Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Today's Lesson: Sharing the Load

The reform of education in America requires that professional teachers be trained more efficiently to deal with the problems facing students who are not achieving their proscribed goals. This is one part, but only a small part, of the overall problem.

I have never been a schoolteacher, although as a manager I have taught, I have trained, I have tutored, and I have guided. I was motivated by the desire to have more productive employees working with me to achieve our mutual goals: The success of our company, and our continued employment. I haven't always been successful at these ventures, but I believe I have always done my best to impart what I knew to be important to those I've helped to become more knowledgable and productive.

At its best, teaching is an art, a science, a craft, a profession, and to many, a calling. The larger part of the problem with education in America is, I believe, that the other half of the equation--the student body/mind/heart--is literally, not on the same page as their teachers. The blame for academic failure is often laid at the feet of the schools, the teachers, the teacher colleges, the school administrators, the coursework, etc. Often, all these do, indeed, fall short of perfection and need to be improved. 

We wring our hands, complain, and scapegoat. Let’s get down to the real business of education--making students care about themselves and the world. We are circling the waters in search of the beast that we've wittingly brought on board.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

My Adventures 'With' Augie March

Congratulations to Alice Laidlaw Munro on her being awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature. Meanwhile, the following from another Canadian-born Nobel Laureate, Saul Bellow:

"Anyhow, I had found something out about an unknown privation, and I realized how a general love or craving, before it is explicit or before it sees its object, manifests itself as boredom or some other kind of suffering. And what did I think of myself in relation to the great occasions, the more sizable being of these books? Why, I saw them, first of all. So suppose I wasn't created to read a great declaration, or to boss a palatinate, or send off a message to Avignon, and so on, I could see, so there nevertheless was a share for me in all that happened. How much of a share? Why, I knew there were things that would never, because they could never, come of my reading. But this knowledge was not so different from the remote but ever-present death that sits in the corner of the loving bedroom; though it doesn't always budge from the corner, you wouldn't stop your loving. Then neither would I stop my reading. I sat and read. I had no eye, ear, or interest for anything else--that is, for usual, second-order, oatmeal, mere-phenomenal, snarled-shoelace-carfare-laundry-ticket plainness, unspecified dismalness, unknown captivities; the life of despair-harness, or the life of organization-habits which is meant to supplant accidents with calm abiding. Well, now, who can really expect the daily facts to go, toil or prisons to go, oatmeal and laundry tickets and all the rest, and insist that all moments be raised to the greatest importance, demand that everyone breathe the pointy, star-furnished air at its highest difficulty, abolish all brick, vaultlike rooms, all dreariness, and live like prophets or gods? Why, everybody knows this triumphant life can only be periodic. So there's a schism about it, some saying only this triumphant life is real and others that only the daily facts are. For me there was no debate, and I made speed into the former."

Monday, September 23, 2013

The San Francisco Treat

This blog entry is my first since July. It has been a busy summer, and hot for the most part. Reading and writing have taken a back seat to traveling and dining (if you count BBQs), and now that the dog days (no bun intended) have dwindled down to a precious few I have fired up my old "Super PowerNote 8510" this ebbing, chilly, second day of autumn out here on the backporch.

The sun has now sunk behind and beneath the nearby Ramapo foothills while the crickets and cicadas have begun their nightly serenade. The lawn-mowers, leaf-blowers, weed-wackers and their harried hired hands have ceased their raucous racket.

I am looking forward to finishing Bellow's "Augie March". I can see how John Updike must have been influenced by him. There's a lot of similarities in their descriptive narrative styles. Saul, though, appears to be a tad or two deeper than John. Both were and remain 'kings' in my book.

My honey and I returned from a week in San Francisco last night. I was there one July and will attest that Mark Twain was correct when he said that the "coldest winter ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." The weather this midlish September, though, was perfect. The downtown, downtrodden derelicts on the downlow, are a constant sorrowful lot, wallowing as they are among surrounding riches. The running of the lavish yachts for the America's Cup made their plight nearly unbearable to witness. One cannot fathom how they can endure their daily suffering.

A highlight of the trip was Bobby "Spiderman" Webb of KPOO-FM who blew many cool sax riffs and wonderfully wailed many a Memphis melody across the Polk Street Blues Festival between Union and Pacific Streets. The free concert was a blast with Aretha Franklin, James Brown, and Tina Turner impersonators doin' they thangs to the crowd's delight....the Robert Mondavi winery in the Napa Valley was nifty...the smoked salmon with dill sauce dip at the Rutherford Grill was 'smokin'!...the kids at Cal Berkeley looked like the Grant Street Regulars...students actually carrying books along with their smartphones and laptops! How novel is that?...through a glass darkly, namely the Tanqueray Dirty Olivia Martini at the Top of the Mark yielded an eye-opening 360 view of sunset over the rolling hills while the Cliff House offered a panoramic Pacific picture along with its hot New England style clam chowder...the seals at the Fisherman's Wharf are getting happy and living off the fat of the, uh, land...Alcatraz remains closed for alterations.

