American Culture – American Heritage – American Policy

America, Land of the Free, Home of the Brave, yada, yada, yada. The U.S. of A.— it is a state of mind as much as it is a physical location. People from around the globe look at America (or used to) as a land of opportunity, a land of promise, a land where hopes and dreams were the equal of ways and means.  And we came to this existence honestly, sort of. While we have built this image on the backs of enslaved, indentured, and free: First Peoples, African, European, Asian, Hispanic, Arab, Indian, et al., and we have worked towards a more perfect union via pen and sword, we have left out many of our fellow Americans when it came to crafting inclusive policies. In this way, we have created, by design, a culture that today resembles the America of 1780 and 1870 and 1960 — and this is a problem. Culture doesn’t change overnight, and heritage, a central piece that comes from culture (both in theory and practice) tends to hold a more prominent position, at our American table, than the concepts of understanding and empathy — both historically and within current realities. If there is interest in changing that part of our culture that still views some Americans as “greater than” and some Americans as “less than” and many Americans as “other than”, we need to advocate for this change through policies and let our legislators know that current practices are not in keeping with the promises this nation was founded upon — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” And by all “men”, we mean every American.

Let’s start with the policy piece of the puzzle. Policy — good, bad, or neutral, or all of the above, depending on whether you’re sitting at the table, serving the table, or unaware that a table exists, has dramatic effects on communities, and communities make-up the nation. Policies targeting financial, social, and environmental sectors can solidify the standing of one community while destroying the fabric of another. Whether the policies are created by government entities or private corporations is less important than the long-term effects that the policies will leave. In addition, policies have direct and long lasting impacts on culture and from culture we discover/construct heritage (a rather important concept within any population).

Starting at the beginning, before the 2nd Continental Congress convened, before Samuel Nicholas raised a Battalion of Marines, before Plymouth Rock, all the way back to the first permanent settlement, Jamestown (1607), that’s where we need to go to understand how we ended up “here“. The policies that defined America’s earliest trajectory were mostly concerned with hierarchy and land and “savages”. The policies that gave European emigrants the right to claim lands that were inhabited by Native People started us down a long path we can call the White-Superiority-Complex Highway (WSCH) (not to be confused with the Napoleon Complex). The new settlers believed themselves superior because of technology in the form of weapons, governmental structures, religious practices, dress, living accommodations, you name it. Natives were seen as savages and therefore “less than” the “superior” Europeans.

Just over a decade later, we find the first (as yet) verified instance of Africans being brought to Jamestown (the future America) in 1619. The fact that they wound up in Jamestown is not of little consequence as it presented the English with another lane on the WSCH (the beginnings of a super highway). The Africans were assumed to be savages, similar to the Indigenous peoples of the New World. And, because they were taken as slaves, by other Europeans, it was seen as a natural extension that they should hold a similar position to the other “savages” on the continent (chattel slavery developed over a couple of decades (via practice and policy), it wasn’t yet established at this time). This began the long and disastrous cultural solidifying of imagined superiority over all people with darker skin.

As chattel slavery took hold in the 13 Colonies, those who owned Africans, and other light-skinned Europeans in close geographic vicinity, used religion (a form of policy/doctrine from above) to justify their treatment of the enslaved people. Additionally, policies were created that required the enslaved to carry a pass, if they were traveling away from the plantation/farm where they lived (to mean going somewhere else to work, not vacation). This worked in the favor of those who wished to paint the “savages” as “child-like” and in constant need of adult supervision (mythology always has a backstory). Add to this the policies that made it a crime to teach the enslaved how to read and we can see how the WSCH was being reinforced through all possible avenues (picture Talladega with longer straightaways, that’s bad news). Even in parts of the colonies where slavery had not taken hold (which is not to say slavery was completely missing), the mythology of inferiority and savagery had made its way into most corners of the British holding.

Jump forward a century and look at the words that were placed in the U.S. Constitution for purposes of representation within Congress— Article 1- Section 2- Paragraph 3, it reads:

“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons”

… All other persons being the enslaved Africans. We codified the idea that enslaved individuals, Africans in this case, were really and truly “less than”; they were legally considered 3/5 of a White person (and also, chattel). And this was not some minor State or local law that might be changed in due time; this was the document that would go on to be the beacon for so many other nations who were fighting for their own freedom from tyranny, this is our founding document. At this point, White superiority was well established, the culture of America was very clearly a culture that made skin color the most significant aspect of whether or not an individual had any rights in the society (with gender and language/dialect playing various, if less important, roles as well). And in case anybody wasn’t entirely certain, the Dred Scott Supreme Court case (1857), reinforced this belief.

In the case of Dred Scott v. Sandford, the Supreme Court ruled, by a 7-2 margin, that Africans were not considered the equal of any White person. Chief Justice Taney wrote the following in his opinion for the majority:

“They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.”

Taney also states, in reference to the United States Constitution,

“It then proceeds to say: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among them is life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.’

“The general words above quoted would seem to embrace the whole human family, and if they were used in a similar instrument at this day would be so understood. But it is too clear for dispute, that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included, and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this declaration; for if the language, as understood in that day, would embrace them, the conduct of the distinguished men who framed the Declaration of Independence would have been utterly and flagrantly inconsistent with the principles they asserted; and instead of the sympathy of mankind, to which they so confidently appealed, they would have deserved and received universal rebuke and reprobation.”

Think about the meaning of that. Think about the arguments that are still used in modern times by those who don’t understand the deranged inanity of such an ignorant statement. Think about what you believe and what you learned from your family and community—how does that compare with what I’m writing about here?

This case was decided just 3 years before South Carolina seceded from the Union. With each new State that joined the ranks of the Confederacy, the presumption of war became more real. Here to, amongst the ranks of the Southern “gentlemen”, we find literature that supports policy measures and practices meant to retain the “superior race” in a position of power (and this is where the heritage piece starts to show up most prominently, never mind that the heritage we’re referring to is tied to the Confederate States of America, not the Good Ole U.S. of A.). By this point, the WSCH had become a super highway from Maine to Florida; and several spurs had now been constructed running to all points (South)West, Midwest, and Northwest, and included not just the Black and Native peoples, but the Chinese and the Mexicans. Our transcontinental WSCH was nearly complete. We would “welcome” new immigrants and refugees in the coming century and provide them with similar treatment (South Asian, Southern European, Middle Eastern, et al.). Our culture was fully ingrained with Whiteness as the baseline against which all else would be measured. But we weren’t done yet.

War commenced between the States (1861) and the North was victorious, and everything was good, right? No, not right. For a period of about a decade, the Federal Govt. did it’s best to impose some semblance of what they thought normalcy should look like in the New South. There were some advances with the election of Black men to both State and Federal positions; but all told, the experiment didn’t work so well. And, and this is a BIG AND, the 13th Amendment, you know, the one that outlawed slavery? Well, it didn’t entirely outlaw the practice. Exceptions were made for those citizens (read: formerly enslaved) who were “running afoul” of the law (here, read: walking while Black, not showing proper deference/respect to a White person, or any actual criminal activity). The 13th amendment is the single most important piece of policy in respect to White America’s improper and unwarranted fear of and disrespect towards, People of Color. This policy catastrophe (“…except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted…”) has resulted in a rapid expansion of America’s biggest shit-show, a.k.a. media exploitation of Black “criminality”; and it’s driven largely by the uber-conservative far-right of the GOP but it affects everyone’s ability to rationally think about “race” in America. Hence, current cultural norms being what they are, in vast sections of the country, don’t really seem so strange. Anyway, exit the Federal Government (1877), enter the State and local Legislators and the Black Codes.

The Black Codes were a new set of laws/policy measures meant to restrict the Freedmen’s ability to fully engage with/participate in the larger society. The former Confederacy had acted quickly to implement these laws but with Reconstruction happening concurrently, most had to be put on hold, to a degree, until Uncle SAM headed North. And then, posthaste, Jim Crow introduced his-self, lynch-law (a de facto policy that made kangaroo courts appear perfectly right and proper) took the place of the faux court proceedings that were used during Reconstruction, and just like that, we had concocted a brand new America that looked an awful lot like the ante-bellum nation of a few decades prior (Make The South Great Again, I guess…). With no means of changing policy (because their voting rights had been removed) and the constant threat of being caught up by a lynch mob (for any number of reasons, to include “that kinda looks like the guy that whistled at my girl” – sound familiar America?), African Americans (and all other Communities of Color) have continued to be perceived more negatively, over time, than what reality warrants.

The final policies to consider (and this is by no means an exhaustive list), which include those enacted between the 1930s and today, are connected to the types of systemic racism that are less easily seen, but are no less destructive in their methods. Redlining (the practice of preventing people from buying homes in particular neighborhoods—White neighborhoods specifically);  gerrymandering so as to make some people’s votes (this would be, of course, People of Color, largely) less important in state and local elections; both the intent and the implementation of drug laws; and the policies that have kept more poorly funded schools from receiving the equitable funding that could help diminish the equality and educational achievement gap, on several fronts.

So that’s how the policies of America have worked to create a culture that believes in the mythology of White superiority/supremacy (even while “borrowing” in perpetuity, from Communities of Color to make American culture, on the whole, much more Afro/LatinX/Asian-centric than most White people would like to admit). Think about what all of this means, think about how the combination of these policies, for centuries, have created an atmosphere of animus towards/fear of People of Color while simultaneously working to prevent Communities of Color from building wealth in the same ways that White communities have done. From health outcomes, to finance, and from environmental impacts to social stigmatizing, this norming of White superiority has had detrimental effects on our nation’s social, economic, and environmental spheres. To say that America doesn’t have a White supremacy problem is to ignore all of our history. And while it is not necessary to personally buy-in to the cultural norm in order to benefit from it, to pretend it doesn’t exist does nothing to address the issue.

