My Dad Taught Me How To Saturday

Do you know how to Saturday? I do. Not long ago I realized that I have a routine and that I learned it by watching my dad when I was a kid.

On an average Saturday morning, my dad would do some home improvement project, or work on a car, or do some activity with the family, or some other active work.

On Saturday afternoon, he would watch John Wayne movies or sports (golf or bowling or whatever was on), and then take a nap on the floor with this giant pillow he had.

I must have internalized the same pattern; I always try to make my own Saturdays fit the same basic mold. Saturday morning is for hard work. Saturday afternoon is for resting.

Of course there are plenty of exceptions, and a great day often looks nothing like that. But when it does happen, I always feel like I’m living “correctly.”

Once again, thanks, Dad.

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Twin Lakes Memories: Dr. Greggs

This is the second in an occasional series of memories about my elementary school in the 1980’s. The first post is here.

My first post in this series was about a beloved principal. This second one is about a terrifying teacher.

Dr. Greggs taught third grade, and she is without a doubt the person whom I’ve been more scared of than any other in my life.

First of all, she insisted, always sternly, that we address her as “Doctor.” I’ve wondered since then just what drives a woman to demand such recognition from eight-year-olds. It’s like in the Austin Powers movies, when Dr. Evil corrects people who call him Mister: “I didn’t go to an evil university for ten years to be called Mr. Evil.”

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My Conversion Story

An old friend recently asked me to tell this story, and I realized that I hardly ever do. I guess I don’t think it’s very special. But still, it’s mine, so here it is.

It starts in 8th grade, when the emotional problems that had always plagued me drove me to some anti-social behavior so severe that my poor parents had to withdraw me from school and place me in a mental health facility. By the time I was released to go home that summer, I knew that I was missing something and needed some kind of major change.

I’d always been a pretty religious kid, though my family never went to church much. I went to a kind of church class after school in 3rd grade, and enjoyed it. I tried reading the Bible a couple of times. I felt like there was some kind of spiritual truth out there, but I didn’t know exactly what it was.

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The Weight of Time

I turned 39 years old last week. While a lot of people my age are freaking out about being 40 soon, I couldn’t be happier. I love getting older. Every year is better than the one before.

I like the feeling of memories, and the growing accumulated weight of experience that aging gives. Every adolescent seems to enjoy posing as a wise old sage, but to actually have those things that come only and naturally through the measured passing of many calendars…there’s a sense of being in harmony with life just by participating in so much more of it.

Remembering things that are only history to the younger people I work with–that’s a good feeling. It’s warm.

Having actual nostalgia for decades long since disappeared–that’s also its own special experience.

I like watching public figures I care about getting older with me over the years. I like seeing  those figures from earlier generations in their past work and realizing just how young they  truly were then.

It seems like all the most beautiful women, for example, are all about 40 now. I suspect that in another 20 years they’ll be the 60 year olds. That’s fine by me.

Aging is like a heavy cotton comforter. You can wrap it around you and feel its solid weight. Youth–that ephemeral idol of our society’s worship–is just a light, silky blanket by comparison. There’s no real substance. I like substance. I prefer the comforter.

I realize, too, that this pontificating is coming from someone who still isn’t really old yet, but that’s just it. I know that. I don’t dread it. Of course I don’t look forward to the aches and pains, the diminished physical capacity that aging brings, but the increased store of memory and experience makes even that worth it to me.

I can’t wait to be in my 40s. I’m sure that my 50s will be even better. Decades of joy are still ahead.

Remembering The Huntridge

We took the kids to the Nevada State Museum this summer, and one area was dedicated to remembering the Huntridge theater. It really had a fascinating history. I saw plenty of concerts there in the 90’s, including Nine Inch Nails just as The Downward Spiral came out. I had to take some pictures of these displays, as they brought back some great memories. Strange that I never think of this stuff–I work only a block from there and drive by it all the time.

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Look at all these forgotten 90’s bands! Hemlock, Dinosaur Jr., Suicidal Tendencies, The Ataris, Dance Hall Crashers, KMFDM, Save Ferris, Voodoo Glow Skulls! I used to save these little fliers and put them on the wall of my bedroom. I wish I still had them–there were dozens just plastering the whole thing.

 

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I used to have that exact KUNV shirt in high school! I just checked eBay, and nothing, sadly. The “Rock Avenue” slogan on the right refers to the legendary overnight show that radio station used to play–the DJs there knew everything and played the most amazing range of stuff.

Twin Lakes Memories: Mr. Bass

This is the first in an occasional series of memories about my elementary school in the 1980’s. 

Mr. Bass was principal for all but the last of my elementary school years. He was a wonderful man: friendly to us kids, committed to the positive environment of the school.

I say he “was” wonderful because as I look him up for details now, I find that he died in 1999. Reading there about how race was a major factor in his life reminds me of a comment my 4th grade teacher once made about him to our class. She said that when she first met him she was surprised to see that he was black. When she’d spoken to him on the phone before, she’d assumed he was white. She told us this as a compliment about his speaking. Nobody thought anything of it. This was in the mid 1980’s. I don’t suppose such a comment would pass innocently today.

My main memory of him now is from one random day during recess. All the kids were running around and I was in the big sandy area with the swings and monkey bars. Suddenly a girl screamed. She had fallen off the monkey bars and gotten hurt–it turned out later that she had broken her arm. As she wailed and cried, someone went to the office for help.

Mr. Bass came running out and went right to that girl. Quickly and calmly, he took off his suit coat and wrapped her in it, then gently picked her up to carry her to the nurse. It’s not just what he did that day, but how confidently and caringly he did it–that was a lesson in real leadership.

