Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

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The great jazz singer, songwriter, musician, arranger, and civil rights activist Nina Simone sang the song of the title of my blog back in 1965. Although she did not write the song, the passion that Ms. Simone put into all of her songs would make you think that she was singing from personal experience.  Then agian, perhaps, we all have personal experience with the subject of this song.

Click on this link to hear Nina Simone’s renditionhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ckv6-yhnIY

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There are many people who aspire (some even claim) to have no regrets in their life.  I am well beyond either the aspiration or any such claims.  I have lost track of the many regrets I have.  This song reminded me of one of them.  The song evokes memories of one of my famous phrases which I now deeply regret.  My regret is having unequivocally and mindlessly accepted the validity of this aphorism.   I am sure most of you have heard it.  “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  As I sit here now, I cannot tell you who coined this bit of doggerel or where I first encountered it.  Wikipedia claims that “The exact origin of this proverb is unknown and its form has evolved over time.”

A typical use of the phrase for me would entail the following situation.

My wife Karen would try to do something that she felt was either helpful or beneficial.  The results would not work out to deliver what she wanted.  I would get angry or disappointed.  Karen would become somewhat defensive and reply “I am sorry, but I had good intentions.”  I would counter with (yes, you guessed it); “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  You could then cut the silence for the next several hours with a butter knife.

Baby, do you understand me now

If, sometimes, you see that I’m mad

Don’t you know no one alive can always be an angel?

When everything goes wrong, you see some bad

 I should be thinking that no one is perfect.  Everyone screws up.  Karen can not be an angel and just like I am entitled to be angry and upset, so should she.  Who am I to judge her?

But, oh, I’m just a soul whose intentions are good

Oh, Lord, please, don’t let me be misunderstood

 I am full of regrets for the times I did not accept her apologies.  I often said that it was results that counted and not intentions.

You know, sometimes, baby, I’m so carefree

With a joy that’s hard to hide

And then, sometimes, again, it seems that all I have is worry

And then you’re bound to see my other side

It is so easy to get locked up in my own worries and problems and totally ignore the pain and devils that torment other people.  When things don’t go my way, I can condemn the stupidity and ignorance of others.  Their intentions do not count but mine do.

If I seem edgy, I want you to know

I never mean to take it out on you

Life has its problems, and I get more than my share

But that’s one thing I never mean to do, ’cause I love you

 So simple it is in the heat of the moment to forget love.  Love gets replaced by anger and pain and hurt.  The intentions that the other person had do not matter.  How can intentions replace disappointment and what seems like a lack of caring?

Oh, oh-oh-oh, baby, I’m just human

Don’t you know I have faults, like anyone?

Sometimes, I find myself alone, regretting some little foolish thing

Some simple thing that I’ve done

 You and I can never know what is in the hearts and minds of others.  We can guess.  We can ascribe.  We can assume.  All such efforts unless we can forgive will only make matters worse.  Things did not go as planned.  That is the way of the world.  Why do I expect others to be perfect when I am so far from it?  Karen would never deny that she has faults.  When we were married our counselor asked each of us if we could accept the faults and differences that were apparent in our personalities.  I said “YES” and have looked back many times over one of the biggest lies that I ever told.  It did not take too many days before I was trying to “undo” Karen’s faults.

Cause I’m just a soul whose intentions are good

Oh, Lord, please, don’t let me be misunderstood

Don’t let me be misunderstood

I try so hard, so please, don’t let me be misunderstood

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  This same road is probably also paved with the bones of people who could not understand the intentions of others.  The bones of people who so often like me could not accept that other people are not perfect, and that other people will often disappoint me.  The bones of people like me who could not accept that others were trying as hard as they could.

Yoda said that “There is no try, there is only do or do not.”  This is another aphorism that sounds good but suffers from a lack of hubris and feeling.  People will try and people will fail.  It is okay to value results, but you cannot get results without effort.  If you denigrate the efforts and intentions of others, you will insure a lack of results.  Easy to go through life when you rely on pithy sayings and show no empathy for the pain and stress that others are feeling.

Regrets can be a two edge sword.  They can cut us to ribbons with self-recriminations that do us and others no good.  However, they can also be a path to forgiving others and forgiving ourselves.  Perhaps the most difficult thing in the world is to understand the intentions of others.  Next time you think someone is screwing up, try to think what their intentions might be.  They might not be what you think they are.

Oh, Lord, please, don’t let me be misunderstood

Why do we honor Dr. Martin Luther King? What did he stand for?

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Martin Luther King: If ever there was a man with a vision, Dr. King fit the bill.  There are few people walking the earth who are not familiar with his “I Have a Dream” speech.  Another great speech that Dr. King gave had to do with his own life and what he wanted to be remembered for.  Dr. King had a premonition of his death and drafted his “Eulogy” Speech as a sort of funeral speech that he delivered himself.  It is surely one of the most moving and memorable speeches of all time. It is a eulogy of possibilities and hope rather than of defeat and death.  It is stirring because more than any other speech that he gave, it is testimony to his bravery, devotion and commitment to racial justice and equality.

His Own Eulogy:

Every now and then I guess we all think realistically about that day when we will be victimized with what is life’s final common denominator–that something we call death.

We all think about it and every now and then I think about my own death and I think about my own funeral. And I don’t think about it in a morbid sense. And every now and then I ask myself what it is that I would want said and I leave the word to you this morning.

If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy tell him not to talk too long.  Every now and then I wonder what I want him to say.

Tell him not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize–that isn’t important. Tell him not to mention that have 300 or 400 other awards–that’s not important. Tell him not to mention where I went to school.

I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody.

I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe the naked. I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. And I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.

Yes, if you want to, say that I was a drum major. Say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness.  And all of the other shallow things will not matter.

I won’t have any money to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that is all I want to say. If I can help somebody as I pass along, if I can cheer somebody with a well song, if I can show somebody he’s traveling wrong, then my living will not be in vain.

— Martin Luther King, Jr. (at the request of his widow, these recorded words of Dr. King’s last sermon were played at his funeral)

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Dr. King was vilified in his own life time not just by many whites but also by many blacks.  The more militant of the Civil Rights groups including SNCC, some in CORE and also the Black Panthers saw MLK as too passive, forgiving and willing to turn the other cheek.  Many in the Black Muslims saw Dr. King as simply a “pawn” of the white man.  The Black Muslims wanted nothing to do with compromise or civil rights at all.  Dr. King had enemies and critics on all sides.  Some say he knew that he did not have long to live and that he would die in a matter of weeks.

Put yourself in Dr. King’s shoes for a few minutes if you really want to understand and appreciate his life. Even today, some states have tried to deny him this day of commemoration.  In his time he was loved and hated, praised and despised, honored and spit on, applauded and stoned.  Think for a second what it would be like to live in a fishbowl beset on all sides by those who condemn you and those who want more of your time.  Think about trying to maintain your vision of non-violence when all around you is hate and loathing.  Think about trying to preach conciliation and tolerance when both whites and blacks are killing each other because of the color of their skin.  Think of being the minority that gets the worse of the deal every time because your people lack the power and political machinery to orchestrate the best deals.

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It would have been very easy for Dr. King to take a short term view of life, but he did not.  Dr. King saw the future of America dependent on how it settled this big question: “Were whites and blacks going to be equal or not?” Dr. King knew that the greatness of America turned on this question.  Was freedom, equal rights, democracy and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness just for whites or could blacks be included in this vision as well?  Dr. King was positive that he and others could forge a reality out of the American dream that would also merge with his dream for African Americans.  Dr. King and millions of other African Americans and whites have worked to help move us towards this dream.  Dr. King was a man whose memory will live on forever.

As you go about today, think for a few seconds about why we honor Dr. King.  Without a vision, people will perish.  Dr. King may have saved millions of lives by providing all of us with a vision that inspires and motivates us to create a more just and humane society.  A dream to help create a nation where someday racism and race prejudice will no longer exist.  It is a dream we have not reached, but it is a dream that it is still worth working for.  Ask yourself today, what are you doing to help dispel racism and prejudice?  Are you part of the solution or are you part of the problem?  Do you hate other races or do you work to bring all people together?  Today is a day to celebrate the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King and we best honor his life and vision by doing our own small part to end racism and race hatred.

If you want a little light hearted look at what Martin Luther King day should NOT BE, see the following video from Comedy Central with Trevor Noah:

How Could Life Be So Unfair or Why Did Richard Cory Get All the Luck?

Wrote this blog seven years ago. Still makes me think about gratitude and being thankful for what I have. My sister asked me this morning if I was familiar with the poem about Richard Cory. I actually went to school with a young man named Richard Cory so this poem has resonated with me since high school. Hope you enjoy.

Aging Capriciously

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I curse the day I was born.  I curse my father.  I curse my mother.  I curse my sisters and I curse my brother.

   Oh, I wish that I could be, 

Oh, I wish that I could be

Richard Cory.

 I curse the life I am living.  I curse my name.  I curse my shame.  I curse the day I came.

 Oh, I wish that I could be,

Oh, I wish that I could be

Richard Cory.

 I curse my poverty.  I curse my mediocrity.  I curse my inability.  I curse my fate and my biology.

 Oh, I wish that I could be,

Oh, I wish that I could be

Richard Cory.

 No doubt many of you will know Richard Cory.  For those who don’t know him formally, I am sure you know him personally.  He is that person we all want to be. …

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Why Public-School Education is Dying – Part 3 of 5 Parts

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In Part 1 of this blog on education, I stated that, “I am going to dive into the major reasons that are leading to the death of public-school education.”  In this part, we will look at the role that our political leaders play in murdering public school education in America.

How our politicians are helping to kill public school education

Kill or murder?  I have used both words to describe what the Right-Wing political faction is trying to do to public school education.  Let me be clear on this point.  The Right-Wing politicians and their cronies in the media are systematically and deliberately trying to destroy public school education and any semblance of a free and open democratic educational system whether it be in kindergarten or in a university.

Liberals in America have always supported at least in a token sense a system of democratic free public-school education.  Their support dwindles when it comes to the university level.  When it comes to eliminating elitism in schools and eliminating anti-intellectual bias, liberals have too often watched from the sidelines when conservatives have been on the attack.  This is to say that conservatives support elitism and anti-intellectualism while liberals twiddle their thumbs and remain silent.

I want to trace a chronological picture of the attack on public education from when I first noticed it up until this past week.  We will start by going back to 1973 when my daughter entered kindergarten.

1973

I was twenty-seven years old and had been married for six years.  We were living in Providence R.I., and I was attending Rhode Island College days and working nights.  My daughter Christy had been in a Montessori School since she was three and my wife was working part-time.  With Christy turning six soon we decided to enroll her in a public school.  Two advantages for us were cost and proximity.  The public school would be free, and it was only a few blocks from where we lived.

I walked down to the public school to see about enrolling Chris.  When I arrived, I was shocked.  The school had broken windows all over and the ones that had been repaired had thick Plexiglas installed inside of windowpanes.  The school yard was full of junk and debris.  The whole place looked like a prison that had just survived a prison riot.  I turned around and went home.  I was never going to send my daughter to this school.  I would sell my soul first.

After some discussion with my wife Julia, we found that our only option was an expensive private school up the “East” side of Providence near Brown University where all the rich people lived.  The school was called Gordon.

The Gordon School is a racially diverse nursery through eighth grade coeducational independent school in East Providence, Rhode Island.  Child by child, the Gordon School community cultivates successful students by inspiring joyful learning, encouraging intellectual leadership, fostering an empathic spirit, and stimulating a drive for positive societal impact.

The tuition at the time was a fortune for us.  We were living in a 3rd floor apartment and paying 75 dollars a month rent.  We budgeted everything including purchasing light bulbs.  The cost for Gordon in 1974 was almost 3 thousand dollars a year.  Currently, the tuition varies by scholarships and financial aid but the web lists Gordon tuition for 2021 as $39,000 a year.  For us, it was either this or send Chris to the dilapidated run-down school I had visited.  Christy went to Gordon for two years until I graduated college.  After graduating with a degree in Health Education, our family moved to a small town in Wisconsin called River Falls.  There Christy was entered into the public school system where she remained until after high school.

