The National Mall is a National Disgrace.

natl_mallWe visited Washington D.C. for the first time this summer. It was exciting to visit all the places I had seen on television.

The White House, National Cathedral, WW II Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, National Archives, the Watergate Complex… the list goes on and on (by the way… 4 days isn’t long enough to visit Washington… you need about 87 to see everything).

I have decided to leave Ford’s Theater out of the discussion because I’m still trying to get the whole Hard Rock Café fiasco out of my head.

These places are so common to me because I have seen them a thousand times on the news, in history books, and even in movies.

Before I stepped foot in Washington, I had a picture in my mind of what things would look like.

Everything would be perfect.

With all the visitors that come to Washington, the monuments and memorials in our nation’s capital would be in the best possible shape.

I figured the government must pour millions of dollars into their upkeep.

I was wrong.

Everything wasn’t perfect. And it retrospect it couldn’t be.

The pictures I had seen over the years were taken to put everything in the best light (so to speak).

The buildings came the closest to being what I imagined. The National Cemetery in Arlington and the National Cathedral were even more impressive than I could have imagined.

Then there was the National Mall.

I was looking forward to seeing where they hold the Independence Day fireworks and all of the other great yearly events.

When we made our way to the mall, I couldn’t have been more disappointed.

To put it kindly, it’s a dump.

Trash, dirty bathrooms, stagnant water in the reflecting pool, and dead grass. If there is grass at all.

More like dead mud.

There was also a certain smell I couldn’t put my finger on. Not that I wanted to put my finger on it.

The Mall just wasn’t what I expected.

I guess I should’ve had lower expectations.

Especially since our legislators are in charge, and I figure they are hesitant to give money to the District of Columbia when they can ship it back to their home districts for very important projects (note to reader… this is sarcasm).

The mall hosts millions of visitors a year. You can’t have that many people walking around and expect it to look like a golf course.

I get that.

On the other hand I don’t think the National Mall should look like the grounds at the county fair.

Since it’s our nation’s front lawn, I think we should take care of it.

The least we can do is pay a high school kid $20 to mow it (or smooth out the mud).

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PrincipalsPage Goes to Washington D.C.

A few pictures from our trip to Washington D.C. in June, 2009. If you want to see more you will have to swing by the house and I will set up the projector for a slide show.

If you haven’t been to our nation’s capital, I highly recommend it.

Jefferson Memorial.

Jefferson Memorial.

The White House.

The White House.

Ford's Theater.

Ford's Theater.

Lincoln Memorial.

Lincoln Memorial.

The World War II Memorial.

The World War II Memorial.

Washington Monument.

Washington Monument.

The White House

The White House

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Supreme Court

Supreme Court

The Capital from the Steps of the Supreme Court.

The Capital from the Steps of the Supreme Court.

The Capital.

The Capital.

Rotunda at U.S. Capital.

Rotunda at U.S. Capital.

Lincoln's Desk Sat Here in the Capital.

The Exact Spot Abraham Lincoln's Desk Sat When He Was a U.S. Representative.

This Used to be the Center of Washington.  Located in the U.S. Capital.

This Used to be the Center of Washington. Located in the U.S. Capital.

National Cathedral.

National Cathedral.

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Field Trip to Washington D.C. and While I’m There, I Need to Swing By NECC.

NECC 2009 - Washington, D.C.

NECC 2009 - Washington, D.C.

On Sunday, I will be blogging (posting… whatever) from Washington D.C. and the National Educational Computing Conference.

It starts with a trip to the airport on Saturday night with the Queen of Technology, my Evil Spawn, and the Mother in Law (before you email me… Buddy the Dog is staying with Grandpa… which could very well be a blog in itself).

I’m not sure if this is a great deal for me or not… dropping off man’s best friend and picking up my mother-in-law. I have noticed Grandpa doesn’t seem disappointed about the swap.

A long drive to the airport, security, hotels, cab rides, 3 women… what in the world could possibly go wrong???

Hopefully a lot because that makes blogging so much easier.

