Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Why Do We Scrutinize Parents?

"Oh, you must be a parent from the generation that lets their kids ride the subway alone?"  This is, of course, a reference to Lenore Skenazy, an advocate of free range parenting.  I responded "No, but I am of the generation that lets her kids stand at a bus stop while I am 30 feet away looking to see if the bus is coming."  It was probably more like 50 feet, but I was completely in eye shot of them.  We were at Elmwood and Virginia where there is quite a curve in Elmwood Avenue and you can't see even the previous stop.  I suspect there was a bit more to it.  We had just finished watching the pride parade and she was one of two people I saw with a Bible.  We had just come from church ourselves, but as Episcopalians we embrace gays.  We are reading the Bible cover to cover right now, but we wouldn't bring it to the pride parade.  The people who do tend to be sort of protesting.  They completely miss that Jesus is for everyone, particularly the marginalized.  I imagine she disapproved of taking the kids to the parade.  Regardless, she felt totally comfortable providing me with her opinion on my parenting.  She even seemed to want me to thank her and praise her for being concerned.

She isn't the only one.  A couple of weeks ago, we were riding the bus and a person was having a very loud cell phone conversation.  First, he was discussing his need to lose weight in some detail with the other person.  He did appear to be about 350 pounds which I would ordinarily consider none of my business.  He then went on to talk about a boy on the bus in pink sandals and purple sunglasses and how his mother wouldn't sit with him and that some people don't know how to parent.  This was at the same volume as the weight loss discussion.  Clearly, this was about Thomas and I, who was sitting next to Carmella at the time (often we get on and it is full enough we each sit separately) once two seats together became available.  I couldn't help it, when we were about to get off the bus, I said "Now that we all know all about your weight loss situation, I hope it goes as well as my parenting!"  He claimed he didn't know what I was talking about.

Are you seeing a theme?  The same day as the pride parade, I was having a discussion with a few others about the issues facing the school district.  These are very good, smart, and well intentioned people, some of the best I know.  We all agreed on the level of complexity and regulation of the modern education system.  I said that I thought ending compulsory schooling and turning the money used over to the parents is the best thing.  They could either homeschool or put their child in an unregulated school that met their needs.  These very good people told me that parents would just pocket the money and not teach their kids and that child labor would result.  Aside from the idea that I would argue school is child labor, why do we assume parents would not want what is best for their children?  The funny thing is that, of anyone, I have probably lost the most faith in our culture.  I just finished reading, and loved The Twilight of American Culture.  When instances occur where I don't believe parents want what is best, I can get comfortable that it is OK for them to be susceptible to their own parent's foibles in preparing their children.  While we hope for good parents all the time and want them to be just like us, except for the most extreme situations, our intervention the natural parent-child relationship is inappropriate.  On the other hand, if we are going to trump parental rights with compulsory schooling, there should be no room for any result other than better than what the parent would have done.  You can see that most school districts, particularly troubled ones, are not doing a better job than parents who homeschool or even others if they tried.  Therefore, compulsory schooling is inappropriate.  When you examine it in the context of natural rights rather than what is recently customary, it is easier to come to a conclusion that is not the conventional.

The theme seems to me that we are suspicious of any parenting choice other than the one we would make.  We criticize and then pat ourselves on the back for being concerned.  Amazingly, institutions, like homework, are completely unchecked.  Yes, there is debate about the volume sometimes, but not a full examination.  "It's worth asking not only whether there are good reasons to support the nearly universal practice of assigning homework, by why that practice is so often taken for granted - even by the vast numbers of parents and teachers who are troubled by its impact on children.  The mystery deepens in light of the fact that widespread assumptions about the benefits of homework...aren't substantiated by the available evidence."  (Kohn, Alfie, The Homework Myth , page 3)  Of course, there is little to no criticism of homework, but watch the dirty looks I get for reprimanding one of my kids for forgetting their bus pass.  It is OK to teach responsibility artificially with homework, but not something real like keeping track of a bus pass.  Am I guilty too?  Sort of and yes.  Noticing such inconsistencies, I am probably way more critical in my own mind (or quietly to friends) than most people, but I rarely say anything to specific parents.  On the other hand, our very different lifestyle is a total indictment of other parents.  Clearly I have chosen differently because I think the mainstream is wrong.  No wishy washy "Homeschool isn't for everyone" nicey nice statements from me.

