Monthly Archives: July 2016

Age Unkind

Sometimes it boggles my mind that I’m 56 years old (nearly 57).  I remember being in college in 1980 and imagining life at the turn of the century, when we would be – horror of horrors! – 40 years old!!  It’s inconceivable to be that old when you’re 20!

Well, it’s STILL inconceivable to me to be this old.  I have a nearly-21-year-old daughter, for goodness sake!  The child I gave birth to is a full adult!  I have friends my age (and even younger) who are grandparents multiple times over!  Thank goodness that doesn’t seem to be in the cards for me – Darian has sworn off children and, if I’m being completely honest, I am not broken-hearted about it.  I know grandmas are expected to have all the child-rearing answers but I was never very good at infant or baby care.  Come to think of it, neither was my mother, which may explain a lot.  As the explanation goes, she used to gag so uncontrollably at poop smell she made my father and others change as many of my and my sister’s diapers as possible.  We knew not to even bother asking for the grandkids.

From a pessimistic perspective, my life is way more than half over, and I feel like I haven’t even begun LIVING.  All I’ve been doing all this time is WAITING.  Certainly not waiting to die, although that’s what it’s turning out to be, but waiting to LIVE.  Waiting until my life somehow becomes everything I’ve always dreamed it to be –a bohemian writer’s life, wealthy enough to not have to worry about bills, with a house full of pets and family and friends and a satisfying social life, volunteering for worthy causes and traveling this amazing country and the world.

If you believe the AARP party line, life begins at 50, but I wonder if it’s just a marketing slogan or real life for real people.  I’ve read accounts of people in their dotage finally doing what they’ve always dreamed, but they’re the outliers – the rare cases that show anything’s possible, but they’re so unusual and special that people write books and magazine articles about them.  I suppose I can enjoy those activities in my “retirement’ life, but by then I’ll be REALLY old – well into my 60s, when I’ll be at the recommended age of retirement in order to get a decent return on my social security benefits (although if I had an unlimited source of income, I’d retire TOMORROW).  But short of winning the lottery, I don’t even see how my dream life would be possible as a retiree.  I don’t have enough 401(k) or IRA money saved up, and I’ve still got 10+ years to pay off my mortgage on a house I’m not even able to live in at the moment.  [An aside:  Supposedly my house will FINALLY be lifted  tomorrow, but even if that happens – which I’m not feeling terribly optimistic about – it will be only the beginning of months of construction, notwithstanding the assurances from my project manager Bobby that, “Once we get the house up, things will go very quickly!”  Sure, Bobby, I’ll believe it when I see it.  I’ve been in this apartment for three months already with no activity whatsoever so the work had better be finished within 9 months from today or my menagerie and I will be living on the street.  Evidently my bungalow was so flimsy and rotted and constructed so sketchily that the back of the house had to be fortified just to lift it.]

I still feel like a kid, in many ways, even though I’ve managed to be a reasonably responsible adult for the past 20 years or so.  There’s still so much I want to learn and do.  I loved every aspect of school, and I would love to go back – to study WHAT in particular, I have no idea!!  But I could come up with something!!  I just love being around all that intellectual energy.  Maybe, if the Democrats get widely elected in November (which they MUST, it almost goes without saying, starting with Hillary) and put some of their promises into practice, higher education tuition will be free or very low for lifelong learners like me.

Apart from feeling like your life is nearly over before it’s even begun, the other thing that sucks about getting old is the effect it has on your body.  Ugh!  Having been a person who has always had an uncomfortable relationship with my corporeal self, the ravages of age are the ultimate insult.  So many doctors!  So many pills!  Every time I get up from a chair, it takes me a good 10-15 steps before my body moves the way it’s supposed to, without stiffness or pain.  Your eyes get bad, your hearing goes (especially this generation, having grown up with loud music listened to through headphones and stuffed into the speakers at Ramones shows), your memory is shot (even worse for former and current potheads!) and your teeth become removable.  And no amount of exercise and eating healthy will reverse the trend (although it MAY slow it down a little).

