Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Godless (godlus?)

I was playing a game of hypotheticals yesterday, wondering what my life would have been like had certain central elements be different. I got to the question of "what would I have been like if I were not a religious Jew?"

Now here's the thing -- if someone were to ask me what I would be if I didn't have the faith I have as a Jew, I would probably not know what to answer. In one sense, I would be whatever was part of the faith I did have. I didn't choose to believe; it is just part of who I am, having been inculcated in me from a young age. I can't choose not to believe any more than I can choose to be a lefty or choose to like the Yankees. It just isn't who I am. So, had I been brought up as a Christian, I'd be a Christian. I think that maybe part of it is that I have a very strong faith in my own parents -- their tutelage and the life they modeled made the academic and discrete religious belief into that complete lifestyle which is why it stuck. There were no hypocrites in my house growing up so faith made sense all the time.

But on the other hand, I do have to say that of all positions which i can even somewhat fathom, the only one that makes any sense is atheism. I mean, really -- look at any religious belief from the position of an outsider. Rituals which requires a variety of bizarre behaviors, beliefs which are predicated on irrational acceptance of that which cannot be proven, texts which, were they not imbued with religious significance, wouldn't make the fiction bestseller list because reviewers would point out the lack of believable characters, plot structure or consistent voice. I don't believe because some overt miracle slapped me in the face so I can see that someone who needs such a miracle would be confused by what appears to be my choice to accept that which doesn't fit with anything else I accept or embrace.

So what would have happened had I been brought up to apply that critical and scientific/rational lens to beliefs and reject any theology, or even the idea of the divine? Different schools, that's for sure. More free time in the evenings and the weekends. But I wasn't a social person -- would this have increased the number of friends I had because they would have been from the neighborhood, or reduced it because it would have underscored my isolation (is my personality a fixed part of me or a function of something else)? Would I have read less, having no Sabbath with electronics forbidden? Would I have been more overweight with more foods at my gustatory disposal? Would having more friends have meant less time on a computer, and thus less tech-savviness? Or would I have had access to all the tech stuff on the weekends which I was kept out of? Maybe I would have stayed in Junior-Minor League (that is 3 steps below Little League). I got home from school late and didn't have Friday nights and Saturdays for practice and games due to the Sabbath.

Different schools, friends (and waistlines) would have lead to different college choices and from there, clearly a different life. Could I have gotten interested in radio anyway, but been willing to work Saturdays? Or move around the country because I didn't need to stay near a Jewish community? What about summers? Both as a camper and a counselor, my decisions had to stay rooted in the Jewish experience. I would not have had the challenges (or learned the lessons that rising above challenges brings) and would have become a different person. Maybe I could have been good at math. Maybe not.

Let's say that I still became an English teacher. here would I work? The whole of the US public school system would be available to me. I could have gone for one of those jobs in Hawaii! Or maybe I would still have wanted to stay near my family (if my sister had not been brought up Jewish/religious, she wouldn't have moved to Israel -- but would she have moved SOMEWHERE because the wanderlust is hard wired?). And how would I approach Shakespeare? My teaching now is infused with a religious sensibility. I understand not only the Jewish aspect of characters (like a Shylock) but the position of minorities in the text. Were I not the product of minority status, would I appreciate the characterization of Othello as well? I use talmudic logic in my teaching but that would be gone as well -- precious few literary students learn the talmud for the heck of it. Would I be less effective at my job? Would I empathize less, or teach less well? Or would I have been able to spread my wings and read and travel and experience literature in ways I currently can't, and thus be an even better teacher?

And as a dad? Would my politics, my morals, my values be different? How much of what I profess beyond religion is actually an end result of religion? How much is a result of books I have read (the volume of which is the result of the free time that the Sabbath gave me) and how much is because of the experiences which I had. Could I have achieved any heights of even atheistic spirituality (almost a Romantic/Buddhist oneness with the world) or would I have sunk to depths of depravity? Would I have even had any family? Am I where I am because religion saved from a fate worse than death or am I ONLY where I am for the exact same reason?

