education

A SMART USE OF TIME: CYBER FRIENDS ACROSS THE WORLD

What do you have time for?

Unlike my fictional character Harold (Soup and Sandwich), who I have brought by for a few visits, I’m not particularly well-organized. I wish my apartment could be as neat and clean as the one I attribute to the Commander of Clean, Director of Dishes and Lord of the Laundry. Instead I am King of Clutter. No matter how hard I fight, I am losing the battle against my possessions.

Even so, I try to effectively allocate my time. Certain times should be assigned to particular activities. Work and commuting take a big chunk of life. While I ride back and forth in my General Motors car which has miraculously escaped recall, I think about ways to fill the other hours including the topics I should let loose on Word Press. What adventure, or misadventure Harold should have next.

Entry to the College

When I sat down at the computer to coördinate all the thoughts running around in my head, I got a message on Skype.

“U there?”

It was a guy I’d never met in person, but had talked to often.

He lives in the middle east. I’d met him on the language learning site, Livemocha, when it was also a social site. Its members helped others learn the language they already knew by correcting exercises and chatting in text and voice.

During the past two years, we’ve become friends. Our talks have covered a wide range of topics. If you think you have it tough, talk with someone who lives where the power goes off each day at 6 am and stays off until 2 pm. Obviously, there is not enough power to go around in his homeland.

The differences of our personal circumstances is offset by the similarities of our ideas and concerns. We both can see futures we would like to have. It seems that when you have a computer and some power, no matter how fleeting, you can dream as big as cyberspace itself.

So instead of spending my Saturday evening creating great thoughts for this site, I spent more than two hours helping my friend study for his English competency exam. He sent me pages of text to read and questions to ask. He sent audio passages to go with the text. He reported to me in his timed responses what the text and audio where telling us. We moved past grammar, on to reading comprehension, then conversation. He has a week until his exam. That week contains his hopes of moving on as a language student.

Why would I give up my Saturday evening for this? Why would I spend hours reading passages and questions out loud to this young man? He is a nice person and I have enjoyed our talks, but I’ve never met him, maybe never will.  And I really wanted to do something else.  My mind was set on a particular activity, and it was not English grammar.

Yet, he is a friend. He reaches across cyberspace to ask me to lend a hand. Nice to know I can contribute to someone’s education. Education is the most valuable thing we can ever have. Even if you win the lottery tomorrow, your knowledge will remain your most precious possession.

If my friend benefited at all from the few intense English sessions we had recently, I think I got the better of the deal. He showed me what life is like in a culture different from mine. I am patient as he goes through his exercises. He is patient with me as I ask questions about his life. Some of my questions are no doubt naïve, but I’ve learned so much by asking them.

If he’s successful and becomes a language student, I hope we get to meet. He has taught me an enormous amount by asking me to read aloud and pose questions from an English textbook.

So, how did you spend your Saturday evening?

DREAMY TEACHERS IN THE REAL WORLD

Dream Teacher

You can choose any person from history to teach you any topic you want. Who’s your teacher, and what do they teach you?


I don’t need to find some historical teacher out of history. I had real-life, real-time teachers to whom I will be eternally grateful. They taught me to learn, to love reading, to make up stories and write them down. To write non-fiction that was complete, accurate and unbiased. To find humor in physics. To love history, religion, archaeology, philosophy and all the mysteries of our world.

P.S. 35, Queens

P.S. 35, Queens

They encouraged curiosity, imagination and creative thinking.

Mrs. Schiff, 4th grade teacher at P.S. 35, who suggested I write “diaries” of historical people and learn to put myself into their worlds. Thank you. You made me feel special and talented and those lessons have traveled far and wide.

Dr. Silver, who taught English Literature and Linguistics at Jamaica High school. He forced me to parse sentences and respect punctuation and grammar while making me laugh. His doctorate in Linguistics helped him make our language intriguing, like a giant mystery to unravel. I’m still unraveling it.

Jamaica High School

Jamaica High School

Mr. Wekerle, head of Hofstra University’s Philosophy department. He believed in me. He taught phenomenology, History of Religion, Philosophy of Religion, but more importantly, saw through my bullshit. The first — and ONLY professor to give me a grade of D-/A+ … D- for content, A+ for style. He didn’t let me get away with anything. He made me fill in all those leaps of logic even though I whined vociferously that “everyone knows that stuff.”

Wekerle said “No, they don’t. You know it. Now tell them about it.”

And I did and from that I got a 40 year career.

Hofstra_University_5 (1)

Hofstra University

Dr. Feiffer — my high school physics teacher — taught me even I, the least mathematically inclined student ever could be fascinated by science.

I never got together with numbers, but I learned to love science and I still do. The logic of it, the truth of it, the importance of it have stayed with me an entire lifetime.

I didn’t and don’t need teachers from the mists of time. I got what I needed from dedicated teachers who worked for crappy salaries to teach dunderheads and wise-asses like me to think, write, research and love learning.

Bless them all. The gifts they gave me were precious beyond words!

WELCOME TO KINDERGARTEN

There I am. Probably the youngest kid in the class. I’m only four, but somehow, here I am anyhow. I’m certainly the smallest. All the others seem awfully big. I don’t know it yet, but I will always be either the shortest or next to the shortest kid in every class for the next six years.

P.S. 35 looks gigantic. Monstrous. Many years later, I will come back here and it will seem tiny, a school in miniature. Even the stairs are half the height of normal stairs.

But I don’t know about stairs yet because kindergarten is always on the ground floor. They don’t want the little kids getting run down by bigger ones.

The windows go all the way to the ceiling, which is very high. To open or close them, Mrs. O’Rourke has to use an enormous hook-on-a-pole. I wonder why they don’t have normal windows like we have at home. Our windows open by turning a crank; anyone, even I, can open them.

The teacher is kind of old and she’s got frizzy grey hair. She talks loud and slow. Does she think I’m stupid? Everyone in my family talks loud, but no one talks slow.

Now it’s nap time. We are supposed to put our blankets on the floor and go to sleep, but I don’t nap. I haven’t taken a nap ever, or at least not that I can remember. And anyway, I don’t have a blanket because my mother didn’t know I was supposed to bring one. I also don’t have a shoe box for my crayons. All the other kids have them. I wish I had one because I feel weird being the only one without a blanket and a shoe box.

Worse yet, I don’t have crayons. I wish I had some because the ones they have that everyone can use are all broken and mostly, the colors no one likes. My mother didn’t know what I was supposed to bring. She’s busy. I just got a new sister who cries all the time and mommy didn’t have time to come to school and find out all this stuff that all the other kids mothers know.

There were no air conditioners when I went there. We just sweated.

So I sit in a chair and wait, being very quiet, while every one is napping. I don’t think they are really asleep, but everyone goes and lays down on the floor on a blanket and pretends. It give Mrs. O’Rourke time to write stuff in her book.

It’s a long day and I have almost a mile to walk home. My mother doesn’t drive and anyway, she doesn’t worry about me. She knows I’ll find my way. It’s just the walk is all uphill and I’m tired. Why do I have to do this?

By the time I know the answer, I am in third grade.

