Sunday, April 29, 2018

Jon Caldara Educates Us on Teacher Salaries

How much should teachers make?

As I noted in a recent blog post, I am not a fan of the silliness that ensues when people lament how "athletes make millions of dollars for playing a game," but teachers can barely afford to pay the rent. However, K-12 teachers are credentialed professionals whose work is highly valued and necessary, and they certainly deserve a middle class living. The issue of education budgets, including teacher compensation through salaries and retirement plans, has been front and center in recent weeks as education associations across the country have taken to the streets to lobby for appropriate increases in state education budgets. From the statewide strike in West Virginia to the teacher rallies here in Colorado, educators have taken their case to the legislators and the public. So, what's the deal with education funding in Colorado, and are teachers overpaid, underpaid, fairly paid, or what?

Fortunately, Jon Caldara, the state's resident libertarian think-tanker at the Independence Institute, took time out of his busy think-tanking schedule and "ran some numbers" to answer the question. Jon was, of course, inconvenienced because teachers weren't at school to take care of his kids, so he let us know that he "couldn't go to work Friday when teachers abandoned my kids." Interesting thing about that word - work. As a think-tanker whose job appears to basically consist of doing research and then writing and talking (sometimes endlessly) about what he learned, Jon appears to have been able to do his work without actually "going" to work. That think tank gig - nice job if you can get it. Makes me kinda wonder what someone like Jon Caldara makes. I'd have to guess it's an easy $150K if it's a dollar, which would be about three times an average teacher's salary. And we know from Jon's writing about the health care challenges in his family that he has some pretty sweet benefits. I wonder if Jon and the Independence Institute would be willing to share their budget, salaries, and benefits? You know, in the spirit of the importance of transparency. Granted, they are aren't a government entity - but their entire existence basically depends on the government to exist, so ....

Anyway, let's let that pass.

Back to teacher salaries. Jon did grab some numbers off the internet, and he offered some fair commentary drawing from the usual talking points. The average teacher salary in Colorado is $52,000/year, which is basically the very bottom of what is considered middle class, and it is about the median nationwide income of all wage earners for a family of four. So, in terms of the professionalism, Jon may be right that teachers are "insultingly compensated."  Additionally, a bit of research into salary scales (which are public and transparent), the starting pay for many teachers is around $30K, which can make it tough for people to pay rents that hover around $1400, not to mention mortgages in a state with homes averaging $500K in the metro area. Yet, Jon's biggest complaint about the compensation isn't the amount but the fact that teachers negotiate contracts as part of associations, and these contracts use degree credentials and years of service as the gauge. To Jon this is an abomination; but having apparently little knowledge or experience with the field, he fails to appreciate the teachers' choice to collectively bargain and not negotiate individual contracts. Considering Jon is not a teacher, I'm not sure why he takes offense to how others negotiate their pay. But, you know, when you have a lot of time on the clock to just sit around think-tanking, I guess your mind wanders.

Additionally, Jon does attempt to make a seemingly logical argument about just compensation for teachers based on the ol' "summers off" angle, implying that like hourly workers, teachers should make less because they get more vacation. It's an interesting claim that I don't fully disagree with, and I have had my share of conversations with fellow educators about the compensation based on work day/week/year. To be fair, critics from both sides often note, teachers make less money than other professionals of similar education and work experience, sometimes by as much as 20%. That said, a teacher contract is usually for 40 weeks out of a 52 week year - that is if they don't spend breaks working other jobs, lesson planning/grading, pursuing professional development etc. To be perfectly honest, I don't completely oppose Jon about this, and as an educator of 25 years, both domestically and abroad, in several school systems both public and private, I have never been truly dissatisfied with my pay. I'd take more money, sure. And experience tells me I am at least adding as much value to society as many six-or-seven-figuring earning think tankers, writers, and speakers.

But, of course, it's sort of a silly point to make. Teachers are professionals who earn a salary, not hourly at-will employees paid like the "factory workers" that Jon strangely seems to disparage in his column. School contracts are usually about 185 days, and there isn't a comparable argument for changing that. Schools aren't going to stay open and in session for 50 weeks a year - heck, two-thirds of Colorado districts already operate on four-day weeks because they can't afford to stay open with current budgets. And, I've already made the "summer vacation argument" numerous times, so we're not going to year-round school, nor should we. Beyond the hourly-wage argument, Jon also takes a shot at PERA and teachers' cushy retirement at the age of 58. While it's a fair soundbite, it also reveals an ignorance of the deal made to teachers - take lower pay for many years on the front end (I made $20K in 1997), and the trade-off is an earlier retirement. And, to be sure, PERA and other state pensions need review and revision.

