Tag Archives: education

Atumnal Musings on Serenity, Politics and the Future

On this glorious October day I walked down to Lake Pontoosuc and sat in the Donut Man’s gazebo as the sun started dying over the hills to the west. The wind turbines spun hypnotically, the tiny indigo waves annihilated each other. It was serene.

The words came back to me: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Serenity. I find it difficult to come by today.

Okay—accept the things I cannot change. Governor Romney may be elected President. If that happens, there’s nothing I can do about it. But I fear for my country should that come to pass. I fear for the vulnerable millions who will walk the wire without a net. I fear for the thousands of young people who will suffer and perhaps die when the saber rattling isn’t enough. I fear for the women whose ability to decide their own course of health treatment will be taken away. And I fear for the land itself that will be harmed when regulation is abolished.

I don’t fear for myself. I’m sixty eight years old. Barring a true cataclysm, like bloody revolution or all-out nuclear war, I’ll probably be fine. But the generations that follow, whose education will be compromised, whose health care will become so expensive that only a handful can afford it, whose dreams will never be fulfilled—they won’t be fine.

Which brings us to the things I might be able to change. I truly believe that this dismal future may be averted if President Obama is reelected. I can do a little to try to bring that about. I’ve already given quite a lot of money to the Democratic campaign. I can also talk to friends and acquaintances, in fact anyone who will listen, to try to persuade them of my view. I don’t have the physical strength to go door to door, as I did four years ago, so I’ll have to settle for talking to people nearby.

Risking confrontation takes courage. But it’s worth it if we can keep the conversation civil. That sort of give and take is another thing that seems to be in short supply today.

It also takes courage to throw off this gloomy, dystopic view of the future and once again invest in the belief that this country will not just survive, but thrive. That it will become great again, not as a superpower, but as a beacon. Because we are a heterogeneous population, we are uniquely able to show that people can coexist in mutual respect.

With that vision overlaid on the lake, the hills and the turbines, I find serenity. I can’t achieve it by myself, but I can believe in its existence.

For now, that’s enough.

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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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