When a Daughter s Laptop Meets 45 Caliber Pistol

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This week a “parenting advice” video went viral and is currently running at 13 million page views. It involves a father from North Carolina who reads a disrespectful Facebook post from his 15-year-old daughter complaining about having to do chores.

After reading her post, he decides to plug her laptop with eight hollow-point bullets from his .45-caliber pistol.


There are two camps in the comments on this video. Camp one is the beleaguered parent group who are saying, “Good job, Dad!” On the other side of the debate is the mental health community who are planning on treating this emotionally scarred kid for years to come.

As I began my parenting journey in the late 80s, a parenting poem by Dorothy Law Nolte was making the rounds and became pretty popular. But the words are still true all these years later:

When I first saw this video, I was reminded of Dr. Nolte’s poem. Unfortunately, this dad, Tommy, has just taught his daughter how to handle conflict – the wrong way. Pull out a

Second Chances through Community Service

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One summery Friday night stands out in my memory. I had a house full of boys, as was typical and my strategy was to read a book until the wee hours of the morning when everyone quieted down. My oldest was 16, the next 14 and my youngest was 9. Finally about midnight, the house settled in and I turned out the light and went to sleep.

I was awakened at 2:30 a.m. by a pounding on the door. Sleepily looking through the opening, I was startled at seeing two police officers standing on my front porch. Now I don’t remember much of the conversation, but it had something to do with some boys blowing up something at the local baseball field in our then hometown of Wheaton, Ill. I assured the police officers that my boys were safely home in bed. Which they were…. But, earlier in the evening the boys and friends decided it would be awesome to make a homemade bomb and blow it up. Unfortunately, they chose to use a locker that housed a Little League’s baseball team’s equipment. The

Preparing Lessons That Change Lives

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It’s one thing to write an interesting character lesson or to have in hand a cool curriculum; quite another to tweak this month’s lesson to make it effective for my unique group of students. In almost thirty years of lesson planning, I’ve found that the following guidelines help me edit my lessons for effectiveness. Try using them to evaluate each of your lesson plans.

Of the scores of items I could target, I consider these to be the most essential for effectiveness and the easiest to overlook.


  1. Does the purpose statement reflect the needs of my students?
  2. Does everything in the lesson drive me toward accomplishing that purpose?

Lesson Elements…

  1. Will the introduction hook students to the topic?
  2. Know Feel Do. Does it lead them to know the subject, engage their feelings and give them specific, doable action points?
  3. Does the outline flow logically?
  4. Are my transitions from one point to the next clear?

Appeal to Students…

  1. Does it appeal to the felt needs of my students?
  2. Is there enough interaction and activity?
  3. Does it give them new thoughts or new

The Many Strengths That Come From Failure

Failure is a part of life, especially if you’ve messed up on something. Forget to study for that spelling test, and it’s not surprising that you don’t get a good grade.

What happens, though, when you DO study for spelling and the result is still failure?

Many children spend most of the school year failing tests, failing classes, and flunking out, but it’s not for lack of trying. Our twins have struggled with this from the very first day of school. Both have been tested extensively and so we know the underlying issues, including dyslexia, poor rote memory and distractibility.

As parents, one of our toughest jobs is giving our twins the message that struggling with school doesn’t make them a failure in life.  Resiliency and a core emotional strength are character traits we look for in our kids. Failing a spelling test is less difficult than losing a job or failing in a future marriage.

While America seems allergic to failure, let’s put our feelings into perspective. We trumpet the success of a celebrity like Tom Cruise, while hiding the fact that he’s struggled with his own

CASA Volunteers Give Children a Voice

During the Texas girl’s checkup at the local clinic, the doctor was surprised by what he found. Brittany* had a sexually transmitted disease. She was three.

Quickly after that, into Brittany’s life came a host of police officers, some child abuse investigators, a judge, and a public defender. Luckily someone else came along at the same time. That person was a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer named I’ll call Mary.

Brittany’s mom was taken off to jail for meth abuse, the mom’s boyfriend arrested for child molestation and the little girl was placed in a foster home.  Mary became Brittany’s voice during the subsequent years of legal procedures that followed the discovery of her STD. She came alongside this little girl who was navigating a court system that often is overwhelming and hard to understand for an adult, much less a three, four or five-year-old.  Mary kept up with Brittany at school, tutoring her to help her catch up with her kindergarten class. Mary also told her she was a special girl. Brittany had a hard time grasping the first several times she heard Mary tell her that, since it was

The Cyclops That Eats Books

What is destroying America today is not the liberal breed of one-world politicians, or the IMF bankers, or the misguided educational elite, or the World Council of Churches; these are largely symptoms of a greater disorder. If there is any single institution to blame, it is, to use the cozy diminutive, “TV”.

