For the first time in more than 15 years, this autumn, I won’t be heading back to school; and my wife, after 18 years of teaching, has also opted to take her career in a new direction. Since 2002, I’ve been involved in educational settings in a wide variety of capacities — working, volunteering, attending, or some combination of the 3 (in addition to the other jobs I’ve held — oy vey, that’s a lot of jobs). And, over the course of each school year, I learned a great deal about: education programming, the impact of a school’s culture and the teachers that define it, the way students react to various types of incentives, the importance of community support, the role of parents/guardians and caregivers, the good, bad & ugly that comes from a strong, weak, or negligent administration, and of course, the ways in which opportunities, or lack of opportunities, affects a student’s long-term trajectory; (not to mention all of the latest trends, fads, slang, and how to up my emoji game). As I reflect on what I’ve experienced/learned, I can only wonder, what if?
What if we allowed high school students to tell us how they define success, and then let them work towards that goal, given a set of loosely constructed parameters within which they would need to stay? How would that change their outlook on school, on their future, on society? How much of a difference could that make in their long-term involvement within their local community?
What if all communities had the ability to financially support their local schools? What would happen if we could make-up for the lack of state funding, which prevents those students most in need from getting the extra help that is required, to achieve some semblance of equity? What types of investments would we see in the schools where 70% of kids are experiencing poverty? What sort of programming might we find that could provide those opportunities that are taken for granted in more affluent communities? How would that positively affect the inter-generational programming that is already doing great work?
What if the funding of education was looked at in the same way that we look at funding our military – as a matter of national security? What if we decided that taxes were a net positive, when being used to promote the common good through public educational services? What if we deemed it to be in the public’s interest to ensure every student’s potential is realized?
What if all administrations (not just some) understood the importance of supporting staff by… supporting staff, and providing meaningful and ongoing professional development? How would that change the current paradigm? How might that change the efficacy of educators, as they prepare for a new challenge?
There are a lot more “WhatIfs” we could consider (and I won’t even start on what’s happening in our education programs in America’s great universities), but until we have elected officials who are all-in, and are willing to do whatever is necessary to provide public schools with the necessary funds, it’s just an exercise in futility. Even those proposals that don’t have large price-tags attached are connected to funding by the series of human links that allow for the continued operation of schools. So until that day comes, we should focus on those practices that are most likely to contribute to a student’s success.
Looking back and assessing which practices had the greatest effect on the students, I recall three particular applications or ideas: 1) Personal Connections (being part of a community, which directly relates to class-sizes), 2) Meaningful Learning Practices (connecting what is learned to real-life and teaching the topic in a way that is engaging for the learner), and 3) Funding ($$$$$). The first and third items are true across all grade levels, to include post-secondary. The second practice is most relevant beginning around 8th or 9th grade (and also important in the younger grades), depending on the individual student. These 3 items, in no particular order, have done more to promote student growth (mental, psychological, and emotional), than any other combination of educational programming or curriculum. When students feel that they are part of a community, are given the opportunity to learn about subjects/fields that they find interesting, and the school/district has enough money to ensure kids have the necessary resources to experience what that learning can lead to (e.g. field trips, camps, or bringing outside professionals into the classroom), there is no limit to how far that student can go. And how far a student can go often aligns with how that student defines success.
When adults attempt to define success for the students, they rarely use specifics, and they rarely get it right. No one can tell me what success looks like in my life, aside from me. Why do we think we can tell students what success looks like for them? This goes against the very idea of having students do their best in order to achieve “their” goals. Let’s let them tell us where they want to go and then help them get there. For some it will be a 4 year college, for others a 2 year degree or year-long certificate program. Others will want to serve their country in the military or spend a year volunteering, before deciding what comes next in their life. Others will go directly into the world of work; and for these young people we need to have more pipeline programs that help them realize their dreams. Through a combination of on-the-job training (OJT) and one or two classes, 2 days a week, they can learn a trade while earning a living and feel successful as they see their efforts pay off. Additionally, the efficacy they are building can provide benefits that will extend to the other adventures they encounter throughout life. That skill, efficacy, isn’t something that will be tested for on a standardized test, but it will better prepare a person for what follows upon entering adulthood.
If we know anything about life, we know that it rarely goes according to plan. The best laid plans veer off course and we spend years recalculating and navigating for a new course. The future of work, and the rate at which technology is changing, virtually guarantees that the average worker will go back to school at least once (which means, changing plans), if not several times, to update skills or learn a brand new “career”. When one decides to switch careers, and goes back to school to learn a new set of skills, efficacy goes a long way in helping them persevere. So we owe it to the younger generations to make sure their efficacy levels are as high as possible before they reach adulthood. And considering the number of hours they spend in classrooms, school is the ideal place to work on this.
I’ve learned from a host of brilliant minds — entrepreneurs, educators, creatives — to include many teachers, students, staff, parents, community members, and people who have dedicated their lives to helping children. They all have/had different ideas of what success looks like, and they all understood the importance of believing in oneself, i.e. efficacy. When class and/or work settings were smaller, they had more time to build-up each student/employee and make them feel as if they were controlling their own learning. If we can provide more of this type of interaction in public schools, we can go a long way towards achieving successful outcomes as defined by the students.
By providing superficial goals and deeming students successful, upon completion of “mastering” said goals/skills, we’re setting kids up for disappointment. And furthermore, the failures that occur aren’t genuine, they’re pre-determined, based on a set of factors that has nothing to do with the child’s actual intelligence. Allowing them to take a more meaningful role in their future, failing and succeeding, provides the motivation needed to get the most they can out of their educational opportunities.