So, in the end, the think-tanker in Golden gets to take his shot at educators from his Ivory Tower via his regular column in the Denver Post. And, he's not entirely wrong about some of his criticisms, even if he is a bit blinded by the privilege of not working a real job. (Disclaimer:  I'm a bit jealous - being a think-tanker, writer, and speaker is my dream retirement job .... after I'm done educating the youth of America).

For a more thorough and informed perspective on education funding, I recommend Diane Carmen's piece in the Denver Post, or the numerous articles by the professional researchers and journalists at Chalkbeat.


Saturday, April 28, 2018

Know a young Mathlete? The Art of Problem Solving (AoPS) is for them.

"So, how did you get your son to .....?"

This question about my 16-year-old son's highly-developed math prowess has been asked of me and my wife countless times by parents who wonder just how we raised such a successful mathlete. He was a two-time state champion and national competitor for MATHCOUNTS, he aced AP Calculus BC in eighth grade, he's qualified numerous times for the AMO/JMO (American/Junior Math Olympiad), and the list goes on. We are incredibly proud of him and happy for him, and the answer for all the parents hoping to raise a similar math whiz is "We didn't do anything - it's all him."

Of course, he and we have benefited from some important mentors and exceptional resources, the most notable of which is a self-driven math curriculum and website called The Art of Problem Solving. The AoPS program is a beautifully crafted training ground for young math prodigies who seek to refine their skills through math competitions, and my son first engaged with it when he was in fourth-grade and participating in math enrichment class taught by a math teacher and math team coach at his school. It's been a constant source of connection to other mathletes nationwide, and I recommend it to anyone with a kid interested in math.

Recently, a friend sent a nice article and interview that education writer and blogger Rick Hess did with the founder of AoPS, Richard Rusczyk. If you don't know of the Art of Problem Solving, use this link as your introduction.

Richard Rusczyk is the founder of the Art of Problem Solving (AoPS), a math curriculum and online learning community that supports students who excel in math. In the early 1990s, Richard started AoPS as a book series; it has grown into a 300,000-member online community with classes, video lessons, and an adaptive learning system. AoPS is also the go-to trainer for America’s Math Olympiad participants. I recently had a chance to chat with Richard about AoPS, how it works, and the effort to extend its reach to new kids.


Sunday, April 22, 2018

Colorado Legislator Seeks to Criminalize Teacher Strikes


Nobody wants a labor strike - it's never the good option for people seeking fair and just compensation in collective bargaining for employment. It's a last resort. That said, work stoppages have been a time-honored practice as the one significant piece of leverage workers have in negotiations. In certain places and fields, the practice is prohibited by law or contracts with a "no-strike" clause. Good examples are first responders - a labor stoppage can be a public safety risk. And any employer can simply fire all striking workers - Ronald Reagan proved this on a grand scale in 1981. Of course, strikes by public employees such as teachers can be quite inconvenient, though occasionally educators find the action a necessary move. Teacher strikes are actually quite rare (before this spring teachers in West Virginia had not struck in 30 years), and they are often resolved in a reasonable time, and progress is made.

And 2018 has proved to be a year that progress is necessary, and improvements in the funding and structure of public education must be made. What started in West Virginia has moved to Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, and now Colorado, as educators take a stand for appropriate funding of one of society's most valuable institutions. We need schools, and schools need improved funding. There are many reasons for the protests and strikes, and in Colorado the cause seems justified when the state with a scorching hot economy, high levels of education, and growing population ranks near the bottom of the economy in education funding and teacher salaries. An increasing number of school districts are going to four-day weeks as a cost-cutting measure, and the legislature is considering several versions of a bill to alter the teachers (PERA - Public Employees Retirement System) pension by altering benefits and shifting more of the financial burden to the teachers, who do not receive Social Security.