UNDERSTANDING GEN X AND Y … SAY WHAT?

Daily Prompt: Generation XYZ

I’m Gen W. So I assume my parents (may they rest in peace) were Gen V, which generation is pretty much gone. My generation — aka The Baby Boomers — have become … trumpets and drumroll … The Older Generation.

My 6th Grade class.

This is so weird. I was always the youngest kid in my class, the wunderkind, mature for my age. Now I’m just mature. Or at least old. I don’t know about mature. I think I’m still a kid wrapped in a messed-up body. When I look in a mirror, I don’t see the me I am. I see a composite of all the mes I’ve ever been.

Gen X, my son’s group, are now in their late 30s and early to mid 40s. What an odd bunch they are. So many of them grew up convinced they were destined — and deserving — of everything. Some of them got the message that to achieve that glorious destiny, you had to work. A bunch of them, including my kid, didn’t clearly hear that part of the message … or, having heard it, felt they were exempt. Probably my fault. Everything is my fault, right?

I provided a good example. I worked hard and long. The kid’s father worked obsessively. All the adults these Gen X-ers knew as they were growing up worked long hours. We collectively believed in education and work. It would redeem us. We were willing to serve our time as grunts before expecting to be promoted. Yet I remember hearing my son say “I don’t want to waste my life working all the time like you, my father and Garry.” Say what? That was when I knew we had a serious disconnect. Garry was insulted. I was too but hey, he’s my kid. I can’t stay mad.

96-KKCheer-3a

Well, he’s sorry now. A lot more than a dollar short and many years late. The “success will come because I want it” didn’t work out and belated quick-fix education became worthless when the economy collapsed. I tried to warn him. I have friends with similar kids. We all tried.

As for Gen Y, my granddaughter’s age group? They think it’s all about their personal happiness. They are entitled to a stress-free life. Anyone who forces them to do anything which doesn’t give them immediate satisfaction is a bully or an abuser. Not to put too fine a point on it, but they are clueless. It’s scary the nonsense they believe.

Clueless or not, reality will bite them in the ass. We will pass away. So will their parents. They won’t be able to run to mom for comfort when the mean boss tells them they have to work weekends. Or find themselves working a lifetime of minimum wage jobs and living in grinding poverty.

It makes me sad. There are so many who are doomed to disappointment and failure because they don’t get it. It must have been me, us, our generation. We wanted to help them have a good life but somehow omitted the connection to achievement through personal effort and dedication.

Who knew it would backfire in such an awful way?

Other Voices:

  1. Secrets of the universe | Perspectives on life, universe and everything
  2. Ethical Professor Boynton (Part 1) | The Jittery Goat
  3. Really! How much more :-) (for my US friends) | Perspectives on life, universe and everything
  4. The younger years | muffinscout
  5. Daily Prompt; Generation XYZ | Journeyman
  6. Internet Monsters: a very Grimm tale… Daily Prompt | alienorajt
  7. Maiden – Mother – Crone – Honoring Lifestages | Shrine of Hecate – Ramblings of a New Age Witch
  8. Daily Prompt: Generation XYZ | Chronicles of an Anglo Swiss
  9. Mentoring: A Strand of Three | Live Life in Crescendo
  10. daily prompt: Generation XYZ | aimanss…
  11. Generation XYZ | Flowers and Breezes
  12. How Young are you? | Cascading Dreams
  13. GEN X VS. GEN ALPHA | DANDELION’S DEN
  14. Why Me vs Me Me Me | Reinvention of Mama
  15. Talking ‘Bout Yer Generation | The Shotgun Girls
  16. Learning from my 4-year-old | A mom’s blog

DAILY PROMPT: LEARNING WITH BISCUITS

Learning style? What? Huh? “Bonnie,” I ask my Scottie. “Do I have a learning style?”

“GrrrARF” she says, which loosely translated means “You are too slow with the biscuits this morning, Mom.”

“Nan? Feel free to jump in here.”

Nan - 14

“Oink, grrrunt, oink,” replies Nan. For a terrier, she sounds remarkably like a rooting piglet. I’m sure she too is commenting on my failure to go more than a single round of biscuits.

“I don’t need no stinking learning style!” I growl at my monitor.”I’m done with that. I don’t have to learn anything anymore. I’m finished. My brain is closed, locked up tight.” As usual, the monitor remains imperturbable and silent. How did I ever learn anything? I read books. Lots of books. I remembered some stuff. Forgot the rest. Now I read whatever I find amusing and remember what I find interesting. Is that a style?

“Humbug” I declare, still railing. The monitor has yet to respond. Bah.

Maybe it’s just me. I don’t have style. Not in learning, not in clothing, not nohow. Well, a little, sort of. If I must. Are the fashion police involved in education now? Do I have to do it a particular way? I’ve never been any kind of stylish. What’s trendy and hot? Whatever it is, I am not.

Two Terrier 7

My dogs learn only when food is involved. My husband learns if it’s about current events, history, baseball and/or movies. I’ve got acquaintances who only learn if it’s being shouted on Fox News. I’m not sure that counts. Actually, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t count. Do things you learn that are utterly incorrect count as learning?

Learning. Way too early for this. I need coffee. And a cookie, maybe two. I’ve learned (see? it’s that word again) if I drink a lot of coffee, caffeine will wake me from my stupor. I’ve learned that, but I’m unsure how.

ON A FIRST DAY WHEN I WAS SO SMALL …

My father drops me off and just leaves me there in front of the huge brick building. Me, little me, standing on the wide sidewalk, autumn leaves swirling around my ankles. I’ve arrived but I have no idea what I’m supposed to do next. I’m starting kindergarten. I am four years old. Some strange calendar thing means I’m the youngest kid in the class. And the smallest. All the other kids are bigger, taller, bulkier. I will always be the shortest or second shortest until size places ends in 6th grade.

leafy deck

I wait, looking — hoping — for help. Eventually someone collects me, asking me my name, herding me towards a group of little kids, some of whom are crying, all of whom look lost. If any parent stuck around to watch over us, I never saw them. 1951 was not a year for coddling kids. When the time to leave the nest came, mama birds gave a push and out you fell, tiny wings flailing.

Kindergarten was in a huge room on the ground floor. They didn’t want us little kids getting run over by bigger ones. Or getting lost in the hallway. The ceilings are miles above us, 16 feet or more. Standard on very old schools. The windows go to the ceiling so Miss O’Rourke has to use a hook on a long wooden pole to open or close them. I wonder why they don’t have normal windows like at home. Ours open by turning a crank.

The teacher is ancient and wrinkly. Blue eyes behind steel-framed glasses and frizzy grey hair. She dresses funny. She is tall, talks loud and slow. Does she think I’m stupid? Everyone in my family talks loud, but no one talks slow.

Now it’s nap time. We are supposed to put our blankets on the floor and go to sleep, but I don’t nap. I haven’t taken a nap ever or at least none I can remember. Anyway, I don’t have a blanket. My mother didn’t know I was supposed to bring one. I also don’t have a shoe box for my crayons. All the other kids have them. I wish I had one because I feel weird being the only one without a blanket and no shoe box.

