Free Falling

I don’t really mean to, but I guess I’m pretty good at complaining. I don’t really like the word. I’d rather believe that I am a more progressive thinker than the average whiner, though the suggestions I find myself compelled to make sometimes might possibly, sort of, kind of come across a bit like I’m complaining.

I just don’t understand why people sit around and quietly put up with things they could change with a few creative questions.

For example, the other night I was listening to the newscast, and the anchor person (Do these people like to be referred to as “anchors?”) said March 11 would mark the “six-month anniversary” of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

I threw a mini-fit right there in my living room. How in the world could anyone in the communications business not know that an anniversary can only be used to commemorate an event that happened at least a year before? The word itself comes from the word “annual,” which means “yearly.”

These are the same people who declare that something will be a “first annual” event. Sorry, folks. Not possible.

I also wondered what the point was of marking the sixth month of anything. Why is this time span significant? I ranted and I raved, but I didn’t do anything about it.

Until the next morning. There was Bryant Gumbel, as arrogant as ever, sipping his coffee and discussing the six-month “anniversary” of the attack. That did it. I fired off an e-mail message to the people at KWCH, the Wichita affiliate of CBS. I calmly informed the news dudes that they needed to check their dictionary concerning the use of the a-word.

I was rather surprised at the response I received, for inside half an hour, the associate producer of Channel 12’s news e-mailed me back, proclaiming I was absolutely right and thanking me for pointing out the error.

The next morning, I opened two more messages from people in the newsroom-one from the executive producer, no less-thanking me for caring enough about the language to alert their station to the error. One even said she was pleased that I had validated her attempts to use more precise language in newscasts.

I declared victory when Cindy Klose referred to March 11 as the day that “marked six months since the attack.”

Will I make the Talkback-12 segment on Sunday? Stay tuned.

Sometimes I even grumble when I am in the middle of doing a good deed. Last week I decided to donate a pint of my blood to Red Cross. After all, the organization was nice enough to hold the drive in our very own high school.

I had made an appointment for 4 p.m., presumably to speed up the process, which the brochure says should take about 30 minutes.

Two hours after entering the gym, I was through. And, I hope I’m not through donating. All that time wasted will certainly make me think twice, however.

I have a suggestion. Next time, the Red Cross should send two complete crews and the accompanying equipment to Hillsboro. Obviously, one crew cannot handle the large number of donors our fair city supplies. Some left after seeing the long wait ahead of them. Even though I am a 34-time giver, I almost joined the exodus.

My third and final gripe-at least for the time being-centers on what seems to be a declining emphasis on the importance of education in the community.

One of the reasons students of USD 410 have done so well on state assessments and ACT exams, I am convinced, is a general attitude in the community that education is important. Traditionally, adults in Hillsboro, Durham and Lehigh have not just talked the talk about their commitment to the school system, they have walked the walk. But, lately, I have begun to wonder if the footing is beginning to erode.

Parents, it seems, are sending strong messages to their children that missing a day or two of school now and then is not a problem. I offer as “Exhibit A” the recent state wrestling tournament.

I’m not even going to get into the debate over whether school should have been called off. That’s for the people who get the big bucks to decide. The fact is, classes were in session that Friday. The district administration made it clear that students who wanted to attend the tournament in Hays needed only parental permission to travel out west in support of the team.

Many students chose to take that option. I have no problem with them, assuming they actually attended the event.

I’m not sure what the final count was, but certainly more than 110 students were absent from high school classes that day out of the usual attendance of 140 or so. Did they all travel to Hays? I don’t think so.

In fact, I know that, while a goodly number of Trojan supporters headed to the tournament, many did not. Some of them flat out told me they were just taking the day off.

But, here’s the real kicker. Most who confessed to “skipping” were under the impression that no instruction was planned for that day anyway.

That really tripped my trigger. I had indeed hoped to conduct class as usual. I wanted to provide the students who bothered to show up to class with a quality day. I had no plans to just put in my time or to waste theirs, and I was offended that some parents and students assumed I would blow the day off.

Interestingly, many of the students-and their parents, some directly and some indirectly-felt compelled to lie to the office staff about their plans for the day. In an added irony, the deception wasn’t even necessary. Most students would not have been penalized at all, even if they admitted they were just going shopping or running errands all day.

So, why forge a fabrication?

I am further amazed by the number of students who, obviously with parental approval, take extra days off around spring break. Keep in mind that the day before the scheduled vacation is the end of the grading quarter.

Granted, family time is important, and some parents’ work schedules don’t allow trips during vacation days. Some of the students who take an extended hiatus, however, are the same ones who have already missed more than the average share of class time, some approaching double-figure absences since Christmas.

While the pressure increases on schools to perform to higher standards, I believe it’s obvious that teachers can do nothing to educate students who choose not to show up.

Hey, parents, we need all the help you can give us.

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