Instant Enlightenment

Email Instructions & Eastern Answer
>1. Grab the nearest book.
>2. Open the book to page 23.
>3. Find the fifth sentence.
>4. Post the text of the next three sentences in your journal along with these >instructions. Don’t dig for your favorite book, the cool book, or the intellectual >one: pick the CLOSEST.
These were the instructions from and email friend for what sounded like a fun game. It sounded unusual, and when I followed the instructions, the results were rather humorous. You see, the closest book to me at the time happened to be my copy of “The Teachings of Buddha”. Here’s what follows:

“Indeed, it is very difficult to understand the world as it is, for, although it seems true, it is not, and, although it seems false, it is not. Ignorant people can not know the truth concerning the world. Buddha alone truly and fully knows the world as it is and he never says that it is true or false, or good or evil. He simply portrays the world as it is.”

That’s a pretty good lesson, I think. No judgment calls, no high-falutin’ declarations of what is or isn’t proper. A simple presentation of actual reality. This is the way it is.

So why did I have a copy of this book close at hand. Because as I present myself to the world in an attempt to find a new job, I find myself facing a planet which seems to be constantly in turmoil. I’m not talking about the political state of things, or the fact that every employer wants experienced personnel but doesn’t want to give it. No, what I’m seeing are a lot of people who are killing themselves in high-stress environments to grab as much wealth and material possessions as they can before their neighbors grab them first. The old, “Those Who Have the Most Toys Wins” attitude. An attitude I just don’t understand.

Buddha didn’t understand it either. Maybe the fact that he came from a wealthy background helped him to understand that having a lot of money didn’t make any difference. He realized that what mattered was the core of the person. If your heart was filled with avarice, that would never be satisfied no matter how much money you had. That makes a lot of sense to me.

“Having it all”, or, “The American Dream” are phrases we hear a lot of today, especially in the business world. I suppose that stands for the big house, the fancy car, a six or seven digit salary, big-screen TV, etc. All the possessions you could want, and the ability to throw money at your problems. But, I don’t want that. I never did.

No, I have always been more attracted to “The French Dream”, which is probably not something you’ve heard of before. In essence, the French Dream consists of securing a sufficient income and retiring to the country where one sips wine, chats with the neighbors, and enjoys good books and ignores the rat race. It is a life in which one accepts the world as it is, not as how you think it should be in relation to you!

The French Dream is centered not on personal conquest, but in the triumph of the individual. What you do is create a social dynamic in which you further the mind and the soul rather than getting wrapped up in material goods. The latter point is critical!

Buddha believed that suffering was inherently tied to the possession of material things. If your feelings were wrapped up in material goods then the core self never emerged from the wrappings of ego and the Id. As the individual continued to long for things like new cars, flat-screens, costly jewelry and new shoes the core part of the self became ever more strangled. This is the side-effect of the American Dream. “Having it all” is a race down a long track lined with credit cards and collection agents urging you on. I’m reminded of an old cartoon where a woman gets a store credit card and is being encouraged to use it. She holds up her nose and starts to walk out, and then spots a new pair of shoes. “Well, maybe I’ll get this….and this, and this, and that, and THAT!” Eventually she goes hog-wild to the admiring glances of a couple of sales clerks. “New credit-card?” asks one. The other clerk nods and says, “Yeah…isn’t it beautiful?”

The French Dream offers contemplation, quiet, and the satisfaction that the best things in life are still free: sunsets, relaxation, books from the library, and hours of uninterrupted sleep!

Soi, while the rest of the world is running around chasing its tail, I’m going to be snoozing in a hammock after reading a collection of Voltaire.

That, to me, is the ideal life, and I think Buddha would approve.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Golden Age of Radio

One of the common tropes among bloggers and media critics is that TV today is bloody trash, and the radio shows from the 1930s – 1950s were “quality stuff”. Look at any newspaper, magazine, or blog page and you see it all. The critics trash the primetime shows, or the new fare offered up by the networks, and then there’s a longing for the Good Old Days of The Rifleman, Johnny Dollar or the Shadow.

Over the last few years, I have done an informal survey of Old Time Radio. I’ve listened to CBS Radio Mystery Theater, Dragnet, Crypt Theater, Inner Sanctum, The Hermit, and all the other shows in between. The inescapable conclusion that I have reached is that contrary to popular opinion, the radio shows of yesteryear were actually much more horrific than the TV of today!

