Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Peer Learning: With A Little Help From My Friends

Connor remains purposely "hands off" and coaches the younger learners to figure it out as they learn together.

I found the different ways that younger kids approach problems and projects interesting. It was often different from how I would look at things.
They often question the process more than I would and are a lot more fluid in how they learn and approach things.

Connor Aguilar

Thinking back to High School, I don't recall tutoring or volunteering to help kids.  Perhaps, I was too consumed in my own life: sports, friends and school work.  In defense, I don't even remember hearing about these opportunities. In college, there were a handful of times I volunteered, when asked or expected to because of my sorority or college courses  I certainly wasn't asking about volunteering, and didn't even know about service learning projects. How embarrassing as I was seeking a future in education...

It's embarrassing and yet enlightening. Enlightening because as I observe this current generation of millennials and now digital natives, I see them volunteering and doing more service than my generation talked about, let alone participated in.   The media can often portray our younger generation as corrupt and consumed with themselves and their technology; yet, if you look closely enough you will see a completely different side. And if you don't, let them show you. Offer them ways to show you the side of serving others and what that looks like.

While peer teaching is not exactly a new way of teaching or learning, it certainly has been picking up popularity. But I prefer to support activities which involve peer learning. Why? Because when we teach others there is an instant role assignment. I'm the teacher, you are the student. When there is  peer learning, we BOTH learn TOGETHER. Right away the stigma of an authoritative role is taken away and lines are blurred and crossed to see both sides of the learning taking place. According to a web article from Stanford,  "It is not a substitute for teaching and activities designed and conducted by staff members, but an important addition to the repertoire of teaching and learning activities that can enhance the quality of education" (Boud, 2002).  

Since little has been researched among K-12 students, last summer, Rockhurst High School and the STEAM Studio  teamed up. Greg Owsley (Rockhurst High School STEAM Director), JW Clark (Rockhurst High School STEAM Coordinator) and I developed and conducted a research project involving RHS students and STEAM Studio K-8 participants to see what they could learn from each other. 

In summary, the 16 RHS "coaches" (participants in the research project) chose this project as their service learning hours and came to the STEAM Studio twice a week to share knowledge they gained from their RHS classes (robotics and other classes) with almost a 100 (98 to be exact!) K-8 youth in the after school programs.

The RHS coaches approached every activity using this model with the K-8 youth at the STEAM Studio.

We were invited to share our findings at the international conference, ISTE this past month. Connor, Krishon, and Brion (Rockhurst High School students) along with a few STEAM Studio youth, our STEAM Studio Coordinator, Laine Eichenlaub, Greg, and myself spent two hours presenting and sharing the interesting and effective strategies we found from the 12 week research project. Here are some of those findings...

 Unlike other service projects in which the affect was direct and right now, STEAM Studio was about giving kids skills that they could use for the rest of their lives

Krishon Harris

"I found this to be a really cool idea for teaching high schoolers how to teach and explain things like teachers.
I also found that the kids seemed to be really interested in the topics provided and wanted to learn more."

Ethan Fetters
  • Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song. Motivation. How do we motivate humans to learn, to work, to do anything? There has to be an interest! One of the questions on the post-survey (at the end of the project) given to the RHS coaches was "how do you think you will made a difference?"  Over 50% of them said they felt they made the most difference by raising interest in the areas of STEAM. What is interesting is that none of them thought this would happen when we asked them in the pre-survey (beginning of the project). This goes to show that they felt after they worked with the youth they definitely observed some sparks flying!

I found this project interesting because it provided an environment in which I could both learn from the kids and help them.
It was cool to see all of the different projects come to life with the resources in the STEAM Studio.

Mitchell Roberts
  • Gonna try with a little help from my friends. I'm happy to report that our RHS boys are coming back to try more activities and continue this research project for the 2016-2017 school year!  This next time around we will be focusing on what the K-8 youth are learning and how they feel about learning from older peers as we also continue to track data from the high school students.  This will enable us to find interesting and creative ways to motivate learners to not only learn STEAM content, but learn from each other.