I read a funny list the other day in an article I found on a website called Medium.com. [Another aside:  I haven’t quite figured out how Medium.com works, but from what I gather, I think it’s a website where people can post their articles and then the Medium “staff” (or an AI program of some sort?)  organizes the articles according to category and sends out emails to subscribers highlighting articles that might be of interest to them based on the categories they’ve identified as favorites in a survey.  I’ve been publishing my blog here on WordPress since the beginning, in March 2015, although I admit I haven’t taken advantage of all the bells and whistles available on the site.  Perhaps this Medium.com is more user-friendly?  I don’t know.  I will explore.  Perhaps you will see one of my articles there in the near future.]  The post, by James Altucher, was called “50 Things I Pretend To Know Now That I Am Nearing 50.”  (Of course, I am PAST 50, but it’s still a relevant list.)  Some of my favorites:

“2) Experiences are more valuable than goods.

“7) Eat smaller portions.  Every year you live, reduce portion size.  Else you get fat no matter how much you exercise.

“21) Napping is fun.

“26) Watch a lot of comedy.  Try to watch comedy every day.  Laughter cures diseases.

“27) If someone’s feet are angled away from you while they [sic] talking to you then they don’t want to talk to you.

“41) The fewer things you own, the fewer things own you.

“43) If you meet someone who you know hates you, shake their hand, smile, and pretend you don’t remember their name.”

[http://www.jamesaltucher.com/2016/07/50-things-pretend-know-now-nearing-50/]

These are good things to know, no matter how old you are!!

Semi-Genius

One of the favorite periods of my life was when I was in my late twenties.  I had just moved into Manhattan from Long Island, just returned to work at OMNI Magazine – more accurately, the fledgling OMNI Book Division – after my failed attempt at being a public school teacher, and I felt like my REAL life was just beginning.  So I needed to be in the place where everything was happening, to live on the edge of coolness, in this next phase of self-discovery.

My first year in NYC was spent in a two-bedroom sublet apartment on East 21st Street, between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, next door to the NYPD 13th Precinct with its constant beeping of backing-up police vehicles.  I even had a view of the Empire State Building if you stood at just the right angle in front of my living room window.  I had also inherited a cat, Livvie, who was my first “pet project”.  Livvie lived on a table and two shelves in the kitchen and was petrified of most people.  She had been left behind by her unfeeling owner (a nonfiction writer of some repute who was a co-worker at OMNI) and had allegedly watched her sister jump (or be pushed?) to her death out the kitchen window, not to mention that my two cats also mercilessly tormented her from the moment we had moved in.  (Another story for another day.)  After that first year was up, I had to get a place of my own, so I found a basement studio on East 1st Street, between 1st and 2nd Avenues.  I had started spending quite a bit of time in the East Village during my year on 21st Street, primarily with a diminutive Englishman named Clive, or perhaps Lane, or some other entirely different name – he was a bit of an enigma and fodder for a blog post all his own, but today is not the day for a blog post about Clive.  Today is the day for a blog post about another fellow I met during my years in the East Village who was the lead singer, songwriter and all-around creative force behind seminal Oi! band (more on that in a moment) The Press named André Schlesinger.

I always likened André’s physique to a turtle, hunchbacked with his neck slightly retracted, usually scowling, pale and freckled and gingery, although he always kept his hair close-cropped.  He was, in fact, the local figurehead of the East Village chapter of S.H.A.R.P. – Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice.  Back in the ’80s, there was a cohort of kids who shared the look of the right-wing, Nazi-influenced British and American skinheads, with their Doc Martens and Fred Perry shirts and suspenders, but didn’t brook with the hard right politics – ergo, S.H.A.R.P.  In fact, these anti-skinhead skinheads felt strongly that it was THEIR look and music that had been appropriated by the racist skinheads.  The genre of music they favored was commonly called “Oi!”, after the mostly British (but American commandeered) all-purpose exclamation, “Oi!” as derived from footie fan chants in the U.K.  As André himself described it, “Oi! shares many similarities with folk music, besides its often simple musical structure; quaint in some respects and crude in others, not to mention brutally honest, it usually tells a story based in truth.”  [quoted in Wikipedia entry for “Oi!” from Ian Glasper, Burning Britain (London: Cherry Red, (2004)), p. 282.] [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oi!]