Finally, the discussion of the heritage piece of this matter. We are… still… dealing with the idea of Southern heritage as American heritage, in relation to statues and flags and White power and all that mess. While it is true that the Confederates who fought against America were Americans prior to and immediately after the Civil War, in theory, if not practice, the hatred for “Yankees” and anyone else who might’ve tried to tell “Johnny Reb” that s/he must treat Black Americans as equals, remained particularly intense for more than 100 years. That feeling remains ingrained in certain individuals and communities in 2017.  And before you tell yourself that this small contingent of White supremacists (read: ignoramus maximi) is not fully representative of the larger White community (which I would agree with), consider the number of White folks who were willing to remain silent and those who went so far as to mention the 1st amendment to promote the Nazi’s right to march (in Charlottesville) with those flags, chant those words, and generally make a mockery of everything that the original anti-fascists fought against.

We cannot, I repeat, CAN NOT, expect the election of 1 Black President (2 times) to change hundreds of years of blatant racist policy and misinformation. The spreading of lies, by ill informed (and sometimes just plain stupid) individuals and corporations, will require at least 100 years to counteract. I believe the work has started but not all that long ago. Heritage, being what it is, will remain a barrier to those who fight against Confederate ideology and the symbols/heroes who represent that era. We could have 10,000 Black & Native & Hispanic elected officials, at every level of Local, State, & Federal GOVT, for the next half century, and still find White supremacist/superiority literature and beliefs littering our nation’s Byways.  We can change this trajectory but we can’t do it overnight, and we can’t do it without a majority of people raising their voices in unison.

So how do we make this change, you ask? It starts with talking, something too many are still afraid of. Conversations revolving around America’s ugly past  must become commonplace and they absolutely have to strike nerves and be uncomfortable. Once we can move past the difficulty of addressing the issue, we can get down to fixing it. Considering we’ve been able to do this, on a smaller, and less vitriolic (consider the context), scale, with the Irish, the Italians, Jews, and other groups who were initially seen as outsiders and “others”. I believe we can do it, it’s only a matter of IF we will do it.

Conversations lead to political action. Political action has the capacity to become policy. Policy is what got us into this mess, policy will get us out. Policies that address the systemic inequalities and inequities that we have allowed to continue since the 1600s can be reversed. Investing, rather than divesting, in inner-city neighborhoods and rural communities of Color, and in affordable housing, is a good place to start. Concurrently, provide incentives for private industry to invest in these same communities which will provide stability in the short term and opportunities to build wealth and roots in the long term. Encourage cross-sector, cross-state, cross-boundary (urban-rural) partnerships. Get creative, that’s the future of our macro economy. Creativity has always played a major role but that role is increasing exponentially with each passing day.

It only takes 1 person to start the cultural, political, social change, that will move us out of the past centuries and into the future. When police are able to choke a man to death, as he gasps for air and hoarsely whispers, “I can’t breathe”, and we don’t hold them accountable; or they drive up on a child who is playing with a toy gun in a park (as millions of other children have done for a century or more), jump out of a squad car and shoot him without bothering to ask what he was doing, and not be held accountable, we have policy issues that need to be addressed. We have a nation that needs to project a voice that is clear and confident and forceful and which tells those in charge, one more minute is 60 seconds too long.

Policies influence culture, culture shapes heritage, heritage is used as a symbol to protect what is being lost. America’s heritage is not built solely on the false narrative of White superiority, but that idea gets far more attention than it deserves. White supremacy and superiority is a fallacy that needs to die. America was not founded as a place for White people to reign supreme, nor was it built by the toil of White labor alone. Without the multitude of diverse voices and colors working together, we do not achieve the status of SuperPower, the status we still hold, if only for a while. Without the contributions of the multitudes, we are Atlantis, a great story that provides fairy tale material but no actual contribution to our global community. Without new and dynamic policies that address our greatest sins, we will most certainly go down in history as the greatest nation to ever fail. Let’s not fail, not here, not now.

Resume Writing 101: For The New Job Market

Grads, recent grads, kind of recent grads, youngish, oldish, 8 – 80, dropouts, drop-ins, dropped on head, whatever. If you’re in the market for a new job (and you probably are, considering the money you owe someone), I’ve got great news! There’s never been a better time to be a job seeker. Between the stable (and fast-growing) economy, the steady political environment, and the recent news about NEW RESUME STANDARDS, you’re getting in at the perfect time. So bust out your highlighter, or, if you prefer not to print (environmentally friendly, you’ll go far), turn on the highlighter on your i-pad and get ready to take notes from the most complete resume writing white paper ever written.

Job searching, what a pain. I’ve never met a person who was excited about the prospect of the job search. People are excited about new jobs, leaving existing jobs, making/meeting new friends/coworkers, &, of course, buying beer that tastes like something other than Bud Light, with their first big paycheck, but the job search itself, not so much. One of the worst parts of the process is tailoring your resume to each job you’re applying to; it’s a slog that compares favorably to gator wrestling while peeling M&Ms. But no more, welcome to the 21st century’s 1st big paradigm shift in the world of work… resume development.

Writing a perfect resume is not possible—no such animal exists. Anyone who tells you different doesn’t know anything, don’t listen to them. Now that we’ve got that minor detail out of the way, let’s get down to the art & science of writing the almost perfect resume. And for those of you who are wondering, “who is this guy; and what does he know about job searching and resume writing”. Well, I’ve been in the field of work (both the paid and unpaid kinds) for more than 20 years (started when I was 7). I’ve applied to, and been hired by, more than a few outfits and, most importantly, I recently spent 30 minutes in a Human Relations/Human Resources (H.R.²) office. You’d be amazed at what a receptionist will reveal, if you offer them a smile and a piece of gum.

The new H.R.²/hiring facilitator(s)/Director of Recruitment (but not retention)/Fate Controller, no longer questions your qualifications. In their mind, you wouldn’t have applied if you weren’t qualified (and the resume screening software filtered out 99% of the fit and unfit applicants). What they do want to know about is you. Yep, Y. O. U. you. The real you. The person that goes on Instagram and Snapchat, Facebook (if you still use that archaic medium), Twitter (if #politics and #twitterwars #followback #Trumpsaidwhat and all that sort of thing interests you), but not MySpace, if you have an account, delete it, that’s an automatic strike, and you only get four strikes, like baseball, in Canada, in the winter leagues. Most importantly here, the potential employer wants to know HOW DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN 5 YEARS. Not where, HOW? So, now that you know what they’re looking for, let’s talk specifics.

1. Names are important. This is the first thing that every recruiter/interviewer/ screener looks at. You might have the most amazing name in the history of names, something like Dax Ulysses Dellanova, aka DUD, but that won’t grab anyone’s attention in H.R.² You need to differentiate yourself by adding a moniker. This is your 1st, and possibly last, opportunity to distinguish yourself from the candidate field.

As an example, I use “Captain America” so as to highlight my commitment to managing others (Captain), and, “America” clearly exhibits my willingness to move anywhere for the job (so long as there are Americans around, and the compensation is adequate). For those looking to land in a particular region, the right name lets H.R.² know that you are willing to move from your beautiful home in Wichita, KS to find gainful employment in Laguna Beach, or Dana Point, or even Newport Beach. A perfect example of this is Lieutenant Left Coast; this signals two things: you are a “command & control” type (particularly good fit for organizations that prefer the rigid environment of a military chain-of-command) and you’re willing to move to Orange County, CA and live within a block or two of the beach (you have grit). On the other hand, if you’re locked in to one specific location, because the pancakes at the Glass City Cafe, in Toledo, are the best pancakes on earth, then maybe something like, Glass City Guy, or Frog Town Fool, or T-Town Timmy (if your name is Tim) would work. The other sure-fire bet is to incorporate a skill set into your catchy sobriquet.

Think about those individuals who chose just the right title to advertise who they are and which skills they possess: Slick Rick, Mother Jones, Moses Malone, Gordon Gekko (I honestly don’t know the connection between Wall St. & small lizards but it worked for him), Pope Francis, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Chesty Puller, Jimmy/James Dean (here again, sausage and pop-idol actor/icon, I don’t get it, but I don’t have to, you need to figure out what works for You). These are but a few examples of people who were/are forward thinking. They found a unique tag and huge success followed because of it (and because they were pretty talented).

2. Working with others, on a team, with real people, is no longer optional in the majority of operations. You need to show-off your ability to work with others. Decades of research have shown that no company achieves greatness (measured in quarterly profit and loss statements) without highly motivated, highly successful teams. As an aside, one question you, the job seeker, should ask the interview team, is – “how often do you have team building exercises?” If the answer is anything less than once a month, kindly thank them for their time, get up, and walk out. Don’t waste your time with an outfit that is obviously headed for bankruptcy.

Back to teams. Discuss, at length, every team you’ve ever been a part of. This includes t-ball, youth gymnastics, chess club, swing choir, Young Republicans, The Drinking Dems (if you were in this club, don’t bring up any specifics and definitely don’t make any references to “Natty Light”, that’s an automatic strike), tailgating crews, corn-hole cooperative, etc. et al. They love listening to this stuff; go on for hours if you can, lay it on thick. Remember it’s always “we”, never “me”.

3. This portion of the resume is where you get to talk about your connections, i.e. people your company could tap if cash-on-hand is running low. Without name-dropping (because that’s considered gauche in an interview, save it for yachting up the coast), casually toss out phrases that include signifiers such as “I spent many summers laying by the pool, at my cousin’s estate in East Hampton” & “my dad said the year I spent in Hong Kong, researching Asian market trends, will pay off when I need to find a real job”. And, if you’re not as well-heeled as all that, you can still reference the annual trips to Sundance & Cannes where you “catch up with mom and dad’s friends from prep school… their work is so timely, so… mmmm… brilliant”. Don’t be shy on this part of the resume, it’s networking at its finest.

