Tag Archives: education

The NFL and CNN spearhead the charge to destroy grammar

Readers of George Orwell will recall that one of the primary methods to destroy people’s mental and intellectual capacity that he described  in his novel ‘1984’ was the destruction of language itself. Government in Orwell’s  dystopian future either removes all meaning from words and concepts or inverts them completely to mean the opposite of their true meaning. Hence, ‘War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.’

It would make sense that governments and their globalist  overlords in the NWO would desire to destroy grammar and logic along with word meanings and concepts. Hence, we witness today the rapid degeneration of grammar in the media, academia, and politics.

A couple of years ago, I began to notice a trend in the media that has become so prevalent now that it is not even commented upon: the disappearance of the paragraph. Go to any online news story published by a mainstream media outlet or even an independent blogger and you see a never-ending sequence of one or two sentence paragraphs. The paragraph form that has been taught to students for countless generations, and which is still taught in most schools today, has been abandoned entirely. We teachers have always taught students that an average paragraph length is four to five sentences with some being shorter and some being longer. Now, so-called journalists, writers and bloggers just tap the space key after every sentence or two. Articles and stories have no rhythm, cohesion or flow. Sure, some of them have good information and some are even entertaining to read, but the lack of the paragraph and transitional phrases severely reduces an article’s readability  and illustrates  the undisciplined writing that is so widespread in news media today. In turn, this undisciplined writing feeds the dumbing down of the population.

Another extremely disturbing trend is the replacement of the past tense, past perfect and even future tense with the all-encompassing present tense. Again, I noticed this for the first time a couple of years ago, especially amongst sports commentators. Now, I see it everywhere in the mass news media, including old reliable CNN.  For example, instead of saying the grammatically correct, “If he had caught that ball, they would have won the game,” the commentator will simply say, “If he catches that ball, they win.” What the hell is that? Is it simple laziness, stupidity, or something more conspiratorial? Likewise, when discussing the future, instead of writing, “Will he return next year?”, journalists now write, “Does he return?” And another will respond, “Yes, I think he returns next year,” instead of “I think he WILL return next year.”

We’re now taking our grammar cues from these guys?


I find it hard to believe that so many writers and journalists have forgotten the past and future tense so suddenly. Perhaps they are being told by their editors to ‘simplify’ their language so as to hold on to as many viewers and readers as possible. Regardless, the result is the same- a massive evisceration of grammar to go along with the destruction of words and concepts.

Another one that bothers me is the use of the ‘historical present.’ If you are not familiar with that term, this is when a writer or narrator will consistently use the simple present tense when describing a sequence of historical events. Some of my favorite historical documentaries use this convenience , and it perplexes me and bothers me to no end. What is the point of it? I surmise that the editors and writers feel that using the present tense gives their documentary a more visceral feel and immediacy  than using the  past tense,  but is that really true? Does it sound better to say, “As the battle rages, many soldiers die,” instead of “As the battle raged on, many soldiers died”?  For me, the use of the present tense here does nothing to heighten the impact of the sentence.


Another strange recent trend is taking about oneself using the second person. It’s weird enough to use the third person, but the second person sounds especially bizarre. Athletes again are at the forefront of this trend. A reporter asks, “How do you feel about losing the game today?” and the athlete responds, “Well, YOU just do the best YOU can,,,,,,YOU go out and fight hard, and hope YOU get the result YOU want, but today it didn’t work out….”


These are not the idle gripes of a ‘Grammar Nazi.’ These are issues that everyone who speaks English, cares about education, and follows the workings of the NWO should be concerned about. Grammar matters, as it is the foundation for logic and rhetoric which are in turn the building blocks for the Quadrivium:


Summer 2014 Reading List

In a previous post I gave a recommended non-fiction reading list. Now let’s look at some fiction to expand the mind, stretch the imagination and inspire the spirit.


