3646 – Wednesday, May 8, 2019 – Are the Good Old Days of School Over?

My childhood school years were from 1952 to 1964.  I left high school in May of 1964 at age 17 and joined the United States Air force in October of 1964 at age 18.  Back when I was in school, we did not have school shootings, we did not talk back to our teachers, bullying was not a school program and parents did not walk their kids to school or stand at the bus stop until it arrived.

If I had come home from school and told my father that a teacher had been mean to me or even hit me, my father would have asked what I did to deserve it.  Today, if a kid comes home and tells their parents “My teacher was unfair to me,” the parent is likely to call the school principal and request a sit-down meeting with the teacher and the principal.  The parent might even retain a lawyer to get the school to agree to be fairer to her/his little Johnnie or Jane.

Back when I was in school, after school we would go to the park or playground or some nearby field and depending on the season, play football or baseball.  We did not have our mom or dad driving us all over the state to games, tournaments and competitions with teams from other states.  We did not have parents worried that we would not have a high enough batting average to qualify for a state scholarship.  We did not have coaches telling us that we had to choose between attending practice or going to Mother’s day dinner with our mom and grandmother.

A few weeks ago, I was substitute teaching for four days in a Social Studies class.  The teacher had gone to a conference.  I was left written instructions by the regular teacher for each class but for the third period class I could come up with my own assignment.  The students in the third period were dealing with current political issues.  I winged it the first day, but I went home that night and developed an assignment that put two students together on a team to run for mayor and vice mayor of Casa Grande.   Each team of two had to develop a campaign poster and address what they would do for the city in terms of education and economics.  In addition, they had to address current political hot issues such as gay marriage, transgender bathrooms, building a border wall and a few others.  They got to choose from a slate of ten “hot” issues and they had to speak to how they would deal with these issues if they were elected.

On day three of my substitute class, a guy walked into my third period class with black jeans and a black t-shirt marked security.  He started going through my desk (borrowed of course from the regular teacher).  I asked him what he was looking for.  He said he wanted to see my lesson plans.  I showed him the plans and he asked who said I could teach this unit?  I told him the regular teacher had given me permission to develop my own lesson plan.  He then said “You can’t do that.  You are not the regular teacher.”  I politely asked him what he objected to and he said “Some of these topics are inappropriate.  A parent had called up to complain and we have a big problem on our hands.”  I said I would be happy to remove any subjects or topics that he disliked but I noted that most of them were from a “contemporary” issues folder that was on the regular teacher’s desk.  He said that did not matter since I was not the regular teacher. He struck out six of the ten issues and told me to replace them with some less controversial issues.

A few hours later, the head of the Social Studies department came in while I was having lunch and wanted to know what the heck was going on.  The regular teacher (at conference) was getting phone calls from parents and was confused and upset.  I explained my lesson plan again and discussed the changes made after my meeting with Security.  Somewhat satisfied the department head left, but not before telling me that my plans to have students vote for the winning teams could not take place as I had described to the students.  I had told the class that I was going to give the first-place team ten dollars and the second-place team five dollars.  The department head said this could disqualify any potential athletes from a scholarship.  I should find another award.  I suggested a box of chocolates and was told that this could be dangerous since some students were allergic to peanuts.  He left the issue with me.  After school, I discussed it with the principal’s administrative assistant, and we agreed to some gift certificates to McDonalds.  I purchased a ten dollar and five-dollar certificate on my way home from the school.  Later after my wife Karen heard the story, she remarked that these certificates could still be thought of as an in-kind contribution.  I was not moved by her concern.  😊

The students were perplexed at the changes which I described as due to political necessity, but they enjoyed the McDonald’s gift certificates.  The following week I visited the regular classroom teacher to find out what had happened.  She was somewhat confused.  She replied that no one had called her and that she had not received any calls from parents.  She said she had not heard a word from anyone until she arrived back at the school.  She did not understand what all the fuss was about, but she had received good reports from the students in regard to my classroom management and would be happy to have me sub for her again.

