Coming Around, Slowly and Surely

In October 2014, I wrote Logic Applied……nothing new under the sun. in response to Jim Plagakis in Drug Topics. I needed to write the piece as  the once money-making enterprise, being a pharmacist, finally become an issue for reflection – at what price is the salary providing satisfaction in professional and personal spheres of life? As long as the money was good, it seems pharmacists were willing to overlook so much regarding their profession. This does not mean pharmacists do not work hard as I know otherwise. The good pharmacists work long, hard and diligent hours on behalf of their patients.

What the reflection does mean is pharmacists are finally realizing they have  the reasons and power to change their profession in general and healthcare specifically.  Their job is no longer one in which the pharmacist works for one employer for life. People such as Oluwole Williams realized it was not about the legacy, rather it was about thinking what one could do with their experience and knowledge within a specific field. Mr. Williams addressed a number of wonderful and promising ideas in the Dispensed as Written column of which I only could have added Peace Corps Volunteer. And then Kelly Howard wrote 2015: The #YearOfTheRPh, where she explained a very personal situation which changed her for the better.

There is the thinnest glimmer of hope in thinking the pharmacy profession will reach into the 21st Century. More and more pharmacists are seeing the bigger picture and looking at what they can do to create change rather than talking about what should be done. It is inspiring as pharmacy is a field which can change people’s lives. Instead of licking, sticking and filling, pharmacists can provide patients a degree of education and efficacy in the medicinal choices they make. It has been a long time coming and I am thrilled.

Instead of hospitals, insurance companies  and health care institutions defining good patient care, pharmacists now can look at how to use their fulcrum.  Amazingly this benefits ‘patients’ and  students – those who study the sciences. There will be new opportunities and careers allowing people to use knowledge and skills in different ways.

As a pharmacy tech, I am looking forward to being able to work with people who will take an interest in their patients as people and DOP’s who have an interest in more than cost metrics. Clearly Ms. Howard indicated it is time for those in the pharmacy and medical fields to stop being doormats. This is all it takes – one or two people to decide the profession has to change.

As a teacher, I am inspired to see people taking on the corporate mentality. Sharing with others the varied and rich options available through what used to be seen as a stagnated degree is exactly what education needs to see. Teachers, similar to pharmacists, have been licking, sticking,counting and ‘filling’ (in the case of teachers, student brains) far too long.  If the long-standing tradition of pharmacy can change, surely education can progress as well.


The BEST Reason to Know Biology

As a science teacher, I never had a difficult time integrating literature into the curriculum. It seemed to me that what scientists and all people related to the sciences wrote about is important, not merely because I was the teacher, more so because it lent itself to efficacy and agency for my students.  Some examples include excerpts from Sherwin Nuland who wrote How We Die  (National Book Award),  Stiff by Mary Roach,  specifically the physics section on why to use cadavers instead of crash test dummies for car safety testing, poetry and non-fiction writing by Diane Ackerman, writings by Annie Dillard and Rachel Carson, Stephen Jay Gould,  The Best Science and Nature Writing – usually the edition edited by Natalie Angier in 2002 (notably The Most Important Fish in the Sea/Discover Magazine) and poetry galore. I did not lack for material to integrate considering how ghastly text books have become.

What was interesting to me was getting my colleague teachers to read a piece and use it in English, so we would be integrating across the curriculum. It  was  sometimes a nuisance as the English teacher then had to read about science. On the occasions when my English teacher counterparts could get past thinking the word science meant geeky, they would read and integrate these pieces.   And when the English teachers did integrate, something amazing happened: there was a great deal of discourse in science and English as the topics I selected lent themselves nicely to debate, to quality writing, to extrapolation and so forth.  Most importantly, these pieces allowed me to really talk with my students beyond all the memorization (quite a bit in the sciences, sadly) and think about the impact of learning SCIENCE applied to everything in our lives.  These written pieces made science real and made the sometimes painful dryness of science bearable.

The students who had me for science were made to think about the bigger picture – how does one decide if a vaccine is good or bad? How do we determine what kind of surgery we want to have or who should do it….because we have a choice.  Is there value to chemotherapy? When  drugs are not approved by the FDA, should we have access to them – why/why not?  Do you want some one doing open heart surgery on you if they never dissected a frog or worked on a cadaver, two things which always seem to be huge gross outs to students. Isn’t Chitosan awesome?  Why would Chitosan be difficult to use at home……?  I would have to look back at old lesson plans to see what I noted down that we talked about at school as it was the only sure way I knew students were interested in science -they kept asking questions and coming back for more.