41YjQvB-3bL1) China Boy 

This little known book by Chinese-American author Gus Lee is an autobiographical account of growing up in San Francisco. Lee was a skinny, weak, and insecure kid. By taking a number of classes at the local YMCA, most importantly some boxing classes, he overcame his fears and stepped out of childhood. I’ve always been a sucker for stories of young men and their mentors.  This tale is told in an straightforward, honest way that captures the reader immediately.

dharma2) The Dharma Bums

I first read The Dharma Bums when I was a senior in university. My best friends at the time were passing this book around. I was expecting a letdown after having reading On the Road the previous year, but instead I found Kerouac’s witty storytelling of his adventures with Gary Snyder to be a far superior work. The blending of exhilarating mountain climbing blended with just the right amount of Buddhist-inspired  philosophical musings told in Kerouac’s everyman language make this perhaps his best work. This is always  a fun book to go back to.

fifthsacred3) The Fifth Sacred Thing 

Starhawk’s first attempt at fiction is not the work of a polished writer. It is overly long and verbose and could have easily been cut by a hundred pages. Nevertheless, it is an inspired work and presents a much needed vision of a positive future, one free of the dysfunctionality of our present age where people actually work together and have re-learned how to live in harmony with mother earth.

FearAndLoathingLasVegasBook4) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson’s masterpiece,  is more akin to a visceral  experience than a simple exercise in reading. Many have told me that they felt changed afterward  and even felt ‘high” while reading it. That’s about the best praise a writer can achieve. Thompson would go on writing for 30 more years after the publication of Fear and Loathing in 1972 but never again soared to the artistic heights that he did with this work.

little tree5) The Education of Little Tree

Getting back to the young man/mentor theme mentioned earlier, The Education of Little Tree tells the story of a young orphan raised by his Cherokee grandfather in the mountains of Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee. There are precious  few good novels by and about the native inhabitants of North America. This is one of them.

ishmael6) Ishmael , The Story of B

Author Daniel Quinn is a visionary. Unlike most visionaries who can only imagine a future of technology and machines, Quinn looks to the ancient past and envisions  humanity coming back to sanity and wholeness by remembering who we were before the agricultural revolution. Ishmael tells the story of mankind’s downfall through a talking ape who teaches his student through the Socratic method. The Story of B is a sequel of sorts, a continuation of the line of thought brought up in Ishmael, but more in-depth and philosophical. Quinn delves into the deepest roots of our current global predicament and sees it a crisis of mindset. Until that mindset changes, nothing will.

stranger7) Stranger in A Strange Land

Robert Heinlein’s classic is far more than simple science fiction. It is a work of philosophy and a treatise on the human condition. It is the tale of the ‘man from Mars’,  a Jesus type  figure who comes to redeem humanity. What would life be like if we really embraced and lived unconditional love?  Heinlein was a genius and this book’s message is timeless. Such was its original impact when published that a pagan church was founded and organized based upon the ideas contained within it.

19848) Nineteen Eighty-four

This is a book which I had read about for most of my adult life. It had always been on my ‘must read’ list but somehow I never got around to actually sitting down with it until a couple of years ago. Even with the dozens of articles I had read over the years discussing the book’s message, I was not fully prepared for its impact. I understood immediately the importance and genius of what I was reading, but the story is so unrelentingly dark and dystopic that it gave me nightmares. I’m glad I’ve read it, ( and I think everyone should) but I don’t care to relive the experience again.

monkeywrench9) The Monkey Wrench Gang

Edward Abbey moved easily between fiction and non-fiction. This was the fictional work which made him famous and started a movement of environmental direct action- Earth First! This book spoke to a generation of activists who wanted to do more to save the planet than just write letters and do an occasional sit-in. It’s also a really fun read.

Jitterbug_Perfume10) Jitterbug Perfume, Still Life with Woodpecker, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Another Roadside Attraction

These are my four favorite Tom Robbins novels. Robbins was deeply influenced by the teachings of the spiritual master and mystic Osho, and the Tantric message of living life to the fullest shines through in all of Robbins’ work. Funny, irreverent, witty, incisive, warm and adventurous, these novels are food for the soul.

mFHc5eSMMaNnS1abizhvaWA11) Erotic Interludes

Erotica is genre that few serious writers ever delve into. This is unfortunate, as the vacuum is filled with thousands of hacks who hone their ‘craft’ penning garbage for ‘Penthouse Forum.’ This book is actually a collection of short stories by amateur erotica writers, and editor Lonnie Barbach  includes a broad range of writing styles  so that no matter what your taste is, you will find something here to enjoy.  The quality of writing varies, but there are enough delightful gems here to make it a worthwhile purchase.


Do you CARE? The closed heart chakra is the root of many of our problems

There’s an old joke that goes something like this: A man is asked “What do you think is the greater problem in the world- apathy or ignorance?” And the man replies, “I don’t know and I don’t care.”