4. If you already have work experience (not including the car wash where you used to buy weed and hang out for a few hours before heading to Fat Burger), real, honest-to-goodness work, with coworkers, and a boss, and paychecks… try to remember if any of them ever paid you a work related compliment. In this section of your resume (ACCOMPLISHMENTS!), you can include accolades such as “She did a really great job”, or “That’s outstanding insert your name here, you’re a fast emailer”, or “Wow! You did that? Terrific!” This lets your future employer know that you’re capable of good work, even if you don’t do it everyday. And, if you have more than 3 “atta-boys”, make it a separate section titled “PEOPLE SAID THIS ABOUT ME!” or “TESTIMONIALS!“; that’s really impressive.

5. Education section— this isn’t optional. You know, I know, your friends know, you’re an educated fool with money on your mind. However, your new coworkers don’t want to work with a “Pukey” if they attended UNC or NC State or Wake Forest, or any school that has lost an NCAA tournament game to Duke (which does not include Mercer, Eastern Michigan, V.C.U., & Lehigh); nor would a “Pukey” want to work in that type of hostile environment. The same logic applies to the Wolverines-Buckeyes, Bruins-Trojans, Cardinals-Wildcats, & Tigers-Tide, frenemies.

6. The new layout. Here’s where things really get fun, i.e. the BIGGEST piece of the paradigm shift. For centuries, millenia even, we’ve been taught that font size, font consistency, white space, being succinct, etc, are very important. No more. Think Big; Think One-Size-Fits-All, Think of “the box” as six loosely associated parallelograms hanging out in an area where multiple planes intersect. The new resume is FUN. Use 8 different fonts; 10 different font sizes; 15 colors; add links to your favorite work related songs and non-work related songs; make it 25, 30, 100 pages in length; include a brief description of how you picked your spirit animal and why you prefer white wine to scotch; emojisPineapple on Apple iOS 9.3 Woman Dancing: Medium Skin Tone on Apple iOS 10.3 Palm Tree on Apple iOS 10.3  Hibiscus on Apple iOS 10.3 Sailboat on Apple iOS 10.3 Octopus on Apple iOS 10.3 are in; exclamation points are encouraged!!; and mention a couple items of office gossip (use employees’ pet names) so they know you have connections on the inside… write a book; chances are nobody will ever see it anyway, it’ll be screened out with the other 1,500 resumes from hard charging job seekers. So go wild (writing can be very cathartic).

Action photos have replaced headshots and are now commonplace with Fortune 500 applicants

7. Add a picture or six. This used to be appropriate only for those industries where a pretty face was considered essential for the position (television newscaster, actor, cheerleader, banker, candy striper, male escort, realtor, etc.) but today’s work setting requires employers to not only assess whether or not your skills, personality, social media game, and activity levels will be a good fit with the liveware already employed but also if your image (to include your sense of style) is going to be cause for daily conversations/work stoppages revolving around your choice of headwear. Additionally, include pictures that are not of you. Do you have friends that look like they would fit in with the culture at the place you’re hoping to be hired? Include their photo. And Beagles, great breed, very popular with most hiring managers, they’re people oriented dogs with a great demeanor— make that connection for H.R.², don’t assume they’ll know you based on your 10,000 words alone. One other category of photo to consider is the “artistic you”. Any great shots of brick next to grass, in lowlight, blending bokeh, soft, and blurry into one image, like you were drunk and accidentally snapping photos as you fell to the ground, those are perfect. This shows your creative side; and if we know anything about the future of work, we know that creativity is our last best hope to stave off the relentless pursuit of bright young minds around the globe (teamwork only goes so far, we aren’t doing any team building exercises with the Swedes).

Bokeh & Blurry – Minneapolis, Lake Street, Southside, dusk, sunset, dirty bus window filter

After completing your masterpiece and sending it out into the interweb, do yourself a favor, hand deliver a second copy to the person in charge. Walk it right into their office and give them a copy (with a $20 bill paper-clipped to the top, not folded, make it conspicuous). This lets the boss(es) know you’re serious about your desire to work for their company. More than likely this won’t get you a job (or even an interview), but it will make you feel like you’ve done everything in your power and well, that’s something.

Good luck as you begin your quest for gainful and meaningful employment. A few last pieces of advice. Don’t be afraid to ask Google if you aren’t sure about something; but remember, Google doesn’t have all the answers. Don’t take every piece of advice that is given regardless of the source; some people don’t realize that their “skills” had nothing to do with their successful job hunt. And last, whatever you do, don’t give up; this process can take a decade or longer and include many sidequests, false-starts, and shitty days. Ever Forward job seekers!

Call people who know people. Networking is key, even with a great resume.
This is tongue in cheek, sarcasm, not real, but glean from it what makes sense, a few ideas aren’t so far from reality.

 

Foreign Policy is Hard: In the 1st 100 Days— & Beyond

Foreign policy is hard. Really. Really. Hard. Public policy, generally speaking, foreign or domestic, local or national, big or small, by the very nature of its process, is not easy. So when we look at what is going on with the current administration’s efforts around governmental policy of every variety (a resounding failure in the First 100 Days), it is worrisome to imagine what comes next.

Before delving into the myriad reasons that foreign policy is so difficult, let’s consider one domestic policy issue that, while clear-cut in its desired outcome, was a very chaotic and drawn out process (State-by-State) with the Supreme Court making the final ruling: gay marriage. This will provide context for the difficulties encountered when leaving the home-land to work on hairy situations.

The crafting of domestic policy is an amalgam that often brings together actors with differing ideas about how to achieve the best outcome, based on their views surrounding the issue. The State of Minnesota used a ballot measure (2012, Minnesota Amendment 1) which allowed the voters to determine the outcome of marriage equality; and many other States used the courts to provide legal status for same-sex marriage, prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling. On one side of the divide was the group that opposed any legal recognition of same-sex couples’ unions. The opposing view held that societal laws have no role in restricting a gay/lesbian couple from carrying out their lives in the same way that hetero relationships are affirmed. Within each camp we found various degrees of difference (domestic partnerships, civil unions, etc, etc); but at the end of the day, one was either pro-marriage for all consenting adults, or anti-same-sex marriage. Even with an issue that was so clearly defined, the messiness and complexity of the legislative affairs and public maneuvering/posturing/messaging led to many heated debates, broken relationships, and fissures that have not yet been healed. And that’s just a taste of what happens in the recipe-making of local domestic policy affairs. Imagine working on this topic with Nigeria.

It is likely that the countries and peoples of the African continent will prove to be the most important pieces of the global economic future. We might want to engage more seriously with the leaders throughout this majestic land.

Foreign policy is a world unto itself. It is, like any policy matter, made more difficult when opposing beliefs or ideas require oppositional actors to find common ground (compromise). Additionally, barriers created by language, culture, and custom, conspire to increase the already difficult job of the principal negotiators. For these reasons, it is best to have learned, seasoned, professionals when attempting any type of serious foreign policy matter (Jared Kushner is not the walking embodiment of these requirements). And… the ability to place everything into the proper context is crucial.

The Middle East is made more complex by the passage of time and the number of foreign entities entangled in the region’s affairs.

Foreign policy requires a great deal of time and effort, again, like the domestic type, but more so. One can’t simply decide to negotiate arms treaties, agricultural assistance, economic development & trade, environmental concerns, human rights, conflict resolution, foreign aid, terrorism, and many other international public affairs of all form and fashion, without putting in years/decades of research into those matters. It is for this reason (the knowledge factor) that we should act with caution when making decisions that will affect people in multiple countries/world regions both directly and indirectly. The outcomes of these negotiations are potentially far more disruptive to the planet as a whole.

It’s generally considered bad form to treat one’s allies as second class.

There are many countries with whom we share a long history and have therefore learned how to work together for mutual benefit. When it comes to working out trade deals with Canada, Mexico, the European Union, Morocco, Japan, South Korea, China, and many of the countries of the Caribbean, Central, & South America, we usually know what to expect. We have been interacting with these governments for more than a century, in many cases. And, with a few exceptions by a diplomat or politician, we have maintained strong ties, making for fewer hang-ups in any potential agreement. That doesn’t mean that bargaining with these countries isn’t difficult, it just means that we are better prepared based on historical precedent and the faith that our deal-makers are up to speed on the economic conditions, popularity of elected officials, cultures, histories, values, mores, and customs/mannerisms in said country.

Conversely, conducting negotiations and treaties with governments that are not inclined to trust us, find our tactics oppressive or strong-armed, or simply don’t like our elected officials, can lead to obstacles at every turn. We’ve witnessed this play-out as long-standing feuds with established States and seen it happen with newly formed governments (post U.S. exit); the process is also more difficult when working with newly formed countries. With every new unknown comes the potential for error. Whether it is making a favorable reference to an unpopular member of a former administration, a translation gone awry, or a choice of clothing accessory, the pitfalls awaiting a delegation are plentiful. Working with governments that are neither similar in design nor sharing in all of the values/norms that our country adheres to can make for tough— really, really, tough, negotiations. This is the reality of governmental deal making across borders. To say it is different from making real estate/golf course/hotel deals, is to say, LeBron is a pretty average basketball player (and if you’re even thinking about speaking those words out loud, keep your pie hole shut).

Russia and the former USSR States require delicacy and posturing based on intelligence— and context that envelopes more than a century’s worth of convoluted historical affairs.

Another issue that comes into play is “interests”. While we may have much in common with another nation, our interests are not always aligned with others’ national affairs. This can, and does, make it more difficult for the pundits and other non-actors to appreciate the final arrangement; both for what it accomplished and for what it didn’t unnecessarily involve. Sometimes it means giving up an incentive or condition in order to promote peaceful coexistence between other nations. Sometimes it means waiting longer than is necessary/recommended to take action, knowing that in the long-run, it often is the wise choice.

It is possible to condone while cooperating, control while compromising, and work toward win-win solutions, rather than playing a zero sum game.

We can’t afford to proceed down the path of reactionary policy measures. This not only destroys our ability to shape world affairs (which we must continue to do, given our current  place in the global spectrum— whether we want to or not) but more importantly, it weakens us in the most important area of foreign policy negotiations, credibility. If we can’t be trusted, we have nothing. Our military might won’t save us if Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and 47 other countries decide that we are full of shit and no longer worth dealing with. Veracity must be a norm that is not compromised for short-term gains— and it must, absolutely has to, start at the top. This is not optional. 

