’21 to ’22!

No pix since the summertime nostalgia tour (22 in ’21). Updating now!

Since this is randomvail.com, this first batch is very random. Some beautiful poison oak, my vax card, Alan Burr amongst the driftwood, Charlie returning to the AT, DB at AJ’s, the Apple store in Palo Alto and thereabouts, sites in Santa Cruz, including Mom and Lucas playing a gig, Snoop wine on sale, etc. Enjoy…

Next up, just an incomplete taste of the South Coast Artists Alliance show at Harley Farms in lieu of the Pescadero Arts & Fun Festival, canceled again because of Covid…

…and there was the La Honda Community Garden art show…

Of course, some hikin’ & bikin’ have transpired over the past several months. Here’s a bit of nature…

I get to teach art this year! First efforts in the hallway display, then the calaveras (El dia de los muertos) project, and sciency art for the California Coastal Commission art contest (and the neighborhood)…

Let’s wrap it up with some randomness…

Self-Referential, Part 5

For this last batch, I’m mixing it up. Well, that’s what’s left, unless of course I make more – and from all my pix, there’s more to make! Just as there are not slideshows from parts of Asia, parts of Europe are also missing. Likely however, I will not dwell on the past, however fun, but hopefully go a-wandering elsewhere. In any case, let’s start here, where we finished our circumnavigation: Australia (before flying home across the Pacific). Then, our foray in Morocco, our start in England, and a couple of transitions…




Across the Channel to Belgium, Germany, France, Spain, etc…

Our trip started in the summer of 2015, California to New York to Europe via the QM2…

Self-Referential, Part 4

Even though we only spent a few weeks in France & Italy, there were a lot of photos to take, and again, this ain’t of ’em. Get ready, we’re going heavy on the art museums…

The Vatican (Pope David?)

As with other collections, here’s an alternative version with the same pix but different music and theme…

The Uffizi, Florence


The Louvre

Musée d’Orsay

Just one small aspect of Vezelay…

Compare & Contrast…

Self-Referential, Part 3

Just as we spent a lot of time in India, so did pay considerable attention to Spain. However, there are many more pix & vids in the many posts there, especially our wonder stay in Cadiz…

The Alhambra

The Alhambra again! Same pix, different theme, different music…

The Alcazar

Mineral Museum, Madrid

Royal Botanical Garden, Madrid

Plaza de España, Sevilla

Cadiz Museum

Monuments in Cadiz

What about the Prado, San Sebastian, Barcelona, and of course the time lapse of Cadiz…?

Self-Referential, Part 2

Next up, video slideshows from India. Please know, there are more still shots on more posts from there…

Bengalaru, our first stop…







Good Shepherd Agricultural Mission (GSAM = Strong Farm)

GSAM Art Photography

Please refer back, not just to my pictures of India, but to Nepal, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

That’s enough for this post (reverse chronologically delivered). Stay tuned…

Self-Referential, Part 1

If the folks at WordPress are monitoring their users, please know that I’m not satisfied with the playback on myriad video clips I’m put in my posts. Youtube links is a solution, but retrofitting is tedious. So, I’ve been doing it only for slideshows, and perhaps fixing the past is better done by updating the present? That is, rather than editing my old posts, I’ll just batch some links in fresh posts. In some cases, the original posts have more there, so for the curious, find them – if you can – on the Content tab.

In this first batch, some holiday fun, etc…

‘Tis the Season…

First, I posted this, happy to be home in La Honda. Then, I made this lil’ slideshow…

Heavenly Valley

Mammoth Mountain

Practice for my Sistine Chapel…?

Very Self-Referential

School Board Letters, Part 1

As the 21-22 school year started, I saw a couple of things that could improve our high school. In addition to adding the honorary addendum to a high school diploma of the California Seal of Civic Engagement, renovating the Community Service and Senior Project graduation requirements seeming like the right thing to do. I sent the following three letters on the same day in late September…

Capstone Project Proposal

Pescadero High School has had a Senior Project graduation requirement since before I started working here in 2007. As a 12th grade English teacher, I sponsored the Senior Project for a couple of years before handing it off to Jennifer Freeman, who did a great job for many years. Recently, and due to the challenges of Covid, the Senior Project is not what it was – and maybe it is time for a change? Thus, I’m proposing we reform the practice, revitalize the requirement, and re-envision the student outcomes.