And then I remember -- I'm the father of great kids. I have a beautiful wife, a steady job, a house in the suburbs. I have parents who didn't drive me in to therapy, siblings with whom I basically get along, friends who put up with my craziness, and a sense of purpose and meaning that gives me cause to wake up in the morning. Playing hypotheticals shouldn't get in the way of what I am in reality, and I'm pretty OK with that.

An Apology

One of the first jobs I had way back when was as a camp counselor. I started off as the guy who took in the lunch deliveries early in the morning and then delivered food to the various groups at the local Y. This gave me access to an unending supply of sandwiches and dry ice. After eating the sandwiches, I would take the dry ice and amaze the kids with the miracle of sublimation. Counselors loved when I would have the kids gather round a bin from which a spooky fog was pouring, not because they loved science but because it meant I would watch the kids for a little while and they could go to the bathroom, eat lunch, run errands or write a novel. Sometimes, I put a little dish soap and water in the bin so the sublimating dry ice made big bubbles which popped and spewed the fog.

From there I moved into being an actual counselor (junior counselor, whatever) and found that I had a knack for amusing 2 and a half to 3 year olds. My system was foolproof. At the morning's start of the camp day, I would lie down on the floor and let the children crawl on me and pummel me. I often fell asleep during this and the kids had a heckuva time. It was win/win. The worst part of the job, as I'm sure you can imagine (and assuming that the kids were toilet trained) was having to discipline some 3 year old. These were not my own children so I had the kind of emotional distance which allowed me to see their misbehavior dispassionately and see the need to correct it. Grabbing toys, hitting, yelling, not staying in the circle...stuff like that. And though I had to be that bad guy at least once a day and hated that responsibility, I usually was comfortable with the role.

One kid really pushed my buttons. He was exuberant, and funny and cute with a floppy mop of hair and huge eyes. But he was terrible. He was so ADD and ADHD (in the days before rampant diagnoses of such) that the guy who invented the alphabet asked that we not assign those letters because it made the whole alphabet look bad. He did everything you could imagine wrong - from taking what wasn't his to wandering away to fighting. All the worst 3 year old crimes. And when we punished him by placing him in a time-out (the "thinking chair") he would get right up and wander around. We had, on one occasion, to hold him down. Yes, he cried, but he didn't seem to get the message that he had lost certain privileges any other way. Everyone agreed that he was beyond what we could reasonably be expected to deal with.

One day, I was helping the little guys change for swim and this kid was dawdling. Dawdling means that everyone has to wait and the counselor has to stand around and keep everyone else from moving on while one kid discovers his own toes, yet again. So after most everyone left and I had only a kid or two waiting for him (the others having been released to a co-counselor) I started playing with towels. I twirled one and made a rat tail. If you don’t know, a rat tail is a twisted up towel that you use to sting people. You flick and pull back and the tip reaches supersonic speeds and cracks like a whip. In the wrong hands, it is a dangerous weapon. All my years as a counselor had made mine the wrong hands. I snapped it at a couple of kids playfully -- not to hurt, but just to "keep motivated." I made no contact and worked at such low speed that had it touched anyone, it would not have made any impression at all -- think of bopping someone with a rolled up sock.

Then as I went towards this kid, something happened. I let loose. Not full speed, mind you, but certainly with less care and a touch more speed. And I hit him in the eye. He started howling and I started worrying. I had nothing against this boy except that he made my life difficult and I just wanted him to want to be good. I wanted him to listen and fear negative consequences and want to make the authority figures happy. But suddenly, I was worried that I was going to be fired, sued and/or shot because I had blinded this kid. I apologized and tried to console him, as much to avoid having the camp director come in and kill me as to make him feel better. It took a few minutes and he stopped crying. I had, it seems, not blinded him but neither had I cured him of his misbehavior. We went back to our respective roles rather quickly.

I was on Facebook last night and I saw him commenting on a mutual friend's status. I wanted to say something, but "sorry for almost blinding you twenty years ago" seemed rather empty. Does he remember me? Does he remember camp at all? Does he know how horrible he was at 3 years old? I will never know. In the same way that I'll never know if any of those kids whom I watched will remember that when they were three, someone was there making sure that they didn’t put their shirts on backwards, and that they didn’t touch the dry ice.