An elementary school named after him opened here in 2001. That’s also wonderful.

Satisfaction Is Better Than Happiness

The point is made in an Atlantic article:

Meaning is not only about transcending the self, but also about transcending the present moment — which is perhaps the most important finding of the study, according to the researchers. While happiness is an emotion felt in the here and now, it ultimately fades away, just as all emotions do; positive affect and feelings of pleasure are fleeting. The amount of time people report feeling good or bad correlates with happiness but not at all with meaning.

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More of The Odyssey on Living Well

From the Robert Fagles translation:

On Patriotism:

Mine is a rugged land but good for raising sons–

and I myself, I know no sweeter sight on earth

than a man’s own native country. (Book 9, lines 30-32)

On Appreciating Life:

[Spirit of Achilles speaking in Hades]

“No winning words about death to me, shining Odysseus!

By god, I’d rather slave on earth for another man–

some dirt-poor tenant farmer who scrapes to keep alive–

than rule down here over all the breathless dead.”  (Book 11, lines 555-558)

On Sharing Memories:

We two will keep to the shelter here, eat and drink

and take some joy in each other’s heartbreaking sorrows,

sharing each other’s memories.  Over the years, you know,

a man finds solace even in old sorrows, true, a man

who’s weathered many blows and wandered many miles.  (Book 15, lines 447-451)

On Eating and Sleeping:

With the roasting done, the meal set out, they ate well

and no one’s hunger lacked a proper share of supper.

When they’d put aside desire for food and drink,

they remembered bed and took the gift of sleep.  (Book 16, lines 530-534)

 

Five Recent Articles on Literacy

It seems that as technology becomes an ever-increasing mainstay in more areas of our lives, the effect on our already-faltering literacy has been similarly stark, and it becomes a continually obsessive interest of written commentary.  Or maybe I’ve just been paying more attention over time. 

Here are a few things that seem especially relevant from recent weeks, which have caught my eye:

Thomas Spence, writing in the Wall Street Journal, about fixing the huge gap in literacy between girls and boys:

The appearance of the boy-girl literacy gap happens to coincide with the proliferation of video games and other electronic forms of entertainment over the last decade or two. Boys spend far more time “plugged in” than girls do. Could the reading gap have more to do with competition for boys’ attention than with their supposed inability to focus on anything other than outhouse humor?

Dr. Robert Weis, a psychology professor at Denison University, confirmed this suspicion in a randomized controlled trial of the effect of video games on academic ability. Boys with video games at home, he found, spend more time playing them than reading, and their academic performance suffers substantially. Hard to believe, isn’t it, but Science has spoken.

Lindsay Johns, in Prospect Magazine, on why black students should be taught the Western Canon, as opposed to focusing on “diversity literature:”

Dead white men, the pillars of the western canon, remain supremely relevant to black people in the 21st century, because their concerns are universal. At its best, the canon elucidates the eternal truths at the heart of the human condition. It addresses our common humanity, irrespective of our melanin quotient. Homer, Virgil, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens—all male, all very white and all undeniably very dead. But would anyone be so foolish as to deny their enduring importance? Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, Boccacio’s Decameron or Pico’s Oration On The Dignity of Man are as germane to black people as they are to white. There is no apartheid in the philosophical musings of Cicero, no racial segregation in the cosmic grandeur of Dante and no ethnic oppression in the amorous sonnets of Shakespeare. These works can, if given the chance, speak as much to Leroy in Peckham or Shaniqua in the South Bronx as they can to Quentin in the home counties.

[Incidentally, in my experience, multicultural books aren’t promoted by actual minorities as much as they are by white teachers who are trying to “help” minorities.]

Carlin Romano, in The Chronicle of High Education, bemoans the detrimental effect on college reading assignments and literary scholarship by having a generation of students now entirely raised on digital technology:

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Further On Entertainment Technology Versus Literacy

I can’t get out of my mind how glibly so many among us brush off the loss of literacy as we become more plugged in as just another in a series of history’s trade offs when new technology arises.  We lost a lot of memory when books became popular, goes one mantra. 

But here’s why that analogy doesn’t work—the “loss of memory” was a tradeoff for the higher literacy that was then available.  Books had always been around, but only within the last several hundred years have they—and literacy—become common, so it wasn’t an introduction of a new ability, but rather a spreading of a resource that had been restricted before.

Moreover, the skill sets mentioned here are not equivalent.  We may have traded some memory for literacy, but the fundamental, underlying skills of the mind—deep, focused thought; concentration; engagement with language—was always there. 

Only now, with electronic entertainment, has that changed.  We are losing those basic skills and trading them for…what?  My students, when we talk about this, are quick to say that the new skill set is computer skills.   Really?  Relatively few people are skilled at designing, programming, or repairing computers.  The vast majority of users are merely playing games. 

The assumption which has successfully underpinned all education for thousands of years is that the skills we practice in school are transferable to infinite activities in the real world.  We even teach the way we do with a faith that these skills will prepare students for the unknown, unexpected innovations of the future–a faith that has always been rewarded. 

But what is the transference value of computer skills?  What basic cognitive functions do games and applications stimulate that will ready children for a wide variety—including those of a currently unknowable nature—of skills for the future?  Other than stronger thumbs, I can’t think of any.  Certainly no major brain function is trained by computers nearly as well as by traditional learning and books.

We’re trading an egalitarian, literate culture for an elitist, technological culture.

The “it’s just another change and we’ll adapt” mantra is a flaky one at best, as this change has no precedent.  We’re exploring a dark, mysterious land, and we must proceed with far more caution, or we might just end up blindly hitting a wall or going over a cliff.