Apathy and ignorance tend to reinforce each other. Recently I viewed a fascinating presentation by one of my favorite speakers and researchers, a man named Mark Passio who shed new  light on these subjects for me and gave some fascinating insights into the problems facing humanity as this critical juncture in our evolution. Clearly, we are at a crossroads in history. With the precarious state we are in, it’s time to evolve or perish. It’s really as simple as that.

One of the points Passio made in his lecture which really struck a chord with me was the notion of caring. He stated that this was the foundation of any change in an individual. Before you can use your brain to formulate a plan, and before you can utilize your willpower to put that plan into action, you must first feel with your heart. You have to ‘care’ enough to want to do something, first for yourself and then for the world at large.

I think back on all the times when I have heard someone say to me, “I don’t CARE about that.” Often, someone will state it as “It’s not my business.” Or perhaps, “I don’t have the time to worry about that.” Or, “I have my own problems.” Or, “I have bigger things to worry about.” Many times people will say nothing at all, and simply shrug  their shoulders and turn away with a disinterested look when you are discussing important issues with them. It struck me listening to Passio’s talk that saying “I don’t CARE ” is maybe the most disempowering and soul destroying phrase that one can utter.


When I try to speak with people about environmental issues, I notice their eyes glazing over quickly with the classic “I don’t care” expression. It seems that unless an issue directly affects them or their immediate family right here and right  now, then it becomes an issue which they can safely file away in the back of their minds for another day. As long as it’s NOT IN MY BACK YARD, it’s ok. Other people around the world are of little to no concern. And the plant, animal, fish and insect kingdoms? Forget about it.

The development of compassion and a sense of caring and responsibility for all sentient beings is at the very core of Buddhism.  Your life is lived not for yourself but as a service to creation.


And what about ignorance? When we analyze the Latin root of the world ‘ignorance’, we find that it shares a common root with the verb to ‘ignore.’ Indeed, to be in ignorance is to be in ‘IGNORE-ance.’  To be ignorant is a choice. This has never been more true than it is today when most of the world now has access to the internet and the world wide web. I constantly remind my students, especially when I see them wasting hours playing computer games, “You are the first generation to grow up with humanity’s accumulated knowledge at your fingertips. Almost anything you want to learn about you can find online. Perhaps you can find something interesting to look at to tickle your brain?” But alas, it is near impossible to wrench them away from the online games, given how addictive they are.

In the ‘old’ days, we had to trudge down to the library or bookstore and spend hours looking through the stacks to find the information we wanted. Now, we can find it in seconds with a few keystrokes. And yet, for most, we are not taking advantage of this opportunity. Educate yourself and set yourself free. 

journalism- the worst profession in the world

Back in the mid-80s, I made one of the worst decisions of my life: to major in journalism.  Even though some courses I took at university offered tantalizing glimpses of an alternative route  (astronomy, for one), I stuck with my original decision and slogged through the mostly boring four years of a communications degree.

In that time, journalism in America had long been in decline, from at least the early 70s. Its downward trajectory has only continued and where the bottom lies is anyone’s guess. With these thoughts in mind, I noticed an op-ed piece penned in yesterday’s Viet Nam News. It was written by a working journalist in Viet Nam, and the article demonstrates clearly that being a journalist anywhere in the world these days sucks. The article is titled ‘Journalism cannot be a mercenary pursuit.’

It begins, “In 2013, global job-search portal CareerCast rated journalism as the worst job in the United States, below lumberjacks, janitors, garbage collectors, and bus drivers. The agency publishes the list annually in its Jobs Rate Reports. Two hundred jobs are ranked based on factors such as environment, income, outcome, and stress.”

While this study focused on the U.S., the writer explains that the situation is the same in Viet Nam, where journalists deal with low pay, high stress, competitiveness and crazy hours. Reporters earn between 200 and 400 dollars a month. As bad as journalism was back when I graduated, the ubiquity of the internet with thousands of citizen journalists and bloggers has made the working newspaper journalist not only endangered but quite possibly obsolete.

This is not a black and white issue. I think society benefits from having trained, professional, and full time journalists working for established news organizations who both support and defend them. At the same time, we as citizens cannot rely on or even expect these journalists to do all the work that is required of a citizenry keeping a check on over-reaching and over-zealous governments. Bloggers and citizen journalists (and whistle -blowers) can fill this gap.