So to that boy, I'm sorry. I hope that you didn't take any of that with you. You have graduated college with degrees I'll never get. You seem happy, well-adjusted and you seem to have both of your eyes. I was wrong and I apologize.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Virtuality Yours

I recycle some stuff. I reuse paper. I even occasionally walk to the corner instead of firing up the local fleet of SUV's. I do what I can to reduce my emissions, carbon and otherwise. But what about my other footprints? (feetprints?) I have been enlarging my electronic footprint over the years (you know what they say about people with large electronic footprints...so please, tell me, because I don't know what they say, but I'm counting on you, because you know what they say) and I don't know if we should be stamping ourselves all over the internet.

I have, at last count, at least 10 different email addresses and at least 7 get use every week, if not more often. I have accounts and memberships in well over 100 websites and services, many (most?) of which no longer exist. I have a notepad document on my computer called "things I do" just to keep track of all the different versions of me which are sprinkled around the web. I go by many names (or versions of names) and have crafted a variety of discrete identities. On some services I have more than one account and there are others that I created just to stop anyone else from taking a name. And while I have an identity in the present, I still have past identities in waybackmachines and earlier versions of the web. My footprint, one might think, is sizable.

But the internet is a fickle mistress. With millions of pages being added every moment, myriad services and products being introduced daily and an uncountable number of possible venues for my brilliance cropping up, my footprint actually keeps getting smaller. We cannot do enough to maintain any real presence on the web. When one stares into infinity, one sees that unless one is president of the galaxy, all of this doesn't amount to much.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Making up for lost time

I recently discovered that somehow, Facebook (heretofore called "The Evil Empire") changed certain settings so that my status updates were only visible to my sister. She's nice and all, but I feel that my quips and preferences need to be seen by bigger public. So, as per the recommendation of Rabbi Tzvi Pittinsky, I have collected most of my posts from January and February and am posting them here so people can see them. Sure, weeks after the fact, many no longer make sense (some are separated from the Super Bowl and the Grammys and some barely made sense when I first posted them...), and sure, these are in reverse order, but here they are. Look upon my works, ye mighty, and laugh occasionally.


I think that Fat Tuesday gets offended when we call it that. Why can't we focus on its personality? How about "mardi ennuyeux"?

Anyone know how many calories in a raw carrot? I intend not to eat any raw carrots today so i want to know how much weight I'll lose.

By "address problems" the article means "wrestle with the truth that it is impossible to establish clear and consistently applicable norms because teaching and teacher success is dynamic and defies quantifying". I guess "address problems" made for a better headline.

States Address Problems With Teacher Evaluations
States Address Problems With Teacher Evaluations
Officials in states like Tennessee who are testing new teacher evaluation systems required by the Obama administration are struggling with problems philosophical and logistical.

As I suspected, the diet industry is just a front for the math education industry. Now I know why I hate dieting -- because I hate math.

New Weight-Loss Equation: Researchers Determine Key Calorie Cutoff | Weight Loss Tips, How to Lose W
Researchers have determined a new weight-loss equation: cutting 100 calories per day will bring a 10 pound weight loss over three years.

the decision to serve quail instead of venison was a real game changer

Is it true that Reno, Nevada is called "The City of Brothelly Love"?

this guy kept saying that his heroin is better than mine but I think he should just stop talking smack.

some things are worth the weight

bill cunningham's tv show made my remote kill itself.

it is hard to be angry when the house smells like chulent

Jeremy Lin TV Graphic Raises Concerns
MSG Network is facing some serious heat after the New York Knicks TV broadcast partner flashed a tone-deaf graphic of the franchise's Asian-American star.

Interesting note -- Gary Carter entered heaven in an Expos hat.

Popeye always knows you're going to attack him. Forearmed is forewarned.

you can stop worrying -- I found my gloves. And to those of you who weren't worried that I couldn't find my gloves, you suck.

A message to Oprah (all others, please feel free to pass this along to Oprah):

I just saw 4 minutes of your interview with a Chasidic family. It was oh, so adorable. When you decide to show off the other hidden cultures that we Jews have -- for example, I like felafel on my pizza, jump on over to Teaneck. We're all fascinating.

Today, the stairs were out of order: the second one came before the first.
is there such a thing as being illegally blind?

