What Will Help Working-Class Americans?

If we’re looking a silver lining in the whole Trump election business, then we have to say that it’s a good thing that the media is shining a light on the problems of working class Americans. They have been forgotten. Whole sections of the country are struggling. I’ve seen it when visiting family in Cleveland (here and here).

So, now that the focus is on this group of people, the debate has begun about what to do to help. Should we bring back the labor unions? Do we need stronger boards and trade restrictions? Can a president really do anything to turn back the clock?

It’s a good debate, I think. I’m looking forward to seeing how this whole thing plays out.

Personalized Learning

I’m still in between writing assignments. Well, I have one in the works, but I’m waiting around for the publicist to set up the interview. So, let me tell you about another topic that’s on the back burner.

Last spring, I spent weeks and weeks touring other public schools in the area looking for another public school that would work for Ian. I think I looked at seven or eight different programs. The best programs were doing super interesting things with computers. Let me back up.

One of the big problems in special ed is that you have a group of kids who are disabled, but they are each disabled in different ways. Some have emotional problems, others have cognitive problems, and still others may attentional issues. Public schools dump all those kids in the same room. None of them may read on grade level, but each one is getting tripped up for different reasons.

The old school way of dealing with this diverse bunch is to make them all read the same book at their age-level ability, even though none of them actually reads on grade level. So, the teacher will read the book out loud to the class — in some cases the kids will listen to the book on tape — and the teacher will explain the book to the kids. So, the kids aren’t working on learning how to read. Then the aides and the teachers will talk them through an essay on the book.  I call this pretend learning.

The new way is to set the kids in front of a computer, where they’ll read “Huck Finn” or “Charlotte’s Web” on their reading level. The computer program translates the book to their ability. These programs generate questions and assignments that are appropriate for them. Later, the class might work together on a group assignment or discussion on the same matter. The whole group has read Huck Finn, just on their own level.

This method is very cost-effective. Instead of hiring extra teachers and aides, the kids use a computer. The teacher doesn’t have to generate assignments for each kid. The kids aren’t stressed out by doing work that is too hard for them. There isn’t any of the pretend learning bs. I don’t see a downside.

There’s a quiet movement that’s happening in general ed to do the same thing, because, after all, all kids are different. It’s starting off in some charter schools and spreading. The teachers’ union hates it because, in some ways, it de-professionalizes the teachers. The standards movement people hate it, because they insist that every 9th grader should read the same 9th grade science textbook. But this movement is going to win out, because of money.

Gift Guide 2016 – Book Picks from Steve, the Blog Husband

by Steve

I admit it, for the past few years I’ve been slacking with this whole book-gift-giving-recommendation thing.  It’s not that I haven’t been reading anything, heavens no.  This year I read “Riddley Walker,” “The Road,” “Underground Airlines,”  “Cloud Atlas,  “A Canticle for Leibowitz” (which I really enjoyed).  And a bunch of other stuff.

From the above you can see that this year I became obsessed with good ole’ fashioned apocalyptic dystopian fantasies.  End times stuff, it must have been in the air.  Lord, I could have just looked out the window.   Anyway, reader beware, for beyond this paragraph here be monsters.

 J.G. Ballard.  “High-Rise” and “Concrete Island”.  This summer I went on a Ballard bender.  Whoo boy.  Thought it important to better understand the influences behind the Punk and New Wave movements; those guys and gals have a thing for technology, isolation, and violence.  Clockwork Orange with fast cars.  One book, notoriously famous, was absolutely unreadable. I’ve never experienced anything like it, it was so appalling.  I was embarrassed to hand it back to the librarian.  Another famous book was disappointing.

But there are two worth looking at.  “Concrete Island” is a modern Robinson Crusoe tale of a man trapped on a traffic island under a highway overpass. After some initial struggles he decides to remain on the island, becoming the lord and master of his tiny kingdom.  Great idea, could do with a little more work.  “High-Rise” is the better of the two.  The inhabitants of a 40-story apartment building slowly descend into savagery when the power goes spotty and routine maintenance is forgotten.  The symbolism, of course, is obvious.  No subtlety here.  And now it’s a motion picture starring all of your favorites:  Jeremy Irons, Tom Hiddleston, and Elizabeth Moss.  Sorry honey, I know you are quite fond of these actors, but this movie will certainly make you squirm.  Nevertheless, in the queue!

Michel Houllebecq.  “Submission”.  One of the best things I read this year.  An indifferent and disillusioned French academic.  A quirky French election.  An Islamic regime in power.  With a Gallic shrug the academic adapts and carries on, realizing that all he really cares about are his bourgeois pleasures.  An intriguing piece of work.  Could be worth a second read.

Victor Klemperer.  “I Will Bear Witness”.  I don’t know why I went back to these two books.  I haven’t read anything Nazi-related in years.  After all, as a famously handsome man once said, “Nazis.  I hate these guys.”  And they are loathsome.  So, at a subconscious level may there is a reason why I returned to Klemperer.  This is his diary chronicling increasing degradation as his life as a thoroughly unreligious Jewish German is slowly circumscribed under the Nazi regime.  Each day, each week brings another indignity to Klemperer, and as the months progress the screw tightens.  At which point does a person say “enough”?  At which point is it too late?  What is tolerable?  Like the frog in the pot of water gradually coming to a boil, can any of us recognize when it’s time to hop out?