Ten years ago, many media watchers, observing the increasing rate of bankruptcies and mergers in the newspaper industry, along with the increasing penetration of the internet, were predicting that within a decade the newspaper industry would be dead. That hasn’t yet happened and the remaining newspapers are hanging on, though often by just the thinnest of margins. It’s 2014 and I’m happy that I can still wake up and buy a local newspaper to read with my morning coffee. And I salute the journalists who are still ‘out there’ , working for pennies, and often putting their very lives at risk. (70 journalists killed in 2013, with many more imprisoned or beaten).



Choosing a major: Avoiding the banking and marketing trap

Choosing a major is one of the most difficult decisions a young adult must make.  For an eighteen- or nineteen-year-old, it is often an overwhelming task, fraught with anxiety. Few teenagers know what they want to do with the rest of their life. Faced with such uncertainty and ignorance, kids turn to parents, relatives and counselors to help them make a decision.

Unfortunately for these kids, much of the advice they are given from well-meaning adults is not in their best interest, and far too often leads them into fields for which they are ill-fitted and in which they will be unhappy.  Parents are prone to forcing their children into majors which they have heard are ‘hot’ fields and will lead their offspring into lucrative careers upon graduation.

These days, especially here in Asia, those ‘hot’ fields are banking/finance and advertising/marketing.  The vast majority -over 80 percent- of the young adults I have met who are attending university tell me they are majoring in these fields. Of the remaining, fifteen percent, most are in business school or economics.  In America, the figures are probably comparable.


So how this trend bode for those kids and the countries in which they will soon be working? Clearly, these kids did not grow up saying to their peers, “some day I dream of being a banker.”  Nor did they play football in the playground and confide to their playmates, “you know, I dream of working for a giant transnational, helping them boost their bottom line by a few billion by creating a clever marketing scheme.”

Dreams and idealism are drummed out of kids at a very early age now. In Asia, where wealthy parents spend a fortune for their children on private education, bi-lingual  schooling, preparatory courses, private tutoring and extra-curricular activities, the thought of their child choosing any career other than those fields above is  unthinkable. After throwing down 100,000 USD on education, there better be a good job and paycheck waiting at the end.


However, funneling so many kids into these fields will be disastrous. For the kids themselves, the vast majority will be disillusioned. The smorgasbord of jobs they fancy waiting for them will not be there. The jobs that are available will not be the super lucrative ones they imagined, and they will spend their lives working behind a desk, shuffling papers and selling their souls to a faceless and heartless corporation.

For the society and country in which they live, the consequences are even worse. Countries and economies need well-trained college graduates in a wide variety of fields. We need trained wildlife biologists, water resource managers, early childhood educators,  oceanographers, urban gardeners, astronomers, permaculture designers, urban planners, historians, artists, journalists, engineers, nurses, mechanics, and chefs. And poets.

We need to be honest with the kids and ourselves: bankers and marketers produce nothing for society. Actually, it’s worse than that. They literally suck the lifeblood from an economy, misdirecting people’s energy, money, and wealth. As an educator, I have seen far too often parents and teachers speaking from two sides of their mouths. First, we tell them, “follow your dreams.”  Then we turn around and not so subtly nudge them into these  careers in banking and marketing and turn them into little corporate drones, while telling them to “be practical.”


There are ways to survive, and even thrive, in this world outside of the narrow paradigm of a university education geared toward a career in big business. But those ‘alternative’ methods require a lot of thinking outside the box, experimentation, risk, and some creativity, not to mention a lot of support from family and peers. Few teachers and relatives of our youth are equipped to guide them in another direction, and  choose the safe routes of recommending university education. Having traveled the conformist path themselves their whole life, they can hardly be expected to counsel kids to do otherwise.

There are numerous ways to work for oneself, and the age of the internet has opened up enormous opportunities for those with the courage, determination and energy to manifest their dream. As teachers and educators, we cannot simply tell kids to ‘follow their dreams’ and then turn around and walk away. We have to model it and give them practical know-how on how to do it. 