At the time, I never made any connection between Republicans and their desire to destroy public school education.  I was pretty radical in my politics, and I voted Socialist Labor, Citizens Party, Green Party and any other party except for Republicans or Democrats.  I did not like conservatives or liberals.  The only thing I was aware of was that teachers were low paid and public schools in the inner cities were severely under-funded.  Things were much better for public education in small towns like River Falls.

1982

I enter a doctorate program at the University of Minnesota in Vocational Education.  I read “Anti-intellectualism in American Life.”  This book was written by Richard Hofstadter in 1963 and in 1964 won a Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction.

Here the politician expresses what a large part of the public feels.  The citizen cannot cease to need or to be at the mercy of experts, but he can achieve a kind of revenge by ridiculing the wild-eyed professor, the irresponsible brain truster, or the mad scientist, and by applauding the politicians as they pursue the subversive teacher, the suspect scientist, or the allegedly treacherous foreign-policy adviser.  There has always been in our national experience a type of mind which elevates hatred to a kind of creed; for this mind, group hatreds take a place in politics similar to the class struggle in some other modern societies.”R. Hofstader

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After reading Hofstader’s book, I began to see a connection between politics in America and the problems with public education funding.  I still did not see any conspiracy and I just assumed it was a case of prejudice and bias with random attacks against education.

1997

I finished my Ph.D. program in 1986 and had been working with a management consulting firm for seven years before going on my own in 1993.  I was now working part-time as a private consultant and teaching part-time at Metro State University in Minneapolis.  I would drive to school to teach MBA night classes.  On my way to school, I would turn on AM 1440 Patriot Radio and listen to Mike Savage, Hugh Hewitt, Laura Ingraham, and Mike Medved.  They were all extreme right-wing commentators.  I listened to them over four years for two or three nights a week on my commute between White Bear Lake and downtown Minneapolis.

Each one of these commentators were well educated at an American University.  Savage obtained a Ph. D in 1978 from the University of California, Berkeley, in nutritional ethnomedicine.  Hewitt graduated cum laude from Harvard University with a B.A. in government in 1978.  After studying at the University of Michigan Law School, Hewitt received his Juris Doctor (JD) degree in 1983.  Ingraham earned a B.A. from Dartmouth College in 1985.  She then attended the University of Virginia School of Law, where she was a notes editor for the Virginia Law Review.  She graduated with a Juris Doctor degree in 1991.  Medved entered Yale University as a 16-year-old undergraduate. He received his B.A. with honors in 1969, and later attended Yale Law School, though he did not finish his JD degree.

For over four years, I listened to these “scholars” bash educators.  Bash teachers.  Bash universities.  Bash college professors.  On and on each of them would go night after night after night.  Labels and epithets like commies, pinkos, intellectuals, liberals, socialists, subversives, and anti-American were consistently used to denigrate teachers and professors.  It was assumed and even a creed that most universities and schools had a “liberal” orientation.” To these commentators, a liberal orientation was akin to being aligned with Satan.  A liberal was the devil incarnate and was on the side of “god-less communism.”

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More and more I began to understand that the right-wing hated educators, hated free thinking and hated anything that had any vestige of a liberal arts education associated with it.  I still did not see any conspiracy though and I assumed it was simple ignorance and fanatical beliefs that united the Republicans, White-Supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and other Right-Wing fanatics.

“Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.”— Thomas Jefferson

2010

I read “The Fifteen Biggest Lies About the Economy” by Joshua Holland.

“We have all grown accustomed to conservative’s conspiracy theories about the corporate media having a far-left bias and college professors indoctrinating American youth into Maoism.”  — J. Holland, 2010

Holland goes on to describe how a cabal of rich right-wing billionaires including the Koch Brothers organized to fund a group of “research centers” such as the Heritage Foundation.  The purpose of these groups was to counter what they saw as a left-wing bias in education and the media.  These groups heralded the start of organized right-wing think tanks to fund laws, bills, newspapers, radio shows and other narratives that would combat liberalism and progressivism in American politics.  These groups would routinely rely on the strategies of Madison Avenue to get their messages across.

masksI began to see more clearly that the right wing was orchestrating a systematic attack against not only universities but also against public school education.  However, it has only been in the last few years that I realized how ubiquitous this assault was.  The appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education under Trump was a message that meant the right-wing were more powerful than anyone had yet realized.  The attack on public education is now an all-out assault.

What I still did not see was how the now noticeable decline in public support for American Democracy was highly correlated with the right-wing attack on public education.  The right-wing and their political allies have been undermining public education with a goal to replace it with a system of elite education.  The purpose of right-wing education is to train people not how to think but what to think.  Fundamentalists, technocrats, wealthy elites, corporations, and right-wing politicians see no value in “free-thinkers.”  If you believe Thomas Jefferson, democracy can only survive with people who know how to think and not just what to think.

November 2, 2021

D. Vance, a Republican candidate for Senator of Ohio gave a keynote speech at the National Conservatism Conference (November 2, 2021) titled “The Universities Are the Enemy.” He said:

“I think in this movement of national conservatism, what we need more than inspiration is wisdom.  And there is a wisdom in what Richard Nixon said approximately 40, 50 years ago. He said, and I quote: ‘The professors are the enemy.’”

downloadOn his campaign website, under the heading “Protect Conservative Values,” Vance complains that “hundreds of billions of American tax dollars” get sent to universities that “teach that America is an evil, racist nation.” These universities “then train teachers who bring that indoctrination into our elementary and high schools.”  The speakers and presenters at this conference read like a “who’s who” of Trump loyalists and big lie theorists.

Finally, it is clear to me that a conspiracy or call it a concerted effort exists to defund public schooling, to undermine confidence in public education and to create a system of private for-profit schools or elitist academies that will educate the rich.  The poor will be left where the poor have always been left, at the bottom of the heap.  Democracy will be destroyed, and authoritarians will dictate religion, politics, education, and work rules.  There will be no independent thinking in America since independent thinking and democracy go hand in hand.

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December 16, 2021

I pick up the local newspaper, the Casa Grande Dispatch to read an article discussing a curriculum debate at a school board meeting.  Seems as though several people are challenging the right of the schools and educators to decide what should be in the curriculum.  Conservative parents and right-wing politicians are increasingly trying to dictate curriculum.  Often their assumptions about education or ill-formed and simply ignorant.  Regard the quote from one of the attendees at this meeting:

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“Once this curriculum is in place they will have to teach it, whether they agree with it or not.” Said David Logue, a deacon at Passion Church in Casa Grande.  “Although I don’t have a lot of information on this, I am against it.  It is ungodly.”

This deacon admits that he does not know much about it, but he is “AGAINST IT,” because it is “UNGODLY.”  How can any intelligent person be against something, without even knowing what they are against?  And to call it ungodly?  What in heavens name is “ungodly” curriculum?  Episodes like this are taking place all across the USA and they are not isolated instances.  They are not random happenings.  The right-wing politicians have been fanning the embers of discontent with the public schools in this country for some time now and the results can be seen at school board meetings in every state in the Union.  No one is clamoring for more education about democracy and freedom of speech.  Instead they are screaming because of things they know little or nothing about like Critical Race Theory and Diversity Education.

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December 29, 2021

Republicans eye new front in education wars: Making school board races partisan” by Andrew Atterbury and Juan Perez Jr.  The assault on education today is not just about Critical Race Theory or Diversity Education.  It is a war on school boards to help determine the course of American Politics.  It is not a question of teaching students “how” to think, it is a question of teaching them “what” to think.  Make no mistake, the conservatives and Republican Party want to turn the clock back on history.  They want a one-party majority of white conservative reactionaries.  They have a design for a “white” America free of the influence of minorities, women, the poor and the less educated.  This design is not based on a balanced diet of hopes and dreams and visions of what America could be.  It is not based on any concept of democracy by the people and for the people.  It is based on a unilateral one-sided elitist view of what education is for and who should receive education.

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“There’s still no equality in education,” said Young, a plaintiff in a lawsuit from the Southern Poverty Law Center to keep public money in two Tennessee school districts instead of diverting the funds to unaccountable private schools. “To me, it’s still a form of segregation.” — Weekend Read: 66 years after Brown v. Board, schools across the South still separate and unequal

The problem has been that good liberals and progressives have not realized that a war on education is being waged.  This months Southern Poverty Leadership Report (Winter 2021, Volume 51, Number 4) has an article titled, “Calculated:  The right’s attack on the U.S. education system.”  The words in the title are very appropriate.  The attack is “calculated.”  The battle for school board partisanship is being supported by a coalition of conservative leaders — including representatives of the Heritage Foundation, Manhattan Institute, and the American Enterprise Institute.

The word “attack” is also appropriate.  We are not talking about reform or change.  Conservatives     want nothing less than the destruction of public-school education.

“Anti-mask efforts are, in essence, anti-public education tactics, a wolf cloaked as libertarian policy designed to devour the public’s fain in public education…. The aim of undermining public education as schools are increasingly gutted of funding and support with each legislative cycle, is to make privatization more appealing than public education.”  Calculated: The right’s attack on the U.S. Education system.

In Summation:

I have given you a chronology of my experiences and insights concerning some of the attacks on public school education by the political right.  I started out by seeing the demise of public-school education due to its paradigmatic inefficiency at meeting the needs of twenty first century students.  Along my journey, I found an all-out political assault on public schools by Republicans and conservatives.  You might think I am being a hypocrite when I condemn the Republicans since I also condemn the current model of public-school education.  However, my solution to providing a democratic education system is very different than what the Republicans want to create.  I will talk more about this difference in the final part of this series on education.

“There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.” — Jiddu Krishnamurti

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John,

I appreciate your observations on trends. As a parent you knew what was best and chose a different school; and today parents want to keep the school and change the curriculum.  Your graphics emphasize each of your points.  Seeing the discontent, the elite provide the alternatives in either charter schools or private schools.  Catholic and other parochial schools, and  religiously affiliated universities were for families who wanted to instill their religious beliefs while educating.  Home education movement does the same.  Again the monetary sacrifice to do so.  The poor have no choice and tolerate what is given in “free”public education. — Socorro 

How Can We Set Realistic Exercise Goals as We Age?

Posted this three years ago but I think you will find it very useful if you are aging and still trying to stay active.. Too much of the information for aging people is not very helpful and is in many cases harmful. I am 75 years old and it is January 2nd, 2022. I am reposting this before going for a four mile trail run up the Casa Grande Mountains. I note this to give you some idea as to my current fitness and health. I follow the advice given in this posting and it has helped me to stay fit, active, healthy and happy. Good Luck to you on your journey this year to health.

Aging Capriciously

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Goal setting is as American as mom, God and apple pie.  Every exercise book, life improvement book and management book has a section on goal setting and accolades for the process.  I also once subscribed to the philosophy that those who did not set goals for their life were losers, losers and bigger losers.  Winners set goals.  When winners reach their goals, they up the bar and set them even higher.  That is the American Way.  Set unreachable goals and if you should meet those goals, then move the bar up, ever up, ever higher.

Well, I am going to tell you that everything in the above paragraph is STUPID advice.  Most of the wisdom around goal setting is simply dumb.  Unfortunately, when it comes to your health, it is not only dumb, it is dangerous.  It was not until 1986 that I met the man who would change my…

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Happy New Year – 2022

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sourceJanuary 1st– the beginning of a New Year.  This is the time when many of us will make new resolutions, new dreams, new goals and promises galore.  It is a time when we will begin over and try to make wishes come true that did not work out the year before.  We bring in the New Year as a mother brings in a newborn baby, full of promise and youth.  There are those critics and skeptics who look at the inevitable human trail of broken dreams and unfulfilled goals from bygone years and laugh at our efforts.  Such people deny the possibility of hope and change.  I may often be a pessimist but for any of you with the courage to tackle a new set of goals or dreams, I say “try, try, and try again.”