Frankly, that should not be surprising! Consider the fact that the first regular radio entertainment  broadcasts started only in 1922. The Radio Act didn’t come along until 1927, and the Communications Act (which created the FCC) wasn’t enacted until 1934, with the “Fairness Doctrine” not made law until fifteen years later in 1949. So, essentially, radio made its own laws and operated in a form of ‘trial and error’ year after year. This meant that the entertainment needed only to have two goals: provide entertainment, and sell advertising!

From Captain Midnight to Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, to hardboiled detective Philip Marlow, to the equally hard-bitten Danny Clover. Anything that could entice the listeners was open to the microphone, and commercials for Ovaltine, Wheaties, Ralston, Roma Wine, and Carter’s Little Liver Pills stepped up and offered the advertising revenue. With such funding, further shows came such as Popeye, Superman, and other figures from the comics pages such as Little Orphan Annie and even Archie. Radio was limited only by the imaginations of the listeners and the broadcasters, and so the shows not only continued but expanded in all directions. Some of them went down some very dark paths.

One of those shows was called Box 13, and dealt with a freelance detective who invited people with unspeakable troubles to write to his post office box. I listened to that show recently, and was astonished at the level of horror involved. One of the broadcasts detailed how the detective was gassed and then forced to engage in identity theft for a wealthy but insane heir. The P.I. was locked into the asylum where the real heir (recently murdered) was kept. A breakout was then arranged, with the dead man given the clothes and papers of the detective! A “shoot on sight” order was issued by the authorities.

Now, does that sound like “quality entertainment”?

Or then there was the story of the husband and wife on the top of the Empire State Building at the height of World War II. As they gaze over the city they realize that all of New York has become silent, and the electricity has gone off. After descending via the stairs to the street, they find the entire city empty of people. When their panic wears off, they come to the conclusion that God has grown sick of the war and death and “cleared off the Earth”. Only a few are left to start over.

Shades of the “Left Behind” series, or George R. Stewart’s seminal book, Earth Abides! It was actually rather scary to listen to, even seventy years later.

Or then there was the tale of the man who turned his entire house into one big deathtrap. Rooms were equipped with poison gas, pits with sharp spikes, poisoned darts, vats of acid, or suffocation chambers. When one of the intended victims asked why he was doing it, the man replied, “I’m a murderer; it’s what I do.” Banal evil, nothing more. Hardly quality fare, and something that could only be done in a film or on cable today.

One thing I will say is that the advertising from the Golden Age was a lot more tasteful. Rather than the inane comparison tests used today, the usual fare consisted of an announcer plainly praising the product in question. His or her voice was polite, and did not shout. Advertisers today, please take note!

So, the Golden Age of radio is no different than the pleasant reminiscing for the Good Old Days which I covered in a prior blog. Were the shows back then good, yes? But they were just as treacherous and filled with danger as the shows of today.

Perhaps in another fifty years, the shows of today will be called the Golden Age of Cable, and another generation of oldsters will pleasantly reminisce about Mad Men and Game of Thrones!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Good Old Days

 

Was it really, though? Certainly there was a lot going on in the 1940s: World War II, the New Deal, advances in science, medicine, and the birth of Atomic power. The United Nations was signed into existence, Mount Rushmore was completed, the Siege of leningrad, the Big Three, women entered the workplace in force, unemployment was almost wiped out by wartime production, and the T-shirt was born! And yet, I don’t think it was for any of these events that people stared backwards through rose-colored lenses. There is, instead, a desire for greater quality in people’s lives.

Look at the illustration below. Everything fits in a certain slot: husband, breadwinner, wife, son, teenage daughter, there are no complications! The son does not have long hair or a strange sort of dress. His shirt is plain white, without decal or bold statement. The wife and daughter have expressions reflecting contentment. No one is shouting, endorsing a slogan.  Simplicity, yes, but there is also a form of quality there. Everyone is contributing toward a universal dynamic

family1940s

That is the quality that people want in their Good Old Days: quality of purpose. They don’t want things to be difficult. And yet, even the 1940s (and earlier) were filled with uncertainty. Doubt me? Listen to the testimonial of somebody who came from that time.