The Senior Project was an opportunity for students to showcase their best work, but often, much good work had already been done earlier in their high school career. Further, for students who pursue Concurrent Enrollment as seniors, such a project can be hard to juggle with their new college classes. Here’s an alternative to what we have been doing…

  1. A comprehensive portfolio of academic work
    1. Thanks to Google Drive, students can archive all their academic work easily. Eventually, that work can be curated as they present the best examples of their work in high school.
    2. Examples from various subjects at each grade level. Eventually, this work, these portfolio items, could represent longitudinal interdisciplinary class projects? Service Learning projects?
  2. A project begins in 10th grade, concludes in 11th grade.
    1. Rather than starting a big project as seniors, students should start sooner. Rather than pursuing some random albeit interesting topic, they could research topics or careers that would benefit them after graduation.
    2. The Capstone project could be a customized theme or individualized academic focus that students explore as they move through subjects and grade levels. By concluding at the end of their junior year, they are free to do Concurrent Enrollment.
    3. Of course, students could choose to continue their Capstone project as seniors, not do Concurrent, and maximize their high school experience here at Pescadero.
  3. A paper is posted on a dedicated website, or the district’s.
    1. Just like before, students are responsible for writing a comprehensive and substantive research paper. Such a posting documents their work, but allows others, besides the teacher, to make some comments. Crowd sourced grading?
    2. In the past, 20 pages and 10 sources were the requirements. These can be open to modifications, upgrades, or changes in several ways. “Bibliography,” really?
  4. A presentation is posted on a dedicated website, or the district’s.
    1. Just like before, students are responsible for presenting their Capstone project to the public. While we could continue the tradition of live performances, students could also make their own videos, slideshows, or other presentations to post publicly.
    2. In the past, a 20 minute presentation (usually a narrated or explicated slideshow) was required. Even if that format continues, students can post their presentations for others to learn from.
  5. A “Q&A” or “dissertation defense”?
    1. What about the audience reading the paper or viewing the presentation ahead of time, then having a Q&A, Socratic Seminar, or TED talk exchange in which the student demonstrates their acquired knowledge in real time, in a dynamic discussion?

Perhaps the process could even begin in Middle School where students learn the importance of research and building their own knowledge base? Perhaps the process could be part of the Advisory program, or an aspect of college & career planning? Perhaps there could be interdisciplinary threads running through diverse subjects woven into the fabric of each student’s personal education?

Ultimately, the Senior Project has been a formidable graduation requirement, and a new Capstone project still could be that, and/or a “Curriculum Vitae” of a student’s high school experience. In any case, I encourage the board to revisit this topic and consider a new, more relevant, but equally meaningful milestone for our Pescadero High School graduates. 

Respectfully submitted, Randall Vail, 9/22/21

Service Learning Proposal

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and quarantine, the Community Service graduation requirement of 100 hours was reduced to 75 hours. This amount is still much more than the HMBHS graduation requirement and is always a challenge to meet in our small town. 

Further, quantifying community service in hours has been rather antiquated, having been replaced by the notion of “Service Learning.” Please check these links to learn more about Service Learning.

I would like to propose a substantive change to our Community Service Learning graduation requirement by disaggregating the hours into three components as follows…

  1. School Service – 10 hours per year
    1. This involves helping with sports and club activities, lunch service, bulletin announcements, recycling, campus clean ups, and other work in support of our school.
  2. Class Projects – 1 per year
    1. This would be a project in an academic subject or elective class in which students show their learning about something that helps our school, community, or world. (Credit plus a grade.)
  3. Community Service – 20 hours by January of graduation year
    1. This could be optional, but honors and perpetuates the system we have had in the past. Organizations in town still need help from our students and here’s the opportunity. 

As indicated previously, students can also work toward achieving the  California State Seal of Civic Engagement as an honorary addendum to their high school diploma. 

Additionally, some quantitative designation can be administered to identify the student most deserving of our on-going Community Service scholarship. 

Respectfully submitted, Randall Vail, 9/22/21

Civic Engagement Award Proposal

The California State Seal of Civic Engagement is an honorary addendum to a high school diploma that students can earn through various activities. Read about it here

I propose that we offer this opportunity to all the students who meet the following criteria (please edit as needed)…

  1. 100 hours of community service (or a “Service Learning” equivalent).
    1. Including 20 hours of service with one or more government agencies, work in a political campaign, or other documented civic engagement.
  2. A written report (or Capstone Project) on a service activity documenting their civic engagement or work with a particular government agency, or for a political campaign.
  3. Documented leadership in one or more clubs on campus, student government, or other student leadership activities.
  4. 3.0 GPA (or merit-worthy SAT/ACT scores) or a satisfactory score on a Government, Civics, or Naturalization test.
  5. Some other replacement criteria to use in lieu of the above…?

Students who achieve these criteria will have the California State Seal of Civic Engagement affixed to their diploma or will receive the appropriate certificate. Ideally, it will become a prized resume item for our graduates.

Respectfully submitted, Randall Vail, 9/22/21

Unfortunately, none of those letters has been acted upon, but they may still be? Not long afterwards, I sent the following – just to the Superintendent and the Principal. The latter went off, responded & cc’d the school board in a hysterical rant, and has subsequently so far avoided my grievance by writing a formal apology (also cc’d to the board). The toxic work environment persists, but fortunately my advice below was taken and Economics is now official, paired with Government. Maybe next time, we will start a campus-based business to make Econ. more relevant, fun, and heuristically remunerative.


