Things I Think About Education – Part II

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What to look for in a college

As for college, if I were a graduating high school senior today:

  • I’d look for a college with a strong value proposition (yes, I know that’s a concept that makes many academics cringe). If you don’t know what a “value proposition” is, keep reading.

As I mentioned in Part I of this post, there are only 100 to 150 U.S. colleges I’d even consider attending, and, personally, I’ve winnowed that list down to 25-50 without much trouble. Continue reading

Things I Think About Education – Part I

Education may be the last bastion of mediocrity left in America. It also has become a contributing factor behind the massive inequality that now plagues our country at levels not seen since the lead up to the Great Depression.

By “education,” I mean our formal educational system. Fortunately, learning is far more important than education. And, fortunately, motivated people will figure out how to learn what’s important, with or without a strong educational system behind them. Moreover, there are still some great teachers in the system and pockets of excellence throughout, so the situation isn’t as bad as it could be. But it’s getting worse. Continue reading

Decisions Have Consequences

Today is one of the monumental days for the world. Voters in Great Britain have decided to leave the EU (European Union). I suspect this will be bad for GB in the long run. I’m fairly certain it will be bad for Europe and the rest of the world. Yet the risk of this happening was inevitable because decisions have consequences. And a lot of bad decisions paved the way to this spot in the road.

For quite some time now, the powers-that-be who run the EU, GB and Germany have chosen to cater to business (more precisely, to major shareholders and the wealthy finance and management classes who finance and run big business) and the entrenched elite while ignoring the concerns of the working and middle classes (solid folk as C.S. Lewis called them). Housing prices in London have put their very own capital city out of reach of the ordinary English. Uncontrolled immigration has driven down purchasing power and diminished opportunity for common folk. The sense of loss of sovereignty has not been off-set by widespread prosperity. The rich got richer. Finance dominated. Yet ordinary people were left to think government was not working for them. Life was not as good for ordinary Britons as the elite insisted it was.

Sound familiar? Continue reading

On Aging

You’re a long ways off from this Vera. Perhaps longer than any of us think. By the time you reach my age (61), people routinely may be living past 100. Or perhaps not.

But no matter what the mortality tables tell us, you will age. It’s our common lot. When I was young, I didn’t think much about it. Now I think about it more often (although not a lot).

My perspective has changed. When I was young, I couldn’t see the end of the runway. Now I can. What one does with his or her life prior to takeoff (or the crash) becomes a more pressing concern.

I have no reason to think there is one right way to age. But I’ve seen lots of wrong ways — well, not necessarily wrong; rather, ways that I personally don’t find attractive.

So what have I learned that might benefit you? Continue reading

Lawns Are Stupid

Lawns are stupid. Sure, they can look nice. But do they justify the immense investment of time and money we put into them? I don’t think so.

And, of course, there is the environmental harm they cause. All that fertilizer runoff contaminating our waterways. And all those pesticides, fungicides and probably some other cides I don’t even know about it.

And what about all that water? We live in a semi-arid climate. Our lawns are heavily dependent upon irrigation. But to have the water to irrigate, we have to transport water from the western slope (the other side of the Rockies) to our side, necessitating a huge investment in pipelines, canals and reservoirs. That’s why snowpack is such a big deal out here. We love snow — on the western side, that is. The skiers think we’re concerned about them. But there are bigger stakes: our LAWNS!

Have you been to Palm Springs, California. It’s in the middle of a desert for heaven’s sake, yet sprinklers run day and night to create a thoroughly non-desert look. What could be more insane? If you don’t like cacti and sand, if you’re so in love with the color green, why are you living in a desert?

To this date I regret not having installed xeriscaping at our new home. I felt the pressure of time and dust. Neighbors were understandably eager for us to convert our dirt lot into something that wouldn’t blow into their house when the infamous Colorado winds kicked up. Oh, well: an opportunity blown.

And so I fertilize and mow. And fertilize and mow some more. And irrigate. And pay high water bills. And irrigate some more.

Some days I feel really stupid.

Be For Something

Being against seems to be the popular stance these days. And perhaps nothing is so in vogue as being against our very own government.

As historian and filmmaker Ken Burns observed during his commencement address to the graduating class of Stanford University yesterday (rarely do I read such addresses):

[I]t is terribly fashionable these days to criticize the United States government, the institution Lincoln was trying to save, to blame it for all the ills known to humankind, and, my goodness, ladies and gentlemen, it has made more than its fair share of catastrophic mistakes.

But then he added:

[Y]ou would be hard pressed to find—in all of human history—a greater force for good. From our Declaration of Independence to our Constitution and Bill of Rights; from Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments to the Land Grant College and Homestead Acts; from the transcontinental railroad and our national parks to child labor laws, Social Security and the National Labor Relations Act; from the GI Bill and the interstate highway system to putting a man on the moon and the Affordable Care Act, the United States government has been the author of many of the best aspects of our public and personal lives. But if you tune in to politics, if you listen to the rhetoric of this election cycle, you are made painfully aware that everything is going to hell in a handbasket and the chief culprit is our evil government.

He went on to say:

Part of the reason this kind of criticism sticks is because we live in an age of social media where we are constantly assured that we are all independent free agents. But that free agency is essentially unconnected to real community, divorced from civic engagement, duped into believing in our own lonely primacy by a sophisticated media culture that requires you—no—desperately needs you—to live in an all-consuming disposable present, wearing the right blue jeans, driving the right car, carrying the right handbag, eating at all the right places, blissfully unaware of the historical tides that have brought us to this moment, blissfully uninterested in where those tides might take us.

Our spurious sovereignty is reinforced and perpetually underscored to our obvious and great comfort, but this kind of existence actually ingrains in us a stultifying sameness that rewards conformity (not courage), ignorance and anti-intellectualism (not critical thinking). This wouldn’t be so bad if we were just wasting our own lives, but this year our political future depends on it.

I wonder if the biggest problem with government these days is us. Might the problem be we’ve fallen into a pattern of negativity, fear and blame, an anti-culture, and stopped being for something? Continue reading

Going Off the Well-Worn Path

IMG_1792We are part of a tribe, or herd. We find comfort in numbers. Going it alone is scary or at least very uncomfortable for most people. That’s who we are.

It’s neither good nor bad. What’s important, however, is to know our tendencies — and our insecurities, preconceptions and biases — and be thoughtful about what we do with that information. And not to be merely the product of society’s forces.

I wish I’d better understood this when I was young, Vera. I probably would have been more adventuresome and explored and learned more things earlier. And taken more risks. Instead, it was if I were in a dinghy amidst society’s vast flotilla, being carried along by the current of history.

To some extent, that’s inevitable. We are hostage, to some degree, to our times and circumstances. We operate chiefly within the context into which we were born and reared. Yet how much of this in inevitable and how much is by choice? My reaction to Venice, Italy brought this question to mind. Continue reading