TV is more than a medium; it has become a full-fledged institution, backed by billions of dollars each season.  Its producers want us to sit in front of its glazed-over electronic screen, press our clutch of discernment through the floorboards, and sit in a spangled, zoned-out state (“couch potatoes,” in current parlance) while we are instructed in the proper liberal tone and attitude by our present-day Plato and Aristotle-Dan Rather and Tom Brokow. These television celebrities have more temporal power than the teachings of Aristotle and Plato have built up over the centuries.  Television, in fact, has greater power over the lives of most Americans than any educational system or government or church.  Children are particularly susceptible.  They are mesmerized, hypnotized and tranquilized by TV.  It is often the center of their world; even when the set is turned off, they continue to

To Smoke or Not to Smoke What We Can Learn from Marijuana Users


When I began to suspect that some of my son’s friends (I have five boys at home over 13-years-old) were using marijuana, I put up a poster board in the basement. One side I entitled: “Why Use Marijuana?” The other side I entitled “Why Avoid Marijuana?” Finally, I wrote a comment or two in each category to get the ball rolling and encouraged my kids and their friends to add anonymous comments at their leisure. Their comments let me see that after years of health education in top-notch public schools, their beliefs on this hugely important issue were largely nonsense, collected from their peer “experts.”

I challenged them to research the facts, only to discover that some of the best-ranked sites were pro-marijuana, containing select studies to give the veneer of objective research. I took action by researching the following to try to get the facts straight and present it in a way that might appeal to them. Perhaps this will be helpful to you with your kids or students doing research as well. You’ve got my permission to copy it or personalize it for your needs.



Smoking Overview and Links

Over one in four teens smoke. Over six million of today’s children will one day die prematurely because they started smoking as an adolescent, many dying after years of preventable suffering. Many take their first puffs out of curiosity, and thereafter a couple of days a week, thinking that only daily smokers get hooked. Yet, we now know that “for some victims of tobacco, their unfortunate fates may have been cast with their first few cigarettes.”(1) Nicotine can be as addictive as cocaine. Most teen smokers regret smoking and want to quit, but can’t.

It’s astonishing that anyone would start smoking in a day when science has provided irrefutable evidence that it will significantly diminish our quality of life – a solemn indication  that peer pressure, advertising and ignorance wield almost unconquerable power. Almost.

We can make a difference. Both smoking and non-smoking parents can significantly influence their teens by talking to them openly and giving them the facts. Educators can make a difference by providing the facts using methods proven effective with teens. Communities are discovering the advertising angles that make smoking repugnant to teens. The following articles from authoritative sources

Are We Educating Smarter Criminals

The knights of old lived and died by a code of ethics. Kings knew that disloyal or unscrupulous knights were more dangerous than no knights at all. In the late 20th century,  many parents and educators  forgot their duty to instill character in the next generation of leaders. The results have been devastating.

Imagining that good grades in the three R’s would produce a good society, we sowed academics and reaped smart criminals – from a Math professor at Berkeley who terrorized us as the “Unabomber” to the brilliant leaders of Enron who stole our life savings.

On a local level, in an interview with educator Phillip Page, one businessman said, “The scariest thing is the smart, unethical employee. I’d rather hire an illiterate but ethical employee than a brilliant unethical one.”

Although the statement at first appears extreme, his rationale was that an extremely intelligent, but unethical employee will devise a way to rob him blind.

As Warren Buffett, America’s most successful investor, advised,

”Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they

Climate Change Caring Schools Heat Up Student Potential

In a sample of almost 100,000 6th- to 12-grade students who completed the survey Search Institute Profiles of Student Life- Attitudes and Behaviors, only a quarter consider their school to have a positive climate. The scoring of asset #5, caring school climate, is based on three statements students respond to on the survey: “My teachers really care about me,” “Students in my school care about me,” and “I get a lot of encouragement at my school.”

“When a community runs the survey, school staff are often dismayed to see that school climate comes out so low, because it’s an area they put a lot of effort into,” says Judy Taccogna, director/education sector at Search Institute. “But a positive first step schools can take to help understand what the students are saying in the survey is to ask the students.” Many times, Taccogna says, it’s a lack of positive peer interaction that brings the numbers down.