Why is there so much inconsistency as well as scrutiny of parents in our culture?  I think it goes back to school.  In school we are trained to be susceptible to praise as well as punishment (Alfie Kohn talks about this too and including its zapping of the desire to learn).  I think we are looking for praise.  We want to be the hero that called CPS when we saw the kids walking alone down the street to the park.  We secretly hope we have saved them from some abusive of neglectful parent so those around us or even the media will tell us how wonderful we are, the same way we were told, in school, how wonderful we were for having all the homework.  We want to hold our heads up as the good people and get recognized for it as if "A+"s and gold stars were for grown-ups too.  Essentially, our way of schooling has created this narcissistic sort of scrutiny. 

How to deal with it?  I am not sure except try to have clever responses lined up to call people out on it.  What do you think?

Friday, June 5, 2015

Fight for 15 in Buffalo: Wage Board Show My Kids Democracy Works!

As you recall, we attended the Fight for 15 rally a view weeks ago.  Today we attended the a public hearing of the Wage Board and then sat through almost the entire hearing.

The goal is to get fast food workers up to $15 and hour.  We came to show support for the workers for many reasons.  Selfishly, it is unlikely security guards can continue to make very low wages if fast food workers get a sizable raise.  We are fortunate to have other sources of income including rising rent in our upstairs apartment (thank you Mayor Brown for helping Buffalo's major comeback) so we also feel that rising wages means even more rent and better tenants since more people will be able to be good tenants.  These are the selfish reasons.  We also feel it is a justice issue and want to demonstrate to our children through these real struggles what capitalism and democracy is (or often isn't about).

First off, I am proud of our own local leaders for showing support.  Our state Senator Tim Kennedy attended the kick off.  Sorry he is in between the head and sign in the middle of the photo because I couldn't get a good picture from where I was.
 Our Assembly person Sean Ryan was also there (in the suit speaking):
Of course, Mayor Brown is on the Board:
I was very impressed with his questions, and those of the other members, of the speakers.  It gave us great hope that the actions of the workers will be successful.

I am also very proud to be an Episcopalian.  At the last event our Rev. Mebane from St. Paul's Cathedral attended.  This time Mother Brauza from St. Andrews attended as well as a priest from Rochester.

When the kids and I spoke afterwards, I started into some detail about the supporting information presented by some of the community groups and academics, but it occurred to me that the lesson is even more basic.  Most of the people who spoke were workers or supporters!  Two people spoke from the business community, one person from Washington and one from the Buffalo Niagara Partnership (a regional chamber of commerce sort of group).  The only other person representing business was a small business owner from Rochester who was not opposed to higher wages, but wanted a slower phase in and some acknowledgement that higher prices would result.  Based on his tone when describing how competitive the industry is, I got the feeling that he understood that part of the reason running a restaurant is hard is because of big corporations and didn't seem to be entirely blaming workers.  I felt for him because big corporations cause him issues too, but in a different way.  Outside of these three people, EVERYONE else who spoke were the workers themselves or supportive groups from labor, the community, the clergy, or academia.  This is 3 people versus a vast number.  If business is going to suffer dramatically, why didn't they turn out?

The lesson regarding capitalism and democracy for my kids, therefore, is very simple: the interests of the many versus the few.  Will the majority rule?  It should in terms of the basics of democracy.  It should morally, as paying workers fairly and letting the chips fall is justice.  It is also justice that the public should not be subsidizing corporations by providing Medicaid and Foodstamps to workers who work hard, but still are in poverty.  Economically, it only makes sense as the most compelling evidence is that workers will drive the economy by spending their increase.  This isn't to mention the indirect affects of less stress on the health of the workers and education of their children.  It was mentioned that in Denmark fast food workers earn almost $20 and hour and the prices average only 10 to 15 cents more on items.  It is unlikely that it will affect fast food demand and to the minor extent that it does, health in the community should increase (I think demand will actually go up as the workers will be able to afford eating out more).

Mayor Brown and the Wage Board, I am impressed with your work so far, but I am now challenging you to show my kids, Thomas and Carmella, that democracy in our country is a reality.  Show them that the majority rules not the big money.  Show them that those in power care about justice as much as they do.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Fight for 15 in Buffalo: A Real Lesson in Economics and Social Justice

This morning we went to a Fight for 15 labor rally. Despite the dirty looks from onlookers (not those participating) and whispering that it was no place for kids, we brought the kids because it we want them to understand the real economic power structure. Before the financial crisis, many were lulled into the belief that there is economic justice simply because there appeared to be a path to a better life through education. Recently, it appears to be debunked. With failing schools, the high cost of college, student loans that can't be discharged in even the most dire circumstances and the fact that many people with degrees are working in low wage jobs, it is harder and harder to believe in fairness and the American Dream. (I am sorry for the picture, but with my fibro bad, I had trouble being steady enough to take one of the kids walking.  The only good one was Tom holding the sign.)

