Wednesday, January 28, 2015

I Think We Could Fix This

Professor J,

The definition of maturity from your previous post has me concerned indeed. Though mostly about myself by those standards. ;)

I liked the link that you posted about how to fix college. It would certainly be a start. It would be even more effective if we implemented my idea for overhauling education (covered in some post in the archives I couldn't locate). You may recall it would be a combination of classroom instruction mainly in the form of advice and steering, self teaching, and community projects. My vision is two days of home study, which I think is important because students need to understand that an education is actually something that they provide themselves. Any teacher, system. or curriculum can only offer it.

Two more days would be spent in a classroom setting with teachers acting more as guides and mentors than just information dispensers (picture a Pez dispenser with Ben Stein's head). Fridays would be spent out in the community working on a project similar to what Boy Scouts are required to do to attain the rank of Eagle Scout. This would also be a community day for teachers. I'd want to see this implemented in middle school so that by the time a child graduated high school they would have 5 or 6 problems in their community that they have solved. If helplessness can be learned then helpfulness can too. We know that volunteers are more likely to vote and be informed. They are more likely to take action when they see things that need to be addressed. Imagine what could happen if that was part of the system.

Or we could just scrap our entire system and invite some Finns over to tell us how it can (and I suspect, should) be done.

As you know, my own son is off having an adventure (and volunteering) and this week was the first time he'd called home and been really sick. But he was still going out on his "hitch." We discussed how he could treat himself and when it might be wise to see a doctor. Knowing how to take care of yourself when you're sick (or how to prevent illness) is an important life skill.

Remember the woman who was labeled America's Worst Mom a few years ago for giving her son a twenty dollar bill and a map and telling him to get home on his own? She has her own show, Free Range Kids, now teaching helicopter parents to let go. It'll be interesting to see how that goes.  In our case Mr. Snarky has an over protective sister instead which is charming to watch. When he informed us that he'd seen a rattlesnake her reply was "I knew that would happen. I'm FedExing him a snakebite kit immediately." Because of course no one in Arizona would think to have a snakebite kit. 

So clearly our boys need more help in some areas and a lot less in others. Many times they just need instruction and then freedom. And again the desperate need is time. Time. And more time. Unscheduled. Time to pursue things they really care about instead of being managed to the point of exhaustion. Parents who know how to just kind of be around without thinking that every moment needs to be put on the agenda or qualify as quality time.

Maybe we should actually start with a school for parents.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Let's Not Make Them Swamp Things

Good Madame M:

It used to be disturbing that so many teens and twenty-somethings did not respond when addressed (“good morning,” “how’s it going?”  “great weather eh?”), but now it’s actually the exception when one does.  Not a particularly good sign for community. 

Maturity is defined by psychologists and social researchers as: 1) desire and ability to assume greater responsibility; 2) ability and willingness to delay gratification; 3) ability to sufficiently channel and control emotions, especially when confronted with adversity, whether relationship, professional, economic, or social interaction; 4) ability to encounter information and reasonably choose the likeliest course for desired result (and seeking counsel or wisdom beforehand is a turbo sign of maturity); 5) ability to focus, be dependable, and keep long-term commitments; 6) secure enough in identity that neither flattery nor criticism excessively alter identity;  and 7) the desire to connect with others and realize that others are necessary to have a satisfactory life and satisfactory social structure (and gratitude is another boost to maturity).

Of course, well-intentioned hovering parents have often contributed to the delayed maturity.  So has, according to some researchers, cannabis use.

I agree with you whole-heartedly on the shameful state of higher education student support in this country.   By the way, here’s a wild idea to fix much of that problem:  A Crazy Idea to Fix College <>

And your last two paragraphs of your post: absolute gold.  We sometimes forget that our collective decisions, not just our individual or family ones, have fomented the fetid, diseased, vast swamp we expect our young adults to somehow make it through and thrive. 