New marketing slogan: Facebook, because why wait till a simcha to embarrass your kids?

I thought it was the Granny Awards tonight. Forget it.

today is present day. What do you have for me?

some things are just coincidental, NOT ironic

calling all electrical/lighting engineers. I have an idea for a lighting fixture but don't know anything about science or lighting. Is there anyone off of whom I can bounce an idea?

Earl Grey tea smells like Wash n Dri's

disappointing fact of the day -- the NFL did NOT go to Jared.
I wanted to write a Happy Birthday to Charles Dickens today but my text took up 14 pages and said nothing.

I was raised on documentaries like Buck Rogers and Space 1999 so I have the authority to say that the future is not living up to expectations.

I was looking to celebrate the parade with a retelling of "The Littlest Giant" by Ren and Stimpy but I can't find the video for just that section online, in English.

I want to get House, the Mentalist, Shaun from Psych and that Finder guy in a room and ask them all to explain what deal is with airline food. I bet they can figure it out.

Traffic's "Empty Pages" reminds me of very early Manchester Sound. I have spoken.

the miracle isn't just that they have found a new way to express their music and visually entertain, but that the song itself is good also!

OK Go - Needing/Getting - Official Video
The new music video from OK Go, made in partnership with Chevrolet. OK Go set up over 1000 instruments over two miles of desert outside Los Angeles. A Chevy ...

the spread for today's game is cream cheese.

my life is based on a true story. up to a point.

I wonder if street sweeper drivers and zamboni drivers get along.

I'm from the future. I have seen the Superbowl already and, without ruining it too much, I have to say, "I never would have considered using butter like that!"

TV/Movie combination -- The Greys Anatomy. Liam Neeson fights with a bunch of insane doctors.

I now know what I want for my birthday.

without the internet, we are all just monkeys with wings.

here's a handy hint you won't see elsewhere: if you want to make decaf tea taste a bit more like real tea, and in a pinch of instant decaf coffee. You know why you won't see that elsewhere? Because it is pathetic. Yay, me.

I certainly talk the talk and I am willing to walk the walk, but chalk the chalk? That's where I draw the line.

my development was molded by the big 3 influences: nature, nurture and nachos
the worst kind of jetlag...i spent 9 days in Teaneck and now I'm back in Teaneck.

when I lose something and I have to look for it, I always look in one more place after I find it.

the pro bowl reminds me of pro wrestling.

I just moved over to Timeline. I don't see a huge difference.

4:48? when did CLT get so late?

dateline Disney store - softball T's for $118, sweatshirts for $128 and no shot glasses (as a matter of company policy). This store will never survive.

now looking for Geoffrey Giraffe shot glasses.

at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in Times Square, hme of the cold felafel wrap and the square donut with Fruity Pebbles. I'm having a large decaf and a lot of questions.

in hell, as in the Hello, Kitty store in Times Square. Yes, hell.

Test scores COULD be a fabulous way of evaluating teachers...IF we reimagined the tests and the scoring methods. Till then, this article says a mouthful.

Using Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers Is Based on the Wrong Values – SchoolBook
In an opinion post, one of the organizers of the statewide letter from principals protesting New York's Annual Professional Performance Review system writes that for those reformers who believe student testing should weigh heavily in teacher evaluations, "test scores are the bottom line, and these '...

we just had a brief power outage and I can't find my dvd/vcr instruction manual - can someone remind me how to set it to get the clock to keep blinking 12:00 over and over?
I'm ok with stereotypes as long as people remember that stereotypes usually don't apply to most members of any group

The author tried, but he's not so Swift
A Modest Proposal to Save Test Prep
When California Governor Jerry Brown recently called for fewer standardized tests and less time on test preparation, he probably expected to be praised. Instead, his proposal has been greeted with cries of outrage from teachers, administrators, and students.
A Modest Proposal to Save Test Prep

for those of you TIVO-ing the president's speech, I don't want to ruin it for you but apparently, the butler did it, and paid income tax when he was paid for doing it.

