Archives for April 2011

The NFL Draft

Entering the NFL draft’s primetime showcase, you could argue that this is the Patriots party and everyone else was just invited. Looking at it quickly, the Patriots hold two picks in each of the first three rounds. But on top of that, the Patriots own three of the first 33 picks. That would be the equivalent of striking oil in your own backyard.

This is all due to the frugal dealings of mastermind Bill Belichick. Up until last year it could be argued that Bill had lost his touch in finding talent. But in the 2010 draft he struck gold: Finding five rookie starters who contributed greatly in last year’s surprising 14-2 season that ultimately ended in disappointment.

When looking at the Patriots roster, gaping holes exist in very definitive areas of the team.

Pass rush is a necessity. In modern football, where teams are throwing at a much more frequent clip an effective secondary is needed, but also consistent pressure on the quarterback is a must. The Patriots roster, as constituted, lacks the necessary players who have the ability to rush the passer. And luckily this draft is chalk full of players who can sack the quarterback.

But there are three other glaring needs on the roster. An effective replacement for Richard Seymour on the defensive line needs to be found. And the Patriots also need to address the lack of depth in the running back position, while finding some “big fatties,” or offensive lineman, as Bill calls them.

These needs should all be filled by midnight on Friday.

These are players I believe the Patriots could potentially target to fill the holes on their roster:

Pass Rushers

Robert Quinn

Robert Quinn: Robert Quinn will not be available at the 17th pick. No chance at all. He did not play a single snap last season due to interactions with a sports agent, and he has had a brain tumor removed that is not guaranteed to not return. But his talent is so immense that these red flags will be overlooked and he will be picked very early. In fact, if he had played this past season for North Carolina he would have been a top two pick. Instead, with the Patriots stock pile of draft picks, they could potentially move up into the top-10 to grab in pass-rushing dynamo. He is a big man—6’4” and weighing in at 265 pounds while running a 4.6 second 40 yard dash. Why does size matter? The way the Patriots play defense requires the edge linebacker to be of considerable size. Since Willie McGinnest retired Belichick has searched for players to replace his contributions, including cough-Adalius Thomas-cough, and Robert Quinn fits this mold to a T.

Da’Quan Bowers: Da’Quan Bowers of Clemson has incredible skill. He is a giant who has many different pass rushing moves. Unlike Quinn, who does not project to remain at his college position of defensive end, Bowers will certainly remain on the edge of the line. Generally successful college pass rushers on the end can only play on the typical 4-3 defensive line format, but Bowers has the ability to play on a 3-4 line and still get great pressure on the Quarterback. He is very similar to Mario Williams of the Houston Texans, who was drafted first overall in 2006, and if it weren’t for the incredible concern of Da’Quan Bowers knee he would almost certainly go in the top-2. Instead, his arthritis has caused him to fall into the middle-late first round group of ends. Many believe his career will be cut short due to his knee, but whichever team drafts him would probably only keep him for his rookie contract. In fact, the concern for his knee is so big in some teams they have actually taken him off their draft boards. But the Patriots have proven over time that previous injury does not concern them as much as it does other teams in the league. Case and point last year’s TE Rob Gronkowski, who ended up being one of the best players to come out of the draft.

Brooks Reed: The ability of the following players is not at the level of either Bowers or Quinn. That does not mean that these players will not end up being tremendous assets to whichever team drafts them, it just means they are not guaranteed to be a success. Truthfully, I am very high on Brooks Reed, and I think he fits perfectly into the Patriots scheme. He was a defensive end from the University of Arizona who had the innate ability to always apply pressure the quarterback. He was also an end in college, but he will be moved to outside linebacker when he suits up in the pros. He has tremendous size and power, and will be a great bull-rusher for whichever team gets him. He is not elusive per-se but he is a great ability to move laterally and get by blockers. His stock has risen of late—previously I thought he would be available for the Patriots at the 33rd pick, but now it seems like he would need to be taken with their 28th pick. He will be worth it. The fans, which still cannot get over the Patriots skipping Clay Matthews two years ago, will be happy if Reed ends up putting on a Patriots jersey.

Justin Houston: This will be a tough pick for Bill Belichick to make. Houston, out of the University of Georgia, has all the attributes Belichick looks for in a pass-rushing outside linebacker—but Houston is known for not being incredibly smart on the field, while lacking discipline off the field to take advantage of his immense skill. Also there is the news he was one of two players to fail a drug test at the NFL combine. Proving he isn’t the smartest person on earth. But besides those issues, he is a big man who has serious speed. When he locks someone up they aren’t getting away, he is a very reliable tackler. He also has very good pursuit when he attacks the passer. Fortunately for the Patriots, he will be available in the second or third round. If the Patriots think they could surround him with solid character guys to teach him how to be an NFL player, he could end up being a very big steal for the team that gets him.

Mark Herzlich

Mark Herzlich: Everyone knows Herzlich survived a rare form of cancer—Ewings-sarcoma—but then also forget that before he got this disease he was also a damn good linebacker. In fact, many saw him as the best defensive player in this draft class. He was essentially a much more athletic Mike Vrabel with better ability at tackling in the running game. After a year of recovery Herzlich returned and played solid outside linebacker, but he lacked a lot of the speed and strength he had before. But whichever team drafts him will get a great leader and potential captain, who will do great work for the community. And my gut tells me he will eventually come back to being the Herzlich of old and dominate the NFL like he was supposed to. For a late round pick, there is no reason to pass him up on potential alone, but when you throw in the fact that he is an all-time character guy, no risk exists.