Once we have corrected other things,perhaps we should give thought to deglamorizing alcohol, as many of the Europeans have.  When it is no longer so “forbidden,” perhaps it will bring with it more maturity toward it.  Camille Paglia, in the May 19, 2014 issue of TIME, makes a strong argument for bringing the drinking age, at least for beer and perhaps wine, back down to 18. 

Of course, if the culture keeps treating young males like disposable deviants, a bad problem is only going to get worse.  While we can seem to devote no focus toward civilizational problems, we are diverted by a plethora of less critical matters.  For instance, the silliness of affirmative consent.  In attempting to address a real problem—violence against and demeaning of women—we not only craft wonky, unworkable “solutions,” but we spend so much focus on them that the truly urgent and civilization-threatening crises go unattended to.

There is a need to reglue community and transform a manipulative culture.  But  put-upon young males get the barely disguised message: “Most of you can’t be trusted.” 

Oh yes, THAT will bring about the desired good effects! Grrr.  Sometimes the lack of vision, discernment, and thinking through to second and third order results is maddening.  We sure as heck need to get a whole lot wiser!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Let's Hear it for the Boys

Professor J,

As the mother of a young man, and fortunately one who is willing to discuss his struggles with finding his place in the world, I do have some things to add. You stand amazed, I'm sure.

First, I think it's interesting that we look at information and often think we know what it means. When we export our American way of life to other countries for instance, they gain weight and their health declines. Same holds true when they come here and assimilate. One could wrongly deduce that television watching makes people fat, when what has really happened is that a diet high in sugar and carbs was introduced around the same time. Isn't it interesting that when we discuss obesity that reading, also a sedentary activity, is never blamed? Perhaps it's because it's hard to hold a book and turn the pages  while stuffing your face with chips and salsa. I know. I've tried. I own some pretty messy books. ;)

So I'm not sure that the information gathered and the causes are necessarily so easily paired up.

You didn't really say who is defining "delayed maturity" or what standard you are using for the term. I'm going to guess you are talking about young men who aren't completing an education and/or finding work and/or starting families(or all of those things) as early as previous generations. I think that there are many connected and intersecting reasons for that. When Junior's parents and grandparents were in their early twenties a high school diploma meant something. Junior could get a job with it. If he wanted a college education he could get a job, rent a dumpy apartment, and pay his tuition himself if mom and pop couldn't afford to help him.

So I'm going to blame the cost of education for much of what we see. I know some very bright and ambitious young men who have had to delay classes to go to work and begin to pay on their student loans before they can afford to continue.

Social awkwardness I'll agree with you on. We no longer send young boys to dance class or teach them manners in those corny videos from the 50s which were shown at school. At home no one is having a family dinner so how is he supposed to learn to behave in a civilized way? At least a boy in the 50s could go to the movies and see Cary Grant show him how it's done. Today's films are hardly useful for teaching civilized behavior, let alone manners. Charm has given way to crassness and I'm not sure that is even correctable in any kind of mass way.

Reduced testosterone and video games? I'll take your word for it.  Both connected to the poor physical fitness too.

As far as delaying marriage goes, my understanding is that they've learned something from watching their parents' marriages, divorces, and remarriages. They are trying to avoid the mistakes their fathers made. Here I have a direct quote from my son: I want to wait until I know I can be a really good husband to a wife and father to some kids. (I love how hypothetical he makes it all sound.) He's interested in it and in our discussions he has some pretty solid ideas about how and when he wants to do it. He's being cautious and what married person could chide him for that? My advice is take all the time you need.

Unfortunately, there's a lot of ammunition for the the culture making fun. Kind of like when Christians get upset because so much fun is made at our expense. Then I look around and think, "Oh...I get that and not only do I get it, I have no defense for most of it." I can personally try to defy those stereotypes however.