In 2010, I wrote a reflection on what it means to be “All In“, as it related to working in education. Eight years later, I feel no less passionate about the work of educating young people, I do however, feel that the system is set-up in a manner to prevent every student from getting the best possible education. That doesn’t mean that the overwhelming majority of the millions of people involved in education aren’t doing their best to provide opportunities, it means that State, Local, and Federal Governments aren’t providing the necessary funds to ensure every student gets the instruction, attention, and opportunity they deserve. Let’s work on providing more funding so as to facilitate the personal connections and meaningful learning practices that work so well when provided.
If you’re headed back to school this fall, best of luck!
Gen Z, iGen, post-Millennials… Please don’t teach. Just don’t do it. Save yourself the headaches & the heartache. Keep a little more, or a lot more, of your sanity, your mental health, your physical health… … … Please, don’t teach. Don’t work 60 hours a week for a paycheck that won’t cover your monthly expenses, not to mention the student loans that you have no reasonable time-line for paying back. Please, seriously, don’t teach. Take your brilliant minds to business school & major in finance. Or use your gift for numbers to become an accountant. Do something positive in a field that treats you like a professional, any field, but don’t teach. Forget what you’ve heard & don’t follow your passion, if your passion is to teach. Do something, do anything, just don’t teach. Don’t think about the best teachers you had, the ones who inspired you to be the best person you could be. Don’t think about the students who need great teachers, in order that they may grow up to be successful and live fulfilling lives. Don’t think about anything remotely close to the idea of teaching. Don’t do it — it won’t do you any good; you don’t want to teach.
Consider all your options, and then, Don’t teach! Market demands have proven that the value in a teaching degree is about 1/2 of the value you’ll get from a business degree (dependent upon state & school district), which means you earn less, by a factor of x depending on which locale you chose for your masochistic adventure. Don’t teach for the same reason that increasing numbers of people don’t go into squirrel grooming, it doesn’t pay. It doesn’t pay monetarily, when measured against people with similar educational attainment working in other fields. And it doesn’t pay when measured in respect levels, as we’ve witnessed in State, after State, after State.
It really is basic economic principles at work – supply, and demand. While it may be easy to dismiss the simplicity of this idea, imagine how freaked out a State or community would be if all of a sudden, they didn’t have adequate staff to open the school doors. Imagine the parents, employers, local political officials, all wondering the same thing, “what are we going to do with all these kids!!!?”. If they don’t have adequate staff to fill the positions (supply), they will be forced to do 1 of 2 things. Option 1 involves choosing to do nothing and watching the chaos as it ensues. This is unlikely because, well, they’re politicians, they enjoy their positions in elected office. The more likely scenario is that they would start doing the difficult work of figuring out how to fix the situation (addressing demands). And because most of them believe very strongly in the principles of capitalism, they will start off by asking, how much will it cost. That’s when we’ll start moving the needle. That’s when we can start encouraging the following generation to consider a career in teaching. But not now, not today, not for a while.
Until that day comes – Gen Z, and Millennials in college who are still considering options – please, don’t teach. Find something else to do to fill your days. Take the passion you have for working with children and run a marathon, once a week, or climb K2 every year, or rescue baby gazelles as they’re being chased toward crocodile infested waters… by hungry lions. Use your passion to fuel your successful business venture that will land you on the World’s Billionaires list, next year. Put your passion into a campaign, your own campaign, be your own campaign manager, win the election, have a big party, and then fight like hell for education funding. But please, whatever you do between the ages of 25 and 50, Do. Not. Teach.
Do not fool yourself into believing things will change before you have your own classroom. Don’t believe the lying liars who say they will act on the demands of the educators. Don’t give in to the desire to do what’s in your heart. Don’t encourage others to teach — and ask others not to encourage you. Encourage each other to build things, design things, count things, manipulate things, order things, re-order things, deliver things, fix things, explain things, comfort things, enlighten things, send things, explain things a 2nd, 3rd, 27th time, accept and reject things, praise things, imagine things, coach things, invent things, and encourage things. And if you do all of those things, in some other job, you can pretend that you spent a day teaching, and that will be enough, even if it’s not. Because in whatever it is you’re doing, you will find some modicum of respect and dignity that you may not find while teaching.
Please, don’t teach. Too many of the folks who are charged with ensuring the basics, e.g. 1) students have adequate resources, 2) teachers and support staff are paid a living wage commensurate with the job they do and the educational degrees they have earned, 3) school buildings are maintained — they simply don’t care. They tell us they care, but their actions belie their true colors. Please, please, don’t do it. And if you’re thinking, “well, maybe I’ll just go the route of college professor, they’re well paid and highly respected”, think again.
This isn’t just a problem in our pre-k – 12 settings, it spills over into post-graduate coursework as well. So many of our current professors are working in adjunct positions. Many universities have witnessed significant increases in the cost of a 4 year degree (in the past 25 years) while simultaneously cutting back on the number of full-time tenured professors, not to mention the wages paid to the part-time professors. It’s almost as if America has a secret desire to dumb-down the electorate (I want to believe that’s not the case). At any rate, your plan to spend the extra $50, $75, $100k, to get that PhD and work in the ivory towers at a prestigious, or solid, or well,you know, school, isn’t going to work out for you. You’ll be eating Ramen noodles and Oscar Mayer sandwiches on tasteless white bread, and teaching 4 classes a semester, until you die, at the age of 83. Don’t teach.