Defensive Ends (Richard Seymour replacements)

Cameron Jordan: The player I pray the Patriots get if they stay at 17. In fact to be safe, I would move up and get him because he could very well be gone. He is a strong, strong man. He gets pressure on the passer while containing the run. He will become a ten sack a year player. He is Willie McGinnest-redux. He is fast, huge and smart. He is the prototypical Patriot.

Nick Fairley: Nick Fairley had one great year at Auburn. And his great year was really great, in fact legendary. He stuffed the run at defensive tackle, while applying great pressure on the quarterback. He was really a freak of nature. He is a huge man. He could play a 4-3 defensive tackle or play a 3-4 defensive end. He will be a dominate player in the NFL. There is concern with his work ethic, his motor and the fact that he is done it for only one year. His football aptitude is not what it should be. This player will not be available at 17 and will be gone before the 9th pick for sure. But there is an outside possibility the Patriots make a play for Fairley—though I highly doubt it.

J.J. Watt: J.J. Watt is a very similar player to Richard Seymour. He is a strong player who has much of the skills the Patriots look for in a player. He is smart, has a constant motor and can stuff the run with the best of him. He is very similar to Cameron Jordan, but he lacks the pass rushing potential that Jordan has due to the fact that he is slower and lack the same agility. He has been known to occasionally stand up and loose position. That can easily be fixed. He will be a great player in the league for many years, but he will not have the same potential as Jordan, which is why I think he is a lesser prospect.

Running Backs

Mark Ingram: Mark Ingram won a Heisman trophy his sophomore year. His junior year was hampered by injuries, and he lost some carries to fellow Alabama running backs. But it is well documented that Nick Saban-coached players are highly regarded by Bill Belichick, and this does not change with Mark Ingram. Ingram is not a burner by any stretch of the imagination. But he is consistent and can come into the NFL and run for 1,000 yards right away. He will be a ten-year back and put up great numbers, nothing spectacular but very consistent. As close to Emmitt Smith as any player has ever looked.

Mikel Leshoure

Mikel Leshoure: Leshoure will most likely not get picked in the first round, this is not because of skill, but more because of the lack of running back needs by the teams drafting. He is seen by many to play like fellow Illinois running back Rashard Mendenhall, of Pittsburgh, he is powerful with moderate speed and decent elusiveness. He is by no stretch of the imagination Adrian Peterson, but he is also a consistent back with potential to surprise many. He could end up being the best running back of this draft when looked back on in 10 years.

Ryan Williams: If you can grab Williams at the end of the second round or the beginning of the third you should take him. He is elusive and fast, with a good amount of power and vision. If it weren’t for his second year that was ravaged by injury he would be a first round lock. His ability is off the charts, but he has only shown it in one season. This has scared off many scouts, on top of his obvious nagging injury concerns. Another setback was his slower-than-imagined timed 40 yard dash. Many believe he lacks the big play ability that many once thought he had. I don’t buy it, I think he will be a very good back eventually—only if he is in a 2-back system, he will not survive being a workhorse, he is too small. But if he were to share carries with, say, Ben-Jarvis Green-Ellis his value could climb exponentially.

Offensive Lineman

Anthony Costanzo: Usually offensive tackles are big and fat. This is not the case with Costanzo who may be the only offensive tackle in history with a six-pack. On top of that he is a bona fide genius. He is huge, standing at 6’7” and well over 300 pounds, but this does not hinder his athleticism. He is quick and can definitely stay with some of the faster defensive ends in the league. His one negative can be found at his run-blocking. He tends to stand up and lose leverage at the point of attack. This can be fixed by a good coaching staff. He was a four year starter at Boston College, otherwise known for producing starting offensive lineman at an incredible rate. He should be able to start for the next 10 years at tackle. Not spectacular, but very, very good.

Mike Pouncy

Mike Pouncy: Brother of Pittsburgh all-pro offensive guard Maurkice Pouncy, Mike is a great athlete who excels at guard like his brother. This former Gator was moved to center this past season and struggled getting snaps off accurately. Many see him as a guard so does not seem like an issue. He will be a great guard like his brother, but he lacks the technical skills that will make him an all-time great. He lacks the mean-streak that many guards need. But whichever team gets him will see a bump in production in their running game, as he is great at run blocking.

Danny Watkins: This is the prototypical Patriot. I can easily say Logan Mankins 2.0. Like seriously, he just like Logan Mankins. There is some concern with Watkins though—he is much older than most prospects, will turn 27 his rookie season, since he took time to become a fire fighter. His size has been maxed out most likely, but he only began playing football in 2007 and will definitely get much better as a player as he gets more polish. If the Patriots were to go with an offensive lineman, I hope it is Watkins; he will be a great lineman who will be the envy of many teams.

Now, some of the players listed could easily be overlooked by the Patriots—or may not be available when the Patriots pick. Anything could happen; this is the NFL draft after all. But some players make more sense than others for the Patriots.

With the 17th pick I see the Patriots running up to the commissioner if Cameron Jordan is available. He is the ultimate Patriot—willing to sacrifice personal statistics for the team. But he reminds me of a Richard Seymour with a better ability to get to the passer. Over time I see him becoming a 10-sack-a-season end. Conversely, he will not defend the run like Big Rich did. But a team with Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo do not necessarily need another player who can contain the running back.

Cameron Jordan

The 28th pick will most likely be traded—when has there ever been a draft when Belichick did not trade at least one early-round pick for future considerations? And considering the Patriots only have five picks heading into the 2012 draft, I consider it a foregone conclusion that this pick will be moved. Most likely for a team trading back into the first round for a quarterback; a team that is high on Andy Dalton of TCU or Christian Ponder of Florida State will be remised if they did not come back to get their guy.