First stop on the field trip… being a panelist at the SIGTC Forum: The 21st-Century Technology Leader for Max Frazier from Newman University. This will take place Sunday , June 28th from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm in Room 207B at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Please join us for the discussion and the first person who walks up and says, “I read the Blog and at times it rises to the level of not terrible,” wins nothing but my undying gratitude and admiration (and possibly total consciousness on your deathbed… so you would have that going for you).

After that, the wife and mother-in-law will be attending 8,000 sessions on technology (feel free to instant message them on Windows Live Messenger … or find them on Twitter at @brachsmith… @nbrach).

They will then report back to me about everything they learned that I can use at my school.

This is so much easier than if I attend the sessions.

Plus, they are so busy they don’t even eat lunch and that is just wrong if you ask me.

Meanwhile, my daughter and I will become tourists (although I might swing by and see my “father” Alan November speak).

If we take any good pictures of the White House, the Capital, Arlington National Cemetery, the Smithsonian, the Lincoln Memorial, the Mall, etc. I will post them on the blog.

If we die of heat/humidity, I will most likely not be posting.

Once (if) we return from Washington, it is possible the Blog will be going slightly more mainstream.

I may be going to work for “the man”.

More on that later but right now I need to pack. And packing almost never goes well.

But it will take my mind off the Buddy the Dog for Mother-in-Law swap.

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Strangers Always Have an Opinion About Education.

Everyone Gets an Opinion.  And Has One.Vacations are nice. Coming home afterwards is better.

It is always an experience to get out and see different parts of the country. An even better experience is sleeping in my own bed.

Yesterday was a travel day. It seems that the first and last day of any vacation is totally consumed with getting to your destination or coming home (and worse… packing).

It may ruin a whole day, but it does give you time to think.

While coming home, I took a few moments to contemplate everything that happened in the last several days (2 hours to the airport + 3 1/2 hours in the airport + 2 hour flight + 2 1/2 hour drive home = way, way too much time to think).

It occurred to me that while traveling in the last couple of weeks, I met two people who had very strong feelings about public education (doesn’t everybody?). And specifically how important technology is or isn’t for today’s students.

I didn’t really put too much thought into it at the time, but they were on the opposite end of the spectrum with their opinions.

The first time this subject was brought up was when we were taking a taxi in San Antonio.

Rocky, the cab driver (not to be confused with the Mountains) asked me what I did for a living.

Why is it that cab drivers always ask what you do? Anyway, he asked and when I said that I worked in a public school he wanted to share his thoughts (doesn’t everybody?).

His father came to America when he was a boy (about 50 years ago, I am guessing).

With his job he was able to put both of his daughters through college. He said that was important to his wife and him, even if they had to work 70 hours a week to pay for it.

He felt the world was changing too quickly, so college was not an option.

I asked him what was changing and he said everything…because of computers. He believes that even to drive a cab in today’s world that you need some knowledge of technology.

Their family has always had a personal computer in the house. He said his daughters lived on it during college.

His one complaint about their high school years was they didn’t learn enough about computers.

Then there was Mark. I played golf with him in Colorado. His opinion was just the opposite.

He was also interested in my job. He also had some thoughts about schools (shocker… doesn’t everybody?).

As the owner of his own business, he felt his employees (primarily teenagers) knew a lot about computers but not enough about working.

His idea: we spend way too much time teaching computers in school. He thinks humans are way too impressed with our own inventions.

While he owns a computer, he says he doesn’t use it. He doesn’t think we should spend so much time on them until we get the kinks out (I am not sure how we do this if we don’t use them, but who am I to argue with a complete stranger).

His strongest feeling was that public education should be more focused on vocational programs. He hates to see programs getting cut in school like art, music, industrial arts, etc., just so we can focus on test scores and technology.

So that was my vacation. Listening to strangers tell me what is right and wrong about education (ironically it was kind of like being at work).

Actually, it was quite interesting. I learned a lot from both. Although I was surprised about who believed what.

The one, who has the blue collar job, believes technology is the wave of the future.

