Monday, April 27, 2015

A Modest Education Proposal

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?

Update:

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.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Not in Buffalo: Skip the Book and Go to the Volcano

There have been a couple of other posts about our month in Antigua, Guatemala.  Here I would like to highlight our visit to an active volcano, Pacaya.  When we went there was no flowing lava only gas and heat.  There had been lava only about a year before, so we could see the black hardening lava and step into areas where we could feel the geothermal heat radiating from the magma still hot under the hardening top layer.  You could also see clearly the way it flowed from the crater to the pool of lava.  If this isn't the best way to cover volcanoes, geothermal heat, and even igneous rocks, I don't know the best way!

This seemed like our one opportunity.  First off, we were near it and it was active.  Secondly, this one was only a 2 kilometer hike after a 4 kilometer car ride up.  I, and others with health problems, could do the hike either by hiring a horse or by hiring a private guide for the day so that we could take as many breaks as necessary to make the hike.  Very little of it was treacherous, most of it was just a walk at an incline.  Still, if you are out of shape or have health issues, I recommend a private guide at the very least, if not the horse.  Obviously, this is more expensive, but for us it was the difference between being able to have the kids experience the volcano or not.  Here are some highlights:



The best part of melting marshmallows in hot spots in the hardening lava area and making smores:





Thursday, February 12, 2015

Not in Buffalo: Getting Hands-on with Traditional Weaving

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.

For a hands-on activity, the kids wanted to take a weaving class.  They took one last year, but wanted another.  This one was a little different because they made a smaller item, but followed the whole process start to finish helping the teachers place the threads on the looms before they got to take over the weaving.  The class was at a cool bar Tintos Y Arte .  We were tempted to have beer and wine while they did the class, but we were pretty full from breakfast.  Instead we watched the kids and took advantage of two hours of uninterrupted adult conversation.

The teachers were great and super patient with the kids.  I will let the photos tell you the rest:





Thursday, February 5, 2015

Not in Buffalo: I think we've covered the Mayans!

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.  After loads of church ruins and museums, we decided that we better hit some major Mayan ruins in case we are unable to come back to Guatemala.  Most people think of Tikal.  We thought about going there, but Copan is quite a significant site and closer to Antigua, not to mention being able to visit Honduras.

It was a great experience.  I will post many photos at the bottom of this post because I think it speaks louder than my descriptions.  First of all, there is nothing like being in a place like an Antigua for a month.  To me, this is the minimum amount of time needed to pretend to live in a place and get a real feel and familiarity for it as well as see the sites slow and steady without wearing out.  Secondly, it was fascinating traveling to Copan, only 5 hours away, but different.  The tipicas comidas were similar sorts of foods, beans, corn tortillas, queso, avocado, but they were prepared and tasted different than their Guatemalan counterparts.  Also, the weather was more humid, including an hour and a half of rain in the evening, something rarely seen in the dry season of the popular parts of Guatemala.  The border crossing experience was quite interesting too.  Despite the agreement between Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, you need to formally leave one country before entering another.  This is quite different than going to Canada from Buffalo, where you don't talk to any immigration officials until you are on the other side talking to a Canadian official.

We kept telling the kids how lucky they were to see all of it firsthand rather than simply reading about Mayans in a library book, or worse, a textbook.  Hopefully, they understand that most kids don't get to go to Copan or any other site.  For some it is money (outside of airfare, there are cheap ways to travel central america like a backpacker, also expensive luxury accommodations with many options in between) or time, but for others it is fear.  Regardless, nothing beats this most authentic way to cover the Mayans so well and to get a sense of native peoples generally.

Many things were interesting, but see for yourself:












Thursday, January 22, 2015

Public Transportation Curriculum

When we are out and about late afternoon, it is difficult to fight the sinking feeling when I see the all too familiar yellow buses.  A little bit of the feeling is the resource intensiveness of the super security to go a short distance versus the relatively low economic resource levels of children in our city.  More of it, however, is the knowledge that those children, as well as those in the bubbles of their parents' vehicles, are missing the tremendous number of educational opportunities on the NFTA buses and metro rail.  Indeed, all cities with relatively significant public transportation systems have unique systems and environments for learning.

Some of it is what you expect, geography and timing, but much more of it is character and socialization.  Kids in cars have no real responsibility for their own transportation.  They can't because they can't drive.  Besides putting their seat belt on without being asked and not distracting mom and dad, there's nothing.  Students on yellow buses can make sure to be at the stop on time and behave, but nothing else.  My kids have to carry their own bus passes, get them out at the right time, not lose them, make sure they scan, pull for the stop at the right time, etc.  These are not tremendously difficult things to do, but they need to do the same things adults do in order to ride.  They get real responsibilities sooner.

There are many rewarding social encounters.  Often, someone sees us and alerts me to a good place to take kids or some event for them nearby that I hadn't heard about.  Sometimes they witness kind adults and teenagers giving up their front seats for elderly or disabled people.  This is something they are starting to do.  One time, my son chatted with a man who was impressed with a story he told and encouraged him to write a book.

There are also social encounters that just don't happen in other environments since there are so few other opportunities to be in close quarters with strangers.  Many are great learning opportunities.  We witnessed two men heckling a woman over her hat one day and the incident had many components including: how to behave in public, freedom of religious expression, the lack of correlation between religious beliefs and proper behavior sometimes, as well as the idea that sometimes even the truth need not be stated.  We discussed these things the best we could given their complexity and their current ages.  Another time, we met someone on the bus who clearly had a hard life and was facing several hardships.  The kids kept pointing out several ways she and I were similar.  When I talked to them later, I tried to make them understand that often the only difference between someone who is doing okay and someone facing hardships are a few wrong turns, some of which may be outside of their control.  I hope they are learning empathy and compassion.

The more of these encounters and experiences we have, the more I believe that the decline of public transportation is one of many reasons that individualism and materialism seem to be so high in our culture.  There is no longer a sense that we are all more similar than than we are different or that we are all in it together.  It is easier to see others as "other" or even less than human when you don't have to get close to them.  People can more easily be in bubbles: in cars driving from their homogenous town past those "other" kinds of people in those "other" neighborhoods.

Hopefully, I am countering some of this bubble culture with my kids.  Only time will tell if riding around on the bus is the answer to responsibility and character building.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Do you ever get tempted to send the kids to school?

I am embarrassed to say that every year (sometimes more often) I consider school for the kids.  It isn't because I think they are missing something.  We have been at homeschooling long enough that it is obvious that they are doing just as well academically as school kids.  They experience all kinds of things that are just not available when cooped up all day.  I have great answers for those that contradict me about not sending them to school.  Intellectually, it is very clear that homeschooling is best, at least for us.

However, my frustration level skyrockets at times when I spend the whole day begging for them to do chores or the few traditional school items that we require.  My kids are great out of the house and will do whatever is asked by instructors at activities or church or helping other parents when we visit.  But at home, it seems that they don't feel compelled to do what is expected.  This is, of course, a better situation than good behavior at home and poor behavior outside the home, but it is exhausting!  At times, I get to the point of threatening school.  I am sure many of you are mortified by such a threat, but it just seems that they often aren't grateful for the freedom.  We ask ourselves if we should send them for a while so they understand?  For a few weeks, months, maybe a year?  Would they be grateful after?  I went to good schools, but when you include transportation and homework, it was 35-40 hours a week with no control over my time.

Am I the only one who feels this way?  Is this even tougher with a school-at-home style?  We are unschoolers, but with the added extra structure that, once old enough, they have to write about what they do for learning.  Is this better or worse across ages or styles?  Is compliance just better from kids that have tried school?   These are all things we think about constantly.