Category Archives: Social Commentary

Willful Ignorance

Synchronicity, serendipity – whatever you want to call it – is real.  My early notes for this week’s blog post read, “Not sure what I want to blog about this week but I had an idea – maybe the Willfully Ignorant, or Willful Ignorance, or something like that.”  Mere moments after writing that in my journal, I came across multiple articles and quotes that echoed that very thought.

First was a post on Facebook by my friend and fellow resistor (the master resistor, actually) Chris Cangeleri of an opinion piece from the Miami Herald called “In Trumpworld, it’s OK to be ignorant” [Leonard Pitts, Jr., MiamiHerald.com, 2/17/17, http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/article133497824.html].  A great quote from the piece, which almost exactly captured what I had been thinking to write, was:  “It’s time we talked about the most consequential political divide in this country.  That divide is not between liberals and conservatives. Rather, it is between the ignorant and the informed, between those who have information and can extrapolate from it and those who do not and cannot. There is an education gap between left and right, and it poses a grave threat to our national future.”

I’ve written about this before and I likely will again, because it’s something that troubles me very much about my country.  I’ve never considered myself one of those “Rah-Rah-U.S.A.!” people.  As much as I grew up loving the Olympics, it was the sportsmanship among athletes rather than the competition between countries that appealed to me most about them.  I’m part of a generation – the Baby Boomers – that has witnessed a time of greater prosperity than has ever been known in the world, and the United States has had the most respect it has ever had (or may ever again have).   I’ll save the history lesson for another day, but the bottom line is this:  I can never remember a time in my 50-plus years of life when there was such a sharp gap between the educated and the willfully ignorant in this country.

And there is no greater evidence for this than the results of the 2016 presidential election. During the campaign, whenever I listened to Donald Trump speak (and how could I NOT?  The mainstream media, which he now deems them “the enemy of the people,” gave Trump so much free TV time, we couldn’t escape him), I would hear nearly nonsensical strings of fourth-grade-level vocabulary words in run-on and incomplete sentences that wouldn’t be conveying ANYTHING, really, and he would punctuate his every line with “Believe me!”  or “Am I right?” and a wave of his signature stubby-fingered OK sign.  (What a tell!  Every time Donald Trump says “Believe me!”, he is clearly lying.)  And I would say to myself, “How could anyone in their right mind think he’s making any sense whatsoever?  What is he SAYING?  Does he even listen to HIMSELF?”  Yet so many people – none of my close friends (with whom I am universally politically aligned) but certainly many people I know, who I consider at least semi-intelligent – were hearing something completely different.  What they were hearing was what they WANTED to hear.  It didn’t matter if it didn’t make a lick of sense; they wanted to hear it, so that’s what Trump was saying.

In considering this week’s post, in addition to the Pitts article cited above, I also serendipitously came across a couple of pithy quotations.  One was posted by another one of my fellow resisters on Facebook, from an American abolitionist and vocal supporter of women’s and Native American rights back in the mid-19th century named Wendell Phillips (who was also a contemporary of Frederick Douglass, who still has definitely NOT done any great things lately).

The Wendell Phillips quote:  “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty; power is ever stealing from the many to the few. The manna of popular liberty must be gathered each day or it is rotten. The living sap of today outgrows the dead rind of yesterday. The hand entrusted with power becomes, either from human depravity or esprit de corps, the necessary enemy of the people. Only by continued oversight can the democrat in office be prevented from hardening into a despot; only by unintermitted agitation can a people be sufficiently awake to principle not to let liberty be smothered in material prosperity.”

Heavy stuff, but the bottom line is this:  In a free country, the people have to be vigilant about their rights because once they hand over their power to the elites in control, it is damn hard to get back.

We’re a nation of sheep, as Trump’s election has proven:  ignorant people being led by the nose by Fox News and con men and people with money who control the people who don’t have money.  The populace is woefully ignorant – and willfully so.  Organized religion contributes to that, and also a lack of respect and support for teachers and public education (as evidenced by the ability of the thoroughly unqualified Betsy DeVos to not only buy her position as Secretary of Education but also to make noise about eliminating public education entirely, to be replaced by some mishmash of home schooling and charter schools and God in the classroom – egads!).  Sometimes I think people are happier to be told what to do rather than to think for themselves.

I’ve written about this before in a broader post about public education [“An Ideal Education,” 7/6/16].  It troubles me that so much focus in schools is on teaching to standardized tests and not teaching youngsters how to think for themselves based on their powers of observation and critical analysis.  That kind of emphasis is sorely lacking in schools until college level education, and by then most of the folks who need to be critically thinking about their roles and responsibilities in this country and the world have essentially dropped out of the system.

The founders set up the U.S. Constitution as a blueprint for governance of the people, by the people, coming as it did out of the fight for independence from a controlling monarchy.  Today’s sheep give lip service to patriotically living up to the standards of our forefathers but they’re not willing to question authority and get involved in their own governance.  It’s an awesome responsibility, and what’s happened is that large numbers of people (perhaps a majority of us, and I include myself in that number) have abdicated their power to such a degree that they allowed a con man to be elected by a bare majority of the bare majority (57.9%) of eligible Americans who actually bothered to vote in a damn presidential election, let alone mid-term or local elections, when you can have the most access to the governing power that most affects you.