So, some teachers in several of the largest school districts have worked with their districts to coordinate days of action at the state capitol, leading to the cancelling of classes due to large numbers of teachers taking legal personal days. One school district faces a potential teacher strike as well. And that legal action doesn't sit too well with a couple state legislators who have introduced a late bill in the legislative session which would make teacher strikes illegal and would criminalize - with penalties of jail time - any work stoppage by educators. This seems to me, by any reasonable assessment of the situation, to be a huge over-reaction and a politically charged stunt by a couple state politicians looking to make names for themselves with the fringes of the Colorado Republican Party. Senate Bill SB18-264, sponsored by Republican senators Paul Lundeen and Bob Gardner  "would prohibit pubic school teacher strikes by authorizing school districts to seek an injunction from district court. A failure to comply with the injunction would “constitute contempt of court” and teachers could face not only fines but up to six months in county jail ..." 

I'm not sure what has led Paul Lundeen to take such extreme action toward educators - but I have a hunch. Lundeen is running for Senate. At one time, Paul Lundeen seemed to be a true friend of public education, and he played a significant role in supporting schools, students, and teachers during the standardized testing mess in Colorado a few years back. But he appears to have a problem with organized labor, and he has decided that labor strikes are criminal behavior which should be punished with jail time. They are not, and they shouldn't be. Seriously. The action of work stoppage by labor organizations can certainly be inconvenient - which is precisely the point - but they are legal actions that have Constitutional merit. Choosing to protest and stop work would seem to be a simple issue of individual freedom. What do Lundeen and Gardner have against individual freedom and personal rights? Actually, very little. These politicians are trying to score cheap political points, and I find their choice to clog up the legislative docket quite disappointing. 

Thus, I am urging teachers, parents, community members, and legislators to stand against Lundeen and Gardner's bill. SB18-264 should not waste the time of the Colorado legislature which is doing good work to address the challenges of public funding in the state. This bill should be killed in committee. Please consider contacting the following legislators and encouraging them to oppose this bill which is a stunt at best, but at worst a vindictive assault on democracy and personal freedom.

Senator Vicki Marble - 303-866-4876  vicki.marble.senate@state.co.us

Senator Jerry Sonenberg 303-866-6360  senatorsonnenberg@gmail.com

Senator Lois Court - 303-866-4861  lois.court.senate@state.co.us

Senator Stephe Fenberg - 303-866-4872  stephen.fenberg.senate@state.co.us

Senator Owen Hill - 303-866-2737  owen.hill.senate@state.co.us

And, contact Senators Lundeen and Gardner and ask them how they can claim to support freedom and individual rights with a bill that seeks to suppress individual liberty through the power of the state.

Paul Lundeen - 303-866-2924  paul.lundeen.house@state.co.us

Bob Gardner - 303-866-4880   bob.gardner.senate@state.co.us




Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Teacher guru Ron Clark's $100,000 teacher folly

It started with a TweetThe starting salary for educators should be $100,000. In ten years time the U.S. would have the strongest and most powerful education system imaginable.

Ron Clark, a veteran educator and teacher guru whose career has spawned an inspirational teacher movie and a NY Times bestseller, proposed a seemingly logical idea that increasing teacher pay would "fix" America's "failing schools" by attracting and retaining the "best people" to the field of education. On the surface his proposal addressed many concerns about public education in the United States: teachers are underpaid, the country's education system is weak and ineffective, the nation's best and brightest don't become teachers because of low salaries, paying people more improves the quality of work they do, deficiencies in public education are simply a result of low funding for schools, etc. The market-based reform model for public education has gained much clout in the past two decades, as billionaire edu-philanthropists have convinced legislators and political pundits that they can fix schools by throwing money at the problem and running schools like a business. And, hey, what teacher or school administrator would be against paying teachers six figures to start?

Under scrutiny, however, with a little of the critical thinking we hope students learn, Clark's proposal and pie-in-the-sky optimism (ie. naivety) is a profoundly flawed idea.

The most obvious problem is Clark's implication that teacher performance/effort/effectiveness is driven by salary, as if current teachers are "holding back" on the really good instruction because they're not being paid enough. Or even worse is the idea that the top 2-3 million best teachers in the country aren't even in education because they can't make the big bucks there. This implication is nothing short of insulting to the numerous hardworking and effective teachers currently making a difference in America's classrooms. It also poses this question for Clark: how and why was he effective when he wasn't making $100K, especially in his first three years. The conventional wisdom (and research) indicates it takes three years to become truly effective in the classroom (with the same curriculum), and that teachers truly get better with age. That's why an apprenticeship model is actually a great idea for school improvement. The idea of paying a new teacher $100K fresh out of the gate - especially when 50% of teachers quit the profession in five years - seems to be a horrible business practice. Then there is the obvious question of fiscal sustainability for such teachers over a thirty-year-career. Where does the pay scale top out, and just how will it be funded in school systems that are already financially strapped?