The rally was very educational. First off, several religious leaders, including St. Paul's Cathedral's Rev. Mebane, spoke about what the Bible says regarding workers. None of it was a surprise to me, but it doesn't jive with our media's constant portrayal that religious people are and should be aligned with those who make a big deal of supporting the “free market”.  No one in the media mentions that corporations are the beneficiaries of regulation. Even the ones that don't benefit from many regulations benefit from the limited liability corporate law affords them. What about property rights? Don't they confer certain advantages? Yes, many people own property, but anyone who plays monopoly knows that it is easier to acquire more cash and property if you already have more. Hunter-gathers were the original state of things and any property ownership means the exclusion of some from the land and all the related benefits. The Bible takes these fairness issues into account and makes a point of dictating how and when workers should be paid.

Other speakers juxtaposed the volume of profits against the amounts the state has had to spend on the workers who, via their low income, are often eligible for Medicaid, Food Stamps, and HEAP despite working full-time. Who is really being subsidized, the workers or the companies who have a substantial amount of the compensation of their workers covered by the government. Is this fair to companies that pay a living wage without needing their workers to access the social safety net? Often these are smaller corporations, medium size businesses whose workers are more skilled. Why should the largest corporations benefit and not small and medium sized companies?

There were indirect lessons too. Many of the workers talked about not being able to afford a car. To me cars are luxury items, but they are necessities if workers are released from work so late that there is no bus, a more affordable alternative. Walking in the daytime is not a big deal, but in the middle of the night, many workers say they are afraid. Ironically, for the rally today, there were many police officers watching us. About half were chatting and acting like they were only there just in case, but the rest appeared to be watching us with displeasure in almost an intimidating way. Where are all these police officers in the middle of the night when people need to walk home from work?! It was a good opportunity to talk to Thomas and Carmella about the power structures. Do the wealthy corporations directly send the police the day of the rally? Of course not, but aren't the laws and police procedures slanted in their favor and against the gatherings of peaceful people. Why are their procedures and practices to assume there will be violence or damage? Is it inherently understood that there is real unfairness and the expectation is that workers will level the playing field through any means? There are no absolute answers here, but certainly the rally was a great real world occasion for us to explore these issues.

What is the alternative to taking the kids to such a rally? Economics class that covers micro issues and history textbooks blessed by the state of Texas that glorify everything about our country as if it were ordained by the divine. I went to excellent catholic schools that did a great job of covering some social justice issues such as drugs and prisons, but never comprehensively covered the economic system from all angles (I mean ALL angles rather than capitalism versus capitalism on steroids). In my adult life, I have spent some time seeking out alternative voices in economics and education. I highly recommend listening to online lectures by Richard Wolff, Noam Chomsky, Michael Parenti, Morris Berman, John TaylorGatto, Alfie Kohn, and John Holt. Although one difficulty is that often those most likely to fight for living wages, think highly of compulsory education. Few people see the tie in to the origins of schooling and the desire of such by the large corporate interests to create good employees and get people used to doing what they are told.  This likely includes susceptibility to advertising. They also had to quash the independent spirit of small farmers and business who, may not have had much, but had livelihoods free from the the constraints of employment. Now, living independent of large corporations via self-employment or consumption is extremely difficult due to the pricing out of smaller businesses. One example: my great-aunt felt like she had to buy her microwave at Walmart because it was the only place she could get a good price. I suspect it was the only place she could afford.

Anyway, the benefits of homeschooling are these opportunities to explore alternative views and take on a different worldview from limited one promulgated by the corporate media and the school system.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Give Me Half of What Buffalo Public Schools Spends Per Student

I came across a news story about a controversial tax credit proposed in NYS so that some students could choose to go to private schools.  The concern is that private school tuition cited in the article is getting to be approximately $8,500.  With Buffalo schools spending over $22,000 per student.  This sounds like a bargain and perhaps a fair way for lower income students to attend elite schools.  Teachers unions don't like it, of course.  I don't either because it discriminates against homeschoolers.

