Monthly Archives: September 2012

Is 15 Minutes Enough?

I created a website.

Everyone (that’s with a capital “E”) said that I should do it in order to increase sales of my books. For a while I fought the idea. Somehow it seemed so patently egotistical.

But Vistaprint offered a free trial (and we all know how those work out!) for a month, as well as step-by-step guidance in constructing the pages. It was a “sign” that it was time.

So I embarked on the task of establishing a site. It was easier than I’d thought. Vistaprint did a good job of breaking down the task and directing the neophyte. I have to admit, I had a good time doing it.

When I’d finished, I sat back and admired my work (doing stuff like this does tend to be a bit egotistical). And being able to take a breather now, I tried to dissect my motives. Why had I gone to all this trouble?

Why, to increase book sales, I slyly answered myself.

Humph! I replied. Why, when you take into account the cost of maintaining the site, you’ll have to sell about a hundred books a year to make up what you’ve spent. C’mon. Why did you do this?

Urged on by my carping superego, I delved deeper into my motives.

Perhaps it was egotistical. Maybe I was trying to extend my fifteen minutes to half an hour. Like wearing a red ball gown to a dance where all others my age were wearing pastels (how many of you get the reference?), or sitting in the front row of the classroom to catch the eye of the handsome young professor.

Then I considered the pains I’d taken to link the site to this blog. I want people to read my postings, and not just (I hope) for reasons of vanity. Some of the ideas I write about are important, and could generate discussion. If readers look at me for that reason, I feel I’ve accomplished something.

Which brings us, as these musings often do, to politics.

Why are our current crop of candidates expending their energy and money trying to get elected?

I believe you have to have a pretty strong sense of self in order to run for office. Otherwise, the arguments against what you believe in and negative advertising would be devastating. So is it simply self-aggrandizement that spurs on our would-be leaders?

I hope not. We don’t need people who only want to preen and posture in the spotlight. We need those who have the smarts to understand what’s going on and make decisions that will solve, not worsen, the problems.

Like climate change. And drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And the problem of national debt. And poverty, access to quality health care, international relations.

We can’t afford battling egos. We also can’t afford a plutocracy in which money, controlling communication, decides elections. I know we’ve seen the “dumbing down” of America, but I can’t help believe that can be reversed.

We need leaders who won’t talk down to the electorate, who will make the decisions that need to be made and explain the reasons for those choices. As a teacher I learned that youngsters can rise to levels of expectations. They can finish the school year with a better handle on the world than they started with.

But in order to do that, you can’t just “strut and fret your hour upon the stage.”

You have to lead.

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Educating for the future

The political conventions are done with, and now it’s all over but the shouting—and the vitriol, half-truths and incessant phone calls.

It’s time to get back to writing.

I’m in the midst of fashioning a novel about a teacher in the 25th century who is fed up with the over-regulation of the system and the indifference of the students she teaches. She decides to leave Earth (which has become a steel-encased mega-city) and take a position in one of the “outer colonies.”

Sound familiar? To anyone who has taught in the past twenty years, and anyone who is teaching now, it probably does.

Many of you are probably worried about the future of our planet, as I am. Possibly also the future of our species. Much of whether or not we survive, and thrive, as a species depends on education. It always did. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, education was a matter of which plants were poisonous and which were nutritious, how to avoid predators, which mate would ensure the survival of one’s offspring.

In other words, matters of individual and family survival.

Today, of course, education is far more complex. The human race has amassed a vast compendium of knowledge, and it is impossible to know everything. We can no longer limit the education of our young to the memorization of facts, dates and names. We have to train them to find the necessary information and teach them how to use it. Unfortunately, the standardized tests we employ today don’t allow for that. The emphasis on testing severely limits the creativity of the teacher, and the student.

Children must learn to analyze, synthesize and reach a defensible conclusion. They must also be free to imagine. It’s only from the imagination that new and better machines, techniques and ways of life can come. In defense of the genre of science fiction, it has been said that before engineers can design a technological breakthrough, someone has to think of it, and it has been science fiction writers to whom that task has fallen.

Today, we’re faced with a multitude of problems. Just finding a better machine is not enough. We need new and better ways to coexist without losing identity, to tolerate the ideas and lifestyles of others without giving up our own. And we must do this before we destroy the planet or each other. The ideas have to come from the younger generation.

I’m sixty-eight years old. In another twenty years, I’ll probably be gone. But the kids born now will just be coming into their prime. What will the world be like for them?

You see, no matter how complex or seemingly insurmountable the problems of education are, it’s still about survival.

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Come Together

Now that one of the political conventions is over, it’s time to take a half-time cleansing breath. How to evaluate this?

I would like to focus on Romney’s speech on Thursday night. There were no surprises. He stuck to the party line. But he did speak eloquently about parts of his life. His description of his parents’ marriage was lovely. He mentioned that his father left a rose on his mother’s bedside table every morning. It was obvious that they loved each other, and its influence on him was apparent. Yet he is perfectly willing to deny that relationship to others simply because they are of the same sex.

He promised to uphold the institution of marriage. I agree that the promise of two people to love and support each other for the rest of their lives is beautiful as well as socially important. It forms the nucleus of the family, a safe haven to which one can escape when things get too crazy out there. What I can’t agree with is the artificial differentiation between a union of two people of the opposite sex, and the joining of two people of the same sex.

Love is a rare phenomenon, and the willingness to commit to a lifetime  coming together even more so. If you truly believe in marriage, then you believe in it for everyone. No such blending of two lives can cheapen the concept.

Both Mr. Romney and his running mate reiterated their desire to make America great again. A laudable aspiration. I also want to see America resume its leadership role in the world. We have a lot to offer. But I don’t think we can hope to be great until we grow up and get rid of this adolescent tendency to gather in cliques and exclude anyone who is different. Whom one is attracted to is hardwired, as much a part of an individual as skin color or congenital disability. It’s as wrong to deny a person access to any institution on the basis of the latter as it is to force him into second-class citizenship because of the former.

Part of Mr. Romney’s speech recounted his childhood as a Mormon in Michigan. Although he pointedly told us that he didn’t feel like an outsider, because his friends were more concerned with that sports teams he followed, not the church he attended, I can’t accept that he didn’t feel some exclusion. As someone who grew up in that atmosphere, Mr. Romney must have some empathy for others who have been excluded.

I remain an optimist. I truly believe that we, as a nation and as a world, will come through this period of flux and transition to a brighter future. I won’t see it, but I can envision it. Now is the time to start shaping that future.

Now is the time to grow up.

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