 We do know that peer learning can facilitate friendships.

Friendships that increase confidence in both parties and motivation to learn...together.

Let's get by with a little help from our friends.


  • The ISTE presenters: Greg Owsley: Teacher, Rockhurst High School, Laine Eichelaub: STEAM Studio director, Connor Aguilar, Brion Dennis, Krishon Harris, Rockhurst High School Students & Research participants

Our crew who represented the Rockhurst High School/ STEAM Studio research project at the international technology in education conference in Denver, CO in June, 2016.
  • To our 16 new friends, the "young men for others" Rockhurst High School service learning/research project participants who worked with 98 STEAM Studio youth: 

Brendan Odrowski
Brian  Medina
Brion Dennis
Connor  Aguilar
Ethan Fetters
Jacob Bamesberger 
Keaton Schieffer
Krishon Harris
Mitchell Roberts
Sam Lee
Sam Keitges
Seth Harper
Sherlock Gong
Steven Madigan
Thomas Leggio 
Ting Gong

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Peace and Protect: Don't Back Down

Our next generation is watching what is happening and they have questions,
most recently about the Orlando shooting. What do we say?

I use to think a two year old asked a lot of questions, but at least I knew the answers to them. As my kiddos get older I am finding that they ask more questions that I often don't know the answers to.

Most recently is this week, why did a man go into a dance club and shoot people? How come he was so mad? Did he know them? Am I going to get shot at my dance studio? Did he die? What happened to those families? Where did he get the gun?

As a parent and educator, I have been through countless hours of safety training, have had experiences with lock downs, drills, and intruder alerts.  I've had to research best practices about being proactive or reactive when there is danger. I have discussed with parents, teachers and students on how to handle scary situations and what to do to prevent them. However, nothing can fully prepare you for a school, church or club shooting. I do feel it is incredibly important that our youth feel safe: physically, emotionally, mentally and so on. We know that protecting them from harm and fostering peace in the classroom, community and especially at home is imperative.

How do both get taught together? When we protect others: we shield them, defend them, keep them from harm. It is an active role that requires one person to build a secure environment 24/7 which could involve some violent act. Teaching and promoting peace means to provide a calm, restful, and quiet place in a nonviolent way. It appears to be utopian, ironic and impossible.

But it is possible and here are some tips on how...

1. Take the time to talk:  Being proactive is very helpful when approaching difficult topics with kids. They may not ask questions, so letting them know what happened before they hear it elsewhere is ideal. It preps them for what could be the unknown. Depending on the ages of your kids or youth you are around, you will know how much to share. But, the bottom line is, let them know what is going on. They should hear it from a trusted adult they know, that first hand from another child or TV newscaster.

2. There ain't no easy way out...  Shootings, killings, act of violence are hard to explain and understand. Giving simple facts about what you know about the situation is key. The shooter was bullied, or mentally ill, perhaps on some drugs...whatever the situation. It's crazy and scary to kids to hear that someone randomly kills someone else.  Limiting exposure to media is what many psychologists suggest. Research shows that kids often think the act is reoccurring when they watch it over through social media and it becomes a constant reminder that they may not be safe themselves.

3. Gonna stand my ground: Every family has an opinion on gun control or freedom to bear arms.  Every family has an opinion of what protection means for them or what peace means for others. Talk to your kids about how you feel and WHY.  Explain to your kids that other families will have other opinions and WHY. Educating our youth on the issues and each side is how we can actually protect them and promote peace. Understanding and accepting different points of view is what actually can bring us together.