“I often hear successful people talking about the ‘good old days.’ Their message is always the same: how wonderful life used to be when we had less government and fewer social programs and people were left to fend for themselves.

“But I came of age in those good old days, and I remember very clearly what they were like. When I first entered politics, 50% of the population were living in poverty. A full 25% of Americans were out of work.

“Even if you were fortunate enough to have a job, life was still pretty tough. A policeman worked twelve hours a day, seven days a week. If you were a fireman, you were on duty even longer, and you worked 104 hours a week. The postman delivered mail on Christmas Day. For most people, the work week was six days long–and those were six long days. The only time you saw your family was on Sunday.

“For the majority of Americans, health insurance was out of the question. If you became sick, your world collapsed. For the elderly, life was filled with uncertainty and fear. Only a lucky few had pensions, and Social Security was a brand-new idea.

“In those days, there was virtually no middle class in America–only a handful of rich people at the top, and millions of poor people at the bottom. Between the two groups stretched a huge and sparsely populated wilderness. The best way to close that gap was to go to college, but only a small percentage of the population could afford to go.”

That was Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, former Speaker of the House. of Representatives.

And, he’s right. The 40-hour work-week was the creation of wartime America, which also popularized the labor unions. From those reforms came the mass workforce of the country, which in turn created a working class of people with money in their pockets, which gave birth to the middle-class that we all know today.

So why do people still long for these earlier times that are bereft of so many of the reforms and standards that we take for granted today? Again, the answer is simple quality. In the 1940s if you wanted a driver’s license you simply had to show the local cops that you could drive, and you were given a certificate. Cars didn’t have seat-belts, and you could drive pretty much whereever you wanted. Women wore expensive hairdos and marriage was a sacrament to long for. A man in uniform was respected. Wars were fought for good causes, not at a politician’s whim. A father was the king in his home, and he was respected; his word was law.

Home Entertainment consisted of board games, cards, or a radio show. A night out on the town meant dinner and dancing. It also meant that you always wore your best. Shoes were shined, hair was combed and brushed, and your date was always on time. A man always held a door for a woman, and she always said thank you. Going to the movies meant one ‘A’ film, one ‘B’ film, a cartoon, and a newsreel. Your popcorn had real butter on it, and if your fingers got greasy you always kept a pocket handkerchief with you.

These were the qualities that people long for in their Good Old Days. But if you want something bad enough, I say bring them back on your own! I try my best. I always hold a door open for a woman. I still enjoy playing board games, and one of my favorite forms of entertainment is a radio show. Internet radio still offers many channels with everything from Mystery Theater to Fibber McGee and Molly.

The Good Old Days are more than just an aspiration, it is a frame of mind. It means putting quality into your life ,and the lives of others. Between my writing and my work on civics projects, I do my part to make sure that in thirty years people will think of today as the Good Old Days.  I think that is a pretty good legacy.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Monsters

What so many people have wanted to happen.

Back when I was a kid, I loved monsters! I used to stay up late on Friday nights to watch a terrific monster show called Creature Features, and I devoured just about every book I could get my hands on which dealt with dinosaurs, sea monsters, Bigfoot, and all the other stuff in between. The idea of getting close up to something which wasn’t supposed to exist just made my heart accelerate. But nothing excited me more than the Loch Ness Monster.

Everyone knows the story of Nessie, so I’ll keep the recap brief: a “water horse” described by St. Columbia in 353 AD, and a flurry of sightings over the centuries, with an apparent burst in the mid-20th Century. All very tantalizing, and to an impressionable youngster in the 1970’s, very exciting. The idea that a (possibly) prehistoric beast existed in dark Scottish lake just out of reach was tantalizing. I read a handful of books, and eagerly watched every special that I could. When, in 1972, the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle carried a picture what appeared to be an underwater flipper of a great beast, I was delighted. It was all the proof I needed.

Thirty years later, the concept of an unsolved mystery is still tantalizing to me, but Nessie is no longer in the top ten. In fact, she ranks somewhere near the bottom, for there is no doubt in my mind that the whole thing is a sham!

