Monday, October 25, 2010

Positive Thinking -- commentary

I was a seventh grader searching the school library shelves. Television had not yet come to our neighborhood, and video games were so far into the future they hadn’t even made it into science fiction yet. Reading was still a pretty exciting thing to do.

My search that day led me to a volume that would set my course psychologically: Norman Vincent Peale’s “Power of Positive thinking.” The book is a classic for positive thinkers. I wish I could say I haven’t had a negative thought since reading the book. I can say positive thinking has served me much better over the years than the negative thinking of a fundamentalist preacher I once heard say, “Peale is appalling and the Apostle Paul is appealing.” This is clever but so telling of his fondness of negativity.

Well, Peale got old and passed from the scene. The next prophet of positive preaching was the Rev. Robert Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California. His book “Moving Ahead With Possibility Thinking” earned him a place of honor among positive thinkers. It reaffirmed in my mind the attitudes I had acquired from Peale. And yes, I did one time attend a Sunday service in the Crystal Cathedral. However, Schuller too is aging and probably spends most of his time now singing “Nearer My God To Thee,” or “Lord I’m Coming Home.”

The positive thinking torch has now been picked up by a young upstart, Joel Osteen, of Lakewood Church, Houston, Texas. At age 68, I no longer need my positive attitude reaffirmed. I have a lifetime of experience to affirm it for me, so I haven’t read anything by Osteen, though I do have a recent experience to share with you.

My wife, Pearl, and I drove to Houston recently to visit our son, his wife, and the grandkids. Greg wanted to take us to Lakewood Church. Being a positive thinker, I was positive I wanted to go, so we loaded the family in the car and arrived at the church as thousands of others were doing the same.

The church building began life as a stadium for an NBA team and I’m guessing it seats 20 or 30 thousand. The entryways and main floor were crowded, but we found our way to seats in the second level. As I looked up in the balconies, there were people seated here and there, but by the time the meeting started, those seats too were full, all the way up to the top of the nose bleed sections.

I began to look closely at the people and one would be hard pressed to find a more diverse gathering. There were Asians, Hispanics, Blacks and Whites. Not just a token smattering of each, but hundreds. I have watched segments of services of this church on television, but my capacity for televangelism is pretty limited, so I have never viewed an entire Lakewood Church service. I didn’t know what to expect, but one could feel drama and excitement in the air.

As Osteen ascended the platform, a rhythmic clapping started up, rising to a crescendo until he spoke. I assumed this was their traditional way of launching the service. Osteen opened the meeting and turned it over to his music man/worship leader and praise band. I believe the music man was black. There was about 30 minutes of singing of contemporary Christian music with an occasional oldie thrown in for people like myself. It was what one of my traditionalist friends calls “rock and roll church.” And the place did rock.

Both Peale and Schuller were ministers of the staid Reformed Church of America, and their services reflected the solemn traditions of their upbringing. Osteen however, follows in the footsteps of his father, a Southern Baptist preacher turned Charismatic, and the church exudes charisma. Osteen assumed leadership of the church when his father died, even though he had only preached one sermon in his life at the time.

People pretty much did what they were comfortable with, whatever seemed like appropriate worship to them: stand, sit, shout, clap, praise, wave hands. A stadium seemed like an appropriate venue, though I assume the motivations were different than when basketball fans did the same.

Osteen did not preach that morning, but rather the honors went to Bishop T.D. Jakes, a black preacher of a Pentecostal, mega-church in Dallas. I have seen segments of Jake’s preaching on television. He is a classic Pentecostal, black preacher. Like Osteen, though, he too does not dwell on negative, guilt rising preaching. He laces his sermons with lots of common sense and practical living And, this particular morning, he was in fine form.

With that visit to Lakewood Church, I can now add one more positive experience to a long list of such experiences.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Bicycling -- commentary

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood made news last March when he announced a policy change which is supposed to bring "the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of nonmotorized." The new policy states, "Walking and biking should not be an afterthought in roadway design."

Bicycling may not be an afterthought in LaHood’s mind, but it will be forever in the minds of the public. However, I like the idea so I’ll help his fantasy along. After all, history has been known to take some weird twists.

Besides, bicycling is hard to beat for exercise and recreation; it is great for both the young and the old. If you haven’t been on a bicycle for years, you should try it again. The modern bicycle is not your father's bike. Index shifting, hydraulic suspension, lighter metals, quick release hubs, quick adjust seats, ergonomically designed seats and better braking make the modern bicycle a joy to ride. My 69-year-old brother bragged that he had recently ridden a 104 mile day on his bicycle. I don't compete with him for distance, but I do ride 12 miles twice a week as part of my workout regimen.

If you are new to bicycling, I would advise you to start at a bicycle store rather than a big box store. To begin with, how you are going to use the bike is much more important than price. Do you need a mountain bike, a road bike, a hybrid, or maybe a step through? A knowledgeable sales person can help you make those choices.

If all you intend to do is pedal around the neighborhood or the RV park where you are camped for the winter, then you can forget about gears and skinny tires. If all your riding is going to be on pavement and often involves a dozen miles or more, you'd better go for gears and skinny tires.

If you are going to get off the pavement some of the time, go with a mountain bike. If you need the skinny tires for pavement, but don't like those handle bars that stretch you out like a racer, then you need a hybrid which is a cross between a road and a mountain bike with flat handlebars, allowing you to ride in an upright position.