Please, don’t teach. You will be blamed for what you do, for what you don’t do, for doing too much, or doing too little. You’ll be blamed by parents when you push the child to be more engaged. You’ll be blamed by parents when you don’t push hard enough (because you can see when a student is struggling and not able to take on additional stressors). You’ll be blamed by administrators for not putting in enough time… outside of working hours, and you’ll be blamed by those same administrators for being too stressed out, which negatively affects your work, because you aren’t able to achieve any semblance of balance in your life. You will be blamed by the far-right fanatics who believe that Rush and Ann,and others, are spot-on when they blame teachers for the liberalization and downfall of America. You will be blamed for the poor grades a student receives and you will be blamed when those same students are held out of extra-curricular activities due to those poor grades. You will be blamed for the U.S. rank in international standardized tests (which mean absolutely nothing when it comes to the opportunities a child will receive, that’s almost purely a socio-economic factor), you’ll be blamed for the world coming to an end, whenever that happens to take place. You cannot escape this blame, it comes with the job, it follows you wherever you go, it weighs on you, and weighs on you, and weighs on you, until you quit, after a year or three. Or maybe you’re one of the tough teachers, the gritty and determined who stick it out for eight, ten, fifteen years, before throwing in the towel. Regardless of years spent teaching, you will wish you had listened to me, and simply never started. Because once you start, it’s hard to quit. Please, don’t teach.
If I have failed in my efforts, and you decide to become a teacher, to become a servant of the people, the young people, the ones who will one day shape our world into a better place, as each generation tries to do, do yourself one favor. Promise yourself that no matter how bad it gets, no matter how horrible the day, the week, the year has been, you will remember that it’s about the kids; all of the work you put in is for the good of those children, our future. The sacrifices you’ll make matter. You’ll be a cheerleader, a life coach, a nurse, a referee, a warm smile, a comforting hug, a rock, a loving, supportive, consistent, optimistic, inspirational, and empathetic force, in many lives; in essence, you become the bootstraps that so many will pull-on as they “lift themselves up”. Don’t feel defeated or disheartened; hold your head high, you’re doing the work that few can fathom and fewer can accomplish. Make an impression — an impression that lasts a lifetime. But please…
—In previous generations, time was measured in hours, days, weeks, months, quarters, and years. It was done this way because most tasks took that amount of time to complete or assess. In an 8 hour work day (or 10, 12, 14, depending on job type, age, decade, etc), you knew what you could accomplish, and what you couldn’t. In any given week, a small business could measure its performance via earnings and expenditures statements. One month was a good measure of how many products were made, as compared to previous months. Quarters offered reliable and predictable benchmarks for fiscal analysis, year over year. And a year, a year was the agricultural standard for determining how one fared in life. It was a “good year” or it was a “tough year”. We measured outcomes and success in this manner, and it was good, or fine, or something, but it worked. Somewhere between “there” and “here”, we’ve rearranged the way we measure output; we’ve moved onto minutes. And what happens in any number of minutes has a disproportionate affect on how we think about the larger time frames – and policy measures.
Minutes now consume our days. We don’t necessarily speak in minutes, all the time, but we think in minutes. Sociologists measure screen-time in minutes; educators measure class routines in minutes; police measure active shooting events in minutes; workout machines measure calories and “effort” and other nonsensical stuff, in minutes; commute times are measured in minutes; we are, in effect, a society that is controlled by the number of minutes any particular chore, or job function, or social engagement, or event/catastrophe, will take-up. We are 525,600 bits of life, in any given year. And this is neither good nor bad, as far as I’m concerned, it just is.
Considering the past months, and considering the time we spend doing any one thing in particular, in present-day America, I wonder, how long — how many minutes that is, it will take to fix what’s been destroyed, those things that have endured a year’s worth of shit-fuckery, for lack of a better term. Or will they ever be fixed? Maybe not. Maybe we will have to start fresh on certain ideas, like the democratic process and how that works and doesn’t work, depending on the various “working parts” involved in an election cycle.
In the short-term, the next 345,600 minutes, give or take, what will you do to move the needle on that which you are passionate about – the policies and proposals that will alter future landscapes. Will you advocate for changes via marches and phone calls and emails to your elected officials? Will you actively participate in a campaign, on behalf of a candidate who espouses the values and ideals that you believe to be most important? Will you engage with friends and neighbors and family members and talk about the state of our State and our Union, and consider what changes need to take place in order to move us forward? Whatever you choose to do, do it with passion. Do it whole-heartedly. Do it as if the future depends upon it…because it does.
Greetings Outsiders – and Welcome to L’Étoile du Nord (Star of the North for the non-French-Canadian folk). We are really excited to have you visit (please don’t stay past the 5th, that’s the day after the Super Bowl). We take a great deal of pride in our part of the larger Continental U.S. (which is bigger than Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, combined [New York not included, because Yankees fans], just pointing that out) and would like to share some, not all, of our treasures (hands off the Jalapeño Spam). But before I get into the list of items that you are encouraged to try, buy, and tell your friends back East about, we need to address a few policies/rules that make this place what it is, which is pretty gosh darn good. As an aside, there might be one or two things in this post that prove to be less than 100% accurate, this should in no way dampen your enthusiasm nor make you nervous as you seek out the iconic places and delicious eats. Enjoy your stay!
First and foremost, everything you’ve heard about “Minnesota Nice” is, more than likely, wrong. Which is not to say we’re not nice—on the contrary, we’re extremely nice, we just have a different way of showing it. When we visit far away lands, like Wisconsin, or North Dakota, we make sure to buy a round of drinks for everyone, in whichever bar we happen to be sitting in, that’s how we show our Minnesota Nice (that’s really all there is to it, if you buy drinks for the whole bar, everyone will be really nice to you, it’s kind of a reactional type of niceness). When guests visit us here, we expect the same from them; and seeing as how you’re our guests this week, we expect to get a lot of free rounds… if you want the full experience of Minnesota Nice.