Embracing and including our closest neighbors, in all policy matters, is in the best interest of all parties in the hemisphere. We cannot go backwards and hope our trajectory takes care of itself. It doesn’t work that way.

Addendum for anyone working with/near/for the administration:

Alessia Cara is not a foreign policy expert; however, she is a Canadian, born to Italian parents, and she makes music that mentions policy, albeit briefly. Maybe the new administration should take a listen to her music and see what they can glean from the syntax/lyrics. Wild Things  Here I mean really, it can’t hurt.

And speaking of the 808 (Roland TR-808, mentioned by Miss Cara in “Wild Things”), here’s another policy lesson. When working on getting a piece of legislation passed, or making diplomatic inroads in a foreign country, one must have a good sense of when a policy window will open, and then have the ability to exploit the opening with Usain Bolt type speed. Listen for the starting gun, i.e. focus on what’s being said and who’s saying it. Kick it MCA… Hold it Now, Hit It.

 

Stop Hating on Millennials

I’m done listening to older generations bitch about Millennials (born 1981-2000). It’s time to take stock of a few items that apparently have gone unnoticed by some Gen X-ers (my generation) & Baby Boomers. For ease of reading, I’ll use numerals and letters, easier to refer back to for “older folks” ;).

  1. The majority of these young folks have come into adulthood in the years just preceding and following 9/11. If you think that they were less affected because they were too young to understand the magnitude of that event, think again. If you think they would be able to shake off the feelings in a few years, forgetting how much our society changed on that day, you’re wrong. If you think the wars in Afghanistan & Iraq wouldn’t mean much to those who didn’t actually step foot on the battlefield, guess again. They have experienced just as much psychological stress as the rest of us, if not more. Their lives changed in dramatic ways just as they were supposed to be solidifying a trajectory for adulthood. And yes, many of us have individually gone through major changes, difficulties, chaos, but as a generational experience, this was pretty huge.
  2. They were implored to get all the education they could get. They had to be able to compete on a global stage, they needed to spend countless hours studying so that they might score high enough on the ACT/SAT to get into the best college with the best programs (and this is where we see the rapid increase in the segregating of the students into “tracks”, another issue that affected them intergenerationally). They were pushed not just to succeed but to excel, they had to be the best, or at least amongst the best. Simultaneously, they were being introduced to all the new technologies of the day and told they must learn how It works because It is the future. The stress that this placed upon them was immense.
  3. Not everyone went to college, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t getting smart as well. Rigor was part of the K-12 program; and along with the life events they experienced, they received the best public education that our country had ever offered. So in addition to the smarty pants’ who were getting a B.A./B.S. there were a lot of intelligent young people with a high school diploma running around the country. This did help them, initially, the mid to late 1990’s offered a pretty strong job market and gave this group hope that the future held the same promise for them that it did for their parents and grandparents. If only they knew what was coming.
  4. College costs: Along with getting as much out of high school as they could, they were strongly encouraged to get a college degree. I don’t think everybody needed/needs a college degree but in today’s world, some sort of degree (2-year, 4-year, graduate, etc) is more often required for many jobs, so they did. If college costs had risen at rates that were similar to the rest of our consumer goods, they would have been ok, but that wasn’t the case. Between 1980 and 2014 the average cost of tuition at a 4 year institution rose by 260 percent. That’s a lot of dough. So they coughed it up, or more likely, borrowed it. Not a big deal though, because in America, we can count on economic growth like we experienced in the 1990s, with the job market doing great, no worries—except, that didn’t last.
  5. After 9/11, Congress backed George W. Bushes plan to cut taxes (2003), his second big tax reduction and this one while two wars were being waged. The stupidity of such an act belies the common sense of a fifth grader. This was not the kind of thing that would benefit a forthcoming generation (skyrocketing deficits and all).
  6. The economy stagnated as did job growth in the Bush (43) era, until it stopped stagnating, and the bottom fell out. The housing market is most certainly a significant factor in this episode and its long-term consequences are still being felt today. Many Millennials are nervous about investing in a home as they can’t say for sure that:   A) it’s a good investment  B) not to mention their student loans C) and many are working jobs that are long on benefits (like free pizza fridays) but short on actual wages, and D) depending on location, there may not be a whole lot of affordable housing (rentals) which tends to have an effect on previously affordable homes (drives prices up).
  7. Jobs: What happened to all the jobs. Well, in addition to the economy collapsing in 2007…’08…’09… We lost a lot of jobs in the prior 25 years. Some businesses wanted to take advantage of cheaper labor overseas. Some needed to downsize or rightsize to account for market trends and new technology. Others found newer, more efficient methods and were able to increase productivity without increasing payroll (also known as: hey, I got new responsibilities (formerly Ted’s responsibilities), and without a pay raise, woo-hoo, they must really like me!).
  8. Speaking of student loans (4,6-B), this is one area that the government could most certainly do something about. It is in the best interest of everyone to have an electorate that is well educated (regardless of what type of work you do, you should be smart about it). Student loan interest rates, via Federal loan programs are currently set between 3.76% – 6.31%, and private loans can be several percentage points higher. Decreasing these rates to 1.5% – 3% would go a long way to cutting down on the total cost and the length of time required to pay back the loans, which means more money into the local economies, more money into savings/retirement, more money into the kids/grandkids college savings accounts. Having large debt, at a young age, is stressful; and more stressful when the good paying jobs are in short order.
  9. Student loans part II, or college tuition: Colleges need to keep the lights on, pay the professors, grounds and maintenance engineers, purchase the newest equipment (especially important in healthcare, manufacturing, computer technology, and aerospace courses), provide some sort of space for living, congregating, studying, and building camaraderie; but many schools have gone overboard on the extra amenities for the sake of attracting the “best & brightest”. This, along with bloated administrations and ridiculous salaries for the coaches of the ball teams, leads to costs being outlandish. And it would be easy to argue that it’s all worth it, if we still lived in an era of plenty; plenty-o-jobs, plent-o-salary, plenty-o-benefits, plenty-o-help for those in need, but that’s just not the world we’re living in.
  10. The perfect storm of the aforementioned crash of the U.S. economy (6), the housing market bubble popping (6), the loss of jobs over the prior 25 years (7), and student loan debts/college costs quickly rising (4,6-B,8,9) all helped lead us to where we are now. It’s a very different world than the one “we” grew up in, and their path getting here has been riddled with potholes, plagues, and sandstorms, different from the ones we experienced.

Here’s the deal. Every generation hears from previous generations about how much easier the youngens have it, how much tougher the older generations are, how today’s youth whine too much, don’t do this right, don’t do that right, and generally screw up the country. It’s not true, none of it. While we can say that the older generations have done a lot of good things, they/we have f*cked up plenty as well.

So back off the young folk. Don’t get mad when they get “all smart” on you. It’s not their fault that they spent so  much time preparing to do battle with the world’s smartest Millennials. Give them some credit for handling all the stress they’ve been dealt and moving forward in a way that makes sense for their future, not ours. Each generation does what it sees fit to best accomplish longevity for the herd, they are no different; they are finding their own way. As Jeanine Tesori said:

“If you’re doing something new there is always a sense of fear or foreboding but you’re in new ground and you have to get out your machete and cut a new path”

Ever Forward Millennials, just like the rest of us.

Change is part of our internal struggle, while difficult, it is necessary.
Change is part of our internal struggle, while difficult, it is necessary.

It Could Be Worse:

The election is over; the winner declared. Thankfully, we were assured that it was going to be rigged, so we don’t have to feel quite so bad about the results we’re seeing (they could have rigged it so it was “bigly” ugly). America has spoken; even those individuals who willingly chose not to cast a ballot (which excludes the vast majority of folks caught-up in our criminal justice system) and so we must reflect upon what has happened & come to grips with our new reality (to include pending court cases, etc, etc, for the future Commander-in-Chief).

It could be worse: the earthquakes affecting Oklahoma could increase in size and scope and team up with the San Andreas Fault and the Ramapo Fault, to cause much greater chaos (think Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, & Draymond Green playing in a 3-on-3 high school tournament; destruction).

First we need to understand how this happened… here’s my theory. The expansion of broadband internet and all technology in general, which includes social media apps and everything that goes along with that world, has done what no prior presidential nominee in our history has been able to do—it has allowed for the vast expanse of disaffected voters from all corners of the country (this group is predominantly White with more males than females, if only by a few, and typically over the age of 35, though they don’t discriminate against millennials who are “with them”) to come together in a unified effort to elect a person who represents “Hope”, to “them” (a Hope that shares four letters with the “HOPE” of Barack Obama’s presidency, but not much else).

Prior to Breitbart and other alt-right type websites penetrating the rural landscapes of America, people felt that they were part of a small group of outsiders that wasn’t represented by the folks in Washington. Sometimes they would vote, sometimes they wouldn’t and the outcomes were always the same; the issues they cared most about wouldn’t get the attention that they deserved. But this election cycle, they figured out (with the help of all that technology) that they aren’t just 25 here and 50 there, they are tens of millions strong; and when combined with a few more million who, to put it mildly, despise everything the U.S. government stands for (except the military, border patrol, road repairs, medicare/caid, corporate welfare—ok, there are a lot of things they like that are provided by the government), anyway… they could give a bump to that “special” candidate who speaks their language. And 2016 provided just the guy to make them feel as if somebody cared. Somebody said “I hear you and I’m going to do something about your plight”, as if they were Israelites wandering in the wilderness. 

It could be worse: climate change could speed up at an exponential rate leading to the reintroduction of dinosaurs as animals revert back to the forms that served them best in tropical climes (remember what happened in Jurassic World?)