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You can and will do a better job this year than you did last year.  You can and will continue to grow and change.  We can all continue to overcome the folly of our past lives.  Hope springs eternal in the human breast and what would we be without it?

We need to dare and dare again and when we fail, we need to get back up and try again.  The only failure is when we stop trying.  So I say, “Disregard the naysayers, go ahead and set some new goals and new dreams.”  Stretch your vision and your horizons.  People do not perish because of their dreams; they perish because of a lack of dreams.

“It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow.” — Bob Goddard

“Everything that has ever been accomplished, every skyscraper, every bridge, every invention, every medical breakthrough, all started with a dream!” — Catherine Pulsifer, Living The Dream Accomplishment

“Wishes are possibilities.  Dare to make a wish.” — ― Lailah Gifty Akita, Think Great: Be Great!

Karen and John Persico, 2021 Holiday Letter

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Dear Friends and Relatives,

I was going to start off by noting that St. Nick died of Covid this past year, but I decided that this was no way to start off a Christmas/Holiday greeting.  Besides, it is fake news.  Actually, I would like to ignore the pandemic since we are all tired of hearing about Covid, but it is the 1000 lb. gorilla in the room.  Karen and I divide most of our lives up pretty well.  She is artistic and musical.  I am scientific and logical.  I tend to be “all things pessimistic” and Karen tends towards “all things optimistic.”  I love to exercise and be outside.  Karen loves crafts, sewing, knitting, and staying as warm as possible.  Over the thirty or so years that we have been married, it has been a good mix.  A perfect storm of Yin/Yang.  I am not sure which is which, but it works.

echodot2_2048xI am only telling you these things so you will realize that my part of our annual holiday message will be dark and gloomy, and Karen’s will be light and cheerful.  Ok, I am kidding.  Let’s hear the Jolly Good News.  The irony is that this past year has been wonderful in more ways than I can count.  Disregarding the good friends that have passed to their just or unjust deserts, Karen and I have been healthy, moderately wealthy (we are still able to pay our bills) and both of us are somewhat wiser than we were last year.  The main reason for our increase in wisdom has been our Alexa app.  No matter what we want to know, Alexa has the answer.  Well most of the time.

My mother always said that “Every cloud has a silver lining.”  The older I get the more I see the truth in this adage.  Sometimes, it takes time to see it, but it is generally there.  Martin Luther King said that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  These two bits of wisdom help me to keep my sanity and “cheery” disposition when the world seems full of crazy random meaningless events.  I hope you find your path to joy and happiness this holiday season and that it stays with you all of your life.   Over to Karen now.

You really should get my part of the letter first.  It’s darn hard to follow the writer of the family.  If you would like to hear more of John’s thoughts on widely divergent topics, check out his blog at agingcapriciously.com.  I am the only child introvert, so I’ve had fun during the pandemic isolation, moving from one project to another.  Knitting, sewing, needlepoint, cooking, gardening, reading.  There’s always another project waiting.  I retired for good before we left to return to Wisconsin last spring and haven’t been bored yet.  The plan is to put the Wisconsin home up for sale this summer which may involve bringing more stuff down to Arizona.

In September, we managed to fit a trip to France and Spain in between Covid variants.  (See the end of this blog for some of our trip photos.)  We celebrated John’s birthday on the day we arrived in Paris with a 5-course gourmet dinner bus tour.  Our other highlight during our time in Paris was attending the first performance of the Paris opera since the start of the pandemic.  It was a wonderful gala event with amazing music and tables of drinks and appetizers during intermission.  The last 2 ½ weeks of the trip were spent in a B&B outside of Barcelona Spain where we had a great host family.  We saw numerous cathedrals, the famed Sagrada Familia, the Gothic Cathedral, the San Pau Hospital, multiple art museums, the Park Guell, Flamenco dancing, the Montserrat Abbey and Rupit-Pruit.  The last was two old mountain villages in Catalonia.  Between the cappuccino and pastries in Paris and the incredible food of Spain, it’s a good thing we averaged walking about 7 miles a day.

Kevin, Megan, and Susan are still working virtually.  They are very happy with their jobs.  Julie’s brain surgery was a success and I have been having many good conversations with her.  Megan is planning to move back to MN next spring with her virtual job.  Kevin is still working from Cornucopia and Susan is in Bloomington.  All grandchildren (Zachary, Sam, Logan, and Garrick) are leading interesting lives and as you would expect with youth, they are still trying to find meaning and purpose in a crazy world.  We are thankful for the good health they have.  Hopefully it will give them enough time to discover what makes them happy and fulfilled.

We give thanks for the many friends and relatives who have survived the pandemic.  We pray for peace      and that we can find solutions for a divided country and troubled world.

Karen and John Persico

The Opera was at the Palais Garnier.  The building was beautiful and the music was superb.

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I had to see Napoleon’s tomb.  Not sure why, but we ended up going to many gravestones while in Paris.  Maybe, I am thinking it will be my time soon.

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We went to the Père-Lachaise Cemetery.  A popular tourist destination, the cemetery is the final resting place of many famous artists and writers and musicians who lived and worked Paris.  One of the areas in the cemetery had sculptures for each of the Nazis concentration camps that Jewish people were assigned to.  The sculptures were different for each camp and were very moving.

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We went by train from Paris to a town called Cervello just north of Barcelona.  We rented an AirBnb and stayed up in the mountains.  We divided the next three weeks between Cervello, Barcelona, mountain villages and some coastal explorations.  We became friends with the people we were renting from and we went on some excursions together.  They were great people.  Alex and Heidi were their names.

An aerial view of Cervello.

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Karen, John, Heidi and Alex in Rupit-Pritt, Catalonia

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Crossing the bridge between Rupit and Pruitt.

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A famous hospital in Barcelona.  Still used but also part museum.  The name was the Hospital de Sant Pau.

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9 PM eating at a bistro on La Rambla in Barcelona.  A main street where you could walk, shop, sightsee and eat for the next year.  We are enjoying beer, mussels, Pina Colada and a seafood dish with calamari.

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Another night in Barcelona to see some Flamenco dancers and Spanish guitarists.

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A train ride took us up the coast to Girona.  A beautiful Spanish seacoast city.

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Tossa de Mar 

We visited many churches and monasteries in Spain.  The art in some was unbelievable but the statuary was equally impressive.

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Mark A. Myhra:  Died December 18, 2021

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I wanted to share a story and a journey that I was fortunate enough to have been a small part of.  In July of this year, I attended my 34th retreat at the Demontreville Retreat Center.  Each year up to four men share a table and eat silently during the three-day retreat.  First and last meals allow communication, and we introduce ourselves at the first supper and do some brief chit chatting before the three days of silence reigns.  Then at supper on our final day, our torrent of thoughts are released as we are allowed to speak.  Surprisingly, even though we are silent through breakfast, lunch, and supper for three days, we get to feel that we know the other men at our table quite well.  There is something about saying prayers and breaking bread with another human being that is ineffable.

This year, I had two other men at my table whom I had never met before.  As it turned out, the father (Mark) and son (Daniel) had come together because Mark had been too sick to participate in his scheduled retreat earlier in the year, so he rescheduled, and his son came with him.  Through our introductions, I learned that Mark had been diagnosed and was being treated for Pancreatic Cancer.  I was very surprised at this, mainly because of his optimism which I felt was probably unwarranted, but I kept this to myself.  Who was I to say that you could not defeat pancreatic cancer, even if I had never known anyone who had?

Mark had a very dynamic and, despite his condition, energetic personality.  I was struck by his positive attitude.  Mark loved life, his family, and God, perhaps in the reverse order.  He led an interesting life and seemed much younger than his sixty years.  When we left at the end of the retreat, we exchanged business cards.  Mark mentioned that he had a Caring Bridge site and would be posting updates there.

Over the next five months, Karen and I followed the postings by Mark and some of his family members.  It is hard to describe my feelings for Mark’s writings.  I was touched deeply by his spiritual convictions, his love of family and the love of so many around him.  It was clear that Mark was a very unique individual who had made a positive impact on the lives of many people.  I felt jealous of the amazing family that he had and the father that he was to them.  I could only wish that I had been as good a father as Mark was.  It was evident from the postings by his children how deeply they admired and loved Mark.

The postings that I am listing below are from his Caring Bridge Site.  I am posting them in chronological order dating from the week following our retreat at Demontreville together.  Mark has some other postings before then and if the following inspire you, then you can find them on his Caring Bridge Site.

Mark’s postings tell an amazing story of resistance and finally acceptance.  Mark walks the line between knowing when to hold them and knowing when to fold them.  Throughout his battle with cancer, he is never prone to blame others or condemn God for taking his life away.  He is never maudlin and right up to the end he continues to make the best of each day.  He is well aware of the impact that his illness has on others, and he is as much a caregiver to them as they are too him.  He dies with dignity, respect, integrity and the love of many family and friends.  I hope you will take the time to read all of the postings that Mark made.  The final two postings include two by his sons after he passed and an obituary by a good friend.

In this era of bad news and then worse news, we need to have some inspiration to get up each morning and to have a positive attitude towards life.  I think Mark forges a path than we can all follow to live each day the best we can and to do our best for others in the world.

Rest in Peace Mark

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July 19, 2021

Journal Entry by Mark Myhra — July 19, 2021

I write from the chemo infusion bay in Maple Grove, MN.  I am undergoing Round 4 as I type.  This is the first time I’ve been able to schedule my infusion to occur at MG rather than the University cancer center.  The logistics are much better for us here, as we avoid the drive into downtown MPLS, ramp parking and longer waits.  This morning at the MG center, I parked (literally) outside the front door, and for free, and then walked inside to be immediately processed for labs and, shortly after being cleared for chemo, started the drip.  Unless something strange arises, I will get out in record time today.  My labs were “good enough” for me to proceed with chemo.  That means my blood cell counts were within reasonable reach of the lower normal range, such that they would pass me for chemo today.  I don’t have the PA 9-19 (tumor marker) results yet as they get processed downtown.  Perhaps one of my kids will give an update tomorrow when those results arrive.  We are hoping, of course, for a continued decline in the marker count, although I won’t risk a jinx by predicting the new value.

This is a big week for us; round 4 of chemo today and CT scans on Thursday.  We hope to learn much after the scans are completed and compared to the baseline scans of early June.  It will give a better measure than the tumor markers of how well this chemotherapy is working against my cancer.

I haven’t written for a while, and I have some time to spare as I watch the steady drip of chemicals into the rigged apparatus and then into my implanted port.  So, I will write about my weekend.  Of course, you, dear reader, may not have as much time to spare in your reading as I in my writing, and you may not find my topic (the Jesuits) as interesting as I do.  I pause to consider my common tendency to judge others for assuming the interest of their audience (me) in their personal favorite topic.  So, I proceed with some trepidation (“the measure with which you measure …”).  In any event, as a safety, if you’d rather not hear about my take on the Jesuits or my silent retreat of the weekend, I have bracketed that entire section so you can quickly skip to the rest of this update.

[It was a great weekend.  My youngest son, Daniel, and I attended our annual men’s retreat at Demontreville. This is a silent retreat based on the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola –  the founder of the Society of Jesus in 1534.  I really love the rich history of the Jesuits, including the complex personality of its founder.  Ignatius was a professional soldier who liked combat in formal warfare against the French as well as informal skirmishes with local adversaries.  He liked to stand fast and hard on principle.  He was rather fond of himself – chock full of self-admiration for his presumed personal honor and his physical appearance.  He was a man-about-town and a rabble-rouser.  He reminds me of some of my best friends.  But then, after a major life event, he was challenged to contemplate a different course for his life.  His is a biography worth reading, but in short the life-changing event resulted in his exchanging his sword for pen and prayer, his interest in women for a devotion to one woman, the Blessed Virgin, and his worldly swagger for a life-long commitment to the Lord.  His Spiritual Exercises are the product of his discerned experience and the spirit-led contemplations of a man committed to holiness and to servant-leadership of others.