On a previous post I recounted the humorous story of the Lake George Monster, including the story of the creature’s creator. Likewise, Nessie is a clever hoax perpetrated by a handful of people just having fun; like the people who tramp through fields and create crop-circles for fun. For newspapers and TV stations in search of a good story to liven things up, this is a bonanza which they heartily embrace. There will always be fresh-faced youngsters and gullible men and women who seize upon the idea of a creature beyond them simply because they want to believe. Nessie, Bigfoot, the Abominable Snowman, Kelpies, Harpies, and sea serpents fulfill this need.

Moreover, consider the fact that the proceeds of the Loch Ness Monster add more than $500 million a year to Scotland’s economy. Everything from curios, to boat rides, to hotel reservations, Nessie is simply good business! Ask a Scot if he believes and of course he will say yes. It’s not a grand conspiracy with secret passwords and dark rites, but a universal conceit which gives more than it takes. For Scotland it provides tourism, tax income, and foreign currency to a part of the country which otherwise has very little to recommend it!

Without Nessie, what else does northern Scotland have to offer? Fish? Whiskey? Haggis? A cold, dreary countryside full of rock outcroppings, bitter rainfall, and the prospect of oatmeal and salmon (or mutton) for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Why not create monster and throw in a few hoaxes? It gets people into the countryside and puts folks to work. Bed and breakfast homes pop up, pony traps for romantic-minded folks, pubs offer good meals, and unemployed fishermen can offer rides on the cold loch and spin tall tales to people who are more than willing to believe.

If all this sounds a bit cynical, consider the case of Silver Lake, New York. In 1855, an adult and several boys reported a giant serpent in Silver Lake (Wyoming County), New York. According to a pamphlet of the period, ““People came on foot, by carriage, on horseback, and in fact, by any means of locomotion in their power, to see if even a glimpse of the monster could be obtained, and the hotels found they had ‘struck a bonanza’”. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Two years later it was revealed that the whole thing had been a hoax perpetrated by a local businessman, Artemus Walker, who owned a hotel which had been running in the red for some time. He needed something to draw in business, and guess what he did? HA! Follow the money is what any good police detective will tell you, if you’re suspicious about something.

Have I despaired about meeting a real monster someday? Not really. When I was living Boston in the mid-80’s I was mugged by a gang of hoodlums. That taught me that monsters come in all shapes and sizes, and they don’t have have scales or long necks to be scary.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Dream of a Field

Thomas Wolfe wrote, “You can’t go home again,” and boy, was he right!
Just yesterday I used Google Earth to look at the big field that my friends and I played in, and I almost wish I hadn’t. It’s still there, but it’s different. It just looks like a place to grow wheat or potatoes; there are no markings of the grand adventures that were had there, nor of the young feet which trod its paths.

The block I grew up on was a circular street, covered with big houses. My family moved there from the Massachusetts Berkshires in 1970. After two years in a rented house, we moved onto the circle, and I immediately started looking for playmates. I found them in the personage of three older boys, all my senior by about 2-3 years. As the youngest, I was often the butt of jokes, but having older friends was great because they were always doing something interesting.

Ben (all names changed) was the oldest. He had black hair and eyes and a mischievous gleam in his eyes. Donny was the stable one. He had the mind of a scientist, and was always pointing out the practical difficulties or advantages of whatever we were doing. Then there was Reggie, who was a miniature nuclear reactor: full of energy, mischief, and absolutely uncontainable. He was capable of absolute brilliance at times, but was utterly undisciplined. Into this mix I walked: young, impressionable, possessed of no particular talents, but lots of enthusiasm.

Both the outside and the inside of the circle were covered with houses, so Ben suggested that we play in a big field near his backyard. To access it we had to climb over a barbed wire fence to get into it. Once past this boundary, the possibilities were endless. On that first late-spring day, I looked around, and realized that I had been looking for a place like this my entire life. It was comparable to a football field, but slightly larger; about two hundred feet wide and about six hundred feet long and covered with long, thick grass. The south end of the field was anchored by two tall eucalyptus trees. Several large eucalyptus stumps were scattered about, mute testimony to having been felled for one reason or another. I gazed at the towering eucalyptus trees, and noticed that one of them was playing host to a very professional-looking treehouse. “That’s mine,” Ben said. He and his older brother (who had since gone on to college) had built it.

