November 3, 2014
Some of you have asked if I was going to return to writing my column. The answer is “yes”. I needed a mental break from it for a month or so as I was dealing with different life events. I am hitting my two-year anniversary for Common Sense. I wrote my first column on November 7, 2012 and its title was “The Day After” as I talked about what would happen now that the presidential election of 2012 was over. This was how I concluded that particular entry:
Seems like it is time for the government to rise up and impress us. Make decisions that work without the constant bickering that makes every issue sound like a fight to the death. And everyone has to be willing to give a little. On the economic side, some taxes may have to be raised, but there better be reduction of the budget at the same time. Some aspects of the county need to be run like a business. No company can have a 20-year plan to reduce debt like our country comes up with to solve our fiscal crisis. They would be out of business.
I don’t think the election made anyone feel relieved in the general population. We are all scared. My cry to the government is my favorite bumper sticker: “Lead, Follow or Get the Hell Out of the Way!
I think it is safe to say the government did not rise to the occasion and impress any of us. It is really, really difficult to look back and see many accomplishments of the federal government over the past two years. And both parties are at fault as are all branches of government. The President, both houses of Congress, and even the Supreme Court have done things that perplex and make us wonder where the country is headed.
This year’s election has the control of the Senate as the highlight. Throw into the mix various governorships and scads of local offices, and you realize that this is truly an election where it comes down to the local electorate getting off its butt and out to the polls. For while the make-up of Congress has a national bearing, it is the local votes in the districts and states that determine who runs the country.
With all of the talk about the tons of money put up by special interests and individuals to influence the election, they still cannot “buy” our vote. One of the blessings we have in the United States is to choose our leaders. There is often a cry of, “Why should I vote? It doesn’t matter.” The truth is that it does. This is your chance to make your voice heard. Whether you are a die-hard party supporter who votes your straight ticket, or if you actually look at the individual candidates, this is your one chance a year to be heard.
Lord knows, we need to be heard. We need to fix what we have in this country while also looking ahead. I do not know about you, but I do not see anyone out there on the national stage who can put this country on his or her back and move us where we need to go. But who knows, maybe someone who is elected to office on Tuesday for the first time will turn into that person. Perhaps the only thing preventing that is your non-vote. So do your civic duty and take the 10 minutes to vote. And if you don’t, you are restricted from doing any bitching for the next 12 months!
Essays on government, education, family life, etc. that helps put issues and solutions in perspective with thoughtfulness, not extremism. You know, like the majority of Americans really want! Go to The Book Corner.
September 22, 2014
Over the last few weeks, I have received some work in my writing business to redo resumes and cover letters for people over 50. When discussing their work history, the conversation always comes around to why they are looking for a new job. Unfortunately, the theme always ends up being the same story: laid off from their jobs for whatever reason and now having a desperate time finding work. Unemployment benefits go quickly, the jobs prospects are not there, and there is a feeling of desperation.
Here are a few actual stories. One involves a woman whose company let her go for no solid reason. What did happen after she left is that her position was filled by someone who was half her age at half her salary. She has been constantly looking for work, and had a few interviews, but nothing yet. At one job she was asked what king of salary she was looking for. The figure she gave was less than she used to make and not outrageous at all – and the interviewer looked at her as if she was out of her mind. Obviously, it was someone looking for a person willing to work at bargain basement prices.
As a side note to this, when she asked someone at unemployment what to do after her benefits ended, she was told, “Oh, you can apply for welfare.” She was horrified. She has worked since she was 16 and the prospect of doing something like that is almost a killing blow.
Another woman who is over 60 has exhausted her unemployment benefits, been constantly looking, and is in a very real danger of not having a roof over her head soon. If being over 50 is a detriment to finding a job, being over 60 seems to be a death sentence.
Then there is a gentleman who wanted me to “dummy down” his resume. He is very intelligent, highly capable, and cannot find work. He has greatly lowered his expectations and does not want a resume to intimidate perspective employers. I have often tried to punch-up a resume for someone, but this is the first time I had to downplay one.
Therefore, to John Boehner and the rest of the politicians who think that programs like unemployment benefits are creating a nation of lazy people: Go to Hell! You really have no bloody idea of how much people are hurting. Your self-interest and supposed insight and knowledge of the American people is somewhere between a drug induced stupor and pure stupidity and ignorance.