The second glaringly obvious error in Clark's plan is the belief that simply throwing more money at the public education system - primarily in the salary area - will solve deeply complex sociological issues that impact a child's education and lead to low achievement and inequity in academic success. It's as if Clark is completely unaware of the shortcomings in corporate ed reform efforts by Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. As the nation has been distracted by the Cambridge Analytics scandal at Facebook, it seems to have forgotten "Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million lesson," where the billionaire whiz kid was going to transform the schools of Newark, New Jersey into the best schools in the nation in a quick five years with his infusion of cash and business brilliance. It failed for all the obvious reasons. And, the original edu-philanthropist Bill Gates basically admitted that he wasted more than a billion dollars on his small schools reform. It's quite obvious that simple budget issues are not the reason that the US doesn't have Clark's "strongest and most powerful education system imaginable." Though, it's also worth noting that by many significant measures, we actually already do have that.

Finally, the mythical reverence Clark places on the figure $100,000 also negates his claim. First of all, a "hundred K" is not a uniform measure of a good salary nationwide. That sum is basically the "top end of middle class" in large parts of the country. An annual salary of $100K is practically rich in some parts of the country (and would be almost disproportionate for the work done) whereas it's simply a decent living in other areas, and in some major metropolitan regions it wouldn't even be sufficient to afford a one-bedroom condo and a car payment. With that in mind, it's worth noting that many teachers in many school districts nationwide are already making six figures and up. Currently, there are so many layers to the teacher salary issue with entire state's worth of teachers ready to strike over low pay and benefits whereas many areas defy the myth of the poorly paid teacher. And, there are so many places where students are doing incredibly well and teachers are achieving great success without six-figure salaries. That is certainly true when people look at education systems worldwide. When international comparisons are used to malign the US system, it's not because of teacher pay. In fact, when explanations for poor performance in American school are explored, it's the poverty of students, not the teachers, that emerges as the primary factor in low achievement and in achievement gaps.

Ultimately, Ron Clark's tweet is a minor and relatively harmless bit of "internet wisdom" that doesn't have much relevance to the discussion of public education. And, Clark, with his publications and website and speaking engagements and film receipts, doesn't really have much credibility anymore for discussions on teacher compensation. But it's worth scrutinizing claims like his because they only serve to muddle legitimate discussions about how to improve student achievement.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

"Elegy for Thelonious"

On Sunday afternoon/evening (April 1) around 5:00, I heard a beautiful jazz poem and piano composition on Denver's jazz station, KUVO 89.3, "The Oasis in the City." Some of the words came from Yusef Komunyakaa's "Elegy for Thelonious," but I feel there were additional poems, and I don't know what the piano piece was. I haven't been able to locate the rest of the information, but the poem is just too good to not be shared. Put on some cool piano jazz and give it a read:

Elegy for Thelonious

Damn the snow.
Its senseless beauty
pours a hard light
through the hemlock.
Thelonious is dead. Winter
drifts in the hourglass;
notes pour from the brain cup.
damn the alley cat
wailing a muted dirge
off Lenox Ave.
Thelonious is dead.
Tonight's a lazy rhapsody of shadows
swaying to blue vertigo
& metaphysical funk.
Black trees in the wind.
Crepuscule with Nellie
plays inside the bowed head.
"Dig the Man Ray of piano!"
O Satisfaction,
hot fingers blur on those white rib keys.
Coming on the Hudson.
Monk's Dream.
The ghost of bebop
from 52nd Street,
footprints in the snow.
Damn February.
Let's go to Minton's
& play "modern malice"
till daybreak. Lord,
there's Thelonious
wearing that old funky hat
pulled down over his eyes. 