Fortunately, improving school climate is an accessible entry point for infusing assets into education. For some schools, a low score on asset #5 is serving as a creative impetus, galvanizing educators to rethink how they

Honesty is Still the Best Policy

Honesty is the best policy in international relations, interpersonal relations, labor, business, education, family and crime control because truth is the only thing that works and the only foundation on which lasting relations can build. (Ramsey Clark)

Respect in its highest form

This is the most important chapter of the book. You can do many of the things I suggest here – have a positive attitude, form good habits, laugh, be thankful, set goals, motivate yourself, work hard, be self-disciplined, use time wisely, etc. – but you’ll never be truly successful unless everything you do is under girded with honesty and integrity. You’ll never know peace of mind and you’ll never enjoy feelings of self-worth unless truthfulness is deeply imbedded in your character. If you don’t learn anything else from reading this book, it’s my most sincere wish and most fervent prayer that you understand this great truth: honesty always was, is now, and always will be, the best policy.

I don’t mean to sound like one of the “fire and brimstone” preachers of the Puritan era, threatening you with the burning fires of hell if you

Modesty Revisited

Miss Shalit spoke at Hillsdale College on November 15, 2000. The following is an excerpt of her presentation, which she delivered in Phillips Auditorium at a seminar sponsored by the College’s Center for Constructive Alternatives.

This afternoon I was reading a magazine for brides in which a woman had submitted the following question: “My fiancé wants us to move in together, but I want to wait until we’re married. Am I doing our marriage an injustice?” The editor responded: “Your fiancé should understand why you want to wait to share a home. Maybe you’re concerned about losing your identity as an individual. Or maybe you’re concerned about space issues.”

Space issues? Losing her identity? If this woman cared about those things she wouldn’t want to get married in the first place. Her question was a moral one. She wanted to know what would be best for her marriage. And on this–however unbeknownst to the magazine’s new-agey editor–the evidence is in: Couples who live together before marriage are much less likely to get married; and if they do marry, they’re more likely to get divorced. Yet the vocabulary of modesty has largely dropped

Wealth Well Being and the New American Dream

Does money buy happiness? Not! Ah, but would a little more money make us a little happier? Many of us smirk and nod. There is, we believe, some connection between fiscal fitness and feeling fantastic. Most of us tell Gallup that, yes, we would like to be rich. Three in four entering American collegians—nearly double the 1970 proportion—now consider it “very important” or “essential” that they become “very well off financially.” Money matters.

It’s the old American dream: life, liberty, and the purchase of happiness. “Of course money buys happiness,” writes Andrew Tobias. Wouldn’t anyone be happier with the indulgences promised by the magazine sweepstakes: a 40 foot yacht, deluxe motor home, private housekeeper? Anyone who has seen Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous knows as much. “Whoever said money can’t buy happiness isn’t spending it right,” proclaimed a Lexus ad. No wonder many people hunger to know the secrets of “the millionaire mind” and some would sell their souls to marry a millionaire.

Well, are rich people happier? Researchers have found that in poor countries, such as Bangladesh, being relatively well off does make for greater well-being. We need food, rest,

Inspiring Wisdom Seekers

During my sojourn in central Europe (Slovakia), I heard a saying that rang true with my experience:

“The Third World is learning to read.
The Western World has forgotten how to read.
In the East, they read.”

It’s no wonder that when I connected back in the States with a Slovak college student I’d known from my tiny village, he was now teaching doctoral students at Georgia Tech, funded by the US Government to do research on lasers. Half of the doctoral students at Tech are from other countries (2001 stats). I’m personally delighted with the intellectual ferment that the international students provide. Yet, I shudder to think of the long-term consequences to a country that’s by and large lost it’s love for seeking wisdom and knowledge.

Let’s think beyond helping students complete assignments and get better grades. Some of your “A” students may be merely conforming to the school system and won’t touch a book or visit a library after graduation. How can we inspire students to habitually pursue wisdom and knowledge?

Model Wisdom-Seeking

Prioritize Wisdom-Seeking

My students prefer drinking from a rushing stream than

Answers to Member Questions

As we answer questions via e-mail, we’ll try to archive them here, providing a useful knowledge base to others.

  • “I’m working with ‘at risk’ students.”
  • “I’m trying to integrate character education with Math.”

Working With “At Risk” Students

Question: “Hello, I am a tutor at an ‘at risk’ jr. high school. I work in a classroom of special ed. kids of 6-8 grades. Most of them are emotionally distressed. Sometimes, they don’t feel like concentrating or listening. Other times they don’t stop talking. From what I hear, their home lives are broken, and they tend to be quite shy or in a gang. What do you suggest? And, thank you.”

Response: Thanks for your work! I’ve got a special place in my heart for these kids, especially since I’m raising a few of my own who have similar characteristics: lost their mom to cancer, ADD, Dyslexic, blended family, etc.