André always used to say he wore his musical influences on his sleeve, and those were easy to identify:  the Clash, Stiff Little Fingers, Blitz, Cock Sparrer, the Four Skins, Cockney Rejects, etc.  And the Press’ songs, while certainly catchy, were a tad derivative.  His lyrics, though, were sharper than most, and he always carried around a beat-up composition notebook full of sketches and bits of brutal, beautiful poetry.  One of my favorite lines comes from a song called “Just Another Warning” that actually appeared on a compilation album featuring NYC punk and ska bands:  “You never have an answer/But you’ve always got something to say.” Perfect, right?  We all know someone like that.  His words were angry and sardonic and yet smart and funny at the same time.  I called him a semi-genius, a moniker he pooh-poohed but secretly liked.  I always imagined that he would be famous.  In fact, Boston punks the Dropkick Murphys did cover one of his more iconic songs, “21 Guitar Salute”.

André was such a presence in my East Village years.  So many heated conversations about music and politics, spiritualism and art!  André had many opinions, but as a conversationalist he was either silent and seething, hunched antisocially over a domestic beer in a corner of the bar in one of his regular haunts, Downtown Beirut or the Horseshoe Bar (aka Vazacs) at the corner of East 7th Street and Avenue  B, or impossibly garrulous.  I relished those nights when he was on one of his rants; I was transfixed and amused.  And there were so many Press shows, where I would get as close to the front of the stage as I could, often narrowly avoiding getting smacked in the head when he swung his microphone like a lasso, one of his few on-stage mannerisms together with his patter, alternating gracious thanks with “screw you” growls toward “you know who you are”s in the audience.

Someday I hope to write about those years in the Village in the late ‘80s, around the time of the Tompkins Square riots, when the area was gentrifying at a dizzying pace and the cachet of the neighborhood as the birthplace of punk, with CBGB at its epicenter, had long faded, leaving nothing there but wannabes (even though it was rumored that Joey Ramone maintained an apartment in the Christodora House on Avenue B, and he often popped up at local clubs, but I never managed to see him).  André was kind of a victim of that shift:  He was talented, without a doubt, with a significant following (not just the S.H.A.R.P. boys), but the record companies weren’t scouring the bars and clubs of the East Village for the “next big thing” anymore.  By that time, at the end of the 1980s, the “next big thing” interest had already shifted to the West Coast, from Green Day and the Offspring in Southern California to Nirvana and Pearl Jam in the Pacific Northwest (and their respective ilk).  Fortunately, my journals from that time are pretty intact (although I did lose a few to the flood), so my memories may yet see the light of day, especially now that I’ve begun loosening up my writing muscles via this blog.

So, sadly, The Press never became the “it” band to make it out of the East Village, much like the Strokes did about a decade later, when NYC was hip again and the East Village had morphed into the Lower East Side (and the TRULY hip were leaving for Williamsburg and Greenpoint).  André descended into darkness – literally.  He became a reverend in the Church of Satan, but much like his ironic appropriation of skinhead style in an anti-racist role, so was his Satanism never meant to harm but only to view life from a different, more authentic perspective than the tenets offered by organized (and oppressive) Christianity.  (Well, that’s not ENTIRELY true – much of his motivation was to cause harm to those who had done him wrong, I’m not gonna lie.)  But in general, his was a kinder, gentler Satan worship, more along the lines of Aleister Crowley, Satanist to the Stars back in his day.

A few weeks ago my ex (for whom André had a deep fondness, like a little brother) said that he had seen something online that made him think that André had died.  Ian and I both followed the FaceBook page of his current band, Maninblack, and I had even downloaded a couple of his recent singles – “Two Thousand Fifteen” (“There is no scene in 20-15”) and a paean to his home called “The NYC (There Will Always Be”), which featured a recording of actual NYC subway announcements – but there hadn’t been much new activity, so it kind of made sense.  It took me a while, but I finally did some Googling and, sure enough, André had passed away in February of 2016.  As described in an “in memoriam” piece by one of his friends, Peter H. Gilmore, self-described High Priest of the Church of Satan,  “The quintessential curmudgeon, the ultra-meanie of alt.satanism, the force behind The Press and MANINBLACK, Reverend André Peter Schlesinger of the Church of Satan was a man who lived life on his own terms, without compromise—ever.” [http://www.churchofsatan.com/in-memorium-reverend-andre-peter-schlesinger.php]  I also found a well-done article about André that even featured a video of a performance at Downtown Beirut II from around 1988-89 for which, in all likelihood, I was working behind the bar.  [Freddy Alva, “21-Guitar Salute:  André Schlesinger from The Press”, No Echo website, 2/17/16, http://www.noecho.net/features/21-guitar-salute-andre-schlesinger-from-the-press.%5D

