Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sunday Concert -- Lillian's Song

Twenty years ago this morning -- it was about 5:30 -- Sheila woke me to announce that the baby had punctured her private little play pool and maybe we'd better drive over to Floyd Medical Center. We spent all day there and into the evening, Sheila working about as hard as I have ever witnessed anyone work. They call it labor for a reason. Finally a little after eleven, Lillian Matthews Shaw made her entrance. What a wonderful blessing to our lives she has been!

When my daughters were little I had an "I Love You" song for each. Brannon's birthday is coming up in eight days, I'll save hers for later. Today here's Tony Bennett singing Lillian's "It's a Sin to Tell A Lie"

Bobby Vinton recorded the song:

Even John Denver sang it. You have to listen through another song first.

Last year I posted a youTube collage of Lillian pictures. Check that out here.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

July Notes

I have been puzzled at the week-long quiet at Oh!Pinion where my blogging friend, S.W. Anderson, posts political commentary from a thoughtful, calm, progressive, patriotic viewpoint. I have missed it. And I have wondered if there might be a health issue or family emergency that had kept him away from the blogosphere. Also the usual well-organized, easy-to-read look of his blog had vanished, which gave me hope it was merely a technical issue. Today he has gotten the site back up (sort-of) and explained that a combination of family business trips and technical issues had silenced Oh!Pinion temporarily. I wish him good fortune in the outcome of his family matters and in overcoming the technical issues at Oh!Pinion!

Learning in the Great Outdoors

Life has intervened and it has been just impossible to get the time to put together our environmental education carnival in July. I will post a combined July-August edition ASAP. If you would like to host the carnival for one of the remaining months of this year, please let me know. I can empathize with S.W.'s technical woes. I have still not figured out why I can no longer update the Learning in the Great Outdoors home site (as well as my other iWeb sites). Is there a relationship between the problem and the fact that the last posting was on April Fool's Day? I hope to make progress on the iWeb sites this week.

2008-2009 School Year
I began my 29th year of teaching -- there was an 11 year break in the 80s and 90s -- with planning days yesterday and the day before. "Meet the Teacher" night will be Thursday and my 24 students will be in their desks brimming with potential next Friday morning. Here we go again! It is always an exciting and hopeful week as I face those 24 scrubbed-faced nine- and ten-year-olds holding clean slates and great optimism. One of the great advantages of the teaching profession is that fresh start we get each August.

This year I have a student teacher with me already. She is a lovely and enthusiastic young woman who will help me fulltime through the first week. Then she will assist several hours each week through the first semester, fulltime again for a few weeks after Christmas, then parttime again through most of the rest of the school year. I expect that schedule to be an improvement in the student teaching program: she will have a more complete notion of a school year. She will be better prepared for setting up her classroom when she begins her first year as a teacher the next fall. When she begins her "in earnest" teaching after Christmas she and the children will already know each other well. There will be a wedding for her in October -- that may distract her a bit. :-)

I have been remarkably lucky with the student teachers who have been assigned to me over the years. With one exception (about thirty years ago) they have all been very enthusiastic, caring, and competent.

Posting on the Limb

Given the demands of the first few of weeks of school and some added commitments on my shoulders right now, I may not post quite so regularly for the next little while. Please stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


The frustrations he must have felt this week have brought John McCain's famous volatility to the surface. Barack Obama spent the week demonstrating his ability to operate with discretion, ease, maturity, flair, and open-mindedness in diplomatic circles. Iraq's leader endorsed Obama's timetable for redeploying the US troops from his country. Even Bush undermined McCain by agreeing to a "time horizon" for leaving Iraq and by negotiating with Iranians. McCain's campaign has floundered. A few more weeks like this and you can remove the "l" -- his campaign will founder! It is understandable that McCain is unhappy.