4. Stand me up at the gates of hell: In this age of technology, we are exposed to many dangerous situations.  Yet, many of us are closed off to what is really going on around us as we look down and are glued to our devices.  Kids are no different. The shootings, the bullying, the violence and the stranger danger are sickening, saddening and down right psychotic. Keep reminding them to put their phones away, look around, be observant, talk to each other...be in the moment.  Encourage them to notice any warning signs and report them immediately. Here are some helpful sites to get the conversation started:

Strangers:  http://www.ncpc.org/topics/violent-crime-and-personal-safety/strangers
Bullying: https://www.stopbullying.gov/kids/
Shootings: https://www.kidpower.org/library/article/weapons-schools/

5. In a world that keeps on pushing me around: Remind kids they are loved, remind them that even people that have different opinions need love, remind them that it's ok to stick up for themselves. Most importantly, keep reassuring them that you will do what you feel is right to protect them and keep them safe. We need to live out of love, not fear. Studies show fearful people have anxiety, depression and personality disorders.  Peaceful people have a more fulfilled and enlightened life. They are more aware of the world and emotionally stable. 

This is an opportunity to explain how your family can cope with and discuss these types of issues. It doesn't help to place blame on others nor draw attention to the person who committed the horrendous crime. It's an opportunity to feel sympathy for the victims and their families, to help your kids/students understand, or at least talk through their own concerns.

Let's raise our youth to be more aware of the world around them and find ways to protect and promote peace. Don't back down when it comes to helping our next generation.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Sister Act: What A Week In A Convent With Nuns Taught Me

Whether you are near or far, you are always needed.

We are called to serve others.  Sometimes it's comes at the most challenging times, other times it's actually perfect timing.

My mission trip to Philly was both.

As a professor at Rockhurst University, I am blessed with the opportunities to participate and lead service immersion trips. Serving over winter break provides me the opportunity to be away when I am not teaching, my kids are in school during the day and there's not much action during the wintry mix of early January. However, it does fall on the first week my kiddos are back in their routine, courses need to be organized for the semester, and the aftermath of Christmas is in high gear.

Helping others is never convenient. It's just not. If it was, everyone would do it. Serving others is a calling, it's done with out the expectation of reciprocation. I flew to Philly thinking I would be serving the homeless and helping in the urban Catholic schools, what I experienced with 9 students and my fellow faculty companion was much more than I could have anticipated.

So I went, and stayed in a convent with a group of nuns for a week.  What does that look like?


It actually looks like this...
    Our last supper serving at a homeless community center in Camden, NJ.

Here are 8 lessons I learned from my week with the Sisters of St. Joseph in Chestnut Hill. A group of soldiers who carry out their mission daily without reservation or judgement about those they serve or those who choose not to serve.

1. Let go of judgement you don't know you have.  This is powerful. I had thoughts floating around in my head about the homeless, until I sat down and talked to them. Looked them in the eye and saw what they were sharing...from their soul.

2. We shame so many people without getting to know them.  That person who is on welfare, that person who lives in the multi-million dollar house, it's all relative. We tend to look at others without really seeing who they are.

3. Acting is not always about doing something- most often it's about listening, We don't listen, deeply.  We hear people but do you listen to what they are really saying? How often do we take the time to really listen to someone, without thinking about offering our thoughts or thinking about what we are going to say back?

4. Meet people where they are- not where you think they should be.  Every adult is responsible for their own life. If you are in their life, you are there to support them and to accompany them on their journey. Not to give them a road map, but to show them their options of routes to take. Some take longer than others, there's the chance of getting lost along the way, but usually they will find their way back. Perhaps you are the gas in their tank.

5. Try to greet everyone with a smile.  This is so cliche' but if you do it for a day, you will feel like you are walking on cloud nine. It only takes a second and it will change their day... more so, yours.

6. Quit searching for love. It's there. See it.  I'm not expert on love, but I've learned from my week with Sister Jules, Sister Celeste, Sister Rita and Sister Michelle (and many other of my Sistas) that it is there. RIGHT.IN.FRONT.OF.YOUR.FACE. It may not be pretty, but what a rewarding feeling, to love and experience love unconditionally.

7. Don't help. Serve.  No one is a superhero. Quit trying to be one. When you help someone, there's this feeling of paying back. You changed my tire, you took my kids for an afternoon, you covered lunch, I'll pay ya back....no no no.  Serve people with humility- no strings attached. It all shakes out the way it should in the end.

8. Cross boundaries. Do things that blow your mind.  How many times do you go beyond your comfort zone? Yeah, that's what I thought. In a world of instant gratification we need to challenge ourselves to be patient, to be risk takers, to let our excitement be our passion. You live once, try something new, try helping someone new.