Before sending this to the LHPUSD board of education (or elsewhere), I’d like to give you the opportunity to respond. I had thought I would see Economics appear in Schoolwise, but unfortunately it has not (although next semester’s World & US History and Art classes are there)? The students are questioning the validity of the assignments I’m giving in Economics which makes for more than the usual challenges.

Financial Education

It is a common practice among high schools in California, and across the United States, to teach Economics alongside Government. Even though there is already an Economics course on our official course list, I wrote an online version using internet resources, “Applied Economics,” which was approved by the UC High School Articulation Unit and added to our course list. (Please peruse.)

Last year, I made a Google Classroom for Economics to teach along with Civics (Am. Govt.), but was never able to use it because the class was not offered in spite of my requests. This year, I am using it, teaching Economics alongside Government, but the course still does not appear in Schoolwise. I have been told that this was to happen, but we are well over a month into the year, and it has not.

While Economics may be considered a “G” elective, other schools require it for graduation because it teaches some of the most important life lessons a student can learn in school: how to manage money. In fact, “financial literacy” was promoted last year as a theme, but was it ever put into practice? Talk about equity? What do you own (that a bank does not)? Your knowledge.

Not only am I advocating for Economics to be a graduation requirement for all our students, I share the goal of Next Generation Personal Finance to make financial education mandatory. In fact, Jose Perez and I attended a NGPF workshop at Stanford a couple of years ago (and I believe NGPF founder, Tim Ranzetta, may have a home nearby?). Empowering students with knowledge about money is the best thing we can do to promote equality in the long run.

I’m pleased to learn that the idea of a school-based business may be a possibility, but it will need significant administrative support. And, if you agree that Economics is valid, important, and will go on the students’ transcripts, I hope you will honor my suggestion to have it run alongside my Government class. Eventually, I hope US History can be part of that equation for all 11th graders in a year-long course. Thank you for your consideration.

Respectfully submitted, Randall Vail, 9/28/21

School Board Letters, Part 2

In fact, I sent another series of three letters, almost four, that is perhaps equally significant before these. That’ll be Part 1. This batch is all about retaining and recruiting students in LHPUSD, more specifically PM/HS. And yes, we were defectors too, sending our kids elsewhere, but I reckon that makes me more qualified to comment on the topic. As a faculty member and taxpayer, I want our little school to thrive, to attract students (and families), but lately we are losing more than usual. Thus, I wrote these…

Save LHPUSD? Part 1

Dear LHPUSD School Board,

Often, driving to Pescadero, I see friends and neighbors taking their children to school in Half Moon Bay. I am reminded of doing that myself – for years. In fact, dozens of other families have been doing it for many years (some go over the hill), all to the extreme detriment of LHPUSD. Why not make our school district so desirable that not only might we retain students and families, but we could actually recruit new ones?

By losing those families, LHPUSD loses valuable resources in the form of the parents. Parents who could participate in events, sponsor activities, coach teams, and support more than just their own children. Worse however, is the loss of their kids, those students as friends to and colleagues of the students who stay in the district. “The more the merrier” resonates at a small school, on sports teams and clubs, and especially in the classroom. Might we agree that the students and families who leave, just based on their drive and determination to find something better, have value?

We could be better! A previous board recognized that when they approved this first vision statement: “Students, parents and the local community will recognize our excellence and see our schools as desirable places to attend.  The unique opportunities available, which include a strong emphasis on local resources, will draw students here from outside the district.” That real vision statement was replaced by a slogan: “inspire, respond, engage,” something the district still seems to have a hard time doing. 

I will address the issue of “excellence” in a subsequent letter, but what about those “local resources”? Having discovered that this was not a new problem, back in late 2012, I did a survey of families (mostly from La Honda) about the desirability of LHPUSD. My takeaway was that if we used the beautiful natural resources around us to more effect, some families might stay in the district. Those results, that data, still resonate, and I’m happy to share them. In fact, such a study should be done again, in addition to conducting exit interviews and analyzing the contents of all those interdistrict transfer requests. 

Our family’s, like many others, was based on a lack of programs such as music or sports, but I’m aware of other interdistrict transfers based on more troubling reasons. Touchy subjects no doubt, but those issues need to be addressed. Whatever their reasons, are there not also complaints about the fact that we have had to spend time and money transporting our children elsewhere? What about the property taxes we paid to educate our children? How does that work?

It has not just been burdensome, it has been awkward, but we’re not alone. Other teachers, as well as current and former school board members have sent their children elsewhere. I’ll refrain from mentioning names, but you have a list of the prominent families, professionals and professors, and regular working folks who defect from LHPUSD (especially recently). In fact, it is an embarrassing, aggravating, solvable problem, and it should be your number one goal to remedy. It should be the district’s primary priority to retain and recruit more students and their families.