Well it is not great, but here is one of the c...

Worse, I don’t have crayons. I wish I had some because the ones in the big box for everyone to use are broken, the colors no one likes. My mother didn’t know I was supposed to bring crayons. She’s busy.

I got a new sister a few months ago. She  cries all the time and mommy didn’t have time to come to school and find out all this stuff all the other kids mothers know.

So I sit in a chair and wait, being very quiet, while every one is napping. I don’t think they are really asleep, but everyone goes and lays down on the floor on a blanket and pretends. It gives Mrs. O’Rourke time to write stuff in her book.

It’s a long day and I have almost a mile to walk home. My mother doesn’t drive and anyway, she doesn’t worry about me. She knows I’ll find my way. It’s just that the walk home is all uphill. I’m tired. Why do I have to do this? I could have stayed home and played with my own toys.

By the time I know the answer, I’ll be 19, graduating from college. When I know the answer, it still won’t make sense. School — including most of college — will be where I sit around doing things slowly so other kids can catch up with me. Or — for math — where I sit in a haze and have no idea what’s going on, so lost I don’t even know what questions to ask. But who needs that stuff anyhow?

I’m going to be a writer. Unless the cowboy thing works out.

IT DOESN’T ADD UP …

I always say I’m the queen of typos, but lately, I’ve been noticing the problem isn’t typos. Entire words and pieces of words go missing while extraneous words and word fragments that should vanish hang around. Word bombs lurking in my text.

I’ve always had a problem with numbers. I was bad at math but since I have a high IQ, the assumption was I didn’t try hard enough. I can’t remember how many report cards I got saying I wasn’t making an effort. Underachiever is a label that has haunted me.

To a degree it was true. I didn’t have to try particularly hard at some stuff. I read very well. I was a natural researcher and historian. I always talked a blue streak. I wrote stories. I was 10 when I learned touch typing. I type quickly, but the number of mistakes I make can equal the number of words on the page. Inaccurate doesn’t begin to describe it.

I did well things that came naturally. Everything else didn’t come at all. It didn’t matter how hard I tried. Physics was meaningless. Trig was random numbers. If I could remember what I was supposed to do with numbers, the odds were no better than 50-50 I’d come up with the right answer. We did not have calculators, but even if we had, it wouldn’t have guaranteed I’d get the right answer. I also can’t key numbers with any accuracy.

Today, when I commented on a friend’s blog, in a fewer than 10-word sentence, I omitted one word and mis-wrote another. I thought the missing word, but failed to type it. Missing in action. By the time I saw the problems, it was too late to correct them. I’ve been doing that a lot and I finally started searching to see if there was a name for the problem, other than creeping senility.

Dyscalculia. A learning disability with which both my son and granddaughter have been diagnosed.

How did I miss this? How come I never connected the missing dots? I have had all these symptoms for my entire life. It never crossed my mind, or anyone else’s, that there might be an actual problem. Lately it’s gotten worse and I attributed it to getting older and more forgetful. But age tends to exaggerate symptoms of this type. It’s both comforting and frustrating to realize I’ve spent my life successfully functioning despite the problem. As have millions of people because the world doesn’t adjust to your problems. You’ve got to work with what you’ve got because … well … what choice do you have?

When I was growing up, kids with dyslexia and/or dyscalculia were assumed to be stupid, lazy or both, I’ve been called many things, but never stupid. So I was told loudly and often I was lazy. Eventually I came to believe it. It never occurred to anyone that maybe I really couldn’t make sense of numbers. It wasn’t that I didn’t like them. They didn’t like me. Sometimes, it felt personal.

Because I was good with words and concepts, I wrote very well. I didn’t spell very well, but I learned to look things up and if I wasn’t sure how to spell a word, I used a different word. I rewrote whole pages to avoid having to use a word I couldn’t spell. Sometimes, I still do. I don’t trust the spell checker to know what I meant.

Lately, I find my finger typing words that start with the same letter as the word I meant to write, but which are otherwise entirely different. When eventually I see the error, I’m totally baffled how my brain can be thinking one thing and my fingers typing something entirely different

A short post … like this one … can take me hours to proofread and when I’m done, there will still be wrong words, missing words, missing pieces of words, words in the wrong order or wrong form (e.g. gerund instead of past tense). I just don’t see the errors.

If you have a child in school who is doing poorly but is bright and should be doing better, before you assume that he or she needs only to work harder, take a look at dyscalculia and dyslexia websites. They have diagnostic tools for all ages and stages. Not every child or adult has every symptom, nor are all symptoms present at all times. Intermittent memory loss is common. You may know how to solve an equation today, but not recall how to do it tomorrow. Gone from your memory without a trace.

Check out: The Dyscalculia Forum and Dycalculia.org. Meanwhile, here’s some basic stuff to help you decide if you want to search further.

From The Dyscalculia Forum:

The Basic Facts

Dyscalculia is a specific learning disability in mathematics. Dyscalculia is a word you use to describe when people have significant problems with numbers – but still have a normal or above normal IQ. It seems that no dyscalculic has problems with math alone, but also struggle with problems being able to learn to tell time, left/right orientation, rules in games and much more. See the list of symptoms. Also, there are more types of dyscalculia, and all types demand specific learning methods aimed at the specific problem.

How Common Is Dyscalculia?

According to UK studies done by Gross-Tsur, Manor and Shalev in 1996, 6.5% are dyscalculic. According to studies done by Lewis, Hitch and Walker in 1994, 1.3% are dyscalculic while 2.3% are dyscalculic AND dyslexic – that means that according to this study 3.6% of the World’s population are dyscalculic.

That gives a total of between 3.6 and 6.5% of the World’s population. And again: That means, according to these two studies, that between 216.000.000 (two hundred and sixteen million) and 390.000.000 (three hundred and ninety million) people are dyscalculic – if we say that there are 600.000.000.000 (six billion) people in the world. No international study has been done on how common it is.

Symptoms In Brief 

Normal or accelerated language acquisition: verbal, reading, writing. Poetic ability. Good visual memory for the printed word. Good in areas of science until higher math is required and creative arts.

Mistaken recollection of names. Poor name/face retrieval. Substitute names beginning with same letter.

Difficulty with the abstract concepts of time and direction. Inability to recall schedules, and sequences of past or future events. Unable to keep track of time. May be chronically late.
Inconsistent results in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Poor mental math ability. Poor with money and credit. Cannot do financial planning or budgeting.

When writing, reading and recalling numbers, these common mistakes are made: number additions, substitutions, transpositions, omissions, and reversals.

Inability to grasp/remember math concepts, rules, formulas, sequence, basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts. Poor long-term concept mastery. May be able to do math one day, but draw a blank the next..

May be unable to comprehend or “picture” mechanical processes. Lack “big picture/ whole picture” thinking.
Poor memory for the “layout” of things. Gets lost or disoriented easily. May have a poor sense of direction, lose things often, and seem absent-minded.

May have difficulty grasping concepts of formal music education. Difficulty sight-reading music, learning fingering to play an instrument, etc.

May have poor athletic coördination, difficulty keeping up with rapidly changing physical directions as in aerobic, dance, and exercise classes. Difficulty remembering dance step sequences.