I may not be converting to be a nun, but I am converted. After my week with a house full of nuns, I'm learning to let go of judgments, trying to live more simple, being mindful of my actions and reaching out to those who need it most, no matter their economical status.  It will be a daily challenge, but one I am excited to act on because of my new Sisters.

Turn your magic on. Make someone feel alive.
Get someone through their adventure of life, 
without judgement, without expecting something back.

Sing it Coldplay!

Special thanks to:
  •  Sister Jules, Sister Michelle, and Sister Celeste, who accompanied us daily and put up with our questions, lousy Monopoly game tactics, and card playing sharkness!  You saw the good in us and daily loved us, reminded us to mindful of our actions, to "see" others,  and gave us "treats!".  You changed our lives forever though God's love.
  • Sister Rita- Personally, you forever changed my thinking about serving others with your witness and straightforward, yet loving attitude. You opened my eyes to what it really means to serve, hold people accountable and share kindness to all, no matter what.
  • Sister Delores, Sister Jane, Sister Linda: what you accomplish daily in your ministries is beyond amazing. The passion, humbleness, dedication and soul you put into every task you do, no matter how small it may seem was and is an inspiration to all of us.
  • The Notable Nine: Abigail, Angie, Clare, Emily, Grey, Leanna,  Nellie, Nicole, and Peter- So many memories and quality time together. I am awe of the sacrifice you took to service a week of your time, the happiness you shared constantly with others and each other, but more than anything, your sweet souls that will continue to serve in the ways you are called to do so. Thank you for one of the most memorable weeks of my life!
  • Kenneth Mellard: Thank you for driving us all over Philly and Jersey and being there for us each and every day.  I enjoyed being your co-pilot even though geography is obviously not my strength. Your insight and thoughtful reflection was appreciated and makes me beyond grateful that I was lucky enough to take this journey with you and those who's paths we crossed.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Helping Others: No Need To Go Out Of Your Way

We can't help everyone, but everyone can help someone.
Ronald Reagan

We've all been in a time of need.  Maybe you just needed a ride somewhere, some extra cash, a piece of advice, a place to crash or a supportive hug. Every single soul out there has needed something at sometime from someone who didn't have to give you anything.

But he or she did. Why?

The other day I was on campus outside grading (one of my favorite things to do...not really). It was such a beautiful day so there were students everywhere soaking it all in. Such a positive buzz all around.  I overheard a student shout out to a friend, "hey! I need your help, can I get a ride to Ashley's house?" To which the other student replied, "I can't right now." I saw the desperation in the requester's face, but then the another girl standing there said, "I can! It's on my way."

For some reason it got me thinking about helping others and volunteering. I feel as though sometimes there seems to be two extremes when being asked for help: overwhelmed or excited.  It's hard to say no, but on the other hand we need to say no at times. Generally speaking, we want to pay it forward, go out of our way, do what's right for the greater good.

What if we were just honest. Instead of indirectly, or directly making someone else feel like we are going out of our way, we just responded with: "you're on my way" or "I can't right now".

If you think about it in the big picture, no one should volunteer or help others out of guilt or pressure. You do it because it makes you feel good, and it should!

What? Isn't that selfish?

Nope, ask yourself, "where am I going?"  When you think of where you are with your life and you think about ways to add a positive energy to that, where do you see yourself? Helping others because you want to grow, learn something new, connect with someone, and want to increase your chance of happiness as you help someone else find happiness results in a win-win for both parties. It's not selfish. It goes beyond being nice, it's seeing the bigger picture.

It makes sense then to serve someone  or an organization who in return serves you in some psychological, emotional, or spiritual way. They can teach you about a different aspect of life or maybe open your eyes to seeing something a different way. It can be a one time shot, or long term commitment. The choice is yours. There's nothing wrong with picking a time or place based on an area of yourself hat is lacking.  Life is short, spend your time wisely!