Yours Truly, Randall Vail

Save LHPUSD? Part 2

Dear LHPUSD School Board,

This topic, the retention and recruitment of students, is perennially difficult. It has been going on for generations, and any administration must battle that legacy. But why? Why leave LHPUSD? Some say history, patterns, or persistent rumors. Some say white flight (I don’t agree). Many cite the lack of programs, sports, desirable or elective classes, etc. Why this tradition of failure to retain and recruit students, especially after 5th grade, especially from LHE?

As previously mentioned, that should be researched by the district and perhaps it has been? But that effort to collect such data should be publicized, the results should be transparent, and the efforts to remedy them should be district-wide priorities, especially with regard to the Middle & High Schools. However, there may be some other possible contributing factors…

Using Bond Measure “I” to do new construction at La Honda Elementary took those valuable public resources ($3+ million?) away from PM/HS, especially the Middle School which has languished in portable classrooms for over a decade! Enhancing LHE while ignoring PMS did not seem to be the purpose and spirit of Bond Measure I. Read the law, look at the record. OK for LHE! What about PES? What about PM/HS? (The current PES-for-housing debate underlines this point.)

As a teacher (of 20 years before showing up in 2007), I’m bothered by what purports to be “professional development” (grievable still). For the last several years, it seems that there’s been a focus on resolving inherent problems with the faculty – although for the most part, I have been proud to work with a staff of accomplished professionals. However, rather than showcasing, enhancing, or even exploiting our strengths, there has been an emphasis on finding our weaknesses, our implicit biases, or equity challenges. In fact, is not the recent “equity audit” rife with insinuations of racism, favoritism, or elitism?

Look around, you won’t find more kind, compassionate, service-oriented, and non-racist liberals than in public school classrooms. We are not perfect, we are humans, but for the most part we are motivated by love, respect, and an ethos to serve, guided by a profound sense of history, equality, and empathy. Questioning that is insulting, and doubtless discouraging to community members who come to board meetings. How about board members coming to classrooms?! Why continue to “divide and conquer”?

Fortunately or not, we live in a time of reckoning, a time of shifting paradigms. However well-intentioned the current political zeitgeist of our district is (promotion of “critical race theory”?), if it alienates some families (families who could most benefit from some cultural reevaluation), and those children leave, we lose our most valuable opportunity to educate for change, and lose our most valuable of all resources: people – those diverse peoples.

Here’s a guess at causality: low academic and behavioral expectations. There is not a culture of achievement, nor a culture of respect. I am aware of one interdistrict transfer that was the result of bullying and the lack of an appropriate administrative response. As we have returned to in-person learning, that situation may be worse (incubated at home, marinated in media)? I disdain quoting W., however “the soft bigotry of low expectations” is disdainful (even to bigots), especially to those of us who advocate for academic rigor. Many parents appreciate high standards.

When this district is losing prominent Pescadero families, including that of the Director of Puente, in addition to all those La Honda defectors, what is the problem? This issue should be the biggest elephant in the boardroom, the superintendent’s office, and of course every staff meeting which we haven’t had for awhile. That was a conclusion, but here’s a coda (meaning 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)…

Check out the Great Schools webpages for Pescadero High and HMB High. We have a 7/10, HMB only 6/10. Why switch? More significantly, look at our Test Scores: 10/10. Our teachers – as a team effort – must rock! However, College Readiness (compared to HMB) could be improved. We need a counselor with a Pupil Services Credential who can both guide students to college and serve the significant mental health and wellness needs we have. We, as the public school system, should not be farming out psychological services to a non-profit. If we care about our students, let’s take better care of them ourselves. 

While our Equity score is higher than HMB, we must stop letting Math compromise our scheduling. Don’t just consider the new CA Math Framework, consider the fact that a third of the current seniors did not have US History in the 8th grade. Why? Look at the myriad scheduling debacles for every other subject department caused by math. Don’t let it happen. At the same time, every department should have an honors or AP option for almost every subject. Enough for now, I’ll save other possible solutions for Part 3… 

Sincerely, Randall Vail

Save LHPUSD, Part 3

Dear LHPUSD School Board,

Retaining and recruiting students can be an inspiring challenge! Having spent years marketing Magnet programs and small learning communities, here are some elevator pitches. In Part 2, I left off on scheduling and Honors & AP classes. Some parents love ‘em, and offering harder classes is easy.

To start with schedules, offer a fixed menu. On our four-block schedule, we should offer eight classes per year. (Each semester is worth 10 credits [units?] per block*, including all English & Math courses. (Guiding principle: as long as a grade-level cohort is below 35, there should be only one section of every subject every year. [Wiser allocation of taxpayer dollars and teacher time.]) *Thus, a student can achieve required credits for high school graduation by the end of the 11th grade, thus eligible for Concurrent Enrollment, which, offered to all 12th graders = equity and a great selling feature for PHS. 

Public school teachers expect to differentiate, modifying instruction for a wide range of abilities. In addition to accommodating various learning modalities, teachers should also have an honors extension of their curriculum. If a student completes the extra work, which should indicate a higher level of academic rigor, the student earns honors credit (5.0?). Of course it is necessary to monitor syllabi and course work to ensure integrity.