from Copacetic. Copyright © 1984 by Yusef Komunyakaa 
Online Source



Monday, April 2, 2018

Writing in the Day

At a recent staff development (well, really more like a group reading/grading) for eleventh-grade English teachers in my district, one of my colleagues offered a short presentation about the idea of "Writing in the Day," as a way to engage students in class and the writing process. She offered a few prompts that she regularly uses and reminded us of valuable resources and opportunities like the National Writing Project. I loved this idea, and today I am trying it for myself as part of a commitment to embrace writing and create more this year. Thus, I've been at my desk with the goal of writing from roughly 7-8 (or 6:30-8) as regularly as possible. As I was pondering that and tinkering around with the blank page, I was reminded of a quote about some successful writer and how she was "at her desk from 9-12 everyday, whether she produced any writing or not." That got me thinking about the necessary daily ritual of writing, and I enjoyed this piece "The Daily Routine of 20 Famous Writers ..." on Medium.com


Sunday, April 1, 2018

Sorry, Hillary, but it's not them - it's you.

I hate to be writing about politics today (or really any day lately), and I should probably just write this one and delete it; but as I strolled through the living room and heard the news of Hillary Clinton's latest lament, I simply had to put this on the table. It's not about sexism, Hillary; it's about you. When people are asking that she simply "Go away," they (and I mean the general) are not saying it because she is a woman. It's not about telling a woman to know her place and keep her mouth shut. It's because they are simply done with Hillary and the whole Clinton ... thing.

Many people are still hurting over the 2016 election fiasco, they are still struggling to accept that a basically worthless tool of a human being is President of the United States, they are trying to accept and rationalize the bizarre turn of events, and they quite simply blame Hillary Clinton for this mess they're in. And, I have to say, they are justified. Many pundits and critics and stats readers will conclude that Donald Trump could only have beaten one person in the general election - and that person was Hillary Clinton. She was, and still is, just too unpopular. She's tainted as a political leader, and she simply had too much baggage. It may not be fair, it may not be just, it may not be right, but it is the reality. As I listened to one speaker argue for how talented and accomplished Hillary is, I couldn't help but roll my eyes at how clearly he misses the point. You can argue that voters should like her and respect her more - but they don't. And she should have known.

I have a hard time believing that Joe Biden or Cory Booker would have lost to Trump (Hell, I don't think Martin O'Malley or John Hickenlooper could have lost) - they aren't disliked, they don't have a complicated and messy political history, they had no email scandal tied to them, they could have smoothly run on the economy and job growth, etc. If, as many critics and pollsters have argued, Comey's "October Letter" literally pushed the election to Trump, then it's all the more reason to blame Hillary (and ask that she simply "go away"). The scandal and the hint of controversy was just so glaringly obvious that any person not weighed down by an incredible degree of hubris would have realized that Hillary should not have been the candidate (I personally think her window passed in 2008 - and should might have won then and been able to pass the White House to Obama in 2016). It's almost a Sophoclean tragedy in that regard. Heck, she ran a terrible campaign, dismissing concerns in "must have" states like Michigan and Pennsylvania to chase dreams of glory in Texas and Georgia. It's just so sad.

So, no, it's not because she's a woman. It was and always will be because she is Hillary.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Gen X Parenting & Utah's "Free Range Parent" Law

The recent passage - and news coverage - of Utah's "free-range parenting" law got me to thinking again about an idea I've had for a while - the idea of "Gen X parenting." These two terms are related in reflecting or emphasizing the sort of laissez-faire, liberatarian, hands-free approach that many of us who grew up in the 70s and early 80s experienced with our parents. It's not that our parents were particularly aloof or dismissive of parenting - hell, we all got spanked for discipline ... and regularly so. Our parents weren't unaware of what we were doing, and they weren't shy about correcting our behaviors. Yet, they preceded the concept of the helicopter parent that has been refined and practiced so obviously by Baby Boomer parents of the Millennial generation. The parents of Generation X didn't obsess over protecting us and micromanaging our daily lives. During summer breaks and weekends, we were generally sent "outside to play," and it often happened that we left the house in the late morning and didn't return until dinner. We wandered and played and hung out and got in and out of mischief, and while we were never very far from home, we weren't often observed during our play.