The white collar businessman thinks schools need to spend more time on vocational programs and teaching work ethic.

I am more confused than ever. Should schools focus more time on technology, or less?

Should we set more time aside in the schedule for computers, or use that time for vocational programs?

Maybe we need to do both, but how do we find the time?

I wish I had thought to ask them.

Who knew strangers were so smart?

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NECC is Over; Just as My Two Worlds Came Crashing Together.

Two Worlds Colliding... an Asteroid... Whatever...If you are not an avid reader of this blog (like there are any), this entry may make more sense if you first read TRAVEL DOES STINK, BUT ALAN NOVEMBER WAS GREAT and FAMOUS PEOPLE READ THIS BLOG. OR MORE LIKELY; HE LOST A BET.

Please keep in mind that I said it may make more sense. I wouldn’t get your hopes up that any of them make complete sense.

The National Education Computing Conference, which I sort of attended, has now concluded. Our time in San Antonio, Texas has come to an end.

And I almost made it out of town before something bad happened. Almost is the operative word here.

It was a good trip other than one terribly awkward incident.

We enjoyed the city, Sea World, the zoo, the movies, the Riverwalk, and our 27 trips to and by The Alamo/Mall. Oh, I nearly forgot. The conference was great (so I have been told).

It was an enjoyable few days. The chance to visit a new city and not be at work is always appreciated.

Things were going smoothly until my two worlds clashed.

Note to self (and everyone): always, and I mean always, keep your worlds separate. This means work from home life; spouse’s family from yours; old prison friends from your kids; and especially your wife from the man who claims not to be your father.

Sadly, I was unable to do this.

You see, my wife decided it would be a good idea to walk right up to Mr. Alan November and introduce herself to the man who claims not to be my father.

She did this right before a presentation by Mr. November (as you can see, I still refuse to call him “Dad”). In the past, I have highly recommended that she (and everyone) attend one of his sessions on technology.

But, I had no idea she would make it personal.

She walked right up to him and said (and I am paraphrasing), “I am your daughter-in-law. Are you rich?” (Note from wife…I did not say that!).

Note from me: it was implied.

When she told me this story, I was mortified.

Not with her asking him if he is rich because that is a given (good speakers don’t come cheap).

It was more the fact that she made contact with a man who refuses to accept the responsibility that comes with being a parent.

Sure, he “claims” he was in junior high when I was conceived and that he has never met my mother. In addition to this web of lies, he says he was several states away in 1967 (like his 7th grade report card won’t tell a different story… your permanent record always contains a detailed list of unexcused absences).

Of course, he continues to deny any responsibility, but I am still waiting on the tests to come back from the lab.

I see this all of the time at school, especially with young men. They struggle when their fathers won’t step up and take responsibility. With proper guidance, some will put their shattered lives back together.

But worst case, they end up like me. Spending their free time writing slightly angry and incoherent blogs.

It’s sad.

The good news out of this most tragic situation is that my wife and mother-in-law thoroughly enjoyed his presentation. They said it was the best one at the entire conference.

They should know because they went to roughly 167 different ones over the course of 3 days (they are overachievers).

You would think they would be everything Mr. November would want out of a second family, but I guess not.

He was kind enough to take a picture with my wife and record a message for me on her camera.

Unfortunately, I can’t show their faces or share what he said in the message because of the possibility that this may become evidence in a future court case (the legal department at is top notch… especially for what I pay them).

But until then, I am going to take the high road and thank Mr. November for the excellent presentation (so I heard… I was at Sea World trying to get my daughter’s life on the right track).

I would also like to thank him for taking the time to visit with his daughter-in-law (or alleged daughter-in-law… depends which side of the courtroom you are sitting).

Although it is a shame he hasn’t met his granddaughter (next time you visit a theme park where fish are doing tricks, Mr. November, just think that it could be her training them… or more likely she was the cab driver who got you there).

I also appreciate the fact that he hasn’t filed the paperwork for that restraining order (as of yet).

Maybe one day, he and I can meet and put this ugliness behind us.