If you are going to do a lot of uphill downhill get one with lots of gears. Gears are a wonderful invention and most bicycles now have 21 of them. Don’t let that scare you; you never use them all. Just develop a pattern. Here’s mine: There are three sprockets on the pedal crank. Think of these as high range, medium range, and low range. Then there are seven sprockets on the rear wheel. These are gears one through seven. Seven is the high gear and one is the low gear.

When the riding is easy, you ride in high range, gear seven. As it becomes more difficult, drop down to gear six, then five.

Your next shift will be to mid-range. While in mid-range, as the riding becomes more difficult, you drop down to gear four, then three.

Your next shift will be low range, and as riding becomes even more difficult, you drop down to gear two and finally gear one. By this time you are going up a pretty steep hill. If you find yourself going slower than a walk, get off and push. Around Jonesboro, I rarely find myself in low range, gear one.

As the riding gets easier, you just reverse the process. In the higher gears, you can easily move across flat ground at 15 to 20 mph, and in lower gears, the hills are easy.

In Arkansas, you can comfortably ride several months out of the year, making a bicycle commute to work possible. Up to fifteen miles would be a reasonable commute. A few years ago, maybe 20, I did a long term teacher substitute in Big Flat and lived in Mountain View. I would park by car at Fifty Six and ride my bicycle the remaining twelve uphill, downhill Ozark miles to the school.

When I taught in Grubbs, I would park my car at Little Texas Missionary Church and ride the remaining eleven flat miles to the school. The beauty of it was that since I rode the bicycle to school, I had to ride it back and this gave me two good workouts a day.

If you want to commute by bicycle, you can buy a garment bag and brief case to attach to your carrier so you can freshen up when you get to work and have your files, etc. with you. It works, it’s good for you, and it will make LaHood happy, and someday, this fantasy might really come true.

School Bus Safety -- commentary

Three recent school bus accidents in Arkansas prompt me to again mount my hobby horse of school bus safety. There are many things we could do to make school buses safer. We could make the seat backs higher. We could put seat belts on every seat. We could put air bags at every seat. Every one of these has serious unintended consequences. We could put a trained, adult monitor on every bus.

Every one of these suggestions is expensive and every dollar spent on them takes away from something else in the educational system, and there is never enough money to do the necessary things for many school districts.

What we are dealing with in most school bus accidents is a distracted driver. Distracted drivers are big in the news lately because of ever increasing cell phone use. A school bus driver should have enough sense not to use a cell phone while driving; however, the legislature deemed it necessary to make it illegal.

Yet, the bigger distraction remains: The behavior of the students behind the driver. Every second the driver looks in his mirror to monitor student behavior is a second he is not looking at the road. At 30 mph, that bus travels 44 feet for every second that driver’s attention is not on the road. The solution to this problem requires a change of attitude on the part of school administrators.

Administrators, here is a common sense solution that won’t cost a dime: Quit treating school bus discipline the same way you treat classroom discipline. Make it a zero tolerance matter. Any misbehavior on the school bus should mean a forfeiture of bus privileges, starting with the first infraction.

The average classroom is about 750 square feet and by law can only accommodate 30 students, fewer in some elementary grades. The classroom is headed by a teacher who has been trained in classroom management. Plus the teacher has several ways to handle misbehavior from standing next to the disruptive student, to moving the student, to isolating him, to removing him from the classroom.

The average 200 square foot school bus, however, can legally accommodate 60 passengers or more. It often travels down the road at the speed limit. The driver must not only drive the bus safely, but must also manage the load, which distracts from the driving and which he is usually not trained to do.

When considering the potential outcome stemming from disorderly behavior in the classroom verses on the bus, common sense says there is no way these two should be treated the same when it comes to punishment. Normal classroom misbehavior should be thought a misdemeanor and bus misbehavior a felony. Yet, the most common complaint of school bus drivers is that discipline is not taken seriously.

While the law says your child must go to school, it does not compel the school to provide transportation. Riding a school bus is a privilege that should be readily taken away.

There was a time when students respected authority more than they do today, and often older high school kids were hired to drive the buses. The duty often fell to the kid who lived at the end of the route. The students respected the young driver’s authority. We probably cannot bring those days back, but we can put the trouble makers off the bus, thus making the ride safer for the rest of the riders. But, most schools won’t take such a drastic action until a student has been written up for disruptive behavior several times. As a result, neither the student nor his parents, take the matter seriously, knowing he gets several chances.

It only takes one distraction to cause an accident. When the bus driver has to look in his rear view mirror to monitor student misbehavior, his eyes are not on the road and his attention is not on his driving.

I was at a training session recently, and we got on this topic. A fellow from St. Croix in the Caribbean related when he was a kid, the school met bus discipline by simply eliminating the entire route for a period of time. That was certainly a bit extreme since most kids really do behave themselves on the bus. But it certainly should be used individually, starting with the first offense.

The only way to solve this problem is with parental involvement and nothing will get them involved quicker than having to deliver their own kids to school. And if that doesn’t get them involved, then the kid needs to walk. Just as it was not fair for the school in St. Croix to punish all the kids, neither is it fair for us to jeopardize all the kids over the misbehavior of a few.