Neighborhood Schools for the USA in the 21st Century: Serving ages 3-15

Education is failing many of today’s youth.  According to the Pew Research Center, the USA ranks only in the middle of the pack internationally in our youths’ achievement scores, and this pack includes third world countries.


American schools have served many functions that are beyond teaching students.  They’re day cares, sports training camps, social hang outs and dating sites.  But, are our K-12 public schools really the most efficient places, or ways, for all these things to occur?

K-12 schools are also the sites of bullying and countless other social problems, drug abuse and alcohol exposure, mass shootings, and power struggles between youth with addictions, behavioral or emotional problems, parents who have their own similar problems or simply don’t value the service, and teachers too burnt out or ill-equipped to handle the challenges they present.

So, I have a proposal for American schools in the 21st Century.

First, change the ages mandatory public education targets, from youth aged 5-18 (K-12) to those aged 3-15 (preschool-9th grade, the new K-11).

  • Young children’s brains are doing the most growth and are open to learning.
  • It is easier to keep schools secure and drug free for younger children than it is for teens.
  • “School” for young children can focus on things like getting along with others, how to pay attention, having fun and being active. This sort of training prepares youth to both enjoy school and know how to listen and learn so they can later master academic material. Many youth come into kindergarten now without these skills.  Head Starts have done a lot of work with this population and could merge with the public school system to include all children.
  • Young children and their parents tend to be much more engaged in school than are teens and their families (attend a parent night at a high school and then grade school for comparison). Parent support is a huge factor in school success.
  • Working parents need child care when their children are young. Our current age division may work for stay at home moms, but a huge percent of families can’t afford to do that.
  • When families are chaotic, young children benefit hugely from being in the safe, securely supervised settings early childhood education programs can provide.
  • Older youth want experiences away from adult supervision as they are in the normal developmental process of individuation and are getting ready to emancipate into the adult world. Though many get into trouble on their own, trying to control them through a tax payer funded enterprise also repeatedly exposes those who don’t get in trouble to the dangerous behavior of their peers.
  • As mandatory education would end at age 15, no students would be drivers. This saves on parking, cuts down on absentee opportunities, and also increases safety.
  • Instead of advanced subject material (which are only of interest to those on a college track), good citizenship classes should be mandatory for all seniors (now 9th graders) including civics, basic parent education, safety skills/risk management, trauma healing skills, drug and alcohol abuse prevention,  personal finance, and communication skills.
  • Many older teens now are simply holding spaces in classrooms, not learning much of anything, and completely uninterested. The high school experience for these teens is a waste of time and that would be eliminated.
  • To keep schools safer and authority lines clear, no older teens should be students in public school settings.
  • Many of our youth are graduating now with only middle school, or even grade school, level achievement. No child should continue to advance who doesn’t understand the work they are doing unless they are in a special education program, which would have to expand to accommodate them.  Grade school children who are struggling with basic skills would be assigned a community service worker (see next section) for one on one tutoring so that they won’t fall through the cracks.
  • Middle schools would use a high school education model in that students would have to repeat acore classes until they pass them, vs move forward based on entire grade. Therefore, students could be in 9th grade English and 6th grade math.  Students gifted in some subjects could take online college prep or community college classes early while completing the rest of their mandatory education classes.

Community Service

  • In order to receive free community college, athletics, arts, or trade education, all graduates must complete at least 48 weeks of (24 hours a week perhaps to allow time for some other continued skill development such as music or sports?) community service. (Perhaps those going on to further education after community college graduation could do another year to pay for that as well). This would be an option to keep youth busy and engaged, learning work readiness skills, perform tasks society can’t currently can’t afford, and occur during their (typically) 15 or 16th year.  Youth with behavior problems will be dropped from the program though welcome to return to try again the following year. Students placements will include:
    • Forest Service (cleaning trails and underbrush to reduce fire danger and improve trails and outdoor recreation)
    • Preschool and grade schools: one on one help to provide youth with individualized attention and increase their social skills, reading, etc.
    • Beautification projects: City and other clean ups, recycling efforts
    • Disaster relief efforts
    • Nursing homes: reading to elders, help with feeding and being friendly visitors
    • Community agencies, business and trade volunteers: developing other skills in smaller settings.

Free Online School

  • Anyone will be able to access online education to supplement their regular schooling or get them to the academic level needed for community college if they didn’t get it in school before aging out.