The other quote I came upon was from George Orwell, whose classic 1984 is undergoing a rediscovery because of its prescience.  Said Orwell, “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”  This is so, evidently, because it is so easy to believe what you want to believe, especially when people in power are pushing it on you, despite the actual FACTS in front of your face.  The denial of the FACTS in front of one’s face has become alarmingly common, and the people in power are doing nothing to change that (and, in fact, are unabashedly promoting such denial).

That George Orwell quote was cited in a transcript of the Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture at the UCLA given by Bret Stephens [“Don’t Dismiss President Trump’s Attacks on the Media as Mere Stupidity”, Feb. 18, 2017, Time.com, http://time.com/4675860/donald-trump]. Following on Orwell’s quote, Mr. Stephens said, “We each have our obligations to see what’s in front of one’s nose, whether we’re reporters, columnists, or anything else. This is the essence of intellectual integrity. Not to look around, or beyond, or away from the facts, but to look straight at them, to recognize and call them for what they are, nothing more or less. To see things as they are before we re-interpret them into what we’d like them to be. To believe in an epistemology that can distinguish between truth and falsity, facts and opinions, evidence and wishes. To defend habits of mind and institutions of society, above all a free press, which preserve that epistemology.  To hold fast to a set of intellectual standards and moral convictions that won’t waver amid changes of political fashion or tides of unfavorable opinion. To speak the truth irrespective of what it means for our popularity or influence.”

I could go on – I haven’t even touched on the absurdity of the accusations of “fake news” by Trump and his minions against established and reputable newspapers and media conglomerates with extensive fact-checking teams and decades of public trust.  Certainly, the big ones are controlled by a few powerful (wealthy, white, male) people, but I think, if Big Media is guilty of anything, it’s of trying too hard to be fair and balanced, to the point where they’re almost afraid to call bullshit when they hear it.  Not to mention the free publicity they gave (and evidently continue to give, since Trump is still campaigning even after winning) the Trump campaign.

But I’m preaching to the choir.  It seems highly unlikely that I will change anyone’s mind or convince them that they need to work a little more on their critical thinking skills because they’ve been bamboozled bigly by a con man.  I go to sleep every night hoping that, when I wake up, it will all have been a bad dream.  But perhaps one good thing has come of this horrible political nightmare:  The outpouring of protest and public outcry will maybe, just maybe, cause some of the previously willfully ignorant to do a little more digging, get a little more involved, and start seeing clearly what’s been in front of their own eyes all along.

Some Post-Inauguration Thoughts

Well, it’s done.  We’re stuck.  Trump is the president of the United States for the foreseeable future.*  Something I never believed would happen has come to pass.  I remember telling my good friend Carole, when she expressed the grim certainty this past summer that he would be elected, that I couldn’t even conceive of it.  The nightmare is real.  I’m scared for my homeland, for current and future generations of Americans, including my suddenly politically aware daughter, but I feel existentially depressed and powerless to do anything about it.

I did join a local grassroots group called Organize, Plan, Act (OPA) that was begun by a couple of my high school classmates but which has expanded beyond the borders of Long Island.  (And anyone who is interested, please check out our page on Facebook.)  We had an in-person meeting this week, which made up for in passion what it may have lacked in focus.  There’s just SO MUCH we need and want to do – to protect our rights, to turn Congress and get more progressive representation that can actually resist the Trumpian juggernaut, to do battle on the side of “right” (not THE RIGHT, but what’s right and fair and sane) – but there’s also a danger that we’re just preaching to the choir.  We didn’t discuss this at the first meeting, but I think our focus needs to be on reaching out to people on the other side of the aisle who can be convinced to cross party lines and do what’s “right” (there’s that word again) when faced with decisions that will negatively impact our present and our future.  WE already know what’s what; it’s THEM that need convincing.  Yes, we need to let our Democratic senators and representatives know that we support them in their opposition, but it’s Republicans who we need to sway on issues because no matter how loud the Democrats speak, they will always be outnumbered (at least until mid-term elections in 2018).  Republicans may seem monolithic at times, but they’re not.  Representative Adam Kinzinger (R‑Ill.) was on “Vice News” the other night as an example of a congressional Republican who is not convinced by Trump and has publicly refused to blindly support him.  Senator Lindsay Graham is no fan, and neither is Senator John McCain, and I optimistically wonder if they (and others) would be willing to break party ranks if enough people from their own and other districts complained, especially if they have broader political ambitions.

