Manifesto of Big Ideas: Remote Learning In Pandemic Times

Rethinking Education

Stop building schools and start paying mentors

Education by Walking, Talking, Mentoring, Learning & Exchanging

How did I come to propose this drastic revamp of our education system for the pandemic and beyond?

  • Long before the pandemic struck, I opposed the building of new schools. Instead of the warehousing students in new schools, I have long advocated for the paradigm shift described in this post. Schools may be new but bad habits and attitudes by many students and teachers remain. That’s why we need to change the way we educate kids, not just build new schools to house them.
  • As a mall cop with over 15 years of weekend work experience, I encounter belligerent youth raising hell in the mall. My fellow mall cops are amazed at how teachers must have to put up with these kids day in and day out. We only have brief, contentious interactions with them. Teachers must have the patience of saints! We often discuss how these kids might learn best in small group sessions with intensive mentoring.
  • As a father quarantined during the pandemic, I have been taking evening walks with my sons. During these 1 mile walks, we discuss all sorts of topics. No subject is off limits. We discuss politics, philosophy, science, current events and whatever is on our minds. Every stroll includes brainstorming. Since they are in their 20’s, they update their old man on high tech stuff. Since I have over 60 years of life/work experience, I share my views of the arch of history and what I call the long-view. This got me to thinking, what if we developed a similar walk-talk-learn-exchange format for our education system. My sense is that more learning could take place in 1 hour in a Socratic exchange format than several hours of classroom lecture format.
  • Having been a “student teacher” in Washington DC since I double majored in college in Politics and Secondary Education and I have managed after-school programs in pubic housing sites as a Resident Service Coordinator, I have experienced first hand the value of intensive tutoring over unmanageable large scale classroom settings.
  • Having been a VIP (Volunteer In Probation), I have seen the benefits of working one-on-one with a probationer playing basketball, going bowling and just talking.

So how would this “micro learning, intensive mentoring” system of learning work?

Share Ideas, Share Experiences, Learn Faster in Smaller Groups
  • Small groups of students (and in some cases one-on-one mentoring for students needing intensive attention) would experience a “warm up session” where their goals and interests would be explored. During this session, any blockages to learning, personal issues and anxieties could be identified and addressed. Multiple “warm up sessions” might be needed depending upon the emotional state of the student and their aversion to schooling. Having a “learning warm up” would be akin to doing a “warm up’ before a physical workout. During this “warm up session”, learning objectives and goals could be established so the learning session would be more productive. If hunger is preventing learning, now would be the time for health snacks.
  • Subsequent learning sessions could then be scheduled with teachers/mentors representing the subjects and activities essential for a well rounded student (i.e., math, science, social studies, reading, writing and physical education). The teachers/mentors would be experts in their respective subjects. Most importantly, their teaching/mentoring would reflect their enthusiasm for their subjects. In my case, I would share my affinity for social studies, history and politics while leaving the math and sciences to teachers/mentors qualified for those subjects.
  • Subsequent learning sessions and possibly large segments of the day could have field trips scheduled to explore various careers, cultures, and experiential learning activities (museums, libraries, businesses, etc.). Make learning memorable and relevant. Include reflections before and after these field trips so the students connect subject matter with real world jobs, people, environments and resources.
  • Volunteering and in some cases paid stipends for work performed would augment the learning process while providing value to both the community and the students.
  • The students would be issued a laptop and guided by the teacher/mentor to research projects, navigate the web/internet, distinguish fact from fiction, and essentially become life long learners. This setting encourages researching, thinking, and problem solving rather than the memorization of facts and figures in the traditional classroom setting. Under supervision, the students would be allowed to play video games so that they also learn the importance of time management and discernment while using technology.
  • The teachers role will expand to life-coach and mentor for a more cost effective and meaningful learning experience for the student.

Some advantages to this micro teaching/intensive mentoring format:

  • Small group settings are conducive to learning and quality interactions
  • Small group settings with social distancing and mask precautions are needed during the pandemic. Safe and essential social interactions needed for healthy development of children could be achieved without the greater chance of “virus super-spreader” situations in big classroom settings.
  • Small group settings would be less likely settings for school mass shootings. Its a sad commentary that I have to suggest this as an advantage.
  • Small group settings for learning coupled with experiential learning experiences (field trips, job shadowing, guest speakers and hands on experiences) would accomplish in fewer hours what many hours of classroom instruction tries to accomplish.
  • Small group settings of students with a healthy mix of socio-economic, racial and cultural backgrounds under proper mentorship has a much better chance of creating the “more perfect union” that politicians and leaders espouse.
  • Small group settings enable the teachers to become a mixture of instructor, coach and mentor. Teaming up these teachers in pairs working in tandem would also provide transparency, accountability and enrichment/support for all concerned (both teachers and students).
  • Small group settings initially sound more expensive but in the long run the students might learn quicker and in a more cost effective method.

Who knew it would take a pandemic to get us to re-think the entire format of our education system?

Why Was Obama So Bad?

Some reasons why I liked him:

  • He ordered the killing of some really bad guys…..namely Bin Laden and other terrorists via drone attacks and special forces intervention. Strategic approach to national security without long-term foreign engagement.
  • He made the best of circumstances having inheriting an unjust war that was started by George W. Bush and his warmongering team (Wolfowitz, Chaney, Rumsfeld, etc.) and their allegation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD’s) in Iraq.
  • He made the best of circumstances having inherited a collapsed financial market and the great recession at the end of the Bush administration. He averted a complete financial collapse and instituted guidelines so as to prevent the next financial bubble to burst (measures which, by the way, are being dismantled as we head toward the next financial crisis fueled by greed). He continued to advocate for a steady (albeit slow) economic recovery.
  • He implemented the Affordable Care Act (aka, Obamacare) enabling millions of Americans who had pre-existing medical conditions that precluded them from obtaining affordable health care to now receive this coverage. Who could be against providing affordable health care for the chronically ill?
  • He brokered an international treaty with Iran that put a moratorium on their development of a nuclear arsenals. Now that treaty was torn up with no replacement and heightened likelihood of war
  • He brokered an international treaty designed to address global warming and climate change (which by the way is not a hoax). Now that agreement was torn up by the USA with no replacement and we are ignoring an existential threat to our existence.
  • He increased USA goodwill and profile among nations and strengthened relations with our allies. Now we are not trusted by our allies and the dominant them of our foreign relations is unpredictability.

For those who insist that Obama was a horrible president, I ask the following questions:

  • Under whose watch was Bin Laden captured and killed?
  • Whose life was ruined by Obamacare? Ask the formerly uninsured. Ask the patients with chronic pre-existing conditions who now could access affordable health care and insurance.
  • What was the major scandal that occurred during his tenure? Some might say that the terrorist attack in Benghazi Libya was a scandal on his watch. Though this was a tragic occurrence, it’s inconceivable that Obama caused this.
  • Economic recovery was tracking upward (maybe not at the robust pace everyone wanted) but you have to admit that he and his team brought us back from the brink of financial collapse.
  • I’m a child of the 1960s when we had race riots, Vietnam war protests, Kent State massacre, Mai Lai massacre in Vietnam, colleges and cities in flames, rioting at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, rampant drug use and assassination’s of our leaders. Now those were troubled times! And then there were the 1970’s when we had the gas crisis, oil embargo, inflation and economic stagnation (a combination referred to as stagflation) and last but not least Watergate and the resignation of Nixon. And then there was the Iran Hostage crisis that bogged down the Carter administration at the tail end of the 1970’s. Along came the Reagan years and relative prosperity during the 1980’s but let’s not forget about the corruption of the Iran-Contra affair. As a student of history and someone who “has seen a thing or two” (to paraphrase a line from the Farmers Insurance commercial), I truly can not share the view that the 8 years of the Obama administration were as horrible as some persons describe it.

Having just finished watching all 4 nights of the Democratic National Convention and the nomination of Joe Biden for President, I felt compelled to post this blog which I had on the shelf for a couple of weeks. I watched the Republican National Convention and tried to keep an open mind for any proposals that I can support but didn’t see any. I had to shut off the tv on doctors orders for fear that my blood pressure would skyrocket!

President Barack Obama is photographed during a presidential portrait sitting for an official photo in the Oval Office, Dec. 6, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Take the pledge to combat idiocy

Some responses when confronted with the absurd, the racist, the hateful or simply the woefully wrong information or misplaced emotional responses

We all have experienced some combination of all of the above described situations.

We all have thought of clever, reasonable, thoughtful and even humorous responses after the fact and wished we responded that way in the moment.

I present the following statements commonly experienced and I offer possible responses to each.

The Pandemic: It’s a hoax, fabricated and exaggerated by the liberal media and the democrats. Watch, it will disappear after the November election.

The Response: Let me give you the names and contact information for the families of those who have died from this and see if you can tell them to their face that the whole thing was contrived. So does that mean that their dead loved one had no meaning?

The Pandemic: Wearing the mask is uncomfortable and unnecessary.

The Response: You wear a seatbelt so you don’t fly thru the windshield in an accident. It may be a bit uncomfortable but you got used to it and you’re still alive. And if you still do not wear a seatbelt, you are a fool who has only yourself be blame when you are killed or maimed. Just like you are a fool to not wear a mask and practice social distancing and wash hands regularly.

Another Response: Our ancestors fought on the mountains of Korea and in the jungles of Vietnam and the Pacific Islands in World War II. Now that was uncomfortable. So maybe, just maybe you can muster the strength and fortitude to tough it out and wear a mask, wash your hands more frequently and maintain a safe social distance.

The Pandemic : It’s my right to decide whether I need to wear a mask. It’s government over-reach to require it.

The Response: It’s also my right to remain healthy because you wear a mask. It’ my right as a taxpayer to not foot the hospital bill and pay for you when you go on a ventilator. So how about wearing a “Do Not Resuscitate” bracelet so when you come down with Covid-19, I do not have to pay for your right to refrain from wearing a mask?

All News Is Fake: I don’t trust any news sources. They all lie and have an agenda.

The Response: Ok, well I do not have a really good response for this.

What comes to mind is a question/answer series that could go like this…..

  • Did the sun come up this morning…yes or no?
  • Answer…yes
  • OK, so on this much we agree upon.
  • Are you currently breathing and still alive.
  • Answer…yes
  • Ok, so on this much we agree upon.
  • Beyond the sun rising this morning and you breathing right now, is there anything else that’s happening now or happened prior to this moment that you believe to be true?
  • Answer, sure lots of stuff.
  • How did you come to believe this stuff?
  • Answer: I saw it for my own eyes or I just believed it to be true.
  • OK, so we agree that anything that you see or experience first hand is true.
  • Answer, yes.
  • So what would it take for you to believe to be true anything that came before this moment in time? Would I have to take you to view the bodies of mass shooting victims? Would I have to bring you to the scene of every incident of police brutality committed in real time? Would I have to bring you to the emergency room to watch a Covid-19 victim breath their last breath. How about at trip to the arctic to watch a polar bear die of starvation because the habitat is disappearing because of global warming?
  • Might I suggest that if you chose to trust nothing and trust nobody, you should resign yourself to stop thinking and just focus on eating and sleeping and wait for this miserable life to end.
Man with head buried in sand
“People generally see what they look for and hear what they listen for”, By Harper Lee (author)

All politicians are corrupt, you can’t trust any of them

The Response Ok, so if you “tune out and give up”, who do you think is going to step into that void. Answer, the very politicians you accuse of being corrupt. Somebody is going to rule you if you give up on the process. So why not at least have a say in who rules you.

All good conversations must come to an end, thankfully the above described encounters. Let me suggest how such conversations might end…..

Hey, look at the time, I’m going to miss my flight on the space ship back to the mother planet, take care and good luck with everything.

flying saucer space ship
Beam me up Scottie, there’s no inteligent life down here! Star Treck

Manifesto of Big Ideas: Let’s Walk In Each Others Shoes And Share Perspectives

What’s the best way to really know eachotrher

Time for a Domestic Version of the Foreign Student Exchange Program.

Time for Community Ambassadors/Community Mediators.

Time to change. Time for a new paradigm.

Political and cultural polarization over the last several years and recent unrest/protesting over police brutality got me to thinking…. what if we established throughout the USA…..

  • Ride along in cop cars
  • Teach along in classrooms
  • Walk along in hallways of detox/rehab facilities
  • Feed along in soup kitchens and housing shelters

You get the idea. Why am I so keen on “ride-teach-walk-feed alongs”?

Most people drive by cops, schools, mental health/detox/rehab facilities, public housing projects, soup kitchens and housing shelters and never get a first hand experience of what it’s like to be a provider of these services or a beneficiary of them. We drive through neighborhoods that we consider foreign at best and dangerous at worst.

We live in an increasingly polarized world of sound chambers reinforcing our own thoughts and values and ignoring or worse yet denigrating those of others.

When changes and reforms are implemented, they are often done in a top-down manor. Communities establish Citizen Advisory Boards, Educational Oversite Commissions, Blue Ribbon Panels. You get the idea. The elites of the community interact with the other elites while the real action and interaction at the ground level, the street level never is experienced. This is not to say that advisory boards and higher level oversight is bad. In fact, it’s often needed but it’s still not exposing the “man on the street” and the “outsider” to what the cop, teacher, student, housing resident, patient, and client all experience on a day-to-day basis.

It’s ironic that for years we have had a Foreign Student Exchange Program that encourages exchanges of languages, cultures, values and experiences to benefit both the foreign student and the host family. For years we have had a Peace Corp (internationally) and AmeriCorps (domestic version) with similar missions to expand the horizons and understandings of all participants. For years we have fielded local sports teams composed of persons of various backgrounds who share a common interest in their respective sports. We have a long tradition of employees of various backgrounds sharing their lives (at least during working hours) in support of their common goal of bringing home a paycheck. We have increasing popularity of Air BNB’s, house swaps and extended stay residences. We have Sister/Brother Cities initiatives and school children had pen-pal programs exchanging letters and experiences with students in far off lands.

However, prejudices and misunderstandings are threatening to turn the American melting pot into a boiling cauldron of distrust and dissention. Why is it that we can accept someone who we play ball with or work with or went to school with but refer to them as “one of the good ones”. Does this imply that the “rest of them are bad?”. Why do we usually get to like the person we know and distrust the rest? The answer lies in the realization that this is the person we know.

So why not establish a national exchange program. How would it work?

  • Let’s start small, organic and doable. Let’s start simply with “walk alongs” where persons from different paths in life can stroll together (keeping appropriate social distance during the pandemic and wearing masks) exchanging stories and experiences. Now isn’t that more productive than angry tweets? Plus, we all could benefit from burning some calories while walking. This would not be a stressful blind date situation. Rather, there could be an intermediary who introduces the walkers and accompanies them while facilitating conversations. Think of the intermediary as a match maker. What let me to this proposal for a walk-talk-share-reflect model? Evenings during the pandemic, I take a one mile walk with my sons. All sorts of topics are covered. At the half mile mark, I do push ups and sit-ups on a stone wall and we return, talking/reflecting and sharing ideas all the way back. I’m the old guy in the group and I’m not sure why I’m the one doing the push-ups and sit-ups but that’s a topic for another blog. I was further inspired to propose a “walking-talking-sharing” event by a radio interview of the director of the Corrymeela Community in Northern Ireland. This is a retreat house which is a place for peace and reconciliation among otherwise waring factions. The mantra of this initiative which was created to facilitate the end of the 30 years of sectarian warfare in Ireland is “to live well together”. In gaelic there are 2 interpretations of the meaning of Corrymeela. One version is it means “Hill of Harmony”. The other version is that “It’s is a place of lumpy crossings”. I like both versions and the “lumpy crossings” seems a good fit for current USA circumstances. Whatever the true meaning, we could use some Corrymeela’s in the USA. We could start simply with some strolls among strangers. This reminds me of poet William Butler Yeats astute phrase “There are no stranger here, only friends who have not yet met”.
  • Moving beyond “walk alongs”, let’s consider more “ride alongs” in police cars, classrooms, mental health facilities, detox centers, soup kitchens and any other environment where the general public needs to get a better appreciation of the persons being served and the persons doing the serving. This could serve multiple purposes. The hard working, honest and well intentioned servers (cops, teachers, counselors, social workers) would get a boost of moral by the general publics better appreciation of the challenges they face and the value of the services they offer. For the “bad apples” among the afore mentioned professions, the heightened transparency would be like turning on the light forcing the cockroaches to scurry away. For the persons receiving the services, they might be bolstered by the fact that members of the greater community gained an appreciation of them. They might appreciate that persons other than professionals assigned to serve them (cops, teachers, etc.) care about them. They might feel more valued and appreciated. This could be the groundwork for real progress. The “outsiders” and “observers” would be able to attach a human face to what previously was limited to statistical announcements on the evening news and editorials by the pundits in their respective commentary silos.

So back to the grander notion of creating a Domestic Version of the Foreign Student Exchange Program

This may not be for everybody. As someone who works 2 and 3 jobs, I do not have the luxury of taking a sabbatical to experience the customs, circumstances and value systems of persons in other parts of the USA or even in a nearby city or the other side of my town. However, with social security and retirement days on the horizon, it’s something I would consider if given the opportunity. As a writer, full emersion into the lives of those with whom I am not familiar will certainly provide material for the next book. Speaking of “full emersion”, an exchange program that plops me into a non-English speaking setting would turbo charge the learning curve of an unfamiliar language. For a long time, a pet peeve of mine has been seeing my kids take Spanish from 7th grade through high school. Now they rarely speak it. They passed the tests but promptly lost the words. Participants would be kept busy at the host sites while engaged in projects that match their interests and skills, advance their careers while making a meaningful contribution to that host site. Many communities have a Voluntary Action Council where volunteers are matched with needs and interests. Think of my Domestic Exchange Program with the longer term mission of “living well together” just like the previously described mantra of the Corrymeela Community in Northern Ireland.

An incentive for participation could be college credit and/or work study payment with stipends to students who enroll in this Domestic Exchange Program, just like college students get credit for spending a semester abroad. Under proper supervision, some participants might be required to participate as a condition of community service. They could be persons enrolled in anger management programs, particularly if their anger is related to racial, cultural, religious animosity. With an up-tick in hate crime related offenses, there will be no shortage of potential candidates who could benefit from the racial-social-cultural-religious enlightenment offered by a Domestic Exchange Program.

Lastly, in this day and age of global terrorism, participating in a Domestic Exchange Program might be preferable to a Foreign Exchange Program. It’s closer, more convenient and less costly for participants than travelling overseas. With the recent interest in “experiential vacations” rather than traditional “play vacations” , this might appeal to persons seeking a learning/inspirational vacation experience without travelling to a far off jungle or wilderness. As the divide between “Red States” and “Blue States” expands, there might be a role for a Domestic Exchange Program (or a cultural sabbatical if you prefer that definition) to better enlighten eachother and regain a sense of empathy and national unity. Now that would really be patriotic!