While the value of Advanced Placement (AP) is questionable, it is still a popular (and measured) feature of high schools. If a teacher is not willing to provide AP differentiation, most are available on UC Scout. Another option for students who do not choose Concurrent is to take AP exams as seniors. 

Creating options enhances choice architecture. How about creating our own Alternative School? How about our own Charter School? How about a “Small Learning Community” or Magnet program to attract students & families? Here’s one: The Open Space Academy. All pix are of PHS students in Environmental Field Studies. Now with our new science teacher, such a “Green STEM” program is more viable.

Another theme could be about The Arts. Repurposing PHS facilities could make this a particularly robust program. The Pescadero Arts & Fun Festival and the South Coast Artists Alliance are just two possible partners.

A bolder, more complicated project would be to create a whole new school within our district: Cage to Sage. Now, with the closing of Log Cabin Ranch and Camp Glenwood, there are more possible resources. 

Too much to handle? Why not bring in some proven experts to help? The Summit Learning Platform is available for free! Check out our past research, their own slidedeck pitch, Their Model, and my pitch to our district to give it a try. (At least we should appropriate their “Expeditions” program. Here are two of many possible themes: Bikes, Business (or use them another way).)

In addition to improving college readiness, offering electives, and creating unique & innovative programs, there are many things that we could do to improve our current operations. But I’ll save those for Part 4…

Best wishes, rv

Save LHPUSD, Part 4

Dear LHPUSD School Board,

In my previous letter, I encouraged innovation. This next batch of ideas is about reinvention or repurposing, building our institution, expanding our capacity. Let me start with the school board itself (yourselves?!)…

Why not increase the school board to seven members? In this way, we could increase community participation, generate more interest, and add more voices (diversity?) to your deliberations. The Pescadero Municipal Advisory Council has 13 seats (albeit not always filled). The Cuesta La Honda Guild has 9 seats. Many other school boards have 7, why not LHPUSD?

While the Covid pandemic created some challenges, it also created opportunities. One is the use of Google Classrooms. Why not make sure every teacher has a functioning GC for every subject? They can serve as the online platform for every course. Most college classes have one (many on Canvas), and GC is a simple and effective version. That way, students who are absent, on independent study, or even homeschooling, can participate. 

And there are many online resources. Many textbooks, public domain literature, supplemental videos, and other educational resources are available on the internet. Often, they’re free! However, I recommend supporting them with donations (ie. Patreon) which can be raised in the course of a course. And, we can consolidate all these online resources, as well as NWEA, with our SIS using a tool like Clever

Expand the use of NWEA (including its instructional tools) as a supplemental Final Exam for English and Math every semester. For that matter, every other high school I’ve ever worked at has a Finals Week. Why not PHS? It will cultivate a culture of academic achievement and prepare students for college. It should go without saying that all our classes should be standards-based and use the state frameworks, but do they? All of them, from sixth through twelfth grade? Post curricula, advertise syllabi!

All the classes on our official, HS Articulation, course list should have accurate content on them. Have we properly updated all of them? No. Can/should we? Yes! Much work has been done, but the process is not complete. And that course list, that menu of offerings, can/should be robust. Use UC Scout to create a smorgasbord of electives (as well as AP alternatives). They are already UC-approved and available to public schools on Canvas for free!

Speaking of electives, how many district transfers mention a lack of music at PM/HS? Why not use the world-class music teacher you already employ to provide 6-12 music options? (teaching to the choir?) In fact, there are several instructional threads that start in elementary school that could extend through to graduation. (Longer conversation about content threads, skill building, and curricular continuity, especially from MS to HS!)…

Much of what I’ve suggested over these four letters is not new. Another previous suggestion picked up from another district is the idea of “baby bonds,” or starting a district-supported 529 for every child. We could start investing in our students throughout their education with us so they can keep going after they graduate. (An object lesson in delayed gratification, not to mention dollar-cost averaging.) 

And how about their parents? Why don’t we have an adult school for the community? Why don’t we offer evening classes to help everyone get a high school diploma, learn English, or teach vocational skills? Not only could we help families with the Naturalization process for citizenship, but we could have a Career-Technical Education program that goes beyond high school. Again, we should not farm out our responsibility as the local public education institution to non-profit organizations. We have the capacity, let’s use it. 

Returning to professional development, perhaps it should be democratic (empowering v. prescriptive)? Of, by, and for the whole staff at a school? Sure, media culture is pervasive, good ideas can be inclusive, but every community is unique. The Anna Karenina Principle may not always apply, but those who know the particulars of a problem are most equipped to find a solution. The answers to problems in Pescadero may not be found in Maine or Colorado. Here’s a suggestion for engagement and inspiration among the faculty.