I hadn’t seen the man in over a decade – I think the last time was way back in maybe 2000, before my friend Sue met her husband and got married.  The reason I remember the timing that way is because we had him do a Tarot reading for her at the West Village occult bookshop called the Magickal Childe where he was working at the time.  He was in a very rotund phase – he put me in mind of Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now – but his steely blue eyes were still wounded, his scowl still intense.  In retrospect, his reading was surprisingly accurate:  He said she was going to meet and marry a man with two kids, which she eventually did, and, as I recall, he also said it would not end well, which remains to be seen.

But when I thought of him, when I saw someone who reminded me of him or one of his songs came on my iPod, I always liked to think he was out there somewhere, still creating his clever, angry music and writing his tortured poetry, lusting after a whole new generation of Christina Applegate-lookalikes.  André always loved Christina Applegate, circa “Married With Children” era.  I was just wondering the other day whatever happened to her – I think she struggled with cancer a couple of years ago – and then this week, as I was contemplating writing this post, she popped up on “Jimmy Kimmel”, sort of out of the blue.  I took it as yet another sign that it was time to honor my friend.  I hope you can rest in peace wherever you are, André, because you carried so much turmoil on this astral plane, although you managed to do it with just a touch of genius. 

Generational Front

My kid is home!  She spent the last three weeks in South Africa, caring for the fauna at a wildlife rehabilitation center for endangered species.  The word most often used by my daughter to describe her experience in our limited texts and FaceTime calls was “awesome”.  I’ve seen photos of rhinos, cheetahs, hippos, elephants and lions; there will be tales of many more, I’m sure.  I cannot wait to see her photos, as I believe she is a natural-born photographer.  In fact, my dream for her is that she becomes a wildlife photographer, like that Burrard-Lucas Photography guy we both follow on Facebook (sadly, no relation) who takes these amazing photos of wild creatures, sometimes using his “beetlecam”, which is a tiny camera that stays on the ground and is remotely controlled.  Some curious animals (often young ones) come right up to it, providing some fantastic shots.  Whoever thought of that “beetlecam” was a genius, but Mr. Burrard-Lucas uses it to its maximum effectiveness.

I am so proud of the woman she’s becoming.  She’s finally figuring things out, which is so difficult for young people, especially these days.  The huge outpouring of support for Bernie Sanders, a grandfatherly, almost curmudgeonly long-time but largely unknown (before now) senator from a tiny New England state, was evidence to me that young people want to cling to SOMETHING.  The Black Lives Matter protests and, before that, Occupy Wall Street and its progeny are all powered by folks in their twenties, because it is THEIR world the old farts are messing with.  And as far as I can tell, the younger generation – as younger generations are wont to be – is fed up.  It’s clearly time for a change.

Hearken back to Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changing” and the mayhem of the ‘60s.  CSNY’s “Four dead in Ohio” on the Kent State campus during a protest was a shock in 1970; now it’s a common occurrence.  My goodness, there were ASSASSINATIONS of prominent and beloved public figures by unhinged people, dark forces that may or may not have been driven by political motives.  While today’s daily news has become more and more scary, I’ve come to believe that what we’re seeing now is a cataclysmic generational shift.  It needs to happen if we are to progress as a civilization.  The stakes are very high – nothing less than the survival of the planet and the human race.  Even though we have most certainly had hiccups and missteps on the road of recorded history, the course of human civilization is toward evolution and progress, moving forward and only looking back to learn from our collective mistakes.  These “Make America Great Again” people have this cocked-up idea that we need to go back to the “good old days”, when white folks – white MEN – had all the power and everyone else followed along willingly and respectfully.  Taken to its extreme, its ISIS wanting to re-create a medieval caliphate.  It’s just WRONG.  It is not how civilization is supposed to GO.