If anyone can find me a movie, or even a WAV of the original, I'd be really appreciative. This is adorable but inaccurate and not nearly snarky enough.

peek freans sung by girl
Recorded on December 14, 2008 using a Flip Video camcorder.

sometimes, I prefer not to be honest with myself. It keeps me guessing.

ah the choices that being up from 4AM affords...do I go to the gym extra early, maybe jump over to Dunkin Donuts for a jolt o' caffeine or do I sit here for an hour and half wondering why I can't sleep. Ding ding, answer C wins again.

if I say I want a callback from a doctor, it doesn't mean I want a callback from a receptionist who reports that "the doctor says you have to come in for an appointment; he can't tell what it is over the phone.”
It means I want to describe it to a doctor and have HIM tell me the possibilities and likelihoods so that I can THEN choose to come in if the obvious stuff hasn't been eliminated.

I think that instead of investing in music and voice lessons, I'm just going to lock my child in her room with nothing but Cosmic Thing and lots of sugar and caffeine for a week.

yay Vlasic pickles for making the darkest commercial EVER!

the Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the penna...wait...what? Football? Oh, sorry. Carry on.

there was some British woman on Meet the Press. At first I thought "what right does she have to have an opinion? Didn't we beat those guys all those years ago to keep them from having anything to say?" And then, after a moment I thought "what the hell am I doing watching Meet the Press?"

Just read another article about using IBooks or EBooks or tablets or somesuch in the classroom. Hogwash. Not a single artcile talks about changing the teaching method, just the medium of fact delivery. No change is possible if we remain bound to the superstructure of 150 years ago.

I wanted to take a look at the Heidi Klum divorce papers but the records are Sealed

did you know that Joe Montegna and Joe Montana are not the same guy? I had no idea.

85 degrees and sunny here in Teaneck. All you people who traveled for fair weather, joke's on you. Also, all Teaneck residents who are home this week get a bajillion dollar gift. Ha! Hope your trip to the (place of your visit) was worth it...suckers!

Dr. Pepper is using an old Huey Lewis song and Weight Watchers is using a Lenny Kravitz song?

ah, the classics!

War Games 1983 Full Movie
Brought To You By Kevin Nicholson Productions Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevoNicholson Like us on Facebook www.facebook.com/LacoVideos

possibly one of the funniest things, ever. Downloaded, watch it and you'll understand why Walter Mitty should be a national icon.

Steven Banks - Home Entertainment Center - Rare! [1989][VHS-SP decent quality].avi
Here it is folks! One of the hardest to find Showtime TV Specials from the 80's. STEVEN BANKS HOME ENTERTAINMENT CENTER is one of the single most hilarious h...

I just graded some papers in public so it counts.

beginning tomorrow, I will have a new look with an updated interface and a different layout of key features. you will need to adjust my privacy settings and get used to the shifting placement of elements. my color scheme may be affected as well.

I can't believe that we are all so angry with PIPA. Didn't we all, just recently, love her at her sister's wedding?

paula deen just announced that she found out that a diagnosis of type II diabetes is not a death sentence. Nuff said

I will not be participating in the SOAP boycott tomorrow. Feel free to smell me later.

if I had something witty to say, it would be right here. sadly, I have nothing which is why I didn't put anything here.

I don't like roller coasters so I need to make sure that my day is an emotional log flume.

all day long I have been seeing people who might have been someone else. So far, none has been.

lacking sufficient motivation even to procrastinate

Sunday, February 19, 2012

An ex excuse

My younger was invited to a bat mitzvah this evening and she was to be picked up by a parent of one of her friends -- we have carpools set up so that we can spread the driving out a bit. Today, I get a pass while other parents pay me back for my driving last week. Sounds like a perfect system.

So the parent was supposed to pick her up at 5:20 so she could get to the event by the 5:30 start time. 5:20 came and went. As did 5:30. My kid called around and heard that others had been picked up, so we waited. Truthfully, this event is only a couple of minutes from our house so I could have taken her but we couldn't get in touch with the driver and didn't want the designated driver to show up and wonder where we went. So we waited.

At 5:40, a car pulls down our street. In it, an apologetic mother rolls down her window and yells out that she is sorry for being late but that she got lost trying to find where we live. I smile knowlingly and move on with my day as my younger gets buckled in. But the fact is, the excuse is completely untenable and I am offended that the mom either still believes it is valid or thinks so little of me that she figures she can hide behind an invalid excuse.