Difficulty keeping score or remembering how to keep score in games, like bowling, etc. Often loses track of whose turn it is during games. Limited strategic ability.

NOSTALGIA: 15 CREDITS OR SOMEWHAT FEWER

My 6th Grade class.

In sixth grade. Still wondering what I’m doing there. Probably so were most of the other kids.

I’ve arrived. School has begun, if you could really call it school. I’m the youngest kid in the class, only four, but somehow, here I am anyhow. I’m certainly the smallest. All the others kids are way bigger than me. I don’t know it yet, but I will always be either the shortest or next to the shortest kid in every class for the next six years. After that, they stop measuring.

P.S. 35 is tiny but to me it looks gigantic. Monstrous. Many years later, I will come back here and see this school as the miniature it is, but not yet. Even the stairs are half the height of normal stairs. I don’t know about stairs. Kindergarten is on the ground floor. Always. They don’t want us little kids getting run over by bigger ones. Or lost in the hallways.

The windows go all the way to the ceiling. Very tall. To open or close them, Miss O’Rourke uses a long hook on a pole. I wonder why they don’t have normal windows like at home. Our windows open by turning a crank. Anyone can open them. Even me.PS350001

Teacher is pretty old. She’s got frizzy grey hair and glasses. She dresses funny. She talks loud and slow. Does she think I’m stupid? Everyone in my family talks loud, but no one talks slow.

Now it’s nap time. We are supposed to put our blankets on the floor and go to sleep, but I don’t nap. I haven’t taken a nap ever or at least none I can remember. Anyway, I don’t have a blanket. My mother didn’t know I was supposed to bring one. I also don’t have a shoe box for my crayons. All the other kids have them. I wish I had one because I feel weird being the only one without a blanket and no shoe box.

Worse, I don’t have crayons. I wish I had some because the ones in the big box in the classroom for everyone to use are broken, the colors no one likes. My mother didn’t know I was supposed to bring crayons either. She’s busy. I just got a new sister who cries all the time and mommy didn’t have time to come to school and find out all this stuff all the other kids mothers know.

So I sit in a chair and wait, being very quiet, while every one is napping. I don’t think they are really asleep, but everyone goes and lays down on the floor on a blanket and pretends. It gives Mrs. O’Rourke time to write stuff in her book.

It’s a long day and I have almost a mile to walk home. My mother doesn’t drive and anyway, she doesn’t worry about me. She knows I’ll find my way. It’s just that the walk home is all uphill. I’m tired. Why do I have to do this? I could have stayed home and played with my own toys.

By the time I know the answer, I will be 19 and graduating from college. Even after I know the answer, I don’t understand the question. I read so much on my own — that’s where I really learn everything.  School will forever be where I sit around doing everything slowly so other kids can catch up with me.

Except for math. And French. But who needs that stuff anyhow? I’m going to be a writer. Unless the ballerina thing works out.

Daily Prompt: Back to School to Get My Doctorate in Life

I admit it. I’ve had all the education I want. Definitely all I need. I got most of it by reading books anyhow and I still read, so I’m always learning. What’s left?

Do I wish I’d done better in long division? Why?

Do I wish I’d studied harder? No, I did okay.

Do I wish I’d gotten that Ph.D.? I wanted a doctorate in comparative religion. I doubt it would have improved my life, so not really.

Waiting-NK-9

If there had been a degree program in for life? Somewhere I could have learned how to navigate the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune? Not keep falling over cliffs? Or going from the frying pan to the fire? Get the process of living right the first time? Because I could go for that, especially if I got to look at my script before I had to play the role. I can’t imagine any other degree that would have been particularly helpful. But yeah, okay. I’d take an advanced degree in life.

Or have I already earned one? Maybe that’s a big yes. I think so. Definitely. Maybe.

Getting My Goodies

The articles in newspapers and online keep appearing, “proving” it’s Liberals who creates classes. It’s all our fault. My fault. I’ve done it by sucking the economy dry with all the benefits I get, all my entitlements. In the view of conservatives and most of the GOP, if we were all conservatives, there would be no classes. All men (but not women, I suspect) would really be equal.

It worked brilliantly for Louis XVI, so it ought to work in the U.S.A., right?

fat catsI have a flash for conservatives trying to prove the unprovable. Classes didn’t start here. They existed long before this country’s birth. Before there was even the concept of democracy, before elections or political parties. To say anything else is absurd and displays a level of willful ignorance that’s hard to accept. Well, hard for me to accept, anyhow. But then again, I’ve read a few books, know a bit of history. It’s obviously warped my point of view.

Reality Check

Classes exist in the United States because:

  • Some people have a lot and too many others have little or nothing
  • Our shameful legacy of slavery, genocide and oppression of all non-white and non-Christian people
  • Laws are not enforced equally and never were.
  • Classes exist. Always have, always will.

10-18-11-Class-Warfare

This quote from a popular columnist in the Washington Post makes me grind my teeth. Apparently facts, history, logic and reason are irrelevant:

The real tension in America today is not about black versus white but about liberalism versus conservatism.

Liberalism is about government as a political agent, not as a protector of individual freedom. By it’s very nature, liberalism creates political classes – whether based on race or gender or business interests. Those that get the goodies are happy. Those that pay for them are not. Tensions and animosities get worse, not better.

In the end, we all suffer because giving politicians more power means less growth and prosperity.

Things will never get solved until we finally take “e pluribus unum” seriously – that American diversity can only be finally united through one set of values, under God (Note: Whose God? Yours? Mine?), that enable freedom, one set of true (Note: Define true, please.) values for all.

RACIAL DIVIDE WORSE UNDER OBAMA – Star Parker: It’s time to take ‘e pluribus unum’ seriously Published: 11/02/2012

Really? I thought it was about poor versus rich, haves versus the have-nots. You know, the way it’s always been throughout history. Or have we decided that anything that didn’t happen before the last presidential election no longer counts? Shall we exclude all history that fails to agree with this single point of view?

Get the goodies? What goodies? Wait a damned minute. To what goodies do you refer?

You mean the Social Security and Medicare for which I paid for more than 40 years? I thought this was my money coming back to me as promised. My husband and I during our working years paid more in taxes than most people earn. Than most couples earn. We paid without complaint because that’s the way it is. And shockingly, we paid without complaint because we could and knew there were plenty of people who had nothing. We never minded sharing the wealth. How weird is that, eh?

class warfare 2

Are they referring to free public education? Paved roads? Medical care so I don’t have to worry I’ll die for lack of money to pay the doctor? What other goodies do I, or anyone else, get? You mean food stamps so really poor people and their children don’t starve? Those goodies? How about educational programs to help people develop skills to earn a living wage? Are those the goodies creating classes in this country?

What piece of the government’s infrastructure should we eliminate? How about student loans? State colleges? Hell, let’s just get rid of all free or subsidized public education. We can follow China’s fine example and put those lazy six-year olds to work in factories. Let’em eat cake, I say.