We've all seen the memes and posts about the relaxed and casual ways our parents thought about our safety in the 70s and 80s - riding in the back of a pick-up truck, no seatbelts in the back of the station wagon, sitting up front and helping dad or grandpa steer, riding bikes barefoot and without helmets, etc. Heck, we were the first generation of latch-key kids, and we logged quite a bit of time on our own, taking care of ourselves, and also being rather careless more often than not. We joke about it now and remind everyone of how we "survived." We turned out okay (at least we think we did). No one, of course, is arguing that drinking during pregnancy or dismissing concerns about second-hand smoke is a good idea or an admirable part of a Generation X childhood. That said, we don't argue that our upbringing was perfect or the best way to raise kids. We've learned a few things about health and safety that make perfect sense to us - car seats and bike helmets and seatbelts are reasonable concessions and obvious upgrades. Thus, while I've raised my kids to wear bike helmets, I've never had a problem with them riding their bikes over to a friend's house - in fact, I encourage it. "Can I have a ride to the park, Dad?  What? It's a beautiful day out. Ride your ass over there."

That "free range" idea, which apparently had to be written in to law in Utah of all places, is the essence of Generation X, the grown-up latch-key kids. I first thought of the idea of "Gen X Parenting" back in 2008 when a writer named Lenore Skenazy made headlines with her column in the New York Sun describing how she allowed her 9-year-old son to take the subway home by himself from Bloomingdale's in New York. Skenazy became the target of much criticism for her allegedly careless, if not downright dangerous, parenting decision. She was decried and turned into a pariah of irresponsibility. All I could think of was my own childhood, prowling around on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River with little knowledge of my parents. When I came home, I simply told them I'd been "playing." And, as I've raised my children in Colorado, I recall thinking that if my son wasn't exploring the state park near our neighborhood by the age of ten, I was gonna kick him out of the house in the morning and not let him back in until he had visible signs of mud and maybe few scratches. Meagan Flynns of the Washington Post recently recounted the story of Lenore Skanzy in her coverage of the Utah law. That was the first I saw of the term "free range parenting."

Nah, I thought. That's just Gen X.





Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Is It Time for the Next Facebook?

With the news that Mark Zuckerberg is refusing to testify about how he and Facebook failed to protect users' data, and the financial impact of the Cambridge Analytics scandal continuing to hit Facebook and its investors in the pocket book, I wonder how many young comp sci wizards are out there working away at creating the next Facebook to tempt users away from the Zuckerberg mess. You go, geeks. All it takes is an algorithm, a clever name, and a guarantee to not sell (your soul and) everyone’s data to Cambridge Analytics.

The story of how Facebook's empire began to unravel has been well documented in publications like Wired and the Atlantic, and the speculation continues regarding the ultimate impact on Facebook's viability if any significant number of users began to latch on to the #DeleteFacebook movement. In the world of tech, social media, and innovation, there is always another app or site or platform looking to capture the world's narcissistic but fleeting attention span, though few have been able to harness those forces as well as Mark Zuckerberg and his techies. That said, nothing is forever, and Facebook could certainly go the way of MySpace if he loses the Millenials and iGen. They already prefer other platforms like SnapChat (and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook).

If I were a techie - and I'm not - I'd be thinking about how to write the app and the platform that would allow Facebook users to migrate their photos and memories and friends to a new site that (at least on the surface) appears to provide better protection of privacy and data while still offering the comfort and ease that Facebook does. Of course, it will take some research into how Zuck pulled off his act of (social media-) world domination. While someone writes the code, the young entrepreneur should consider checking out some books like:







Sunday, March 25, 2018

I don't get why .... guns can't be regulated

Here's an exercise I think comes from podcaster : It's called: "I don't get why ..." Just investigating issues & seeking clarity/understanding. For example, "I don't get why .... licensing and registration of gun ownership & ammo purchases isn't just common sense."

What's your "I don't get why ...?

Guns, Violence, Misogyny, and America's Masculinity Problem

From the #MeToo movement to this weekend's March for Our Lives, Americans are confronting some of our societal challenges head on, calling out and naming the problems. The voices are demanding change and offering solutions. Of course, the first step is always admitting you have a problem. And, despite our strengths and assurances from Steven Pinker that we're actually living in the best of times, we have some issues to talk about. As I've watched and read during the past week or so, I've been leaning toward one interpretation of the problem - it's our manhood. Or lack of it.