Second, we have a lot of bikers here (not Harleys) and they ride in all seasons (because we’re quite a bit tougher than the average American). If you choose to drive, keep your eyes peeled for them, and for the other cars that don’t see them until the last second and swerve into your lane. Your best bet is to hop on a Metro Transit bus or the light-rail, or hire a Sled (like Uber & Lyft & rickshaws but with sled dogs and a musher).
Third, the Vikings (not the ones that play football) are real and many of their descendants live in this area. As luck would have it, many of those descendants are fans of the football team. As DNA would have it, Vikings are rather large, on average, and menacing, sometimes, and don’t scare easy. This is a perfect opportunity for you to practice the art of Minnesota Nice.
And last, and maybe most importantly, we don’t have accents, you have accents. This is meant as a clarifying comment so you don’t accidentally make any snide remarks about the way we say “baaaygel“, or anything with an “ag” in it.
So, to review: 1) Minnesota Nice = buying drinks for your new friends in Minnesota. 2) Watch for bikers and/or download the Sled app (available on HP Palm only). 3) Vikings are large and strong and pretty nice, most of the time. 4) Accents are yours.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk Minnesota Treasures. Unlike New England, we’re not known for just one thing (but I’ll admit, Legal Seafoods Clam Chowder is delicious); and unlike Philadelphia, there’s more to do than eat cheesesteaks while looking around Independence Hall. We’ve got a lot of unique places to visit (many include food) and products to sample. So get out your phone and take some notes.
Grain Belt: This company has been making belts, out of grain, for more than 150 years. Nearly all of the Minnesota regiments and batteries that fought in the Civil War used these belts for their uniforms (the exception being the artillery batteries, the belts kept catching fire). They have 3 belts in year round production (Weaved Wheat, Casual Corn, & Tri-Grain Mock Leather [rye, barley & buckwheat] for more formal occasions). They only have one storefront and it’s located across the Hennepin Avenue Bridge (you’ll see the huge neon sign) just keep heading up Hennepin a couple blocks and it’s right by Kramarczuk’s Sausage Company (which makes the best sausages this side of Warsaw).
1st Avenue: I’m sure you’ve all heard of the iconic First Ave and have read about its storied history, but did you know that its actually on 7th Street? Yep, no lie. Its always been on the corner of 7th, across from the Target Center where the 4 time Champion Minnesota Lynx play their home games (between the Lynx and the Univ. of MN Gophers Women’s Hockey [6 NCAA Championships], we do pretty well in the team-sports world). Anyway, First Ave is legendary as a place that has witnessed the likes of Prince, U2, BB King, Björk, The Replacements, Pearl Jam, The Violent Femmes, A Tribe Called Quest, Emmylou Harris, Fishbone, and many many more. Also, it’s only 7 blocks to Eli’s Food & Cocktails, a seriously good local eating establishment.
Pearson’s Salted Nut Roll: It’s nougat surrounded by caramel and rolled in peanuts (Virginia type they say). And, Kemps (another local icon) makes an ice cream that celebrates the goodness of this delectable treat. Buy a few boxes and treat your friends and family when you get home.
Cardigan Donuts: As a donut connoisseur (actually, a connoisseur of all food and drink), and having traveled far and wide to taste all manner of cuisine, sweet and otherwise, I can attest to the fact that Cardigan Donuts is one of the premier donutteries in America. We are spoiled, here in the City of Flour & Sawdust, with a plethora of amazing bakeries/patisseries: A Baker’s Wife, Salty Tart, Bread & Chocolate, Granny’s Donuts, Patisserie 46 & Rose Street, Angel Food Bakery, and more than a dozen others of the highest quality.
Dangerous Man Brewing: Craft beers are another thing we have no shortage of around the State. Nor do we have any trouble keeping them in business. Trying to name “the best” would be like trying to pick the best cheesesteak in Philly, so many different styles and people like what they like. That said, Dangerous Man Brewing is certainly amongst the crème, particularly in the colder months (which would be most of them in this neck of the woods). A few others that I would be remiss not to share: Fair State, Indeed, Tin Whiskers, Fulton, Lakes & Legends, Boom Island, Steel Toe, Town Hall, Flat Earth, & BlackStack. If you get through those, it means you’ve probably stayed past the 5th and it’s unlikely you’re ever going to leave… Welcome to the North.
Nye’s Polonaise: Maybe the coolest place to listen to polka— in the universe. It closed more than a year ago, but according to those who know, reopened a few weeks ago. It’s a gem.
Matt’s Bar: If you love bar food and have never tried a Jucy-Lucy, get ready for Heaven. Pro-tip: it’s cash only; and if the line is long, don’t allow the door to be held open. And you can get a beer from the bar and get back in line, as long as you’re not standing outside. And play the jukebox.
Food Trucks: The Minneapolis/St Paul Food Truck scene is wild and wooly and filled with great food. If you are only going to try one, go to Mid-NordEmpanadas, they’ll be stationed at 10th & Nicollet-NorthEast corner. These empanadas are so authentic you’ll swear you’re in Quito and wonder why it’s so damn cold. If you’re trying more than one, enjoy, our food trucks rock.