Let’s just hope it is at a technology conference and not in front of a judge.

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Guess Who I Saw at NECC?

That's One Big Fish.Today was a good day (unless you read this later… then it was another day). The NECC Conference is really hitting its stride.

When attending a big event such as NECC, I am always excited to see who I might bump into as I wander around the host city.

Today, it was a larger than life character. Just being around him, I could sense that he commands attention in his field. Being in his presence was an honor and a delight. I must admit that I could not take my eyes off of him.

You might even say that I was in awe.

I tried to soak up his every move.

Yes, that’s right.

I saw Shamu.

He (or she) was amazing. The tricks were great. And watching him (or her) splash the audience with his giant tail (or fin… whatever) was impressive.

But more importantly, he is evidently also the world’s best guidance counselor.

You see, after 7 long years, Shamu has convinced my daughter to finally get a job.

She may have found her calling. After going to Sea World for the day, she has decided that she wants to train giant fish to do tricks.

And by the way, who was the first person to look at a killer whale and say, “I bet I can teach him to do a summersault under water?” They were obviously a self starter and a bit of a fool. I wonder if they lived to see the second day of practice with that first whale.

Meanwhile, I have problems of my own.

After two years of school, my daughter is still adrift. But, today has given me hope.

I have to say that I have never been so proud of her. Although, I was close the day she accidently scored her first soccer goal (and sadly only one… so far… remember, I am the glass is half full kind of guy… or half empty, I can’t decide).

Maybe, just maybe, one day I can stop paying all of her bills (and if all goes well, maybe she will pay some of mine).

Thanks Shamu.

My daughter has a dream. Not a job, but a dream. And at this point I will settle for the mere hope of her one day being employed.

So, I will look back at NECC 2008 as the time when my daughter finally got her life on the right track.

She can now enter the 2nd grade with some long term goals. No longer is she an unfocused blight on society.

She has considered her options and made some tough decisions. She has a career path. She has picked a direction and is intent on following it through.

No, wait. Scratch that.

We just went out for ice cream and she said she thought it would be cool to drive a cab.

Oh well, maybe I put too much faith in Shamu. He does spend his days hanging around the pool, playing with his friends, and eating raw fish.

Being a good guidance counselor is harder than it looks.

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School Should Be More Like Children’s Museums.

The trip (free by the way… have I mentioned that?) continues.

The NECC Conference is going great… so I hear.

Although I do see a lot of people with convention badges not actually attending the convention. Which means they are where I am. And I am most definitely not at NECC. Could they be taking a vacation on their school district’s money (again, I am merely sharing what I see… I am not here to judge)?

My spawn, the mooch, (it’s genetic) and I had the big decision of spending today at Sea World or the Children’s Museum. San Antonio Children's Museum.

We went with the Children’s Museum. Sure, it was a risky choice, but since they have air conditioning we took a chance and rolled the dice.

I made sure we arrived early (after a nutritional McDonald’s breakfast… I am such a good parent), in order to beat the crowds of evil snot-nosed children.

Why is it that you can’t find a peaceful children’s museum that isn’t packed with kids?

Life continues to be a mystery.

While at the museum, I noticed that all of the children were running around, being enthusiastic, asking questions, and racing from one display to another. They couldn’t have been more excited or engaged.

It was almost like they were afraid that they would miss out on something. Imagine that, there was more knowledge being dispensed than they could shove in their little brains.

They had displays on computer animation, instant messaging, magnets, fresh water fish, agriculture, electricity, the arts, geology, archeology, another ology that I didn’t understand, and birds… just to name a few.

It was exactly like school.

Well, not exactly like school. Did I mention the kids were excited?

Then it occurred to me as I entered the giant train engine (actually it occurred to me when I slammed my head into the top of the doorway while going into the engine… Note to museum staff: spend 2 bucks on a sign that says “Small Door You Need to Duck; Don’t Enter If You Are an Idiot”).

My thought was that schools should be more like children’s museums.