Of all the science I taught, the most important piece I wanted students to take away was the knowledge which would impact their (and their family) quality of life.  I was hoping that if they lived well, they would know how to choose to die.  We never talked about death in any way other than completely respectful – I insisted as there was so much to be learned from the dead. We did discuss things like brain death and donating organs as I often taught in places where there was a higher than average frequency for violence.

What I hope I got across to my students was they had a choice in how they lived and how they died. I wanted my students to respect the sanctity of life.  If I happened to interest a few in becoming science geeks, even better!

When will I use Algebra?

Over the course of my teaching and learning career (I am correctly classified as a lifetime learner!), I have significantly enjoyed the question regarding when/how will I ever use Algebra.  Of course the question is rhetorical as no one will ever ask you about a co-efficient in the parking lot or the process of distribution…..instead, life  ( or at least a life filled with self efficacy) will expect you to be able to use these concepts at various times.

I write this blog as a career changer (pharmacy tech), health care for all advocate (just got zapped with $10K from Anthem/Blue Cross and I am HEALTHY – the bill is just to ‘prove’ my health) and America watching elected people debate a debt ceiling (the news has actually had to explain the issue to American Citizens), all issues which use Algebra and other math to think through with some degree of clarity.

To start, I will explain self efficacy. First off self has to do with the person you see in the mirror as opposed to other people you see with your eyes.

People with a high self-efficacy are generally of the opinion that they are in control of their own lives; that their own actions and decisions shape their lives.                  Albert Bandura as quoted in

Self efficacy is an idea put forth by psychologists which assumes you wish to learn (know) information about the issues which impact your life and the choices/decisions you make which impact your life.  This  means knowledge is indeed power – knowledge allows you to transform your own life by understanding information and making better decisions (or at minimum, making decisions you feel confident about).  So, Algebra is a manner of thinking logically and an approach to understand various numerical processes.

Algebra allows you to understand (and start to ask better questions) regarding the medication doses and timing of doses you take when you are ill. There is actually a methodology to why antibiotics are given at certain scheduled times in specific amounts. There is also a reasoning as to the intervals of chemotherapy for cancer.  These doses and intervals are based on research performed by scientists and doctors who passionately believe in promoting health. The doses and intervals can be altered for the right reason……….which means if the patient has the ability to think about doses and intervals related to side effects (nausea as an example), doctors will often work with them to maintain their health and get through the side effects.  Not all cancer patients choose to have chemotherapy. Yes, amazingly, chemotherapy is a choice and a very personal one. It is an issue of quality of life and length of life – both of which can be better approximated and understood via math.

Another example of Algebra and health has to do with the choice of eating well (healthy) and having reasonable amounts of exercise or taking a medicine to, for example, reduce cholesterol. It is known within medicine that after a patient takes five to seven medicines simultaneously, the various effects can and often are counter productive to ‘maintaining health’ and ‘sustaining life’.  This relationship is because each medicine we take has various effects on one or more body systems.  This is WHY your pharmacist always wants to know all of what you are taking, even if it is prescribed by various different doctors.

The above paragraph relates to health care for all. Most of the money spent on health care is not for disease states which can be cured, but most  which can be brought into a state of remission- OR conversely, avoided in the first place from leading a healthy life.  Aside from antibiotics, there are very few ‘cures’ out there.

Remission is the state of absence of disease activity in patients known to have incurable chronic illness

A person with knowledge is able to make a better decision regarding how they are medically treated (or not in the case of DNR’s) and in what circumstances, conditions they desire to live.  Some people actually believe having mental capacity is reason to avoid medications which may diminish their thinking capacity even if it means they have to give up something else in their life.   These concepts are called choices and can be made by people with an understanding of how their choices will affect their lives.  Doctors and pharmacists take an oath to do no harm – they do not take an oath on how you choose to live your life when you are in a disease state.  A great doctor and/or pharmacist will explain options to you and let you make the decision about YOU (unless you are unconscious in the ER and then they do everything humanly possible to keep you alive).   All of the various options and choices actually have percentages or estimates of success and knowing Algebra allows you to interpret what these numbers mean when you are told.