Books: the path to freedom

As a teacher, I try to instill a love of books and reading to my students. It is an uphill battle. Although the majority of people in developed countries became literate over the recent centuries, reading as a hobby, habit and pastime never became widespread.  And that was in the days when there were few competing distractions. These days, in our high-tech society filled with computers, smart phones, televisions and cinemas, it is difficult, if not impossible, to convince an adolescent  that he should spend his free time curled up in a quiet room with a book. When my students have leisure time, the boys play computer games and the girls chat online.

TNY1594Somehow, we will need to find the time for books in this helter skelter world. If we do not, all is lost. Learning from a screen, despite the arguments of many in academia, will never be able to replace book learning. Reading a book in a quiet room is a unique experience and creates new neural pathways in the brain that leads to learning. Watching a Discovery Channel or National Geographic special, while entertaining and perhaps even educational, is a completely different experience and does activate the brain and cerebral cortex in the same way as reading a book does.

In Latin, the word ‘liber’ means ‘free.’ It also means ‘book.’ Think that’s a coincidence? In Spanish, a bookstore is a ‘libreria.’ In English, we go to the ‘library.’ (to read and become free). The Spanish word for book is ‘libro’, and the word for ‘free’ is ‘libre’. From liber, we get our word ‘liberty’, which is freedom from external or foreign rule.  The word ‘liberal’ also derives from liber. Liberal is defined as ‘in accord with concepts of maximal individual freedom possible…and ‘favorable to progress and reform.’

Here in Viet Nam, reading as a pastime is virtually unknown. That’s why I was so blown away when I came across an article a few days ago about reading.  Nguyen Hanh, aged seven  is a lover of books and is engaged in a project called the Book Box Project, started in Ho Chi Minh City in March. Project members, who are all young students, are placing small book boxes around the city in cafes and other popular public places. The boxes are filled with books and with a note asking people to ‘take a book, leave a book.’ The project is similar to another project called ‘Little Library’ which has spread to many countries.

Replying to a question about the possibility of theft, Phuong Thuy replied that it was fine, as the idea was to get people reading. “My personal feeling is that the lack of trust in people has been hindering us from doing good things. I believe in people and the goodness within them,.”

Another member, Nguyen Linh said, “What I feel is the eagerness of everyone who cares about Book Box. They contribute books, they leave beautiful messages on books. It’s all very encouraging.”

The project started with ten members and now has 100 volunteers. They want to take the project into remote villages. Thuy said, “My mother always told me to aim for things that make other people happy. You should always do something and aim for something. I’m following her advice.”

Perhaps from this seed of 100 young book lovers, something beautiful will bloom: a culture of learning and lifelong curiosity.



Advice for a college freshman

My niece has recently begun her matriculation at a large state university and this fact has brought back memories of my first year of university back in 1984. I also attended a large state school, numbering some 50,000 undergraduate students with 10,000 more graduate students.

I had attended an academically rigorous private high school and the coursework at the university was no more challenging than what I had already suffered through. However, like many 18-year-olds leaving home for the first time, I was emotionally and psychologically unprepared for many aspects of college life. The first year, and especially the first semester, were extremely difficult for me, as I struggled with loneliness, despair and depression.


Here are some tips for my niece and other college freshmen undertaking the university path:

1) Attend class. Really, it was amazing to watch the students in my classes gradually drop away as the semesters progressed. Class attendance seemed to decrease by 5% each week until only 50% of the students showed up on any given day. Teenagers and young adults  given an amount of freedom that they were not used to  often resulted in apathetic attitudes toward classes. Obtaining a baccalaureate degree is not that difficult, and going to class is the first and foremost requirement to achieving your goal. Hung over? Tired? Bored? Suck it up and go to class.

_ACADEMIC LIFE_College Counseling

2) Find a good counselor. During my four years, I had someone who I could ask specific questions about classes and prerequisites and so forth, but nobody who got to know me well and could truly advise me regarding my strengths, weaknesses, abilities and desires. A good counselor will not be shy about telling you, “Perhaps you should consider another  major,” even into your sophomore or junior year.

Don’t feel embarrassed about changing your major.  Few people are clear about the goals and direction in life at that age. I could have, and probably should have, changed my major, but stick with it for the wrong reasons.

3) Attend summer classes at least once. The pace is accelerated and it is intense, but not unbearably so. You will get ahead of where you should be, or perhaps catch up if you have fallen behind in your goal to graduate in four years. Furthermore, the smaller class size and faster pace encourage a greater sense of camaraderie with your fellow students and you will make friends in those classes.