Community College

  • Students would visit community colleges well before graduation and know all the options available to them (7th grade?).
  • Comprehensive vo-tech options will be offered and need to be treated with as much respect as academic tracks. They wil be readily available and be well promoted.
  • Community colleges will have competitive athletic programs for students who have the skills/talent needed to earn spots on teams. Other fitness programs will continue to be offered for those interested in noncompetitive fitness (weights, yoga, spin classes, running clubs, etc).
  • Disrespectful behavior, lack of organization, or other problems presented by youth entering the community college system need not be tolerated. Youth will be dropped when not ready and encouraged to return at a later date to try again.



Rights for Graduates:  Giving graduates more adult rights is a great incentive.

  • All graduates, having passed civics, should be able to vote.
  • Emancipation from parental control for any graduate, with or without parental approval, who is doing community service and college or employed. Most youth benefit financially and relationally from living with their parents and this would continue to be the norm for these reasons.  But, youth who are in difficult home situations would have a legal way out that could save them from homelessness, abuse, depression, addictions or other troubles that can stem from suffering through difficult or untenable situations at home.  Many youth are loyal to their families and would not want to disclose the reasons they want to leave, so this allows both youth and their parents to save face and maintain their connection without the need to go through ugly scenes to separate.  Also, facing more adult responsibilities sooner could help the lazy and entitled become more accountable.
  • Eliminate age based criminal offenses for graduates such as statutory rape and MIPs. Sexual safety will be taught before youth graduate and should be a focus of parents.  Though there are sexual predators who prey on young girls, it is also true that many teen girls pursue young men for relationship purposes themselves.  Labeling a 21 year old as a sex offender for being in a relationship with a 16 year old is an overreaction that stigmatizes the young man and shames the girl.  Unwanted sexual advances by anyone are already classified sexual harassment or rape, and this is enough protection for 15-16 year olds as well.  Though MIPs could be eliminated for graduates, young people still won’t be able to purchase mind altering substances till they are 21.
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It’s Who We Are

What if I told you my goal in life was to, “Make Nicole Great?”

I imagine that you’d think that I needed to reign in my ego, might lack a moral center, and definitely lacked maturity.

In their book Character Strengths and Virtues, psychologists Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman identify six broad virtues that have emerged across history and culture: wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence.

People with these sorts of values don’t aim to be bigger and better than others.  People of character work hard, care about others, and avoid bragging.  People with these sorts of values measure success based on their ability to do the right thing in spite of adversity.  People with these character strengths are thoughtful, fair, and brave.

‘Great’ is a value defined by its relationship to something less great.  Great means nothing unless there is small or mediocre.   People who see life as a stage for greatness believe themselves to be superior, approach relationships competitively, and are consumed by status.  They are after being first, having more, and getting noticed.  People who are defined by greatness put others down and are only truly liked by those who want what they have or those they are manipulating to get what they want.

The USA is just as ugly with greatness as our aim.

I’m a progressive democrat who believes that it’s time to embrace a traditionally conservative focus on character.  It’s not what we get, or what we have, or even what we do that matters most.  It’s who we are.

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Habits: how to make the good ones stick

I always knew exercise was good for me, but I didn’t do it with any consistently until I was in my forties.  Possibly maturity helped, or my kids didn’t need me anymore, or I saw old age looming.  More likely my success was due to stumbling on a formula for creating a sustainable habit.

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg notes that habits are made up of a few components.   When one has a habit of constant phone checking, for example, the cue to engage in this habit could just be free time.  Craving for constant phone checking could be a craving for distraction, for light social engagement, or for avoiding boredom. Engaging in this habit, the phone checker gets a reward (perhaps a “like” on a Facebook post).

In order for habits to become fully entrenched though, one must develop a craving for them.   It’s easy to see how this formula works on sugar and other addictions.  A cue for sweets could be certain times, like a holiday or after school or after dinnertime.  Sugar consumption produces an endorphin rush that’s easy to crave.

Changing habits isn’t as hard as sticking with habit change.  Many of us try to change our poor eating habits for healthier ones.  The cue for this could be finding our jeans are too tight, or going over a mark on the scale we swore never to pass, or nudges from concerned doctors.  We study meal plans online, choose one we think we can manage, and off we go!  Our reward is that descending number on the scale and being able to squeeze into those pants.  We could likely go on like our healthy habits indefinitely if it weren’t for stress.  New habits fall away in times of stress unless we establish firm cravings for them.

After I’ve shared morning coffee time with my husband, I know it’s time (cue) to get ready for my run.   Running (habit), almost every day, keeps my endorphins up, gets me out in nature, keeps me strong and breathing well, and keeps my body fit (rewards).   I don’t always want to do it, especially when I’m feeling sorry for myself, or if I’m  stressed out, but my dogs absolutely love it.  I give in to them, and providing them with such joy is the incentive (craving) that keeps me running. So my hint for today is this:  before you abandon any planned healthy New Year’s changes, see if you can nurture a craving to go with your new habit.  It can sustain you through difficult times.