Thank you for considering these suggestions. I’m sure my colleagues have others, as would the parents of the students who no longer attend our school. In spite of the defections, and the Covid pandemic, we are doing OK. I’ve heard the learning loss is less than expected. Our sports program has momentum, and our student body seems upbeat. Making the retention and recruitment of students a priority, at the same time addressing some glaring problems, will only help to improve Pescadero High School. I’m sure that is a goal we all share.

Yours Truly, R. Vail

Que sçay-je?

(Middle French, Modern: Que sais-je?) Once upon a time, I heard that this question was posed by Michel de Montaigne to himself as he went forth to write his famous essays (in the 1500s) trying to explain what he knew, or thought he did at the time. I’m going to try to do the same, at least make some attempts. For this first essay however, I am going to try to explain myself to others: Qui suis-je?

There is that expression “do not judge a book by its cover“ but everybody does anyway. And it’s true, I am now an old white guy. So, this might be what goes on my dust jacket – for my friends on the left caught up in their current zeitgeist, and for my enemies on the right caught up in a strangely different one. More importantly, in this moment of history it is necessary for old white guys to explain themselves. (Just FYI, I was not among the over 70 million Americans who voted for Donald Trump. Imbeciles!)

I hope you too can be proud of my humility when I say that there are some accidents of my birth that I like. By that I mean, I cannot be proud of what my ancestors have done, nor should I be ashamed, because blood should be water. Or not. I should create who I am from scratch, create my destiny. However, there are a couple of stories in my heritage that I embrace…

Every year I bring a gun to school. Actually, a gun and a sword. They are artifacts from the Civil War that have been handed down. They come from a relative who was in the Illinois infantry, and I have both the little notes explaining these artifacts, and a book with his name in it. Frankly, I am not proud of being an American, but I am proud of being a Yankee. 

(Digression: I’ve had the opportunity to visit both Normandy and Hiroshima, sites of the D-Day invasion and ground zero of the first atomic bomb. Reading thank yous in the guest book at the cemetery in Normandy did make me proud of the United States, but seeing the images of death and destruction at the Peace Museum in Hiroshima made me ashamed. And, I’ve variously apologized for the actions of the US in France, Togo, Japan, Cuba, Vietnam, and elsewhere. Ideals should be challenged by reality.)

As it turns out, I am not a Christian. But I am very proud of my relative who might be the most disappointed by that revelation. My maternal grandfather, Frank B. Fagerburg was the minister of the First Baptist Church of Los Angeles from 1930 to 1952. Growing up, I was inspired by the titles of the books he wrote: “This Questioning Age,” “Here for a Purpose,” “Is this Religion?” I got lost in the biblical references, but I liked the search for meaning. Dr. Fagerburg quit after 22 years preaching to his large congregation in Los Angeles because the board of deacons would not allow a black woman and her daughter to join the church. (Notice in Jet magazine, here & elsewhere) I admire his integrity and his conviction. 

(Digression: I had not heard the full story until a protegé and successor, Dr. John Townsend told me. In fact, he took me to the archives at the First Baptist Church of Los Angeles to show me the documents and explain what had happened. A few years later he invited me to the installation of the first black minister of that church. I attended in vindication of my grandfather’s beliefs. BTW, Dr. Townsend married Mary Lynn and I at the First Congregational Church in Riverside.)

There is much more to both of those stories, but you’ll have to read more than just my dusty jacket. For those who don’t, at least appreciate that I am anti-racist, value social justice, and aspire to being at home in the whole wide world, a people person (all of ’em), an earthling. I am not proud of the white part, nor the man part (accidents of birth), and you saw me just disavow the Christian part. However, I am proud of the old part (it takes time!). I’m starting to figure stuff out, just a bit. And, “I like what I know.” 

(Digression: My master’s thesis at UCLA was called “Vintage Thoughts: A Search for the Wisdom of the Elderly.” I had researched the topics of wisdom and age, interviewed several old people, and conducted oral history projects with my students. While I discovered that age does not guarantee wisdom, cultures and societies that respect it, have reverence for it, or venerate matured human experience tend to do well. More on my “Reformed Confucianism” in a future post…)

Coda: Perhaps this next bit should be a separate essay, but I’ll squeeze this notion in here. I am proud of what I tried to accomplish in creating small learning communities at North Hollywood High School. 

After working in three different magnet schools: Hamilton Humanities Magnet, Bravo Medical Magnet, and the Highly Gifted Magnet, I created and coordinated two “Academies” with grants from the California Department of Education. The Naturalist Academy began with a Specialized Secondary Program grant, and the Home Engineering Academy continues with a California Partnership Academy grant. 

Borrowing from Harvard Education professor Howard Gardner’s idea of a naturalist intelligence, we built a program to emphasize ecology and environmental studies for previously unidentified gifted students. [Not shown in the PBS documentary “Beyond Brown.”] After the four year funding cycle, we became a School for Advanced Study, still supported by LAUSD. 