The rest of the spring and summer we romped in that field playing hide-and-seek, wrestling, building competing tree-forts, Dirt Clod Wars (until Reggie brained Donny with a rock), and even camping out under the stars.

One thing about that field was that it took whatever abuse we heaped upon it. I will never forget the day I went to Reggie’s house, and his big sister told me he was “working in the field”. I went there, wondering what could count as work. I found the gang working madly with their shovels. Reggie had come up with the novel idea of building an underground fort (Ben’s treehouse had collapsed when a branch had fallen upon it [eucalyptus trees are the most brittle in existence and break apart even under mild winds]). Enthused, I rushed home for my shovel, and within days we had a virtual rabbit-warren of tunnels. When the summer sun baked the grass brown, our fort remained cool and pleasant. Many a bottle of cola was drunk there while we tried to think up stories even scarier than the last one told.
Another time I went there alone, just to see if the grass was long enough for hide-and-seek (my favorite game). I found Ben there with his shovel, creating slit-trenches. When I asked what they were for, he confessed that he was creating advance hiding places for the next game. I praised his ingenuity and offered to help. To my knowledge, he never did use them. But I did! I waited until months later, and then used the trench when Ben was ‘It’. Sure enough! He’d forgotten them. I got free without difficulty, and when he learned of my hiding place, he praised me!

But to all things there is an end. Gradually, the guys began to drift away. Donny began to devote more and more time to his studies, and eventually stopped coming around altogether. In his place were some rambunctious brothers, three in all. But it was never the same. When one of the brothers died in a tragic accident the zest of the gang died with him. Then we all discovered girls, and the nature of ‘fun’ changed forever.

But I never forgot the field and the adventures. The others did, though. So, I stood on the sidelines and watched time do things to the people I knew:

Donny became a hardcore intellectual. He later graduated from Cal with a degree in geology and moved away. I’ve not seen him in years.

Reggie’s disdain for control led him to seek bigger and bigger thrills. He graduated to crime and drugs, often in combination. I soon realized that I could not stop him, so I wrote him off and tried not to mourn him too much.

Ben had a bitter falling-out with his father and disappeared one day. A Google search last night turned him up on the far side of the world, in Australia! From his pictures, he looks happy. I don’t know if he remembers the day he led us to the field behind his house. If he does, he won’t recognize it. The old stumps were sawed up for firewood. The underground fort became a tiger-trap for a tractor; after the cursing ended, a dump-truck filled in the tunnels. The eucalyptus trees were cut down recently, and the grass is gone. Now it is just plain dirt.

Today that nameless field stands stale and barren; I don’t think anything is even being grown there. From the elevated view of Google Earth there was no trace of the tunnels, the dirt-bike course we built, or the ten-foot-high ramp we built for “power-jumps”. The scattered bits of linoleum we threw at each other like high-speed boomerangs have probably been plowed under, and the six-foot-high post we mounted in the earth as a hide-and-seek base was stolen by another gang of kids in a pointless turf war whose cause I have since forgotten.

But the winter and spring rains will come again, new grass will appear, and that will be an open invitation to the next generation of innocent adventurers. I hope they find it as memorable a place as I did.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Distributive Leadership

Distributive Leadership is not something that I have seen a lot of in my time Substituting on different school campuses, and only a few are using capacity-building to any great degree; most have been so badly beaten by budget crises and test demands that they are simply struggling to stay alive. There have been a few memorable encounters that I have had though, and here are a few of them:

In school where I was working a couple of kids were brought in by a teacher who found them tussling in front of the school. A stiff lecture or some sort of punishment was called for, but the principal was at that moment speaking to a district administrator. With a single glance, she directed the Assistant Principal to take the duty, and he took the handoff smoothly. Under his watchful eye, the students were handed two garbage bags, and they spent the next several hours collecting trash.

Another time, while distributing dictionaries to students, I saw the classroom teacher forced to deal with a minor crisis involving a student’s mistake. Without a word, the duty of teaching the class was handed off to a visiting teacher who taught the subject (vocabulary words) until the crisis was passed.

At its core, Distributive Leadership is about interdependence; maintaining the educational momentum without faltering. Autocrats and control-freaks cannot conceive of the idea of relinquishing their position because they love power. Educators cannot allow themselves to fall into this trap; they do not own their job, the students own them!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Leadership Style

What Leadership Theory most closely mathes your leadership style? Explain Why?
How that style could benefit your school?