The real problem for me, and many millions more (maybe billions if we include the rest of the globe), is two-fold. One, the “chosen one” is extremely foul in his manner. His blatant disregard for niceties in the company of children, his mocking of people with disabilities, his ridicule of veterans of all ages, his incessant vitriol and lack of respect for the entire genus of humans falling under the designation of “non-male, non-white, non-hetero, non-cisgender conforming, & non-christian,” is enough to make one physically ill… and yet it didn’t seem to bother others. In fact, some actually embraced their role as “deplorables”.

It could be worse: the “deplorables” could be abducted by aliens and become “super-breeders”, able to pop out a baby-deplorable, every 31 days or so

And two, he is genuinely clueless about public policy issues, as  public policy relates to, oh… say… everything; including everything that he’ll be expected to deal with for the next four years. He knows about real estate (though he often makes bad bets on it) and he knows about making deals (but I’m not sure if that means good deals, bad deals, or black jack deals), and he knows about hair product (which has almost nothing to do with governing and public affairs); but policy, the kind that is a fundamental part of the job for which he has just been elected, is not in his wheelhouse. That scares me, a lot, and it should scare you. Even if he appoints really really smart people to help him out, it is still the job of the President to make the final decision and if he doesn’t know which end is up, he might be diving towards the bottom as his scuba tank is running out of air.

It could be worse: all of Ecuador’s volcanoes could erupt simultaneously and the ash and smoke could cover the Amazon rainforests destroying our greatest source of carbon dioxide filtration

When a candidate does the things that he did, says the things that he said, and then gets the kind of support that he got, it makes me wonder, just how far we have come since 1865? On the one hand, we drive cars, fly planes, text by voice, and prepare meals without actually preparing anything. While simultaneously we see Rebel flag flying yahoos screaming at Black people that they should stop talking about slavery, because it was “so long ago” (is that ironic?) and wearing t-shirts that promote division and killing, not unity, amongst the people. They are incorrectly channeling their anger at a group of people who bear no responsibility for the loss of American manufacturing jobs or the financial situation they are facing.

It could be worse: the U.S. treasury could announce that all U.S. dollars are being converted to bitcoins and you only have 24 hours to trade in all your cash, and it’s 5:00 on a Saturday (hope your bank has Sunday hours) 

Now don’t get me wrong, many of the people who voted for the male candidate have legitimate gripes about how American corporations have acted in the past 30 years. The businesswo/men who actively chased larger profits, at the expense of American jobs, were only doing what they were taught to do in business school, think of the bottom line first, everything else second. They didn’t let long-standing community ties interfere with expanding operations in new countries and they never turned down an opportunity to take advantage of lower wages elsewhere. But how did a guy, who encouraged these very behaviors, become the savior of the “working man” (and the working man’s women)?

It could be worse: we could live in a country where every job comes with a designated home, in a designated neighborhood, based on genetic markers that are entered into a central database at birth, and used to “guide” us through this difficult existence

This group of voters is angry about NAFTA (and potentially TPP) but don’t spend much time thinking about mechanization as a significant factor in the demise of blue-collar jobs (it’s a significant factor). They haven’t considered the impact that Wal Mart et al. have had on driving down prices of goods, and wages paid, both here and abroad (which plays direct and indirect roles on wages and job creation in this country). They don’t consider the economic ups and downs that are part of our history as well as our long-term future (part of the economic fabric of markets). And many don’t consider the strong possibility that jobs will never be as plentiful as they were in the 1990s (peace-time), 1960s (Vietnam) or 1940s (WWII); their assumptions are based on past experience, not future uncertainty. We need to make space for critical thought that considers the context of historical settings, current realities, and future possibilities. 

It could be worse: science could turn out to be a complete fabrication created by people who hang out in labs drinking PBR all day and dreaming up wild ideas to sell to the unknowing commoners (they also could spend a lot of time teaching lab rats to play fetch, roll over, and beg for cheese)

They felt as if they were being left out of all future plans that the government was laying for the nation. Some thought themselves similar to the African American citizens who were routinely disenfranchised for more than half of the 20th century (Jim Crow) and practically all of the previous 250 plus years, not understanding that the similarities between the two groups stop after accounting for bones, teeth, hair, and similar internal organs. They blame the “Demon-crats” for much of what has gone wrong in their lives and then turn around and tell people that they have to take care of themselves, get a job, go to work, don’t be part of the “takers”. They have been told by the GOP’s upper caste that the two issues that matter the most revolve around the 2nd amendment and the word of god (the christian one, not the others). The guy they voted for reinforced this belief and promised to prioritize their values because they were also his values (they didn’t know he was lying, he has a long history of lying when “making deals”).

It could be worse: I’m pretty sure it could be worse, but I’m not 100 percent certain, so I’ll hedge my bets

Having accepted the word of the male candidate, these voters, along with much of the rest of the GOP base (this was the weight that tipped the scale), cast their votes for a man who has encouraged racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and jingoism, and thereby gave approval to all of his antics. And while not all “support” him (they say they are really more concerned with Supreme Court nominees in the next term) they did vote for him. They voted for division, and hate, and all that comes from him and his most vociferous supporters. They voted for the candidate that told a shock jock he could call the candidates daughter a “piece of ass”; a real values based kind of vote. What kind of Supreme Court nominee can we expect from this type of person?

When supporting a candidate, one need not agree with every policy issue or require that the candidate align with every value the voter holds. Rather, finding out if the candidate is qualified, understands the job for which they have applied, and is willing to make the hard decisions in difficult times, that is the measure that should be used. The current President-in-waiting does not meet these qualifications and I hope that things do not get a whole lot worse.

He earned his greatness
He earned his greatness

how not to get a job

  1. finish college 10-15 years after high school (taking courses along the way, in a variety of subject areas is especially helpful, makes people think you don’t know what you want to do, and the more variety the better, mix in arts, history, refrigeration & air conditioning repair, agriculture/horticulture, several languages, the more the merrier), this reinforces the mistaken belief that you are lazy, and stupid, and probably not worth an interview
  2. get a masters degree shortly after finishing undergrad (and be sure to spend a lot of time completing the readings for your courses, nobody cares but it keeps your brain sharp, which is really handy when arguing on facebook), this ploy adds veracity to the “lazy” narrative because who would go on to grad school when they have student loans from undergrad
  3. don’t build a “network” because as we know, networks are the key to 99% of potential job opportunities
  4. spend lots of time reading and researching (i.e. getting smart), again, for the facebook forums, and occasional “face-to-face” interactions with other humans, like at a wedding, or happy hour function, where you can brag about not having a job)
  5. don’t spend too much time with other humans—socializing etc. (this is a form of networking and is frowned upon by those who are not looking for employment)
  6. keep your eyes/ears open for potential jobs that you are equipped to do but have no chance at landing because you have no network at stated businesses, this makes people think you’re “trying” to find work, which is really important when looking for sympathy from family, friends, former classmates who are employed et al.
  7. read a lot, it prevents you from having to interact (network) and keeps your mind sharp in case the day ever comes that you do want to get a job (unlikely for independently wealthy folk like you, but hey, why take the chance of being unprepared)
  8. make sure to keep your linkedin profile up-to-date and post, share, comment, and “like” everything so that people know you haven’t died and are still not gainfully employed
  9. post lots of “fun” pics on multiple social media sites so as to reinforce all the fun you’re having not being employed (it also makes others feel bad about the fact that they’re working while you’re out having “fun”…not working)
  10. when forced into awkward social settings (happy hours, non-happy hours, hours that are neither happy nor non-happy), inquire about others’ jobs and make sure that you are not smirking/withholding laughter etc. when they ask if you’d like them to set-up something, an informational interview, coffee with a coworker, something that will provide you with insights into their world of work (you don’t want them to know that you aren’t actually searching for a job)
  11. when asked “how’s the job search going?” reply, (most sincerely), “well, you know, it’s a tough market, the economy is still recovering, these things take time but I’m keeping my chin up and something will come along soon”, then offer to buy them a beer, so as to confuse them
  12. join a military service and make sure that your military occupational specialty (MOS) doesn’t easily translate into the “mainstream/corporate” sectors; this ensures that you’ll receive lots of attention for your military service but no job offers, which is exactly what military personnel are hoping for after serving their country
  13. spend several years mastering a “trade” that teaches skills that are “irrelevant” (read: time management, attention to detail, being ‘ethical’, and other weird stuff that isn’t valued in the larger “world-of-work” community)
  14. get intimate with wine & cheese and other trappings of the “upper-classes” so that you can convince everyone that you are doing “just fine” (example: using your best “Mr. Howell III” voice, “..in fact, we just had a fabulous 1990 Barolo the other night, yes, Gaja, uhhh Gorgeous, paired it with a ribeye (what else would you pair that with, silly question), amaaaaaazing! need to tell Robert Parker, I know he’s interested in hearing what I have to say about this”), lay it on thick
  15. keep up with multiple “bandwagon” teams, this lets everyone know that you spend a lot of time hanging out in your pajamas watching ESPN, reading Sports Illustrated, keeping up with The Undefeated and other great sports pages; you are most definitely not in need of a job, who in their right mind would give up all of this sports stuff for work #GoCubbies #NineteenOhEight #SkolVikings #WarriorsandCavs #PunchEmPenguins #GoCards (that’s what Mr. Hicks, a real Cardinals fan, would say), & on & on you go
  16. And finally (yes, I’m ending on “16” because it’s 2016 and when one doesn’t need a job, they do whatever they want), spend a lot of time with animals; cats, dogs, squirrels, chipmunks, birds, emus, whatever, so long as you’re gainfully unemployed, you can talk with the animals, find out what their long-term plans are in their specific job markets, just kind of hang out… of course some of the conversation will be lost in translation but the non-verbal cues should help

Whatever you do, don’t put out any signals that you are “looking” for work, that really puts a damper on remaining unemployed. Good Luck with your endeavor and let me know if you stumble upon a particularly difficult scenario (such as a job offer at a happy hour, tough, but not impossible, to get out of)

Graduation: 2009 Morgan State University - Looking to the Future
Graduation: 2009 Morgan State University – Looking to the Future

Vanilla—It Ain’t White

What happened to vanilla? Seriously. When was it that vanilla came to be associated with a shade of the color white, and an adjective describing “bland”—and why? Who would commit such an injustice to a product of the beautiful Vanilla planifolia (a member of the orchidaceae family)? And what, you’re probably thinking, does this have to do with policy? Well, quite a bit.