I am fascinated by modern day Jesuits.  They are an apostolic order, not a monastic one, so they are meant to be in the world.  Accordingly, the breadth of their wisdom, connection with the realities of humanity, and appreciation for the challenges of life in the world is quite impressive.  The Jesuits seem to know a lot about a lot.  These guys are a great balance of soul and intellect, of practical wisdom and humor.  Of course, they all can break open sacred scripture, converse the great theological mysteries of the faith, and offer a unique perspective of the Exercises to bring life to a historical document written 500 years ago.  In addition, in casual conversation, they are as likely to explain Pascal’s Wager as to discuss Mozart’s Symphony No. 61, or Judge Easterbrook’s economic theories, or the rationale for a major league pitcher to throw “chin music” on an 0-2 count, or discuss the best films of either Hitchcock or Tarantino or both, not to mention the low-hanging fruit of predicting whether Gonzaga will contend again in the Final Four next year.

I have come to love Ignatian spirituality, and I have prospered much over the years from contemplations gained and decisions reached during my weekends of directed silence at Demontreville.  This year, in addition to the normal daily regimen, I also received an Anointing of the Sick, as well as a special group blessing from all of the men on retreat.  On Sunday night, I returned to the noisy world feeling the grace of God’s voice and His healing power.  It is said that “silence makes audible the still small voice of God.”  I have come to believe it.

My deep connections to the Jesuits and Ignatian spirituality have become more and more clear to me and prominent in my life the older I get.  I have linked their advancement of the Sacred Heart devotion to my Catholic beginnings at Notre Dame.  My Ignatian library grows too.  So, as a gift to anyone interested, I simply commend to you the benefit of a Demontreville Retreat.  They hold a Retreat almost every Thursday night through Sunday of the calendar year.  I can say the experiences have been life-changing for me.  Typically, not like a lightning bolt on a personal journey to Damascus, but more like breaking in a fine pair of Tony Lama boots.  Demontreville has taught me to trust in the slow work of God.  Finally, I will share this significant contemplation from the weekend – it occurred to me as I walked the pristine grounds early Saturday morning that this could be my last time here: “what if this turns out to be my last retreat at Demontreville?”  This led to a series of similar contemplations of some potential “last times” on the near horizon.  But due to a word I received in a lectio divina reading of Psalm 103 (“I will heal your diseases, all of them”) I left this contemplation in peace and gratitude, believing I’d be back to Demontreville for precisely the right number of future retreats in accord with God’s will.  If you are local/regional or readily mobile, I highly recommend a Demontreville retreat experience for you.]

Now I look ahead.  Not too far ahead, as this diagnosis has helped me to land the mantra “one day at a time.”  I look forward to living well and praying and learning.  Over the past few weeks, I’ve been praying for many of you in precise ways and all of you in general ways.  This will continue, even as  I continue to be touched by the incredible generosity of the many people in my life, past and present friends, all supporters in this journey.  Thanks for the meals that have been delivered to my home or Paige‘s place for a weekend family gathering (typically 10-12, not counting babies). The cleaning service has been a wonderful benefit.  The cards and care packages and texts and emails and voicemails and etc. have all lifted my spirits.  I hope I have a chance to thank everyone face-to-face at some point.   I hope to travel some this late summer or fall.

As I close, I must ask if anyone feels discouraged and would like to chat about any topic, please drop me a line at myhramark@gmail.com and perhaps we can find time to encourage one another.  Thanks to everyone who has shared your special prayer needs; I assure you I have carried them to the cross every single day.  Thanks also to those who have shared recent accounts of cancer survivors.  Together, these “shares” give me purpose and hope.   I know that I am being called to new life.  The question is where, and I think it will be here (above ground) for a good spell yet.  My hope is in the Lord.

Love to all, Mark

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July 26, 2021

Journal Entry by Mark Myhra — July 26, 2021

My dear friends and family.  Peace be with you.

We have had a string of very good news, especially regarding tumor markers and dealing with side-effects.  Regrettably, today I break the hitting streak and share the news of my surveillance scans.  Last Thursday, I had a new series of x-ray and CT scans to compare to the initial scans of May 24th (the initial scans were the first real evidence of pancreatic cancer).  I met with Dr. Greeno today to discuss the results.  Of course, we hoped to see definitive signs of remission – shrinkage of the existing tumors.  Instead, the new scans revealed that the tumor in the tail of my pancreas has grown slightly.  This may mean that my cancer is resistant to the chemo I am on now, which would mean switching chemotherapies.  However, based on all facts and variables, it’s a close call.  So, we decided to stick with the current chemo for one more month (two more rounds of chemo) and then get another set of scans. Those scans (at the end of August) will determine if it’s time to change to Plan B.  So, we wait again.

The good news is there is a Plan B — a different chemo that some patients respond to better than the one I’m on.  There was some other good news today – there are no new tumors anywhere in my abdomen and one of the tumors in the liver actually shrank.  Plus, we won’t discount the declining tumor markers as a positive sign.

I am not Pollyannaish – yet I remain optimistic that this battle against a formidable foe will ultimately be won – for God’s great glory.  So, I continue in my Confidence.  I know many are praying for me daily, and I will be most grateful if you’d keep it up (and perhaps even dial it up).  Please remember my family in your prayers, as they are struggling more with this diagnosis than I.

Peace, Mark

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August 3, 2021

Journal Entry by Mark Myhra — August 3, 2021

Good morning.  I’m in the midst of Day 2 of Round 5.  To the extent most folks define their nights (at least the 3rd and 4th watch) in terms of restful sleep, mine was terrible.  I sat awake from midnight to 4:00, with some nausea, but mostly just wide awake due to the heavy-duty IV steroids I receive at the start of Day 1.  The sleepless nights do serve a very important purpose in my current journey.  My prayer life has never been so intense (and, hopefully, so fruitful).  I continue to welcome your intentions.  I may have written this before, but I will risk being repetitive (and lazily won’t re-read the mounting number of prior posts) because I can just blame it on “chemo-brain” (a very real and useful phenomenon).  I believe God the Father is moved by the prayers of children, the poor and the dying.  So, if you happen to be an adult and wealthy and healthy, you may consider a prayer advocate; I’d be honored to serve.

In the early morning hours I have continued to scour my memory bank for occasions where I mistreated or slighted anyone (by act or omission) and have prayed for their success and happiness as a sort of living amend.  More on praying for “enemies” below.  As far as my prayers for myself, I know I have lots of you in my corner already and many have responded to my request to “dial it up.”  Thank you.  But, as for my personal prayer for myself, I am praying simply for strength in battle and acceptance of God’s will, however that ultimately manifests.  Here is the powerful Third Step Prayer, which I like very much: God, I offer myself to Thee – to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of Life, May I do Thy will always!

I am technically on vacation this week for Lynn’s annual family reunion up in Brainerd Lakes, but had to come home to Plymouth for the 3 days of chemo.  (NOTE: If you’re planning a vacation, I don’t recommend getting cancer.)  Tomorrow I will head back up north for the last 2 days with Lynn and my extended family.  But being home alone has been fine.  I had lunch with a dear friend from Boston yesterday who flew in for the purpose, and dinner tonight with another dear friend here on business.  Plus, I can watch a west coast ball game on TV in bed with the sound turned on, which is strictly forbidden when Lynn is beside me.

Over the past 10 weeks I have read many great books of prose and poetry, many recommended by friends of great faith.  The  retreat director at my recent Demontreville retreat asked us all to ponder The Ravensbruck Prayer as part of the second week of Ignatius’ Exercises:

O Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will but also those of evil will. But do not remember all the suffering they have inflicted upon us; remember the fruits we have borne thanks to this suffering –
our comradeship,
our loyalty,
our humility,
our courage,
our generosity,
the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this;
and when they come to the judgement, let all the fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness. Amen.

This prayer was written by an anonymous author on a piece of wrapping paper found near the body of a dead child in Ravensbruck where 92,000 women and children died in the Holocaust.  I can barely imagine the beautiful soul who wrote this.  I hope to meet her in heaven one day.

Love, Mark

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August 10, 2021

Journal Entry by Mark Myhra — August 10, 2021

Good morning.  I am having some trouble with the side-effects again this round. that is to be expected, as the side-effects are cumulative, and they will worsen as I move through the next months of chemo.

I feel very grateful today for all the support you’ve provided to me and my family.  I am in the process of seeking a second opinion from a doctor at Mayo (author of “Slaying the Dragon”).  Not sure this will change anything at all, but the inquiry feels right to me at this time.

I am planning a short trip to Montana to visit my mom and siblings.  I sense they need to see me in the flesh to believe I am doing so well.  I really am doing well.  I am confident in winning this battle.  Most importantly, I feel great confidence in God’s Providence.

Today, I share for your enjoyment one of my favorite poems, The Convert by G.K.C.

After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright,
And I came out where the old road shone white.
I walked the ways and heard what all men said,
Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed,
Being not unlovable but strange and light;
Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite
But softly, as men smile about the dead

   The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,

   They rattle reason out through many a sieve
   That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
   And all these things are less than dust to me
   Because my name is Lazarus and I live.

Next chemo is next Monday followed by scans.  We will keep you posted.

Peace be with you, Mark

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August 24, 2021

Journal Entry by Mark Myhra — August 24, 2021

Dear friends and family.   My surveillance scans were completed yesterday and I received the radiologist’s report in MyChart.  I can’t discuss the results with my oncologist until next Monday — an excruciating wait even for someone gifted with the virtue of patience (not me).  So, I reviewed the results.  And so, take this post with a grain of salt; I will quickly refresh this update if I hear otherwise when I meet with Dr. Greeno next week.

The scans did not provide good news.  My cancer is not in remission with the current chemo; the tumor on my pancreas grew more over the past 30 days.  So, it is time to stop this chemo (Folfurinox) and shift to the other option Gemzar.  The regimen with Gemzar will be a little different/easier (3 Mondays in a row, followed by a week off; no home pump) and the side-effects are typically easier to endure too.  I’m glad about that and look forward to slurping down a chocolate milkshake as soon as the Folfurinox side-effects completely subside.  Folfurinox causes a painful reaction to anything cold so I’ve been without ice cream for a few months; this has been one of the greatest sacrifices during the past months of chemo.

I must confess I’ve been feeling a bit punk lately, but I have thought it related to my COVID booster (I got shot #3 on Saturday).  Maybe it was my body telling me its time for a new chemo.   I am eager to start up Gemzar and get back to winning the battle.

My hope and spirits remain very high.  If I am to be cured, and it is to be for God’s great glory, then He should render the healing clearly His doing.

I continue to pray for all of you (whether you’ve asked for prayers or not).  Please pray for my family.

Your, friend, colleague, acquaintance, Mark
Semper Fidelis

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September 9, 2021

Journal Entry by Mark Myhra — September 9, 2021

(this update was started yesterday, but updated and posted today)

Sept 8

Good morning from the infusion bay at the U in downtown Minneapolis.  Thankfully, I am getting Round 2 of Gemzar today.  I say thankfully because my WBC count and my platelet count were both below the “absolute” lower limit the oncology nurses are allowed to proceed with infusion.  In other words, I failed my labs today.  It took my urgent plea, conveyed by a very helpful nurse, and a special “override” from Dr. Greeno for me to get chemo today.  I was actually jubilant when the nurse said Dr. Greeno had given the go-ahead.   Who in his right mind would ever be joyful to receive another dose of this medicine cursing through his body?  Well, me; and, I believe I’m in a right mind.  I really wanted to keep the treatments going today – not just because I’d made the effort to get to the U of M early this morning, but mostly because I want to keep constant pressure on the cancer.  If my body can stay stronger than the cancer, the chemo has a better chance of pushing this beast into remission.  And, remission is necessary for any “next” options to open up.