One last thing: An enormous difference between recent generations and previous ones is choice. The amount of choices. The amount of choices you are aware of. It's exhausting. Up until this point in history you were going to do what your father did. Okay if you were really a radical, you might not be a blacksmith but open a shop instead. Or farm. But all the choices were things you'd seen in your village or town. Same goes for eligible girls to marry. You went to school or church with them. You picked from what was available. Now the entire world is available!  

Now everyone informs you that you can be anything. Anything? The course catalog for college is intimidating. There are entire fields of study you don't even know exist until you start flipping through that thing. At both my kids' graduations this year I found things that made me say "That's a real thing?"  and  "You can get a masters in that?"

While I see your point and understand why it's concerning, frankly, I'm impressed any young person can get out of bed in the morning. They need so much more support than they are getting. They need so much less testing and sitting and so much more getting outside and moving around. They need a government that cares that they are educated without crushing debt that will stay with then forever even if they file bankruptcy. They need some practical advice from adults and mentors who care about them. They need some real and healthy challenges, something besides penciling in a bubble. They need to know that they can make a difference even if they are never famous billionaires.

They probably also really need someone to tell them it's okay to be scared. Because you never get over that part.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Missing: Young Males


I have the same sickness.  Then when I finish a whole bunch all at once, it makes people think I’m a fast reader when just the opposite is the case. :)

We had an overemphasis on elites during the Revolutionary period.  It explains much about the capsule items. 

Treated self to some needed comedy relief last night:  “The Wedding Ringer.”  It was funny and entertaining, even farcical.  While its premise is undoubtedly overblown, like many things, it holds at its core a kernel of truth—that fewer of us, and especially fewer young males, have close friends.  In fact, researchers tell us, the reduction in close friends for the general population is by at least a third, let alone the drop for young males. 

Young Western males, and young American males in particular, seem on average to not be heading in a preferred direction.  For example, the percentage of young females disappointed with close age male prospects appear to be rising, according to social researchers.  While this might be of some deflective benefit to older males, sociologically it’s not a good trend.  While we can all think of numerous exceptions to the trend, exceptions only illustrate trends, they do not circumvent them. 

Many factors seem to be involved.  Among them, for a great number of males:
1.     Delayed maturity.  For many reasons, some of them interfacing, the average attainment age of male mental and emotional maturity as measured by social researchers continues to go up.  It’s far more than the proverbial “male living in his parents’ basement playing video games” image (albeit, which is true enough in a great number of cases).
2.     Social awkwardness.  Far more than the traditional shyness of many males, the disconnectedness of American society has contributed to social inexperience in a sort of downward spiral.
3.     Reduced testosterone (act less masculine; less drive to connect with females,etc.).  The decline in American male testosterone has been well documented.   The second and third order effects have not.
4.     Video games.  The number of young males who say they would rather play video games than attempt to socialize with females has risen sharply.  This is so even as the number of female gamers has risen significantly.  Even older males have become Neil Postman’s examples:  “Up until 5 playing.” “Up until 7 playing, and had to be at work at 8.”
5.     Diminished economic prospects.  The poor economy for aspiring middle class males, let alone working class males, helps to contribute to both diminished self-assessment by the males, and diminished interest by the females.  That college graduates have been particularly hard hit has only accentuated the problem.  The real prospects, and especially the exciting ones, have gone away for far too many young men.
6.     Poorer physical fitness.  It tends to magnify the other trends, contributing to reduced attraction, poorer self image, diminished energy, etc.
7.     Diminished attraction of, and diminished prospects for, marriage.  In 2007, for example, only 40% of the men in the prime wedding age group were wed.
8.     How men in general and fathers in particular now are the butt of too many jokes, and too poor or even demeaning an image in our popular culture. While I am by no means letting young men off the hook here (and even their same age icons often contribute to the image), it’s simply the case that too often today’s males are living up to the low expectations the culture has for them.

There are surely more, but these are all I could find (please list any additional factors that come to mind).  And I am particularly interested in your view on all this, Madame, including what might be done.