4) Study abroad. Go for a year if possible, or one semester if that is all you can manage. Start planning early or time will fly by and the opportunity will pass. All big schools have universities in other countries with which they have partner programs. Choose a country that sounds exotic and which you know little about . It will expand your horizons and enrich your university experience.



5) Have fun, but don’t get caught up with the ‘party crowd.’ Look around you at the wide range of students at big universities. Most of them don’t come from rich families. Some don’t have family members with a college degree. Many are making a big sacrifice to attend college and aren’t there to fool around and party. See the students with their heads bowed over a book at the library at 10:30pm on a Friday night? They understand why they’re there.

6) If you’re concerned about your GPA (and who isn’t?), use the pass/fail option when you need it. When I learned about this during my sophomore year, I exclaimed “hallelujah.” I knew I was going to struggle with some classes, such as French, and when those ‘C’ grades add up, it can drag down your GPA fast.

7) Big universities all have non-credit, informal classes which are offered in whatever available spaces the university has. Take advantage of them! They are usually very affordable, sometimes ridiculously cheap. I think the most I ever paid for an informal class was $40.  I took Karate, yoga, dance, typing, and other great classes with that system and loved every minute.



8) Chat with your professor. You will have classes in which there are 200 or 300 students sitting in an auditorium and if you don’t make the effort, you will never meet the professor. Don’t let this happen. Visit him or her during office hours. Don’t let the professor be just some disembodied voice speaking from a stage.

9) Get an on-campus part time job. I worked for the catering department of the student union. If you are taking a full class load, you won’t have time to work more than 10 or 15 hours a week, but you will make friends and have some extra spending cash.

10) Make friends from other countries. A good way to do this is to live in an international co-op.




There are some classes which almost all freshman and sophomores are funneled into. However, if you can manage to avoid them, try to stay away from:

A) Psychology 101. You will be in class with hundreds of other bored kids, learning from a boring text and listening to a boring teacher. If you are particularly interested in this subject, check out Freud’s “Interpretation of Dreams” and Jung’s “Man and His Symbols” from the library.

B) Sociology 101. See above.

C) World History 101. This is like learning history from the history channel, only more superficial.

D) American history and American literature. These are hard to get around, but you don’t need a professor for this material anyway. Read Howard Zinn’s  “A people’s history of the United States.” For literature, the only names you need to know are Thoreau, Emerson, Thomas Paine,  Mark Twain, and Robert Frost. Read ‘ Civil Disobedience’ and ‘Walden’ and ‘Leaves of Grass’ by Whitman.

Thoreau. He’s as relevant as ever. 


Now, for the classes you absolutely should take:

A) Art History. The material  is fascinating. If you’re lucky, you will have a professor who is passionate about the subject  and can really bring it alive. I looked forward to this class like few others, and was hooked from the first day.

B) Photography. Few young people today associate the word ‘photography’ with the word ‘art.’ Fewer still have heard of  Alfred Stieglitz and Ansel Adams. This is unfortunate. With each new advancement in the technology of cameras and photography,  and the proliferation of cameras to most of the world’s population, the quality of photography has gone down. Way, way down. First instamatic cameras, then digital cameras, and now camera phones have degraded photography immensely. With the ease of deleting photos and the cheap cost of taking hundreds and thousands of pictures, few people bother to take the time to frame a good photo. Learning to take good photos is fun and  you can develop skills in a short time with a good teacher.

Ansel Adams, Yosemite:



C) Gymnastics. Yes, it’s not just for olympians. If you can learn just two tricks- the backflip and back handspring- as I did, you will be walking on air. Take the plunge and go for it.

D) History of the movies. My university called this class “The Development of the Motion Picture” to make it sound more academic. Whatever. Sit back and learn the tricks of the filmmakers and see who really influenced who and why today’s directors still worship at the shrine of David Lean and Akira Kurosawa.



E) Astronomy.  If I had to choose my favorite course, this may well have been it. I was a tad nervous going in, not knowing if I would need to know a lot of math. I didn’t, and I quickly became swept up into the mysteries of the cosmos. The professor was predictably and irritably scornful of astrology, but that was ok. I took this course in the old days before the hubble telescope. It must be unimaginably better now.



