Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ugly Math

I forget where I saw an op-ed wondering if this recession might just defy any sort of stimulus, but I wonder if the stubborn recession we now see might just be one that normal actions by government cannot resolve.

There are some greater forces working in the economy that have us in this persistent trough that are unlike things we've seen before. Namely . . .

1) the aging and retiring of the baby-boomers (with all sorts of implications on savings, household income, and consumption) coupled with . . .

2) . . . the relative paucity of the following generations into the workforce. Also, there is . . .

3) . . . Americans' awakening to burdensome debts, especially with homes and college education, and finally . . .

4) . . . the profit-margin-destroying transparency the internet and e-commerce has brought to the economy.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


A few weeks ago I discussed the zen-like quality of this summer. Each day it's just me and the two kids. Until last week, it was relaxing in a way I hadn't known relaxation before.

Then came swim lessons. Who could know how that would upend the worldview of a 3-year-old. The teachers do a great job with him. The time and money is well worth it. I notice a huge change in how well Sam navigates the pool (and Caroline is benefiting too from being in the moms-and-tots class with her daddy). However, the daily routine of being separated from me for 50 minutes has been traumatic.

Which probably means this was good for him.

So, what am I learning:

a) It's good and healthy for your kids to be taught, trained, and nurtured by good people qualified to be with kids as teachers, coaches, and mentors. (Heck, that's why we love our kids' preschool so much).

b) I should never underestimate the awe with which kids look at their parents. There is such tremendous power we have in our kids' eyes. The love we possess is unlike anything else they know. Everything we do and say echoes profoundly in their lives.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Haunting Bits of Advice

Recently, I've thought a bit about the most haunting pieces of advice various folks have given me. What you see below is a listing of wisdom shared by people I know that comes to mind whenever I'm about to violate the lesson they shared.

"You get one flip." - My wife (she meant it in reference to pancakes, but there's broader applicability)

"Every year you delay your graduate work means another year of money you will never see." - Barry Arner, a mentor

"You can run your car all you want without gasoline, but you daresn't run it without oil." - My grandfather (I chuckle at the wisdom)

"Don't send a boy to do a man's job." - My grandmother (Smith), usually invoked in the midst of card playing

"Money goes on the big pile." - My grandmother (Johnson)

"Paint doesn't cover up flaws, it just reveals them." - Gary Buck, a good friend

"Why would someone buy the cow when they're getting the milk for free?" - someone I know and love who wouldn't want to have this quote attached to him

"You either have time or money, never both." - Mary Koster, a good friend

"Sometimes I feel like anything in life I want costs either $50 or $5,000." - Doug Koster, another good friend

"A profession isn't about guarantees. It's about making a certain outcome more likely." - Jackie Fife, a mentor

"Every hour of sleep you get before midnight is twice as good as any hour you get after." - Dad

Sure sign of a bad piece of music: key change. - Dr. Grotto (director from college - it's a paraphrase, not a quote)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Education and Entitlement

An interesting op-ed in today's Washington Post caught my attention. In it, E.J. Dionne wrote about the crisis facing present-day American higher education. He was mostly pointing to problems of cost that are hampering Americans' opportunities to achieve all they can. You can read it on the Post's website.

He shared an anecdote at the beginning, however, that prompted me to think in a direction than I think Dionne intended. He talked of how the young Sonia Sotomayor studied with her brother and mother together in their cramped Brooklyn apartment, ostensibly invoking how her mother's example guided the young Supreme Court Justice-to-be.

Good example.

But it highlights an attitude that has largely left Americans' mentality concerning education. As a child in the 1950s, when K-12 education was in its first generation of normalcy for American children, there was more of an emphasis on children seizing opportunities available in education. Not all parents pushed their kids to achieve, for sure. Yet compared to today, there was considerably greater emphasis from home about seizing opportunities.

Today, the mentality I see most commonly toward school is one of entitlement. Parents, kids, the community think in terms of what the school owes their children. And certainly we owe those kids a lot. But there is little emphasis on what kids' stake is in determining what they get from school. Parents want absences to be excused without consequence, kids want teachers who will be "cool" and laid back rather than ones who insist on work. In the academic (versus honors and AP) sections there is an attitude that teachers need to arrange the path of least resistance for their kids to earn their diplomas.

Parents, the courts, legislation, a culture that emphasizes leisure and comfort over rewarding hard work all contribute to the ennui. As for colleges' steeply rising price tags, waves of parents and prospective students insisting on the best facilities (apartments, not dorm rooms; new science labs, not good labs in older buildings) have driven tuition and fees up. The approach with which too many parents and students take toward schooling is a strange mix of passive and activist. But missing from that mix is the notion that hard work is necessary for but not in and of itself sufficient for true success. That was something the mother of the current Supreme Court Justice nominee (and many, many of her contemporaries) grasped.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A different place

I don't know if I've ever been as relaxed as I find myself now, on July 15. I quickly de-toxed from a very difficult school year, gained the perspective on how to learn from and build on it. I've spent nearly every day at home with my kids, playing, tending to a garden, going swimming, and just being a parent. I've never had the opportunity to slow down this greatly.

I try to follow the news, really I do, but I don't find myself getting as angst-ridden as I did last summer. Not that I'm happy about what's going on in Washington and Harrisburg, but more resigned than enraged.

I try to move on working toward some schoolwork but can only get as far as working out ideas in my head. I just cannot get serious about academic matters.

I haven't tried to read any non-fiction, but I'm actually committed to reading some mediocre historical fiction. Oh, of course I'm keeping up with The Economist and The Week.

More than ever, I see the wisdom of becoming a Social Studies teacher.