I don’t harp on or much believe in the “good old days.”  The good old days in the USA were not so good for Blacks, Asians, Latinos, Women, Disabled, Immigrants, Gays and others.  Perhaps if you were White, there was such a thing as the good old days.  However, I also do not believe that progress is always a straight line forward.  Some of the things I experienced as a child (sadly to me) seem to be lost to the current generation of children.  I think these things had value.  I am not sure why these things were lost or how we can ever find them again.  For me, there is a tragedy in the loss.  Maybe this generation will not miss what they never had or maybe values have changed so that what I might have thought was wonderful would be scorned today.  I guess I will never know the answer to this question:  Are kids better off today then they were yesterday?

“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.” 
― Malala Yousafzai, I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban

3647 – Tuesday, May 7, 2019 – Youth versus Age! Who Wins and Who Loses?

I woke up this morning thinking about the difference between youth and old age.  It seems to me that youth is a time of getting.  A time of gaining things.  We get a career.  We get friends.  We get a spouse.  We get children.  We get a family.  We get money.  We get health.  We get trophies and awards.  We get toys.  We get a home.  Old age is just the opposite.  It is a time of losing.  It is a time of giving.

In old age, we lose our favorite restaurants and eating places.  We lose our favorite beaches as they put another new development up.  We lose our toys as we can no longer balance our bicycles, motorcycles, skis, or whatever.  We don’t dare do the jumps or twists or turns that we were so fond of when we were young.

We lose our careers.  We give up work that for many years defined and provided meaning to our lives. We lose our friends.  We lose our family.  We lose our moms, and pops, and sisters and brothers.  Sometimes, we even lose our children.

We lose our health.  We lose our teeth, our eyesight, our hair, our hearing.  We lose our stamina, our flexibility, our dexterity, our balance, our knees, our hips.  We lose our homes as we can no longer walk up the stairs or clean the kitchen.  We lose our money as it goes to the doctors, the assisted living center, the nursing home, the hospital and then the funeral home.

Everything that we were given when we were young will eventually be taken as we get older.  Perhaps the hardest part of getting old is the letting go of things that we thought had value.  Old age will teach us lessons about value.  It will clarify for many of us what really has value versus what we thought had value.  For some, this realization may come too late.  If youth can be full of hope, old age can be full of regrets.

Old age can sap our spirit.  They say growing old is not for the faint of heart.  I had a cousin that killed himself by hanging.  Another cousin that shot himself.  One of my best friends killed himself three years ago on a sunny Indian summer Sunday morning.  Even the great Thomas Jefferson mused that he had lived longer than he should have and mourned the passing of so many friends:

“one of the misfortunes of living too long is the loss of all one’s early friends and affections. when I review the ground over which I have passed since my youth, I see it strewed like a field of battle with the bodies of deceased friends. I stand like a solitary tree in a field, it’s trunk indeed erect, but its limbs fallen off, and its neighboring plants eradicated from around it.”  — From a letter of Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Brown.

Some of my friends have laughed at the idea that I have only 3647 days to live.  They point out my good health and remark that I am being too skeptical.  However, I often see obituaries that are full of people of seemingly good health who die in their forties, fifties and sixties of natural causes or cause unknown.  Why should I live past the lifetime designated by those experts who compile actuarial tables?  If the odds makers place 40 to 1 on a horse winning, I would be a fool to take less odds unless I knew something that they did not.  I certainly do not know the manner of my death or the time of my death; both of which provide an interesting question for a parlor game.  How many of us would really like to know the exact time and manner of our death?

Tomorrow and tomorrow will bring us each one day closer to death or will it be immortality?

“Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.  Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.” — Ecclesiastes

 

 

3648 – Monday, May 6, 2019 – The End of Traditional Religions, Sad!

I am not a very religious person.  Some would say the same but say that they are spiritual.  Frankly, I don’t think I qualify for that epithet either.  Particularly since I don’t know what being spiritual means.  I don’t believe in ghosts, angels, gods, demons, fairies, gremlins, goblins, devils or any kind of enlightened or unenlightened presence in the universe.  I am not sure I even believe in the universe.  I see stars and a sun out there but perhaps it is a conspiracy by right-wing nut cases to make us think there is a universe out there.  Maybe they are projections from some giant movie camera maintained to keep us working and striving and fighting so that we can get to that great nirvana in the sky called Heaven.   I think many may go to the other place which we might call an anti-nirvana or Hell.