Truth be told, I still feel powerless, even after the outpouring of support and solidarity represented by the Women’s March the day after the inauguration.  While certainly heartened and hopeful, perhaps most by the wide range of generations in attendance (with so many brilliant signs and banners; my favorite said “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance”), the first thing that popped into my head (and evidently – although I am loathe to admit that I share ANY thought with him – Trump picked up on it, too, in his first tweet on the topic) was, where were these people when Hillary needed them?  But then I thought to myself, these ARE the people who were “with” Hillary. Even if every voter at the Women’s March had voted for Hillary, there were still too many people who didn’t, who even now, months after her loss, continue to denigrate her.  There are actually people in my life who I consider generally decent who question whether she would have been any better.  OF COURSE SHE WOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER.  If Hillary were in office, we would know what to expect.  Now, it’s a constant, decidedly-non-fun guessing game in terms of how crazy Trump will be on any particular issue, or how wrong his “people”.  The very first gig of his press secretary Sean Spicer consisted of a petulant rant accusing the media of trying to make it seem like there were fewer attendees at the inauguration than there actually were.  WHO CARES HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE THERE?  There are so many more important things that need to be addressed.  Yet they continue to perpetuate lies in the face of actual facts to the contrary, like Kellyanne Conway saying Spicer was putting forth an “alternative” set of facts.  THEY’RE NOT FACTS!!  THEY’RE FALSEHOODS.  (Thanks, Chuck Todd, for your incredulous response that literally took the words out of my mouth.)  There’s a dramatic difference between the two that Trump and his people don’t seem to get.

I’m still a combination of numb and scared and angry, still feeling helpless and impotent. But the word that keeps coming into my head is VIGILANCE.  We need to be vigilant.  It’s unfortunate to hear people say they don’t pay attention to politics, and I confess that I was less than interested, even after the buffoon George W. Bush and his cronies stole the election of 2000 (although I would take W. in a heartbeat right about now), but it’s become very clear to me, with our rights and freedoms under threat, that the government impacts so much in our lives that we take for granted.  I’m just waiting for the day when I can stand up against some injustice or speak out when something needs to be said so I can feel like I’m having some positive impact, no matter how small.  One small impact added to a bunch of other small impacts should eventually add up to a large impact.  Unfortunately, so far my protest activities have been limited to the OPA meeting, emailing and phone-calling my senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and my newly elected representative, Kathleen Rice (all of whom, I am proud to say, are progressive and outspoken Democrats that I have voted for), and posting “Like” and “Angry” responses on Facebook, but hopefully now that my eyes and ears have been well and truly opened, I will be able to take more substantive action soon.

It’s tough to pull any positives out of the inauguration of Trump.  [An amusing aside:  I posted a great article on Facebook the other day (Charles P. Pierce, “Today Was Just the Beginning. The Reckoning Will Come”, Esquire.com, 1/20/17, http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/politics/a52437/donald-trump-inauguration-day-report/).  Something I particularly loved about the article was that every time Mr. Pierce wrote “President Trump”, he put an asterisk after “President”.]  But at a minimum it should demonstrate to Democrats and progressives and probably Libertarians and all clear-thinking people that they need to mobilize, make lots of noise and take meaningful action because Trump and Congressional Republicans have all the power and want to take any modicum of power that remains away from everybody else.  We can’t sit idly by and let our planet be ravaged and our rights infringed.  The Women’s March was just the beginning (I hope).

Finally, I’d like to end this kind of dark and depressing post with something a little more uplifting, my personal rallying cry, which has been borrowed in this form from an article by Seth Millstein (“What To Tell People Who Say You Have To Accept Donald Trump’s Presidency Now”, Bustle.com, 1/19/17, https://www.bustle.com/p/what-to-tell-people-who-say-you-have-to-accept-donald-trumps-presidency-now-31726) but I had already posted something along these lines in my first public stand-taking on the Facebook page of Rep. Peter King, one of the New York Republicans we are targeting for removal in 2018:  “I reject the implication that just because Trump is president, we aren’t allowed to condemn him anymore. To the contrary: We most definitely are allowed to condemn him, whenever we like and as strongly as we see fit. One of the nice things about living in a democracy is that we’re allowed to freely criticize our government. This is the constitutional right of every American, and I’ll exercise it under any president with whom I disagree. I suspect I’ll be exercising it frequently under the Trump regime.”

_______________

*I read something interesting on Robert Reich’s Facebook page the other day.  (I love Robert Reich, by the way – he is so measured in his outrage and backs up what he says with actual, not alternative, facts.)  He recounted a conversation he’d had with an anonymous former Republican congressperson who explained that the Republicans are really just using Trump to push their pet agenda items through – like repealing the ACA, gutting Dodd-Frank, cutting the taxes of corporations and the wealthy, yada-yada-yada.  (A quote that really struck me:  “They’ll get as much as they want – tax cuts galore, deregulation, military buildup, slash all those poverty programs, and then get to work on Social Security and Medicare – and blame him. And he’s such a fool he’ll want to take credit for everything.”)  Then they’ll suddenly find something Trump says or does so outrageous that they’ll have to impeach him, and then Crazy Scary Pence will become president, which is what they wanted all along.  Evidently, it was the condition they set for backing Trump in the election.  Sounds a little tin-foil hat but also TRUE.