But if the Patriots do keep the 28th pick and Mark Ingram of Alabama is sitting there, it will be hard to pass him up. Bill Belichick trusts Nick Sabans evaluations of his players like it is gospel, and from the information coming out of the draft, nothing leads me to believe he has not given Belichick his seal of approval. And Ingram could walk into the NFL and run for a 1,000 yards easily. If he had run a better 40 yard dash at the combine, the only way the Patriots could smell him at 28 would be in a dream. But this is the fickle system of scouting, and players fall for stranger things—remember Jerry Rice and Emmit Smith were also deemed to be too slow coming out of the college ranks.

If it were up to me though, I would take Brooks Reed out of Arizona with this pick. There is no guarantee that he will be there at 33, with rumors coming out of New York that he is quickly climbing up team’s draft boards. He is as close to a Clay Matthews clone you can get—all the way down to his long blonde hair.

And with the 33rd pick I would look at someone like Mikel Leshoure out of Illinois. He is a very similar back to Rashard Mendenhal, who also came out of Illinois. I see a lot of Stephen Jackson (of the Rams) in him when I watch his game tapes. He overpowers defenders, but he lacks the blazing speed to be an elite prospect. I think he will end up being the best Running Back from this draft class.

Most likely the Patriots will also move this pick. It is well known that having the first pick in day two of the draft is like holding the winning Megabucks ticket—and I see the Patriots cashing in for a later second round pick and a future second rounder.

Regardless, the draft is fantastic theater. It is a soap opera in primetime. Except it is real life. Kids lives will be made, and teams futures will be founded—and watching the Patriots and Bill Belichick wheel and deal on draft day is like seeing Mozart write music in his prime, it’s beautiful and fluid and generally whatever comes out is a stunning result.

 


Devin Shaw is an avid sports fan and suffers the fate of being related to the owners of the Colonial Times Magazine. He also provides commentary for Rational Talk with Rich Hancock on Rational Radio in Dallas. You can listen to his segments online.

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Six painted Chairs Fundraiser!

The Lexington Historical Society’s ongoing Munroe Tavern fundraising project, Six Painted Chairs features the talents of six local female artists have donated their time and talent to decorate each chair in her own style, and the public can bid to win the chair (or chairs) of their choice at $10/chance.  The raffle drawing will take place on November 19th at a special gala evening at the Lexington Depot, but you don’t have to be present to win your chair! Contact the event co-chairs Pat Perry or Christina Gamota with any questions or for tickets at: p-perry@comcast.net or christinag16@verizon.net or the Historical Society.

 

Features: Open to All

Website: http://www.lexingtonhistory.org

Phone: 781-862-1703

Email: office@lexingtonhistory.org

Price: $10/chance

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Senator Ken Donnelly

‘A good deal for Massachusetts Taxpayers’

|  By State Senator Ken Donnelly

 A number of articles and editorials have appeared recently bemoaning the state of the Massachusetts public pension system and offering ideas about how to get out of the pension “mess.” Many even ques-tion, explicitly and implicitly, whether our citizens deserve retirement security (an argument I thought was settled in the 1930s). Critics of the public pension system routinely assert that the system is too costly, overly generous, and creates an undue burden on taxpayers. These allegations, however attractive in today’s economic environment, are not based on facts. Both the Massachusetts pension sys-tem and Social Security are contributory sys-tems that require contributions from both employees and employers. Massachusetts public employers and employees do not par-ticipate in the Social Security System. If they did, both the government and the public employee each would be required to contribute 6.2% of the employee’s salary. In fact, public employers in Massachusetts contribute, on average, only 2.7% of salary to cover the cost of benefits earned each year, while the pub-lic employee, on average, contributes 9.2%. In other words, the government pays substantially less and the employee pays substantially more than they would under Social Security. Employees hired after 1995 con-tribute nearly 11% of their salaries towards their pensions, which in most cases fully covers the cost including administration. The Massachusetts public pension sys-tem is a good deal for taxpayers. So what’s the real problem facing the public pension system? The current financial strain on the pension system is due to years of underfunding by the state and its municipalities. Until 1988, the state and municipali-ties paid only those pensions due in a given year. That is, while employees made their required contributions to the retirement system, the state and municipalities did not. This “pay-as-you-go” system worked as long as the workforce was young and the num-ber of employees retiring was low. By the mid-1980s, however, the amount needed to fund the system when then-current employees retired was $12 to $14 billion;

money that wasn’t there. In 1988, legislation was passed to address this “unfunded liability.” The legislation set a deadline of 2028 for fully funding the system, increased employee contributions again, and required mandatory minimum payments from public employers. Like any retirement account, the money that employees and employers pay into the pension system is invested. The 1988 law set an assumption that the investment would yield an average of 8.25% interest over 40 years, with the understanding that some years returns would be higher, and some years lower. This might seem overly optimistic, especially after a year like 2008. But the facts show that over the past 28 years, the return on pension investments is averaging 9.25%, and that includes the huge losses sustained in ’08. The State Pen-sion Fund reported an investment return for 2010 of 13.6%. Contributing to the burden on our pen-sion system has been the lack of planning for years when the system experienced returns below the assumption. Higher-than-average returns should be invested back into the system to mitigate the effects of years with lower returns (like saving for a rainy day). But over the past 20 years, when the return was greater than 8.25%, the state and many municipalities diverted the “extra” money toward other priorities. The extra return was not put back into the pension system as a cushion for years like 2008. Diverting excess revenue during good years has resulted in the state, and many municipalities, being behind schedule for funding their pension systems by the deadline set by law. Dismantling or eliminating the current pension system will not address these prob-lems; the unfunded liability will still have to be paid off. It is up to the Commonwealth and its cities and towns to fulfill the obliga-tion that has been put off for so many years. This and additional steps the Legislature is taking on pension reform will protect our employees, our taxpayers, and the pension system. Employees’ pension benefits will continue to be paid for largely by the em-ployees at almost no cost to Massachusetts governments. Senator Donnelly represents the Fourth Middlesex District in the Massachusetts State Senate. He currently serves as Senate Chairman of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight. If you would like to contact Senator Donnelly or his staff, they can be reached at their State House office by calling 617-722-1432.