So McCain goes ballistic and accuses his opponent of evil motive.
This is a clear choice that the American people have. I had the courage and the judgment to say I would rather lose a political campaign than lose a war. It seems to me that Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign.
-Senator John McCain

McCain's meltdown was a very angry, partisan, uncontrolled, undiplomatic, unpresidential moment at the very time Senator Barack Obama has shown himself the very epitome of dignity, bipartisanship, diplomacy, and calm.

Time Magazine's Joe Klien noticed:
This is the ninth presidential campaign I've covered. I can't remember a more scurrilous statement by a major party candidate. It smacks of desperation. It renews questions about whether McCain has the right temperament for the presidency. How sad.
(Read the rest of Klien's article here.)

I have sometimes seen McCain, in calmer moments, be very polite toward those with whom he strongly disagrees, as he was only yesterday when an voter took issue with him at a "town hall" meeting. I hope Senator McCain will apologise for his appalling insult of Senator Obama.

Monday, July 21, 2008

No Timetable on the Horizon for Bush and McCain

President George Bush and his would-be successor John McCain have been put in a difficult squeeze of late.

The man they characterize as naive and inexperienced is visiting our troops in Afghanistan, Kuwait, and Iraq and being greeted with smiles, and cheers, and requests for autographs. And that beautiful three-point shot from outside the circle -- wildly applauded by a gym full of American soldiers -- has not been his only score.

He is listening to, and talking with, world leaders in his usual calm, mature, thoughtful, and anything-but-extreme manner. He looks right at home with high level diplomacy. He looks like the dynamic, patriotic, visionary President that he will be, provided we have the wisdom to elect him in November. He just does not fit the caricature the Republicans have so relentlessly tried to sketch for the electorate.

I am not sure Obama had even landed in Kuwait before a magazine reported Iraqi President al Maliki's endorsement of the redeployment schedule from Iraq that Obama has proposed. Of course, our Republican administration quickly persuaded al Maliki to claim he had been misunderstood or misquoted... but he did not specifically retract the words and the German magazine had VERY complete transcripts of the interview. And the translation was by al Maliki's OWN translator. And the recordings have been reviewed by third parties who find his views clear. And now his government says they have a "vision" of US redeployment by mid-2010.

From the New York Times:
The following is a direct translation from the Arabic of Mr. Maliki’s comments by The Times: “Obama’s remarks that — if he takes office — in 16 months he would withdraw the forces, we think that this period could increase or decrease a little, but that it could be suitable to end the presence of the forces in Iraq.”

Bush and McCain, of course, cannot ignore the Iraqi government's clear wish for us to leave their country, so they now agree with Maliki that we can set a "time horizon" for withdrawal! I suppose Ol' 100-year-McCain can argue that horizons go ever, ever on.

And they now meet with the Iranians to boot!

Barack Obama's foreign policy positions are being adopted by the Republicans!

But he is still too naive and inexperienced to trust as President?

Sorry guys, I don't think the usual cartoons -- wind-surfing, swiftboating, Willie Horton, Rovian funny-stuff -- are gonna fool America this time.
You can fool some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time but ...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Architecture of Education Must Be Founded on Purpose and Principles

Just got back from a great trip that included a nice visit with my friends Terrell and Sheila Shaw -- that included, as well, a great meal prepared by Sheila and an enjoyable visit at that meal with Terry's mother and some of his extended family.

As is the usual case, Terry and I got into a late night discussion about education, and at some point in the discussion, as I was enjoying hearing myself expound, Terry helpfully demanded, "I want to see specifics." I said, calmly, well, you can't build the third floor of a building first, you've got to first establish a solid foundation and you must first build floors one and two before you get the opportunity to build the third floor.

I've thought some more about this analogy. One problem is, of course, one shouldn't start any building project without a good plan. Architecture is both a science and an art and it is not recommended for amateurs or naifs. But one can open the yellow pages and find a competent licensed architect with the training and life experience needed to make a good plan for any building project one can afford. An architect so employed would have a lot of questions that would need to be answered before he or she could even start a design. A central question any architect would need to have answered certainly would be one of purpose: "What is the purpose of this building you want me to design?" An architect of a physical building applies principles of science and art to guide his creation of a plan that will accomplish the building's purpose.

