a listening ear or an open heart, it is the least we can offer.

February 09, 2012

Students have often asked me over the years whether I have ever smoked pot. After telling them it’s none of their business, I confess to them that I was a child of the 60s and let them take it from there. It also affords me the opportunity to render an opinion about the present generation’s use of the drug. They’re using and abusing it at younger ages than my generation, and I wonder at the implications of that. I tell them that there is far more information about the affects of the drug on a mature adult than there is on an adolescent’s brain—a brain I would add that is still forming. The full contingent of brain cells comes together somewhere in the early 20’s, and it seems to me that a regular dose of something that changes the natural chemistry of a brain that is still forming is a very bad idea. What’s taking place in the brain of a kid that smokes weed every day, maybe all day, is anyone’s guess, but we can take some educated guesses. In addition to observable behavioral changes, there are the more subtle, but perhaps indelible changes, consequences if you will, of interfering with the growth process. My advice to my own kids and to the many students I’ve had over the years is short in words but long on experience and observation. Here’s the dope on pot:
Going from no pot to recreational use—all things considered, not a great choice.
Going from recreational to daily—You’ve made a very bad decision.
Graduating to all day every day— worst decision ever; Somebody needs to intervene in your life. You’ve become a worthless human being who may be doing permanent damage to your body.

I can capture the attention of a classroom of 17 year-olds, but trying to get a teenager to consider the future consequences of present behavior is a tough sell. They are, as we once were, convinced of their invulnerability, if not their immortality. They’ve heard, but not always heeded, a thousand and one parental cautions and official warnings about what they shouldn’t do, and in the midst of all that good direction, managed to develop minds of their own. That’s good news for the general population when one of its pre-adults not only declares independence but takes responsibility as well for his/her actions. But it’s not good news when that independence takes a good number of our kids down a road of self-delusion—I can handle it, I’m better when I’m stoned/high/buzzed etc. Regardless of what drug leads the way to a daily numbing, It is a road that always leads to a dead end and we adults need to do a better job of putting up sign posts.

January 12, 2012

My father smoked two packs of cigarettes a day for 40 years. When he was 61, he was diagnosed with emphazema and I remember only too well the sound of the man who I once thought was the strongest man in the world gasping for every breath he took. A year later he suffered a devastating stroke and was, for all intents and purposes, gone from us forever. The cause of his death and his final tortured years on this earth was clearly his addiction to tobacco.

It was an addiction that I shared for ten years of my own life, but after seeing how it played out for my father, I determined to quit, if for no other reason than for the sake of my own children and grandchildren who wanted to see papa stick around for a while.

I tried quitting and failed a number of times until finally I found a way. It worked for me and for two of my brothers, and after a health magazine published my story, a number of other people who had struggled to quit but couldn’t.

If anyone reading this is looking to unchain themselves from this deadly habit, I may just have a way that will work for you. Ditto for those of you who want to see a mother or a brother or an uncle or perhaps a grandpa stay in your life longer, instead of leaving it prematurely. Let me know through this site and I’ll send you a copy.

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January 12, 2012

I ask my teen-age students, “Try to imagine being a parent some day, and then try to imagine just what your (teen) children will be doing to stretch your patience or challenge your values when that day comes. That usually results in a dead silence in a classroom as teenagers are usually unwilling, or unable, to suspend their present reality to imagine the unimaginable.

I suggest that they focus on how their offspring might entertain themselves in the future, keeping in mind the ever-changing and fickle nature that each new generation presents to its elders to unsettle them.

“What if”, I ask them, “a micro chip is developed that can be inserted into a portion of the brain that will transmit music internally, bypassing the ears and going directly to receptors in the brain that will bring a new definition to “music appreciation”.

“Will you think back to your I-pods and surround-sound and wonder why these kids today need to go beyond that, why they insist on testing the limits? And if you can think that far ahead, can you quickly retreat to the present and try to understand what some of your parents are going through?”

With some, this will resonate but fro most of the kids I suspect that it is just so much static generated by elders who, “just don’t understand.”

(But just for the record, if they do come up with such a micro chip, I’m going to the head of that line for an implant.)

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January 9, 2012

The editor of the News Press decided that it's major story for the year 2011 was a rehash of the allegations against John Drayman. Interesting. Leaving aside the presumption of innocence, which is the hallmark of our judicial system, there is presently only an investigation into the allegations of misconduct. Given that, one wonders why another public official whose well documented raid on Glendale’s treasury did not trump the Drayman investigation. I refer to former police chief, Randy Adams, whose pension schemes and misrepresentations caused a sitting judge to question why he hasn’t been indicted right along with the other scoundrels on the Bell council.

Is it possible that Mr. Drayman was not as well connected to the News Press as Mr. Adams was? Looking back on the coverage of each of these stories there is far greater focus on the former than the latter. Why is that?, I wonder.

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Dan Kimber