Here's my thinking. We have maps. Maps are like pictures of the streets and we can use them to figure out where we are going Had this mother spent 3 minutes before she left the house and looked up our street on a map, she could have found us quite easily. Secondly, we have these websites that can give maps and routes. Anyone who knows that he doesn't know how to get somewhere need only click on a site and print out detailed directions. That this woman did neither is ridiculous. Thirdly, in this day and age, we all have cell phones. If she had called us as soon as she lost her way, we could have directed her. Did she? Did she call to say she was lost or that we could expect her a few minutes late? Nope, nothing.

So there I was, mulling over how stupid this woman is in her lack of preparation, lack of common sense and lack of courtesy (and by the way, I have driven her child and had to find her house. I used a map), and my younger texts me from the car. She reports "they have a GPS." Strike 4, at least. You have a GPS and you still get lost? You have to TRY to get lost, then. Another text comes in: "I had to direct them to ____(the party site)." This means that they didn't know where it was being held, didn't plug even that in to the GPS, had made no plans about this trip. I can't even be sure that this woman has her license. Flat out embarrassing.

Certain excuses are being outmoded. You can't claim that you got lost anymore unless you want to admit that you did no prep work and didn't take advantage of standard technology. It would be like claiming "my virtual dog ate my email." It just doesn't work.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

To Vamp, again

My daughter asked me for a calculator, this morning. She has a math test today and is worried that the batteries in hers will die and she'll be lost. I asked what kind of calculation she needs to do and she explained that she is doing basic algebra so she needs something that can do multiplication and division.

I seem to recall, years ago, having to do those exact activities using a pencil and paper. So, before I mocked her mercilessly, or went to the teacher and said "why are you coddling these kids?" I started thinking my way through this. Here's what I have come up with.

If we assume that the math that my child is learning is of a type that forces her to think and work at, and that the computation, itself, is a less valuable skill as it would take up time from some higher order thinking that the actual math she is taught would demand, then it makes sense to allow her to use a technology to get that part out of the way so she can focus and use her time on the math section that pushes her brain. Also, since she must constantly be comfortable with electronic technology, maybe it makes sense to give her a timed assessment which demands that she use the calculator because that is a valuable skill, in and of itself. One can assume that the kids in the year 2500 will be doing calculus in third grade because their brains will have been stretched in that direction, and they will have machines which will do the basic trig quickly so the students can work on the tougher stuff.

That's all well and good, but then, I thought, why do we spend ANY time at all teaching the fundamental computations? Does my child need to spend hours doing rows of addition and subtraction problems? Is there an underlying understanding that is gained by this repetition? My child will be handed a calculator soon enough -- why waste time memorizing the multiplication tables?

I had two possible angles to play at this point: I could have seen this line of logic as ridiculous, as it hands over fundamental thinking skills to machines and ignores that we cannot wrap our minds around more complex concepts if we haven't cut our teeth on the basics. I could have pointed out that performing computations under timed conditions in High School is still a valid skill (regardless of the fact that the SAT's allow calculators) because we can never forget the basic skills which inform our later learning. But I decided not to do that.

I'm ready to give in. I'm ready to say that the formative skills, once mastered (and this, therefore, does not absolve anyone of the need to learn basic arithmetic and master it) can be handed off to electronica so that we can push the bounds of knowledge. In fact, i see this as instrumental in my new vision of education. If we abandon the archaic notion that students need to be repositories of facts, and instead, look at education as the process which nurtures abilities (not even just skills) then we can throw out the memorization of history, the textbook approach to the sciences and even any mandatory language instruction. A student who does not specialize in any of these areas will easily find a technology which can present the salient info, translate or compute whatever he needs. Put a student in a situation and tell him that a task must be completed, construct the task so as to tap into the areas of weakness or basic skills (for which he will use an assistive technology) and strengths for which he will exploit his problem solving and the higher levels of instruction which he has received.

Let's give kids the very basic instruction in grades 1-3 and then hand them a calculator in grade 4 and say "learn to use this and we can do incredibly advanced things." And if we can find an analogue in other disciplines, maybe we should. Start students in instructional programs which make them DO instead of simply KNOW and allow them to exploit whatever technology will help them. Teach them to be MacGyvers, taking advantage of what is around them.