Anyway, enough of the two-bit philosophy.  I was going to comment on going to church with my spouse yesterday.  Despite all my negativity, pessimism, cynicism and disbelief she still believes in Jesus, God and to a lesser degree Lutheranism.  I refrain from bringing up some dirt on Luther less in the interest of marital harmony and more in respect for Karen’s beliefs.  She does not tell me that I am full of shit and that my beliefs are idiotic, and I do the same for her beliefs.  Yesterday was one of those days when I accompanied her to church.  Perhaps every few months, I will go to church with her.  Sermons can be very uplifting, and I think one can always learn from hearing someone talk about morality and ethics and whatever else a particular church pastor might have to say.

Karen goes to Pilgrim Lutheran Church and was actually baptized there.  When we moved to Frederic in 2010 (A city founded by Karen’s ancestors among several other families), Karen was excited about being able to attend this church.  We found an older congregation which was very welcoming.  At the time, there was a woman pastor.  She left a few years later and was replaced by a Pastor who supported Bernie Sanders.  He was there several years and left for greener pastures.  They are again being ministered by an older retired pastor who will be a stand-in until they get a new “energized” younger pastor.  Sadly, knowing how long it takes for a church to do a “calling” and knowing the average age of this church population, I might be the only one left to greet the new pastor. 😊

That is my main point.  Statistics all over the US show that church participation and membership in traditional religions is declining.  Young people are either going to hip mega-churches or not going to church at all.  Lutherans, Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Catholics, and Episcopalians are all seeing declines in their memberships.  The number of vacant churches in the USA is staggering.

But statistics are one thing.  It is another thing when you grew up going to church and suddenly you notice that at 72 you might be the youngest member of the congregation.  It does not take a genius to realize that in twenty or so years, the church will be empty (baring some divine intervention or miracle) which to me seems highly unlikely.

Even to my heathen soul, I feel a sadness at the evident change happening.  Just like the decline in family farms, a way of life is becoming obsolete.  I don’t know what will replace the community that is often so evident in these churches.  I have been warmly greeted in Baptist churches, African Episcopal Methodist churches, Baha’i temples and many other places of worship.  While I may not belong to a particular denomination or go to any one church regularly, I still shed a tear in watching a way of life that I grew up with pass into memory.

“I love you when you bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church. For you and I are sons of one religion, and it is the spirit.” —  Khalil Gibran

3649 – Sunday, May 5, 2019 – When Friendships End!

Over the past sixty or so years, friends and friendships have been a puzzle for me.  I have often wondered what happened to many of my once close and sometimes best friends.  There was: Johnny the Communist, Tommie the Evangelical, Steve the Orthodox Jew, Dick the Inscrutable, Greg the Contrarian, Linda the “I haven’t a thing to say to you.”  There was my ex-wife who said, “We don’t have anything in common anymore.”

There were many who I fell out with over McCarthy versus Kennedy and Bernie Sanders versus Hillary.  These I can understand.  It is the ones like Linda (whom I have not a clue what I said or did to her that caused her to decide to stop talking to me) that keep me awake at night.  My ex-wife is also a puzzle since for about 15 or more years after we were divorced we remained friends.  She even came to my second marriage ceremony with Karen along with her brother and sister.  Then inexplicably we have “nothing in common anymore” and I have not heard from her since.

I won’t lie and say it does not matter.  It matters a great deal to me, although I am not sure if it is because I cannot figure out why these friendships ended or because I still care about each of these former and once friends.  I am reminded of the refrain from the famous New Year’s song Auld Lang Syne by Robert Burns, “Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?”  I often wish I could simply forget them and not bring them to mind.  However, that is easier said than done.  These lost friends weigh on my thoughts and conscience too frequently disrupting my sought after tranquility.

The loss of a friend is a very profound chapter in one’s life.  It is not like “losing” something.  You cannot just go to the “lost and found” and retrieve it.  Often, I suspect “lost” friendships can never be retrieved.  Furthermore, you might grieve over something you lost but you will soon get over it.  With lost friendships, you never really get over the grief.  Lost friendships are accompanied by pain, hurt, disappointment, sadness, worry and especially guilt and self-recriminations.  “Was it something I said or did?”  “How was I responsible?”