Let’s return to those Dickensian days of yore when only the wealthy could afford an education. Bring back workhouses, eliminate child labor laws, ban labor unions, dump the 40 hours week and go back to the good old days when the boss had all the power and working people no power or legal recourse. Let’s reset the clock to restore the dominion everybody by the rich and privileged few.

GOP-class-warfare

I am so tired of hearing about my entitlements. My husband and I worked our butts off for 40 plus years. The little bit we get back now will never equal the amount we contributed, but I’ll shut up about the unfairness of that if you’ll shut up about my “entitlements.” As a matter of fact, please, just shut up. Your silence would suit me well.

Until you have walked in my shoes, or better yet, until you have lost your shoes and had to walk barefoot and hungry, shut up.

School days: Boredom and Fear in Equal Measure

Childhood is a challenge. We romanticize childhood as a time of innocence and play, but childhood isn’t necessarily easy.

Many of us struggled. We had problems at home we couldn’t or wouldn’t talk about, social issues grownups dismissed, and lived with bullying tantamount to torture. Even today, with the attention these issues get in the press, things have not really changed. Bullying is as much a problem today as it was when I was a child. Teachers still ignore it and parents dismiss it. Kids continue to avoid talking about bad things that happen at home.

Awareness is not a cure. Publicity does not change what happens at home or in the schoolyard.

I was a very bright, precocious child. I was by no means the only smart kid in the school, but I probably had the worst social skills, was the most inept at sports, and talked like a 40-year old. Among social outcasts, I was an outcast. I lived in books and imagination.

I learned to read more or less instantly and spent the next six years trying to stay awake while being invisible.

I was either bored to tears or terrified of being sent out to the schoolyard. In third grade, I hid in the cloak room in the hopes no one would miss me. I found a stack of books and read them in the semi-dark by the light of one dim bulb.

The teacher was furious. I had read all the readers for my grade and all the grades to come through sixth grade. I would have read more but they found my hiding place and made me come out. The principal called my mother to complain I had read all the readers. My mother pointed out I might benefit from a more challenging curriculum. She reasoned if I could read all the readers in an hour, the work was too easy. They didn’t get it.

They wanted my mother to punish me for reading too much. She didn’t stop laughing for days. She thought it was hilarious and retold the story at every family gathering. I didn’t think it was nearly as funny because that teacher hated me after that and made third grade a special Hell. It wasn’t only other kids picking on me; my teacher was leading the charge. I didn’t understand what was going on. I just knew that no one liked me.

Eventually the teachers at P.S. 35 tired of me. I was annoying. I answered questions in class until I was told to shut up. After I was no longer allowed to participate in class, I fell asleep or snuck off to read in the girl’s room. The teachers must have had a meeting about me or something, because an agreement was reached that everyone would benefit from my absence. I was fond of arts and crafts so the solution was to send me to the art room after the Pledge of Allegiance. I spent many happy hours alone, experimenting with paint, library paste, and oak tag.

I was content in my little world of paint and glue, but I was not getting an education. I never learned arithmetic because I was in the art room gluing stuff together. The smell of library paste is deeply evocative … and I can’t do fractions or long division.

I started high school at 13 where my level of boredom reached epic heights. I was blessed by teachers whose idea of teaching was to read the textbook in a monotone. These classes were inevitably the first classes of the day when I was the sleepiest. I chipped a tooth one morning when my head fell forward and hit the desk.

I was so far ahead in English and History I was off the charts. At the same time, I fell ever further behind in maths and hard science. My pleas for help were ignored because I had a high IQ and was supposed to figure it out on my own. I suspect the world is divided between those for whom numbers are a language and those for whom numbers and hieroglyphics are the same.

Numbers did not speak to me. I was in my thirties reading Horatio Hornblower when I realized trigonometry was used to calculate trajectories and navigation. I wish I’d known that when I was trying to understand what I was doing.

Now an officially protected landmark, my alma mater was a beautiful building.

I was by no means the only lost soul in math classes. There was always a group of us who sat there with glazed eyes, wondering why we needed this and if failing it would end our hopes of going to college.

As for science, Jamaica High School was run by practical administrators. The group of us who sat paralyzed in math classes were all college-bound. It was clear we were never going to pass physics or chemistry, but needed a science credit. So they invented a science course for us. It was called “The History of Science.” We spent an entire year discussing Stonehenge. I loved it. I completed the science requirement, graduated with an academic diploma, and continued on to college.

My real education consisted of books, both those I read by choice and those my mother made me read. She made sure I read good books. “Growth of the Soil” by Knut Hamsen, a Nobel prize-winning author who authored the world’s most depressing novels stands out in memory. Then, there was Romain Rolland whose novel in 10-volumes, Jean-Christophe was an unbelievably long, fictionalized biography of Beethoven. Rolland got a Nobel prize in literature and I read his tome, but have never met anyone else who read it. I assume the Nobel Committee read it too, but I never met them.

The New York Public Library is an amazing place. The lions that stand guard in front of the building are almost as famous as the library itself.

I cut school a lot. Living in New York had benefits. A subway token could take you anywhere. I played hooky to go to the huge New York Public Library, the Cloisters, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Hayden Planetarium. My mother knew, but pretended she didn’t. She could hardly approve my skipping school, but I wasn’t hanging out at the mall: I was getting an education on my own terms.

One of New York’s most impressive and beautiful buildings, inside and out, the Met is my favorite museum. The Cloisters is actually a part of the Met and houses its medieval art collection.

There were no admission charges for museums back then and New York is rich with museums. The Guggenheim was just being built, so I didn’t get there until college and it always made me a trifle seasick walking that strange corkscrew path, but the Metropolitan Museum of Art wasn’t just art: it was the history of the world in one huge building.

It was arranged as a time line. At the entrance, you started in the mummy room of a recreated Egyptian tomb where they had a couple of real mummies. The viewing room was in semi darkness and deliciously spooky. As you proceeded through the museum, each area represented a successive time period with recreated rooms full of furniture of the period and paintings, sculpture and other artifacts. You wound your way through until you reached the modern era … which is where the bathrooms were.

If you had to use the facilities, you navigated human history forward and backward, the closest I’ve ever come to time travel. If you had to go badly enough, you had a long trot through world history. I absorbed a lifetime of art, architecture, and history there. I snoozed through history classes in high school and college and still got As. No teacher or professor came close to offering comparable education. It is a fabulous museum. If you have never been there and happen to visit New York, don’t miss it.

The Cloisters on the Hudson River, Fort Tryon Park. It is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I spent days in the dusty basements of the big library, exploring the stacks and reading old manuscripts. I went to the Cloisters where I pretended I was living in mediaeval Europe. I also developed a lifelong passion for studying the middle ages and I can still bore everyone to tears with details of life in the 14th century. It’s a solitary passion.

For the last decade and a bit, I’ve watched my granddaughter fight her way through the public school system, grappling with the same issues I recall. She seems to have inherited the family gene for poor math skills. Despite a lot of talk, I don’t see much improvement in teaching methods. They are different, but equally ineffective.

Bright students are still mostly ignored. Help is given to the kids who struggle to learn, but it’s the kind of help that sounds a lot better than it is. Many kids still have no idea why or what they are doing. And schools still don’t feel any particular obligation to expend scarce resources on high IQ students who are presumed able to learn without help.