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Markey calls on Obama to deploy Strategic Petroleum Reserves; Seeks Repeal of taxpayer subsidies to large oil companies

By Jim Shaw

|  April 27, 2010  |

With the price of gasoline soaring out of control, Congressman Edward Markey (D-MA) called on President Obama to tap the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserves, which according to Markey will swiftly and significantly address the issue of the spiraling cost of gas for average hard working Americans.  With a Medford Getty station serving as his backdrop, Markey stood firm in his resolve to help consumers gain the upper hand over big oil companies and their drive towards record profits.  Markey said, “Now is the time for President Obama to deploy the Strategic Petroleum Reserves. We have over 730 million barrels of oil in reserve. If ever there was a time to do it, it’s now, and as soon as possible.”

 Markey explained that previous administrations have tapped federal oil reserves which resulted in immediate short term relief. He said, “The first President Bush used his executive powers to deploy the Strategic Petroleum Reserves in 1991 and the price of gasoline dropped precipitously. President Clinton used it, and President George W. Bush used oil reserves and again the price of gasoline dropped precipitously. It’s a weapon that works!”

 Markey also called for a repeal of taxpayer subsidies for big oil companies that will cost $40 billion over ten years.  “As oil companies report the largest profits in the history of the world, there’s going to be an outrage against these companies.”  Markey reported that while Republican leaders in Congress want to continue oil subsidies, they have moved to cut funds for wind, solar and other alternative energy resources by 70%.

 While Markey acknowledged that the White House has yet to move on deploying the strategic Petroleum Reserves, he did indicates that he has the support of several members of Congress.  Markey exclaimed, “We need to do this now. Our economy is in jeopardy if we don’t”

 

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REFLECTING ON THE TRADE

By Laurie Atwater  |

The issues the DeWolf descendants are confronted with dramatize questions that apply to the nation as a whole: What, concretely, is the legacy of slavery—for diverse whites, for diverse blacks, for diverse others? Who owes who what for the sins of the fathers of this country? What history do we inherit as individuals and as citizens? How does Northern complicity change the equation? What would repair—spiritual and material—really look like and what would it take?

Many of us in Lexington have now seen the film by Katrina Browne called Traces of the Trade as part of a program of showings and community conversayions sponsored by Lexington CommUNITY and the Lexington Interfaith Clergy Association.  In that film, Brown retraces the notorious “Triangle Route” of slave trading from America to Africa to Cuba and back to America. This route was used to move human cargo—Africans captured or kidnapped for the express purpose of being sold to Europeans or Americans.

 

Hidden History

Browne learned of this history from her grandmother on the DeWolf side. The DeWolf family of Bristol Rhode Island is, respected and well-known.  This hidden history was not discussed within her family, but Katrina came to realize through her extensive research that three generations of DeWolf men were the biggest slave traders in America.

Browne began digging for information: journals, ship logs, old ledgers and other family memorabilia told a sordid tale.  How could this upstanding Episcopal family of clergymen, merchants and solid citizens be human traffickers?

Once Browne started down this path she reached out to her cousin James DeWolf.  James joined her in her journey and ultimately wrote a book about his experience called Inheriting the Trade.  I spoke with James DeWolf earlier this month by phone.

“Katrina had approached me early on and asked if I had heard about some history of slave trading in the family.  She wanted to make a documentary film and I thought that was a really wonderful idea and I was helping her to raise money and do some research.  So, by the time she discovered that our family had been the leading slave traders in the east, I was already deeply involved in the project.” DeWolf has spent practically a decade since the making of the film devoting himself to educating and speaking to groups about the slave trade and its impact on our country.

 

The Profit Motive

“Generally, economic historians say there have been times in history when slavery was profitable and times when it was not. In every time it was profitable, societies have done it.  It’s hard to find great societies that didn’t condone slavery at one time or another.  What happened with slavery is driven by economic self-interest and it is something that human beings are perfectly capable of being a part of,” DeWolf says.

Economic opportunity also drove the supplier side of the slave transaction. “Every single person who was sold as a slave was enslaved by Africans and traded to white traders on the coast,” DeWolf says.  “These societies were never trading their own people; they were trading people they thought of as others.” He explains that slaves were often captured deep into Africa and walked hundreds of miles to the coast where they were first sold to Europeans and then later, to Americans. “Groups in African society jumped at the chance to make huge profits,” DeWolf says.

 

Not Just a “Southern” Problem

“Getting people to understand their own connection to this history is always a challenge,” DeWolf says.  While it’s true that most families did not have a direct family link to the slave trade, everyone was indirectly involved. In fact, many common people bought shares in slaving trips as investors just as you would buy shares in the stock market today. They shared financially in the successful sale of Africans. Outfitting these slave trading missions kept many people employed from bankers to provisioners.  The philanthropy bestowed upon various cities and towns by wealthy merchants like the DeWolfs is still evident today.