A few other tips and insights: we’re passive aggressive, sometimes, not always, whatever, it doesn’t matter, just don’t do anything stupid; you might hear someone say “What the Heck!”, they’re not necessarily religious, or a prude, it’s just Minnesotan for What the Fuck; Uff-da is not the sound made when sneezing, it’s Viking for “holy shit”; If a complete stranger (a Minnesotan stranger) offers you a bite of something, they’re not trying to poison you, we’re just good at sharing and we want others to try this new found dynamite dish; lutefisk & lefse are scandinavian staples, skip the lutefisk unless you fancy yourself an Andrew Zimmern type (he’s Minnesotan, he’ll eat anything).
And a few more locales and eateries to check out, some of them are off the beaten path but well worth a taxi ride (don’t use Sled for these places, too far, dogs will get tired). The Walker Art Center; Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA, not M.I.A.); Mill City Museum; & The Testify Exhibit at the Minneapolis Central Library.
Tilia; 112 Eatery; Pat’s Tap; Alma; George & The Dragon; Parlour Bar; Troubadour Wine Bar; Gyst; Quang; Gandhi Mahal; Gorkha Palace; Manny’s; Bar la Grassa; Hola Arepa; Dominguez Restaurant; Bull Horn Burger Bar; Town Hall Tap; Pizzeria Lola; Wise Acre; The Pig Ate My Pizza; Spoon & Stable; Freehouse; Kadai (in the Skyway); Dogwood Coffee; Key’s Cafe; Italian Eatery; Sonny’s; Sebastian Joes; Revival; The Corner Table; Cecil’s Deli; Crescent Moon (pizza); Broders Cucina Italiana; Sen Yai Sen Lek; Holy Land; The Anchor; & The Sample Room.
I’ve certainly missed a few places that deserve to be mentioned but that’s ok, you’ll be back, and when you visit next time, hit me up for new suggestions.
Congrats on making it here and as they say in NOLA, this time of year – Laissez le Bon Temps Rouler… & Skol!
The policy stories of 2017, mostly regressive-type, at the Federal level, aren’t very much fun to talk about. In regards to big picture thinking or long-term planning, forget about it. If you were hoping for tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, you’re in luck. Due to the lack of good news, in this realm, I’ve opted to not discuss the policy changes of the past year. Pictures from 2017 are better conversation pieces. Talk amongst yourselves.
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 hopesand 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 solidifythe standing of one community while destroyingthe 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 ContinentalCongress convened, before Samuel Nicholas raised a Battalionof Marines, before Plymouth Rock, all the wayback 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 Scottv. 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 theythought 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 13thAmendment, 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 BlackCodes 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 TheSouth Great Again, Iguess…). 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 familiarAmerica?), 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 druglaws; and the policies that have kept morepoorly fundedschools 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 feelingremains 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 thoseflags, chant those words, and generally make a mockery of everything that the original anti-fascistsfought against.
We cannot, I repeat, CAN NOT, expect the election of 1 Black President (2times) 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 uglypast 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 aman 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 toygun 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.
The United States has entered a new era. It is not an era defined by our politics, though they have played a role in getting us here, and it is not defined by our technological advances, though they too are important. The new era in which we find ourselves is defined by a gap, or a divide, a chasm between those who are on financially solid ground and everybody else. While we’ve experienced time periods similar to the current situation, in our nation’s past, we’ve never witnessed anything on this scale. The bad news is, it’s going to be difficult to find the political will required to address the problem. But there’s good news too… political will is only half the solution.
Large swaths of rural America have been stagnating or declining for more than a decade — some much longer. Simultaneously, many of our urban centers have experienced similar negative changes that have affected not only the physical place but more importantly, and no differently from rural areas, the people who call those places home. The reasons for each of these occurrences is not dissimilar. A combination of disinvestment (some purposefully, some not by choice) and an exodus of the young and creative folks, who are responsible for much of the entrepreneurial spirit we endeavor to, has left a significant hole that no amount of hard work can replace.
There are many exceptions that can be found, in both cities and smaller towns, but exceptions are not rules and exceptions are not always replicable, for a variety of reasons. In order to reverse current trends and correct the situation before it sets, several initiatives must be undertaken. Some of these ideas will work in geographic locations across the board (regardless of size or setting), others will be relevant to one place or another, and all will have people who naysay or attempt to discredit them as too far reaching or way-out-of-the-box; but at the end of the day, if major changes are not instituted, many cities will devolve into unrecognizable pools of caste and class and thousands of small towns will dry-up and cease to exist.
Rural places, like the one I grew up in, have been trying to find ways to remain economically and socially viable while their populations have shrunk, their tax-bases have likewise decreased (due to both population declines and wage stagnation), and their futures have become increasingly uncertain. This is not the caseforall rural locales, but it does represent a significant portion of greater America. In many of these places, there is a strong desire, among some, to get back to the “good ole days” when life was “simpler”. The problem with that line of thinking is that that America, which was built on a combination of manufacturing, agriculture, and major infrastructure investments, ceased to exist more than 30 years ago. While we are in desperate need of new massive infrastructure developments (yet uncertain whether or not they will materialize), agriculture and manufacturing opportunities have declined as technologicaladvances, outsourcing, and increasesin productivity and efficiency have eliminated many of those jobs.
Regardless of where one lives, the loss of good paying manufacturing jobs, between 1980 and today, has had some sort of direct or indirect effect. When a small town or a big city loses manufacturing jobs, that impacts the workers, the family’s of the workers, the bartenders and servers that relied on them, the hair salons and barbers, the auto-mechanics, healthcare facilities, public schools (as local tax revenues decrease), movie theatres, retail stores of all types, etc., et al. We’ve seen it happen in small and medium size cities and former boomtowns like Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Detroit. And while many of the mid and small towns have found it more difficult to rebound after such losses, the situation in some of our urban metropolises is less dire, if only for the promise that comes from having a large and diverse pool of talent amassed there. Some of theseplaces have taken steps to re-imagine themselves as hubs of the new creative centers that will carry their regions forward. Others are still trying to understand how best to tackle the issue; and a few seem not to be paying any attention to the plight of the impoverished, or the disparity between the two Americas.
In his new book, The New Urban Crisis, Richard Florida outlines several of the factors that have created the current financial situation and then lays out policy initiatives that might best address these problems. The overarching theme reinforces what we have come to know in these past decades. The future of industry lies in creative thought processes; and in places that generate more ideas, we will find more jobs, better paying jobs, and more opportunity for those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. However, that does not mean that poverty will magically disappear as cities and regions reconfigure their plans to attract and retain more of this crowd. But it does provide the impetus, in the way of taxes, to supply the necessary services required to alleviate much of the poverty we have today.
Another idea that Florida (as many others have) points out is the benefit ofdiversity in a city/workplace. It is no coincidence that places with greaterdiversity have more success, regardless of the enterprise. Be it big or small, public or private, local or international, those ventures that include more diversevoices in the mix are more likely to find success. Part of this has to do with people bringing different experiences into the group, which can spark a completely new, and related idea, from someone who had never been exposed to radically different thought processes. Additionally, stepping out of one’s comfort zone (another part of the practice of working in a diverse setting) gets the mind to think from new perspectives.
Two other areas that Florida discusses in-depth are the need for greater investment in/development of mass transit (both within cities and between cities) and major investments in affordable housing for people/families who don’t make $100,000. or more, annually. This would address economic needs/issues in all areas of city and country, regardless of what divisions they feel may separate them.
Of course it doesn’t make sense to invest in high-speed rail between Eau Claire, WI and Ames, IA; but if we think about the potential for interactions between the knowledge bases surrounding and between locales (agriculture, manufacturing, energy, and the technologies that have not yet been realized), then maybe it makes sense to have some form of transit that could more easily connect people in those places. Having more modes of transport that connect major centers of industry, trade, government and hi-tech, can only benefit our future generations. Investing in great transit (aside from flight-based) that connects Des Moines and Minneapolis/St Paul (via Rochester – Mayo Clinic) and Chicago and Des Moines (via Madison – Univ of WI) with additional, and lower cost, transit options to carry people to destinations that are off the beaten path, like Ames and Eau Claire, would serve as a type of web that can create, within a predominantly rural region, corridors of knowledge that are specific to their needs. It would transform a disconnected or loosely linked place into a ruralopolis.
To be able to think more clearly about the challenges that we face, it is best to have a list of the issues/problems that need to be addressed. I’ve come up with 10 items that I have either witnessed first-hand and/or have been discussed by individuals who have researched and written about the issues. From Horace Cayton & St. Clair Drake (Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City – 1945) & Michael Harrington (The Other America – 1962), to Cynthia Duncan (Rural Poverty in America – 1992), RichardFlorida, Stefanie DeLuca (Coming of Age in the Other America – 2016) & Matthew Desmond (Evicted: Poverty & Profitin the American City – 2016), to name but a few, many people have spent years, if not decades, studying the problems and working on solutions. The list is not exhaustive by any means and it applies to both urban and rural, and the spaces in-between — with the rural covering a wider scope of place and the urban drilling into specific problems in pockets of cities.
Lack of money (wages, tax income/base, savings)
Loss of jobs
Loss of culturally significant attachments (many of which are tied directly to former manufacturing plants and the products they made as well as the local entities they supported)
Loss of the “sense of place” that helped define people
Loss of incentives that might retain more of the young adults
Lack of diversity, which exacerbates the lack of new ideas problem (more pronounced in agrarian and sylvan settings)
Insufficient planning for the future
Insufficient action on future plans that have been developed
Lack of a clear direction
Desire to return to previous decades when life was simpler, this further inhibits the creative thought processes that are needed for progress to occur
So how do we address all of this while maintaining fiscally sensible spending habits and without destroying communities in the process? The answers are not complex but they require buy-in from people at the local level. Mayors, city councils, school district administrators, businesses of all sizes, and the citizenry must get involved with the operations and revitalize the place from the ground up.
The first step in the process is creating a plan. And planning, whether for a ruralopolis region or for a smaller area encompassing several large metros with interspersed rural constituents, requires relationship building. Mutual trust and cooperation concerning the long-term goals will be paramount to the success of the plan. The people that make-up the planning committee should be representative of every group and every area within the defined territory and the work must include all of the necessary components of a region: affordable housing, jobs and industry, education, transportation, tourism and culture, government, and any additional pieces that impact the larger economic zone. The basis for the planning has to be developed with a “win-win” approach in mind; the alternative, zero-sum game, creates more losers than winners, which is how we ended up in our current situation. In the beginning stages of the process, funding options should be debated and implemented as quickly as possible…progress on this scale requires a large investment.
Raising taxes is neither popular nor easy. However, when small increases are made, incrementally, over a series of 25 years, they add up; and, they don’t negatively impact anyone’s business or individual income via one big bump. This type of enactment allows for well-developed plans to be put into place over a period of decades (similar to the way the Federal Interstate Highway System was introduced). Moreover, without adequate reserves set aside, for the unforeseen expenses, the best laid plans can be sidetracked and never get restarted.
New developments, and old developments given new life, should include mixed-use blueprints with a commitment to pedestrian friendly spaces. Integrating business, culture, low, middle, and high-income housing, on a human scale (keeping in mind density limits), attracts the widest variety of people to an area. Combined with investments in educational opportunities, both post-secondary and K-12, the integrated communities can provide opportunities to move up the economic ladder. Along with housing, business, public transit, and education amenities, green spaces are key; whether for relaxing or exercising, natural surroundings provide respite from the daily grind. Anything that can be done to attract younger and more diverse groups of people, can help achieve greater viability for the long-term.
And speaking of the long-term, investments in education are the best way to ensure a strong future for a region. Those cities/states that currently invest more in education (from pre-k through colleges of all types) are the places with the most opportunity for all people. Therefore, directing some of the new revenues (taxes) to local public schools, and investing in new post-secondary training options: e.g. pipelineprograms tied to Technical & CommunityColleges, certificate programs, or innovative high school programming that prepares students for a particular industry upon graduation. Education spending brings a greater return on investment (when thinking generationally) than any other type of expenditure. And, as an aside, education is not a business and trying to run it as such is a sure-fire way to fail the students; but, that doesn’t mean you can’t use business terminology and number crunching practices to analyze what’s working and what isn’t.
Once a young person has graduated from high school or completed post-secondary schooling, they need to be paid a living wage. If they are not, one of two things will happen; either they will move somewhere that pays them a living wage or more (depending on skill set), or they will remain in the community and not “give back” in terms of decreased: productivity, taxes, spending, and engagement, that they otherwise are capable of. Neither of these options are preferred if the goal is to increase economic viability and growth. Depending on your address, a livable wage might be $10.00 an hour or it might be $18.00 an hour, cost-of-living across the nation varies from one zip-code to the next. An added bonus, for the employers, is the data that shows a correlation between higher wages and lower turnover. Training can be a major source of spending and cost reductions in that area can be directed to higher wages. And don’t forget, the large middle class that made America’s economy strong for the better part of four decades was built in part on paying people a decent wage to do jobs that were neither highly skilled nor particularly difficult to learn. But they were paid well just the same (whether that was due to strong unions or employers who were concerned about their employees is not as important in this discussion) and they were vital components of their community. People working in low-wage jobs today should be paid similarly and given the same opportunity to take part in all aspects of the American dream.
As wages rise throughout a region (because other businesses will want to attract the best talent possible), and spending in local stores increases, economic vitality will attract entrepreneurs and new businesses will take hold. This can promote further growth; and, along with existing companies expanding, if demand warrants, the region will likely see more young people choosing to stay in the area or return to the area after spending a few years away learning new jobs or attending school. This is all part of a win-win scenario. But, be aware of the business wo/men who are looking to take advantage of your success.
There are corporations who like to play the tax break game. While it is true that businesses move for a variety of reasons, rarely do they choose a place just because it is offering the greatest incentives in terms of tax breaks; they typically know where they want to be and take advantage of cities that are hungry for new jobs. This is often done under the guise of job creation, which is ultimately seen as a victory. However, when the numbers come in, it turns out that all of the incentives provided, to attract the new firm, were not any better for the local economy so far as realizing substantial economic growth. And in the end, when corporations pay less, somebody else pays more — the members of the community. Or, those taxes are never collected, reducing services, reducing education funding, and reducing the ability to invest in new infrastructure that will attract other businesses and people. The most important piece of a successful business, in modern times, is having an educated workforce that understands how to problem solve. Therefore, collecting the taxes that fund local educational endeavors, is critical.
Creativity, in all manner of work, is central to success. Whether we’re looking at manufacturing, agriculture, hi-tech, service industry, sales, healthcare, education, or anything else, a workforce that can help streamline systems and integrate new technologies is key to keeping local, regional, and national economies growing. Whereas R&D was once tasked with innovation and finding more efficient ways to increase productivity, all employees are now asked to provide their input. This is to say, those places that invest the most in education will likely be the same sites that will experience the most growth.
In the midst of planning and designing, and building, politics will inevitably become an issue. Localities should push for more control over allocation of funds. States, and the Federal Government, should work with local officials to allow for this to happen with a degree of oversight to ensure Civil Rights laws are not being impinged and to make certain that protected classes are not being left out of the distribution. If the community has a bigger say in how and where tax dollars are spent, their buy-in, into the big plan, is strengthened and their engagement in and support of the big picture can work to bring in others. It is a model that requires inclusiveness and a “we are” attitude to enlist those who are unsure of the “progressive” agenda that has been undertaken.
When we think about those who are on financially shaky ground (to include all the “middle class” folks who are living paycheck to paycheck), we have to remember that: financial hardship and/or poverty is not a state of mind; poverty is not caused by laziness or a lack of morals; it is not a “culture”, as some would have us believe. Poverty, and therefore the decline of a place, has everything to do with policy and practice. Which policies have been implemented that have advantaged some and disadvantaged others and which policies have not been implemented because they are cost prohibitive and targeting the “takers” of society. What impacts have these policy decisions had on any individual’s ability to grow up in a stable neighborhood and attend public schools that are well funded? Which policies have been made law only to see state and local governments find loopholes and not allow the law to be practiced as intended? How do we place blame on the person who has had far fewer opportunities to excel and succeed and far more impediments placed in their path? These are the realities we must consider when thinking about how we’ve come to this point, socially and economically, in a nation such as ours. In his most recent book, Florida states, “Poverty occurs in the absence of institutions that unleash the creative energy of people and neighborhoods, or, even more so, when there are dysfunctional structures that harness and leverage these clusters of human creative energy.” If we provide the spaces for people to learn and to grow and to fail, without fear of that failure being an end, rather than a learning opportunity, we can build a web of interconnected regions that will carry us into the next century and beyond.