Even lost loves do not compare to a lost friendship.  With a lost love, it is probably clear who or what was the agent responsible for the breakup.  It is also usually clear, who is leaving whom, since one person typically initiates the breakup.  Breakups of friendships are not as cut and dried.  They may happen over many weeks, months or years as you drift further and further apart.  And as with my ex-friend Linda, I have not a clue as to what I said or did that led to our recent estrangement.  Even my ex-wife told me why she did not want to see me anymore, albeit a very strange explanation for a sixteen-year marriage and a fifteen-year friendship.

Well, time to get on with the day.  I am going to accompany Karen to her Lutheran ancestors’ church today.  A church where Karen was also baptized.  After church we are going to a Swedish Brunch in West Sweden (Where else?) at Grace Lutheran church (A few miles from Karen’s church).  For a “free will donation” they will have the following goodies:

  • Swedish pancakes
  • Swedish meatballs
  • Egg bake
  • Potato sausage
  • Fruit cup
  • Swedish breads

I don’t think that Italians have anything to compare to egg bake and Swedish pancakes, but Swedish meatballs cannot compare to my Grandmother’s Italian meatballs and potato sausage tastes like someone left the good Italian sausage out of the casing.  Oh, I should not forget Lefse.  Karen’s favorite bread in the whole world, which on first taste I once compared to buttered newspaper.  Lefse and even lutefisk have since grown on me and I look forward to a lutefisk dinner now and then.  Mostly then.

That’s all for now folks:

“If you live to be 100, I hope I live to be 100 minus 1 day, so I never have to live without you.”
– Winnie the Pooh

 

3650 – Saturday, May 4, 2019 – Reflections on My Last Ten Years on Earth.

The title of this blog reflects the number of days that actuarial tables give me to live.  I am now 72 years of age, and when I check the charts for someone with my physical condition and prior health history, they say I can reasonable expect to live another ten years or so.  Since there are 365 days in most years, I figure that gives me 3650 days to spend doing whatever I want.  I love to read and write.  I have over 600 blogs on this site dealing with a wide variety of topics.  My blogs deal with many different themes.  I have written some fictional stories, some inspirational stories and a fair amount of what I would call social and political commentary or satire.

As we all age, we hope to leave some type of legacy for the world to remember us by.  With some people, it is their children and grandchildren.  Other people leave a treasure of money or a vast exotic collection that will inspire future generations.  Many people paint, sing, compose, write or perform.  Very few people will deny that there is some part of them that wants to be remembered for something.  A life without meaning is not a life.

An artist, writer, singer, actor or composer may have completed hundreds of books, songs or performances, but they will be lucky if they are remembered for even one.  I think of people like Theodore Sturgeon, Mary Faulkner, Victor Hugo, Jimmy Driftwood, Prince, Leonardo da Vinci, Spencer Tracy and many other great artists.  Most of us would be hard pressed to remember more than one item in the vast repertoire of these greats.  How many patents can you name that Thomas Edison had?  Probably just the light bulb!  Yet Edison is credited with 1093 patents.  Anyone remembered for even one work of creativity is beyond the norm.

Nevertheless, most of us strive to create a legacy of some sort.  It is a way to feel that our lives had some meaning and that we added some value to the world.  We don’t give up despite the odds being against us.  The vast majority of humanity will die unheralded and perhaps not even have a grave marker to note their passing.  Unfortunately, some will decide that evil is a way to be remembered and sadly they are often right.  Shakespeare said that “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”

I suffered the last few months from something that I have named “writers depression.”  I have only composed about three or four blogs in the past six months.  I do not call it writers block since I never felt blocked.  Each day I woke with several good ideas that I thought would make a fun or interesting blog.  But each time I started to sit down at my computer, I thought “what’s the point.”  Few people read my blogs.  Few make comments and after ten years of writing blogs, many of what I thought were my best endeavors were the least read of the bunch.