DeWolf makes the point that New Englanders have rewritten their history to omit their complicity in the slave trade.  But in fact, it was the businessman in New England states—especially Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut—who created the Triangle Trade and supplied the South with slaves.

In the agrarian South, before the American Revolution, the primary crops were tobacco, indigo and rice.  Slaves and indentured servants were used to grow and harvest these labor intensive crops that were ultimately exported. This expanded the economy of the colonies. The financial success of the colonies was also dependent upon the sugar that was procured on slave trading missions and made into rum stateside.

Slavery had reached its peak in the late 1700s and was declining until the invention of Eli Whitney’s cotton engine (gin) in 1793.  This machine which mechanized the removal of sticky seeds from short staple cotton, revolutionized the agricultural model of the South. The South’s soil and climate was perfect for this cotton crop.

Suddenly this labor intensive crop could be hugely profitable and farms began springing up across the South to meet the demands of English textile mills. Slavery once again, became a huge money-maker as demand for labor rose.  Huge shipments of bales of cotton regularly left American ports bound for mills in England.

Eventually Americans began getting in on the action and started to open cotton mills of their own (many of them the slave traders themselves).  “The whole reason we have the mills in Massachusetts was because of the cotton picked by slaves.  Wherever we had rivers we saw cotton mills—in Concord, Newton, Watertown and Lowell.  And of course at that time, everyone understood that connection to slavery,” DeWolf explains.

“When we started to rewrite how we thought about our history here in the north, we downplayed slavery.  We didn’t hide it completely, but we pretended it was a brief thing and we started to think of ourselves as having a powerful abolition tradition at the same time.  We washed away the many other economic connections to it,” he says.

DeWolf also talks about the widely held notion that the North was a righteous hotbed of abolitionists.  “It is true that New England, along with other places like Philadelphia, spearheaded the abolitionist movement,” he says. But he adds, “The white working class in Massachusetts was very worried that freed slaves would be competition for wages after the Civil War.”

 

Collective Responsibility?

Understanding this history has put the DeWolf family unwittingly in the center of an issue that they never thought much about.  What is our shared and ongoing responsibility for this shameful part of American history and what can we do about it? This is perhaps the most important work of the film and the filmmakers.

Moving the film into the public sphere through communities, schools, public television and religious organizations has allowed Browne and DeWolf to spread the word about the business of slave trading, its ties to the Northern states and its impact on the economic development of the country. There is little doubt that the profits from the slave trade and the free labor it provided built an economy that was strong enough to free itself from Britain.

The film argues that slave labor is part of the very foundation of our country and that every citizen has benefitted from the proceeds of that labor with the ironic and tragic exception of the direct descendants of the slaves themselves.

The legacy of slavery has left us with African Americans who still suffer the consequences of years of being classified as second class citizens.  While their families were torn apart, and both men and women were forced into labor and servitude, white families from all strata of society profited from the fruits of that labor.

Through the exploration of this one family we get an interesting look at racial attitudes across white socio-economic lines and a revealing exploration of “white privilege” through the lens of their family experience. We get a glimpse into the black/white divide as it exists today—and the difficulty of connecting to events in the past.

According to DeWolf, the concept of white privilege is not readily understood by whites. “It goes to the very heart of who we are,” he says. “Whites want to believe that they have gotten where they are because of hard work and merit.”

Through explorations of family dynamics this film exposes just how sensitive people can be on that topic.  In one scene James DeWolf’s father feels compelled to explain that he would have gone to Harvard whether he was, or was not, a DeWolf.  He explains that his family had no money (not all DeWolf descendants shared in family wealth) and his father was just a minister.  He worked hard and got to Harvard on his own merits, he asserts.  But, he neglects to say that his father also went to Harvard as did his father. This legacy of higher education is a type of white privilege that many whites don’t even enjoy!

Another cousin goes on to argue that he was not as privileged because he attended the University of Oregon. Failing to recognize their own privilege is just one example of how people don’t connect the dots when it comes to race according to DeWolf.  “It’s so emotional,” DeWolf admits. “That’s the way privilege and oppression has always worked. It’s the fine gradations that allow people to look up—from where they are. When people are given a little more privilege they tend to bond with the system and defend it.

 

Not My Problem

James DeWolf admits that the conversations that happen around the screening of this film can be quite difficult.

“Part of it is people are coming to the material from different backgrounds and from different life experiences,” DeWolf says.  “Also, people can have different philosophies and it’s such a big topic. Certainly it’s a loaded topic. When people are confronted with the history their first response is often, ‘This isn’t me!’ Because this happened so long ago, and because it has been whitewashed in most history curriculums, we naturally feel distanced from it.  Avoidance is part of our inheritance,” he says, “and it is very human.”

It is especially difficult for people whose families immigrated to the United States many years after slavery had ended.  But, DeWolf says that the immigrants came because of the financial opportunities that were created during the industrial revolution. Opportunities that would not have existed without cotton—cotton that was grown and harvested through slave labor.

Many feel that because their families came to America after the Civil War and didn’t own slaves, they weren’t complicit. This simply denies the history according to DeWolf.  It’s especially difficult when they know that their own families also experienced so many hardships in pursuit of a better life in America.  But, DeWolf says—they had white skin and because of that it was automatically easier for them to succeed.

“Even if they [immigrants] had little in the way of education or money—just by the virtue of being white the moment they walked of the ship the were walking into an upper echelon of American life.  Being poor and white gave their children access to opportunities and education that black families did not have.”