If I can provide an education as good as a private school, shouldn't I get a credit?  I say if the governor is concerned about children learning, then fund any means by which children learn.  It will never happen because it isn't about learning as much as it is about a system that benefits large corporations.  They need obedient employees who are used to doing what they are told similar to what children are expected to do all day in school.  They also want the benefit of two parents in the workforce to bid down the wages.  Several of the online lectures by Richard Wolff explain that part of the reason wages are so low now is that women entered the workforce in such large numbers.  More supply of workers means businesses can pay less for their labor.  It is the straight up supply/demand dynamic in economics.  I am not against women's equality of course, but he explains that while some women sought careers, many went to work because the family needed more money. Only about thirty years ago some in our society looked down on women working outside the home.  Now, our society looks down on stay at home parents, particularly mothers, as being lazy.  It is time to provide incentives to reverse this.  Any incentive to have either parent home giving children high quality, one on one care would benefit society more than any of these programs.

One on one education is one area.  If low class size is desirable, homeschool is it.  What about the healthcare system?  Isn't everyone concerned about obesity?  Allow for one of the parents to have time to make home cooked meals and this one is improved.  What about peer pressure to do drugs?  Take children out of school and impressing their peers will be unimportant.  Rather, the values of the parents will be more influential.  This would hurt big corporations, of course, because if their student doesn't need to impress his/her friends with their brand name clothes, they will not spend as much on clothing.  Advertising depends on peer pressure.  What about poverty?  Allowing poor parents to earn money teaching their children one on one is a great idea.  Please don't tell me that poor parents are not capable.  Most parents can teach their children to read and use the library.  No, they are not bad people, most parents want to do right by their children as long as they are not stressed about making ends meet.  What about the environment?  Take away the need for kids and both parents to leave the house every day and fossil fuel use goes down.  The exact amount would be difficult to determine, because there will be errands and fieldtrips, but surely it won't be every day reducing emissions somewhat.  Oops, the oil companies will suffer.

Governor, I hope you are listening to me and really concerned about education.  If you are, I think you know that discriminating against homeschoolers in your tax credit proposal is unfair.  My guess is that you will ignore this, but I challenge you to at least respond.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Why Do We Distrust Teenagers?

Earlier this week, when I was trying to get our midday family meal ready (yes - one of the luxuries of homeschooling and a Dad with odd work hours), I was listening to NPR and heard this story:

With Pressure To Succeed, High School Suicides Rise

It was about teen suicide and the rising level depression and anxiety among teenagers.  I was mesmerized by what was considered as the possible solutions.  The causes, of course, were lack of parental connection, hyper competition and expectations and such, all of which were discussed in a way that I imagine means simply tweaking the status quo.  If parents offer their students a snack before asking about the math test, for example, it will stave off depression.  One caller suggested throwing out homework, but it was dismissed along the lines of tweaking it to make it more meaningful.  Apparently, the experts never read the  The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn.

One valuable thing mentioned was making real free time more available to teens so their entire lives are not school, activities and homework, but don't forget the culture of our society is wary of teens with too much time on their hands.  Often news stories imply that when teens are left to their own devices, they will resort to drugs, sex, and even crime.  Isn't it why we push for afterschool activities to be available.    Perhaps some of the anxiety teens experience is that they feel this profound distrust in the way we go out of our way to structure and regulate their lives.

Why is it off the table to propose completely revamping the teenage years?  Being told exactly what to do 6-7 hours a day is demeaning.  Studies show adults have more job satisfaction with higher degrees of control.  Teenagers are biologically adults even though our educational and economic systems necessitate that we tell them they aren't mature enough for real responsibility.  How bad would it be for them to be homeschooled where they would take on a challenging real life project or work part-time and read the great books?  How bad would it be if we let them explore the world more freely to find their own path?  It would certainly be better than all the students who rush through college lost about what to study and what career to pursue.

I think that the anxiety stems from the feeling that they have little control over their lives while having to work harder than adults often times.  At least adults have some, albeit sometimes minimal, choice about what job to have.  School plus activities plus homework is often more hours than their parents work and they have no choice in the school hours or the homework.  Working hard enough to become independent is not an option for them in our system, at least not at their ages.  They are probably also anxious when they see their twenty something counterparts struggling to become independent.  And why is independence so important?  Families used to live multigenerationally where it was expected that adults take on a fair amount of responsibilities often in their teens, but not necessarily that they achieve independence.  Independence, nowadays, is resource intensive.  Housing costs are high, planning is around cars, and internet access is almost mandatory.  This doesn't even cover the peer pressure to have more than the basics.  By the way, isn't school the best place to learn what happens when you don't fit in?  Your life is often miserable.