Interactive, exciting, learn at your own pace, learn from others, move around, ask questions, try, fail and then try again, and have so much fun that you don’t realize that you have been there for 6 hours and that the McDonald’s Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Biscuit … while tasty, has long ago worn off.

And on top of that, every school should have a life size cow that you can milk and water comes out of its udder.

It was cool.

The water I mean. How do they keep the water inside the fake cow cool?

Since humans can invent a fake milking cow (with what appears to be a very advanced refrigeration system), shouldn’t we be able to make school more exciting?

Society has come so far with technology, space travel, medicine, and fake cows. Can’t we move beyond worksheets, chalkboards, and being forced to sit in a desk every minute of the school day?

Again, life and our educational system continue to be a mystery to me.

I am glad my wife, the queen of technology, is attending NECC so she can answer all of these questions for me!

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NECC, Here I Come. Sort of.

The Riverwalk in San Antonio, Texas.This Sunday I will be leaving for a very important computer conference. As a school administrator it is essential that I keep abreast of the latest developments in educational technology.

On a side note. I found the word essential on my new favorite website Eventually, a monkey will be able to write this blog (or as some have insinuated, maybe a monkey already is writing this blog).

Personally, I find this last comment offensive. It is insulting to writing monkeys everywhere. They obviously are not writing this blog because the content would be of a much higher quality.

But, back to my trip/educational journey (sure I could be watching TV, mowing my yard, playing Wii, or going to play golf, but am willing to put in the extra time for the kids).

Since I am attempting to stay current with technology, I will be in San Antonio, Texas next week during the National Educational Computing Conference.

For almost three decades, NECC has been the premier forum in which to learn, exchange, and survey the field of educational technology. This annual conference “presented by ISTE and keyed to the National Educational Technology Standards (NETS)” features hands-on workshops, lecture-format and interactive concurrent sessions, discussions with key industry leaders, and the largest educational technology exhibit in the nation.

I didn’t write that last paragraph. As if you hadn’t already figured that out ( can do only so much). It was quoted (stolen… whatever) from the NECC website.

It sounds like a wonderful event.

While I will be in San Antonio, I won’t exactly be attending the conference.

But the good news is my wife and mother-in-law will be.

Actually, it is good for them and great for me. You see they will go to the conference and attend about 297 sessions and then come back and tell me everything I need to know. In addition, they will come to my school and present their newly acquired information to my teaching staff.

Then I can facilitate in the application of the technology within my school district (remember, it is always about the kids).

This may sound like I am lazy, but that’s just not the case. I am actually being quite helpful.

During the conference I will be acting as babysitter, entertainer, tour guide, and tax write off.

My job will be to keep my daughter and I entertained and more importantly, out of trouble and out of the way. Our official title “Mooches”.

It really is a win/win. We get several days in San Antonio and my wife gets a tax break for her ever growing technology workshop business.

Plus, I get more knowledge about computer related stuff (granted, through osmosis… again, whatever it takes for the kids).

So, if you are going to NECC please keep in mind that I will be there (sort of). I will be at Sea World, or the Alamo, or on the River Walk, or at the Children’s Museum, or maybe on top of the Tower of the Americas.

If you have a moment and want to visit, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

So you can pick me out of the crowd, I will be wearing a t-shirt, khaki shorts, tennis shoes, and sunglasses.

I should jump right out at you.

See you at NECC. Or around NECC.

If you are running a small business and need a tax break (or two), please don’t hesitate to contact me at I am more than willing to help. Especially, if it is for the kids.

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My Father’s Day Gift: The House All to Myself.

Happy Father's Day!The family flew to Florida today. I didn’t go. Something about staying behind to work.

Oh, and I wasn’t invited.

Don’t feel bad for me. Sometimes it is a blessing not to be invited.

Plus my wife is letting me tag along to the NECC Conference with her (can you say tax write off… I feel like such a piece of meat… does she not know that I have feelings) and then we are going to Colorado on the family vacation. So that is enough travel for me for one summer.

Too much time in airports makes me a cranky administrator (alright, crankier).