 

Post Racial?

African Americans in our society start off at a different point. “If you’re born black in this society you’re not likely to have access to the same opportunities,” DeWolf explains. “People who want to put this all behind us are mistakenly under the impression that the history is no longer affecting us—that in the 50s and the 60s we had a Civil Rights movement—and everyone has had equal opportunities since then,” says DeWolf says.

DeWolf claims that there is fatigue on both sides of the issue.  “But in the case of race we still have a great deal of prejudice in our society and a great deal of inequity.  We have made progress in many ways, but it’s the ways that we have not moved on from the history that needs to be addressed,” he says.

Some intellectuals and political activists in both the black and white communities feel that at this point in history, after affirmative action, desegregation, and the many social welfare programs designed to assist the black community, their lack of economic and social progress is their own fault.

This is simply not the case DeWolf says.  Lack of social mobility can be traced back to unfair practices across all areas of society from education to employment to credit.  These practices grew out of prejudice that has its roots in slavery.  When you actually count people as less than 100 percent human, as we did to blacks in the United States, the attitudes continue to persist.

Many of these attitudes led to practices that were hidden from view, including the notorious red-lining mortgage practices by banks, which were designed to keep blacks from moving outside of the cities and into the suburbs.  The concentration of urban black populations in the cities has made them vulnerable to poor schools because schools are financed by property taxes. Lack of education is directly tied to lack of social mobility.  And the cycle continues.

Ever since the election of Barack Obama people have been talking about a post racial America.  But if it were indeed post racial, the statistics on blacks across all measures of social mobility would show less disparity with whites (and even other minority groups).

This compelling lack of real progress since the civil rights era is what inspires DeWolf to keep this conversation moving forward into communities, schools and faith organizations.  As a family, DeWolf says, “we support a national dialogue and education process to lead the United States toward racial reconciliation.”

Join Representative Jay Kaufman at his Open House on May 19th when the topic will race in our community.

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TABLESCAPES AT CHRISTINA’S

Last month Christina Gamota created a series of “tablescapes” for other members of the Lexington Field and Garden Club Morning Study Group.  Christina is known for her wonderful entertaining and superb design sense. Click on the photo show to jump to a mini-tour of this sensational event.

 

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RACE TO NOWHERE

By Laurie Atwater  |
Race to Nowhere (PG-13), the acclaimed film about the epidemic of unhealthy academic stress among students across America, is coming to Lexington.
There will be two screenings, both at Cary Hall, 1605 Mass Ave. Show times are April 28, 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., and April 29, 10 a.m. to noon. Doors open 30 minutes before show time. General admission is $10 in advance, $15 at the door. Admission is free to the first 300 students, $5.00 per student thereafter. To ensure a seat, advance registration is strongly recommended. For tickets and advance registration, visit www.racetonowhere.com/screenings.
 A community conversation about the film will take place Thursday, May 5, 7:00 p.m.to 8:30 p.m., at Temple Emunah, 9 Piper Road, Lexington. This event is free-of-charge and open to all who have seen the film. Students are especially welcome. Refreshments will be served. Watch calendar listings for additional community conversations.

Race to Nowhere is coming to Lexington. The acclaimed film about America’s “achievement culture” and the burden of stress that accompanies it, will surely open to sell-out crowds in Lexington, as it has all over the country. Make sure you do not miss this film.

I am very grateful to the Lexington Montessori School for allowing me to attend their screening of the film which was sold-out the night I attended. I visited their impressive campus for the first time and was joined by parents from many different communities eager to understand the issue of stress in the schools and what they can do about it.

The film opens with a sea of students walking up and down the stairs of a school in a zombie-like state. Voiceovers say things like: “I can’t remember the last time I went outside,” or “Mom checked me into a stress center.” And saddest of all: “Nobody knows me.”

Parents in the small audience of 50 or 60 were riveted to the screen as kids gave voice to their anxieties and struggles. Most stressed about grades and homework and time—so little time—to finish all of their resume-building activities and then just be a kid.

Kids are taking it all in.  The bad economy.  Increased global competition.  Stressed-out and money-strapped parents.  .War.  Another war.  Tsunami.  Floods.  Nuclear melt-downs.  College competition.  For today’s students, it must feel relentless.

At school they swim in a sea of competition.  Competition with other kids.  Competition for spots on sports teams, leads in plays, solos in band and coveted slots at a few elite colleges.  The list goes on and on before you ever get to high stakes testing.

 IS THIS EDUCATION

Issues arising from “teaching to the test,” are plaguing school districts, for teachers and students. Attaching such high value to testing can distort the entire intent of education turning teachers into sergeants drilling their recruits so that they will perform well and earn accolades for their schools. Students worry about being promoted to the next grade and schools worry about accreditation or rankings. All of this preoccupation with tests can leave deep learning and deep thinking in the dust. In the film, teachers are demoralized and the most passionate teacher drops out. They feel reduced to test-trainers. Their passion and joy is hijacked; they burn out.

Experts like Denise Pope, a veteran teacher, curriculum expert, and lecturer at the Stanford University School of Education are featured in the film. Pope who wrote, Doing School talks the schools and parents sending the wrong message to students. Learning is being sacrificed for memorizing and cheating is rampant.  The goal is to cross the finish line and forget about how you got there—almost instantly.  And forget they do.  One boy says he crams for tests and promptly forgets everything he “learned.” The fact that skills like critical thinking and problem solving—the muscle memory of learning—are being sacrificed to a curriculum that is “a mile wide and an inch deep” is troubling. The results are beginning to show up on college campuses. The film asserts that 50 percent of Cal State and U Cal students must be remediated in freshman year.