I have already mentioned work volume, but what about bonds in other aspects of life?  They can fall in love, but can't get married (or move in - after all it is OK for their parents to engage in cohabitation).  Their parents can have a beer after a stressful day, but it would be illegal for a teen.  Parents can vote when something in the society upsets them, such as it is given the money in politics, but teens can only write their representatives with no real leverage.  Parents can transport themselves where they want to go, teens must ask for a ride.  Parents can have friends over in the middle of the night if they want, teens can't. The laws support these restrictions too with curfews and limits on the number of teens in a car with a teen driver.

This is the quagmire - we have affirmed that teens are biological adults because their work volume is so high, but they get none of the choices in their lives as if they are children.  They have adult responsibilities, but few of the privileges.   Why is no one talking about the stress related to this which we have amplified with the hyper-competitive high stakes going on in school today?

What is scary is that we are too far down the road on controlling teens.  I can't imagine the media beginning to advocate for more free time for teens let alone real freedom.  We also don't offer them much at the end of all this extra homework and high stakes testing.  You would think after working that hard, we would have a living wage job available afterwards so that they don't need to put off the rest of their lives.  We don't anymore.  College is almost mandatory.  It comes with crippling student loans and no guarantee of a living wage.  In fact 40% of unemployed are millennials.  Many more are in low wage jobs even with college degrees.  They feel that they must put off starting families as a result.  Is it any wonder why teens are anxious or depressed? 

This is the just the general problem, of course.  Teens can have specific problems too.  What about health problems? Broken homes?  Specific problems fitting in? Bad breakups?  Poverty (21% of school children are in poverty)?  I can see where more teens are anxious and depressed.

Getting back to my original point, is distrust of teens a sort of sacred cow in American society?  I can't prove it but I think it may have replaced or be code for some of the distrust we continue to have regarding minorities.  Why is it so out of the main stream to consider managing the teen years differently?  Why do I only hear it discussed in homeschool circles if at all?  How many teens will need to kill themselves or report anxiety/depression to be able to have a conversation?

Monday, April 27, 2015

A Modest Counter-Proposal to Public Boarding Schools in Buffalo

This recent news article caught my attention regarding possible public boarding schools coming to Buffalo.  I have a better proposal which would include some infrastructure projects perfect for getting construction workers back to work from the housing crisis!

Clearly, boarding school is being proposed to maximize learning time for students, but the high recurring price tag as well as the increased liability exposure makes it seem unfeasible to me.  But how can they become productive citizens if they are not in a productive environment at all times? What about holding parents accountable too?  Wouldn't a boarding school let them off the hook?  The answer is to make their current environments superior learning environments.  School hours should be extended too from the 6-7 hours it currently is to 10-12 hours not counting school bus time.

Lengthening the school day isn't enough, of course.  Instructional time in school should be tightened up also.  While lunches have been cut down to a minimum, physical education has succumbed to budget cuts, and recess has been reduced, much more can be done so that every minute of the school day is productive.  Obviously, recess has to go completely.  Lunch should be made over into stadium seating with a small table for each chair so students can watch a lecture whether live or on-screen.  This time should be cut from the now twenty minutes down to eight minutes as such time will obviously be less productive than class time due to not being able to also take notes or write exams while eating.  Don't forget that a small hand sanitizer dispenser will be at each place to avoid the time spent washing hands before lunch.

The change in the structure of the auditorium for this new lunch shouldn't be the end of the construction, buses will be outfitted differently too.  Transportation time is a waste currently since students can't listen to the teacher or complete exams.  Bus seating shall be converted to cubicles.  The cubicles should be ergonomically laid out to make work productive including a comfortable harness seat so that students can be strapped in well but with their arms free to take notes on a video lecture and read textbooks.  The rest of their bodies shall not be permitted to move so as to avoid injuries in accidents or distractions to other students.  This additional learning time on the bus, approximately 17 otherwise wasted minutes, is so critical that parents will not be permitted to opt out to transport their own child (this will give an environmental boost too getting all those pesky SUVs off the road during rush hour).  For students who cannot handle reading and writing while in motion, bus aides will provide fast acting nausea medication upon entry onto the bus.  Presumably the district will be able to leverage a volume discount from the drug companies.

I wouldn't stop the make over with lunch and transportation, but bathroom time can be made over too.  Urinals will need to be removed from schools so that all students will use stalls.  In the stalls, there will be desks so they can bring their study books with them and a screen so that they don't miss a word of what their teacher is saying.  This will work fine until it comes time to wipe, so I propose toilet/bidet combinations where students will be cleaned with a high intensity disinfecting jet and power dried in the same manner as the intense hand dryers.  Since no wiping of dirty crotches/rears will occur, hand washing will not be necessary and students can very quickly return to class. 

