Friday, December 7, 2012

We All Do Better When We All Do Better

Without kids to micromanage and playing the Hebraic persuasion card to avoid Christmas excess and hubbub I find, for once, a dearth of personal problems to moan about. So, instead, although the insightful and pessimistic Himself will undoubtedly find my observations simplistic and Pollyanna-ish, I'll tell you what's wrong with the world. First of all, I don't wake up in a cold sweat worrying about the national deficit. We take on huge debt when we purchase a home but if we if we manage our money wisely and keep the property in decent condition this is inevitably a good investment. Often the equity homeowners have in a property help their kids purchase their own homes. We shouldn't be so terrified about investing in our children and their children.

Having faith in future generations' ability to manage the debt they inherit does not mean at all that we shouldn't aspire to bust up the oligarchy and make sure that the super rich pay their fair share of taxes. It's time to figure out an end to the political Catch 22 that makes it impossible for any candidate to prevail without big bucks from groups or individuals buying largesse for their own special interests. There was a modest proposition on the California ballot two years ago that outlined experimental public funding for a small number of state elections. Big business made sure this didn't pass. But a smattering of grass roots campaigns have been successful even though the causes were not friendly to monied special interests. If a clear explanation of why publicly funded elections would be preferable and how they would work was widely disseminated I imagine that most voters would see the light. Particularly if the public was reminded that over 2 billion dollars were spent by the Obama and Romney campaigns.

I'm not sure how one would go about organizing a grassroots organizing campaign to promote compassion. I was saddened but also fascinated that a ballot initiative to abolish capital punishment in California did not pass. The initiative was of course underfunded and the one TV spot they were able to pony up for was the testimony of a former death row inmate who'd been exonerated by virtue of DNA evidence. I saw the spot and knew immediately that a simple graphic stating only that the death penalty costs California 184 million dollars a year would have been much more effective.

Romney was caught off the record attributing his loss to ne'er-do-wells trying to protect their free stuff. It is remarkable how much disdain many of our wealthy have for the less fortunate. Most western European countries have pretty much eliminated poverty and yet the rich are still rich (enough). We awoke and discovered that manufacturing has dried up in the U.S. Our educational system has declined and even if it were properly funded there is no real clear vision as to what we should be actually educating people to do. Even with Obamacare, health services, particularly mental heath, will be limited not only because of exorbitant costs but also a shortage of providers. Approximately 53% of recent college graduates are underemployed or unemployed yet there are kids failing in schools, people sleeping in the streets and thousands languishing in prisons. Technology indeed has eliminated many jobs but we've done little to redirect our workforce towards work that augments technology and requires compassion and creativity.

Spud's school is unable to afford a language instructor so he has to take Spanish independently from an online program offered by Brigham Young University. It is terrible and while he might be able to eke out the course credits he needs, he will never be comfortable speaking a word of Spanish. Technology creates wonderful possibilities for education but research on how it can be used effectively is pathetically underfunded. Teacher training hasn't really kept pace with technological advances and the integration of computers into the classroom does not necessarily correlate with better instruction.

We don't need our kids at home in the summer to harvest our crops. We live decades longer then the denizens of the 18th century yet we still ascribe to their educational model. Teachers are viewed by many as coddled babysitters. Why does high school have to arbitrarily end at age 18? Why are those who are failed by our traditional system and seek remediation at adult school programs deemed less worthy of having a subsidized education than younger kids?

Human resources are being shamefully squandered. It's time to rethink what education should mean in the 21st century. How do we build a workforce that is proficient in the specific people skills that elude technology? How can we envision educational priorities that actually support making people's lives better instead of making things? Romney isn't the only American who writes off the struggling as lacking in character. No one sets out to fail but we conflate success with wealth and define values as that in which we personally believe. The educated among us scrape and claw and adroitly work the system on behalf of our own children. Is it any wonder that the children of less sophisticated parents, stuck in an archaic labyrinth simply give up? We take the lazy way out when we presuppose a lack of character. When there actually is a lack of character we need the courage and compassion to take that on too. We have the resources. We just need to allocate better and keep in mind that there are deficits a lot more scary than monetary.

I'm one of those moms who worked the system on behalf of my own kids. I feel shame when I admit that this was inevitably at the expense of others. I would have done nothing differently but atone with tiny contributions towards a future when there is enough to go around. My older son loves college and I believe he will use what he learns there to do well in the world. Spuds too seems to be panning out in the mensch department. He will likely attend Bard College which is pretty hoity toity and has a mile long list of illustrious faculty and alums. Himself and I got a little squirmy in this rarefied atmosphere of the parents session until the provost addressed the school's commitment to social responsibility. “We are,” she explained, “a private institution dedicated to the public good.” It seemed then to be a better fit.

Wishing you all some quality time with those you love and also out in the world during this season when we remember miracles.