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Polite Protesters

I feel compelled to take some action today after the election last night. So, I thought it might be neat to start a Facebook page dedicated to civil disagreement. I am tired of ugliness in spirit and, no matter what, believe that HOW a message is delivered is just as important as the message itself. If you don’t post cuss words, belittle people or groups of people, or support violent action, AND you feel an urge to protest or disagree with major American trends that appear supportive of those things, this group is for you. Let’s share, post, and be voices for civility, inclusion and kindness. Joining this group means you pledge to use your voice to be one of the #politeprotesters

Don’t run, don’t hide, don’t give up: speak.  And do so kindly.

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All About Ugh

I have always struggled with guilt and shame.  I’ve been cursed by a degree of self-consciousness that has had me highly aware of my failings.  It started with my sense of being the favored child, moved on to confusion regarding harms caused to me, and then to an inescapable awareness of my own wrong doings.

I’ve dealt with it in various ways.  I’ve continually tried to understand it.  I’ve felt liberated by compassionate words when discussing it with others and redeemed by the “Aha!” moments that seemed to let me off the hook.  I’ve confessed, made amends when I could, and prayed for forgiveness.  As a therapist, I’ve read much that explains it.

But, though repairing behavior can address the guilt, shame has remained.  Lessened in intensity no doubt, but still there.  I can’t forget things that I’ve done that are flat out WRONG and I know they are.  It’s gotten easier to do RIGHT things as I’ve gotten older, but I still make mistakes.  Besides, I look at the news, look at people I know, hear the gossip about others, see the failings in heroes, and I am pretty well convinced that none of them escapes doing WRONG either.

We all know no one’s perfect, right?   I know that too.  But, I still proudly found ways in which I could be more innocent, less bad, essentially a good person who just acted badly at times for various understandable reasons.  I’d put on my fancy clothes of pride (or at least self-esteem) and go about my day.

Yet, the shame remained, buried in a shallow grave in my gut that very little scratching could uncover, dropping me down into a place where I’d fear I’d never manage to be a genuinely good person.

My meditation practice has been hit by lots of visits of shame of late.  Sitting through it, I wonder if the problem is as much because I wanted so much to be good that I couldn’t accept my failings?  Maybe the idea that I ‘shouldn’t’ feel ashamed had resulted in a hostile inner campaign to kill off parts of my being?  What would happen if I embraced it?  Not with the goal of letting it run rampant, but to simply face its existence inside me?  Maybe it ultimately doesn’t work to try to reach something with your head that is hiding deep in your gut anyway?

So, I’m experimenting by feeling shame during mediation time and doing nothing but containing the experience.  It’s a miserable process: sitting and feeling those states as consuming, dizzying, nauseating, and endless forces.  I use stillness and tolerance as my weapons to battle a seemingly alien creature.  I envision a primitive male: wild-eyed and dirty, dressed in furs and scraps of metal.  “Ugh” is his name.  He does battle inside me, trying to punch his way out, wanting to do something thoughtless or hurtful.  Yet, somehow, I sit through his efforts without moving.

I’ve sat with him for a while now and he hasn’t left.  I don’t think he will.  But, I’ve become more comfortable with him and, containing Ugh, I feel stronger.  Like the determined mom in the checkout line with a two year old screaming for candy that will leave her whole cart of groceries if that’s what it takes not to give in.  It’s not fun, but I can do it.

Other people’s dark sides aren’t bothering me too much these days.  I totally get how Ugh’s brethren are eager to get loose.   I try to keep Ugh corralled in my prison, but he’s rather diabolical, so I find his arms reaching out of the cracks in the walls at times.  Hopefully, the damage will stay easily repairable and I’ll continue to be able to get him back where he belongs pronto and clean up his messes before they’re too bad.

It’s not a perfect solution, that’s for sure, but it’s honest.

It’s a weird thing, this human condition I’ve got.

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Posted in Mindful Living, mindfulness


I didn’t become a therapist because I had great wisdom to share about mental health:  I became a therapist because I knew I had problems and wanted to learn what to do about them.  I’ve always loved people too, but honestly, my initial motives were largely self absorbed.

Through the years, I’ve reassured myself that this is okay because I’ve worked hard to heal and can see that everyone else has problems too.  Some are just more obvious than others.  I’ve been pleased that mine quit being dramatic and have become largely inconsequential to my ability to find contentment with life.