First of all, if you’re not a member and don’t have the means to pay, feel free to sign in, choose an alternative payment (not credit card), write in the box that Steve promised you a scholarship, and I’ll receive word

CONNECTING WITH BOYS Closing the Asset Gap

By some measures, boys and men in the USA have it made. On average, men make more money than women. They’re more likely to attain positions of authority. They’re less likely to be victims of violence or abuse.

So what do we make of the following statistics?

  • Boys are more likely than girls to be incarcerated, be violent or commit homicide, and be victims of serious violent crime.
  • Boys are more likely than girls to have chronic conditions such as asthma, to be diagnosed with learning disabilities, and to drop out of school.
  • Boys and young men are less likely than girls and young women to volunteer and to be spiritually grounded.

In the recent flurry of media attention on the topic, explanations are varied and sometimes contradictory. Some people worry that paying attention to boys will undermine the important gains girls have made in recent decades. To establish that girls and women still draw the short end of the stick, they point to the statistics documenting the number of women who live in poverty or their unequal salary levels. Others counter that feminists have demonized masculinity; they suggest that boys need to

Ideas for Random Acts of Kindness

From Kennesaw Mountain High School – Note: This paper was put together for a specific school in metro Atlanta. You could adapt it to be put on your school’s Website or handed out to your teachers.

“Small things done with great love will change the world.” (Steve Sjogren)

Dr. Janice Cohn, Chief of Consultation and Education at the Department of Psychiatry, Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, notes that one of the proven keys for developing compassion in children is to give them “frequent opportunities to perform small acts of kindness.” (Raising Compassionate, Courageous Children, in a Violent World, p. 35). Once students experience the satisfying feeling that accompanies acts of compassion, they may be hooked for life! Here are some ideas to make it work:

Tips for Teachers and Administrators

Give teachers a couple of month’s advance notice so that they can get ideas from their classes. Many students or teachers may have contacts or know of community needs beyond the ideas you provide.

Allow students to come up with their own ideas and to plan the activity. The more ownership they feel,  the more responsible they

Alternative to In School Suspension

I know, I know. The last thing you want to be doing right now is this assignment. Maybe you deserve this, or maybe it’s just one big mistake. But whatever the reason you’re doing this, I want to help you make the best of it.

First, let me introduce myself. I’m Steve, a guy who did some time in the principal’s office in middle school, for stuff like running off campus to eat lunch. My son, Andrew, a senior in high school, gets “In School Suspension” occasionally for being late for school. Both of us think that there’s got to be a better solution than writing “I won’t cut up in class” 10,000 times on the blackboard.

Let’s try something different. Someone is giving you an assignment that just might be very interesting, practical, and could help you get more of what you want out of life.

If you’re like me, you enjoy interesting people stories – stuff like you see in  People Magazine, Biography or Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. I like people stories because people are interesting and I can learn from their successes and failures.

Authenticity Opening Your Heart

Your life experiences may well be your greatest asset in teaching character. Go ahead, wow them with an excellent presentation of “Dealing With Temptation.” But until they sense that you are in the middle of this battle with them, don’t expect them to take it too seriously.

In getting anonymous evaluation from students, some say that they like my personal illustrations best. They don’t want me to just teach an impersonal curriculum. They want to see my heart – to share the thrill of my victories and the agony of my defeats. Here are some ways I do it:

Distinguish Appropriate From Inappropriate Sharing

Authenticity doesn’t mean my life is an open book. Some chapters shouldn’t be read by others. Total openness could harm anyone’s reputation. A good rule of thumb: don’t share anything you’d be uncomfortable with all the parents and staff knowing.

Other chapters are between you and your wife. Don’t share that family argument without the permission of your family. And don’t constantly tell funny stories that involve your kids if they would not appreciate it.

Share Your Weaknesses

Using People Stories to Change Lives

“Something your dad said today changed my life.” It was just a casual comment to my teenage son at school.  But it’s comments like those that have spoiled me. After seeing lives changed because of my teaching, I can’t get a thrill by merely making a living. I want to make a difference.

For me, it all began as a 10th grader, when I attended a ski retreat with a campus organization for no better reason than to be with a girl I liked. The retreat speaker changed my life. Thirty years later, I’ve never gotten over it.

My 11th and 12th grade years, I became an incurable people changer. I was obsessed with seeing my friends find the purposeful existence I’d found. From “Ted,” the stereotypical nerd, to “Jessie” a class clown, to “Bart” a successful jock, we saw fellow students transform from crowd followers to crowd influencers.

Still a teen, I began speaking to groups. To sharpen my own communication, I listened to tapes of great motivational speakers, not only for personal growth, but to discover the elements that packed their messages with such power. I asked