ANOTHER MIND-BLOWING DOCUMENTARY FROM MICHAEL MOORE – PART 2 by ELLIN CURLEY

This is part two about Michael Moore’s newest documentary, “Where To Invade Next.” In the movie, Moore travels around the world and reports about something wonderful from each country he visits. Last week, I wrote about the great working conditions for middle class Italians and Germans. Here I’m going to talk about some elements of the educational systems in Finland and France.

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Apparently Finland had a mediocre education system in the 1970’s. It ranked 29th in the world along with the United States. The Finns decided to make some extreme changes in their K-12 system and over the years they have worked their way up to Number 1 in the world in quality of education. We are still Number 29.

What did Finland do that worked so well? For one, they cut school hours and days back and now they have the shortest school week and school year. Yet they are Number 1 in performance. They also cut some other things – homework and standardized tests. This would be anathema in the U.S. But in Finland, the education system is now based on the premise that the best way to educate kids is to let them be kids. It is believed that kids need plenty of down time to exercise their imaginations as well as their bodies.

They also need to spend time playing with others to learn social skills and coöperation. Experimenting with music and art, baking, sports, carpentry, etc. are considered important parts of the curriculum. Why? Because they help kids discover what they like to do and what makes them happy. And that is the primary goal of Finnish teachers – to produce well-rounded and well-adjusted kids who have the ability to make themselves and others happy in life. It seems to be working. Remember, these kids tested highest of any country in the world.

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Another amazing fact about the Finnish school system is that every school in the country is the same. There is no shopping around for good school districts. Private schools are prohibited so the wealthy have to make sure that every single public school is up to the standards they want for THEIR children. I understand that this is possible to achieve in a small, relatively homogenous population like Finland but is probably impossible to achieve in America. Nevertheless, the achievement is life changing for the Finns and truly enviable.

The French also have something awesome in their curriculum that made my jaw drop. Lunch. For all French children, even in the poorest school districts, lunch is a gourmet affair and a big part of the school day. Teachers and kids eat together around large tables set with actual china and glassware. Lunch is a full hour and consists of four courses – an appetizer, an entrée, a cheese course fit for a fancy restaurant and a dessert. Water is served with the meal (French kids rarely drink Coke.) The food is served at the tables to the children by the cafeteria staff. The dishes are all well-balanced and look and sound like they are from Michelin Star restaurants. Yet the food budgets in French schools are similar to school lunch budgets here. They do not spend more money than we do.

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The faculty talked about the importance of teaching children what a balanced diet is and to be particular about what they put in their mouths. What a concept! No wonder the French have lower obesity levels, heart disease and diabetes than we do. No wonder they grow up into discerning foodies who see food as a sensual and enjoyable, as well as a necessary part of life. I don’t blame the average American as much now for being a food troglodyte – where are they supposed to learn anything about nutrition, vegetables or balanced meals? Certainly not in American schools. Good food is a major part of French culture. Fast Food is a major part of ours. Why should our schools be different than the rest of the society?

Michael Moore’s documentary gave me great hope for the world. Problems that we see as insurmountable, someone else has solved. Things that we think can’t be changed, have been changed for the better somewhere else. Moore shows that humans are capable of great things when the climate is right.

Opening minds is the salvation for the world – one issue at a time, one country at a time.

IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR

The Class of South Pacific, by Rich Paschall

It seems like an odd thing to say to high school or college graduates, and yet we say it all the time.  Students are probably listening to graduation speeches in wonder, perhaps even shock at this notion.  There it is, however, an oft-repeated idea that older folks are selling to the young.

“These are the best years of your life,” some may exclaim.  Others may narrow it down to tell students, “You will look back on this as the best year of your life.”  The best year?

It was a long time ago, and I can not recall specifically what I heard at my various graduations, but I am pretty sure the idea was sold to me somewhere.  “How can this be?” graduates may ask themselves.  “What about the next 60 years?  You mean to say, ‘this is it’?”

Are these youthful years the best years of our lives?  Is this where we had the best times, best friends, best dances and concerts and music and well, everything?  The answer is a surprising yes, and no.