Then, the tsunami hit.  First, it devastated Thailand.  I was transfixed by days upon days of news coverage.  Next, I watched a tsunami documentary that sent shivers up my spine with the news that the west coast was due for a BIG one in which there would be very little advance warning and a GIANT wave could wipe out coastal towns at ANY TIME.  Then, as if that wasn’t bad enough: Fukishima.  Yikes!

My previous love for the ocean disappeared under a thick cloud of anxiety.  The last time my husband and I went to our favorite beachfront hotel, instead of relaxing in marital bliss, I lay awake most of the night wondering if each wave sounded normal in size and if the gaps between them were spaced evenly.  In the dark, the ocean could be racing away, building the bulk that would come back and engulf us in a giant wave of cold terror.  I tried to sleep, figuring there’d be no way out then anyway, but instead, kept double checking that our clothes, shoes and keys were in easy reach.

I tried joking about it:  “Isn’t it funny that I’m stuck with this fear?”  My friends and family kidded me about the tsunami danger signs along 101, gave me a tsunami danger sweatshirt, and checked in about their safety when at the beach themselves.  I’d laugh the kind of laugh that sits on the surface of a gut filled with fear.

I tired being mindful and I could do okay, sitting at the beach, breathing in an out in the present moment, being able to hang out without focusing on the quickest route to high ground.  But, I missed how I’d loved the ocean.  How it once had been my favorite body of water.  How I’d loved its enormity and power, repetitive sounds, smells of freedom, and perfect mating with the sun and sky.

There’s a hypnotherapist who works out of our office and on a whim, I scheduled an appointment with her before another planned beach trip.  She didn’t knock me out nor have me do silly things, she just got me very relaxed, told me things that I already knew, and gave me a different experience.  Somehow, that reached beyond the fine workings of my mind and into my gut where logic was inconsequential.

Not long after that, when I drove up 101 toward Brookings and first saw the ocean, I felt peace.  When I got out of the car and walked in our rental and saw the ocean right through the living room plate glass windows, I felt pleasure.  When I walked to the beach, I found a rock at the water’s edge where I sat, for hours, in utter bliss.  And, I thought, I really don’t mind being one little insignificant person, basking in the glory of the ocean’s enormity, blessed by the help of another.

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From Primate to Adult

I’ve always been critical of people who, driving by, slow down to look at traffic accidents, while at the same time, cursing myself for being one of them.  Then, I heard that’s because our primitive brains are constantly scanning for the answer to one question: fight, flee, or freeze?  So, we are drawn to anything that speaks of threat to our survival: other people’s accidents, natural disasters, wars and terrorist acts, serial killer television shows and shoot-em-up video games.

That all of this is the source of endlessly repeated celluloid media is of no mistake.

Personally, I don’t think I want threats of death and destruction in my consciousness, yet it’s easy to be transfixed by those sorts of things.  I feel myself pulled in, anxiously enthralled, watching for resolution. That part of me sits like a little devil who wants it to be bad for lasting entertainment, while another voice in my head is completely repulsed by the sense of guilty pleasure.

Sports seem to tap into that basic brain function as well.  Whenever “my” team plays, I’m on the edge of my seat, wanting them to take down the opposition, hard.  Depending on the score, I am stuck bouncing around between joy, despondence and fury.  It doesn’t matter that I know no one personally on “my” team and that whatever happens to them has no impact on my personal life at all.

I can transcend the intensity, but first have to put that primitive brain to bed and chose to operate from somewhere else instead.  I have to exercise the muscle of my frontal cortex so that it’s strong enough to take control.  That’s the part of the brain that’s genuinely pleased when there are no hurricanes instead of anxiously glued to the Weather Channel, transfixed by days of blow by blow destruction, secretly hoping for video that’s even scarier than the last.  It’s the part that respects privacy and keeps my eyes forward when driving by traffic accidents where my help would be a hindrance.  The part that enjoys a day at the beach instead of constantly scanning for the quickest exit routes in case of tsunami. The part that can opt for calm over tension, decision over reaction, presence over vigilance, peace over war.

It’s the part we think of when we think of being fully adult.  It just isn’t very exciting.  There’s no adrenalin rush in rationality.  No drama.

No wonder it’s taking me so long to want to live there.









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In Southern Oregon, winter often means rain.  It’s happening now: a seemingly steady downpour on the roof that sounds like billions of broken and erratic plops made steady only by their sheer numbers. Intermittent but enormous.