Incidents of gun violence and misogyny seem to have a pretty clear correlation to skewed ideas of manhood and masculinity, and if that is so, it's a problem and a challenge that we can most certainly address and solve. A key voice in this discussion is, and must be, Michael Kimmel, a sociology professor specializing in gender (specifically masculinity) studies at Stony Brook University. The Denver Post has a review of Kimmel's latest - Healing From Hate: How Young Men Get into - and out of - Violent Extremism.  Kimmel researches and shares informative, yet baffling, stories of young men who are drawn into groups like the Islamic State or Neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups. To them, it's not about politics or ideology as much as "it was about being a man; acting like a man ... I felt like I was doing something noble; it gave me meaning." It's not hard to see information from his research connecting to the problem of skewed ideas about proving themselves through abuse of women and incidences of gun violence.

As I read about Kimmel's research, I was reminded of several pieces about guns and gun violence recently, and I couldn't help but wonder about this problem we have with firearms. Chuck Plunkett of the Denver Post poses "Let's Stop Wearing Our Guns on our Sleeves," and I agree with his sentiments about guns and gun ownership. Unlike anywhere in the world, we fetishize guns and obsess over the concept of having them. Having grown up in southern Illinois in the 1970s, I too recall a time when guns were clearly a part of life, but not fetishized and flaunted as they are today. And I recall going to a couple NRA-sponsored day camps that were entirely about gun safety and responsible possession. We can return to those days, but it will take leadership from the gun owners. Doing so will require many men taking a wise and mature stand on the issue.

The problem of outward and even aggressive gun possession is the connotation that goes along with being "armed and ready," and I think much can be connected to the American males concept of self and manhood. We could learn much by pondering the thoughts in Jennifer Carlson's piece for Vox, "Why so many American men want to be the 'good guy with the gun.'" It's related to our ideas about masculinity and the need to prove it in only one way - aggressively. How can we educate our boys so they don't see misogyny and violence as a manifestation of manhood? We could start by paying attention to thinkers and writers like Kimmel and Lewis Howes, whose research and program about The Mask of Masculinity offer insight into the male mindset and how it can go right and wrong in a society and culture that too often sends the wrong message. 

We can do so much more to address our challenges, for as Vox writer German Lopez writes, "I've covered gun violence for years. The solutions aren't a mystery." But I'm not just focusing on ideas about gun regulation - I'm talking about how we perceive the problems associated with skewed ideas about masculinity. In my class, I've just finished reading Tim O'Brien's incredible novel about Vietnam and storytelling, The Things They Carried. One of its most powerful lines is "I was a coward - I went to war." American society and culture are built upon traditions of individual character and self reliance, but the nation would not have survived and thrived without that character coming together in support of the community. There is much in good in us and our young men - but we can do much more to support the positive character that builds strong communities. Addressing our challenges of gun violence and misogyny are potentially our next great civil rights movement.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Support The Guardian and a la carte news consumption

I like the British newspaper The Guardian for numerous reasons, and I like to support their journalism by making occasional donations to the cause. It seems whenever I am searching for a bit of insight on some sort of cultural development or another, The Guardian will pop up in my web searches with a particularly relevant piece of news or commentary. For example, I am just diving into Zadie Smith's new book of essays Feel Free, and I went looking for a bit more info about her career arc. The search led me to this piece, "Zadie Smith: I have a very chaotic and messy mind." The article is just the sort of additional flavor that I wanted to add to my connection with the writer.

However, what led me to this post is the unique offer that comes from The Guardian every time I seek an article. They do not have paywalls like the Wall Street Journal or the Washington Post, but instead ask for a donation to support the cause. I love this, and I wish print sources like newspapers would offer more opportunities similar to a pay-for-what-you-read idea. I do not need to or want to subscribe to the Guardian because I probably want to read a dozen or so of their pieces every six months. Thus, the idea of spending $100-$200 on a subscription like the WSJ or New York Times or WashPost want me to do is a bit ridiculous ... and I won't bite. I already subscribe to the Denver Post because it's my local news, and I also have subscriptions to magazines like Harpers and Time.

At the same time, I love reading the Guardian, and I appreciate the accessibility. As a result I support the paper by donating a small sum ($15 today) to the Guardian every once in a while. I feel like it's a more reasonable a la carte option for their content. I simply won't read them daily, but I am happy to purchase what I want. It'd be great if the WSJ, the Post, and the Times would do the same.