The crickets are beginning to bark for blankets. Me too. Sun's down so, szia next time.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Should Have/Could Have/Would Have/If Only

In the Man Booker prize-winning short novel, "The Sense of an Ending," by Julian Barnes, there appears the following perceptive answer by a brilliant student to the question, "What is History?" The student quotes, "History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation."

History at best, therefore, is always somewhat less than a certainty.

A galactic truth, uncertainly, like '42', (an answer to life, the universe, and everything.)*

*Wikipee Douglas Adams for even more uncertainty.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Anti Social Behavior Order = ASBO

Martin Amis' hilarious novel, "Lionel Asbo", is about the exploits of a born miscreant who might well have been Alan Sillitoe's famous Borstal 'Runner' had he festered to full immaturity in the 21st century. Lionel may or may not be lonely, but he is surely London's last laugh, (as Yossarian was Pianosa's).

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Reade and Heede

John Winthrop's City upon a Hill speech,
Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1630

Now the onely way to avoyde this shipwracke and to provide for our posterity is to followe the Counsell of Micah, to doe Justly, to love mercy, to walke humbly with our God, for this end, wee must be knitt together in this worke as one man, wee must entertaine each other in brotherly Affeccion, wee must be willing to abridge our selves of our superfluities, for the supply of others necessities, wee must uphold a familiar Commerce together in all meekenes, gentlenes, patience and liberallity, wee must delight in eache other, make others Condicions our owne rejoyce together, mourne together, labour, and suffer together, allwayes haveing before our eyes our Commission and Community in the worke, our Community as members of the same body, soe shall wee keepe the unitie of the spirit in the bond of peace, the Lord will be our God and delight to dwell among us, as his owne people and will commaund a blessing upon us in all our wayes, soe that wee shall see much more of his wisdome power goodnes and truthe then formerly wee have beene acquainted with, wee shall finde that the God of Israell is among us, when tenn of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies, when hee shall make us a prayse and glory, that men shall say of succeeding plantacions: the lord make it like that of New England: for wee must Consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all people are uppon us; soe that if wee shall deale falsely with our god in this worke wee have undertaken and soe cause him to withdrawe his present help from us, wee shall be made a story and a byword through the world, wee shall open the mouthes of enemies to speake evill of the wayes of god and all professours for Gods sake; wee shall shame the faces of many of gods worthy servants, and cause theire prayers to be turned into Cursses upon us till wee be consumed out of the good land whether wee are going: And to shutt upp this discourse with that exhortacion of Moses that faithfull servant of the Lord in his last farewell to Israell Deut. 30. Beloved there is now sett before us life, and good, deathe and evill in that wee are Commaunded this day to love the Lord our God, and to love one another to walke in his wayes and to keepe his Commaundements and his Ordinance, and his lawes, and the Articles of our Covenant with him that wee may live and be multiplyed, and that the Lord our God may blesse us in the land whether wee goe to possesse it: But if our heartes shall turne away soe that wee will not obey, but shall be seduced and worshipp other Gods our pleasures, and proffitts, and serve them, it is propounded unto us this day, wee shall surely perishe out of the good Land whether wee passe over this vast Sea to possesse it;
Therefore lett us choose life,
that wee, and our Seede,
may live; by obeyeing his
voyce, and cleaveing to him,
for hee is our life, and
our prosperity.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Tim and Joe Reap What They Sow

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the elder of the Boston sociopaths has been summarily despatched to wallow for eternity in the company of those of his brothers who better understand him. His brief and tortuous journey through life's trials and tribulations led him to seek less rather than more, and this goal he accomplished.

As for his younger brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, his unhappy trails and trials have just begun. It is a bitter shame that this newly naturalized American citizen chose to follow the paths of homicidal maniacs, rather than the road taken by so many millions of  immigrants who chose not to dismiss the following inspirational words:

"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Experience Can't Be Taught

In Martin Amis' memoir, Experience, he includes a letter that he wrote to his father, Kingsley, and his stepmother, Jane. The letter contains the following passage:

There are only 4 days to go until the Oxford interviews and, since I haven't received a telegram, it seems that I've passed the first hurdle. There are now about three serious candidates for every place. I am rather dreading the interviews: shall I be refreshingly different, stolidly middle-brow, engagingly naive, candidly matter-of-fact, contemptuously sophisticated, incorruptibly sincere, sonorously pedantic, curiously fickle, youthfully wide-eyed? ... Should I play the profound truth-seeker, the seedy anti-hero, the crusty society-observer, the all discerning beauty-appreciator? No, I suppose I shall end up...just...being...myself.