Since I am only familiar with New Jersey in this regard, I would like to mention to Governor Chris Christie that maybe it is time to stop campaigning for others and putting out presidential feelers, and look what is happening in your own back yard. Does it mean anything to you that this state ranks 47th in creating new jobs over the past 5 years? Kind of puts into perspective what you have not been doing.
To business owners of all size: employees are not some type of interchangeable part. You complain about bad workers and no loyalty – well you reap what you sow. To throw another cliché out there – you get what you pay for. I marvel that so many employers pay their people a wage that does not allow them to buy the products or services of the company they work for. I am no economic expert, but sooner or later this stock market boom is going to prove to be a paper tiger. The great majority of the people who drive the real economy of America will not be able to afford to do so in the near future. Then what do we do?
September 9, 2014
Kids going back to school are not the only group returning to their haunts after a long summer break. Washington DC also has an immature band returning to work: Congress. After five weeks off (really, did anyone notice they were gone?), Congress returns today to enthrall us with their particular brand of government leadership. I believe that to commemorate the occasion, and to make a few bucks, stores like Staples and Wal-Mart should have a special section set up with supplies that Congress will need to successfully return to the Capitol building. Among the items they could purchase are:
September 5, 2014
The above quote is a fitting conclusion to a week discussing education. The last few days I devoted to students, teachers, schools, parents, etc. However, I do not want folks to forget that education should be a never-ending process. As long as a person has his or her mental faculties, the search for knowledge and understanding should never stop.
I believe that many of us are like that. On the other hand, reality has shown me that there are also a lot of adults who park their brains and bask in their ignorance. Let’s look at a few examples.
Much is said about young adults and how they are the future of our country. This is certainly true, but I know too many people in their 20’s who really do not understand what is going on in the world. Their self-interest is at an all-time high and if they do not think something directly affects them, they do not care about it. They have very little idea of what is going on in our country. Do not even ask them about what is happening in other nations. They treat something they read on Facebook or the internet as fact, and make no effort to learn about something new. They are totally up on all the new movies and celebrities, but that is as far as any in-depth knowledge goes. Many have never voted and are not even registered.
Then we have my favorites. These are the adults who blindly follow a party or a philosophy and take everything its spokesmen (and women) say as the absolute truth. Anything said or written as a counterpoint to their beliefs is automatically discounted and discarded. Hell will freeze over before they will look deeply into an issue and concede the other side has a good point. They suck in the propaganda and disperse it through Facebook and Twitter and other social media as gospel. It is as if they shut down the part of the brain that allows ideas and new thoughts to bounce around as you try to figure out what is truth. Unfortunately, there are too many political leaders who fall into this category.
Much of the news media also follows this trend today. Many do not even try to present an opposing viewpoint. If they do, it is couched in sarcasm and ridicule. I have even been questioning when news is accurate. Last week I was going to write a column on something I saw in the news on the internet. I was really fired up about it. Then something clicked in my brain, and I looked for confirmation of the story in other outlets. I could find none. I concluded the story was bogus and did not write on it. (It would have been a darn good column too.)
All of this brings me full circle to what I talked about at the beginning of the week: schools and education. I think one of the powers of education is to teach kids how to learn. Yes, there are skills they need to acquire like math and language, but the true long-range value is the ability to know how to learn, and to make that a part of life. God gave man the ability to think beyond anything else in the world. Today, we seem to lack the understanding of what that means and how to go about it. We seem to be in a country where people are happy to be lemmings who do not want to exert their brain power to figure some things out on their own.
Too much time is spent on charting the results of students and schools and not enough about the process of learning. It is no wonder kids hate school when they seem to be taking standardized tests every month. There is so much emphasis on that activity that we forget how to teach kids to think things through. When this happens, you end up with adults who may know how to take tests, but they have a lot of difficulty figuring out something that takes analytical thinking. That is the future we are headed to. The United States used to be the country of big ideas and original thinking. It would be nice if we started heading back to that.