When I was in third year of high school I learned that DePaul Academy would be closing and we would all be shipped off to another area high school.  To be perfectly honest, I did not like this a bit.  Despite the tough discipline of my school and the fear of 4th year Latin, I wanted to go to a similar environment.  However, the school where I applied to go to for 4th year would not take any incoming seniors.  So off I went where they sent me, bound to make the best of it.

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There were a few familiar faces at the new school, some were transfers, some I knew from grade school.  There were also dances and plays.  They had a fine arts department (something lacking at the all boys academy) and teachers who seemed to care about you as well as your studies.  I took drama, not fourth year Latin.  I came, I saw, I took something else.

The social activities meant more opportunities to make friends.  The interaction was an education itself.  Soon there was a group of us that hung together a lot, and some of us still do.

The most remarkable part of this transition was the “Senior Class Play.”  Yes, so many students wanted to take part, it was just for seniors, as in 17 and 18-year-old students.  I got the nerve to audition.  I have no idea what I sang.  Everybody was in the show so it did not matter that a hundred of us showed up.  We were going to do South Pacific.  I was rather unaware of it.

Aside from learning the art of theater (Project, Enunciate, Articulate, Stand up straight), I learned about the classic story of war, hate, prejudice and, of course, love.  Learning to play our parts was important.  We were commanded to be professional in everything.  We also learned a story that held a dramatic lesson in life.

I'm in this group, just left of center.

I’m in this group, just left of center.

When the movie starring Mitzi Gaynor, Rosanno Brazzi and Ray Waltson was re-released, we ran off to see it.  In subsequent years, we saw several community theater productions as well as professional versions of the classic Rogers and Hammerstein musical.  We grew to love the theater and the lessons that such musicals could bring to us.  We learned why fine arts were so important in the schools.

So we were fortunate. We had a positive experience and a good education.  We learned our lessons in the halls as well as the classroom, in the gym which was also our auditorium.  We signed one another’s yearbooks and held on to them like they were made of gold.  But was it the best year of my life?  If so, what about all the intervening years?

It is an interesting paradox that you can not adequately explain to an 18-year-old graduate.  Yes, it was the best year up to that point, and it will always remain so.  Nothing can ever take away those memories, so hopefully they are all positive.  Those lessons of love and life will influence everything from that point on.

While you are busy making new memories, a career, a family perhaps, and new friends, they will all be measured against “the best year of your life,” whether it is 18 or 21.  Some friends may be better, some lessons may be better, some experiences may be better, but they will all be measured against those moments in youth when you discovered who you were and where you were going.  The quality of future friendships must stand up to those already at hand.

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If you have a South Pacific in your memory bank, you will tell people all across the (hopefully) many generations that come through your life how this was a great experience.  You may say it was best time ever.  If your younger friend looks sorry that your best times were so far back, remind them to enjoy what they have because it will be the springboard to everything else.  It will be their touchstone.

Every spring, without fail for these many decades, the change of seasons hits me like some great coming of age story.  My imagination calls up images of Bali Hai and I hear echoes of “There Is Nothing Like A Dame” in the distance.  I once again feel “Younger Than Springtime” and every night is “Some Enchanted Evening.”  Whenever I look back to the Class of South Pacific, I can also look forward with a lot of “Happy Talk” for everyone who will listen.

STUPID IS AS STUPID DOES

The Elephant in the Room, by Rich Paschall


Let’s talk about it, shall we?  I am referring to the elephant.  No, not a Ringling Brothers elephant.  That matter has been resolved to almost everyone’s satisfaction.  I say “almost” because there are some who object to the choice of land where the elephants may roam free, but that is another issue for another time.

Photo Credit: Charles W. Cushman Collection

Photo Credit: Charles W. Cushman Collection

The elephant in the room belongs to the Republicans.  You know them as the Grand Old Party, but nothing seems too grand these days.  They have splintered into pieces and the one left standing, the presumptive nominee for President of the United States of America (POTUS for you social media guys), is not one of the regular Republican politicians at all.  The Donald has ridden the anti government wave all the way to the top.  It is a wave that was ironically created by the regular Republicans and their supporters.  They now find themselves asking, “How did this happen?”  It certainly was not the game plan.