If someone feels as though they are "going out of their way" to help someone else, than maybe they should just stay where they are.  Keep opening your mind to new avenues of volunteering, serving others and let others help/serve you. It leads to a healthier life, happiness and higher self- esteem.

"There is no separation between inner and outer, self and other. Tending to ourselves, we tend to the world. Tending the world, we tend to ourselves.
The Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield.

At the STEAM Studio, we rely on different types of volunteers. As a non profit with a mission of inspiring kids of all ages to be interesting and engaged in the area of STEAM, that can sometimes be challenging. It amazes me at the flow of people we have helping. We always can use more (so please jump in if you wish!) but we have volunteers who return consistently without anyone requiring them to do so. These same volunteers also serve others outside of the STEAM Studio.  Here's what some of these RU college students had to say about just that...

Alli W. on volunteering with a wild group of first grade girls' soccer team, "I am thankful for the opportunity to work these girls. It's been amazing experience getting to know them. Each one is different which makes it so fun to be around them and watch them interact."

Mitch F. on serving others from Uganda to the STEAM Studio, "I learn an immense amounts of things from working with different kinds of kids and people. I also learn more about myself and how to be more understanding of others lives and the some struggles people go through." 
Jamison W. on also volunteering at the STEAM Studio and coaching young girls in soccer, "I help because I enjoy being there for them and helping the little ones. It's what I love to do!"

Laine E., our new STEAM Studio Coach/Volunteer Coordinator on what she enjoys about helping others," Supporting creativity and inspriing students to explore new areas is what I love doing. We have support from professionals and STEAM coaches which helps us all achieve."
Next time you volunteer or help someone and they respond with,  
"thanks for going out of your way", 
why don't you say, 
"thank you for getting me on my way."

We all need somebody to lean on...


Wednesday, August 19, 2015


I have loved hip hop music, my whole life. Well, maybe not my whole life, pretty sure I wasn't shouting out "Rapper's Delight" by The Sugar Hill Gang in preschool. However, I have always been intrigued by the beat and the artists' portrayal of their life experiences delivered in a unique lyrical way. In high school and college, there was the mix tape marathons of  2Pac, Beastie Boys, Biggie Smalls, Biz Markie, Dr. Dre, Ghetto Boys, Ice Cube, L.L. Cool, J, Missy Elliot, NWA, Snoop Dogg, TLC,  just to name a few. My friends would laugh because I could recite every single word to every single song, but couldn't remember where I put my keys. I enjoy learning about that "world", their experiences, their quest for understanding what life is about to them and I'm impressed at how raw they are about it all.

Naturally, I went and saw the movie "Straight Outta Compton", which has already made $60 million (and only took $29  million to make). It's based on the rap group, N.W.A. from the late 80's which was comprised of five musicians from the most dangerous streets in the country at that time. I couldn't help but think about how wise these group of young men were when they first came into the limelight.

Wise? These "thugs", "gangstas", "police haters", pretty much the opposite of what many would consider role models. Yep. Let's be clear, I respect the law and feel everyone else should to. That's not what the focus is here. I agree, they did not go about voicing their opinions in the most gentle way. What they did do was courageously share their experiences; crude and debatable, without worrying about how others were going to judge them. I'm sure there are some embellishments to what and how things went down, but they were on a mission to uncover and reflect on some real and uncomfortable situations. It forced people to discover the truth.

Discovery of truth. How often do we take to time really discover the truth? Social media, sources via Google, continuous gossip,  endless generalizations and so on provide us with many "masked" truths, as I would call them.  These perceptions lead us to believe any information we hear or see, which somehow convinces us that we are the wise ones.

Not true.

This year's core value focus at Rockhurst University is wisdom. Have you ever googled wisdom? These are images you will see pop up and what I think about them.

Nope: Acquiring all kinds of information from digital devices
(or knowing how to use technology) does not make you wise.

Think again: Being the smartest person in the room
(or the one with the most academic degrees) does not make you wise.
Not true: Experiencing a spiritual movement or seeing a dove from Heaven
(although that would be really cool) does not make you wise.