The best leadership style which comes closest to me is Participative Leadership, because upon entering a classroom I always give the students what I call “The Chance”. It is only offered once, and to date, very few have not taken it.

As a Substitute Teacher I find myself in the lucky position of almost never having to prepare the Lesson Plan myself. The material is written out, the students know what they’re supposed to do, and despite the perennial game of “Bug the Sub”, most students just want to see things work out. The latter is a sign of emotional maturity, and that is what I’m looking for.

Once inside the classroom I introduce myself, and then use a technique that I learned from another teacher. On the board I make up two columns, one is titled Student Rights; the other is Teacher Rights. For the Students I write in, “Right to Learn”; in my side I put down, “Right to Teach”. I explain to the students that for the next ten minutes we will list the basic rights that we’re both entitled to in the classroom: Respect, Courtesy, Speaking without interruption, all the good things that every person should have.

“I’d like to give these things to you, if you’re willing to me my share of rights. We’ll run this class according to these rights. But, if you break these rules, then it’s all over! We go back to me being the Teacher-Dictator. Are you willing to work with me on this?” The students nearly always say yes, and they’re nearly always as good as their word.

Call this Participatory Leadership, or call it Cooperative Learning, or call it Democracy Run Amok, but it’s a system that I like to use because it works. Students enjoy being treated like equals, and given the chance to participate in running their class they rise to the occasion.

It’s worked in the classes I Substitute-Teach in. I’d like to think it could work in a regular classroom.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Digital Power Dynamics

Internet Technology! Probably the biggest power dynamic in existence today. But unlike military arms or (thus far) nuclear arms, internet communications is available to anyone who can log in; once online, their ability to wield power is limited only by their skills at crunching code, and that can take them pretty far indeed.

Back in 1983, there was a thriller film called Wargames, starring Matt Broderick. Most people are familiar with the story, but there was one part in there where he seeks out the password to the school computer. Later, he unlocks the school computer and changes his Failing grade in biology to a passing one. The rest of the film was ludicrous melodrama, but this part was far ahead of its time.

In Berkeley, CA, students used an administrator’s password to alter attendance records, and then sold the rights or the service for a fee ($20). In Great Neck, N.Y., five students are facing felony charges for allegedly collecting up to $3,500 per test to take the SAT and other college entrance exams for other students. In March, 2012, nine students in San Jose, CA, were suspended or expelled for using stolen test answers which were retrieved from a cracked databank. And the list goes on and on.

These are just a few examples of students who have discovered that their skills at data-processing can empower them beyond the abilities of their teachers. Furthermore, they have learned that the keys to kingdom (higher GPA’s and SAT scores) are kept behind relatively flimsy firewalls, simply because the school administrators cannot afford better.
Thus, the power has shifted to those who wield the digital club with greater sophistication. If teachers and school officials wish to get their power back, then it appears they will have to go back to school!

Sources:

http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2011/09/27/7-arrested-for-alleged-sat-cheating-ring-at-great-neck-north-high-school/

http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/education&id=8627285

http://www.mercurynews.com/education/ci_20285970/nine-students-caught-leland-high-school-cheating-scandal

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Digital Generation Gap

We had a scandal here in the San Francisco Bay Area recently: some of the students at Berkeley High hacked the school computer.  Not out of mischief or to plant mischievous virus, but out of self-interest.  The end of the school year is looming, and a number of them were worried that their attendance records might weigh down their GPA; so many absences affect their standing in school.  So, rather than seeking out extra credit, they got an administrator’s password and went to work with a virtual eraser.

Of course, with any number of teenagers it is impossible to keep a secret, and word got out. Now, amidst a great hullabaloo and wringing of hands there is talk that this is a great tragedy, and perhaps a failure of leadership.  Actually, I don’t think it is anything of the kind; rather, it is a natural outcome of the Digital Generation.

For kids who grew up in the last 20 years, the online world is a natural extension of their lives. My nephew asked his girlfriend to the Senior Prom on Facebook; my niece logs time on Skype with a European friend as naturally as her mother used the telephone at the same age; and according to a Harris Interactive Poll (2008), half of all young people between 8 and 12 owned a mobile device such as a Blackberry or an iPhone. While Substituting in a middle school two years ago I was openly mocked by the students because my cell was six years old.  Like it or not, the latest technology is the standard by which young people today judge their world.