Some Thoughts about Immigrants and Real Live Music Revisited

The United States is and always has been a country of immigrants.  Unless you’re an indigenous person (whose birthright was stolen from them by the original immigrants to this land) or an African-American descended from slaves (who were brought here against their will), all of our ancestors came here, by choice or desperation, to escape turmoil in their native lands or to take advantage of American opportunity to create a better life for themselves and their families.

And yet, subsequent waves of immigrants are inevitably vilified by the ones who came before, like somehow the new immigrants are not as good or worthwhile or deserving as the old immigrants.  Why begrudge them this?  Why not help the newbies?  Are they deemed such a threat to the inroads their forerunners have made?  This nation’s geography is certainly large enough to accommodate more.

Just consider what immigrants bring to America when they come:  talent, labor, FLAVOR. Think of the awesome array of food choices in a place like New York City, with every conceivable culture represented and available for the comestible enjoyment of one and all – not just the denizens of the country or culture from which it came.  What about music, and art, and literature?  I always loved “International Nights” at school, where every kid represented a culture (either their own or an acquired favorite) and they brought a special dish and told a traditional story and drew a colorful flag and learned a little history.  Through those “International Nights” (and parents would also come, some of whom were still learning English as THEIR second language), the intention was to gain an appreciation of our differences rather than to judge and denigrate them.

I’ve always had an interest in doing Ancestry.com and/or DNA research to see what my genes reveal about my make-up.  I know on my mother’s side that we’re Italian, and I can even trace back through my great-grandparents their arrival (or their parents’ arrival) at Ellis Island.  My maternal grandmother’s mother, Petronella, came to New York as a young child from a place my family always called “Fooj” but I have so far been unable to find it on a map.  She never did learn to speak English; I remember teasing her (she passed away in 1990 at the age of 102, and I was the oldest great-grandchild, so I was fortunate to be able to know her pretty well when I was a kid) for the way she said “pock-a-book” and “ice-a-box”.  (I also remember, with vivid clarity, spending an afternoon in the Bensonhurst apartment she shared with my bachelor Uncle Frank, and drawing a picture of her – I must have been no more than 4 – that she tore up in anger because I put in too many wrinkles.  It damaged my artistic confidence for life!!)

But my father’s side is awash in mystery.  My paternal grandmother, Mary Weiss (or perhaps it was Weitz),  was Hungarian.  I think I remember that she and her two sisters came over as children, but I may be confusing the reality with a photo I saw of three Hungarian sisters, shell-shocked and sad-faced, with their battered suitcase on the docks of New York City.  My father’s father, and his father’s father, and his father’s father’s father before him, all died before the age of 50 (as did my father), so their genealogy has been difficult to trace.  They might have come from Austria or somewhere in Germany, and their last name was almost certainly NOT “Lucas”.  My father always used to joke that he was Romany – a gypsy – and had magical powers of clairvoyance and the ability to curse people who did him wrong, but I’ll probably never know for sure.

But my point is this:  BASICALLY ALL AMERICANS ARE IMMIGRANTS.  And every new wave of immigrants brings something unique and interesting to the fabric of American life.  Although their reasons for coming may be diverse, there is one thing they all have in common:  They believe that life will be better here, that there will be opportunity for growth and prosperity here, for their children and their children’s children.  Immigrants generally don’t come here with the intention of going back to where they came from, and some of them are physically unable to do so.  But all this anti-immigrant sentiment, fomented by Trump and his supporters, is ridiculous and, frankly, anti-American.  As the Sam Cooke song goes, “Don’t know much about history,” but I do know this:  Immigrants have always been, and should always be, a vital and valued part of this nation, which in this regard, at least, is already pretty great.  Our forebears came here with the same hopes and dreams, whether one or two or ten generations ago.

* * *

My good friend Sue ruins things for me.  By virtue of her thoughtful and extremely generous gift-giving, she has destroyed Broadway musicals (thanks to a third-row seat to see “Tommy”, where we were so close we were peppered with flecks of Michael Cerveris’ spittle) and Rangers games at Madison Square Garden (where not only did we sit in the first row behind the penalty boxes but we also witnessed the most exciting game I’ve ever seen in person, with the Rangers coming from four goals down to win in overtime).  And now she has ruined music concerts (although, as you may recall, I already have mixed feelings about live music:  see “Real Live Music”, 3/16/16).

For my most recent birthday, she got us tickets to see ’80s goth icon Peter Murphy at City Winery.  The concert was this past Sunday night, and it was remarkable, and I will never EVER be able to enjoy a live music venue again unless I am sitting as close, and unless I have the level of interaction with the artist, as I did for the Peter Murphy show.