While both sides of the aisle sit and contemplate how such a man, regarded by some as a bigot and misogynist, could have stolen the lead of a major political party, the real surprise is not just that this person has a following and is running for office.  The wonder is that there are so many supporters.  Republican strategists have been trying to craft a plan that would stop their own leading candidate from gaining the presidential nomination.   While stopping the New York billionaire seems to be on Republican and Democratic minds, the problems of the major parties are just a symptom of what ails us.

Elephant in the room

Elephant in the room

Andy Borowitz, satirist, commentator and best-selling New York Times author puts it like this, “Stopping Trump is a short-term solution. The long-term solution, and it will be more difficult, is fixing the educational system that has created so many people ignorant enough to vote for Trump.”  You may have seen this quote being spread around social media like wildfire under a hot sun.  This quote is one of the ones that are true, however.  As for your other memes…

If there is one thing this campaign has proven, it is that there are a lot of stupid people.  Social media have allowed many folks to demonstrate just how stupid they are.  Since they are stupid to begin with, they do not realize how much stupidity they are demonstrating.  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and (yikes!) even Word Press have given the ability to many to spread stupid all over the internet, and thus, all over the world.

There have been many times that I have tried to stop stupid in its tracks.  When I see obviously incorrect statements on facebook I like to post a Snopes rebuttal or article from a reputable news source to refute the incorrect statement, but stupid will have none of it.  People go on commenting as if the truth is unavailable and this internet mythology must certainly be true.  In this regard, I am like a pebble on the beach being stomped on by flip-flops, Crocs and other ignoble beachwear.

While US News and World Report reported the higher education system as third best in the world, elementary and secondary schools did not fare so well by others.  In the 2012 Program For International Student Assessment, among 15 year olds Americans ranked 35th in the world in math and 27th in science.  In 2015 the Pew Research Center reported “29% of Americans rated their country’s K-12 education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (known as STEM) as above average or the best in the world.”  That’s rather low.  American scientists gave education a lower mark.

While major American school systems are broke, politicians talk about tax breaks for the rich and “trickle down” style economics.  Teachers in Detroit work for a school system that can not afford to educate children and teachers wonder how long they will get paid.  If you think Detroit is unique, you better have a look around.  Chicago is barely surviving while school districts in richer communities in Illinois get more money per student than those in the places where education is more difficult to administer.

Google (used as a verb) American education problems and look at the long list of articles and reports by reputable sources.  You can spend the next month reading how we have slipped into a mediocre education system, or I should say, series of systems.  The value of education in some states is rather low and some of the courses dictated by local school boards would better be categorized as propaganda than education.

With such a gap in education quality across the nation, it becomes much easier for spin machines to do their work.  While I generally hate the “back in my day” approach, or statements beginning “when I was young,” here we go anyway.  There was a time when there were only three major television networks, a few major radio outlets, a relative handful of newspaper conglomerates and news services (eg. Reuters, UPI, AP).  They worked hard at getting the story first and getting it right.  Reporting was also educating and many of them knew it.

Now the news reporting is barely that.  Networks bring on so-called experts to spin the news and in many cases it is nothing more than biased viewpoints thrown at the uneducated masses for the purpose of swaying opinion.  When I think of certain right-wing outlets (you know the ones) I think of a lot of angry guys telling us what to think.  It may have been what the Republicans wanted from their media supporters at one time, but it seems to have blown up in their faces.  Insert the Donald Trump “I love the poorly educated” statement here.

Perhaps it is best to contemplate this statement from a Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin.  Yes, this widely spread statement is true: “The only thing more expensive than education is ignorance.

 

Note:  While some rank the USA as number one in higher education in the world based on the sheer number of quality universities, no one ranks the overall education or systems of schools in the United States as anywhere near the top.

Sources: Pew Research Center
“Watch Trump Brag About Uneducated Voters, “The Hispanics,” Rolling Stone
“U.S. Millennials Come Up Short in Global Skills Study”, Education Week
“US Students Slide In Global Ranking,” NPR

YOU WILL NEVER ESCAPE YOUR PERMANENT RECORD

While binge watching Star Trek: Next Generation, Geordi La Forge (Levar Burton) disobeyed a direct order given by Captain Stewart, er, I mean, Jean-Luc Picard. Although he survived his misadventure — barely, I might add — Picard told Geordi that regretfully, he was going to have to “put this incident on your permanent record!”