Then there is self-esteem. Students become jaded and stressed having their existence measured by score after score as though they have no value beyond numerical outcomes. They quickly learn to “do school” as Pope calls it. The students who do not engage in this “race” often drop out intellectually or emotionally.

The film sets out with a big subject and in truth it could be broken up into many films with the list of issues that it raises—ignoring middle students, the fervor over Advanced Placement classes, unprepared students who have always had “training wheels,” isolation, the consumption culture, excessive homework and more. Perhaps the most provocative question is raised by Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, a noted expert in the area of resilience who fears that the current system of education is stifling creativity. “Without creativity, we will have no leadership and no innovation,” he says.

RACE TO NOWHERE

In this documentary, producer Vicki Abeles, a 48-year-old lawyer, introduces us to her own children, now ages 16, 14 and 11. She details her struggles to succeed and admits that she “wanted to give them [her children] the opportunities that I didn’t have growing up.” When her kids starting getting sick, not wanting to go to school and generally acting stressed, she wants to understand why. Then a 14 year old student in her town commits suicide because she fails a math exam. Abeles dedicates the film to her memory.

Sometimes the film seems to swim in the soup of despair—full of anecdotal evidence from teachers and students who confront Abeles’ camera—and a little short on data-driven information.  But you can understand that the voices of the teachers and kids are far more compelling than pie charts and survey results. In the end the film succeeds because parents nod away in agreement throughout the film and stay around to discuss its implications.  That’s what it’s meant to do.

Many viewers may also think; This is getting old. Haven’t we been talking about student stress forever?  The fact is we have been talking about stress for a very long time.  According to Jennifer Wolfrum, the head of school health education for the Lexington School System, this is a topic that cycle around with regularity in Lexington.

“Hopefully this film will promote conversation,” she says.  “The issue of stress is not going away.  It’s going to be an ongoing issue, so, it’s a matter of keeping it on the radar screen.  That is my hope when we do these types of things.”  While it may seem to each new group of parent activists that the issue is new, it has actually been concerning Lexington parents for some time.  Wolfrum tells me that in the mid-90s they were offering relaxation and hypnotherapy to combat stress.  In the late 90s there was an academic stress committee. “I see it sort of comes and goes in waves,” she says.  “They’ll be a period of time when parents or students or both will [be concerned] about it, and we do surveys and we come up with ideas and things to do to address it.  And then, the energy behind it—all of the people doing these extra things—sort of dies down until it comes back again.”

LEXINGTON INITIATIVES

Right now in Lexington, the Collaborative to Reduce Student Stress (CRSS), which began as a small group at Temple Isaiah and has grown to about 50 or 60 members from different faith communities, has taken up the cause and is doing great work with the schools and other organizations around this issue. B.J. Rudman is the spokesman for the group. “About three years ago,” he explains, “a group of mostly parents and grandparents decided to get together to see what we could do to help. There are many groups in Lexington that deal with youth—the schools, the town, the PTAs; we want to collaborate with these groups with a particular focus on reducing stress.”

Rudman sees the screening of Race to Nowhere as a perfect example of how the group can be helpful.  “The idea actually came from the SHAC (School Health Awareness Committee) group at the high school.  “Many people have raved about the movie,” Rudman says.  The CRSS decided to step up and offer to plan the event.  Their volunteers have organized the screening and will staff the event. Following the screening, on May 5th at 7PM there will be a moderated community discussion there will be a community discussion at Temple Emunah. CRSS has also helped SHAC create their new website http://lhs.lexingtonma.org/Stress.

“My perspective is, a key to change is a change in community attitudes. People need to be educated and this is a very powerful way to do it,” Rudman says.  “We recognize that some stress is good, but too much stress is not healthy and ironically, too much stress actually inhibits academic performance.”

The scientific literature on stress and performance has been well documented in recent years and more recently it’s being updated to include research into the effects of technology on the developing brain. It may not be that academic stress and the focus on high stakes testing is the single driver of this epidemic of stress that we are seeing; technology may also be playing a major part in the problem.

 TECHNOLOGY, STRESS AND THE TEEN BRAIN

Dr. Sion Harris, a Lexington resident and member of SHAC, is a researcher at Children’s Hospital specializing in adolescent substance abuse and prevention strategies. She also has two children in the Lexington public schools.

“What is a 24/7 plugged-in world doing to brain development and our ability to maintain attention?” she asks.  Especially in adolescents whose brains are not fully developed. “It does require effort and high-order brain processing to be able to focus and tune out distractions,” she adds. In fact, teens are being bombarded by information all of the time—especially now that their phones are essentially pocket computers keeping them linked to the internet.  “We know that teens don’t have the prefrontal cortex development to be able to inhibit these behaviors,” Harris says. In other words, they can’t resist the urge to text or to go on Facebook if it’s available—even if they are supposed to be doing something else like homework.  “Even adults have a difficult time putting down the Blackberry,” Harris laughs.  “You can really see why the stress is ratcheting up.”  According to Harris kids are staying up all night texting and losing valuable sleep and brain processing time. “There are definitely casualties to being over-stimulated and over-connected and I do think that is one of the reasons that kids are more stressed today.”