What about after school?  Isn't the home learning environment lacking?  Shouldn't the time between school and bed time be productive?   The time should be filled with homework and the sorts of activities upon which colleges look favorably.  What about the time required for cooking, grooming, or chores?  Students will no long be permitted to do these things as they detract from productive homework time.  They can learn nothing from cooking except how to be a low wage restaurant worker, so parents shall cook for their students so they do not leave the school books.  Students will not need to do much cleaning as they will have no time to make a mess and parents will do the remainder.  Grooming will be a hybrid effort only because it would be expensive to waterproof school books and have parents bathe their children while they do homework.  The infrastructure project will provide funding so that household bathrooms with school age children will have the school style toilet stalls as well as waterproof audio visual equipment so that even shower time may be productive listening to a prerecorded lecture available online from the teacher.  Other than shower time, students will not groom but do homework and parents will comb their hair, brush their teeth, etc.  You ask if this will work when the students are teenagers and I say that they are children until age 18 so Mom (and Dad) can still groom them.  Despite the fact that students are at school the majority of their waking hours, parents are ultimately responsible for their children's learning and can be accountable for these tasks.

I hope parents and taxpayers agree that this is in the best interest of the district fiscally.  A boarding school would expand yearly general fund expenses into the future while an infrastructure project approach would provide new long term assets for the dollars spent which can be financed at the very favorable rates available nowadays to local governmental entities.  The amounts spent on debt service can be offset by new fines on parents.  Since parents will need to do their part as described above, they will be fined when students perform poorly on tests.  Parents will care when it hits them in the pocketbook.  When they can't pay, the debt should accrue in the same manner as student loans with no opportunity for discharge in bankruptcy.  Good parents can take comfort in knowing that bad parents are burdened by more of the cost.  I hope you see that this very meritocratic and long-term investment approach is far better than boarding schools!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Hollywood's "Left Wing" Agenda (spoiler if you are going to see Night at the Museum 3)

I am terribly fascinated by all the hype that the there is a left bias in Hollywood and the main stream media.  Perhaps, I have spent too much time reading Manufacturing Consent, but it seems to me that there is a corporate agenda at work which is more right than left.

We almost never go to the movies, choosing more often to watch older movies and shows (particularly British mystery shows as they are more cerebral and less sensational) once they have gotten to some of the streaming services, but some extended family members wanted to go.  It had been so long that I had forgotten why I don't like going, but then the full ten minutes of commercials happened.  They were loud and very conformist in the sense that they encouraged you to go to more movies presumably so you would be able to talk about them with your friends and fit in.  They also seemed over the top in terms of the shock and action value presumably so you think you deserve more excitement than your boring life and strive to consume more.

After the ten minutes, it was safe right?  Not exactly.  I love that the security guard main character has such a magical life.  To me it is synonymous with the rich inner life of security guards I know fueled by the freedom often to read on the job and discuss important topics with peers  (they need to be watchful, but aren't busy the way many jobs are).  Even with the extraordinary magic and the responsibility that went with it, the writers told us his life was less than par because he didn't have a job requiring college.  There was the whole conflict with the son over college as well as the awful ending where his next step was to get a degree and become a teacher.  Do the writers know how many degreed, in-debt and unemployed teachers there are in Buffalo that end up working as aides or nannies if they are lucky.

The message is clear and multifaceted.  You are only worth something if you have the capacity to consume at high levels.  You aren't a real human adult without a degree is another message even though it often comes with high debt loads and doesn't guarantee a better job.  It is permitted nowadays and expected to look down on those in certain kinds of professions despite the major structural problems with the huge disparity of wealth in the U.S.  One's whole value is determined in one's ability to please those that hire people.  This wouldn't be unfair if all those that worked hard received just income and opportunity as occurred more often fifty or sixty years ago.  The message is you can control what happens to you and that the system is fair and that it is one's own fault if you don't make it.  Don't question the corporate system, it is fair!!!

My husband's job as a security guard allows him much freedom in terms of how his mental time is occupied and the low levels of stress allow him to concentrate on our family life more fully as well as managing our home which is partially a business as it includes a rental unit.  Still, there are people in our lives that look down on us for our simple life despite its necessity for my health and its better situation for our kids.  These same people speak highly of others who have high level fancy careers despite, in some cases, having situations that are fundamentally complicated by the need for more income to consume more.  How come no one looks down on the two high earners with their kids in daycare or with a nanny?  Once you have one high earner, is it fair to the kids to leave them most of the day to chase more money even if one "loves" their job or can "do more" for them.  I am not sure I, myself, think it is wrong, but it is irritating that fewer people question it than the number of people who look down on security guards (or wait staff, or cashiers, or you get the idea).