I don’t like rain.  It gets me wet and being wet keeps me cold.  It gets moisture in my car and fogs up the windshield.  It makes puddles to have to tip-toe around or get cursed from by soaking feet.  It makes the dogs look pathetic and the goats huddle under the carport where they drop little poops all day.  The cats won’t go near it and that means more action in their litter box.  In the winter, my husband de-stresses getting firewood and lighting slash piles and he pouts forlornly from the couch whenever it holds him back.

Like I said, I don’t like rain. It’s similar to people I don’t like.  I have a list of wrongs done by every one of them too.  They can be mean, selfish, ignorant, greedy, entitled and so on.  And on and on.

But, I know rain’s a good thing.  In winter, rain usually creates the snow pack in the mountains that will see our rivers and creeks through the summer months.  It’s warmer when it’s raining than when the sun’s out, so we don’t have to worry about pipes freezing nor icy patches on the drive to work.  It turns everything green again and fills up our shallow wells.  It cleans out the mossy yuck from the creeks that built up over summer and makes fish happy.  It stops forest fire danger.  And there’s little more fun, after the fire danger gets low again, then burning a summer’s worth of paper garbage.

Like rain, the people I don’t like have good qualities too.  They can be good workers, successful achievers, entertaining jokesters, low users of resources, or have a bunch of other possible assets.  Whether I enjoy those assets directly or not, they’re there.

And, when I quit expecting people and rain to be anything other than what they are, I can pay less attention to those irksome qualities.  After all, how many times can you get upset with rain for being wet without feeling silly?  When I let rain be rain, I can enjoy the cozy indoors and be grateful for the good things it’s doing for the earth outside.  When I let irksome people have their irksome traits, I can then let myself have mine too.

It’s funny how well life works when I let it.

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Posted in Mindful Living, Uncategorized

Part One; Part Two

During the first forty-five years or so, my life was about figuring out how to live it.  I learned what my body could do, how to get my needs met in my family, how friendships worked in my neighborhood, and how to get good grades at school.  I discovered adventure in my teens and got stuck cycling through them several times before finally getting enough of them to begrudgingly move on into adulthood.  I had babies and learned to put myself second.  I figured out how to get a marketable skill I liked, pay attention through an entire work day, act appropriately for the professional world, and pay my bills on time.  I moved to a place I could settle.  After many attempts, I found love that was lasting.  And I got nice stuff.

Then my dad got sick.  The people in his life, his home, and even his mind slowly drifted away.  Death called to him as a soft whisper.  He put in ear plugs and talked about everything left yet to do.  With little discussion, I did the tasks needed in preparation for him anyway, feeling like a vulture circling his still beating heart.

At 55, I feel it looming off ahead in my path somewhere and I’m a baby in my state of readiness.  So, I’m practicing peace in the silence and appreciation for love without words, love beyond conversations.  I’m reminding myself to feel my God’s presence in my heart without worrying too much about details I’ll likely forget anyway.

I’m happy for this downhill slide, for the time now before the end.  I expect it’ll take awhile to learn to fully relish the life that is there, without improvements, however it looks, until it isn’t.


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Posted in Mindful Living


It’s either Walter, the yellow lab, or Sally, the border collie, who tries to get me up around three each morning.  I shush them and roll over, knowing my four legged alarms have good sized snooze features and will return well before five.  By then, I’m ready.  I use the dim light of my cell phone to find my socks and slippers, grab my sweats, and get dressed while my husband sleeps beside me.  The aussie pup has a bit of a mouth and she’ll often yawn loudly and make other contented noises which would be cute other than my concern that she’ll wake Joe.  I try to silence her too, but can rarely get her attention without getting loud, so I just hurry, hoping I can get them all downstairs before Walter adds his drum beat of tail wagging against the wall.

Once dressed, we head to the kitchen, where I flip on the tea kettle on my way to the back door, where they’re freed for their morning constitutions.  I use the bathroom myself, getting back just as the electric kettle is ready for action.  I pour a little hot water in a glass and fill the rest up with cold to hydrate after my long, dry sleep.  Then, it’s time for green tea, and if it’s closer to four than five (which the dogs insist is feeding time), I take my favorite cup to the couch and semi-snooze.

I love the quiet.  The quiet I feel inside being sleepy without the noisy stimulation of a whole day’s activities working their way out in my head.  The quiet of the house in the dark living room with sleeping husband upstairs and just a glow from the kitchen.  The quiet softness of the cat who’s claimed me, now cuddling up beside my ribs.  The quiet outside, from land without roads, without next-door neighbors.

The quiet satisfaction, the quiet hope, the quiet knowing, that comes before light.

Posted in Mindful Living