The history of vanillaproduction” started in the geographic locale of the Aztec Empire (previously controlled by the Teotihuacán and then the Toltecs), in what we now know as Mexico (North America) and was cultivated by the Totonac. With the arrival of the Spanish into this region (circa 1520) and other areas in the Western Hemishpere, the Old World and New World underwent drastic changes. The movement of ideas, disease, precious metals, technologies, foodstuffs, and spices, et al., which would come to be known as the Columbian Exchange, dramatically changed the course of both hemispheres (this period also saw the annihilation/genocide of millions of indigenous peoples and several empires, by Columbus, Cortés, and other conquistadors, and their men). And the “exchange” of vanilla, to the Old World, was the first step in vanilla’s story of becoming a colour no longer tied to the plant’s origins. 

Fast forward 200 years and we might find the next clue in the color mix-up. Ice cream was gaining in popularity in 18th century Europe (according to historians), and when a fearless culinary madame/monsieur mixed vanilla into a batch of ice cream, I believe the “white” fallacy was born. As the base of ice cream is, yep, you guessed it, cream, the thick and fatty substance that is strangely similar in color to today’s perceived shade of vanilla, it would make sense that over time people eating vanilla ice cream would wrongly assume that vanilla was white. But this doesn’t help explain the other part—bland, plain, blah, meh.

Over the next couple of centuries, ice cream became America’s favorite dessert (even in ice cream deserts). And naturally, the colors that were most commonly associated with the frozen treat: white (vanilla), brown (chocolate), and pink (strawberry), also came to have additional significance.  Here’s where we may find part of the background on vanilla’s “plain Jane” problem. Whether it was due to the seemingly more decadent taste of chocolate (and all that went along with the desire to have something “other/different”), or the memories of a dish of freshly churned ice cream with just picked wild strawberries mixed in, after a Fourth-of-July celebration, the widespread availability of “regular” vanilla didn’t seem to evoke the same type of emotion. Which leads me to believe that the passage of time, combined with the desire to believe what is placed in front of one’s face, has led to the misconception of vanilla’s True Colors. As a society, we believe vanilla is both white, and boring, neither of which bear any resemblance to the true character of this most flavorful and versatile spice.

So now that we’ve determined who and what is responsible for this catastrophe of maligned color designation, lets talk about other instances where time and indifference have contributed to beliefs that are neither true nor sensical (which is akin to sensible). And then, I’ll discuss the importance of truth in labeling and the deleterious effects of buying products that are not what we think they are (this is where policy comes into play).

We currently accept a great deal of what is presented as fact, so long as the presenter is acceptable to our ears and eyes. The effects of such marketing/propaganda have helped shape current debates, policies, historical inaccuracies and general attitudes. Ask 10 people why the U.S. Civil War was fought and you’re likely to get one of three answers:  Three might say slavery, two might look at you like your speaking Shyriiwook, and the other five would likely say States Rights. Both answers are correct, in a way. However, many people still believe that the war was primarily about States Rights. And while we can say it was related to that idea, we must explain that the one right that was by far the most important (to the men who controlled the States), was the right to own human beings (slavery). Some “smarty pants” might spout off a list of rights that includes: taxation, tariffs, trade, freedom from federal powers, blah blah blah (they sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher). Yet, they leave out the fact that the Bill of Rights, specifically, the 10th Amendment, covered many of the State’s concerns. And, when one looks more closely at each of the “concerns”, they all have direct links to slavery, i.e. the South’s primary economic driver. So while this long held belief (State’s rights), as a stand alone argument, is essentially wrong, incorrect, untrue, a lie, we are still talking about it as if there’s some doubt as to the veracity of the real reason for our Civil War, the enslavement of human beings.

A short list of other time-tested fallacious fabrications, fictions, falsifications, fibs, and falsehoods includes: ♠ Jesus was “White”—kind of like vanilla, Jesus was a darker shade than the one he is often purported to resemble; ♣ the term “race” as used to describe different ethnicities—just plain wrong; ♥ we don’t lose 50% of our body heat through our noggin (this is not an excuse to go without a hat when it’s -20°); ♦ trickle-down economics will lift all boats—think about it, if you could make 10 million dollars a year by working more hours or fewer, which would you choose? Well, wealthy business people think the same, if they can work less, hire fewer people, invest less capital in new ventures and still make the same amount of money, why bother with all the extra nonsense. They have vacation homes to visit (not just 1 little cabin in the Northwoods), yachts to party on, polo matches to watch, and politicians to influence…they’re busy folks. So lets get on with the process of making income/wealth inequality grow; ♠ and while we’re on the topic of finance, “money can’t buy happiness”—I’d be happy to make a wager with anybody who’s looking to lose some money. Sure, after a certain amount of wealth is earned, we wouldn’t expect to gain as much “utility” from an extra million or two; but for anyone who lives paycheck to paycheck, or is unemployed and relying on the social insurance programs administered by government agencies, money can and does buy happiness. ♣ and a couple more recent illustrations of this phenomenon: ♥ you have to be smart to be successful—George W. Bush (I’m not hating, just pointing out the obvious); ♦ and, guns are just tools, like shovels, rakes, garden hoes, etc.—guns were designed with one purpose in mind, and it wasn’t skeet shooting. Guns were the next big thing in the evolution of individually controlled killing implements. While many people use them for shooting clay pigeons, beer bottles, pumpkins, and the dust off of a fly’s wing, they are still designed to end a life, be it human or animal. That, I would argue, is a far cry from what most “tools” are designed to accomplish.

Now then, let’s look at the problems associated with products that are labeled as (ex.) ƒ(x) = 36x + 5, but what you actually end up with is pistachio pudding. What happened? How did that function of (x), that I bought with my hard-earned money, turn out to be pistachio pudding? Well, maybe the celebrity endorser pitching the product wasn’t being completely honest with you. Or maybe you wanted to believe that you could get a real Rolex for $150. because that guy on the corner with the table of nice watches really needed the money and that’s the only reason he was selling it so cheap. Sometimes, nobody is any worse for the deal. The knockoff Prada handbag made the buyer happy to have a replica that looked legit, and the salesperson made some money. The problems occur when you are unknowingly endangering yourself or others.

Do you remember the toxic drywall that was imported from China and caused (and is still causing) plumbing, electrical, and health problems across the South? How about the formaldehyde trailers that were delivered to displaced Gulf Coast residents after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, in 2005 (because that’s just what every dislocated person wants after a catastrophic event, more health problems)? Ever asked for a Coke at a restaurant and gotten a Pepsi, or is it Royal Crown, no, wait…it’s “cola”, something sharing a few of Coke’s qualities, carbonated water, caramel color, caffeine, but definitely not the same as Coke. Big or small, these things matter. When we’re told we are buying, or being provided with, one product, and later find that we’ve gotten something that is close to what we assumed we were getting, but not quite the same (and in some cases extremely different), we have reason for concern if not downright outrage. Sure, the generic cola won’t kill us (we hope), but if you’ve been looking forward to lunch (at the place your project manager recommended), thinking about that patty melt with bacon, perfectly deep fried tater-tots, and the crisp refreshing bite that hits the back of the palette after taking a big swig of real Coke, and instead you get a lackluster mouthful of overly saccharine cola, your lunch break letdown won’t ruin the rest of your day (your coworker did that by accidentally squeezing the jelly out of his donut and onto your shirt sleeve), but you might return to the office feeling a bit more deflated than when you left, and now you have to go into a post-lunch meeting with the same project manager, the one who tells you to smile more, with one less reason to smile and one more reason to leave anonymous hateful little notes on his desk.

Again, a short list of items that you may want to double check prior to purchasing (or maybe you like to live dangerously): ♠ fish—the mislabeling of seafood is bad for three reasons: you might be paying too much for an inferior product that doesn’t taste as good, the people working on the fishing boats are enslaved, and you could be unwittingly eating a fish that is currently over-fished/not sustainable; ♣ sunglasses—if you’re not concerned about your eyes long-term viability, don’t worry about this; conversely, if you hope to keep your sight top notch into your golden years (so you can watch the paint dry), make sure you’re getting the real deal; ♥ fragrances/cosmetics—some of the chemicals etc. that are being used in the fakes are toxic and/or gross; ♦ pharmaceuticals—no commentary necessary here, but, think about the cost and the potential consequences of getting a drug that is potentially the same but due to lack of oversight the dosage might be high, or low, and make you more sick, or simply fail to cure what ails you; ♠ flea & tick products—many are good, some are not, and your pets are not the only family members that can be affected.

Mislabeling of products, and inaccurate classifications run the gamut from “no big deal” to “holy shit, that coulda killed me”; these are issues I think about when I hear people relating boring and white (like this guy appears) to vanilla. Vanilla is anything but boring and most certainly not even close to any shade of white. And while the vanilla farmers of Mexico, Madagascar, Comoros, et al. may not care what you believe about vanilla, so long as you’re buying it, I think of the vanilla lie as a type of “gateway drug” to believing, and even promoting, other untrue and possibly slanderous/historically inaccurate theories. Fertilizers, pesticides, nutritional supplements, comestibles, and other products are regularly found to be noncompliant with generally accepted consumer product safety measures/standards.

To be clear, I know that vanilla ice cream, frosting (butter cream or others), protein powders, yogurt, etc., etc., are shades of white (and sometimes very bland) due to other ingredients. However, these products, and others, have coloured our perceptions about actual vanilla characteristics. When we make assumptions about something based on false pretenses, we fail to consider the background as well as the implications and ramifications for future generations. Policies that fail to address flawed or distorted belief systems (thank you South CaroliniansGov. Haley) and overlook misleading (intentional or otherwise) product statements can have serious negative consequences, both known and unknown.