Educational writer Mark Prensky defines this as a new Generational Gap, composed of two groups of people: Digital Natives, who grew up with computers and the Internet; and, Digital Immigrants, who had to adapt to it as they realized that it could not be ignored. Just like the Generation Gap of 50 years ago, the young people are sure the oldsters “just don’t get it”.

With that in mind, is it any wonder that young people today view the world around them in less than favorable terms?  Amidst multiple budget crises, the powers-that-be talk openly about shutting down schools, suspending teachers, or closing libraries to save money.  All of these moves will affect students, who quickly realize that their own world is in peril.

Worse still, while their parents still see schools as halls of learning and enlightenment, young people with their digital measuring sticks see something entirely different. Why?  Consider the fact that the Internet has been their babysitter in the same way that the TV was to their parents. They have been able to access the words of Newton, Heisenberg or Gandhi with the tap of a keyboard. They have watched thousands of videos on Youtube, Googled anything that they didn’t understand, or even added their own pages onto Wikipedia. Anything that was strange or unfamiliar was immediately defined.  So what did they think when they were plunked into a noisy classroom full of other Digital Natives (Prensky), and saw an instructor write something on a chalkboard, and was told to turn to page 124 in a five-year-old textbook?  Most likely they thought, “Are you kidding me?”

Crying out that the system was unfair didn’t work. Teachers and administrators—perhaps remembering their own shrieks of a generation before—simply shook their heads and said, truthfully, that life wasn’t fair. Like schools everywhere, they do the best they can with what they hav.  In the case of Berkeley High, they got new computers four years ago.  California law mandates that all textbooks are exchanged for new ones every five years, which is better than some places. As for the aforementioned attendance rules, they’re in place to keep the young people in school.  But, for technology-swollen teenagers whose lifestyle moves a T1 speed does any of that matter?  When informed that despite their protests, their attendance will go into a permanent record, kept under digital password, this is nothing less than waving a red cape at a cantankerous bull!

The administrators and teachers at Berkeley High should not have been surprised when they realized that their system had been cracked. A generation earlier it would have been a thief in the night, or perhaps a blast of graffiti across a wall or window. Vandals come in all shapes and sizes, and in today’s world they are far more likely to creep in through an Ethernet alleyway than through a hole in the fence. The internet, after all, allows for a certain degree of anonymity, and there is less a likelihood of getting caught.  Too, the students know that adults are far more likely to use a simple password like ‘pencil’ or than a proper alpha-numeric code.

The situation was not a failure of leadership per se, but rather a lack of appreciation for the way technology has so permeated the lives of the Digital Generation.  Prensky (2008) cited the power-down factor as a beef of young students. Precisely because teachers confiscate handheld devices or insist that they be turned off marks them as “old”, or “in the dark”.  He cited the fact that what is said in class by other students almost instantly goes viral, and has more staying power than the lessons at hand.  The instructor’s response is to confiscate the device, but that does not separate the student from the environment; rather, it makes the student desire it more!  Also, because instructors then thrust old books and outdated equipment at them, their 21st century minds associate schools with a 19th century world. Again, technology is the measuring-stick, not what their instructors tell them!

That the erasure or alteration of the school records was against the rules or morally wrong was seen as beside the point by the students. High school had become merely an obstacle to be shoved aside on their path to their individual goals. Unlike the websites they visited, it did not change to maintain their interest. It was always the same, and thus, it failed them!

The attack on the Berkeley High computers is by no means an isolated incident; it is merely one among many strikes by the Digital Generation against what they see as an antiquated system which has little or no meaning to their lives.  Moore’s Law states that the power of microprocessors doubles every 18 months; conversely, it appears, the patience of the Digital Generation with the world around them decreases by 50% in the same amount of time.

In light of this, school leadership around the world needs to take note of the expectations of their pupils and change accordingly.  To delay, or do nothing will mean their rapid obsolescence in the eyes of the very people they are supposed to be serving!