Authentic childhood has disappeared

Being a teacher, I have many opportunities to ask my students about their lives. In particular, I like to know how they spend their free time and what they eat. The answers they give often make me pause and reflect on my own childhood and on how much the world has changed. I am still young and my childhood was but a few brief decades ago, and yet it seems as if we could be talking about centuries ago, given how radically the world has been transformed in the past 20 years.

Another issue which all educators should think about is this: what do students need in order to excel in school and in life? What prerequisites are required? Surely, going to a private school and then on to a private or prestigious university is not enough. The world is turning out far too many company men (and women), young people with a lack of creativity, critical thinking skills and life-force.

I grew up in the suburbs. At the time I was born in 1966,  my family was close to the outer edge of the Washington DC suburbs in Maryland. Beyond our small neighborhood were fields where cows and horses grazed in pastures and pockets of forests remained where one could freely roam without fear.

Our street was a microcosm of America, with families of Italian, German, Greek, and Scotch-Irish origin. All the neighbors knew one another. My parents had numerous parties where they invited everyone on the street to our house for food and drinks. In order to get to my friends’ houses, I had to cut through the yards of three of my neighbors. These days, that would be known as ‘trespassing.’ Doors were often left unlocked. When I arrived at my friend’s house, I simply walked in without knocking (‘breaking and entering’, I think they call it).

Our wealthy next-door neighbors had a pool and tennis court which my siblings and I were free to use any time. We kept a section of fence open between our yards which acted as an implicit acknowledgement of openness and an invitation for mingling. Now, houses in that area are surrounded by large brick fences and other forms of security which naturally discourage spontaneous encounters.

Our neighbors directly across the road, the Adams family, stood out to me as exemplars of kindness. They had a pond in their yard, not too large, but big enough for kids to swim in summertime and ice skate in the wintertime. What a blessing to have that pond available to the neighborhood kids! Usually in December, when temperatures got cold enough for the ice to freeze the pond, old Mr. Adams would trudge out to the pond with his measure and screw to drill into the ice and make sure it was exactly thick enough for safe ice-skating. Word would quickly spread and my friends and I would be there in no time. Not only did the Adams provide the pond, but they also had a collection of ice skates which they loaned out to everyone. Finally, after we returned inside, exhausted, to take off our skates, they would provide us with sweetened crushed ice.



Our house had a well which we used for all of our water needs. When we were thirsty, we simply turned on the faucet – or the garden hose- and filled our glasses. It was clean and delicious and just as importantly, FREE OF FLUORIDE  and other toxic chemicals routinely added to municipal water supplies.

My mother did not have a job outside the home and she cooked breakfast and dinner for my siblings and I every day of the week. Without having any background in nutrition studies, she used her common sense to guide menu planning and the meals were all well-balanced, even though I often vociferously rejected the vegetables on my plate, most especially the peas and carrots. There was fresh fruit on the table every morning, and a fruit drawer in the refrigerator which was always well-stocked. A salad was provided with dinner. The importance of having home cooked food prepared with love on a child’s development cannot be overstated, I believe. Going out to eat at a restaurant was a rare event, and something to be appreciated. Fast food was extremely rare. We went to McDonald’s once or twice a  year and my body and mind were spared the toxic onslaught of what those places call ‘food.’

The food preparation is the first part of the equation and the second part is the eating and sharing it. My parents, again using their innate wisdom and common sense, knew that eating  dinner as a family around the table was an important, even sacred, act and that such things as television watching violated that act. The conversations were not always interesting, and sometimes were downright boring, but that didn’t excuse us from the obligation to sit and eat together.

At that time in the 1970s, television had made its way into every house in the country, and we had two televisions in ours. My parents understood that most of the programs were garbage and that watching it was not going to aid my brother’s and my intellectual development. They allowed us to view it, but with strict limitations. We typically watched no more than one hour a day. We knew better than to ask if we could have a television in our bedroom. My parents would have scoffed at such an idea as absurd. All the kids I know these days have one in their bedroom, along with a computer, x-box , and smart phone. How can a child concentrate or develop an interest in books with all that stimulation at their fingertips?

I developed an interest in reading and books when I was young. I don’t remember my parents ever badgering me about reading, or needing to give me much encouragement. If the books are available and lying about, if the setting is amenable to reading, i.e. comfortable chairs and couches, good reading light and a quiet atmosphere, then a kid with a curious mind will naturally take to it. My mother was a good model. She returned from the library each week with a stack of books under her arm. She left most of them where I could find them and I would often grab a couple to take to my room to read. Later in my life, I became a real library hound, spending hours lost in the stacks.