It is an interesting thought experiment to imagine yourself the architect of a school -- not a physical school building, but a school itself. Foundational to a school design, as in a physical building design, must be an understanding of purpose as well as insight and knowledge of valid principles that can reliably guide the creation of a plan that will accomplish that purpose.

The last couple of years I've been writing a web log of my thoughts and many of these thoughts have centered on schools and education, on purposes and principles. Terry is right that this should all lead to something specific. A Board of Education has no yellow pages it can turn to to find a competent architect for school design. I am thinking that I would like to become involved with a local board of education and may eventually seek to become elected to our local board, or may write an extended proposal for school reform for the consideration of a local board.

One benefit of writing a web log is that, over time, because of the discipline of writing, one’s thought should move forward. This morning I decided to review what thoughts I have recorded over the last two years or so dealing with education, as a means of evaluating how to proceed from here.

In “Motivation, Not Curriculum:The Key to School Reform,” I write, about Minnesota's Governor Pawlenty’s strategy for reforming schools and note that, “The guiding philosophy of school management, in fact, is that quality comes via hierarchical processes and bureaucratic control. And, though this approach, again and again, has shown to be a disaster, the solution to low quality that is offered, repeatedly, is that more hierarchical processes and more bureaucratic control is the answer....

"The problem is not that schools lack adequate curriculum, technology or power over students. The problem is that even top students are working far below their potential. Minnesota, like all states, already has a big system of academic rewards, requirements, and punishments that already fail to motivate the slacking high school students that Pawlenty cites. It seems unlikely that Pawlenty’s more-of-the-same reforms will result in much increase in motivation -- within failing students or within top students -- and motivation is the key to accomplishment.

In “Education For the Future Demands Authentic Teaching,” I write, “The whole march of the No Child Left Behind Law and the Back to Basics movement downplays and diminishes the role of teacher, and increasingly takes away a human quality in teaching.... Our current prescriptive schools tend to define teachers as bureaucrats whose job is to oversee and dispense a government program. But the natural role of a teacher, one established through the millennia, is a role that is quite different, one that results in a model of developed humanity, one that reveals an individual who is constantly growing into the capacity of who he or she is as an individual, one that inspires and that is worthy of emulation. ... The education of the future, when it shuffles off its unscientific core, I believe, will begin to anchor the teacher role and the teacher /student dynamic within an understanding of education that is based on a deep understanding of human nature. Education in a more enlightened future will have as its goal the development of human potential and will understand and promote authentic teaching as a key aspect of that development.”

In a post about the new Philadelphia School of the Future, "The School of the Present is Failing and Technology is Not the Answer," I write: “An American school of the future, it seems to me, would be one that anticipates a future where American ideals are realized: liberty, justice, personal freedom, democratic participation, civic awareness. The advocates of the Philadelphia school seem to say that school is all about preparing students for employment, all about giving students the skills and experience needed to benefit from the advantages of this technological age. But that is not enough. North Korean leaders want this from their schools as well.... Job training has its place but, by itself, job training does not advance the ideals at the foundation of our society. When we see how the foundations of our democracy are crumbling, it is fair to hold our schools accountable, and the fact whether students are passing tests or not is beside the point.

"Our high schools in general -- and this new Philadelphia high school seems no exception -- are hierarchical, authoritarian, coercive and bureaucratic. It is the school itself, through its practices and ethos, that teaches, and, structured as they are, this “hidden curriculum” of our high schools teaches values inimical to the ideals at the foundation of our society. The operation of our high schools, in general, would not contradict the operating principles of North Korean society. Our schools at present fail to anticipate or prepare a future, through their operations and practice, that honors American ideals and values. And this failure, though seldom acknowledged, is the central failure of American schools -- not the failure indicated on tests....There is a huge need for American public education to be redesigned; there is a huge need for a school design that would implement, through its practices and ethos, American ideals, a school that would anticipate a flowering of democracy. Such a school would not be designed based on technology, but would be designed based on sound theory and profound insight into school purpose, human purpose, and human potential.”