First we had a yummy dinner at Tinys and the Bar Upstairs (of which King Henrik Lundqvist is part-owner), and then we walked through Tribeca in a light first-of-the-season snowfall to get to City Winery in Soho.  I had never been to City Winery before, although Sue had, so I had no idea what to expect.  Long rows of tables radiated out from the small stage, the height of which was basically at the top of the tables.  The host took us to our seats – one four-man table in from the stage!!  Literally the width of two large humans away!!  It was like we were practically on the stage.  We saw everything in fine detail:  Murphy himself, thin and regal, high cheekbones in shadowed relief, stalking the proscenium – almost stumbling a couple of times over various pieces of audio equipment  – and leaning out over the edge of the stage.  His bassist/electric violinist, Emilio “Zef” China, all in black, his face outlined by sinewy strands of hair escaping from his man bun, kept up a masterful drone; his guitarist, John Andrews, with his wide bandanna and samurai-style ponytail, effortlessly provided the lead.

The sound level was a tad loud, being that close, but we soon became accustomed to it.  At the tail end of a long worldwide tour, Murphy’s deep golden baritone was a little raw at times, but he still sounded fantastic, especially on the bone-buzzing low notes.  But the absolute highlight – maybe of my musical life – came when he was singing a shimmering acoustic song, stripped of any ambient sound other than Murphy’s and John Andrews’ guitars, with which I was not familiar called “Strange Kind of Love”.  While he was singing the dreamy lyrics (including “Perfect taste choice and meaning/A look into your eyes”), I was absolutely mesmerized, but then I could swear he started looking RIGHT AT ME.  You know that sensation?  You can FEEL it – it almost makes you a little giddy – when someone looks straight at you like that.  At first I thought he must be looking at the woman behind me, who had earlier called out some semi-inappropriate and slightly suggestive exclamations; while I didn’t get a good look at her I knew she was wearing a spaghetti-strap top and leather pants and without a doubt was more attractive than I am.  But because I had that feeling that it was actually ME he was looking at, I smiled.  AND HE SMILED BACK.  I felt a little shiver but kind of shrugged it off.  Why would he be looking at ME?

A few moments later, he looked at me again, longer this time, and I cracked another smile, and he smiled back again.  At that point, I KNEW he had been looking at me all along.  The second smile in particular was quite charming and made me feel all warm inside.  I also realized that other people must have seen him looking at me (well, at SOMEONE), too.  When I asked Sue about it afterward, she said it seemed like he had been looking at me, although the girl behind me was probably equally certain that he had been looking at HER, but it was quite clear that he had been engaging with SOMEONE in the near audience.  When I explained to her about my smile test, she had to agree that, yes, indeed, it must have been me to whom he was singing that glorious song.

Perhaps he was thinking, “Let me mess with that chubby girl with the man hair and glasses sitting down front.  I bet she’s a little freaked out that I’m looking at her.”  Or maybe he just appreciated my rapturous expression while I was enjoying his gorgeous song in such close proximity to the artist.  Whatever it was, it was certainly a pinnacle of my musical lifetime experiences.

Of course I downloaded the song as soon as I got home (the studio version, although the live version was available – I wanted to best capture his impossibly pristine voice) and then I found the video, during which he stares intently into the camera with his piercing and colorized “indigo eyes,” right into your (MY) soul.  I must have watched it twenty times since Sunday night.

So of course I am wrecked for any future musical act, unless, of course, we can get the same (or dare I say even better?) seats and a dreamy singer decides to give me a thrill!!  THANKS A LOT, SUE!!  I can’t wait to see what other entertainment experience you can ruin for me!!

Woe Is Money

My money situation is killing me.

Over the past decade and a half, I’ve earned no less than $100,000 a year – not small potatoes, I admit.  I support only myself and my kid (and multiple furry children).  I don’t want for things, but I get what I want when I want it (more to the point, I get what my DAUGHTER wants).  We’ve taken a few expensive vacations since 2002, which has been by far my biggest outlay but also our greatest enjoyment, not to mention that I could only afford to travel every other year.  I live in a small house and I drive a small car.  I don’t own or wear jewelry.  (In fact, I don’t really GET jewelry – to me, it’s just an ostentatious show of wealth and a target for thieves.  I’m talking to YOU, Kim Kardashian.)  I wear clothes and shoes until they’re stained and falling apart (especially if they’re comfortable).  And yet I am deep in debt and hacking away at my middling retirement investments (left to me by my mother – more on that in a moment) and there’s no relief in sight short of winning the lottery.

Growing up, my parents always ensured that we lived comfortably (that’s how we got accustomed to it, of course).  And yet they still managed to have enough income to put two daughters through four years of college and pay off a 30,000 mortgage (in 1968, for a four-bedroom, 2-1/2 bath house; contrast that with a two-bedroom, two-bath bungalow in Long Beach in 2004 with a mortgage of $300,000; I get that beach access comes at a premium, but still – literally ten times the mortgage for half the house?  Something doesn’t seem right.).  My father went through multiple cutting-edge (at that time) heart surgeries, and yet health care expenses didn’t cripple us.  In fact, there was enough left over in their savings (and my father’s life insurance) for my mother to live comfortably (still) into her early 70s until her own health issues overcame her, and STILL leave my sister and me over half a million in inheritance money (which we have both nearly wiped out, I’m ashamed to admit).