September 4, 2014
As we continue with a look at education, it is obvious we have a big problem in our country. It seems like the more we try to improve the learning process for kids, the further behind we get. Scads of money has been spent, “experts” have weighed in on solutions, and, worse yet, politicians have implemented “improvements” with little idea of what they are doing. Once again, it seems that the only way to get a handle on education is if communities, and especially parents, start to speak up.
There is a role for government in this process…though it should be smaller than the one they want to have. There is tremendous inequality from school district to school district, and someone needs to set some minimal standards for education. But the state or national government should not be doing this in a vacuum. If parents do not step in with their opinion of what needs to be done for their kids, then they deserve what they get. By the same token, the various government entities need to actually listen and not think they automatically know best because they are, uh, the government. If anything, that is a qualification to suspect anything they hand down because it will cost a lot of money and have borderline results.
If we continue to let government make the decisions without voicing any objections, we will continue to get programs that sound good , but do not do much. I have found the hard way, with various positions I have had in the past, that when you try to make everyone happy, you fail miserably. If you have a great school or school district, keep it going. If government policies are going to water down your school’s results, then fight it.
If your kid’s school is hurting then ask for help…real help. It seems like many programs that the government implements bloat the administration…the very expensive administration…with more people. Whatever happened to the day when you had a principal, a school secretary, and lots of teachers and aides? Like so much that is wrong today, we seem to hire people that do not have a lot to do with the outcome that is desired. I have said this about government departments and it applies to schools: If you did an audit of each school district, you will find wasted money that can be put to good use – like buying books, paper, pencils, etc.
This gets me to another point. So many companies have bins set up for people to donate school items that kids need. That is great that they are doing this, but with all of the tax money that goes to schools, isn’t there something wrong with this? I also know teachers who spend a fair amount of money from their own pocket to get their classroom up to snuff. Many of your tax dollars go to schools. Shouldn’t you actually look at how it is being spent and speak up about it!!!
You want to make a School Board member or Superintendent nervous? Ask them to explain the school budget to you line-by-line. I worked in a school district for a short time once and was appalled at what the superintendent spent money on – usually to benefit him.
We all become frustrated at everything seeming to come off the rails in America. Our schools are a good place to get active. This is a very specific area where you can see your dollars being spent, and it is so important for the future of our nation and communities. It is time to stop giving lip service to that notion, and to separate BS like Common Core from sensible approaches to education. Somewhere along the line, the effort was made to improve education, and instead, we broke it.
September 3, 2014
Since this is the traditional first week of school, at least here in the Northeast, I thought I would continue on the theme of yesterday’s column. Somewhere over the last 40 years or so, there has been a significant shift in the role of parents dealing with their kids’ school and teachers. Some of the change is for the good, and some tendencies need to be worked on.
It used to be that when a student came home from school with a bad report or grades, the parents would accept it as fact and take the necessary corrective steps with their child. This could be anything from being grounded to paying more attention while the kid did homework, etc.
Now, when this happens, it seems like there is a tendency for parents to charge into the school, confront the teacher, and demand how “dare they” do this to their child! I have used this example before, but a case in point is when someone ran into my daughter, a high school chemistry teacher, at the supermarket. The dialogue went something like this:
Parent: “Why don’t you give my kid a better grade in your class?”
Teacher: “Why doesn’t he show up for class?” (My daughter is no shrinking violet.)
Parents need to be concerned that their children are being treated fairly in class. Teachers can have their favorites and their least desirables just as much as a boss can in the workplace. It is human nature for this to happen sometimes, and a duty of a parent is to investigate what is going on to see if there is a problem. In that way, there are checks and balances of sorts to make sure things are going the way they should.
The problem is that parents are ready to put all the blame on someone else rather than their own child. Many of these blow-ups are just ridiculous. Education of a kid takes teamwork and good communication between a parent and teacher. With the use of school software packages that makes this easier than ever, I am surprised when I hear parents are amazed to find out when little Johnny is in trouble. Unfortunately, a communication breakdown happened somewhere to get things to a heated point.
There has been a trend over the years where everyone wins. Scores not kept during kids’ games, an atmosphere in schools where students never fail, and events like science fairs where everyone gets the same ribbon with no recognition for outstanding achievement. And we wonder why children grow up with a sense of entitlement?
I am the first to say that there is too much of a win/lose mentality in many phases of life. However, like everything else, there is a middle ground. As a society, we have gotten away from some basic principles like “win and lose” or “right and wrong.” It shows throughout life and it is hurting us. As parents, we never want to see our kids not do well. But instead of rushing to their defense, that child is going to get a lot more when you sit down with him or her, figure out what went wrong, and determine how to fix it. I have worked with kids in the past and there is nothing more enjoyable than to see a kid overcome a problem they were having. That is a smile worth all of the money in the world.
The point of this is that for school to be successful for a child we need to have teachers and parents work together. Like any relationship, it all starts and ends with communication. A parent needs to calmly listen to what is going on with their kid in school if there is a problem. Likewise, teachers need to know if there are issues at home that are affecting a student’s performance.
By the way, if a parent is upset because their kid got a “B” instead of “A” and it will keep them out of their college of choice, keep the lawyers at home. Maybe you should be more concerned that your kid can write, read, and do math. More importantly, you should make sure that child is learning skills to make decisions and live on their own. The purpose of educating a child is to prepare him or her for life. Not look for someone to bail them out when things get tough.
September 2, 2014
This column is dedicated to three young women I know: Jessica, Jennifer, and Amanda. They are about to start their school year as teachers. They are an essential cog in today’s society. They are smart as evidenced by Jessica teaching high school chemistry, Jennifer teaching high school biology, and Amanda teaching high school mathematics. All of these gals would have me tied up in knots in their class since these are subjects I have not tackled since high school and college. And to give you an idea of when that was, the computers I used in college are now in the Smithsonian!
For full disclosure, Jess and Jen are daughters and Amanda is a semi-niece. As I look over the educational landscape, I am slightly relieved knowing that there are many good teachers out there like these women. Their stories are also a parable about what is right…and wrong in our schools.
Jennifer and Amanda are starting their first year as full time teachers. Jennifer has spent the past year being a sub while Amanda graduated from college this past spring with her teaching degree. I believe they are entering the school year with excitement, as well as a bit of nervousness. They have subbed and been student teachers, but now they have classes to plan, students to work with throughout the year, and administrators and parents to get to know. They know their subject, will not be boring, and if I can give them one piece of advice, it is this: Show no fear! Kids can sense that. (Actually, I know neither of these two women will take much grief from any student. I feel sorry for the kid that tries to test them.)
Jessica is entering her fifth year of teaching. Two years ago, she was Teacher of the Year. This year she is going back kicking and screaming. At the end of last year, she was becoming disillusioned with the profession, but with one month left she became very ill and could not finish out the year. It took a couple of months for a doctor to figure out what was wrong with her, so the good news is that she is getting her health back. She has a ways to go, but she is healthy enough to go back to teaching.
Health issues aside, Jessica was getting fed up with the non-support she was receiving from the administration and her union in her job. This compounded when the medical issues occurred, and the new administration that came on board was even worse than last years. You see the administration and superintendent were making decisions and assumptions without even talking with Jessica. Yes, I am her father, but it seemed to me that here was another case of empty suits covering their ass instead of doing their job.
I know this is a broad generalization, but we should let teachers teach. The young men and women who are entering the teaching ranks are eager to be good at their jobs. There are also plenty of veteran educators who feel the same way, but who are tired of all the regulations, guidelines, and “new and improved” programs that are constantly handed down. Yes, there are many good administrators out there, but there are also many who would be better suited working at Wal-Mart. As for the politicians who talk about education so much, please think of one thing. For all the money dumped on education, why are we graduating kids from high school who cannot do basic reading, writing, and math? By the way, I am talking about those graduating from so-called “good schools.”
I pray that Amanda and Jennifer have dynamite first years of teaching. I hope they have support in their high schools from the administration and parents, and they do not feel like they always have to look over their shoulder. I pray that Jessica can negotiate her way through this school year and find her mojo again for teaching in whatever is in front of her.
They are great kids. (OK, I am at the point where young people in their 20’s are still kids.) There are many others in the teaching profession just like them. I know from Jessica the time she puts in to teach her students, and Jen and Amanda are going to find out the same thing. There is a lot wrong with our education system right now. Most teachers are not the issue, though. If you think that, please sit down and talk with one. You will be amazed at what they do.