Anytime someone is trying to sell you something, or sell anyone else something, take a piece of advice from Suzanne Massie, “Trust but verify”.

Vanilla Bean/Pod, not white, more deep, dark, rich, brownish black
Vanilla Bean/Pod, not white, more deep, dark, rich, brownish black

Owl City – Vanilla Twilight

If you’d like to see the difference real vanilla can make in a simple way, buy a vanilla Coke (if you can find it) and make a vanilla Coke using Mexican Coke. The flavor differential is significant.

2016 Presidential Primary Season: Do The Polls Have It Right?

Here we are, just days from the first caucus/primary for the 2016 Presidential election. The candidates have provided us with an overwhelming amount of politicking (some of it pretty good), mountainous volumes of material requiring fact-checking, and a fair amount of thespian-like antics. Since last July, we have seen the field shrink, if only slightly; but after Iowa and New Hampshire, it is likely we will find out who the real contenders are in the G.O.P. and just how close the Democratic race will be. Current polls show Donald Trump and Ted Cruz leading in the Republican race, and Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both looking strong. However, it is probable that March 1st (a.k.a. Super Tuesday) will bring us a very different looking contest on the Right side of the aisle. By the time the candidates leave South Carolina and Nevada, the field should be whittled to two or three serious contenders per party (plus the possible wild card, Michael Bloomberg).  And then, the real melee begins; Small Victories can turn the tide and carry the day.

The contenders have had 6-12 months (or more…Hillary) to make us aware of their stances on various policies as well as beliefs and occasionally solutions concerning: social issues, the economy and related matters (unemployment/underemployment rates, wages and wage disparity (household incomes, taxes), GDP, TPT,  the housing market, the stock market & Wall Street reforms, and the importance of small business in America), global warming, health care/ACA/Obama-Care, criminal/social justice, religious beliefs, the V.A., and even a little about the environment and education.

They have also told us, more or less, about their thoughts on DOD spending, the DEA, DHS, DOJ, DOT, EOs, EPA, FRB & FRS, INS, JCAT, NNSA, ORR, OWH, SEC, SSA, USCCR, WHO, and the WTO. Which is to say, we’ve learned a lot about who they are (or who they say they are for the sake of votes). But they’ve also told us a lot about what matters to them based on what they haven’t talked about.

We didn’t hear much, if any, discussion surrounding: cyber-securityECA, ECIE, EOWS, FEC, HUD, MBDA, OSERS, VTO, OCTAE, ONAAPHA, PLLI, RBS & RECD, SDWIS, USIP, VAWO, WIC, youth employment/training programs, or WNET. So it’s probably safe to assume that policy ideas concerning: replacing old voting machines; marijuana legalization; affordable housing and urban development; employment & training programs for youth & adults; and rural economic development; will not be front and center on any candidates updated websites next week.

Policy matters aside, the Democratic nomination is shaping up to be much more of a contest than most pundits thought twelve short months ago. Secretary Clinton still has an edge, nationally, but Senator Sanders has shown how his youth movement can have a substantial impact, already doing yeomen’s work in Iowa and New Hampshire. Governor O’Malley is simply raising his profile in hopes of having a better outcome in 2020 or 2024, depending on what happens this November. The Republicans, conversely, look like they will be engaged in a much greater competition and may end up getting into some of the back-room deals that were more common in the politics of yesteryear.

But look at what the polls tell us…

I don’t put a lot of weight in the polls that have Donald Trump and Ted Cruz with big leads (which would be the vast majority). This is not to question the veracity of their methods but to highlight the realities of modern polling. Here’s the scoop. Polls have the uncanny ability of being able to tell pollsters whatever they want to hear (not saying this is the intent of the aforementioned survey firms). Good polling outfits design a survey using tightly structured methods, within set parameters, and scrutinize every angle prior to the final product being rolled out. That said, even when the best in the business believe they’re doing everything right, sometimes it all goes to pot. The potential snafus are illustrated in many instances and there are various reasons for results coming out the way they do (Dewey defeats Truman; Landon-vs.-Roosevelt; Bevin (R)-vs-Conway (D)). Additionally, people forget that these polls reflect the beliefs of those who are still answering their phones when an unknown # (or a “known” #) comes up. It’s unlikely that a broad swath of our nation is taking part in such antiquated methods (which is to say a lot of phone calls are being placed in order to reach the magic number of responses); rather, it may be that the most extreme constituents, on both sides, Left & Right, are completing many of the phone questionnaires. Moreover, how many of the folks who support Trump on the phone are going to bother showing up on primary day? He might have a lot of backing from the “all talk – no action” crowd; who knows?

Many political polls are done well and are valuable because the time was taken to ensure accurate results. Additionally, when multiple polls are considered in a forecast, along with in-depth analysis and common sense, the odds are definitely in one’s favor. But, it’s still difficult to imagine Donald Trump & Senator Cruz being the big winners in the 1st (3) states (or the remainder of the primaries for that matter). Why? you ask. Because; Trump is still not running a serious campaign (more like buffoonery on planet clown) and Cruz is about to learn just how serious the Republican gate-keepers are. When the old guard talks about finding a candidate who can draw interest from hard-line Conservatives, along with the more socially moderate Republicans and Independents who lean Right, they’re not endorsing a firebrand like Cruz.

As for the remainder of the Republican field, Governor Christie and Governor Bush still have an outside shot but their odds are just a bit better than the chance our national flag will get a 51st star (for the State of Superioranytime soon—not great. Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson did well to garner the support they did, neither being particularly astute politicians. Rand Paul and Jim Gilmore (wait, who?) will always have their supporters, regardless of how small their fraternities may be. And Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee should have followed their friend, Scott Walker, in a stage-left-exit, prior to the holiday gatherings; it would have saved them the embarrassment of having family members ask, “How is Donald Trump beating you?” while sipping BouRye and wearing a sarcastic grin.

But What Do I Know?

So, which candidates will come out of wintertide’s donnybrook with a crown & cape and a road map to the nominating conventions, in Cleveland and Philadelphia. Well, on the Republican side, Marco Rubio and John Kasich wouldn’t be bad bets. They’re both fairly level-headed and don’t offend a majority of the party elite. And for the Dems—as hard as it is to imagine, the presumptive nominee, Clinton, could be a two-time runner-up; it wouldn’t surprise me. Nor would I be surprised if she suddenly surged on Super Tuesday. The nation’s voters (to include the so-called Independents) have seen a number of changes in their demographics in the past 10 years and we could be in for a surprise, or three.

Amongst Republicans, Rubio has a slight edge as he is better known amongst likely voters. And between his youth, his heritage, his home state (Florida), and his measured responses to most questions, it is realistic to think the majority of the party royalty will support his nomination. The opposing side (Dems) may not shake out a candidate until June, after California and New Jersey announce the winners in their primaries. It looks as though we might be in for a spirited six-month skirmish, on both banks of the the District’s aisle. Whatever ends up happening, it’s good to know that come the morn of  9 November, we should know what it all means.

 

 

 

Non-Standard Ideas for America’s Public Schools

Kindergartenhistorysaurus: finger-painted collage, newspaper stuffed, dinosaur created by Kindergarteners at Soutwest Baltimore Charter School (2009)
Kindergartenhistorysaurus: finger-painted collage, newspaper stuffed, dinosaur, created by Kindergarteners at Southwest Baltimore Charter School – (2009)

The value of any education cannot be found in a test score. Education’s value is fully realized only after what is learned becomes useful to the learner.

With President Obama’s recent statement concerning the overabundance of standardized tests (ST) in public schools, it appears as though common sense will finally be injected into the highest levels of the public education conversation. This is not to say we will see the end of standardized testing anytime soon; but, we can at least begin thinking about the day when these tests, and the standards they attempt to measure, will not be the focus of every politician’s education policy. If we’ve learned anything from this federally mandated experiment over the past decade and a half, it is this; standardized tests are really good at predicting one thing, socio-economic status.

It seems as though standards and the tests that measure achievement (and all that goes along with the entire debacle), have been at the forefront of education policy forever, yet it was implemented at the Federal level just thirteen years ago. The idea of Test – Measure – Sanction/Reward, was not immediately questioned by many members in the profession; but by the end of President Bush’s (43) first term, a majority of educators saw the bigger picture—and the effects on students: heightened anxiety; increased apathy ; and new pressures for many students who are already enduring elevated stress levels in their everyday life. The calls for reform grew larger and more vocal and finally we have turned a corner.

Since the inception of No Child Left Behind (NCLB (2002))(the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965)), our way of educating children has changed dramatically, and not so much for the better. With each passing year, increased pressure has been placed upon educators and administrators to improve test scores so as to avoid the sanctions that may come from not meeting adequate yearly progress (AYP). On the surface, this might seem like a logical way to ensure the youth of our country are getting the best education possible. In reality, it means corners will be/have been cut, laws will be/have been broken, and many in the system will/have suffer(ed). Additionally, curiosity, creativity, and the joy of learning have taken a back seat to raising test scores.

My biggest concern with all the focus on standardized testing (aside from the stigma that adheres to schools and students who regularly don’t achieve the rank of “proficient”), is the presumption that because we are providing standardized tests to capture the progress of said schools/students, then those students must be engaging in standardized learning. This is simply not the case.

Whether students are learning differently due to their own genetic variations in learning styles (nature) or because of the environment in which they are raised (nurture), or more likely a combination of the two, it is ridiculous to assume that the basic learning experience (for nearly 50 million students nationwide) will be standard. Moreover, the environments in which these children grow up and the learning communities that are charged with educating them are vastly different in social, economic, and physical makeup. This is true across all sectors, be it nationwide, state-wide and even district-wide.