And I realize there are many problems and many things to talk about, but last night prompted this one! :)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Sending Word

Professor J,

First up is a movie recommendation. Imitation Game is the best thing I've seen in a long time. I came straight home and downloaded the biography of Alan Turing on my Kindle. Btw, you may have guessed that W&P is in the middle of a huge pile of reading material. I am only saved by the Kindle that holds many more so inconspicuously. I keep telling myself I won't buy any more until I finish all that I have. And then... It's a sickness really. ;)

I'm rereading my question about the time capsule and it sounds like something from a lame middle school essay assignment. But you provided a great answer.

I asked the question because frankly I expected a little more from such esteemed thinkers and revolutionaries. The coins made little sense to me, newspapers unimpressive, the remaining items perplexing. How valuable would a diary of a common person appear to us now! Or as you suggest items that they probably didn't feel were special enough to have been included. I agreed with all your suggestions. People study history and memorize the names and accomplishments of the famous, yet behind those (mostly) men are the passionate desires and dreams held close to the heart of the average person. I'd have liked to have seen something of that in the capsule.

Your recommendation of what we ought to include in a time capsule being buried now reminded me of a quote from The Book of Eli:

"People had more than they needed. We had no idea what was precious and what wasn't. We threw away things people kill each other for now."

And your idea about including something by way of apology might at least make it clear that some of us tried. And yes, they might hate us a little less, though hopefully they'll be unaware of our extreme excess. But I'm sure that's doubtful since we document it all so swimmingly with reality television and magazines.

I'm having one of those periods of life when the universe seems to be trying to tell me something and you are unwittingly contributing to brick walls falling and what-not. I was just this morning reading a book in which the author quoted Amusing Ourselves to Death.

In case you are unaware the new trend in resolutions is to pick just one word to sum up your intention for the year. Courage, simplify, mindfulness are all fine candidates. My daughter chose brave. The one I settled on is deliberate. I'm hoping to focus from time to time on a different area of life and be intentional about it.

I could easily start with my time and stay there for the next 11 and a half months. Can you imagine what could get accomplished if we were all just intentional about how we spend our precious hours?  Or how we spend our money? What if we deliberately ate? Imagine us all being deliberate with our words. It all seems impossible even as I write it. We fritter away so much. So that idea of making "your choices fit your values even in little things as you can" might be something of great potential impact.

Wouldn't if be funny if you started a revolution like that? 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Personal Values


I am recovering, slowly.

I believe the good English gentlemen would comment that we have diminished ourselves.

The gas guzzler truck mania is well in swing around here as well.  Self-delusion and self-justification are in full swing.  Plus there’s a lot of mental and emotional unresolved issues to boot I’m guessing.

Time capsules are always a bit problematic because what we truly should store—massive data—does not hold up well typically for long, unrefreshed storage, for a variety of reasons.  That’s a pity, because everyday life needs to be depicted.  Social history is needed, but often the most shortchanged.

What definitely should be included are measurements of where we are.  Soil, air, water, resource depletion, reserves, etc.  A long listing of where exactly things stand at the moment in history.  And what we value—and no longer value.  What we’re concerned about—and no longer concerned about.  How we communicate, and how we no longer communicate.

We also need the words of every day  people and their concerns, hopes, plans, etc.

They might despise us a little less if we include an apology to future generations as well.  That we didn’t take action, better action, sooner action.

Our mistake, unfortunately (mine too especially), has been thinking that “changes” could be “fit in” among ALL our entertainment—sports, games, shows, movies, etc. The result?  We have “fit in” little or nothing.  Neil Postman was right—we have amused ourselves to death, and in the process let ourselves become near defenseless and near powerless against the corporate and individual oligarchs (and the politicians and judges who serve them) who dictate to us with near impunity.