In “Schools That Would Make Joseph Stalin Happy,” I write, “We currently have a school structure appropriate for North Korea or the old Soviet Union, not for a democracy....Who would have thought that in a democracy, such as ours, schools would be known for their authoritative central control, unquestioned obedience, and rigid, punitive, and narrowly defined accountability. It is strange that a democracy would allow its schools to focus on purposes appropriate for totalitarian states: training workers for jobs, acclimating future citizens to passivity, convincing future citizens to accept the power structures of their society and convincing future citizens to accept the values of those in power. Schools, when asked to identify their best students, do not highlight strongly developed individuals with a passion for justice, democracy, freedom, and independent thinking. The best students, according to schools, are those who have most fully acknowledged the authority of the system, have met the demands of the system, and who have approbation of the system. Stalin would have been happy with such school criteria.”

In that same post I ask, “How should we go about designing a school that emphasizes the total education of children, and that prepares children to be effective citizens in a democracy? What is our vision of such a school?” I suggest this thought experiment:

“Suppose you live in a time of kings and your king has a 12 year old child and the king assigns you the responsibility for the 12 year old’s total education. How would you define total education? What are the theories and principles that would guide your actions? How would you proceed with seeing to the education of the 12 year old.... The key question to answer is: How would you engage this 12 year old child in the persistent effort and concentration needed for his or her individual development? This is the same key question, of course, that is appropriate for every 12 year old, regardless of financial or social status. Would you reward and punish with grades and praise? Would you insist that he or she study math at 10:00 AM every day? I don’t think so. This thought experiment forces a realization that much of what we consider as appropriate schooling for the masses should be discarded, and a way should be found to meaningfully personalize the education of every child.”

In “The Education Of John Adams,” I write, "David McCullough’s book, John Adams, tells about the education of John Adams. John Adams graduated from Harvard, received a law degree, acquired academic recognition, read Cicero and the classics, was immersed in lifelong learning. What distinguished John Adams most, however, was not his learning accomplishments; what distinguished John Adams was his overall character, his: integrity, commitment to truth and justice, dedication to service, commitment to personal excellence, inner self-reflection, personal courage, etc. The education of John Adams involved the mastery of academics, but, the more important part of his education was the development and strengthening of his character.

"The development and strengthening of character is a vital part of what it means to become a fully realized person. Character development is an important part of an effective education. But since character development is not something that evaluators of a school measure, character development is now effectively ignored by schools. Academic growth is what is emphasized. Evaluators periodically want to know: Has there been sufficient growth in the children's reading, writing and math progress? Has there been growth in the children’s test taking skills? The merit of a school is determined according to the findings of such evaluations. The importance of character development may be mentioned in school publications as a vague goal, but, practically, because character development is not part of school evaluations, schools ignore character development.

"If a real goal of schools was to promote character growth in children, then schools would be evaluated not just on academic growth, but on character growth as well. Evaluators periodically would want to know the answers to such questions as: Has there been any positive growth in the children's integrity, commitment to truth? Any growth in the children's inclination to question authority, to think independently? Any growth in the children's commitment to personal excellence or inner self-reflection? And schools would be evaluated and ranked according to the evaluators’ findings of such questions....

"It seems to me that the question of how student character can be developed and strengthened in schools requires an answer, in fact, that goes beyond what is imaginable for schools as they are currently structured. ... It is an interesting question: what would educational structures/schools look like that would implement and use the principles that were the basis for the education of John Adams?"

In " A Great Question: How Can We Tell If a School Is Excellent?" I write, "Our society seems to suffer from a lack of imagination as to what really constitutes “excellence,” in schools for a democratic society. This dearth of imagination about schools is striking because we seem to have plenty of ideas as to what makes an automobile excellent, or a sandwich, or a gym shoe excellent — because our imaginations are constantly being challenged by persistent and clever marketers. As a society, incredibly, there seems little discussion as to what makes for excellence in schools, and, incredibly, in this vacuum of thought, there seems a consensus that school excellence can be ascertained via test scores.