Most interesting of all is that which is well known in medicine – it is by far cheaper and cost effective to PREVENT the problem than to treat it after it happens. This is akin to why one warms up before exercising.  This gets right back to health care for all. It is more cost effective for  one to live a healthy life from the get go than to have to deal with obesity, diabetes, etc. when one does not eat and exercise.   Again,  a modest amount of Algebra is necessary to understand calories (protein, carbohydrates and fats) and how to make better food choices to promote ones own health.

If all of the above has not already provided some ideas as to why Algebra is important, let me add the debt ceiling debate.  We as the American populace voted in our congressional representatives. We as voters created a divided congress as the house and senate are configured in numbers by who(m) is voted into the position.  The numbers alone of Democrats and Republicans demonstrate an imbalance so it is no wonder the debt ceiling caused a great debate. As the populous, it is up to us to vote in more mid-range politicians to cut down on the level of disparity between extremes.  Not only is this Algebra, it is basic statistics.  We got the government we deserve by voting them in – for good or for ill. Many may think math plays a too subtle role in what I stated in this paragraph, they just have not read enough by Malcolm Gladwell.

If the above is not enough to convince you that getting a good dosing of Algebra by Grade 8 is beyond important, just think about what you know (or don’t know) about debt and why we even have a debt ceiling.

Or this:

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Numbers, Stats – Are We Even Looking For The Right Stuff??

Although convergence is a buzzword, I have been using it for years as a more sophisticated alternative to quinky-dink,  essentially an explanation for when the universe opens up and reveals something important (generally speaking, the universe has sent this message a million times before to myself and others but we were hearing, not listening and so the message was lost on us).   I belong to the group of people who actually ‘believe’ if you will, in possibilities which may have been floating on the far horizon suddenly docking on the doorstep. 

Seeing incentives used to raise college graduation rates was not news to my ears, not new to me, in fact it was older than this blog and the five previous years I had been mumbling and grumbling about it.   Apparently my complaint was one and the same with others and some one important was listening, took note and decided to do something:   How this actually plays itself out remains to be seen as there is no ‘convergence’ surrounding the issues of education reform.  Between Michelle Rhee, charter school madness (they now bicker with each other over space, at least in NYC), charter schools not actually putting more kids through college, economic melt down and real nuclear meltdown, there is not the least consensus except to say change needs to occur.  ‘This was not the message from the universe – this is what I call slight of hand.  While government is slaying dragons which it created, there was something else going on.

Which gets me back to what docked at the door step, David Brooks piece in the Jan 17, 2011 New Yorker Magazine.  The piece is from the Annals of Psychology and is titled Social Animal (which most of us humans tend to be).   Mr. Brooks addresses the idea (quite nicely I would add) that education and the various manifestations there of are quite small in comparison to what we really know.

We are living in the middle of a revolution in consciousness.  Over the past few decades, geneticists, neuroscientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and others have made great strides in understanding the inner working of the human mind.  Far from being dryly materialistic, their work illuminates the rich underwater world where character is formed and wisdom grows.  They are giving us a better grasp of emotions, intuitions, biases, longings, predispositions, character traits, and social bonding, precisely those things about which our culture has the least to say.  Brain science helps fill the hole left by the atrophy of theology and philosophy.

A core finding of this work is that we are not primarily the products of our conscious thinking.  The conscious mind gives us one way of making sense of our environment.  But the unconscious mind gives us other, more supple ways.  The cognitive revoltion of the past thirty years provides a different perspective on our lives, one that emphasizes the relative importance of emotion over pure reason, social connections over individual choice, moral intuition over abstract logic, perceptiveness over IQ.   It allows us to tell a different sort of success story, an inner story to go along with the conventional surface one.

Mr. Brooks then creates a written diorama journey of  Harold, and later Erica, etc.  as they go through life.  The journey has spatterings of  insights given to us by science and throughtful studies.   For almost all of us, we can either identify with the dioramic of  life or at least have been exposed to what is portrayed here through reading novels and watching TV.  It is a dioramic representation of a life as some know it, generally those who think they know what education is and what education should be.