So today, I am starting a new effort.  I am writing my thoughts for each of the 3650 days left in my life.  Maybe these musings will be like the “Dead Sea Scrolls” and found by someone two thousand years from now.  Frankly as Rhett Butler said, “I don’t really give a dam.”  I love to write, and I am going scribble my reflections on a daily or weekly basis.  I feel no responsibility to write each day or even each week.  I simply want to create a narrative to see how I view my life as each day brings me closer to the end.  I have a lot to say, but so do we all.  By the way, this is not a memoir.  It is simply 3650 days in the life of.

 

 

 

The 3rd of Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins: Knowledge without Character.

Several years ago I became very interested in the question of “Character.”  What is character?  How do we develop character?  Are we losing character in our population and if so, why?  I found a number of books on the subject but the one that most impressed me was called “The Death of Character.”  It was published in 2001 and was written by James Davison Hunter.   The book description is as follows:

The Death of Character is a broad historical, sociological, and cultural inquiry into the moral life and moral education of young Americans based upon a huge empirical study of the children themselves. The children’s thoughts and concerns-expressed here in their own words-shed a whole new light on what we can expect from moral education. Targeting new theories of education and the prominence of psychology over moral instruction, Hunter analyzes the making of a new cultural narcissism.

One of the observations that I drew from reading this book is that as a nation, Americans have moved from a perspective of absolute values to a strong belief in relative values or flexible standards.  Wherein once people could be labeled as moral or immoral based on their behavior, today we have the concept of amorality which does not seem to have existed before the 20th century.   Some definitions might help here:

Moral:  Concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior and the goodness or badness of human character.

Immoral:  Violating moral principles; not conforming to the patterns of conduct usually accepted or established as consistent with principles of personal and social ethics.

Amoral:  Being neither moral nor immoral; specifically: lying outside the sphere to which moral judgments apply.

Character:  The aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person.

According to Hunter’s research, the American population has moved from a bipartite arrangement in which people fell between the poles of moral or immoral to a tripartite arrangement in which most people would be classified as amoral, immoral or moral.  The percentage of people in the amoral area has steadily increased while the percentage in the moral area has steadily declined since the early 1900s.

I was teaching in higher education from 1999 to 2015 and one question I  routinely asked my MBA and BA students is “What would you do if you were driving down a lonely dirt road and saw a Wells Fargo money bag lying on the side of the road?  Would you return it?”  I suspect that you would be surprised if I told you that less than 3 students in 30 say they would return it.

However, if I ask them the following question, the numbers change dramatically.  “What would you do if you noticed that upon leaving the classroom, Mary had dropped a twenty dollar bill?  You are the only one who has noticed it. Would you return it?”  The replies are unanimous in that all students say they would return it.  Students regard hurting another person that they know as wrong or immoral, but stealing from Wells Fargo is not considered immoral but is rather considered as amoral.  My own teaching experiences over the years confirm much of what Hunter says in his book.  Amorality is rampant among business students.

So we come to an important question.  Can we have an educated and intelligent population (more people getting degrees and going to school) and less morality?  What if more people are becoming amoral and we have less moral people?  What are the implications?  Well, I think the answer is clear here.  Look at corporate behavior.  You have only to read the story of Enron “The Smartest Men in the Room” to see concrete examples of intelligent behavior without a sense of morality or character.   When we look at amoral behavior in people and organizations, a primary question is how long before the amoral behavior becomes immoral and crosses the line to illegal – as it did with Enron, Worldcom, and Global Crossing.

Gandhi says this about his 3rd Social sin: 

“Our obsession with materialism tends to make us more concerned about acquiring knowledge so that we can get a better job and make more money. A lucrative career is preferred to an illustrious character. Our educational centers emphasize career-building and not character-building. Gandhi believed if one is not able to understand one’s self, how can one understand the philosophy of life. He used to tell me the story of a young man who was an outstanding student throughout his scholastic career. He scored “A’s” in every subject and strove harder and harder to maintain his grades. He became a bookworm. However, when he passed with distinction and got a lucrative job, he could not deal with people nor could he build relationships. He had no time to learn these important aspects of life. Consequently, he could not live with his wife and children nor work with his colleagues. His life ended up being a misery. All those years of study and excellent grades did not bring him happiness. Therefore, it is not true that a person who is successful in amassing wealth is necessarily happy. An education that ignores character- building is an incomplete education.”