Common sense is offended by the notion that an excellent school would be one that operates a mediocre, boring program, with most of its students and teachers simply going through the motions — disengaged from meaningful learning and, by all evidence, intellectually dead. But one problem with relying on test scores to evaluate a school is that mediocre schools, in fact, commonly are proclaimed “excellent.” The fact is, a school can have high scores in spite of its program, rather than because of its program.

What is needed is a whole new way of evaluating schools. There needs to be a lot of thought centered on this question: What is the criteria of school excellence that would help direct schools toward authentic improvement? What are useful benchmarks by which taxpayers can gauge the excellence of schools?

In "Let’s Frame the Question of 'Achievement Gap' to Include All Schools and All Students," I write, "The issue of improving public education should be framed in such a way that it speaks to every parent, particularly those parents whose children or grandchildren are already high achievers, according to school standards. The “gap” that really interests parents is the gap between the actual education that their child is receiving and the optimal education that would most help their child. What might constitute optimal education is a good question.

"Barack Obama has said that our schools should 'provide an education for children that will allow them to fulfill their God-given potential.' This view of school purpose would be a great way to frame a question about public education: How do we close the gap between a child’s potential and the child’s accomplishments? ... Obama’s comment would frame a question that would challenge the current aims and practices of schools and would stimulate useful insight from those parents whose children, though high achievers, are bored and disengaged from their own school experience.

In "To Transform Our System Of Education, We Must Redefine The Aim Of The System," I write, "Barack Obama has said that our schools should “provide an education for children that will allow them to fulfill their God-given potential.” To make this goal the actual purpose of our educational system would mean a radical transformation of the system, because this goal is radically different from the goal that our educational system currently pursues.

"One point of confusion is that the goal that Obama states for schools sounds a lot like the goal that schools already proclaim. It hardly sounds like a new idea. When schools endlessly drill students on discrete curriculum, treating students as empty vessels to be filled, they claim they are working to help students fulfill their potential. Most everything that a school does is justified as working to accomplish the goal of helping students reach their potential, so Obama’s goal doesn’t sound like much of a breakthrough idea.

"I’ve made comparisons between how our current educational system works and how the East German car manufacturing system, that produced the poor quality Trabant, worked. The ostensible goal of the Trabant system was to produce quality and the ostensible aim of our educational system also is to produce quality. In both systems, the biggest impediment to producing quality is the fact that producing quality was never the actual aim of either system. The actual aim in both cases, and this sounds harsh, was to protect and advance people in the system.

"The people in the educational system are not evil, almost all are dedicated to helping children, but the truth is, the educational system is largely a monopoly with little accountability. Over the years, the actual aim of the system — reflected in its contracts, budgets and established practices — was shaped to advance and protect the interests of its members. "

In, "Strickland Should Use Charter Schools To Help Fulfill His Promise: 'Reform and Renew the System of Education Itself'," I write, "Governor Ted Strickland, in his inaugural speech last January, made a big commitment to reform Ohio education. He said, 'The goal of making our schools and colleges work cannot be achieved with simply more and more money. We must be willing and brave enough to take bold steps to reform and renew the system of education itself.' Since the time of that speech, Ohioans have been waiting to see what steps toward education reform that Strickland would advance.

"Strickland’s promise to reform 'the system of education itself,' suggests that Strickland is thinking of applying 'total quality' reforms to Ohio’s schools. The Total Quality Management (TQM) movement, much written about, particularly impacted the American auto industry; TQM was a response to the quality challenge of Japanese and German manufacturers and was inspired by quality gurus such as W. Edwards Deming.

"TQM theory could be applied to educational systems and it would be encouraging to know that Strickland, in fact, is being influenced by TQM thinking. TQM sees quality as flowing from the system itself, and emphasizes that the key to quality is organizational structure and overall management. Deming made the astounding claim that 85% of quality issues are determined by organizational structure, and that only 15% of quality issues are determined by personnel qualifications, work rules, etc.