Of course, most of the money I’m taking from my inheritance is for my house, which has undergone three full renovations in less than ten years, only one of which was planned.  The others, of course, were courtesy of Superstorm Sandy.  And while I did get assistance with flood insurance and state grant money, I’ve still been forced to dig deep into my own already paltry retirement fund.   I have actually heard rumors of NY Rising suddenly changing procedures and withholding money or cancelling payments altogether, right when people are close to the end.  In fact, I was forced to pay my rent by credit card this month because I didn’t receive my Interim Mortgage Assistance payment in a timely manner, plus I had to pay an additional service charge of $52.95 to do so (which is outrageous in and of itself).  Thanks, NY Rising.  And they’re going to screw me out of my last payment somehow, too, I just know it.

I’ve whined about my money situation before in this blog (see, e.g., “Tax-Inspired Stream of Consciousness (and Another Top Ten List)”, 2/24/16) – it’s a constant source of agita for me – but thinking about this has led me to recall how things were when we were growing up, and even back when I first started working at a “real” job, in the early 1980s.  It was such a perk to get a position with “full benefits”.  I mean, TOTALLY FREE.  You didn’t have to pay for any of it – your employer paid for it, whether you were a single person or a family of ten.  Sure, medical advances to cure diseases and improve treatment methods, which have extended our life spans exponentially, all cost money, but SUCH an increase?  And if it all went to R&D, that would be one thing.  But what it’s really about is lining the pockets of the already wealthy.  I’m so sick of it.  All the angry middle-class and out-of-work Americans are backing the wrong horse (and the wrong horse’s party) in this election because Republicans and the wealthiest Americans (like Trump believes himself to be) are the ones who PUT the working poor and middle class in this position.  Find me a Republican who isn’t “Me First” (or, at best, “Us First”) and I might consider voting for that Republican (or at least listening to and working with that Republican).

I saw a couple of graphics on Facebook the other day (I think they both came from Bernie Sanders’ website, although I can no longer find the CEO pictograph).  One showed the disparities between the prices of the same drugs in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.  The same exact drugs!!  It was obscene.  [https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fsenatorsanders%2Fposts%2F10155280240672908%3A0&]  The other showed the compensation for the CEOs of the major insurance companies, which were all well in excess of $20 million (with one outlier around $10 million).    Hmm, I wonder where all that money is going?  Then there’s all that inane advertising.  It’s a mystery to me why Big Pharma wastes so many millions of dollars on these fake-ass ads, with actors portraying ordinary humans living their (completely unrealistic) ordinary lives.  It’s not the CONSUMERS who decide what medication they need; it’s the doctors and, ultimately, the insurance companies.  Case in point:  My endocrinologist (who, by the way, does not take my insurance so I pay him out of pocket and try to limit my visits to twice a year) prescribed a new diabetes drug for me, but my insurance didn’t cover it.  So he suggested trying a different brand of the same drug, which my insurance supposedly covers.  I called the mail-order prescription filler that my insurance company insists upon for my regular medications and the woman there told me that I will have to pay NINE HUNDRED DOLLARS for a three-month supply because I still haven’t met my deductible (I will NEVER understand how that works).  “Well, I can’t pay that,” I told the woman.  It turns out that this particular pharmaceutical company (AstraZeneca) offers a program whereby I can get a free trial month and then heavily discounted doses for the next three months, and by that time, I will have hopefully lost enough weight so that I no longer require the medication.  So, in fact, THAT is what has determined what medication I take – not some stupid commercial with fake families kayaking in a lake at sunset or pushing their fake grandchildren on swings (or the absolute WORST commercials, those for Cialis or Viagra that show fake horny older couples doing all these flirty-touchy things.  Those make my skin crawl!).

In thinking about how our economic situation today is so much worse than our parents’ was back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and the nausea-inducing income inequality that exists in this country (a statistic that really burns me is that the top 1 percent of wealth holders in this country are richer than the bottom 95 percent) [http://inequality.org/99to1/facts-figures/], I’ve been considering how to counter possible criticism of my (and others’, notable Hillary Clinton’s) desire to make the rich pay their fair share toward maintaining our country’s infrastructure and the planet as a whole, as well as contributing to the common good of humankind.  Apart from the rich folks (who can AFFORD it – that’s the whole point:  if a multimillionaire were to give away HALF his or her money, he or she would STILL be a multimillionaire), who would suffer?  Law firms, for one, if corporations no longer needed to engage legal counsel to set up convoluted tax-minimizing structures for their deals and just sucked it up and paid what they should instead of siphoning off from the company’s profits to funnel the big bucks upstairs, ultimately at the expense of the employees.  The “luxury” industry might suffer, like, say, jewelers.  I was wondering if, as in the game of Monopoly, there was such a thing as a “luxury tax” that rich people have to pay when they buy things like diamonds and fancy cars, over and above plain old sales tax like the peons have to pay.  If there isn’t one, there should be.