The Home Engineering Academy [named so we could call the students “homies”] was designed to teach vocational skills to students on the opposite end of the academic performance spectrum. [Shown in the Discovery Channel show “Monster House.”] 

I’m particularly proud to report that, fourteen years after leaving NoHoHi, those two programs are still running! Check it out: formerly The Naturalist Academy, still The Home Engineering Academy.

I just want to do something like that – create a cool school program – one more time


Speaking of, I posted the following on August 19th, 2021, my 62nd birthday (even tho’ it’s saying August 20th, the birthday of my cousin Susan, may she rest in peace).

This is the first of six posts, selected chapters from the novel I wrote some years ago and submitted, unsuccessfully, to the Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford. In fact, I should’ve started here with the intro to that sixth post down: “Elaine Vitale.” Read that, it explains this – fragments of a novel I finally put together but did not finish six years ago.

This first chapter creates a motivation for two workers in an old folks home to learn the stories of their clients, their patients, their mentors. It is a frame story with connecting threads. Missing in the next posts are stories about my Aunt Lourene, other old folks, and my imaginary neighbor who hides in plain sight from the CIA, a sanctioned mafia.

Perhaps I should include all those chapters, but I only polished these a bit. Clare starts it off, but the finish, the euthanasia of another character, I could not write. I could not give up the ghost, go gentle, hear the bells toll, or ever say no to another breath. Here’s to trying again, reincarnation, renewal, and gasping for a grasp (or vice versa)...


Young with a new idea, she was surprised to find herself old. Drifting out of sleep, back into semi-consciousness, Clare was aware of her bones and her breath. Summoned by the hum of the attached medical equipment, she felt the echo of the ache of the age of her body. Her eyelids parted to reveal a big, hazy moon hanging just outside the small window of her room. Slowly, she rolled her head over, stretching the tubes in her nose to see the blurred blip on the screen of a machine on a rickety rack of techno-gadgetry next to the bed. She turned back to the window and, attempting to stretch her toes, arthritic joints and the dust in her lungs brought her more completely back to reality. Tired still, she closed her eyes again.

She had been dreaming of her youth, and just a moment before she had been young, sprightly, and beautiful. It was a sunny day abbreviated by fluffy clouds. She was in a meadow running, not too fast, from her lover. He had finally and gently caught her and they had tumbled together through the grass. They had lain on their backs breathing hard and watching the clouds above drift through the bright sunshine. He was holding her, whispering love in her ear, and she was smiling with joy – for a moment.

Then, she was running again in the meadow, faster, away from her lover – no, away from her husband. In the dream, she went through a series of scenes, being caught and tumbling through tall grass, through dried lawns, through a mountain of laundry, into beds, classrooms, doctors’ offices, and a wilderness of cities and forests, always in bright light. Her idea was a regret-tempered contentment, a resigned satisfaction, her artwork was finished, no more retouching. She thought maybe she had felt a tear follow a wrinkle down to a smile.

Waking up, she was on her back again, but now however, she was old, alone, and pained in the small hours of the night. Instead of the sun, she looked back at the moon and started to cry, her gentle sobs changing the blip on the machine screen. She tried to cry her way back to sleep, back to her dream, her joy, back to her lover in the meadow, or even to her husband, to her children, or to some part of the wilderness of her life and that idea of contentment. The pain in her body prevented such sleep relief, and she was conscious only of the drone of those medical contraptions calling her to keep breathing, forcing her to keep feeling the pain.

As sleep did not come, Clare began to wallow in the pain, to revel in her misery, and she allowed a wave of self-pity to sweep over her, a torrent of cleansing tears. In the next slow moment however, she felt guilty for such selfishness. She had lived a long and wonderous life. Her dreams reflected many moments of joy and complexity, befuddlement and confidence, achievement and frustration, tedium and transcendence. Many others, she thought, led lives of nothing but simple suffering, short ones at that, perhaps even brutish.

Under her translucent, wrinkled skin a nostalgic imagination could see a lovely woman. Svelte under wilt, cheekbones dappled. White hair flowed onto white sheets in a white room, dark in the shadows of the night. Inside big eyes, now under withered lids, her colorful past reflected on her consciousness. As a girl, as a Lucinda Matlock, she had dallied away with Mikes and Spikes and the likes of which her children might not imagine. And then she was a Mom to two, a friend to a few, and a servant to many, so many that she could be great. The rollercoaster of parenthood was bolstered by her confidantes, her Sylvia Sextons, Edna St. Vicious Parkers, and the teacher job she’d had that kept her close to a quasi-peligroso edge, to the seasons of social movements, at least close to the zone of proximal development, to the young at heart, to the ever new, ever old, ideas of life among the living.

She’d been a good wife, up to a point. The point when she realized that her lover had become just a provider of meals and mortgages and not of new ideas, she decided to take their marital drift further. When his prepared mind no longer favored chance, she decided to take one and left him. The girls had made it to college, so she decided to make it in New York, or Europe, or on many an exotic beach. It was natural that there were no more lovers in meadows, so she had had some likes in restaurants and museums, conferences and conversations, but it became apparent that there were very few new ideas for one who’d contemplated so many – existential, reverential, monumental.