"TQM would give Strickland a comprehensive strategy by which to attack the issue of how to reform schools. What most school reforms emphasize is strategies for tinkering with the 15% of quality issues, and this tinkering, usually expensive, always results in disappointment. TQM demands that management deal with the crucial 85% — the system’s organizational structure. The reform of organizational structure is the reform that public education in Ohio needs, and, it sounds like Strickland wants to move this type of major reform toward reality.

"The power of overall organizational structure to influence quality is illustrated by the poor quality produced by communist factories. While communist East Germany, prior to 1989, was producing the lemon car called the Trabant, capitalist West Germany was producing quality autos like the Volkswagen and the Mercedes. The Trabant factory was organized inefficiently and was kept going by government subsidies. Tinkering with the Trabant production — through imposing ever more government inspections or through new rewards and punishments for its workers or through new management rules — failed to change the Trabant into a quality product. Only a vast change in organizational structure could have had the quality impact that was needed and the political will to make such massive change never materialized.

"When Strickland, or any objective observer, looks over Ohio’s education system, the Trabant comes more to mind than the Volkswagen, and certainly more so than the Mercedes. ...Ohio citizens have a lemon in their education system, a lemon that is protected and advocated by powerful politicians and by a faulty evaluation system that unjustifiably puffs districts up with the inflated rating of 'excellent.' The only way to transform this lemon is through fundamental system change."

In, "Barack Obama’s 'Go To The Moon' Challenge For Our Time Should Be: Transform Public Education," I write, "Barack Obama proclaimed what could be a defining goal for public education, in his speech the other day, when he said that U.S. citizens should be guaranteed “an education for your children that will allow them to fulfill their God-given potential.” This phrase might just be rhetoric, but, if not, it indicates a truly stunning goal. A system of public education centered on understanding and fulfilling individual potential would require a revolution in our system of public education. ...

"Our collective imaginations have been dulled as to what, at best, we could hope that public education might ever accomplish. The issue of public education has been framed in terms of curriculum, test scores, college admissions, technical training. By common agreement, and through the efficacy of relentless propaganda, we think we know what a first class education amounts to. But our common agreement is wrong.

"Compared to education, say, in 2060, our current view of education will seem primitive and limiting. Certainly, if human progress continues, future generations will react with both horror and amusement to today’s understanding of what constitutes quality education. ...Obama’s insight that education should center on understanding and developing individual human potential is an insight that anticipates the future."

In, "Public Schools Need Radical Reform, Educational Leaders Must Answer the Question: BY WHAT METHOD?", I write, "Stating goals in education has been proven to be much easier than actually accomplishing goals. We all remember George H. Bush’s program, developed with the nation’s governors, called “Goals 2000.” These goals outlined what public education should seek to accomplish by the year 2000. But, as it turned out, the year 2000 came and went and little progress was made in reaching those goals.

"Setting goals is easy, the question is: how shall standards / goals be accomplished? Mr. Glickman’s first point is a wonderful goal, “Education should build upon student interest.” Haven’t educational thinkers perennially articulated this goal? But, the accomplishment of this goal has been elusive.

"In 1991, I had the opportunity to attend a W. Edwards Deming four day seminar in Miami, Florida. Deming, known as a “quality guru” for his work in transforming Japan industry after WW2 and for his later work with American industry, notably Ford, was well into his nineties when I had the chance to meet him. Deming was somewhat enfeebled but he could still speak with a loud voice to emphasize a point. He particularly liked to roar, 'By What Method?'

"Deming said goals and quotas mean nothing unless there is a method or plan to bring those goals to reality. He ridiculed “Goals 2000.” He would read a goal and would say, “What a great goal, but, BY WHAT METHOD?” Deming’s point was that it is the system that determines quality, not people. His statistic was that 85% of quality issues are determined by the organization of the system — and only 15% of quality issues are determined by all other factors combined, including the quality of personnel. Deming’s point is that if you want to accomplish a goal, you better have a system built on sound theory, you better have a well thought organizational structure to accomplish it.