All I know is, if I ever had a couple of million dollars, I wouldn’t be buying boats and diamond rings or gold-plated toilet seats.  I’d be paying it forward, giving money to rescue organizations and friends and family and worthy Kickstarter and Go-Fund-Me campaigns.  (My one indulgence if I were suddenly wealthy?  I would stop working, if I could manage it.)  [For more on this topic, see “An Excess of Excess”, 6/24/15]  But in the meantime, it would be ideal if the wealthy were on the (inescapable) hook to pay more taxes than they have been paying for the past few decades as the result of misguided economic policies like “trickle-down economics”.  The only way the money has been trickling is back into the pockets of the wealthy.

* * *

One more word on this cringe-worthy election and hopefully in next week’s blog post I can express my extreme relief that America has dodged a stupidity bullet and we’ll never have to see Donald Trump’s sickening orange face on our televisions again (as long as you don’t watch Trump TV, which I decidedly WILL NOT).  I can’t believe how many stupid people there are in this country – nearly half, according to “polls”.

It’s been expressed much more eloquently in many recent articles:  see, for example, Matthew Yglesias, “Clinton’s critics know she’s guilty, they’re just trying to decide what she’s guilty of”, Vox, 10/31/16, http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2016/10/31/13474116/clinton-prime-directive:  “But what if all previous investigations have shown no wrongdoing because there was no wrongdoing? And what if the client-side copies of emails on Weiner’s computer are just client-side copies of emails, just like the emails in the inbox of everyone else who downloads email to a computer? What if Benghazi was just a tragedy and an example of how bad things happen in war zones? What if Whitewater was just a land deal on which some people lost money because real estate speculation is risky? What if Clinton has been getting away with it for all these years because she hasn’t done anything wrong?”; and  Conor Friedersdorf, “There’s Simply No Comparison Between Clinton’s Flaws and Trump’s”, The Atlantic, 11/1/16, http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/11/perspective-on-the-flaws-of-hillary-clinton-and-donald-trump/506042):   “The trouble with calling both candidates bad and leaving it at that isn’t just that it doesn’t capture how much worse he is, though it doesn’t, or that it is unfair to Clinton. I don’t actually care about her. I do care about us–about Americans who have to live in this country going forward, who will suffer if we elect a man as unfit for the presidency as any major party candidate for that office in generations.  His inexperience matters, his indiscipline matters, his ignorance matters, and so do his character flaws, which render him a greater danger to others the more power he is given.”,

But if I may, some final thoughts from me about this long national nightmare, for what it’s worth:  It shocks me (although maybe it shouldn’t, given the widespread willful ignorance of an educated-but-not-really American public) to see that there are so many people in this country who prefer Trump – a shady huckster who has jobbed the system at every opportunity, a pig and a racist and a wanna-be dictator, who is wholly unqualified to be president of arguably the most wealthy, powerful and influential nation in the world – over Hillary Clinton, a lifelong public servant who has experience at every level of government, who has stood up to those who vilify and criticize her because she realizes that there is an extremely important job that needs to be done – a job she has been waiting her whole life to do.  It’s just common sense, people.

If Hillary’s lying bothers Trump supporters so much, how hypocritical is it for them to support Trump, who lies far more than he tells the truth and whose pronouncements are almost entirely without basis in fact?  Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, speaking on “Meet the Press” on October 9 (http://www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press/video/schmidt-trump-has-exposed-intellectual-rot-of-republican-party-782256707624), had it exactly right:  He said, in no uncertain terms, of the Trump campaign that “the magnitude of its disgrace . . . is difficult to articulate” and that “it has exposed the intellectual rot within the Republican Party”.

I just want it to be over.  Instead of rejoicing in this historical moment for women and knowing that the goals of political progressives are finally within reach, we’re being driven to distraction by a lot of hoohah over EMAILS.  GAH.  Enough already!

I Am a Perennial

I read an article the other day that struck a chord with me.  Entitled “Meet the Perennials”[Gina Pell, “Meet the Perennials”, NewCo Shift, 10/19/16, https://shift.newco.co/meet-the-perennials-e91a7cd9f65f#.8ihtv1ojp%5D, it describes a segment of the population that cannot be classified by the year in which they were born.  For one reason or another, they TRANSCEND the limits of their generation.  I believe I qualify as a Perennial and I make my case as follows.