But it’s not the only reason. As Race to Nowhere illustrates, high school students are clearly very concerned about being “successful” in life.  What that has come to mean in our society is following a certain path of achievement—high achieving high school student with a great resume gets into a top college (preferably an Ivy League school) which will guarantee you the American Dream.  This scenario is becoming more unrealistic as colleges become more selective and expensive. “We need to redefine what it means to be successful in this culture,” Harris says.

Dr. Blaise Aguirre is an instructor at Harvard Medical School and the medical director at 3East at McLean Hospital which specializes in treating teens and young adults. “Academic stress is real,” he says, “and kids do feel the real and competitive nature of their school lives.”  However, academic stress is not the only stress that causes anxiety among students.  He cites a study in which 4300 students were exposed to a list of common negative life events.  Students were asked to check those they considered “bad” that they had experienced in the previous six month period. The results were compiled into a list the most frequently reported events. Academic stress and school didn’t even appear in the top eight. “Most kids admitted to hospital because of stress-related depression,” Aguirre explains, “are [there] because of relational issues and not academic stress.”  But, according to Dr. Aguirre, there is also no question that any form of stress “is neurobiologically tied to depression.”  In individuals with a genetic predisposition it is a stronger link.

Dr. Harris says that her work has shown her how important it is for children to develop social-emotional competencies when they are young.  “If we are going to address this culturally, we need to engage the parents of younger children.  “Over the course of my work,” she says, “I see how much social and emotional competencies are important in kids.”

Social competency and resilience are protective agents when it comes to the adolescent brain.  The teen brain is impulsive and prone to risk-taking.  Kids without coping skills often become depressed or engage in behavior that can be dangerous to their own safety.  “Resilience can be innate for many people,” adds Dr. Aguirre, “but for those who do not have it, it can be taught.”  In fact, Dr. Aguirre uses mindfulness in his practice with young people.

The Race to Nowhere is a conversation starter. Bring your older children if you can and plan to attend the community conversation on May 5th to share your thoughts and ideas with the community.

 

 

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KIDS POINT, CLICK & LEARN

By Elena Murphy  | 

This year, teachers at Bridge and Fiske elementary schools have a small but powerful tool in their classrooms to help the growing numbers of students who attend but have little or no experience speaking English.

The tools are ELL (English Language Learner) kits and include a picture book with labels, as well as audiocassettes and headphones so students can click on pictures and hear the pronunciation of each word. ELL teachers Dierdre Schadler at Bridge, and Catherine Murphy at Fiske, were awarded a grant from the Lexington Education Foundation to put these kits in teachers’ hands to supplement the direct English language instruction these students receive.

English Language Learner teacher Deirdre Schadler works with a fifth-grade student from Japan using a new kit for students to build their English vocabulary.

“We saw a need in our community,” says Schadler. “The ELL population at Bridge alone is over 10%” of the total enrollment, she notes, and, “There are a lot of kids from all over the world who don’t have the English language to participate in the classroom.” She also points out that the year-to-year changes are so great that the teachers needed something in the classroom that was flexible to support this ever-changing student population.

Schadler says, teachers want to help but they are also covering the standard curriculum. Non-English speaking elementary school students get a half-hour to forty minutes of English instruction in small groups at their grade level, these ELL teachers say, and Schadler says, “They need more than that.”

“Our vision was that kids can use this where teachers are working with the rest of the class” and these students would not know what is being discussed at all. Using these “picture dictionaries” enables the “child to be engaged…rather than have the student feel like they can’t participate,” says Schadler. “It takes seven to ten years to learn a language completely,” so these children need all the opportunities they can get, she notes.

 

There are several themes to choose from, including home, school, food, and helping people. There are also four levels, so the kits can be adjusted as the student advances. There are a number of kits so they can be spread throughout the classrooms that need them, and books are changed biweekly, Schadler says.

Originally, these tools were going to be made available to kindergarteners through second-graders, but Schadler says that they’re being used through fifth grade. After all, she says, any non-English speaker is a “blank slate” and can benefit from the kits, and move up to more challenging levels as they develop their language skills.

The response from teachers and students has been great, says Schadler. “Teachers have welcomed it,” she says. “Each teacher integrates it in their own way.”  Typical use is while a teacher is explaining a lesson in science or social studies the student can take the kit out and work on it independently. The headphones allow the students to work quietly without changing the noise level in the classroom.

It’s important, says Schadler, that kids can move forward as “they feel successful.” For instance, students need to learn concrete words such as “dog” before they can understand abstract words such as “Constitution.” She says “it’s remarkable how well students have learned the basics” using the ELL kits.

ELL (English Language Learner) kits and include a picture book with labels, as well as audiocassettes and headphones so students can click on pictures and hear the pronunciation of each word.

Schadler says when she and Fiske’s Catherine Murphy considered what to include in these kits, Schadler thought of these materials since she had had success in her own family with this type of picture dictionary. Murphy notes if there were more time, she’d like to “write my own texts for these students, aligning them with what the teachers are teaching in the classroom,” but for now, the main goal of building English vocabulary is being achieved. She says, “I can see from my pre-tests and post-tests that students are most definitely acquiring the basic academic vocabulary that they will need going forward.”

“The beauty of this particular tool is that the student regulates his or her own pace,” says Murphy. Schadler agrees that the success of these kits “has everything to do with the child.” She says that while students acquire common expressions from their peers, these kits fulfill a broader need for vocabulary. She recalls a recent conversation with a kindergartner from Israel who began the year with essentially no English. “She was frustrated with communication at the beginning of the year. In March, we had a real conversation. To go from zero to conversant in that amount of time, that’s what makes this job amazing,” she says.

Murphy and Schadler would like to see this program expand throughout the Lexington elementary schools.

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