 

Bauerlein, M. Generation Text.  America, 12 October 2009, Issue #9, pp. 20-22

Prensky, M. Turning on the Lights. Educational Leadership, March, 2008.  Vol. 65, issue #6, pp.  40-45.

Prensky, M. Digital Natives & Digital Tourists. Psychologist, Jul2011, Vol. 24 Issue 7, p494-495, 2p

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

My Old Buddy

Today I spotted an old friend–he was scratched, bruised, and even dented, but his presence–just being there–made me smile. His eyes were as bright as ever, and I could see that he had traveled very far since he was last in my care, but as the song says, Still the Same!

This old friend was a pickup truck that I owned about 20 years ago. It was, and still is, a bright yellow in color; a 1978 Toyota, with racing stripes on the hood and sides. It was short bed, with a straight four in the engine and body composed of solid steel–an attribute which proved itself in mortal combat with a GMC some years later. I loved that car a lot, and today I saw that it is still being treated with loving care.

I first spotted my old friend in the parking lot a high school where a number of used cars were being displayed (illegally, it turned out) for the drivers of a busy thoroughfare. I drove past a number of times in the summer of 1984, and then called the owner to request a test-drive. It performed with ease, though the steering was manual, a feature common to the 1978 model. It was five speed on the stick, with a short bed that was scratched and scuffed from hauling many a mixed lot of junk from one house to the other, I was told. After a week’s thought, I called to meet the guy, and we started haggling. He wanted $3200, and we settled on $2800. One cashier’s check and some DMV paperwork later, and I was the owner!

Over the next five years, my friend and I drove cross-country, negotiated mountain terrain, filled and emptied four apartments and two storage lockers, hydroplaned across a river, and even got airborne after taking a steep hill a little too fast! My friend’s only problem was that he had a bit of a drinking problem–the truck burned a quart of oil every 1,000 miles; three mechanics and a buddy were unable to fix the problem, so I just let it stay. He didn’t smoke, and was always there when I needed him, so why not forgive him for a little fault?

There were many bumper stickers that came and went. One of my favorites was black with old-style computer lettering on it with a bulls-eye, which read, “Tailgaters Targeted for Termination”.

There were many funny incidents which occurred with my truck, but the one that I will never forget was at the grocery store. It had been a hard day, and I had decided to pick up a six-pack and a package of chicken wings, cook dinner and hit the sack. I drove my truck to the market, picked up my groceries, drove home, and was just getting ready to go to my apartment when I stopped dead: the gas flap was wide open. That was not possible, because my gas-flap was the locking kind! With a sickening dread, I looked inside and realized that the stereo was stock, rather than the up-to-date Kenwood stereo that I had installed a week after I bought my truck. With dawning horror, I looked at the license plates, and realized that I had driven home from the market in someone else’s Toyota pickup truck!

Throwing the groceries back into the truck, I gunned the engine (yes, the key worked perfectly!) and raced back to the market, hoping against hope that whoever else owned a truck like mine was still there. Sure enough, my yellow pickup was right where I’d left it, and no one was nearby. I parked right next to it, put my groceries onto my seat, debated leaving a note and then decided against it unless I wanted to invest in a new ignition system. Then I barreled out and headed for home, resolving to switch grocery stores, and also to do something to make my truck a bit less ordinary-looking. The following day I invested in some sheepskin seat-covers.

After five years, I racked up enough mileage for a one-way trip to the moon–240,000 miles. After accepting my first overseas job, I knew we had to part ways. My little yellow friend was sold to a chemist who needed a vehicle to take yard trimmings and loads of dirt (he was installing a swimming pool) to the dump. I later learned he gave the truck to his daughter who drove it down to Cal Poly.

But today, I saw it again–at least, it looked an awful lot like my old friend. Scraped, battered, but still going strong. As I paused in my course of pushing a load of groceries to my car (a Lincoln Town Car), I saw the owner–an elderly, white-haired woman–absently rub the steel hood with a loving hand before she went into the CVS drugstore, perhaps for a prescription or just for the sale on Whitman candies.

That loving stroke had once been mine, pushing a wax-filled rag or a soap-soaked sponge to scour the dirt or rust from the steel shell which had protected me from a runaway GMC Cutlass; the front end of the GMC had been destroyed, but my yellow buddy only had a small dent, which simply added to his character.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment