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Mind The Gap

As the college visit tours wind down and collected brochures, flashdrives, t-shirts are filed, many family’s thoughts turn towards next steps.  Never before have so many high school seniors had so many choices.  For all our national bemoaning of the flaws of higher education, we have in fact an embarrassment of riches.  I have no doubt that the majority of ambitious and motivated teens will find themselves just where they need to be.

But what of those teens who may not have much support, and/or exposure to a world larger than their own?  Across this country there are teens; in foster care, in chaotic homes, in shelters, in insular communities and in survival mode.  What’s to become of them?  Four centuries of public education in this country, speaks to a collective consensus that educating our society is a good idea.  Most of us would agree that a high school degree is not what it used to be (either in substance or in currency.)  And despite the plethora of college choices and amounts of students attending, it is still its own unique experience.  Being a college student is actually quite different from being a high school student.  The choices alone are mind boggling.  What school?  What major?  Where to live?  How to pay?

As daunting as these choices are to many, they are a luxury that teens in survival mode rarely have.  We have all heard or seen stories of the teacher, case manager, caring adult, who intervenes and changes a teenager’s life.  It happens, it does.  But the reason these stories make for (potentially) compelling television or film, is their rarity.  We do not have a national systemic approach to caring/mentoring/guiding teenagers post-high school.

So what if we instituted a national mentoring system?  Adults could volunteer to be trained and then serve as mentors.  The “corps” would be comprised of; financial advisers, education experts, life-skill advisers, counselors.  (I picture a “peace corps” experience for retirees.)  Identifying at-risk teenagers is a bit more challenging.  Certainly high schools would be a good place to start.  Like anything, the earlier we catch the problem, the better.  But mimicking our military should not be ruled out.  Clearly we already have a national program that has mastered outreach to a segment of our young population.

Politics aside, we really can’t afford to have any ‘child left behind.’  For every teen who ages out of our current support system, there is potentially one less adult contributing.  The waste of human potential and the implied economic toil should not be acceptable.  Most health insurance policies now cover dependent children until age 26.  What I propose is not that much different and potentially much more impactful. Done in a thoughtful manner, this “gap” program would draw attention to inequities and systemically combat them.  It might not be the sexiest of administrative programs, but I believe it could change our world.

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2011 in Education

 

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Giving Judgment a Pass

Have you ever been accused of being judgmental?  The accuser usually has flung the “judgment” handle as a reflex.  Teased apart, the accuser usually means to say; “Yikes, that hit a bit close to home.”

Calling people judgmental, and meaning it as an insult, is a new phenomenon.  The antipathy of judgment seems to have cropped up in that organic garden which has also sprouted trophies for every player and honor student bumper stickers.  Everyone is above average!  Now clearly, in our most logical moments we can all agree that to be a force for good in the world you need to have judgment.  I don’t think the casual bon mots of “don’t judge me!” “you’re so judgmental!” are really meant as the rallying cry of a movement.  No thinking person actually would posit that humans are meant to go through life NOT processing information coming into their senses.  I suspect these cries are more of the “I’m too fragile to process your opinion” ilk.

What’s stunning about this development is that it seems to have happened during the cruelest of trends in entertainment and media.  How many television and radio shows, have ridicule as their raison d’etre?  How many magazine and newspaper articles are at their core, simply picking on people.  A governor’s weight is made fun of in the news cycle!  And lo, what the internet has wrought.  Websites dedicated to the fine art of snark.  Quasi-anonymous (they need to use catchy handles, so you know whom to consider pithy) posters, take an obvious glee in simply maligning others.  They are like an uncontrolled infection, leaping from opportunity to opportunity.  Few people, excluding shock jocks and cable news pundits, would ever spew the venom they do.

We, the spectator, are not much better.  We watch, with glee; the accidents, the vulgar child-killer trials, the reality shows, the talk shows.  It is our appetite for some bastardized form of schadenfreude that drives us to “Addiction” “Intervention” “Hoarding.”  We watch these shows because they are the ultimate judgment.  “You there on the television, you are not normal.”  We have a voracious appetite for ridicule when it serves our purposes.  But when judgment is not for entertainment purposes?  Or not cruel, but instead, instructive?  That’s just too harsh.

Truth is, critique is only welcome if it is in the abstract (film, theatre, television, restaurant reviews) or about others.  But in real life?  All finger paintings are works of genius.

 
 

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