I wish people would understand that the rich people are laughing all the way to the bank and that it isn't the poor people who are to blame.  The more people away from home in the workforce the more wages get bid down.  It is supply and demand.  Since there is only so much paid work out there, few people question the morality of working when you don't need to just to be socially acceptable, rather news and movies have convinced most of us that it is those poor people who aren't working hard enough are the problem rather than look up and see how much has been hoarded outside our reach.  It is incredibly stupid when the bottom 90% of us families only have 25% of the wealth.  Hollywood is telling us to better ourselves to compete like heck for that 25% and not to look up at the top 10% percent of people.  We don't have to try communism, there are many mechanisms that can force our form of capitalism to reward hard work with more resources without giving some people so many that the rest of the people worry about the basics.

I am not sure I am going to go to another movie theater for a while.  I just don't need Hollywood to tell me our lives aren't good enough!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Not in Buffalo: Looking Globalization in the Face

After our great experience last year with my friend in a different part of Guatemala, we decided to go to Antigua to explore more Mayan culture and, of course, some Spanish colonial history.  Aside from the rich educational experience, our second reason for the trip was affordability.  Try going to a vacation spot in the U.S. for the same amount for the same amount of time.  I haven't done too much research, but it seems impossible.  As it is, we can afford a vacation due to being carless.

With my fibromyalgia, my regular days are several hours to get through the stiffness to get going, taking care of my fibro by swimming and stretching, cooking lunch and dinner together so I only need to cook once and simply microwave dinner plates in the evening, take the kids to activities on the bus, and hit the couch immediately upon coming home.  When I go to the bathroom, I move a load of laundry, but most often rely on Tom and the kids to put it away.  I rely on Tom and the kids to clean outside of the kitchen and cooking related tasks.  That is my life most days.  It is fine for me, but leaves little energy for other things including writing these posts.

Of course, in Guatemala, the cleaning comes with the place and it costs very little to pay the person to cook a meal (lunch and dinner together :o) like at home).  This frees up my energy for more posts and more educational site-seeing.  While it is still slow travel, doing only one or two activities a day most days, I can manage them much better.

However, when discussing this recently a relative sort of sneered, particularly when I mentioned that I knew several people who were able to be home with their kids with house help when they were small and they could stretch their various small but remote incomes (some online work, some child support, some investment income) in cheaper countries like Guatemala.  The person who sneered, along with many other Americans, shops at Walmart (they are all pretty bad, but Walmart is the worst given its level of profits) and many other large stores who take advantage of even cheaper overseas labor than house help in Guatemala.  No one in the United States can escape it.  Even L.L.Bean makes items overseas (although at least they take responsibility for their products more than other stores).  Most Americans are taking advantage of cheap labor, mostly because there isn't a choice.  Globalization cannot be fought on the individual level.  I have researched trying to and it can be done on small fronts, but not large.  The people with the power, who control the government, need to address it.

Regardless, the hypocrisy is infuriating.  When you hire house help, you can make a point to pay the higher end of the wage range for the area and position. You can be generally aware of the prices they need to pay for items for themselves. You can make sure they eat some of the meals they make for you.  You can be flexible about their work hours to take care of family commitments.  You can recommend them for further positions if they like.  You get the idea.  When you shop in the U.S. for items, most of which are made overseas, you have no idea how the people are treated and because you don't see them you don't even have to think about them or about globalization.

Hopefully, my kids will think about it and understand it as they progress through their lives.  They are experiencing differences in prices and wealth first hand in Guatemala.  They look our part-time housekeeper in the face and and have to face it in a more real way.  I am not sure most adults have such a perspective on globalization and our economic system.  Schools certainly don't teach it well.  This is mainly because they don't teach economics well.  Noam Chomsky frequently says "Adam Smith who you are supposed to worship, but not read".  Schools have spun the economic message far away from the classical texts.  I can't help but think this is on purpose.  While I love teachers and they are very knowledgeable, few have a grasp of macroeconomics.  It doesn't appear to be taught in teaching colleges.  When it is covered it is covered in a separate course rather than holistically interwoven throughout history.  History is kept separate focusing on names, places, and dates.  Even in a college macroeconomic course, more emphasis is on mathematical models than broad conceptual differences which, sometimes, can't be quantified easily.

