Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Lessons from a school night

I enjoy the La Cañada High School open house. It’s a chance to hang with my buddies Bill Decker, Mike Riley and David Vaughn. All we need is a bottle of Jack Daniels, a few cigars, and we’d be in hog heaven. This year I was more serious. I didn’t want to embarrass my wife, Kaitzer, in case she decides to run for president.

I thought of “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu: “The plan is useless; but planning is essential.” So I made a plan. I would start at the top and keep on walking till I came to the end. That didn’t work, since I didn’t have a clue where I was going. There’s wisdom in Robert Burns’ assumption, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry!” I followed an old mantra: adapt and overcome.

Since I’m an information junkie, I headed to the IRC (Information Resource Center — in my day they called it the library). There, I was enthralled by the presentations of the honors social science classes of Julie Hong. What caught my attention was the enthusiasm of the students. They were magnificent; I could have listened to them all night.

It was time to move on and visit the teachers. I was curious to meet those who had endeared themselves to my children. Teaching is leaving a remnant of one’s self in the expansion of another. Effective teachers leave a vestige of their idiosyncratic ways on their students. There’s an old Buddhist proverb, “When the student is ready the master appears.”

I made it as far as the library’s vestibule, where walls were draped with painting and photography. The students’ artistic expression told a deeper story than what was exhibited. Picasso said, “Every child is an artist.”

It was now or never. I had to make a second attempt! I couldn’t leave without meeting a teacher. I knew Kaitzer would ask.

“Fortune favors the committed,” Von Clausewitz wrote in “On War.” I ran into Madelyn Merchant. Serendipity! She directed me to Ben Powers’ English class. Her directions were complicated but thorough. If I left immediately, I’d get there by Sunday night. I felt like Algernon navigating the maze. I met Powers and was pleased for Sabine to have such a remarkable teacher.

I spent the rest of the night sitting on a planter wall in front of the IRC waiting for Kaitzer. I spoke with a friend whose son is making the transition to a university in the fall. The realization that the senior parents must be experiencing as they prepare to let their children go is awakening. I hadn’t thought of it. Kahlil Gibran said, “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.” That’s one bridge we’ll all have to cross.

I continued to sit and absorbed the remarkable plethora of life swirling around me. There’s a sense of pageantry about open house, the school was filled with exuberance.

I spoke with some friends agonizing over whether or not their children would get into USC. I can understand wanting to attend a certain school, but it’s just a school. “A path is just a path, and there are many paths,” Carlos Castaneda said. In 38 years of helping Community College students transition to the university I am convinced that it’s the individual who brings meaning and credibility to an education. The school one attends is the school one is supposed to be at.

The evening was over. I had one thing on my mind, a chocolate milkshake at McDonald’s. While leaving the LCHS campus I met up with Kaitzer, who would understand the overwhelming task of trying to meet 10 teachers.

“Kaitzer, how many teachers did you meet?” I asked.

“All of them,” she said. “How about you?”

I thought of General Gustavus Adolphus, the master of diversion. “Dayton beat Ohio State,” I remarked.


JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at Visit his website at

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