Ugh, sorry to be such a downer, but I feel that mentally we have to steel ourselves against some sort of unpredictable future unpleasantness.  Be prepared, so to speak.  But who cares?!  Here’s a bourgeois pug in a top hat!

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LOL, but as Jonah says:  “Real Talk”.  I don’t mean to be flippant because one could argue that a lack of seriousness got us into our present predicament.  Keep your eyes open.  Happy Holidays.

Gift Guide 2016 – Afternoon Treats

I always get my best work done in the morning. If I’m in the midst of a good writing project, I can slam out a thousand words in the hour or two after I get the kids to school. If I’m in between projects, like I am now, I’ll use that prime time to get in a run or do an hour at a spin class. After noon, productivity takes a huge dive. Rather than squandering time on social media or my iphone, I might squeeze in some brain-less errands during those hours of vast waste. I also rely on my old buddy, caffeine, to revive me.

So, what are good gifts for people who need afternoon treats to trick themselves into doing more work?

I need a new set of mugs. I have strong feelings of dislike for mugs for words, so these are word-free mugs:  I like Fishs Eddy‘s 212 Skyline and Math patterns. Octopus mugs are cool. Crate and Barrel’s Ito mug is minimalist. Some options on Etsy are a T.S. Elliot mug, a Kracken mug, or an elephant mug.

I’m drinking Palais des Thés, Darjeeling with Kusmi Tea Filters right now. Steve got it for me in a shop in the city, but they have a nice website, too.

If there’s tea, there must be biscuits! I’m not terribly picky in this area. I’ll eat the kids’ lunchbox cookies, if there’s nothing better. If there’s some IKEA’s biscuits in the cabinet, I’ll grab them. Doing a quick google search, there’s some really cute gift options from Harrods and Fortnum & Mason (more here).

I have a basic minimalist tea pot from Crate & Barrel, but here are some other great options from Fortnum & Mason, Denby, and Certified International.

Gift Guide 2016 – Book Suggestions from the Readers

Hey, guys. I’ve been proof reading Jonah’s college applications, and I’m too tired to do a gift guide tonight. How about you all help me out? Give me your book suggestions and I’ll hyperlink them to Amazon.

Continue reading

Gift Guide 2016 – Cooking, After the Collapse of Civilization

A few days ago, I blogged that I was roasting a pumpkin to make pies for Thanksgiving. MH, I believe, scoffed at the notion of making a pumpkin pie from a real pumpkin, when the supermarket sells perfectly adequate canned pumpkin guts. Others scoffed at the entire notion of a pumpkin pie.

First of all, let me defend the pumpkin pie. When it’s done right, it should float like a Spanish flan. It has one foot in the sweet world and one in the savory; it’s an amphibian food. And it’s the perfect post-Thanksgiving breakfast.

Now, let me also explain why I get a huge pumpkin from the farmer’s market or the CSA every year, divide it up, roast it, scrape out the guts, puree it, measure it, dole it into baggies, and freeze it. (This year, we used a Lakota variety.) Because it’s badass.

I like knowing that if there’s a zombie apocalypse or another Great Depression or the end of liberal world order thanks to the election of an insane demagogue, I will be able to turn my backyard into a subsistence farm and survive. Pumpkins are food weeds; easy to grow and yield tons of food. That one pumpkin that we roasted yielded about 8 cups of puree that was pre-measured into baggies and then frozen. Over the winter, it will get turned into soup, bread, and even a flavoring for risotto.

When you roast a pumpkin, it connects you to the past. To a woman with cloth cap in the 1600s in Virginia figuring out how to cook this strange gourd and to survive the winter. It’s harder to channel your inner settler woman, if you scan the bar code on your can of pumpkin guts at the self-serve line at Stop and Shop.

So, if you want to be a badass cook who survives the zombies AND connects to women from the past, then here are the essentials: an excellent set of pots and pans, a food processor, a KitchenAid mixer, a garlic press, cutting boards, an Alice Bloomfield cookbook, wine glasses (because you absolutely allowed to drink while cooking), and a soup mixer stick thingie.

I freeze food, while Steve cans it. I’m not sure why, but that’s how it works around here. He does his canning using the basic pots and supplies that we have in the kitchen, but I suppose that if you wanted to get fancy, you could use the gadgets for that. There’s also fancy equipment for freezing. I don’t know. A black sharpie and some ziplock baggies work just fine for me. We’ve also found lots of info about preserving food on the Internet, which we’ve printed out and saved in binders. I do like these pretty books though, too.

I need to cook more dried beans. They really do taste better than the canned variety. And I want to store them in very anal retentive jars in my pantry.

Alright. This post is getting long. We’ll come back to the kitchen in a couple of days with some more fun suggestions.