Archive for August, 2016

oz box

In my opinion, back to school ads should be banned until the last week of August. Summer should be a school-free zone where children can be children.

Other than getting a new pair of shoes, six # two pencils, a Bic pen, a marble composition book and a hair cut, I never got what I wanted, or perhaps I should say, needed before starting back to school. I wanted and needed a place where my natural curiosity could blossom. What I didn’t need was a place filled with pot holes deliberately placed to trip me up. And that’s what school was to me when I was a kid.  It was a place I dreaded because I wasn’t a good student.  Like a batter who has a full count with the bases loaded, bottom of the ninth with two outs…I chocked.

I hated spelling lists. I hated multiplication sheets. I hated text books of all subjects. I even hated lunch because the grape jelly in my peanut butter sandwich leaked through the white Wonder bread.

A school is just a place. And while it has the potential of being a great place for learning, I fear we have forced our teachers to replace teaching with teaching to a test. Instead of making learning a fantastic journey we have made it a long and boring trek.

L. Frank Baum did not have a school in Oz, but he did make a comment on education, a comment I call into question. Talking to the scarecrow he said, “Why, anybody can have a brain. That’s a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain. Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing you haven’t got: a diploma.”

I have no problem with what he said about the brain, but I do have a problem with him saying that the only thing that makes a difference is a “diploma.”

Having spent the last 15 years teaching on the college level I have come to the conclusion that all that matters is the diploma or the degree. One of the problems with a college degree is that it’s like a mattress. You can’t actually compare mattresses because they all hide behind different funny names that mean absolutely…nothing.

It’s almost as difficult to compare college degrees, especially if you are comparing a degree given in 1970 when I got mine and with a degree given to a recent grad. The courses I had to take to earn my degree are not the ones a 2016 grad had to take.

Not that my courses were better because they weren’t. In fact my courses didn’t prepare me an iota for a job, let alone a career.  Today’s grad has taken very career specific courses coupled with internships that have prepared the grad for an entry-level job.

I believe we learn what we need to learn and what we want to learn. We need to learn and to master certain  skills to navigate the rough seas of life. Our little dingy can be flooded if we don’t have a handle on some of the more practical “things.”

Unfortunately, the list of what we have to learn has been lengthened to include only job skills. And while we do need to learn what it takes to be proficient in the field of our choice, many of us don’t make any time in our lives to learn what we want to learn.

And I fear that’s happened because our lives are so frenetic and the marketplace is so competitive that we no longer have time for broad learning that is fueled by yearning.


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2016 ozlympic medal

As an “American” I couldn’t help but cheer on the “American” athletes in the 2016 Summer Olympic games.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it did get me thinking about “being” something. Even though we live on a tiny planet in an ever-expanding universe we have taken to divide ourselves into ever-expanding groups of people identified by imaginary boundaries. Some of “us” are Americans, some Brazilians, Italians, Iranians, Bolivians…. (According to a source there are 195 countries and 206 nationalities.) If that isn’t enough, we further identify ourselves beginning with larger geographic regions (states) down to smaller ones (towns and villagers).

If geographic divisions are enough, we further divide “us” by religions This division is further divided by religions of which there are over 4000!

There is a certain irony to all these divisions. An “Albanian” can, through the “magic” of the internet/social media, witness…in actual time what is happening to a “Bolivian” or an “Indonesian.”

In other words, all the walls we have constructed are crumbling. And that’s a good thing. The only problem is there are far too many people who like walls. Good fences do not make good neighbors and people who insist on reinforcing old walls are not good people.  We need to tear down walls by beginning to do it close to home. Very close to home.

We first need to tear down the walls of fear and ignorance.  We need to stop branding one another with the divisions we have created.  Nationalism, when it leads to jingoism, only leads to war. We even need to swallow our “pride” and admit that there is no one single “great nation” or one “right” religion.

The whole notion makes me scratch my head and makes me wonder if I am wrong. Is there anything wrong with the pride that comes from being a (fill in the blank)? Is it wrong to wrap yourself in a flag and pound your heart when your “national” anthem is played?

More often than not I have no answers to most of the questions that bounce around in my head, but when witnessing something like the Olympic games, I can’t help but wonder if will we always build a wall around the yellow brick road.




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