Only time will tell if the concepts are sinking in with the kids, but I would like to think that living it for a month will give them a perspective.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Daytime Curfew? In Buffalo?


I found out this from my Council person:

  Thank you for expressing your concerns, I agree there are a number of issues that would need to be worked out for this to go forward. The daytime curfew ordinance is still in discussion phase and there will be a public meeting next Monday, March 9 from 6pm-8pm at the Edward Saunders Community Center at 2777 Bailey Avenue to discuss the ordinance. I encourage you to attend to express your concerns and hear from other residents.

This morning there I came across the news story:

Officials discuss merits of daytime curfew

I am very troubled by this.  First of all, I have immediate concerns that when I am out and about with my kids, 7 and 8, that I will be required to produce my IHIP compliance letters showing that it is OK that they are not in school because they are homeschooled.  This reminds me of headlines out of Arizona some time ago that people could be stopped and asked to produce proof of citizenship. I am sure if I lived there, I would always be in some kind of trouble since I routinely walk out of the house with only house keys and a bus pass. Ironically, in Arizona, their homeschool laws are among the most free of all the states.  Regardless, I can't help but think that Buffalo should not consider any measures that would remind someone of the proof of citizenship sorts of requirements in Arizona.  It isn't who we are.  A daytime curfew is a terrible idea.  There may be an exception for kids who are with parents (possibly assuming they are on the way to a doctor's appointment or something), but what about homeschooled teenagers who are out in the world learning rather than being cooped up in school?  Will they be harassed by the police on their way to a class at a museum or work at a family business?  I talk to a great many interesting and seemingly responsible teenagers on the bus all the time going to activities or their parents' work.

The other thing that is troubling is the message we are giving to students.  At every turn our society tells teenagers they are not to be trusted.  Perhaps that is why some mistrust adults and don't feel like they need to go to school if enrolled in school (obviously being homeschooled is better in my view).  They know that they are being told what to do and what to think rather than beginning to take on real responsibility.  There are already night curfews.  It isn't great to be out after dark for anyone, but there is a special ordinance for teenagers essentially criminalizing them for more items than corresponding adults.  Once they reach adulthood we tell them they are still can't be trusted to have beer until they are 21.  Then we wonder why our teenagers are a problem.  I can't help but think we are scapegoating them for the problems in society knowing that we can only restrict adult behavior so much.  Sometimes, it even seems that the restrictions have replaced those formerly placed on minorities before civil rights and other measures.  Perhaps we allow the questioning of teenagers during certain hours to indirectly permit the questioning of minority individuals in the process.  African Americans age so well, I am not sure I can tell the difference at times between a 16 year old black teenage or a 19 year old black man.  Won't the police approach the 19 year old too?  Don't forget that most of the city is minority.  I hope people will see the curfew for what it may become.

Am I the only one troubled by this?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Not in Buffalo: How many times can I say "no, gracias"?

When we spent any amount of time in central park in Antigua, Guatemala, I continuously needed to say "no, gracias" to the very numerous products and services being offered.  Americans are not used to being approached and often are either offended or nervous.  I felt bad saying no so often, of course.  Many of the items were total bargains, like necklaces or beautiful pieces of fabric for a dollar, but when you don't need something, you don't need it.

The experience made the family think, however.  We don't have commercial tv in the living room and no cable, so most ads we see are limited to online and billboards.  We have escaped the repetitious constant attempt to get us to want things we don't need.  Corporations get away with repeating messages with little effort or personal contact creating a sort of one-sided cultural dialogue.  In Antigua, where there are relatively few big box establishments and certainly not the large suburban type with big parking lots.  Small businesses and private individuals on the street rely on personal contact and expect some haggling over price.  This makes most Americans uncomfortable, but isn't it more authentic?  Isn't it more of a free market?

Anyone who wants to sell must have the guts to approach you and ask you to buy.  In return, of course, you should give an answer, even if it is almost always, "no, gracias".  There are also the businesses that can't exist in our corporate controlled environment.  We saw someone selling cigarettes one at a time, not much different than the odd person buying one off someone at a bus stop at home, but certainly, the regulations are set up to prevent an individual from carrying out such as a business in a more ongoing manner in the United States.

I am sure we haven't thought about the implications of all the differences, but clearly our trip has prompted more and more thinking about economics and marketing.  I think most Americans, and other relatively affluent Westerners, would benefit from embracing such travel experience rather than succumbing to fear.