Of course how many new ideas can you have in a kitchen or a laundry room or a mommy mobile. Had she been a good mother? She had done her duty, her girls loved her, and each in her own way was reliving a different set of their mother’s mistakes. Ah, the sins of the mothers are visited upon their grandchildren, or the lack thereof. One was trying to emulate the free spirit, the libertina pursuing a new idea of happiness. The other is trying to emulate the dutiful wife and community member with that old idea of happiness. At least it has been interesting to see how words and deeds translated through generations – from her grandmothers, mother, herself, her children, and even the echo of ancestors uttered from the mouths of babes. That old idea made her grateful.

At least she had a lot of gratitude. That was how Clare eventually went back to her husband, and she had stepped into the old shoe of their marriage with thanks. Of course he soon died and she became a serial old person moving from porch to porch, from the nostalgia of others to her own. Not only was she grateful for her long, happy life, she was very grateful for her mind, still vibrant it was, even as her body deteriorated. Her inside had grown more beautiful, as her outside – not so much. In the creaking now, she had spent several years living in her and others’ pasts as the present became more unbearable.

As these thoughts drifted through her consciousness, she began to feel a welling satisfaction, a contentedness tinged with a gray lining. She saw order in the world, a kind of old world order, and her decaying condition was just part of a full life. Although she had sometimes been a religious woman, a Christian for awhile, a dabber, a default Buddhist, the promises of heaven or reincarnation seemed dubious, wishful, unscientific. And she was afraid to die. Sermons on the afterlife or the next life were not convincing to one who had also juxtaposed physics and biology with no-more-existentialism and was facing an inevitable eternity of nothingness. In the next moment however, she experienced a feeling of completion, transcendent of religion. Everything was all right. Like all things in the universe, her anguish – as herself, would pass.

Or should it? She remembered her. Another bit of her, or another herself? The shivering shadow crossed her consciousness. Her dead baby, and the art of forgetting was gone again. The idea of philosophy and lofty purposes shriveled once more by that momentary reality. That once forever. Her abortion. This time it came back to her differently. All the explanations, rationalizations, confabulations of logic didn’t matter. Her own abortion was upon her and that idea of a person bobbing along the river of time, that little flame of life in its common moment of termination, it – she, became a kindred spirit. It was time to abort herself. It time for justice. An eye for an I must die, a heartbeat for a heart attack, a reckoning with recklessness, oh these oh so many years later. She had kept her secret, but now she wanted to know the secret.

It was with this seemingly sudden revelation that Clare felt strength invade her decrepitude. She did not want to be a slave to fate, chance, kings, things, or desperation. She was prouder than death. Her fear abandoned her, and she began to assess the reality of her situation. She decided to turn this newest idea into action. Her vision no longer blurred, she examined the machinery connected to her body, keeping it alive. Then, with a conviction to move she had not felt for months, she struggled to sit up in her bed. Gnarled hands clutched at the side railings and she pulled with all her might.

Finally somewhat upright, she looked more critically at the tangle of tubes strewn between her and the rack of medical equipment. It seemed so foreign to her, all the buttons and dials, screens and meters. Yet, these gadgets had become part of her, they had taken over her body, the octopus had its tentacles in her. She became more resolute in her desire to wrest control of her being back from these newfangled contraptions, from this inhuman use of human beings, this technological crutch, this lie. For a moment, she turned to look at the moon shining on her face as it was through the little window, and she knew that moonlight was really sunlight.

Then, she turned back and reached for the many tubes and wires. Grabbing ahold of all she could, she began to pull. At first, nothing happened. Clare however, was determined now, so she took them in turn, and as she continued to yank, one by one they started to pop loose. The tubes and wires came free both from the machines and from herself. One of the black boxes on top of the stack of machinery came crashing down pushing the tangle of tubes and wires to the floor. She felt sudden jolts and pains as they were torn from her chest and her face. She felt sudden stings as IV’s were ripped from her arm, but she was finally able to raise it free and clear, and she did so with a defiant fist. The blip on the screen stopped moving.

Clare now sat still, recovering from her strenuous feat, the noise, the chaos. She took a long, rasping yet unaided breath, looked around, and realized she had done the job, she was released. Liberty was truth, now there’s an idea she thought. Then, she lay back down on her pillow and began again to relax. She felt freed, she felt calm, she felt relieved. The drone of the machines was no longer audible. Clare closed her eyes and issued a long, ashen sigh. The dust settled, as it always does. Slowly, she drifted back into sleep, back to her dreams, back to her lover in the meadow. And as she lay in the meadow of her dreams, those memories, those spirits, and the sun came out from behind a cloud, and as she gazed up, it became brighter and brighter and brighter.