By assuming to know what a student should be able to learn, we are providing a kind of default setting for achievement. This means the aspiring cyber security analyst may not receive work that is challenging her mental acumen in the appropriate areas and the future aircraft mechanic is taking courses in algebra II or chemistry when they would be better served learning about the mechanical workings of Boeing’s 777X flight controls. And for the student who has no idea what direction he is heading, then a curriculum that provides a well-rounded and integrated course of instruction (core subjects as well as arts, languages, and skills based classes) would be most appropriate. We must remember that as quickly as technology advances, so too will new jobs be created. Attempting to teach kids by the old method of rote memorization is fine for multiplication tables; but the jobs of the future will require far more in the way of creative thought processes. Standardized tests cannot hope to capture the complexity of the creative thinking of a 15 year-old student.

To be clear, I am not arguing against standards, just the idea that a 1-size-fits-all standard is not serving the majority of our students. Moreover, education is NOT a business, students are NOT inputs, and student success CANNOT be determined with standard output, e.g. test scores.

Standards and standardization have their place in education and elsewhere. I contemplate how crazy life would be if we didn’t have the advantages of standardization everywhere we look. The standard Polo shirt, standard pick-up truck, standard bank system, standard political candidates, standard grilled cheese, & even standard metronomes for our standard musicians to incorporate into the Standards. But really, do we believe that a standard serves to provide the best take on any given product or entity?

Providing standards (defined as “a level of quality, achievement, etc., that is considered acceptable or desirable” Merriam-Webster) is a way to communicate the lowest acceptable benchmark. But we know that having one benchmark doesn’t provide society with adequate options for anything: trucks, sandwiches, politicians, et al., so why should we believe that one standard for all students is an appropriate way to conduct learning? Having multiple standards for students that are interested in vastly different fields makes perfect sense. Engineers, nurses, and chefs have very few professional requirements that overlap. Hence the reason that education standards need to be updated to more accurately reflect the world into which our young adults enter; furthermore, the tests that attempt to measure progress need a total reconfiguration so as to provide meaningful assessment and feedback in realtime.

Yes, I took the ASVAB, a few Wisconsin mandated tests, and probably a couple more tests that millions of other students took; but I don’t recall a teacher ever telling me how important it was that I do well, doing my best was all that was asked. Nor do I recall ever spending an extra minute, let alone an extra hour, every day, to prep for the tests. I imagine my parents would have taken umbrage with such a waste of time in our educational day.

2 standard Jack-O-Lanterns
2 non-standard Jack-O-Lanterns

The current testing situation reminds me of a conversation that I’ve never heard, but could imagine taking place in the not-too-distant future, between two public school students (A.B. & C.D., seniors in high school we’ll say), at a standard pharmacy, in a standard suburb, concerning their standard day. And,  never having known anything but this madness of standardized testing, it might sound something like this.

A.B: Hey Man, what’s up?

C.D: Nothing Man, pretty standard day.

A.B: Tell me about it… (which didn’t really mean, “Tell me about it”, but having been conditioned to follow instructions exactly as they are read/heard, C.D. begins to tell A.B. about his standard day)

C.D: OK, so, I woke up at 7:05 and headed to the bathroom, it’s standard, 8’x5′, all the standard accessories, you know; took care of business and then got dressed in the standard threads my mom laid out for me, last night. I had a standard breakfast, 1 chocolatey chip eggo, 1 s’mores pop-tart, and a glass of juice that’s not really juice but it tastes like orange flavor, so whatever; then E.F. picked me up in his standard Toyota Camry, you know, the 2005 model that comes standard with cup holders, bucket seats, rear defrost, c.d. player, turn signals, which he only uses when Five-0 is behind him cuz a gear-head told him he could run out of blinker fluid if he used them too much…

A.B: Smart

C.D: …and it’s a manual, you know, standard transmission, it took E.F. like 10 months to learn how to drive that thing. Anyway, he had the standard jams on the stereo, “old skool” Beyonce´T-SwizzleThe Biebs, and one song that was totally not standard, he said it was in some drama thing his sister is doing, it kept talking about minutes and coffee and stuff, I didn’t get it. We talked about standard stuff: clothes, music, gym class, the girl who wears the standard jeans & v-neck sweater & always has her hair pulled back in a ponytail, which is so not standard, but it should be, I think, or not, I don’t know, and then we got to school, at our standard time, and met-up with G.H., I.J., & K.L, and talked about our standard night, you know, last night; we talked about sport-o practice, and non-sport-o practice, and our standard microwave dinner that tastes like—food, I guess, and about texting our bro’s & some chicks & I.J. said he was texting with the nerdy girl, the one that’s cute but totally not standard, wears Shell Toes, cat-eye glasses, I think she might have a tattoo on her ankle but it could just be a bug that’s always in the same spot, I don’t know, and our standard homework, math, english, science…I think I worked on something non-standard too, maybe it was something from social studies, yeah, Fred, No, Doug Fredrickson, or Douglas Freederman, I don’t know, something about the 4th of July…It’s Novemeber Dude, not July, JESUS! So non-standard, what’s that Dude thinking?

A.B: Um, yeah, ok Man, I didn’t really need to know step-by-step.

C.D: Oh, OK, so what about that party on Friday, after the football game, which we probably won’t win, you know, based on past performances, we’re so below proficient in football skills, it’s like the coaches aren’t spending enough time going over the standard plays.

A.B: Yeah, true.

C.D: Oh did I tell you about math class today?

A.B: Ummmm, no.

C.D: It was sweet, we went over the material for our next standardized test, all the information we’ll need to know so that we can score proficient. Those tests are So Boss! They hold us to such high standards and make sure we’re prepped for the ACT, SAT, H.S.E.E.s, & all that college-type stuff that we’re gonna be doing next year—in college. I can’t wait for college, all the standard courses, reading the standard texts, not having to think too much, you know, just keepin’ it real, preppin’ myself for that standard job I’ll get, out there in the big standardized world; Man, I love thinking about stuff like this, it’s so standard, not confusing, like art; what the hell was Ms. O.P. talkin’ about today, anyway. Something about Pick-asso and Africa, and the way that some artist dudes appropriated ideas but didn’t tell anybody and… I didn’t get it. Glad I won’t have to take any art classes in college.

A.B: Yeah Man, agreed; standards are totally awesome, why didn’t they have them when our parents were kids? They had it rough; my mom was tellin’ me about how they had to learn all kinds of different stuff, depending on what the teacher thought they should learn, how lame. How did they even get jobs?

C.D: I don’t know man, seems like they did what they wanted and didn’t worry about standards, weird. Oh, hey man, it’s Q.R.

Autumn colors
Autumn colors that exceed excellence, way above proficient

 

Of course we had standards before NCLB (both written and unwritten); but we, as students, didn’t know much, if anything, about them. We knew that we were supposed to be learning but we weren’t made to feel as though the future of the school depended on our ability to pass a test (because it didn’t). Our jobs were to learn the subject matter that was presented and if the class we were in had a quiz or a test, we did our best on it. In this way, we spent all of our time (or at least a good portion of it) learning about a wide variety of subjects.

At the end of the day, the one question that we need to answer is this: How does each individual student define success? This question should drive any new education policy. And don’t think this equates to a free-for-all in our schools. Students learn best when they are engaged/interested in the material that is being presented. Most students aren’t interested in math. And why would they be? It is rarely presented in a manner that equates to anything considered cool. Many kids associate math with being a math teacher, or a scientist, neither of which are appealing to the typical adolescent. But if we integrate math into a curriculum that relates to students’ areas of interest: music/arts, sports, health & wellness, design of all types, media (traditional print, t.v., radio, online) transportation, food and other service  industries, it is more likely that students will become proactive in the learning process. AND, we can focus more time on those areas that will truly be relevant to their future.

Side-bar: This idea definitely requires smaller class sizes, more teachers, more community volunteers, and more money. Those are all details that can be worked out.

The model of student/self directed learning (SDL) (or, my own variation, Individual Project Based Learning, (IPBL) which would be undertaken in the final two years of high school and be preceded by small team PBL (8th-10th) and whole group/small group PBL (K-7th)), is not spreading like wild-fire—yet. SDL is however, being explored and it has advocates around the country. These models have the potential to completely reshape the learning environment. Additionally, they will allow the students to dictate what success looks like to them (which means they are more likely to be invested in the daily grind of achieving that success). Furthermore, this type of pedagogy has the potential to integrate the larger community into the school community. Business owners, employees, and retirees from myriad sectors could act as champions for, and mentors to, the students. In these ways (smaller class sizes and community interaction with the schools/students) relationships can be built and enriched and the social fabric of the community will have an opportunity to expand while strengthening the ties that bind.

Collecting test scores and compiling the data for analysis in any number of multivariate regressions does not help the student determine what success looks like for her. By imposing a definition that does not align with the student’s vision for the future, we are telling them that THEY, the student’s, are not the most important piece of the education equation. They are simply here to provide data for the adults to analyze. Then, post analysis, some new plan will be hatched, money will be spent on the materials and the training, and “we” will try yet again to increase the number of proficient students and close the “all-important” achievement gap.

That policy has been tried too many times, It Is Tired, and everyone is tired of it (except the corporations that are reaping the financial rewards). We need to think in new ways; the way that George Pullman did when thinking about how to save Chicago or the way Mary Wollstonecraft thought about Women’s Rights, we need an entirely new blueprint that can fit within the basic parameters of public ed. The educational system needs to do a better job of thinking about why It exists; it is not to employ adults who are wanting to work in education circles (amazing as they are & necessary though they may be), nor does it exist as a location in which we warehouse youngsters until they are old enough to go out and earn a living; but rather, our education policies must be student-centric.

Students, as we know, will be in charge of moving our nation and economy forward in the coming decades. Let’s prepare them to be successful in the ways that they see their future selves achieving success; because the number of jobs that require filling in bubbles on a scantron are about the same number that hire people to soak up U.V. rays. Moreover, by equipping them with the skills, cognitive, and all the rest, that will serve them best, we will be doing our part to promote the common good and guide our nation into the 22nd century.

 

Platteville Limestone along the Mississippi
Platteville Limestone along the Mississippi, non-standard color combination in natural setting