I have a dear friend, a progressive thinker of the first order and a woman who has single-handedly raised the hopes and capabilities of young people seeking a better future with the Global Kids program she founded in 1989.  We had dinner the other night (one reason my blog post was delayed this week, the other being the return of the prodigal daughter) and she was literally bowed under the crushing fear that somehow the Idiot Trump will be able to convince enough people with money that they should buy the election for him.  She is deathly afraid that it will happen.  I cannot even conceive of the damage a Trump presidency would do to the students of today that she has always held in such high regard as being the embodiment of hope for our future.  Interestingly, she is from a different generation than I am – she would probably consider herself to be of the generation just preceding the Baby Boomers, whether or not it had a catchy name – just barely old enough to have been my (very young) mother.  And yet I am a full generation (plus) removed from my daughter’s generation, since I had her when I was already 36.  And yet, on the subject of the 2016 election, at the very least, all three of us representatives of disparate generations want the same thing, which I suspect is a very unique situation in this day and age.

Yes, it can be said that the current revolution was born of what Bernie Sanders called “grotesque“ income inequality, and that is certainly a driver, and undoubtedly it’s the youngest among us who suffer most from income disparity.  Young people coming out of high school, vocational school and two, four or more years of college feel as if their career prospects are slimmer than their parents had, and it’s no surprise that drug addiction is at an all-time high.  The combination of a crappy education (for my recent thoughts on this topic, see  “An Ideal Education”, 7/6/16) and feelings of disenfranchisement and despondency inevitably engender anger, which in turn engenders revolution if you get enough of those angry people together (and with social media, you don’t even have to be in the same physical location).  How could it not?  But the dilemma is whether the revolution should be peaceful or violent, cooperative or antagonistic.  It might SEEM clear which is the better choice, but unfortunately there are plenty of people who believe the opposite is the only way.  And those folks unfortunately (and yet somehow predictably) sure do love their guns and other weapons of mass destruction and control.

Millennials have the bad rap of being the “entitled” generation, getting trophies for just taking part and being swaddled and coddled and overprotected from the realities of life, especially by those people who have enough money to keep their families insulated from the big, bad nasty world out there.  But we need the millennials, their relative numbers not seen since the Boomers that are their parents (and now grandparents, egad), to find a common voice based around their common problem:  IT IS THEIR WORLD.  They must not take for granted that it will always be here and always be what they’ve known it to be.  If negative forces (like ISIS, right-wing radical extremists and crazy people with guns on the one hand, and lying, corrupt and downright lazy lawmakers who don’t do their jobs (and the greedy, “have so much but still want more” Mr. Burns-ian billionaires whose self-interest fuels and funds them) on the other) conspire to have their way, there will be nothing – I REPEAT, NOTHING – left for them or their children, let alone their children’s children and beyond.

I do hear encouraging stories, like about the Dutch kid who’s trying to figure out some way to first gather all the plastic from the oceans and then actually do something constructive with it, or the simultaneously powerful and compassionate force of nature that is Malala.  I love that young people mobilized for Bernie, because Bernie was saying things they wanted to hear about student debt and health care and also giving them the courage to work toward achieving their goals – and they DID, even though the ultimate prize was just out of reach.  As Bernie is now telling them, Hillary is the better choice for the country at this juncture, and Hillary herself has been, shall we say, ENCOURAGED by the sheer force of will of the Bernie supporters to open herself up to necessary changes in the party platform.  And beyond this election it’s about the grass roots, local elections, running for office themselves – if young people want to change the government, they’ll need to do it from the inside, from the ground up.  Protests are OK to a degree – it’s important for voices to be shared and heard – but there needs to now be POSITIVE ACTION.  One person can make a difference.  (I loved this comic posted on the Upworthy site the other day, and it makes my point precisely:  http://www.upworthy.com/this-comic-nails-the-power-of-one.)