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Oh my god! His permanent record. Even in Star Fleet, you cannot escape your permanent record. It’s four hundred years in the future and they still have that record.

Back in our golden olden days, the thing that was held over our heads — the most serious threat any school official could make  — was that whatever dreadful thing we’d done would go on our permanent record. From elementary school through our working years, we were warned our permanent record would follow us. Marks against us might even (gasp!) prevent us from getting into college at all. In which case we knew we might as well die on the spot. If you didn’t go to college, you would never have a decent job or find someone to love. And you definitely would not go to heaven.

I knew that right into the marrow of my bones. Didn’t you?

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The Permanent Record is (was) (will be) The Rock of Ages. Huge, unchanging.

No matter what else we do with our lives, everyone will know about our misdeeds. All they have to do is check the record. They’ll know I sassed my twelfth grade social studies teacher (he deserved it or worse) in May 1963. That Garry ran over his allotted time reporting a news event in Boston and was not even repentant when confronted with his foul deed! The evil that we do will be revealed.

You might want to see Lamont Cranston, because the Shadow Knows.

So, here’s the deal. Now and forever, every one of us has a permanent record in which all our misbehavior is cataloged. I know because I’ve been told. I’m not sure who has custody of these records, however. As far as I can tell, everyone on the planet has one, so there must be a gigantic storage unit somewhere, where everything is filed. That’s a lot of records to keep.

But they aren’t being stored around here. I’d have noticed a building that big.

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I expect when we die, if there actually are Pearly Gates and a gatekeeper who decides if we can enter, he will be clutching a copy of our permanent record in one angelic hand. That’s right. You talked back to your teacher in fifth grade, cut school in high school. Told a professor the dog ate your final paper in college. Now, you won’t go to Heaven.

Sorry buddy. Your permanent record just caught up with you.

MY FATHER: AHEAD OF HIS TIMES – ELLIN CURLEY

Most of us believe that our current beliefs have been our beliefs forever. Of course we know that germs cause disease and that the earth is round. But people didn’t always know these concepts as “facts”. We once thought the earth was flat and had no idea what caused disease. Someone had to propose these “new” and “revolutionary ideas.And someone just as assuredly had to argue against them and give the proponent of the new ideas a hard time.

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My father was a brilliant, innovative thinker in the fields of psychiatry and the social sciences. All he got initially was a lot of grief and aggravation. Even today, only a few academics have heard of him.

His name was Abram Kardiner. He had a long and varied career in the fields of anthropology, sociology, and psychiatry from the 1920’s to his death in 1981. He deserves at least part of the credit for three major contributions: the idea of interdisciplinary studies, the concept of early, “pre-school” education, and acceptance and understanding of PTSD.

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Everyone knows that interdepartmental studies are the best way to thoroughly understand at least history and cultures. Didn’t we always apply the tools of sociology, economics, political history, art history and other cultural history to the study of history? The answer is no. In fact, the concept was anathema until the 1960’s.

When I went to Barnard College in 1967 (the sister school to Columbia University), I was one of the first classes to be able to take an interdisciplinary major. At the time, I was old enough to understand that my father’s struggles at Columbia University in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s had cleared the path for me to be an American Studies major in the 60’s.

My father studied with Sigmund Freud in 1921 and came back to New York to help establish psychoanalysis as an accepted and respected “new” field of science. But he was also interested in sociology and thought that using psychiatry to better understand the individuals in a society would help understand the society as a whole. So he decided to study more primitive cultures (anthropology) to further establish the interrelationships between the individual (psychiatry) and the society (sociology).

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Unfortunately at the time, each academic field was considered a totally separate entity. No one was allowed to stray into another academic’s carefully guarded territory.

For more than 30 years, my father was bounced back and forth between the psychiatry, sociology, and anthropology departments. No one wanted to claim him. He was “tainted” with methodology and ideas from a different discipline. This sounds ridiculous today, but even now, the only department at Columbia that recognizes his accomplishments is the Department of Psychiatry, the department he helped found.