According to Jesuit Priest,  Father Dean Brackley, one should focus on the big questions. He says,

Wisdom, not mere information, is the goal of education. 

Discovering truth requires reason, rooted in experience and practice nourished by contemplation...and imagination. 

Only such, engages the whole person which produces wisdom.

At Rockhurst U, we are trained, we reflect, we teach, and we reflect (yes, reflect and reflect and reflect) on the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm which seeks to produce wisdom, it flows like this:

Let's face it, our world complicates things.   It's up to us to simply search for the truth and focus on how it can help us solve important questions.  Father Brackley explains those important questions as, "... the drama around us, injustice and liberation, good and evil, grace and sin..."

Someone once told me truth can cause controversy, but controversy isn't always the truth. At first, I was like, "what?!" As I have thought about that over the years, I think it boils down to this: information comes at us and people react by instantly raising questions, making judgments and either expressing feelings of happiness or anger. It's how we react to these pieces of information that makes us wise, not smart. Take the time, if you really care, to find the truth in it all.

Everyone has a story, everyone is on a journey. Sing (or rap) your song and be thoughtful how you respond to what you see or hear. Thanks to technology, we live in a fishbowl. But, sometimes that fishbowl is is there to make you think:  a) the fish is dying because of some purposely placed contaminated water, or b)it is happily living in Utopia surrounded by perfect plastic trees and colored rocks. Which is true? It's for you to discover, which makes YOU all the wiser.

Maybe this was the song that triggered my love for hip hop?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

It's Not You, It's Me...Actually It's Technology

We are born with a brain not a power cord.

It's so easy to blame others...other things. Yes, I'm guilty too.

Everyday I read a post, hear a comment, analyze research or engage in some sort of debate about how technology is impacting (ruining) our society. The good, the bad and the ugly. You want the truth? It's OUR fault. We are to blame.

Don't shoot the messenger.

When I was a teacher some parents would say, well you don't have kids so you don't understand. Now I have kids and some parents say, well, you don't have teenagers so you don't understand. As a professor, I sometimes hear, you're not in college you don't know how hard it is to unplug. Here's what I do understand and always believe. Humans, not technology have the real power. 

We say things like, "If it weren't for technology, I wouldn't have ____________ (insert something you did that you now regret)." That's like saying, if I didn't have a car I wouldn't have gotten a speeding ticket, if I didn't have a mouth I wouldn't have made that mean comment. Technology is a THING, it's not human. You own technology, it doesn't own you.  Now that we have all these great gadgets and devices, it is so easy to let it overcome our lives. I get it! Teaching technology courses and striving to inspire others to use technology effectively opens your eyes, wide.

Here are five helpful tips I have found through my teaching experiences and research:

1. Turn it OFF: Honestly for health and happiness reasons, it should enhance your life. There are certainly health concerns and connections to depression when it comes to using technology. Regarding solutions on how to scale back the use of technology from kids to adults: check out these three great websites with essential, intelligent info.

No more digital dinners.

2. Don't hurry me: Really the only question you should  ask yourself: "Does it save me time or waste my time?" Sure, there is always a learning curve, but in the end it should make you more efficient, not looking for a new job, a new friend, a new family...a new life. I also know that people expect an immediate response. I learned a great strategy at a workshop awhile back that if you are just upfront with people about the fact that you cannot always illicit a quick response, they will get it. Instead of constantly apologizing, "I'm sorry it took so long to get back with you." Try letting them know it will take you a day or two to respond (if that's feasible). Unless you are an emergency vehicle or coffee maker, you don't have to be instant. What will your response time be?

3. Have fun with it: Truth is, technology is amazing! It's only getting "smarter". Smart audio, smart video, smart wearables, smart connections...the list goes on. We have seen things already in our short life span that others have only dreamed about. Enjoy it, find ways to use it to keep that positive platform progressing. It is also imperative we know how to use technology. Our world depends on it. We need to be skilled on how to effectively use it and communicate with it.

4. Find the balance: We all have this balance scale deep inside us, our soul. If we listen closely, we know what's really important and we will seek ways to make time for that.