As the article ends, the character Harold attends a conference where he becomes enlightened, rather he becomes aware of the differences between an education in the abstract and education as a lifelong process, education as adding meaning to life, education which leads to self efficacy which leads to happiness and fulfillment.

Kind of like what I hear on NPR when they reference The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation –dedicated to the idea that all people deserve the chance to live healthy, productive lives.

And so  I continue to wonder – will a test score ever bring anyone happiness, and if so, will the happiness be fulfilling?

The Composition Of Self Worth As Seen Through Teachers Eyes

Do Teachers Lack Power and Self-Worth?

By Anthony Cody

Over the years I have been fortunate to have friends from many walks of life, many career paths/meanders and people who truly embody a sense of living with grace. Some of these people I met when I stepped away from the ‘educational’ career path for a bit, some while volunteering in different activities which made my heart sing, some from Peace Corps, some from government functions – some from book groups.  Listening to other people and their goals, desires, dreams, hopes, etc. is inspiring and re-inforces positives for me, helping form my internal self worth – I am the sum of the parts of what I do at work, play, family member, friend, community member, pet owner, letter writter, scone baker, gardener, etc. plus what all the other people in my life bring to the world.

All this has also led me to find that teachers (not all, but the majority) tend to be less fluid in their thinking about who they are, their self worth. Many teachers feel they are as good as the grades they give, the class they are able to keep focused,  the magical lessons that teach concepts on four levels, their pay.   Teachers, as a whole, tend to embody their self worth in what they ‘produce’ each year – the fruits of their labors if you will.  This sense of self worth is almost inherent in the profession in order to survive as the profession is difficult, not well respected in America and certainly teachers are paid less than their equally educated counterparts in the corporate world.

As I read the article above, I reflected on the times I willingly left education (which I call talking with my feet).  Each time I parted ways and did something ‘different’, people around me acted as if I had either committed an extraordinary sin against education gods and goddesses or clearly had a wild hair or, worst of all, was throwing my talent away to the wind – and how would I ever survive, out there, beyond the classroom. 

Each time I left education I was fortunate in meeting wonderful new people, learning many new aspects of myself, new ideas, new ways of thinking and had wonderful, inciteful experiences; my composition of self worth grew.  I realized I was more than a classroom teacher.  I could help others learn about the financial world and ethics within it (yes, some exist – I have been present to witness), I was able to provide insight into how benefits help you and your family and how to become more savvy about using said benefits, I learned how incredibly creative people think (and it is very, very different from the math/science brain I hold) and held their hand in crossing the imaginary boundary of creativity to the  more constricted work of writing about the idea.  I ‘translated’ classroom to Silicon Valley wonks/wonkettes and political types.   My ego did not increase – rather, I became more and more excited about learning/experiencing these other ways of being – which then made me see education in a very different light and my self worth in a different way. 

Over time I realized my ‘net worth’ was a sum of all those experiences and the ability to share them with students.  I had fostered a true apreciation of what others do and contribute and could make strong connections to why Algebra and the sciences are so important.  In giving up my attitude about perfect spelling and grammar, I opened my mind to Maker Faire.  By allowing students to turn in homework, even if it was on a dinner napkin from a burger place, I had creative/cognitive dissonance amidst the logic of math and opened a window to how Einstein and other ‘way out there’ thinkers operate. 

Some of the rules I still follow when I teach – put a heading on your paper, however, the reasoning is different. I want to credit that student with their incredible thoughts, ideas, insights, inspiration – it is not about me being organized or the student being neat and tidy.  I expect work turned in on time because it is a matter of self worth/self respect to set a time of completion and do your best to that point.  My self worth is not about my students grades – it is about their success.  It is kind of like the saying about living your life –  Living is not about how many moments you can pack in a day; Living is about the moments which take your breath away, the ah-ha moments, the smiles. 

My self worth is often qualitatively ‘different’ than many of my teacher colleagues because I had the courage and determination to walk away from stability and take the lumps.  If anything, I have opened the doors to what could be for colleagues and students.  I want students to think broadly about their lives/dreams/opportunities and not have fear.   Deep down I want education to be empowerment, a creation of self-efficacy so strong that nothing can tear it down. 

I want to give my students something that we as teachers are often powerless to have – the dignity of self worth.