My father always said I had too many hobbies and not enough focus.  I truly, magnificently, deeply enjoy games, movies, entertainment, and other recreation.  It’s just that I now realize I can’t really enjoy them like I want to when I know that American and maybe world civilization appear to be sinking towards a dark abyss.  It’s like trying to enjoy dinner and dancing aboard the Titanic when one knows ahead of time what’s about to happen.  I would much rather right our course so I could truly enjoy my hobbies, without guilt, without that terrible feeling that I am sinning against my children and their future.

The oligarchs hold a great weapon over us—fear.  Of jobs, of security, of personal safety, and other Maslow hierarchy basic needs.  There is a small amount of time yet to resist and reverse the slide toward overt totalitarian control.  But it can’t be mere intention.  It has to be that action thing.

Those who can be activists, great, engines like you are sorely needed.  For the rest of us, two things:

1.     Make your choices fit your values, even in little things when you can.  Here’s an example I used in my choices.  I like green tea.  Since I’m going to buy green tea, I decided if necessary I would buy less of it if what I did buy supported values I agreed with.  There are probably several that do.  The one I settled on was Organic India.  Why?  Listen to their story—“At the heart of Organic India is our commitment to be a living embodiment of love and consciousness in action.  We work with thousands of small farmers in India to cultivate sustainable organic farmland.  All our products produce health and True Wellness and are made with loving care.  Each product is one link in a chain of love and connectedness between Mother Nature, our farmers, and you.  By choosing Organic India you are actively participating in our mission to create a sustainable global environment, provide training and a life of dignity to our farmers, and bring health and happiness to you while supporting well being and respect for all beings and for Mother Nature.”

2.     Simply starting a new conversation with those in your social circle is the second thing you can do.  And especially those of you who are skittish about being labeled “weird” or “radical,” there is a method to use.  Socrates gave it to us over 2000 years ago…

Ask questions.  It raises fewer defensive barriers and elicits fewer defensive reactions.  Questions like:  “Did you hear about X?  Have you ever thought about X?  Have you ever thought about why X?  What do you think we should do about X?  Does it bother you that X? Have you ever spoken to your friends and family about X? Do you think that Neil Postman was right?  Does it ever make you uncomfortable that X is happening while we amuse ourselves?  Have you read Aldous Huxley?  Have you read George Orwell?  Does that ever scare you?  Do you ever get uncomfortable when people you know know more about sports figures, sports teams, and celebrities than they do about all these things happening?  Am I making you uncomfortable now?  If so, why do you think that is?  What should we do about it?  Do you think we’re part of the problem?”

The alternative is to watch 1984 put into place.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Now and Then

Professor J,

Hope you are feeling better. It's that time of year. I recommend home made chicken stock and tea with turmeric, but even a teaspoon of honey with turmeric seems to work to shorten a cold or similar malady.

The TED Talk was quite enlightening. I think often when we Americans hear those in power refer to "foreigners" we assimilate the bit of fear that those using the term hope to instill in us. Most of our fellow citizens are untraveled enough to hold in disdain people who are different. I doubt that residents of Finland are the first people who come to mind when our politicians use the word.

You've added another book to my list, which is incredibly lengthy already. I swear my Kindle feels heavier all the time. ;)

Huxley and Orwell would probably think what I do from time to time: "So you willingly carry with you a device that allows you to be tracked wherever you go and you make public your political views and the books you read on sites designed to look like they are for your entertainment? And you continue to do this after your government has been caught storing this information?"   

Can you imagine their commentary on that?

So gas prices have plummeted and truck sales increased dramatically. It's really incomprehensible that our memories are so short. Just a few years ago people were eager to get rid of those gas guzzlers. How can people now think that cheap gas is forever? It's like we have some sort of national dementia.

On a historical note, a time capsule from 1795 was opened, which I'm sure you heard about. It included  "five tightly folded newspapers, a medal depicting George Washington, a silver plaque, two dozen coins, including one dating to 1655, and the seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."

What would a historian have most like to see included in a time capsule? If you were to fill one today what might you include?  
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