I’m certain my daughter is going to be one of those people making a difference, particularly in the sphere of wildlife that she has chosen for her career path.  She has always had a righteous anger at intolerance and injustice, although she tends to let stupid people bother her a little too much.  As we always tell her, you can’t win an argument with stupid people.  They’re just not ready for the lesson you’re trying to teach them.  But my hope for stupid people everywhere is that there’s something out there that can enlighten their ignorance before it’s too late, whether it’s a tragedy in their own lives or something they read (IF they read, that is – there definitely needs to be more reading of things over 140 characters long) or see or hear on TV (hallelujah for the voices of Jon Stewart and Samantha Bee and John Oliver and Bill Maher, who try to make you see sense while also making you laugh – sometimes uncomfortably, yes, but laugh all the same – and like the genius George Carlin before them, whose words resonate now more than ever).  It’s true that the Fourth Estate is biased and sorely in need of renovation (another post for another day), but I believe they do try to show positive stories as well as negative ones (maybe sometimes even going too far in the “positive” – or should I say “fluff” – direction).

So my advice to young people would be:  Seek as many sources of information as possible.  Figure out how you can make a difference.  Do something small to start with and make it grow.  But first and foremost, in the words of Bernie Sanders, “none of [his campaign’s proposed] initiatives will happen if we do not elect a Democratic president in November. None! In fact, we will go backward. We must elect the Democratic nominee in November and progressive Democrats up and down the ballot so that we ensure that these policy commitments can advance.”  https://medium.com/@BernieSanders/forever-forward-ee015b23547a#.9zxt18m4x.

An Ideal Education

Ignorance and greed are this country’s worst problems, and Donald Trump is the King of the Greedy Ignoramuses.  I’m not sure what to do about greed because it’s a tough nut to crack – those who have a lot seem only to want MORE – but maybe, just maybe, we can do something about widespread ignorance.

Once upon a time, I wanted to become a teacher.  I was an ardent proponent of public education, and I still am, because there is nothing in our lives as Americans that is as capable of being the great equalizer among the populace.  But all it took was two-plus years of getting my masters in education (which was a joy, really, the theory and the practicum and the glorious surveys of children’s literature), student teaching in a bilingual fourth-grade class (still hopeful at that point) and a year as a fully-qualified teacher (except for a state certifying exam given only once a year, in March – weird timing for a school year, no? – on which I ultimately scored in the 98th percentile) relegated to being a teaching assistant for $3.85 an hour (even in 1985, that was a paltry sum, so much so that I had to take an after-school job as an administrative assistant for the local teacher’s union to just make ends meet) to completely kill my dream of being a public school teacher.  While I still have the utmost respect for teachers I’ve known, when I didn’t get hired for a job I was basically promised and that I legitimately earned because of nothing more than district politics and ill-advised penny-pinching, I became very disillusioned by the public school system in New York State and, by extension, the country.

In theory, public education gives anyone, regardless of socioeconomic or ethnic background, the opportunity to succeed in life with a little bit of effort and the support of a few well-placed and dedicated teachers.  And that is indeed the case for a many students.  But between the “Common Core”, mandated curriculums and excessive testing, and tenured, burnt out teachers beyond caring at the end of careers where they have felt unsupported by (largely overpaid) administrators and absent or downright combative parents – not to mention, as with everything else in this country, the haves getting more than they need and the have-nots struggling to make do with overcrowded classrooms and a lack of materials and technology – more and more of our children are getting left behind, resulting in the exponential stupidity of American generations (whether intentional or not).  The “smart” kids are fast-tracked and get all the best teachers and resources.  “Difficult” kids get thrown away, often leading to cycles of joblessness and homelessness, drug addiction and prison.  All these problems theoretically could be addressed at the root if our public schools were given universally equal treatment by virtue of a government that placed a priority on education and understood that a quality education is really the answer to EVERYTHING that ails this country – and even the world – right now.

