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.

1 comment:

FionnchĂș said...

After the turmoil of the election, and stoked as it seems the media must keep us watching (that Petraeus scandal sure had all four of its main protagonists vanish from on-camera comments it seems a day after it broke, pending book deals) now our nation fall off "a fiscal cliff" seeing the Mayans miscalculated and forgot leap years in their chronological metric turnover--it's wise to return our seasonal attention to compassion.

Not a word I use enough, but given I posted myself on FB a pdf about Tibet and the 60-plus years of "misrule" by the Chinese we coddle, I reflected earlier today about the mismatch of what the media--and we--focus on. This week in Belfast, the proposal to diminish the number of days the Union Jack flies over City Hall has sparked protests galore, while the Israeli assaults on Hamas in Gaza (whatever can be argued pro-con about "disproportion" three years after Operation Cast Lead is followed by the evocatively titled "Pillar of Cloud") got enormous press. Judging from my FB friends, 99% of them were pro-Palestinian, and the one who was not, gun-toting Missourian if not bitter clinger to religion though he may be, was the only one to de-friend people that I came across for antisemitic posts. It was sobering to be reminded of how anti-Zionism and anti-Israeli stoke a wider, older, far from discredited hatred, cloaked or not.

In such debates, I wonder if it's better to chime in or stay mum. For the milder Belfast fracas, this parody from "The Shining" has been popular, mocking the "scary woman" who yelled "No Surrender" caught on video. Of course, the Irish like to laugh in graveyard style at any passing mob/ parade/ cortege. For the trickier Middle East, I had posted an article like this on Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish (not the one I did, but related) to play off the pro-Hamas tirades in a way that may be more subtle, but I doubt if anyone noticed unless they read such coverage carefully.

Not sure if such efforts make a difference, but granted the ease of this medium to use, it appears the default one that our newish century for now has deployed for change in wired form. As that "holiday season" continues, the combination of close-up personal action for good and reminders of faraway situations meriting campaigns for peace and not conflict appear timelier than ever. I hope our kids inherit (and do their part to ease) this concern, as undoubtedly outbreaks in areas unknown to us will occur, as well as the reliable Levantine-Irish hotspots. Same as it ever was/is? Shabbat shalom/ chag sameach. xxx me.