They got on a plane for Florida early Saturday morning. They are meeting my daughter’s grandma and her aunt for an all girl’s vacation.

6 days for them in Florida. 6 days of them being in Florida for me.

This may sound harsh, but getting the house all to myself for an extended period just doesn’t happen very often.

Because of this opportunity, I didn’t want to be invited. It was the perfect storm for a non-invitation. You have Florida, beaches, the all-girls thing, and missing work.

Here are my reasons.

Florida isn’t my favorite spot because it is hot and full of old people (granted, I will be old soon), bad drivers (see old people, mostly from out of state), and it rains every day around 4:00 p.m. (just in time for the old people to get wet as they go to dinner… and no one likes the smell of wet old people).

Then there are the beaches. I know people love to just sit and stare at the ocean, but to me it is just sitting and staring at the ocean. I get it. It’s sand and water. How can you expect me to sit there quietly for 8 hours?

This goes against everything that I hold sacred.

My wife tells me I should read a book. Why fly 7 hours to sit in the heat and read. We have a library just a few blocks from the house (and it is air conditioned).

As I mentioned, it is also an all-girls trip. They will spend 6 days staring at the ocean and talking about… well I have no idea. I am assuming there will be lots of conversations about flowers, babies, clothes, and girl’s stuff that I don’t understand (actually I do understand, I just try not to think about it).

And I didn’t want to miss work (did I just write that?). Suddenly, I am feeling a little nauseous.

Normally, I would jump at the chance to skip out on work in June. School is out for the year and the beginning of next year seems so far away.

But it is that time of year when 3 or 4 teachers resign as they move on to new jobs.

This means I have plenty of work to do at school (I am guessing about 25 interviews before the hiring season comes to a close).

No time for the beach.

So I will be spending Father’s Day alone. All alone. By myself.

It’s great.

And so quiet.

I don’t think the Florida vacation was meant to be my Father’s Day gift, but it sure has worked out that way.

6 days of doing whatever I want, whenever I want. Catching up on yard work, golfing, and watching TV in peace (just for the record I am wearing pants as I write this, although not wearing them is certainly an option that deserves consideration).

This also means I am presently sitting in the house where the tempature is hovering around 57 degrees (and I don’t have to feel badly because the wife isn’t walking around wearing a jacket and stocking cap complaining that it is hard to Twitter when she can’t feel her fingers).

The only downside is that I can’t (or won’t) cook. I may starve to death. I think I can survive until Thursday, but time will tell.

The nice people at Pizza Hut were kind enough to provide me with dinner (along with the kind ladies at Subway who provided me lunch).

So the girls get to enjoy themselves in Florida and I get to do whatever I want for almost a whole week.

Don’t get me wrong, I will miss them. Quiet is great for awhile, but I am sure at some point it will get too quiet (I need some noise or else the voices in my head become too clear).

Before they left, I got to open my real Father’s Day gift.

Much to my surprise, my daughter purchased me a Nintendo Wii. It’s the gift she has always wanted.

Nothing says Father’s Day like your only child taking your money and buying themselves a video game.

Actually, I am glad she got me (us) the video game. It is a lot of fun (I didn’t realize how far video games have come since Pacman, Mario Brothers, Donkey Kong, Space Invaders and my personal favorite Frogger).

The whole family will enjoy it and get to spend time together (but not for a few days).

The downside is she has already called me 3 times from Florida to tell me that I need to practice while she is gone.

She needs some competition when she gets back.

And they will be back before I know it. Truthfully, in a couple of days I will be counting down the minutes until I get to see them.

In the meantime, I need to find some teachers and sharpen my video game skills.

But before I do that, I am going to sit on the couch (possibly wearing pants… haven’t decided yet) and enjoy the quiet.

Happy Father’s Day everybody.

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While this site operates with the knowledge and awareness of the Tuscola CUSD #301 School Board, Tuscola, Illinois, the content and opinions posted here may or may not represent their views personally or collectively, nor does it attempt to represent the official viewpoint of Tuscola CUSD #301 administrators or employees.