One of the characteristics of a Perennial is that they have friends of all ages.  This is most definitely true of me.  I have friends that range from my 83-year-old neighbor (who, unlike the lady downstairs, will NOT be happy to see the back of us), to one of my most beloved friends who is in her early 70s, to my buddies from the shelter who are in their 60s (I worked at an adoption event with them last weekend, and we joked that I had to do all the heavy lifting because I was the “kid” of the group), to a cluster of cohorts in my age range in our 50s, to some younger folks – the ones I consider my “international friends”, in Ghana, Dubai and Sweden – who I met through my job who are in their 30s and 40s.  I don’t have many friends in their 30s, though, probably because I no longer travel in circles with folks in their getting-married-and-having-babies years.  And then there are the 20-year-olds, my daughter’s friends, who aren’t MY friends but who I know and care about through her.  Finally, there are my daughter’s siblings, who aren’t related to me by blood but who I consider my friends.  I had a lovely dinner with the 12-year-old for her birthday the other night, and we’re making plans to go to the movies together (I’m dying to see “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” and also “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”).  I’m fond of her 14-year-old brother as well; when his father asked me to pick him up from school after he complained of a stomach ailment a couple of weeks ago, our conversation in the car was comfortable and easy.  So clearly I am not limited to the enclave of 50-year-olds, or even Baby Boomers, who comprise my “age group” when it comes to the people with whom I enjoy spending time.

I may not be up on all the latest trends or lingo, but I am certainly open to new music – there’s great music being created every minute, so how could I limit myself to only the “oldies”, or “classic rock”, like some of my fellows (although that music certainly has its place and appeal in my record collection)?  My favorite radio station, WFUV, does skew a little older, but my other favorite source of new tunes is Passport Approved, which I’ve recommended before in these blog posts and features cutting edge music from all over the world – avant garde, ahead of the curve, the latest vibes.  I still watch plenty of MTV (and I confess that, until recently, I used to be a big fan of Degrassi but I think I’ve officially outgrown it!).  I cannot believe that “The Real World” has been on for 32 seasons – and I have unabashedly watched every one!!

The clothes I wear are timeless – ragamuffin style transcends all ages!  When we were traveling through Europe a few summers ago, my daughter scoffed at the women of a certain age who continue to dress in a youthful style– perhaps in an effort to LOOK younger, but probably just because they figured, why not?  Women (and men, for that matter) should be able to dress any way they please, without judgment or restriction by their age (although belly shirts and short-shorts on grandmas are just beyond the pale).  That being said, if anything, my androgynous trousers-only, oversized outfits are what I imagine the clothes of the future will be:  clean and comfortable, sustainably made.  The cover subjects in Interview Magazine this month (September 2016) were Jaden and Willow Smith, who themselves could probably be considered Perennials, given that they come across, in many ways, as older than their years – 15 and 18, respectively – and were talking with their interviewer, Pharrell Williams – another Perennial at age 43 – as if they were all peers.  The outfits in which they were photographed were baggy, shapeless, unisex things, covering the kids from head to toe, that I actually quite liked for myself (unlike most of the fashion that I see in Interview Magazine which, I confess, I JUST DON’T GET).

Pell says of Perennials, “We comprise an inclusive, enduring mindset, not a divisive demographic.”  I am all about bringing folks together, finding similarities and points of connection rather than focusing on the things that divide and differentiate us.  My dream for the world is that humans achieve tolerance and togetherness, building bridges and not walls.  That’s the calling card of a true Perennial.  (Which brings to mind one highly unpleasant person, (t00) much in the news lately, who shall go nameless, who is as far from a Perennial as a human could be.  The ANTI-Perennial, if you will.)

When people first meet me, and even after they’ve known me for a while, I think they find it hard to pinpoint my age.  I’ve got the wrinkles (although made slightly less obvious because of the face fat – the ONLY benefit to carrying excess weight) and the little-old-Italian-grandma central spread in all directions, yes, but I’ve got a youthful outlook and a skip in my step.  I also don’t SEE myself as a 57-year-old person in my mind’s eye, although when I look in the mirror I can sometimes believe it.

Where I fall behind a little is with the gizmos and doodads of life.  Pell says Perennials “stay current with technology”, but sadly I am a dinosaur in that regard.  Still, I have an android phone and I’m on Facebook and am capable of sending email and surfing the web, so I’m not TOTALLY incompetent where technology is concerned.  It’s not something that terribly interests me, though; it’s just a means to an end of communication and research. If I put my mind to it, I could probably go beyond my current technical stasis, but I firmly believe that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  Who needs a new iPhone every year?  Why do we have to constantly upgrade our software and operating systems to version 2.0 and beyond?  I’m perfectly content with the level of my digital knowledge at this stage, until obsolescence forces my hand.

Fortunately, I have a kid just beginning her adulthood, so I can rely on her to educate me when I need to be updated on things that matter in life.  I never felt a “generation gap” with her; I’ve just tried to keep up with her and impart whatever knowledge I’ve gained over the years that might serve her well (that is, if she’s willing to LISTEN, which she isn’t always – at least not OBVIOUSLY, although sometimes, years later, I can hear my words coming out of her mouth, which always gives me a feeling of secret satisfaction).  That’s one of the benefits to being a Perennial:  “We get involved, stay curious, mentor others, are passionate, compassionate, creative, confident, collaborative, global-minded, risk takers who continue to push up against our growing edge.”  Yes, that sounds like me, if I do say so myself.  My roots are sturdy and deep in the ground and I bloom at least once a year!

 

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”.