When I had my first child, I enrolled him in play groups and I planned to send him to preschool when he turned three. My father, once again, had been on the front-lines years before, espousing the importance of the first three years of life. He believed that early childhood intellectual and social stimulation was necessary to foster a child’s ability to learn and to adjust socially throughout it’s life. His writings became the basis for Head Start, President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s program which provided pre-kindergarten for all kids. Dad also focused attention on the optimal environments for preschoolers to develop well intellectually, socially, and emotionally.

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Reading to your children, playing counting games, and talking to them — these concepts, now so familiar, became part of the standard of early child care because of my father. He helped prove, scientifically, how important these activities are both for children and for the society.

When a member of our family was ten, he had a tonsillectomy — and awoke during surgery. This resulted in PTSD as well as a myriad of other issues. Guess who was one of the first people to study PTSD and recognize it as a psychiatric syndrome?

You guessed it. My dad! He studied World War 1 veterans and built on Freud’s concept of psychiatric trauma. He published a book called “The Traumatic Neuroses of War” in 1941 but it wasn’t until the Vietnam War, in the 1970’s, that PTSD became a hot topic. Luckily, by 1991, further advancements in this field, building on my father’s work, helped our family cope with the aftermath of childhood trauma.

So, thanks Dad! You cleared the way for me to have the college major of my dreams, a well-educated toddler, and a family member with doctors who could understand and help him. I wish I could tell you your name is now known throughout the world for your amazing contributions.

But I understand and appreciate what you have contributed to society and now, maybe some blog readers will know, too.

BASKING IN THE ROSY GLOW OF A REINVENTED PAST

THE ROSY GLOW OF WHAT NEVER HAPPENED

The big day was coming up — my 50th high school reunion. I was not going, but somehow, I was on the mailing list. I found myself deluged with email from “The Reunion Group.”

I couldn’t (wouldn’t) read all of them, but every once in a while, I opened one. Just to punish myself. I was always sorry.

The discussion rambled from planning the event, to each person telling the story of his or her far-better-than-my life tale of incredible triumph, to reminiscing about the school song. Which had to be the definition of ” sublime to ridiculous.”

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We never sang that song. Not once because no one knew the words. I did because I found them goofy and memorized them for kicks.

Why do people need to transform an experience rich with a mix of memories — good, bad, and indifferent — into a Lifetime movie re-titled “the best years of our lives?” It wasn’t anyone’s best years. They cancelled our Senior Prom. Due to lack of interest. I know because I actually had a date for the prom, but he and I were the only two people who signed up, so they cancelled it. Which says a lot about the truth of those times.

A few of the “reunion list” people also went to elementary and junior high school with me. We got to know each other better than we ever wanted.
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Fifty years later, these folks are literally singing the praises of Jamaica High School —  huge, over-crowded, and sometimes dangerous. A school in which if you didn’t get into the “college-bound” group, all you got from the school was a place to sit while being bullied.

Why do these people — most of whom have, at least on the surface led a charmed life — need to cast a rosy glow over a time that wasn’t rosy? My former classmates were intent on reliving a past that never happened.

It was what it was. The whole collective stumbling down memory lane thing seemed a bizarre form of self-hypnosis — or possibly delusions. Why? It’s years later, but I don’t have a sensible answer to that.

High school was far too weird to make good fodder for a daily prompt. I didn’t go to my 50th reunion and if anyone is alive for the 55th, I still won’t. This is as close to a speech about it as I’ll ever make.

BINGE LEARNING

I could easily say that, at my age, I don’t need to learn anything new. It would be untrue. To be alive requires we learn and change.

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I’m an immersion learner. If I’m interested in something, I read everything I can find about it … these days most likely on the Internet rather than in the library. The Internet is a great thing — an unlimited library with access to everyplace on earth where knowledge is stored. Terrific for binge learners like me who get obsessed and need to find out everything.

This is no recent phenomenon in my life. I’ve always been like this, reading about whatever has grabbed my attention until I felt I knew as much as I needed to know.

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That was what was wrong with school for me. We touched on everything, but rarely got an opportunity to delve. Later, when school was finished and I was working, I began to catch up with stuff I had just tasted in high school and college.

I’m still learning, still collecting information. And that’s at least half the reason I blog, because I have a head full of stuff and this is where I can make some arguably constructive use of it.