In my book, “The New Business Values” one of my chapters was on Information.  I outlined a hierarchy of information as follows: Data>Information>Knowledge>Wisdom.   I described knowledge as a set of beliefs, facts or ideas that contained relevance to some goal, need or desire.  In my model, knowledge cannot become wisdom until it is linked to emotions and feelings for others.  I think Gandhi’s ideas of linking knowledge to character probably hits the mark more accurately.  It was my understanding that knowledge without empathy and compassion for others could never be wisdom.

The world is full of knowledge today since scientific belief has replaced religious belief.   However, science can never develop the sense of empathy and compassion as a central part of character development.  Furthermore, character development even more than knowledge, stands alone as a primary developmental need for any civilized society.  Gandhi wisely noted that we have let our passion for commerce and money outrun our passion for purpose and character.

The famous economist John Kenneth Galbraith wrote in his book Economics and the Public Purpose (1973, Houghton Mifflin) that:

“The contribution of economics to the exercise of power may be called its instrumental function… Part of this function consists in instructing several hundred thousand students each year… They are led to accept what they might otherwise criticize; critical inclinations which might be brought to bear on economic life are diverted to other and more benign fields.” 

Galbreath observed over 35 years ago that we are educating MBA students who have become mindless automatons in a corporate system without a conscience.  Having no conscience is one aspect of amoral behavior.  In today’s society and schools such behavior has become the accepted norm.  It’s the “go along” to “get along” mentality that accepts corporate decisions regardless of their impact on people, the environment or even our nation.  The “diversion” that Galbraith speaks of is easily recognized as sports and media entertainment.  Sports and news create 24/7 hours if mostly inane and benign diversions that keep the public’s mind off of character or moral development.  Indeed watching sports figures and media figures today is evidence of a “vast wasteland” in terms of character development.

So where do we go from here?  The picture appears bleak.  We now accept amorality as a legitimate position on the map of character development.  We ignore the development of true character in our schools and churches; in fact, we supplant the development of character with the requisite amorality needed to get ahead in the business world.  The values of the corporation have supplanted the values needed for a kind and compassionate civilization.  Our schools have become prisons and our prisons overflow.  The USA has some of the highest amounts of incarceration in the world.  Our courts have become three ring media circuses designed to show an endless succession of trials whose main points seem to be to titillate and entertain the masses.  Can we escape from this cycle of destruction that we have built for ourselves?

Time for Questions:

Am I too bleak?  Do you think there is more morality in society than I describe? What do you do to develop your own character?  Do you feel that there is enough emphasis on character development in our churches and schools?  What do you think can be done about it?  How do we start?

Life is just beginning.

“Compassion is the basis of morality.”  ― Arthur Schopenhauer

Where did the Drug Crisis Start?

Where did the “Drug Crisis Start?”  Since 1980 deaths from drug overdoses in the USA have steadily increased every year.  In 1999, the per capita rate of drug deaths (Based on 100,000 people) was 6.1 for all drugs while the rate of deaths from opioids was 2.9.  In 2017, the rate was 21.7 for all drugs and 14.9 percent for opioids.

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Why are so many dying from Opioids?

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This article in the Guardian states that the main reason for the increases was the epidemic created by the pharmaceutical industry in pushing drugs for pain relief for very common problems such as arthritis and back pain. 

Thus, while we arrest drug dealers, the real culprits go scott free and become billionaires on the suffering of the US population. 

Certainly there is a causal link between an aging population, increased obesity, back pain, prescription drugs and drug deaths.  But as we should have clearly seen even twenty years ago, the solution is not more PAIN Killers.”

It should have been obvious to the doctors, pharmaceutical executives, FDA and all of our political leaders.  However, truth and reality are too often forgotten when it comes to making profits.  Greed trumps all other considerations and millions of Americans have become hooked on painkillers to alleviate symptoms that can often be treated with much simpler and more effective solutions.

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