The past week was a bit rough.  I felt great on Day 1 of Gemzar, but by the afternoon of Day 2, I got quite sick – chills, body aches, nausea, and a terrible side-effect of Gemzar – sores in the mouth.  These leave a bad taste in my mouth (literally).  All of this added up for me to having no appetite.  I could barely eat anything.  Nothing sounded good, nothing tasted good, and a couple meals left me quickly as they arrived.  So, it was a rough week.

But, there were also some great moments to rejoice in over the holiday weekend.  Our oldest son, John Paul (1st Lt. USMC), surprised us by coming home from Camp Pendleton for the long weekend.  Our family is tightly knit, and each child supports the other. Yet, John Paul is the natural leader in this respect and has a special role in uniting us in a spirit of loyalty, happiness and appreciation for simple fun.  He also helped us get the dock out of the water at the cabin on Monday (a task I dread each season, and I rejoice in its completion).  One of the highlights of the weekend for me was a family Rosary, which John led and in which the assembled group actively participated by adding intermittent intentions.  On Tuesday we enjoyed a boys’ outing and spent a couple hours at the gun range shooting my various handguns.  Also, my mom and niece (Hannah) traveled from MT to spend time with us and have been here for the past week to help Paige (post-surgery) manage her busy household.  They were incredibly helpful to all of us and just plain fun to have around.  And, to say the least, they were very low maintenance guests – they cooked and cleaned for two households and “babysat” Paige’s kids most days and one night.  Having them visit was a joyful luxury to us. They leave tomorrow and will surely be happy to get home from their “vacation in MN” to get some rest.

After we finally got it going, today’s infusion went smoothly.  I felt no acute side-effects during the chemo drip and had a Viking’s appetite for both lunch and dinner.  I spent good time over lunch with my great friend Gary and came home to a lovely dinner of homemade hot and sour soup made by Hannah.  I was able to sleep fairly well last night despite the heavy dose of steroids.

(Sept 9)

I feel great today.  I woke up a little groggy, but surprised it was already 5:30.  I have been awakening much earlier than that on most days since the diagnosis.  I ate some breakfast despite a still sore mouth, and made it to the Mass.  I find morning Mass to be the best way to start my day – a real grounding in priorities for the day as I acknowledge my errors and give gratitude for all my graces and benefits before receiving my Daily Bread.  I am now at the office for the rest of the day before a visit with granddaughter Hayley and later a visit with all of Paige’s crew.  Oh, and back to the cancer front, we await the PA-19-9 tumor marker results sometime later today.  We are hoping for a little sign – a decline in the markers – to give us some evidence that the cancer is responding to the Gemzar.  The next CT scans aren’t until the end of October, so some drop in the tumor markers now will give a boost in our hope as we wait the scans.  In the meantime, I will continue to try to live in the present, one day at a time.  I have found that one way to succeed at this tall task is to focus my personal prayers on the intentions of others.

I continue to get the loveliest messages from people on this site and off-line.  Thank you.  I trust so much the power of prayer, and I feel the great benefit of an army of prayer-warriors from around the world addressing my cause.  Thank you.

Love, Mark

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September 15, 2021

Journal Entry by Mark Myhra — September 15, 2021

Good morning.  We had another little set-back yesterday – I was sent home from chemo without the chemo.   My WBC count (and mostly the neutrophil count) was too low for me to proceed with the scheduled round of Gemzar.  I pushed hard to receive the scheduled drip, but could not convince anyone that it was a good idea to proceed.  The infusion nurse was quick to say “I know this is disappointing but if your WBC count gets much lower, it could be deadly for you.”  I was quick to respond, “speaking of deadly, you realize I am fighting Stage IV pancreatic cancer.”  I think she thought I was being a wise guy.  I was not.  I was just continuing to advocate for myself, pushing hard for the doctors to be bold in my treatment.  As far as I know, my plea for an exception never reached Dr. Greeno’s ears, which was another part of the frustration.  The cancer club is marked by such frustrations, as well as various pains & sufferings, humiliations, indignations, uncertainties, and dashed hopes.  Considering these, I think one of the greatest challenges of the cancer journey is keeping one’s spirits high and one’s attitude positive.  In my case, my support network (the likes of you reading this blog) is so strong and so active in prayer and positive attitude that I can’t help but be uplifted and follow your lead.  I thank you.

So, where am I this morning (figuratively)?  I am hopeful.  I am trusting in God’s Providence.  The low WBC count is a sure sign that the chemo is killing fast-growing cells, so I am confident the Gemzar is finding and killing cancer cells too.  I will try to enjoy the “week off” and hope the one-week delay in receiving Round 3 of Gemzar will give me a little reprieve from the side-effects I have been experiencing the past two weeks, including fatigue, constant mouth pain due to mouth sores, and almost constant nausea.  Maybe I can even add a couple pounds to this ever-thinning frame.

I have written previously of my great appreciation for Ignatian spirituality and the Jesuit order.  The Jesuits have reared more than a few wonderful poets.  One poet, whose pithy poems I like a lot, Anthony de Mello SJ, gets quickly to the point.  These lines are especially meaningful for me just now:

You do not have to change for God to love you.

Be grateful for your sins. They are carriers of grace.

Say goodbye to golden yesterdays – or your heart will never learn to love the present.

Peace is only found in Yes.

Peace be with you.  I am now scheduled for round 3 on September 21st and we will keep you posted.  Thanks for checking in.

Love Mark

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September 20, 2021

Journal Entry by Mark Myhra — September 20, 2021

Good evening. I just realized that I gave the wrong date in my last post. This week’s chemo was today, not tomorrow. At 7:30 this morning I arrived at the Cancer Center hoping to resume the 3rd round of Gemzar. My WBC counts were still low – below the necessary level – but they were up a bit from last time and the doctor was willing to let me proceed. (And, my platelet count continued to rise, so the “week off” apparently did some good!) Now, I have one cycle of Gemzar under my belt.

I came home to Lynn feeling grateful that we were able to keep the chemo ball rolling. Because this officially ends a Gemzar cycle (3 rounds), I now have another week off before I start the 2nd cycle. The Gemzar must have started working quickly – within an hour or so of arriving home, I felt very tired and had a bad case of the chills; I took a little nap and awoke an hour later in a pool of sweat. Now, I am up and will try to eat some dinner. I have lost two more pounds since last Tuesday, not a good trend. My legs are starting to look a bit like they belong more under a rooster than a grown man. I have another consult with the nutritionist tomorrow, and I expect she will gently scold me for not fully complying with her advice from last time. (Remember – 6 meals and 3000 calories per day.)  I remember having a similar problem some 40 years ago on a cold weather training exercise in the Sierra Nevada Mountains with the Marines. We were issued LRPRs – highly fortified rations that were intended to “keep the lights on” while patrolling in cold weather, but which bore the disadvantage of being totally inedible. As I recall, orange nut cake was particularly distasteful. Funny memories now!

I enjoyed a lovely surprise today. A new nurse popped into my infusion bay while I was getting hooked up to the pre-meds – an old elementary school friend of Amanda’s. She was so full of positive energy and cheer, and just a few minutes with her made a difference. Then, she came back to discharge me – I really appreciated her taking time for me. I am experiencing often the incredible impact of small acts of kindness.  I have received so many from so many of you. Thanks.

Peace be with you. Mark

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October 5, 2021

Journal Entry by Mark Myhra — October 5, 2021

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity.

Yesterday I spent the morning at the infusion bay.  It was an important day, I believe.  My labs were very good (positive rises in platelets, WBCs and liver enzyme tests) and I had no problem receiving Round 1 of Cycle II of the Gemzar regimen (which also includes Paclitaxel).  The doctor decided to switch the regimen to every other week, with a shot of long-lasting Neulasta in between.  The Neulasta aims at keeping my WBC count within a range that will permit my steady ability to receive Gemzar every other week.  I returned home with a small contraption taped to my belly, which will deliver the Neulasta shot at about 10:30 today.  Amazing what our device companies develop for the improvement of patient’s lives!  The only down-side of Neulasta is that, because it stimulates bone marrow production of WBCs, it can also cause bone pain.  Bone pain, from the inside out, is no fun; but it can be combatted by taking Claratin for a few days while the Neulasta is at work.  I bought some Claratin OTC yesterday and later this morning I will start taking it.

I am told that, if the Gemzar regimen proves to be effective in putting my cancer into remission, I will continue for as many Cycles as my body can tolerate.  (The next CT scans are slated for Oct 27, which will give evidence of remission or not.)  My biggest on-going concern these days is that the neuropathy in my hands and, especially, my feet is getting worse.  The neuropathy is caused by both my old chemo and the new chemo, so it’s been brewing since early June.  It is progressive and, ultimately, irreversible.  Bummer, I’ll have to endure some foot discomfort as I’m hiking the BWCA with my sons and grandsons ten years from now.

My trust in the Holy Trinity has been unshakable these past months.  “I begged the Lord that it might leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’”  2Cor12:8

At times I have cooperated with Grace precisely to allow this enduring trust to manifest as Hope.  Hope looks forward.  I had a great hope yesterday, prompted perhaps by my receipt of so many texts of well-wishes, my good labs and the presence of a nurse (new to me) who shared her optimism and this great quote: “I love it when patients prove doctors wrong.”  Yesterday’s hope was of more years on this earth.  As I ponder those years, I allow myself to dream a bit about various family events, another trip to Croatia with Lynn (and other travel adventures home and abroad), more grandchildren to hold and sing to, more trips to the BWCA and the Frozen Four with the best men I know, more retreats at Demontreville, more professional contributions (recalling with gratitude that the Law was one of the three original “healing professions,” along with the clergy and medical professionals).

But, I am also content to return to my simple trust and live here, in the moment, and search for God’s call in my day-to-day encounters.  That call is certainly found (in part) in my particularly vibrant prayer life.  My mornings start early and are used to cover a growing list of intentions from you, for which I continue to be most grateful.  Please keep them coming.  Another call is certainly for my own continued conversion.  It seems the more mature I become in my faith, the more I recognize the need for continued conversion in the faith.  I am surely being purified.  I am learning to be less judgmental and more generous.  As I have written before, the graces of this cancer diagnosis are many.  Perhaps the simplest call is to cooperate with Grace.

I will close with expressions of gratitude for my friends, old and new, who have given such incredible support.  A contingency from BSC, who traveled from MA on the corporate jet to share a picnic in my backyard; an old friend from Chicago who brought a family dinner; a Marine from VA who came for a simple visit; and a host of friends from throughout the Twins Cities who have dropped by for prayer and conversation.  One of my best and wisest and most inspirational friends recently introduced me to St Patrick’s Lorica, the first lines of which I used to start this post.  St Patrick wore the Lorica prayer on his breastplate.  I commend the entire prayer to your reading, just as it was commended to me.  It’s a beauty.

In closing, I must thank most notably and humbly my great family for their incredible support these months since my cancer diagnosis.  Lynn and the children have uplifted my spirits daily; they help to carry my cross even as they carry their own crosses.  Life is hard.  Thankfully God’s grace is great.

I feel called to life; called to embrace each day with Confidence and Joy and to live a full life, one day at a time.

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity.

_______________________________________________

October 19, 2021

Journal Entry by Mark Myhra — October 19, 2021

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity.

My labs were great yesterday, and I received another round of chemo without debate or drama.  I left the infusion lab with Gemzar coursing through my body and a small Neulasta pump attached to my belly, ready to auto-inject at around 3:00 this afternoon.