I did well enough in school. My grades were unspectacular both in high school and college. I graduated college with a 3.2 average, more or less B+ depending on how you calculate it. I did it without studying except in the few classes where a professor pushed me to really work.

I wonder what I might have achieved had I studied, if my education had been a challenge rather than a bore?

In the end, I had an okay career. Not spectacular, but pretty good. I learned in the workplace most of what I failed to learn in the classroom. My work required math and it turned out if I knew why I was doing it, I could do it. I needed context, not rote.

Our educational system wastes so much potential. Art and music classes have been eliminated. Help is reserved for problem learners and not much of that. Our schools’ aim is to create positive statistics on standardized tests, not to help students achieve their potential. Instead of increasing America’s investment in education, we cut resources and eliminate teachers. Then we wonder how come the U.S. is no longer a leader in the arts, math, science, or anything else. We get what we pay for: mediocrity.

IQ scores and standardized tests encourage rote memorization. Creativity, artistic talent, and original thinking are not part of an IQ score. You might be a musical genius, but it won’t get you through school unless you can pass standardized tests that involve no learning, just the ability to memorize facts and spit them out. Educators’ jobs are to get students to pass exams. Whether or not they learn anything is immaterial.

So much potential thrown away. It’s our future we’re tossing out. Everyone’s future.

 

Those halcyon days of yore or whatever

Now that my high school reunion has passed and I’m no longer besieged by nostalgia from a half century ago, I feel safe in saying it. I haven’t any idea in what world my classmates were living, but I’m sure it wasn’t the same one I inhabited.

I understand that time can cast a gentler light, a rosy glow over events that took place in one’s youth … but there’s a difference between a rosy glow and a full revision.

For months, I have been bombarded by email from people with whom I attended high school. They are sure they remember me. They recall the fun stuff we did together. After giving it careful consideration, I have concluded they are deranged, on drugs, or senile. Whatever it is they think they remember, it didn’t happen.

Who are these people? Why do they keep talking about relationships that never existed? These people were not my friends. I remember them. They didn’t like me. They either ignored me, made fun of me, or conscientiously ostracized me. I belonged to no cliques, no fun groups. I wasn’t invited to parties. I was not popular.

I had a few friends, but these people who are so happily remembering me? They weren’t among the few people I counted as friends.

Did someone — me or them — slip through a wormhole into an alternate reality? That must be it.

High school was not a good time for me. Neither was junior high school or elementary school, for that matter. Even amongst the unpopular kids, I was unpopular. By the time I had survived junior high, I’d learned how to be invisible. Attending a really huge school helped. It was so big and over-crowded if you kept your head down, no one would notice you.

I was a klutzy kid with no athletic prowess, I avoided the humiliation of the athletically challenged by claiming I didn’t know how to swim. Every semester, I showed up at swimming class.

“You again?” said the coach. “Just keep out-of-the-way,” It was a win-win for me. I got an hour a day of private swim time alone in the deep end of the pool and completely avoided gym class. I believe I was technically on the swim team, but I never actually swam in an event. I was a bench warmer. That was fine. I liked the water, but I wasn’t going to win any medals.

All I had to do was get acceptable grades, not fail math courses after which I could go to college. I heard from other survivors that in college I might meet people who I’d like and might like me. That sounded too good to be true, but I had it on good authority. It turned out to be true so I guess making it through high school alive was worth it.

This was not the first time I’ve had to fend off a reunion. I dodged the 10th, 15th, 20th and 25th. I think there was a 40th too. But like a bad penny, it keeps coming back to haunt me. On the up side, we are now all so old, there is very little likelihood of any more such grand events.

I have repeatedly gone over this in my mind. I know with absolute certainty that high school wasn’t a fun time. It wasn’t only not fun for me. It wasn’t fun for most of us. We were young, hormonal, lost, unsure where we were going or how we would get there. Everyone felt ugly or deformed. Many of us had dreadful home lives that we hid from everyone else.

Yet now those years have become one long golden memory. At the reunion I did not attend, they actually got together to sing the school song. Never once in the years I attended did we ever actually sing the school song. It was a joke. We used to make fun of it because it was so dumb. Now, it’s a warm fuzzy memory. Bizarre.

My husband says this is typical of reunions. He says that when he went to his reunion — he actually attended one — people were reminiscing about the great times they had together, none of which he could remember nor could he recall the people claiming to have been there with him.

He says people need to pretend that they had a great time. It makes them feel better.

Not me. Even after fifty years I can’t think of a single reason to revisit a time and place I would just as soon have skipped in the first place. Oh, and to put this in perspective, our high school prom was cancelled due to no one but me and my date signing up for it. So exactly how terrific was the experience really?

Does pretending the past was perfect when it wasn’t even close make you feel better about your life? It doesn’t work for me. But maybe I’m the one with a problem. What do you think?

And now, a word from our sponsor:

Avoiding the Reunion

There’s no way around it. I was not good with money, so in retirement I am not exactly where I wanted or hoped to be. That doesn’t mean I’m unhappy with my life. I’ve had a lot of fun, adventure and a pretty good career. Both life and career were different than anything I imagined. I became a writer — which I did plan and wanted — then fell into technical writing because, against all logic and reason, I am good at it. For a kid who could barely pass basic high school math courses, elementary physics, or any other hard science, winding up in the high-tech arena was a surprise. That I liked it was even more of a surprise.

96-Me Young in Maine

It turns out that I could learn anything, including math and science, if it was explained in such a way that I could see its purpose. What I couldn’t do was manipulate numbers or concepts in a vacuum, which is pretty much how math and science were taught back in my day. I suspect they aren’t taught much better now as I watch my granddaughter struggling with the same stuff with which I struggled 50 years ago.

The thing is, that my high school’s 50th reunion has come around. No, I am not going. It’s too expensive in view of the fact that I don’t remember anyone from high school. I recognize some of the names, but we weren’t friends. We didn’t hang out. We have no shared memories except those shared by everyone who went to Jamaica High School during those years. I wasn’t friendless. I had some good friends, but we haven’t kept in touch and none of them are attending this reunion. There’s no reason for me to go.

Jamaica High School is huge. Was huge and over-crowded too. My graduating class was slightly more than 1200, in which I was something around 280 or so. The entire school (10th through 12th grades) was just shy of 4,000 students shoe-horned into a building meant to handle 1300. We were packed solid.

For all that, it was a better school than most and more forward-thinking than most schools of the period. Possibly more forward-thinking than many schools right now. Academically, girls and boys were treated equally. No girl was told not to aim for medical school or an engineering career because it was for boys. If we had the will and ability, there was support.

I was not a super achiever nor overly ambitious. I was an educational minimalist, an under-achiever par excellence. I did exactly enough to get by unless I was particularly interested in a subject or it was one of those so easy for me I could have aced it in my sleep. I never bothered to study for English or history (Social Studies, back then). Math and science were my nemeses and I was glad if I could merely pass. Languages were also difficult for me. I don’t have an ear for languages, something that I proved conclusively by living in Israel for 9 years and never mastering Hebrew.