Find what really is meaningful to you. You can't Google that.

5.  Watch out for broken glass: Would you ever just walk on broken glass? No, you know it's going to damage your feet, or make the mess worse. Just as simple as you know that there are situations you need to avoid when using technology. Help someone else avoid that digital broken glass. It could be a tip, a helpful link, a website, an app, a piece of advice that has helped you with technology use. Our lives are cycles of learning and growing. We make mistakes, we learn from them. If we don't, hopefully we have someone who calls us out on them. If not, you have to help yourself.  We need technology to live, sometimes as much as we need food to live, a job to live. BUT, we don't let food run our lives, we try not to let our jobs run our lives and we certainly shouldn't let technology run our lives.

Someday, probably in our lifetime, there will be a digital blackout. It shouldn't worry you, it should give you peace, hope or at least excitement. A day (or week) without technology perhaps would give us more time to to look up and out at all the amazing people and things right in front of us.
Maybe you don't love wine or smooching but everyone loves dancing in the moonlight.

Enjoy Toploader's rendition of  King Harvest's "Dancing in the Moonlight". It's a supernatural delight.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Why Today Will NOT Be "Burn the American Flag" For Me

My flag flying outside my house symbolizing my gratitude to be an American citizen.
Despite all of the hatred and hardships, we are given much freedom and many choices.

Lots of talk about different types of flags in America lately.  People taking them down, putting them up, burning them, stomping on them, selling them, buying them, or just ignoring them. There's no doubt about the injustice many Americans face on a daily basis. As we work through these important issues, I feel we need to be reminded that we still live in a great country which gives us many freedoms. Our American flag is a symbol of these freedoms.

In case you haven't heard...today is "Burn the American Flag"...in America .

Declared by a group of  activists (American citizens at that) who apparently think by burning the American flag they can disarm the NYPD.  I'm not going to talk about their reasoning or try to rationalize their motives. If you really care to give them more attention, Google it. I learned a long time ago that changing people's minds is impossible. People change their own minds, usually by calmly listening to or reading about a different perspective explained through simple reasoning.

Here is a short, simple, yet powerful list of reasons for not burning the American flag today (or ever) which are connected to the freedoms we all have, no matter what race, gender or socio-economic class you are labeled:

The freedom to love.

The freedom to have children or not.

The freedom to raise our children the way we feel is the best way to raise them.

The freedom to love our children and others as much as we wish.

The freedom to choose who we want to be friends with and who we do not.

The freedom to sit on a friends' back patio and talk about something that we are sad about, or better yet, laugh all night long.

The freedom to keep our bodies healthy and our minds open.

The freedom to rock out to our favorite tunes.

The freedom to earn a free education.

The freedom to have a job.

The freedom buy something, to own something.

The freedom to dance.

The freedom to be wild, weird, quiet, loud, calm, crazy, unique, funny, classy, sassy, strong, weak, proud, humble...whoever you are.

The freedom to play.

The freedom to make mistakes.

The freedom to get outta town.

The freedom to practice any religion we choose.

The freedom to kick back and have a few beers.

The freedom to vote for any political party we decide at every election.

The freedom to dress anyway we desire.

The freedom to call our loved ones and catch up.

The freedom to celebrate.

The freedom to marry anyone, anywhere.

The freedom to help a stranger or a stranger help you.

The freedom to change our minds about what we think.

These all come with sacrifice, made by each and every one of us. They also come with great service to our nation: made by my grandpa, my dad, my uncle, my friends and people who don't even have a clue who I am, but care enough to protect me. 

America is not perfect. We live here by choice, understanding that while we have the freedom to confront oppression, we are responsible for honoring our country. Burning a symbol of our freedom extinguishes the respect for our freedom.

So if a group of activists want to declare today 
"Burn The American Flag" day... 
then I declare it 
"Don't Burn the American Flag" day!

Happy July 4th--Fly your flag high and proud!

 "You might have to walk the fine line, you might take the hard line…and somewhere on the way, you might find out who you are.  I live in America, help me out."