Since I wrote last, I have been to MT to visit my mom, sibs and nieces and nephews.  It was just the kind of visit to MT that I’ve come to appreciate so much – simple hospitality; simple meals; good visits; genuine care.  The reality of my diagnosis is hard for the family to grasp, and my face-to-face visits help.  The unspoken reality – everyone is worried about losing me “early” – a concern I have not learned to assuage.   But, despite the overlay of worry, every such visit blesses me deeply, and seems to be quite welcomed by the family.  In this case, I totally surprised my mother.  I will relish always the joy in her eyes when I walked into her kitchen previously unannounced.  After a short recovery, we started right up with the usual stuff – gathering around the kitchen table (with or without food) or the family room (with or without food) and reminiscing old stories, most of which have been told over and over with some evolution and embellishment.  The highlight of the 4 ½ day trip was the all-hands dinner at brother John’s (where the entire Billings’ crew, save one nephew, congregated for chili and corn bread) and my walk around the neighborhood with mom (all by ourselves, just being together).

I have little to report on the health front.   My neuropathy continues to worsen, but that is a small price to pay if the chemo is also winning the battle with my cancer.  Otherwise, I have only fatigue to combat, nothing a little mid-day nap and an early bedtime can’t address!  With trust in His Holy will, we await the results of the next CT scans, now slated for October 29.  I don’t feel anxious in the least about this looming event, but we’ll see if I’m so steady as the date draws near.  Our Lady of Confidence, pray for me.

For good reason, I have been thinking quite a lot lately about the meaning of life – especially the differences in a person’s pursuit between what might appear on one’s resume vs what might make it onto their eulogy.  For years, my focus was on the former, and I see now this focus resulted in a fair amount of time and effort not terribly important to me.  In the past, I’ve wanted more title, more money and a bigger team.  I’ve wanted to make “big” professional contributions that the world might notice, so then I might command more title, more money, and even bigger teams.  Indeed, now I see the tension between the two pursuits as mostly one of time, self-awareness, and maturity.   The more precious the time, the more aware I become of the essential value of “small” human contributions (the kind the world doesn’t notice but individuals do), and the more my spiritual life matures, the more I lean toward the eulogy and away from the resume.  Ironically, the ability to ponder these matters is one of the great blessings of the diagnosis, even if the prognosis proves wrong (as nurse Jody predicts).  It’s a whole new outlook, quite free from the desire for the big contributions, and happy to live the gift of life one day at a time.  There are so many small contributions waiting to be made over the next year or two or ten!

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity.

________________________________________

October 30, 2021

Journal Entry by Mark Myhra — October 30, 2021

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity.

It has been a while since we last posted, even though we’ve had news quite worthy of sharing on this blog.  I apologize for not keeping all of you great friends and prayer-warriors apprised of my status.  Here is a truism: it is harder to share bad news than good.  I regret to report that we received some sobering news from Dr Greeno on Thursday. The CT scans (which were moved at the last minute to earlier in the week) were very discouraging. It appears that the Gemzar has not been winning the battle waged inside my body.  Indeed, the cancer advanced aggressively in both size and number of tumors. Making matters worse, the pancreatic tumor has grown at one end into my stomach wall.

We could say more about the CT scan, but it probably makes more sense to outline where we’re at in this moment. My chemotherapy infusions have been canceled going forward. There is some good news in this respect:  I hope there will be a return to feeling in my feet and hands. The neuropathy has advanced to the point where I am constantly dropping everything, not just bars of soap, but also scissors and forks and pills and papers. It is really quite humbling, and perhaps that is the perfect value of this particular chemo side effect – minor humiliations give rise to humility which help me combat pride.

Back to the plan: we will keep our eyes open for an appropriate clinical trial. There are lots of clinical trials going on in the United States for pancreatic cancer, although many of them have inclusion criteria I would not meet. We also are not inclined to travel too far from home for a clinical trial. So we hope for an opportunity to participate in a trial, but that hope is not so great is our hope in a cure from the Divine Physician, Jesus.   Saint Raphael, God‘s Healer, Pray for us.

Now I suppose, more than ever, I am confronted by my own mortality. It seems somewhat surreal to ponder the end of life measured in terms of weeks or months rather than years. But it is actually a helpful metric. Now, there is to be a particular focus, to live each day as fully and joyfully as possible, which I believe is ever more accessible and more attainable in these circumstances. I feel at peace. I feel grateful. I am sorry that my demise will cause sadness for people close to me. But I trust that they will be fine. After all, loved ones have been dying for as long as there have been loved ones.  And, for as long as humanity has peopled the face of the earth, generation upon generation have seized upon the goodness and the character of those who have gone before (and overlooked their flaws and foibles). So 100 years from now it will not matter whatsoever that I lived 60 years rather than 50 or 70. What will matter is that I have lived a fruitful life.  I reflect upon my life with gratitude. Mostly, this relates to so many wonderful relationships (both friends and family) that have blessed my life. It relates also to wonderful experiences, adventures, and successes. It also relates to some bumps and bruises, as I have alluded to previously in these posts, but such pains and sufferings have fanned the flames of my spiritual growth.  I dare say I am grateful for that learning curve, despite the collateral damage.  God alone brings forth from the ashes great benefits, especially in the spiritual realm.  “May I seek You with a sincere heart knowing that it will profit me nothing if I gain the whole world yet lose my soul.  So, help me to see Your good and gracious purpose in all my trials. Help me to see Your blessings in every day and help me to love You more.”  [praymorenovenas.com]

I trust that the next few weeks will provide a great opportunity to share deeper insights with my children and shore up and make amends for some of my parenting missteps.  I hope to teach them well. Every parent has an opportunity to teach their children how to live. It is a rare opportunity to teach them how to die. That feels to be my call now.

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity.

____________________________________

November 10, 2021

Journal Entry by Mark Myhra — November 10, 2021

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity.

Just a quick update on our journey.  Based on my recent prognosis, I have decided to stop work, at least temporarily, until we have reason to hope in a better prognosis. I will now focus my time and energy mostly on Lynn, my children, and my grandchildren.  I will also spend some time pondering the state of my soul and accepting God’s grace and purification.

I have an upcoming appointment with the Mayo clinic to discuss potential clinical trials currently enrolling in Rochester which may be available to me.  There are two local trials here in Minneapolis (through the University of Minnesota), but neither of them is particularly promising. My meeting with Mayo is now set for November 19, although Lynn and I call each morning to check on cancellations, with the hope that we might get in sooner.

Physically I continue to weaken, my stomach pain is nearly constant, and my neuropathy is worse than ever.  But my psychological, emotional and spiritual state is stronger than ever.  To be clear, I make no claim of personal heroics.  This strength is fully attributable to home training, Marine Corps training, and genuine faith in the Almighty.

Last week, two of my great friends from private practice (and beyond) completed a three-sitting video project focused on me and my life.  John prevailed upon me (and me upon Lynn) that there could be value in creating an auto-biographical video to be shared with my grandchildren (born and unborn) at some future time. It was really a labor of love on their parts as we sat outside for a few hours during crisp autumn days slogging through my rather mundane life.  Yet, the fundamental takeaway for me in spending these hours in front of a camera talking about my life was just how much I have to be grateful for.  As reinforced in today’s Gospel at the daily Mass (Luke 17:11-19), I believe that faith and gratitude together empower a life of joy!

Last week, two old friends made surprise visits from afar to offer spiritual support to Lynn and me.  It was a great blessing to pray with them.

On Monday one of my best friends from the Marine Corps and his sweet daughter Mary (my goddaughter) came by for a visit and re-inspired my hope for victory over this pernicious illness.  Rob is an inspiration to me in many ways, and he has often shared scripture and other prose which girds me for the battle.   His parting words on Monday:

“Then out spake brave Horatius, the captain of the Gate: To every man upon this earth death cometh soon or late. And how can man die better than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers and the temples of his Gods?

Our oldest son, First Lieutenant JP Myhra USMC is coming home for the long weekend. We will draw strength from him for the next few days. Life is good today!  We will try to schedule another anointing while he is here.

All of our friends continue to reach out in so many ways that are most humbling and touching. I have never felt so much love and support from so many.  Thank you.

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity.

______________________________________

November 13, 2021

Journal Entry by Mark Myhra — November 13, 2021

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity.

It was a restless night, and I believe my subconscious self is wrestling with current facts and options. I had a dream that was unsettling such that I was awakened. I dreamed I was in the BWCA with my great friend BH.  It was a dark and cold day in the wilderness, and we were trying to navigate the canoe in very rough water. We were losing the battle against wind and waves.  Then I was alone in the canoe.  It went over a Niagra-like waterfall (the likes of which don’t really exist in the Boundary Waters). The last thing I remember is, after a long fall of several hundred feet, I was flung from my canoe and submerged in a large pool of turbulent waters. Then I woke up.  I was wet from night sweats and experienced pain in my gut. I took Advil and went back to sleep, troubled by the thoughts and fears of my subconscious.

I pray to the Almighty to maintain my courage in the weeks to come.

Yesterday, John Paul, Dan and I visited Mayo Clinic to learn about potential clinical trials.  Due to my lack of remarkable genetic mutations, the available options are few and not especially promising.  However, it was great to have the boys with me and we had plenty to talk about on the drive home to Plymouth. It felt a bit like old times as we rolled into Cannon Falls for a late lunch at Dudley’s.  Based on what we have heard from both Mayo and the University of Minnesota, we’ve concluded there are only two viable options now. One is to request Dr. Greeno to pursue the third FDA-approved chemotherapy (5FU and liposomal irinotecan). It’s a bit like Fulforinox but without the prospect of nerve damage – a welcome advantage given my continued issues with neuropathy.  This therapy probably would not put my cancer into remission but may have the potential to stabilize it for a time.  The other option is a clinical trial at the U of Minnesota – a phase I clinical trial using antibodies to stimulate my immune system.  Sadly, Phase 1 trials are not famous for providing radical cures.

We whittled down our choices to these two based on input from doctors and others.  Truth be told, there’s not much out there for me – unless we were willing to go on the road.  I am inclined to stay close to home to be around kids and grandkids these next weeks/months.  I am beginning to feel that my family is accepting of the fact that medical science may not hold the answers to prolong in my life for very long.

It has occurred to me that a miraculous cure from the Divine Physician may be the only remaining option for a long life. I like the option because I have accepted from the very beginning that God’s will be done in the course of my cancer. I believe that, if my days are numbered (as they really are for all of us), I will serve my family quite nicely from heaven.  To be clear, I do not presume the immediate gain of heaven, but I have experienced fantastic spiritual growth in the last six months.  My life during this time has been one of nearly constant prayer and contemplation, which has nurtured my continued conversion.  Any benefit to others from my journey would be a great blessing in my life.

I must say that I am not surrendering.  Neither am I predicting my death in the near term, although it is a possibility.  Rather I am predicting new life, as I suggested previously, here or in the eternal life that awaits.  I also remind myself of Fr Phillipe’s great lesson that all of humanity is “called to life.”  Roughly translated:  God gives us life, and we are obligated to carry on our lives in cooperation with Him to live fully and joyfully for as long as possible.  So, I hope in more time here.

We will make a decision to pursue either another round of chemotherapy or enter a phase 1 clinical trial early next week. We will keep you posted.  We greatly appreciate your continued prayers.  I continue to pray for all of you.

In closing, allow me to share one of my favorite poems with you, by Edward Sill.  My kids heard it often in their young lives as a reminder that every trial and adversity in life presents an opportunity.

Opportunity

This I beheld or dreamed it in a dream:
There spread a cloud of dust along a plain;
And underneath the cloud, or in it, raged
A furious battle, and men yelled, and swords
Shocked upon swords and shields.

A prince’s banner wavered, then staggered backward, hemmed by foes.

A craven hung along the battle’s edge,
And thought, “Had I a sword of keener steel —
That blue blade that the king’s son bears, — but this Blunt thing!”

He snapped and flung it from his hand,
And lowering crept away and left the field.
Then came the king’s son, wounded sore bested,
And weaponless, and saw the broken sword
Hilt-buried in the dry and trodden sand,
And ran and snatched it, and with battle-shout
Lifted afresh he hewed his enemy down
And saved a great cause that heroic day.

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity.