Does this mean substantially reinventing the education system? Yup. Does it mean abandoning conventions and conventional notions of assessment, success, learning and instruction? Yup. Will it be easy? Nope. But either we demand that they know the basic things we teach and perform them all the way through (we don't stop teaching spelling even though they have spell-check installed because we see value in that practice all the way through their education), or we give them the grounding and then move on (and ignore spellling instruction because they will have the spell-check to rely on, so we can focus on the words, not the letters).

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Why my VCR blinks 12:00 but the DVR doesn't

It's the same old cliché - the kids are comfy with the technology and the old folks aren't. We call our children to troubleshoot our computers as our parents call us. The generation gap is the technology gap. But we have to wonder "why?"

Is it because children, surrounded by technology during their formative years, are accustomed to technology? Is it about teaching old dogs new tricks? Is it because the human brain is changing and the next generation is somehow wired to be wireless? Is it because hardware manufacturers are making the technology more intuitive and fool proof?

No. It is simply because the younger generation doesn't have to pay for the new technology so youngsters are fearless about pushing all the buttons. Once they get old and have to worry about being able to afford a new device, they'll shy away from spilling apple juice all over it. Their children will have no reluctance and will be the ones who come and say "if you want to make the device do [insert cool and suddenly necessary function here] you have to spill apple juice on it. Here...I'll do it...sheesh you are SO old."

Thursday, February 2, 2012

It's not my fault.

Let me be clear about this. I'm not saying that ADD doesn't exist and isn't a challenging diagnosis which requires those suffering from it to use a variety of therapies (medical, cognitive etc) to deal with it. I'm saying that the term ADD is bandied about with such disregard, and is adopted by every person who has to put in a modicum of effort that it has become cheapened.

Simply not enjoying something doesn't mean you have ADD. Simply being bored by something, or having the standard short attention span of any teenager does not mean that you can hide behind the letters ADD. Assuming that there is an excuse -- a "reason" that you have trouble waking up in the morning, and that it has nothing to do with staying up too late and not getting enough sleep is a coward's way out.

The label is a crutch -- it even becomes an a priori reason not to try. A self fulfilling prophecy. Why should I try if I am not going to have to, nor be expected to succeed because I have this condition?

And you know what gets me scared? The "symptoms" of ADD which allow people to self-diagnose are (in the versions available to the lay person) so vague and general that that a large section of them would, and even SHOULD apply to most everyone, in some sense, at some point. This empowers each of us to grab hold of the Ritalin ring and say "it isn't my fault." And that's wrong. Abdicating personal responsibility and ascribing flaws to some uncontrollable outside force might be a comfort but it is an empty one. Ignoring successes (or calling them exceptions) in order to accentuate the negative, or magnifying the short comings each of us has in order to have them fall within the bounds and definition of a "symptom" becomes a short-cut to laziness.

So do we rely on our medical establishment to diagnose and reverse the trend created by an information superhighway which puts data in the hands of every Tom, Dick and Valium, and makes each of us an expert? And would that solve everything? Or would we still have professionals who assume that we want a diagnosis because it would explain away all of our failures or would guarantee the crutches to our children so we could exploit any avenue to give our child a crutch and an advantage (if that medicine helps a kid who has it bad, imagine how much better it will make my kid who just has a touch of the ADD). So the person can spin his life's challenges any way he wants...the professional can give whatever label will make the patient happy...and the medicine flows because it is the quick fix which gives the instant gratification. No longer will we have to grow up and say "I need to change and will have to work at it" or say "sometimes, I am not going to be great at everything but I still have to push myself to be as good as I can." This newfangled "twinkie defense" is a built in wall to keep such evils as self-knowledge and integrity out.

Now again - I'm not saying that no one has issues with attention that transcend the normal, or that no one has conditions which need remediation. But the explosion of diagnoses is not because our medical establishment is getting better or that more people have access to quality health care. We are all just becoming more savvy, and giving in to a new form of peer pressure: the pressure to be dysfunctional instead of either just being mediocre or being truly differently able.