"Certainly, if public education could implement Glickman’s first goal, that “education should be built on student interest,” our schools would be transformed. Our educational system, as it is, however, simply is not structured to empower personalized, individualized education that implementing this goal would require, and simply wishing the system to be so structured will not make it so."

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Sunday Concert: Independence Day 2008

A few pics from our annual
Independence Day Celebration

We spent the week getting the house and yard ready. I primed the back porch floor, then gave it three coats of paint -- the third because I let an unexpected blowing rainstorm mar the second coat. I bought, hauled and spread four cubic yards of mulch.

I painted the yard furniture. I laid down a new pad of 25 pavers for the swing to sit on. I bought and repotted a bunch of flowers and ferns.

When I leaned the old mantle temporarily against a tree, I was suddenly inspired to make it a whimsical yard decoration with a geranium "fire".

David arrived before noon, parked his smoker in the back yard, fired it up. and started smoking four Boston butts. Later he would add a bunch of chicken, some corn on the cob, and some sourdough bread. (This pic is actually from last year's celebration - I didn't get around to getting the Canon out till much later in the day, and somehow neglected to get smoker pics.)

Early in the afternoom some other family members began arriving. By six, other friends began to filter in.

About six-thirty Mike, Richard, and I drove down the street to pick up Wint Barton, our "ninety-five and three-quarters" year old friend. Here Wint regales Teresa and Mike.
At about 7:20 we rang the dinner bell, Sheila gave a few instructions, I offered a prayer, and we formed a line through the hallway to the dining room and den where tables were laden with a huge array of bowls and platters of wonderful food.

The levee is the only toy the kids need. Haley (!!!!!) was my early afternoon helper, but by seven she was off and running on the levee with Cody and Miles and Hannah and Luke and Adam and Allie...

As the sun began to set Sheila enjoyed a laugh with our humorist and writer friend Ray Atkins and Marsha. Ray has recently published his first novel, The Front Porch Prophet, which I plan to read next week. A second, Sorrow Wood, is due to be published next year.

My current principal, Rodney, and my former principal, Bo, compare notes. I consider both good friends and enjoyed comparing early teaching experiences with them for a while. Bo's husband, Quillian, talks with thier grandson, Adrian.

Julie's friend Lori brought her kids, Hannah and Luke, who made themselves immediately at home.

Lyn, who made me an uncle with her birth, is moving to Rome this fall with hubby, Ricky, and their three children. Here they wait on the river walk at the top of the levee for the fireworks to start.

Nearby Julie, Miles, and Lori await the fiery show.

Our nephew Josh (waving) is just back in the states for a furlough after three years in Germany and Iraq. He brought along several friends. They and 25 or so others of our guests found the viewing just fine from the backyard at the base of the levee.

The top of the levee was crowded with many of our 94 guests and several thousand other Romans there to watch the fireworks.

One of my former students and his parents and grandmother joined us. Zane conducted one of the most interesting science fair projects two years ago. He set up three scent stations on the campus - a circle of smoothed sand a meter in diameter. In the center of each he placed a cotton ball soaked in bobcat urine.Bobcat urine is known to attract the attention of other animals. He checked the sand each day for animal tracks. We were disappointed that the only tracks he found other than assorted birds and domestic cats were those of 'possums and 'coons.

Three great-nieces and a niece -- all GREAT nieces!

Sam and his dad, Steve, are old friends of ours. Sam is spending the next couple of weeks directing an arts camp. He's invited me to sing at the camp next Wednesday.

Then the telltale sound and a streak into the sky over the river...

... and a big explosion of colors...

A great night... y'all come next July fourth!

In honor of the origins of this celebation, take a listen to this recording of Jefferson's immortal words:

(Hat tip to Tricia at the Miss Rumphius Effect.)