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­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­November 24, 2021

Journal Entry by Mark Myhra — November 24, 2021

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity.

I have been reading back through many of the old posts here, and especially to the beautiful responses. It is quite humbling to have so many great friends. I am grateful in this season of Thanksgiving to have such support.

To the extent any words of mine these past 6 months have had any positive impact on your outlook in this fragile life, with its joys and sufferings, please give all the glory to God.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. We continue to count our many blessings.  Hopefully we will have something substantive to share regarding my medical journey next week.

In the meantime, let’s continue to pray for each other.  Peace be with you!

Love, Mark

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December 15, 2021

Journal Entry by Daniel Myhra — December 15, 2021

Loved ones,

A hospice nurse has dropped by the past two days. She’s been giving us support and pointers in caring for Dad. She said we’ve done a great job thus far, but I’m still glad we have this new and experienced support line, and I know Mom is glad for it as well.

Mom has been such a rock star for Dad this whole journey, and now she’s stepped up to the plate with even more courage, focus and love. It has been a blessing to see Mom embraced and share in this suffering with such willingness and fortitude. Moreover, what a blessing it is to have parents that walk with one another the way Mom and Dad do; he has supported and loved her through trials and tribulations, and she has done the same for him—especially now.

The nurse from hospice told us that she expects Dad to live weeks, and that is a longer timeline than myself or anyone else here at home would have likely anticipated. We’ll take all the time we can get, and give glory to God all along the way.

“Let us understand that God is a physician, and that suffering is a medicine for salvation, not a punishment for damnation.” -St. Augustine of Hippo

Blessings to you all.

Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, pray for us!

_____________________________________

December 18, 2021

Journal Entry by John Myhra — December 18, 2021

Dearly beloved! Our strong and faithful prayer warriors! Peace be with each of you.

Please pardon my absence from family updates. My sweet siblings have taken the reigns on the Caring Bridge communication and have done an outstanding job of keeping you thoughtful loved ones up to speed on my dad’s health and the state of the Myhra family.

It is with a grieved heart to report that at 1045 on this cold, but sunny day of the 18th of December 2021, Dad offered up his spirit and passed into eternity – on Mary’s day of the week. By God’s Grace, and I imagine one of my dad’s many prayers, Mom and all five of us children were by his bedside during his very last moments. A priest joined us shortly after his passing to offer a parting blessing and a multitude of prayers.

There is one guarantee in this world, those born into it, will all be exiled from it. And, it is our responsibility, while on earth, to live with love, and encourage one another to seek heaven. My dad did just that.

I say with confidence that our dear Dad, son, brother, friend is currently in Heaven leaping for joy with the other heavenly bodies – specifically Mother Mary, our Queen of Peace, St. Joseph, Pillar of Families, Jesus, Savior of the World, the Holy Spirit, Giver of Life, and God the Father, Creator of Heaven and Earth. I can also say with confidence that, in his humility, he has already begun advocating for each one of us.

I have a saying that I remind myself of daily, “Suffer well. Carry your Cross.” As suffering well brings about peace. He is at peace now. Take joy in that. The battle is now over, and we can rejoice in God, who gave us Mark Allen Myhra—a small, but wonderful piece of His creation.

I thank each one of you for your support these past months. As I’m sure the love will pour in after reading this post, I ask you to please have patience in our potentially delayed responses.  We will share funeral details here once the arrangements have been made.

We love you all,

JP and family

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Obituary for Mark A. Myhra:  Died December 18, 2021

The following is dad’s obituary written by our beloved friend Mr. John Ursu:

Mark A. Myhra, a talented youth hockey player who grew into a prominent Minnesota attorney and, most importantly, a devoted family man and Catholic, died on December 18, 2021, in Plymouth, Minnesota. The cause was pancreatic cancer. He was sixty-years old.

Mark was born in Minot, North Dakota, on April 4, 1961, to Don and Marge Myhra.  When Mark was still a young boy, his father bought him a pair of figure skates, dyed them black, and sent Mark to an outdoor rink to learn hockey. For the next fifteen years, Mark barnstormed rinks from Winnipeg, Canada, to Washington D.C. as a youth-hockey phenom. Often, his mother—the great hero of his life—stood on the frigid snowbanks watching.

In 1979, Mark arrived in South Bend, Indiana, as a freshman on a Navy ROTC scholarship.  There, at Notre Dame, the three pillars of his future life were established. First, under the guidance of Father Richard Conyers, C.J.C., Mark became a committed Catholic. Second, he opted for the Marines over the Navy, ultimately completing the Marine Officers Candidate school at Quantico, Virginia. Third, and most importantly, he met his future wife, Lynn Rukavina.  After graduation, Mark served in the Marine Corps for five years as an infantry officer with First Battalion, Seventh Marines. He was honorably discharged as a Captain. On January 2, 1988, six months before his discharge, Mark and Lynn were married at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Winona, Minnesota.

Mark attended law school at Loyola University in Chicago.  Soon thereafter, Mark and Lynn moved with their growing family to Minnesota. While still a young lawyer, in 1993, Mark co-founded the Greene Espel law firm in Minneapolis. In 2006, Mark moved to Boston Scientific, ultimately rising to Senior Managing Counsel. Both in private practice and as an in-house counsel, Mark was known for his selfless servant leadership. Over his three decades in practice, Mark inspired countless young lawyers to lead with their finest qualities. In 2021, Mark received a lifetime achievement award from Minnesota Lawyer as an Attorney of the Year for Outstanding Contributions to the Profession, an award that received support from across the Minnesota bar.

Mark’s most meaningful contributions were at home, where Mark and Lynn raised their five children: Nicole, John Paul, Paige, Amanda, and Daniel. The family are congregants at Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Wayzata, where Mark was a regular at daily mass and a devoted community member. Mark’s formula for family success was simple: let the children see how much he loved their mother. For Mark, as he would later describe it, the great victory of his life was that he loved Lynn just as much as he did when he first met her.

Mark died at home after a six-month battle with pancreatic cancer surrounded by his loving family. He is survived by his wife and children, six grandchildren, his mother, and his three siblings.

Why Public-School Education is Dying – Part 2 of 5 Parts

activity-learning-fi

In Part 1 of this blog on education, I stated that, “I am going to dive into the major reasons that are leading to the death of public-school education.”  In this part, we will look at

  • Why our present educational model is obsolete

Our present educational model is obsolete because it is based on several faulty principles or assumptions.  Perhaps at one time some of these reasons had some validity but that is no longer true.  We are not living in a 19th century agricultural or a 20th century industrial economy.  We are now in a digital economy that is moving faster than anything the world has ever known.  The following are the most important issues that one must understand to realize why our present educational system is useless.

our-education-system-needs-more-architects-e1494436705693

  1. Outdated concepts of how education should be conducted

The teaching in the early part of America was based on two principles.  First, that every child needed a broad liberal arts education to be qualified as a good citizen.  Second, that education curriculums would follow a set of orderly progression starting from simple concepts to more complex concepts.  Thus, you would learn simple arithmetic before taking complex subjects like calculus or trigonometry.

The above principles treated every student as though they were the same.  There was no customization.  There were no exceptions to the grading progressions that developed in most schools.  If you were an advanced student, you would need to wait for the less advanced to catch up.  If you were not as advanced, then you looked like the dummy in class and were often ridiculed.  If you were somewhere in-between, you kept your mouth shut and dreamed of the end of the school year.

These principles may have been useful in a society that was information poor.  Marshal McLuhan said that schools made sense when they could bring information to a central point. Prospective students from information poor societies could come together and feast on the abundance of knowledge that was now centralized in one location.  Over time, the reverse has taken place.  Societies and cultures have become much denser and richer in information than any school could possibly hope to capture.  Students today can access more knowledge on their smart phones than probably exists in the entire Library of Congress.

“Today in our cities, most learning occurs outside the classroom. The sheer quantity of information conveyed by press-magazines-film-TV-radio far exceeds the quantity of information conveyed by school instruction and texts. This challenge has destroyed the monopoly of the book as a teaching aid and cracked the very walls of the classroom so suddenly that we’re confused, baffled.” — Marshall McLuhan, excerpt from “Classroom Without Walls,”  Explorations in Communication (Boston: Beacon Press, 1960)

Treating students as though they are all the same ignores fundamental elements of human skills and abilities.  Some students may have better social skills.  Some have better musical, artistic, and athletic skills than others.  Even in the domain of cognitive knowledge some students excel at math and others excel at English and language.

Just imagine if music was the dominant purpose of education rather than liberal arts.  Children might enroll in schools where the curriculum included violins, drums, harps, guitars, pianos, trumpets, and harmonicas.  Each student would have to learn all of these instruments and get a passing grade in each to graduate school.  It would not matter if a child received an A in violin if they did not pass drums.  If this sounds ridiculous, it should not since it mirrors the way curriculum is handled today.

Furthermore, the system of education assumes that all children would need to progress systematically through learning each instrument.  You would have violin 1 before you had violin 2.  It would not matter if you could do violin 1 when you came to school, you would still be required to take violin 1 before you could take violin 2.  True, in some schools you can test out of a subject but that is still rare in most public high schools.

The idea of holistic learning is totally ignored by the rigid lock step progression that is built into curriculums in both public and private schools.  Fifty years ago I argued with math teachers about the use of calculators in a classroom.  Most felt that students would not learn the proper concepts behind the calculations if they were allowed to use calculators.  Ten years later, the Mathematical Association of America approved the use of calculators in high school classrooms.

The fear of technology is still prevalent in schools as most schools do not allow their students to make use of a smart phone’s capabilities.  In many high school classrooms, students are prohibited from having their cell phones out.  (There is a constant game today between teachers and students to prohibit students from “misusing” their cell phones.)  It is rather funny since some teachers do not restrict cell phone usage and others do.  A few students told me a while ago that they wished their teachers could agree on a “cellphone policy.”  True, many schools give students laptops and tablets, but their usage of these tools are limited to such programs as Blackboard, Desire to Learn and other instructional interfaces.  Students are not taught how to use the power of their cell phones to think.  Teachers often seem afraid of new technology perhaps fearing that it will replace them.  In truth, the times have changed in respect to what a teacher’s role should be.  Looking at the results in the Virginia Governor Race this year, where the pundits believed that parental dissatisfaction played a major role in the election results, I found the following comment.  It was made by one of the consultants that the Loudoun County School District in Virginia hired to incorporate equity and inclusion in their curriculum.

“I think the thing that public education offers… because I certainly don’t think we offer learning… are relationships.  What historically high schools were for was the dissemination of information very quickly…Well, actually, the internet is better than the high school is…Truthfully, the teacher in relation to the dissemination of information is obsolete.”  —Equity Collaborative Leader Jamie Almanza.  

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  1. The concept that more money for educators and educational institutions will result in better student outcomes

During the 15 or so years that I was a management consultant, I often encountered the argument that employees would be more productive if they were paid more.  Now, I am a great believer in paying employees as much as the organization can afford and well beyond a simple livable wage.  I am well aware of the battle between employers and employees over wages and have myself often had to fight to get a salary that I felt was fair.  Nevertheless, I see little or even no correlation between productivity and wages and I have told this to many a manager and employee.  I have frequently asked people if they thought they would be “twice” as productive if I doubled their salaries tomorrow.  No honest person ever told me yes.

Teachers are no different.  Teachers who are paid more will not have more students getting higher test scores. There will not be more students graduating or more students learning more because their teachers are higher paid.  Yes, I believe teachers are underpaid based on their abilities and goals but that does not mean that I think schools will be more effective with higher paid teachers or with more capital outlays per pupil.