The work of building a new and better kind of society is not only needed here, but also in many countries around the world. This too was an area that Florida spent time discussing and the similarities that are found between the various locations is telling. He states:
“Lacking the kinds of basic infrastructure and division of labor we take for granted in the advanced world, they were forced to spend the majority of their time taking care of life’s immediate necessities: fetching their own water, bartering for and preparing food, and traveling long distances by foot or rudimentary forms of transportation. This left them scant time to devote to things that bring greater development—the further enhancement of their own skills and the broader development of their communities.”
This idea of time commitment dedicated to the preservation of life is not entirely different from what we see in our own communities, where higher levels of poverty have taken hold. People are spending greater amounts of time surviving which leaves less time (energy, money, etc) to focus on personal growth or developing ideas that could become money-making ventures, i.e. businesses. We don’t have to sit back and watch America deteriorate, we have the people power, the funds, and the work-ethic to make this country work to everyone’s advantage, we only need the will to make it happen.
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 writingwhite 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 “CaptainAmerica” 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 relatedsongs; 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; emojis 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).
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 livewarealready 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).
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!
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. 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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 ThingsHereI 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.
Food and beverages, we don’t get very far without them; sustenance, in some form or another, is still a daily requirement for our continued existence. This is to say that life’s necessities can be translated into a money-making venture (a restaurant venture) — and in this case, that would involve the industry. That said, if you are planning to open a restaurant and get rich, you’re probablygoing to fail. In terms of difficulty, starting a restaurant is possibly one of the most stressful and difficult propositions the average entrepreneur (even the above average) can hope to take on. Going a step further, opening a restaurant and making it a financially viable long-term operation, that’s rare. Most restaurateurs are happy if they can pay the bills and take a little vacation once a year (—usually the latter half of January)
In the U.S., three out of every five restaurants close before they hit their 2 year mark (and the myth about 90% of independent restaurants closing in the first year is likely not true but considering the variety of eateries that are called “restaurants”, it’s possible that the number is higher than 60% in 2 years). Anyway, the point is this, if you think owning a restaurant would be fun, and you have a few million to throw around (and don’t plan on being directly involved in the operations) then you’re probably right, it can be fun. But if you plan on being the person who spends 18 hours a day, seven days a week, making sure that every detail is checked twice and helping manage every facet, until you’re comfortable letting the staff take over the day-to-day, then “fun” is probably not the word I would use. But it can be exhilarating.
Aside from the long hours, interactions with contractors (prior to opening… hopefully) who are always behind, customers, staff (who are people— and therefore occasionally sick, tired, crabby — all of which are frowned upon in a service job), and lack of the more normal social outings (because when you have a chance to get away from work, eventually, you’re always looking at what other eateries are doing and how they’re doing it), it’s really great, if you’re into that kind of thing.
As a former industry professional, I was involved in the successful opening of nine unique establishments, and beyond that worked in a couple handfuls of great eateries. My experiences run the gamut from fine dining to bar & grill joints, independent and corporate-owned & operated. A few of the places whose inception I assisted: The Wine Market Bistro; The Red Star; Chomp; McCormick & Schmick's - Kansas City; & M&S Grill - Baltimore. Four others have since closed: New Pointe Grill (Kansas City, MO); Up The Creek (Lexington, KY); Bella (Cincinnati, OH); & The Blue Sea Grill (Baltimore, MD).
Aside from learning as much as possible about this fickle field, and having the monetary side of it lined up, a couple of other things to think about: location, audience, location, target group, location, and… desired customer demographic. Does that make sense? Who are you catering to and where best will you situate yourself in order to satisfy that group? Because, while you want to draw from a diverse set of consumer groups, you need repeat business if you’re going to make it work (unless you are Talula’s Table, The French Laundry, Trois Mec, or some other place where reservations are impossible to score on short notice).
Once you know what kind of fare you want to focus on (and don’t try to emulate The Cheesecake Factory, 1,800 menu options is too many), you will be able to determine your target audience, more or less. Location, on the other hand, is more about what spaces are available and how much money you have to play with. As a rule of thumb, if you have to choose between starting small and growing a space (or opening a second) and starting big and hoping for the best—start small. If you are unsure about anything and you’re in a small space, you have room to err. Big spaces, with bigger costs, provide less room for failing; and if the restaurant business is built on anything, it’s failure. From failure to failure tofailure we go until, Voilà, Success! Plus, when you look at the majority of places that are “hip“, “cool“, “hot“, “in“, and “it“, they are, by and large, not behemoth.
Last, and certainly not least, is the quality factor. Whether talking about the staff, the food, the feel (ambience & décor), or anything else, quality is essential. It is easy to think that having the most chic joint in the city will guarantee a steady business; but if you have a staff that hasn’t bought in and hasn’t been properly trained, food that comes out of cans and boxes, and dirty restrooms, you may as well purchase stock in a Siberian cat-milking conglomerate — the returns couldn’t be any worse and your reputation may withstand the deprecating remarks that will be lobbed at you for years to come. This goes for all manner of establishment: bar and grills, diners, dives, and fine dining at its finest. The price on a menu should never influence the caliber of the experience.
If you’re interested in starting a new food industry venture, and you don’t know where to begin, solidify your finances/backing first; then talk with a successful local restauranteur, read industry staples, figure out your niche, and make sure you aren’t opening up a burger joint across the street from a vegan commune, i.e. keep the drama to a minimum (you’ll have more than enough once you open).
And, if you’re looking for someone to help with the details, someone who’s been involved in more than a few restaurant ventures, drop me a note, maybe I can help…I’m Down.