Public school, at a bare minimum, should fully prepare every student for life as an adult, in all its aspects:  in addition to job preparation, of course, kids needs to learn about parenting, financial and civic responsibility, and even basic things like how to cook simple nutritious meals, and it all can and should be done in school.  And a child’s success (and by extension, a teacher’s success) in school shouldn’t be measured by tests for year-long increments of learning that really just measure your ability to take tests.  Rather, students should be entitled to advance to the next grade based on how many books the student has read that year (reading is SO important, and it should be self-directed reading for PLEASURE as well as information)  and what age-appropriate tasks like writing a letter or article, taking care of pets, doing chores around the house, community service and hands-on vocational training youngsters are able to do.  Kids should be able to pick a “career track” as soon as they’re old enough to figure it out and can prepare for that career all along the way, but more importantly young people should have a love of learning – learning should never be a chore.  In all seriousness, who needs to know all the stupid shit they teach for purposes of the tests?  Unless you have an interest in math or engineering as a potential career, why do you need to know algebra?  Weights and measures, fractions, percentages – these are important and have value in real life.  Geometry is maybe useful for measuring things, especially if you wanted to become an architect or contractor, but calculus?  Really?  Who needs it?  Earth science is vitally important to learn because we all share the planet, but chemistry?  Not so much, unless, of course, you want to be a doctor or a chemist.  Instead of teaching world and U.S. history as a meaningless, linear recounting of who did what and when, “social studies” topics should be relevant to today:  current events, how local government works and where laws come from, what it means to be on “a jury of one’s peers”, what the United Nations is designed to do at the international level.  After all, we’re not just American citizens; we are all global citizens as well.

People often argue that certain kids are incapable of learning and will always be left behind, whether by virtue of disabilities like dyslexia or ADHD or “low I.Q.”, whatever that random measure means, or simply because their schools lack the necessary resources.  Decades ago, I transcribed an interview that my ex-boss at OMNI Magazine, Gurney Williams (whose daughter, Kimberly Williams, is married to country singer Brad Paisley – she’s my only “six degrees of separation” to a celebrity!) with the educator Howard Gardner, author of Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (1983) that I found absolutely fascinating and it has stuck with me every since.

According to Gardner, every child is capable of learning, but the educator needs to figure out HOW that child is able to learn.  There are seven “intelligences” or ability types:  musical–rhythmic, visual–spatial, verbal–linguistic, logical–mathematical, bodily–kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic (Gardner later suggested that existential and moral intelligence might qualify as well).  Instead of testing for spatial and logical knowledge using traditional I.Q. tests (which have themselves generated controversy for perhaps being culturally biased), Gardner and his followers have developed tests that measure HOW a child is able to learn.  The key is then to use methods that are customizable for each child to get access to the basic building blocks of learning, like reading and writing and basic math, and then carry on from there throughout life using those strategies that work best for that particular individual, which would inevitably engender confidence and a love of learning that all children – all PEOPLE – deserve to have.  No child should ever feel stupid just because his teachers haven’t figured out the best way for him or her to learn.

I could go on and on with this (and probably will in later blog posts).  Even though I abandoned teaching (as I eventually abandon most of my forays into things I believe are my “true calling”), I still feel very strongly about how to do education THE RIGHT WAY.  I don’t know if it will happen in my lifetime.  Public charter schools organized around themes (public service, law, communications, etc.) are certainly a move in the right direction for older students on career tracks, but specialization could probably start even earlier.  Every child has to go to school, by law.  (Let’s exclude home-schoolers here; maybe if the public schools were better, those people who think they can do it better than “those public school people” might actually keep their kids in public schools and help to make them better, because – another topic for another day – parents need to be involved in their children’s schooling more than just a few loudmouths commandeering a local PTA.)  Schools should support FAMILIES; they should be a resource for EVERYONE, not just a dumping ground for kids while their parents go off to work.

Along these lines, I recently found an interesting website called “Edutopia” [http://www.edutopia.org] established by the George Lucas (yes, THAT George Lucas, but unfortunately no relation!) Education Foundation that features a lot of fantastic ideas for educators who want to make public schools more effective.  According to George’s mission statement:

“Education is the foundation of our democracy – the stepping-stones for our youth to reach their full potential. My own experience in public school was quite frustrating. I was often bored. Occasionally, I had a teacher who engaged my curiosity and motivated me to learn. Those were the teachers I really loved. I wondered, ‘Why can’t school be engaging all of the time?’ As a father, I’ve felt the imperative to transform schooling even more urgently.

“Traditional education can be extremely isolating — the curriculum is often abstract and not relevant to real life, teachers and students don’t usually connect with resources and experts outside of the classroom, and many schools operate as if they were separate from their communities.”

[http://www.edutopia.org/word-from-george-lucas-edutopias-role-in-education]

The objective of the Edutopia website is to highlight and promote those schools and programs that are, today, in 2016, DOING IT RIGHT.  Maybe someday, in George’s and my ideal world, ALL American schools will.  That’s the only way to “make America [even] great[er] again”.