The kids in the neighborhood and I were outdoor kids to the max. We were outside 365 days a year. In the summertime, temperatures sometimes exceeded 100 degrees F. and in the winter, they often fell well below freezing. No matter. The heat was a good excuse to swim in the pond or pool and the snow and cold were a good excuse to build snowmen, snow tunnels and snowballs. Sledding down the local hills was popular. In the fall, raking up big piles of leaves and then climbing up on the fence to jump into them was always fun. Our summers in Vermont were spent wandering through the forests and collecting wild berries.

Tree-climbing is a pastime that is hardly any kids engage in anymore. This is unfortunate. Few activities give more benefit. It is great exercise and you don’t need to invest in any equipment. It builds stamina and arm and leg strength. It instills a sense of accomplishment in the climber when he is able to reach the top of the tree. It enables the climber to see life from a new perspective, gazing now over the rooftops. It subconsciously creates respect for nature as the tree becomes your ‘friend.’ You will learn the name of that tree species that you love to climb so much. It provides you with excellent cover for games of hide-and-seek and when you are fleeing your enemies (or your parents.) And you will never be embarrassed to tell your friends that you are a ‘tree-hugger.’



Bird, insect, and animal life were abundant.  We collected frogs, worms, tadpoles, turtles, lightning bugs, moths,  crickets, butterflies and more worms. Herds of deer came through our yard daily. Red foxes hurried through in the late evening. Rabbits had their families at the base of trees in our backyard. Bats visited in the evening. My mother is a naturalist. She always had a bird feeder set up in the back yard from which many birds got their sustenance in the winter months. She could identify the name of every bird that visited our home. (And if she couldn’t, she went to the library to borrow a bird identification book) My parents knew the name of every plant, flower, shrub, bush and tree in our yard. It was simply a given that you should be able to do this. Hence, it came as a shock to me years later when I asked people about the flora in their yard and they were unable to tell me the names. Needless to say, most city folk cannot tell you the name of a single tree.

When I was growing up, our street ended at the edge of a forest. It had not yet been gobbled up and devoured by developers. Though not a large forest, it was just big enough for a twelve-year-old to get lost in. We used to run around in that forest all the time, looking for treasures and caves. I remember one night getting separated from my friends around dusk and realizing with growing panic that I had lost my way. No familiar landmarks were to be seen and each passing minute would see the forest get darker and darker.  Thoughts started appearing such as “What if i can’t find my way out before it becomes dark? What if I have to spend the night here? Does anybody know where I am? Will anyone come looking? Is there anything in this forest that can eat me?”

I eventually found my way out and raced home, albeit late for dinner. In later years, I often went hiking in other forests in other states, but that first experience of surviving ‘being lost’ and keeping my wits about me was a good lesson in wilderness appreciation.

By the time I was seven years old, I could identify ten constellations in the night sky. I could easily find Mercury, Venus and Jupiter and Mars. Again, this was not seen as ‘scientific’ or advanced knowledge, but simply as common sense stuff that everyone should know. I watched the sky every day and could name half a dozen cloud types. I knew what cumulus, stratus, cirrus, alto-cumulus, and cirro-stratus meant.



Years ago when I lived in Seattle, I was in my local park one night, at dusk, looking out over the city to the west. It was a clear beautiful night. Venus was shining brightly low on the horizon. A young couple in their late twenties stood next to me, and I said, “Wow, look at Venus, she’s so bright tonight!”

The young man looked at me quizzically, and replied, “Huh? Venus? You mean, like, the planet? You can see that?”

I didn’t know what to say. I felt such a deep sadness for these young people, and all young city people the world over who have no connection whatsoever with nature, who are so cut off from reality that they have lived  three decades of life on Earth and nobody, NOBODY, has ever pointed out Venus to them. Sad, but true.

To summarize: Kids need home cooked food and pure water. They need to spend most of their childhood engaged in free play in nature, with space to roam and exercise. They need to develop an understanding and appreciation of nature and learn to name things, especially their local flora and fauna. They need loving and caring neighbors. And they need to develop their curiosity about the universe through books and ample time for reflection.