I graduated with a B+ average, got an early acceptance (11th grade) to Hofstra University (then Hofstra College). I had no passion for higher education,  but I just knew if I didn’t go to college, I couldn’t go to Heaven. Can’t get through those pearly gates without showing your diploma. Besides, I was barely 16 when I graduated high school, so what else was I going to do? I had managed to score a couple of scholarships based on competitive tests, which made the choice easier. I always tested well, probably because I didn’t much care. I just assumed I’d do okay and for the most part, I did.

I wanted to be a writer. Or a musician. Or an artist. As soon as I learned to read, I started writing. I’d been playing the piano and studying music from age four. And I had a good eye, could draw and paint pretty well, an itch that has been well scratched by photography.  In the end, writing was the thing I did best and came naturally to me, so that’s what I did. Tech writing was a sideways drift, but turned out to be a good fit. I’ve had a long, if somewhat peripatetic career that apparently isn’t quite over yet.

Jamaica High School

I thought I’d done pretty well until this reunion thing came up.

In the movies, people go back to their high school reunions. They were nerds and social outcasts in high school, but now are successful, attractive and get to feel superior to their former classmates. There are so many movies with this plot that one might think this is a typical reunion experience. Not me. Mind you, I’m not going to be there, but I have not escaped unscathed. The organizer of the event has sent us all a questionnaire, a “what have you been doing for the last 50 years?” thing. So I filled it out. Why not? I’ve had an interesting life and a long career. I got to be a player in the birthing of technology that now rules the world.

Then I started getting other people’s filled-in questionnaires. With each email, my ego has gotten thumped.

This is not, for obvious reasons, a reunion of the entire graduating class of 1963. These people are a subset of the class, the group into which I fell by virtue of winning a Westinghouse Scholarship (proving I actually knew more science than I realized) and having a high IQ. I was counted as a brainiac, but I wasn’t really one of them. I had brains. Theoretically I still do though there are days when I wonder. What I lacked — something apparently everyone else had — was ambition and drive. I didn’t want to be a doctor. I never aspired to be a professor. I wanted to be me, whatever that was, and one of my goals was to find me. I wanted adventure. I was going to write novels, do exciting, creative stuff. I was more into living than studying.

As far as I can tell, the small percentage of my “group” that are not medical doctors, have doctorates in chemistry, physics and so on. No more than a handful of humanity or arts degrees in the crowd. No one has less than a masters, except me. And as far as I can tell, everyone went to Princeton, Johns Hopkins,  Albert Einstein, Harvard. If not Ivy League, than at least prestigious. Everyone but me seems to be having a comfortable retirement, if they aren’t a professor or still practicing medicine. The one or two people who went into the arts have multiple best sellers or are managing editors of major publications. It’s demoralizing. The one other woman who went to Israel married a diamond cutter and is apparently wealthy beyond my imaginings … and even she’s got a masters.

Every time another filled-in questionnaire arrives in email, I swear I will not further torture myself by reading it, but a certain morbid curiosity forces me to open it despite myself. Oh, I forgot to mention that everyone has beautiful and extremely successful children.

I am glad I’m not going to the reunion. I don’t think my ego can take much more of a drubbing. If I needed humbling, I’ve gotten it. What is success anyhow? Do you gauge it by financial well-being? By awards won? Personal satisfaction? Experience? Friends? Fame?  I think this will be the last reunion, so I’m safe from having to again calculate the value of a life richly enjoyed, but somewhat lacking in material wealth … otherwise known as money. I think I’ll go take some pretty pictures now.

Dumb and getting dumber

Our books say a lot about us ... maybe too much.

Our books say a lot about us … maybe too much.

I’m a big believer in research, checking and double-checking sources. But I also learned a couple of important lessons writing documentation and other educational and explanatory material for almost 40 years.

Relax, Chicken Little. The sky is not falling.

The first rule of survival is to keep a sense of proportion. Whether it’s your personal life or national news, not everything is equally important. Lighten up. Develop a healthy attitude of skepticism. If you keep believing everything you read, I have to assume that you aren’t very bright.

Assume your friends are kidding, not trying to insult you. If they really are insulting you, maybe you need different friends; then again, maybe you deserve it. The problem may not be them: it could be you. Just consider the possibility.

It’s been a rough period for everyone. We need to laugh, not get enraged at everything we read, at everything anyone says.

As far as “news” goes, most stuff in the news isn’t news. It hasn’t happened. It will never happen. Not only has it not yet happened, but is isn’t even at the proposal stage. It’s the stuff people run up the flagpole to see who salutes. Somewhere between 99 – 100% of it won’t make it to proposal, much less law. If you let everything get to you, you will spend your life outraged. That’s hard on your nervous system, blood pressure and those around you. Not everything is life and death. Chill.

More rules for surviving the information age

Stop blaming technology. Technology doesn’t do anything. It’s what you do with it that counts.

Rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, I never said technology is “bad.” God forbid I should be so hypocritical.

I love my electronic goodies. My point continues to be that people — especially young people — confuse the tool and the purpose. They become so pixellated by the glamour and total coolness of widgets and gadgets that they forget  these are not an end, but a means. You are supposed to use this stuff to accomplish things: communicate, create, learn. Write a book. Edit a photo. Make a movie. Design something. Think amazing thoughts.

On the communications, front, if you use nothing but electronic communication for your relationships, you aren’t going to know how to talk to people.Eventually you will have to talk to someone about something important. The sooner you get the hang of it, the better. I watch my granddaughter and her friends sit next to one another while texting. How can you learn to relate if you don’t know how to have a conversation?

Worse, if you use computers to think for you, you won’t learn think. The substitution of automatically gathered data for focused research and thoughtful analysis is particularly alarming because (wait for it, drumroll, flourish of trumpets … okay, now) computers can’t think.

That’s right. You heard me. Computers can’t think. They are processors that collect and find data. They follow rules embedded in the software that runs them. Which, I should point out, you probably didn’t write (if you did, excuse me, you are exempt). After that, we the humans, Earthly creatures who sit at the top of the food chain, are free to use that data to whatever purpose we choose. But what do we choose? Good question. Mostly, far as I can tell, nothing much.

The big problem is that with the help of a computer or any one of a zillion computer-like devices (telephones, tablets, pods, pads, doohickies and wazoos), anyone and his cousin George can collect information by the bushel.  Having collected oodles of data, most people figure they’ve done their part but their part hasn’t even begun. Most people cannot figure out what concepts or ideas the collected information supports, what conclusions can be drawn from it, how to analyze what — if anything — it means. Nor can they connect two related ideas without a flow chart …  and many can’t connect two related ideas even with the flow chart.

In a world where we actually need to warn people not to text while driving, something is seriously wrong with the whole thinking thing.

The widespread outbreak of stupid is alarming. All over America, mothers are wondering how they produced such stupid children.

We don’t think. We don’t read. We skim over information, ideas, articles, gathering buzzwords and slogans, never stopping to figure out if this means anything. Worse yet, half the stuff we learn by this process is wrong

– Α — 

It’s not what you don’t know that will get you; it’s what you DO know that’s wrong.

Information is not knowledge.