I realized upon reading this confession that Martin Amis and I share more than just the damnation of dental dilemmas. I have observed that I constantly choose to show any and all of those characteristics he listed whenever I am simply asked the time of day, or when commenting on the current local weather conditions. Experience has taught me that I can be all of those things, and more, and still be myself. I couldn't, if not wouldn't, have it any other way.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The How and Why of the Now and Then

Although I am no economist, just a former blue-collar working stiff,  I have a pretty good idea what has caused the wage stagnation during the past 3 or 4 decades, because I had been a middle-class member of the workforce before, during, and after those years.

As a pre-boomer (1942 was less than a bumper crop), I started working full-time in 1959 as a printer's devil in a unionized typesetting shop (btw--the only kind that then mattered.)

 By 1969, I  was armed with a New York City public high school education, and was a certified journeyman member of my trade union. 

Within 4 years, at the age of 31, I bought the house in which I still live.  I got married, had two kids, and two cars.

My wife didn't work outside the home until our kids were in high school. During my fifty years of working, we never earned more than $46,000 in one year.

So, what has brought about the changes that are causing the younger generations from reaching their financial goals? Why has it become so hard for them to achieve the American Dream that they have heard so much about?

Since I saw it develop, that is, the formula for creating the incredible wealth gap and inequality that now exists, I suppose I ought to mention it.

I witnessed the exponential world-population growth, the amazing computer speed-memory-availability-usage growth, and the tremendous increase in the amount of women entering the workforce (at lower wages than their male counterparts). Now, if you'll take this formula's results and add to it the technological advances in the science of capitalism, the subtle refinement of the art of consumer-marketing, and the utter conquest of materialism over flower-power (remember Industrialism's victory over Agrarianism? Urban over Rural?) and you have the makings of a serious case for planning for the future the next time around.

I think our children are at least 'entitled' to know what has happened to their future, don't you?

And one more thing: Don't forget to vote.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Just Keep on Truckin' on the Shining Path

Professor Allan Bloom posed the following in The Closing of the American Mind:

Indignation is the soul's defense against the wound of doubt about its own; it reorders the cosmos to support the justice of its cause. It justifies putting Socrates to death. Recognizing indignation for what it is constitutes knowledge of the soul, and is thus an experience more philosophic than the study of mathematics...So it may well be that through the thicket of our greatest corruption runs the path to awareness of the oldest truths.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

News Flash: From the Villages

by Matthew Arnold, an excerpt from "Dover Beach"

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Monday, January 28, 2013

GOP Revolts: Switches to Coffee for 2016

The truce that was called to end "Class Warfare" was the U.S. Constitution.
Wouldn't it be nice if all members of Congress would at least read
and commit its "Preamble" to memory.

The  "makers" and "takers" diatribe being spouted by the radical right just doesn't cut it.
It doesn't account for a very important consideration: The truth of the matter.

The true "takers" are the ones who have bought the House of Representatives, lock, stock, and barrel, in order to have its members serve as their personal lobby masons. These block shoppers have used money they've stockpiled while plundering the world's economy to lay mines in the path of upward mobility for the poor and middle-class.

The foxy guardians of righteousness have attempted to steal a couple of elections, lost the last election, and they will lose the next, because their greed and lust for power has not taken into consideration the law of diminishing returns: specifically, the tax returns of the actual "takers".

The real "makers" are "We the People." Today's Republicans shiver when they hear that phrase. People acting in concordance? How scary that sounds to them. They have names for people who want harmony. They call them "takers", because they cannot seem to use the "S"-word while keeping a straight face. 

Ryan, Jindal, Cantor, Rubio, et al, good luck with healing your party's tone deafness. You know you really should listen up when your constituents are talking to you, unless your wish is to meet your "maker" again in 2016.

A thought for the ages:
"There is no such thing as was—only is.
If was existed, there would be no grief or sorrow."
     --William Faulkner

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Happy 307th Birthday, Dr. Franklin

Benjamin Franklin, was born on this day in Boston, New England in the year 1706.

In his autobiography this great American listed some virtues and their precepts that he, as a young man, tried to achieve in his conduct of life. Whether he succeeded, or not, is irrelevant, for Franklin is nearly universally regarded as the kind of man who has earned the respect of all humanity.

These names of Virtues with their Precepts were

Eat not to Dulness.
Drink not to Elevation.

Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself.
Avoid trifling Conversation.

Let all your Things have their Places.
Let each part of your Business have its Time.

Resolve to perform what you ought.
Perform without fail what you resolve.

Make no Expence but to do good to others or yourself:
i.e. Waste nothing.

Lose no Time.
Be always employ'd in something useful.
Cut off all unecessary Actions.

Use no hurtful Deceit.
Think innocently and justly;
and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

Wrong none, by doing injustice or omitting the Benefits that are your Duty.

Avoid Extreams.
Forbear resenting Injuries so much as you think they deserve.

Tolerate no Uncleanness in Body, Cloaths or Habitation.

Be not disturbed at Trifles, or at Accidents common or unavoidable.

Rarely use Venery but for Health or Offspring;
Never to Dulness, Weakness, or the Injury of your own
or another's Peace or Reputation.

Imitate Jesus and Socrates.