I looked at the rankings for Arizona High Schools a few days ago.  (Arizona High School Rankings) The top-rated school in the state was BASIS Scottsdale.  Their average student expenditure was $7, 231.  Their “Average Standard Score” was 99.9.  I then looked at Vista Grande High School where I have been substitute teaching this year.  They were ranked 205th out of 226 public high schools.  The average dollar spent per capita for students was $9,153 dollars.  Their “Average Standard Score” was 14.1.  I briefly looked at the student expenditures for all 226 high schools in Arizona.  I did not calculate a Standard Deviation for the 226 but if I did, my guess would be that all 226 schools would fall within 3 standard deviations of the mean.  I think the mean for “per capital student expenditures” would be about $7,500.

What do the above figures tell me?  First of all that per capita spending is not related to school or student performance.  Second, that there is a correlation between the wealth or affluency of a community and high school student performance.  Put simply, students from poorer families do worse in school than students from more affluent families.  The bad news is that no amount of money poured into any school system in the country is going to change these outcomes.  The World Development Report 2018 shows a similarly weak correlation between spending and learning outcomes.

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  1. The belief that what can be measured is what is important to teach and that standardized tests and curriculums are essential to a quality education

This is another fallacy that I often encountered in my years as a management consultant.  There is some kind of a foolish business quote that says, “What gets measured, gets managed.”  What is more accurate is that “What gets measured, gets gamed.”  My mentor, Dr. W.E. Deming taught his students that a system is more important to performance than the individual.  A favorite saying of Dr. Deming’s was that “A bad system will beat a good performer any time.”  Dr. Deming taught how to measure the performance of a system and then to use those measures to improve the system, not to work on exhorting individuals or individual testing to improve the system.  Two of Dr. Deming’s 14 Points for Management were:

11 a. Eliminate work standards (quotas) on the factory floor. Substitute leadership.

11 b. Eliminate management by objective. Eliminate management by numbers, numerical goals. Substitute leadership.

12 a. Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality.

12 b. Remove barriers that rob people in management and in engineering of their right to pride of workmanship. This means, inter alia, abolishment of the annual or merit rating and of management by objective.

The standardized tests that are given to students all over America are no help in increasing school performance.  The ranking of schools and the ranking of students has no statistical validity in terms of improving the educational system in America.  In fact, not only are these measures useless, but they are a major impediment to improving any school system.  There are several reasons for this:

  1. They force teachers to focus on memorization and not learning
  2. They penalize students that are not good test takers
  3. They destroy student morale
  4. They stop educators from making the real reforms that are needed in education
  5. They have no scientific validity in terms of measuring student performance

The following comments are from a blog titled, “Here’s the Real Reason Why Public Education Will Never Get Better” by Shelly Sangrey

  • Schooling and education are two different things.
  • Education is about exploration and learning how to think.
  • Schooling (which is what our public schools are a part of) is about training and teaching children what to think.
  • Someone who is being educated will be told, “Do some research on this topic. Study the evidence, weigh both sides, and make an informed conclusion.”
  • Someone who is being schooled is told, “This is how it is because scientists, historians, and other people who are smarter than you have already figured it out. There’s no need to look into it further.”

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You cannot measure education.  You can measure training.  But even measures of training are more likely to reflect the ability of the system rather than the ability of the students in the system.

Where has this emphasis come from in terms of measurement and metrics?  The first is from politicians who have little or no knowledge of education.  They also lack knowledge of data analysis or statistics.  These so-called leaders are more than ready to jump on bandwagons that sound good to their constituents but actually have little value in increasing educational outcomes.

The second is from educators themselves.  Believing that if they show good rankings they can justify the money needed for higher salaries and more resources, many teachers support the idea of “pay for performance” or “measuring educational outcomes.”  These teachers know little about business concepts but are more than ready to accept that business principles can work in a school system.  Unfortunately, many business principles lack any kind of validity either for education or for business.  All over America today, we have accountants running businesses and schools.  Our systems are driven by short-term numbers and bottom-line thinking.  These are major contributors to the death of public-school education.

In Part 3, we will look in more depth at the role that our political leaders play in murdering public school education in America. 

Why Public-School Education is Dying – Part 1 of 5 Parts

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I debated whether to title this blog, “Why Public-School Education is Dead” or “Why Public-School Education is Being Murdered.”  The latter is absolutely true, the former will be true in less than twenty-five years (My prediction).  There are several reasons why public schools are dying.  But before I go into those reasons, I want to tell you why I think I am qualified to talk about this issue or should I say problem.  Mark my words, it is one of the biggest problems that any democracy or would-be democracy can face.

Democracy in America without a good public education program will fade away.  Some people will mourn the passing of democracy.  However, if the present is any predictor of the future, the number of people who care will decline with each passing year.  Democratic principles are not immutable.  They will whither and die if they are not nourished.  The most important fertilizer for a democracy is public education.

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Thomas Jefferson believed that Democracy cannot long exist without an educated citizenry. Jefferson argued that all children should be educated regardless of wealth, birth, or other mitigating circumstances.  He believed that free public education should be provided so that children from poor families as well as rich families would receive the knowledge they needed to function in a democratic society.  For more information on Jefferson’s educational ideas see the following:

Thomas Jefferson: A Bold Vision for American Education by Gordon E. Mercer

Thomas Jefferson:  Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

My Educational Background

208219_00_2xI was an above average student until high school.  After starting high school, I spent the next four years being bored and getting into trouble.  I probably spent more time in detention than I did in the classroom.  Many teachers despised and loathed me.  My father kept thinking I would go to college which was some sort of a fantasy on his part.  With no money and my poor grades, there was not a single college in the country that I could have been accepted to.

A few weeks out of high school, which I barely graduated from (I think the teachers just wanted to get rid of me.) I decided to enlist in the US Military.  The year was 1964.  The Vietnam War was ramping up and the military would have taken anybody who could walk a straight line.  I joined the Air Force because I liked their uniforms.  I had hopes of fighting in Vietnam and being some sort of a war hero.  The Air Force decided that I would make a better Radar Technician than warrior and sent me to electronics school in Biloxi, Mississippi after basic training in Texas.

I did not want to go to school, and I resumed my antics in class which resulted in my being sent to see the base commander.  He gave me two choices.  One was to get my “ass” back in class and start behaving myself, the other was to spend the next four years painting barracks in Mississippi.  Perhaps wisely, I decided to pay attention.  I graduated second in my class and was sent to my first duty station.  It was a remote assignment at a Radar Base in Unalakleet Alaska. It was four hundred miles northeast of Anchorage on the Bering Sea.  It would get cold enough there for exposed flesh to freeze in less than one minute.

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The rest of my military career was uneventful.  After getting discharged from my last duty assignment in 1968 at Osceola, Wisconsin, I worked in a variety of different occupations.  I never attended any other classes while in the military and I had no desire to go to school when I left the military.  It took about 3 years of not getting anywhere career wise for my first wife to convince me to go to college on the GI Bill or at least try to go to college.  Getting in required my former high school counselor to say that my records were lost so that they could not see the comments and stuff said about me.  I was finally accepted into a college back in Rhode Island and thanks to the GI Bill I had some money to pay for school.  Nevertheless, it was not enough money to pay all the medical bills and household expenses.

I was married with a wife that had a severe medical condition and we had a three-year-old child.  Neither of us had any extra money, so I took a job working nights from 11:45 PM to 7:45 AM at a manufacturing plant.  I was “temporary” in that the man I replaced had lost his arm in the machine I would be working on.  I questioned the supervisor on any new safety protocols that had been adopted after the accident and was told to “keep your arms away from the machine.”  I would leave home at 11 PM to bicycle about six miles to work.  I would get off work at 7:45 AM and then bicycle to the college which was about 6 miles away.  We only had one car and my wife needed the car to take our daughter to day care and then she would go to her part-time job.  After finishing my classes, I would bike home from college which was another 5 or 6 miles.  Thus, each day for 4.5 years, I biked a round trip of about 20 miles, went to school full time, worked full time, and slept about 4 hours a night until the weekend when I would try to catch up on my sleep.  I also had to include time for studying, writing papers, reading and tests.

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In 1976, I graduated with a degree in K-12 Health Education, a minor in Biology and a second degree in Psychology.  I took a job at the Veterans Administration as a GS-7 Claims Examiner.  A year later, my wife and I moved back to Wisconsin and due to some marital problems she decided to leave me.  Several months went by.  We kept communicating and were able to work out some of our problems.  We decided to move back in together and give our marriage another try.  I decided to take advantage of a 9-month extension in GI Bill benefits to go to school for a M.S. Degree in School Counseling.  I completed the M.S. program in 1979.   I was hired for one year as a Biology teacher at Spring Valley HS.  I left after my contract was up and took a job as a teacher/counselor at Guadalupe Area Project (GAP) in St. Paul.  GAP was a school for troubled high school youth in the St. Paul, MN area.  I thought I could use my degree in school counseling at GAP.  I soon found out that at this school, I was a counselor, teacher, cleaner and anything else that needed to be done.  It was a fantastic experience.  The principal at GAP was Sister Giovanni.  She was one of the most remarkable people and educators I have ever been fortunate enough to work for.

downloadDespite efforts by my first wife Julia and myself, our marriage soon unraveled again.  We agreed to separate.  I moved out and wanting to change careers, I made the decision to go back to school and focus on training in industry.  I was accepted into a Ph.D. Program at the University of Minnesota in the Department of Vocational Education.  My major would be Training and Organization Development with a supporting field in Adult Education.  By this time, my GI Bill had run out and I was now living alone and paying child support.  I applied for and was accepted as a research assistant with the Minnesota Research and Development Center in Vocational Education on the St. Paul Campus.  This job together with several summer internships and a very frugal lifestyle enabled me to pay my bills, my child support, and my tuition.

downloadI completed my Ph.D. degree in four years and graduated in 1986.  My dissertation was on “Conflict in Organizations.”  I was hired by a management consulting firm in Bloomington, Minnesota.  I worked the next thirteen years as a trainer and consultant in both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations.  In 1999, I joined the faculty of Globe University as a business instructor.  I had also been working part-time as an adjunct instructor at Metropolitan State University where I was employed for 16 years.  In 2015, I retired from Metropolitan State University.  I left Globe University when they closed their doors in 2017.

Since leaving full-time teaching, I have been doing a variety of substitute teaching assignments in the Casa Grande area of Arizona.  Karen and I have been splitting the year between Wisconsin and Arizona since 2010.  We live and work about six months in each state.  As a substitute teacher here, I have replaced Art, Drama, Band, Physical Education, History, Science, Special Ed, English, Spanish, Culinary Arts, ROTC, Mechanical Arts, Social Study, and Dance teachers.  I have substituted in every grade from kindergarten to senior high school.

I have taught as a regular teacher at every grade level from kindergarten to Ph.D. programs.  I have taught at Army and Navy depots.  I have taught at over 40 for-profit industries including Chevron Manufacturing, Whitman Manufacturing Company, International Nickel Corporation and Fletcher Challenge Corporation.  I have taught at hospitals, trucking companies, mining companies and in Canada, England, and Taiwan.

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I have also written several pieces on education which you can find as follows:

Social Legacy Systems:  How They Block Change and Prevent Progress:  Part 1- Education

Legislating Balanced Perspectives in Education

Creating a Twenty First Century Education System

Educational Arrogance: Why my degree is better than your degree

What is wrong with education today? Part 1 and Part 2

So that’s if folks, I have told you why I think I am qualified to speak about education and public schools.  In the following four parts, I am going to dive into the major issues that are leading to the death of public-school education.  I will conclude with some thoughts on what a new system of education will need to look like.  The impact these issues has is not limited to high schools but also manifests itself in grade schools and colleges.  In many respects, it is impossible to untangle the matrix that comprises the public education system in America.  When public school education dies, so will all forms of publicly provided education.  If you have a car and the engine is great but the transmission dies, the car will no longer run.  In any system, the goal or purpose of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  There will be no public education in America unless we provide for it.  It will either die or evolve.  That choice will be up to you.

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In the next four blogs, we will look at:

  1. Why our present educational model is obsolete
  2. How our politicians are helping to kill public schooling
  3. How our educational unions are helping to kill public schooling
  4. What a new model of education should look like?

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