Information is not communication.

– ω –

It takes human brains and thought to change information from raw data to concepts and ideas. You need to synthesize, postulate, consider. Determine what is important and what isn’t, what is relevant, and most of all: what is true.

We don’t seem, as a society, to believe that thinking is required anymore. Google it. There’s your answer. But whether or not you can get the answer by looking it up depends on the question. If the question is “Who got the best actor Oscar in 1974,” you can look it up. If the question involves right or wrong, good or evil, the existence of a deity, the value of anything … the meaning of anything … looking it up is part 1 or an infinitely long list.

Then, there’s telling other people about what you’ve figured out. Just because you collected a vast amount of information doesn’t mean that it will mean anything to anyone else. Does it mean anything to you? Seriously? If it’s just a bunch of facts that anyone could collect, does it matter? You need to do something with the information to make it mean something. After that,  you can disseminate it in a form that others can understand. If you don’t take this final step, it’s just noise. Or spam.

I think here, therefore I am here. I think.

I think here, therefore I am here. I think.

How dumb are we?

The dumbing down of society is not because of our tools and toys. It’s because we’ve forgotten they are just tools and toys.

We have fantastic resources and waste them on drivel. Modern processors are amazing. We have access to any data, any information ever written, yet we have not improved our ability to communicate, relate, think, or create. Without a context, all our fancy stuff is expensive, silly playthings on which we waste time and other precious resources.

We have tools. If only we were using them better, our world — our own personal world as well as the great big world we share — would be a better place.

P.S. Those weird characters before and after the big quotes are an alpha and an omega. If this doesn’t ring a bell, don’t worry. You can look it up.

Living up to myself …

To say that I’m not competitive is untrue. I don’t compete much with other people, but I am forever in competition with myself. Even when I play games, I tend to be unconcerned with whether I win or lose, much more interested in if I’ve beaten my own best score, or my highest word score (Scrabble addicts unite!). When I write, aside from the endless typos that are the bane of my life and which seem to fall out of my fingers like rain on a spring day, I’m always trying to write that perfect sentence, to clarify a thought, to come up with a new way of approaching an old subject.

Scrabble

Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes not. Even though I try, I do fail. Not everything achieves a level that I consider acceptable. I don’t believe “trying your best” is enough. Where I come from, trying is assumed, expected, and automatic. Of course you try: it’s succeeding that counts. I know I’m not alone in this. This is an attitude that crosses class, religious, and ethnic borders. If you come from that kind of family, nothing less than your best effort is acceptable. No one gives you pats on the back for doing what’s expected. Even success is measured by degrees. Passing is nothing to be proud of (except, for me, in anything involving numbers where I was grateful for a D).

I didn’t get a lot of applause for my efforts in school, probably because I didn’t try hard. School — aside from math — was easy. I could get Bs or As on almost anything with very little effort and I could bullshit my way out of most of my classes, making a tiny bit of knowledge sound like a lot more. Until the day I met one special professor who saw through me and changed everything. For the first time, my excellent writing was unable to mask my underlying ignorance. He gave me the only double grade I ever received: D/A+ … the D for content, the A+ for style. I loved him. He saw me — all of me — and no one else had ever done that, not family, friends, or teachers.

He forced me to dig in and do the research, to not graze across the top, but delve into important underlying concepts. When I had an epiphany and handed in a final paper that consisted of 30 pages of free verse, I got an A on that because, he said, I obviously had “got it.” It was education turned upside down for me and those lessons changed my world.

I have never since been satisfied by glossing over the surface without looking underneath. I turn over rocks to see what crawls out because if you just look at the rocks, you never see the snakes and scorpions. If you look at the covers and don’t read the books, you don’t really know anything and sometimes, even that’s not enough. Sometimes nothing is enough, but at the very least, I understand that I have to make that effort to see the whole thing, top and bottom.

Vines and a wall - Marilyn Armstrong

This is one of those non news days. I’m disinclined to talk about my personal woes. It’s easier to deal with concepts and abstractions, with ideas than all the stuff that accompanies getting older without necessarily becoming wiser. As someone said long ago, “Getting old is not for the faint of heart.”

So I’ll keep on keeping on, hoping to find things to talk about that are interesting to me and hopefully, to you. I don’t have a single focus. I can’t just do photography or movies or politics. I’ve always been interested in too many things. It’s a curse and a gift to see the world as a tapestry, connected by strands running every which way. Pull on one and others unravel, and you never know till you give it a tug, what will unravel. Beware of pulling loose strings. One tug and your sweater is just yarn.

The arts and science and politics and history and everything else are all one thing, all part of this big picture. Everything and everyone is connected, somehow. If only we could find those connections, perhaps we could start to fix things.

Have a great week!

It’s that damned wormhole again …

2013 is the 50th anniversary of my high school graduation. That’s five zero. Half a century.

After so many years, one might suppose my memories would be fuzzy enough that I could delude myself into believing I had fun in those opening years of the 1960s.

This has come up because a few of the people with whom I apparently attended high school want to have a reunion. Not the entire graduating class of more than 1200 people. This is a smaller sub-group of people who claim to actually know me and want to see me again. They say they remember me and all the neat stuff we did together.

I think they are deranged. Whatever they think they remember, as far as I can tell, didn’t happen. I do not want to go to the party.  I said no when I was contacted by phone, but they keep sending me invitations by email … endless variations of the same thing. Lists of names I don’t recognize. I know I’m not young, but I’m not senile either. Who ARE these people?

I am considering the possibility I slipped through a wormhole and am in an alternate reality, which would explain how come they know me, but I don’t know them. Yeah, that’s probably it.

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I was not a popular high school student. Even amongst the unpopular students, I was unpopular. Fortunately, by the time I had survived junior high, now known as “middle school” but back in those good old days, referred to simply as Hell, I had learned to be invisible. Attending a really huge school helped. It was so big and crowded, you could slither through all three years (10th, 11th and 12th grades) and if you kept your head down, no one would know your name. I only got attacked by junior thuglets once (not bad considering what an oddball I was) and participated in group activities only if dragged screaming and kicking, usually because someone needed an accompanist and I played the piano.

A klutzy young thing, I avoided the traditional humiliation of the athletically challenged by claiming I didn’t know how to swim. When I showed up, the swimming coach would say “You again? Just keep out-of-the-way,” and thus I got an hour a day of private swim time alone in the deep end of our Olympic-sized pool. I think I was on the swimming team, but I didn’t actually ever swim in an event. I was a bench sitter. And, apparently, the only girl in high school who didn’t care if my hair got wet.

So all I had to do was get decent grades, try not fail my math courses, and then I could go to college where I heard I might actually meet people who I’d like and might like me too. It turned out to be true, so surviving high school was probably worth it. But now, like a malevolent spirit,  fellow graduates of Jamaica High School want me to come to their party. They even think I should pay for the privilege.

If I could remember any of them, I might consider it. No, that’s a lie. You’d have to drug me then drag my unconscious carcass there before I regained consciousness.

High school wasn’t a fun time. Not for me. Fifty years later I can’t think of a single reason to revisit an experience I would as soon have skipped in the first place.

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