What if every flag attached to every bumper sticker represented a person who was sharing the views and life experiences of other Americans, imagine the sense of unity, empathy and understanding that could be achieved, which deep down we all crave.

My fear is that if we do not implement some sort of Socio-Cultural Exchange program and the cancer of polarization grows, so will the specter of violence, anarchy and potential civil war.

I hate to conclude with this ominous warning but that’s my dystopic vision if we do not start taking small steps like strolling and riding with each other on a one-on-one basis to get to know, appreciate and respect each other.

Birthday Card To Myself (and whomever wants to read it and maybe learn from it)

My Despicable Birthday

Some Life Reflections with Medicare Card in my wallet

Usually birthday cards are received but since I’ve hit a birthday milestone, I’ve been in a more reflective mood and thought I would share with my children (and anybody else who might be interested) some observations and reflections. I’m feeling fine so this is not some sort of “curtain call” speech (but with the pandemic re-surging because of the selfishness of persons who will not wear masks or practice social distancing…. it never hurts to have your affairs in order and your thoughts recorded).

That said, here are my reflections, observations and recommendations:

Good advice at any age, even 65
  • Do what interests you and what you are passionate about. The money will follow. Not much money ever followed me but I still cherish the memories of the persons I have met and persons I have worked with during the course of the endeavors I have engaged in.
  • The longer you live, the more distant and fuzzy the memories. At my age, you start to think in terms of decades. What seemed to be important back then becomes blurry and unimportant. For my kids who are in their 20’s, this means don’t get too hung up with the anxieties of the “hear-and-now”. Don’t be driven by anxiety about benchmarks implying that you must complete “X” before “Y” happens. Take your time and enjoy the ride because, like I said above “it all blurs together later on”. At my age, I have finally gained an appreciation of all the subjects I took in college and grad school. I got A’s and B’s but its only until now after 40+ years of work/life experiences that I really learned what I was taught. As a life-long suffer of math phobia, I finally have gained a rudimentary understanding of finance and economics. If the younger generation could come to this understanding while they are still young, just think of how much more successful they would be.

  • I recommend identifying mentors and supporters in your respective careers (and you will probably engage in several careers over time). Without mentors and some semblance of a master plan, you run the risk of becoming a rudderless ship bobbing in the water.
  • Cherish your friendships, keep building your friend base. Be aware that annoying traits and habits observed in others early in life tend to grow with time. Some people age gracefully like a good wine. However, many others grow increasingly sour and stale. Be cognizant of this when picking soul mates and long term relationships. Also don’t be surprised by friends who become essentially strangers after lots of “water under the bridge”. Sometimes you can pick right up where you left off in relationships but don’t be surprised if time, events, shifting priorities and changing philosophies re-set the relationship. Some doors will close while others will open. Just keep knocking.
  • Be your own person, be your own agent standing up for yourself and what is right. On that note, the more confident and self-sufficient you can be, the better off you will be and the farther you will get in life. This applies to all facets of life: career, financial, inter-personal. Looking back, I can identify junctures in my life when I might have stepped up and made different decisions and commitments, if only I had more confidence and sense of direction. That said, do not dwell in the rear view mirror and the land of “what if”.

Changing Rooms

There are rooms where the POTENTIAL exists for permanent change for the better

What follows is just a sample of such rooms

The holding cell within the loss prevention office of a department store.

Here sits the handcuffed shoplifting suspect. They come in all sorts of backgrounds.

Some are:

  • Angry and beligerent
  • Tearful and remorseful
  • First timers
  • Repeat offenders
  • Gang wanna be’s looking for street creds and fulfilling an initiation requirement
  • Junkies needing a fix
  • Kleptomaniacs
  • Just plain lazy, selfish, narcissistic products of our shallow consumer driven society

No matter what their background and persuasion, they are in custody. They got caught. We have their attention because we are in charge and they are in handcuffs. Might now be the time to dig deeper to determine their underlying motivations so as to counsel them to change their ways?. But no. The time and resources are limited. The result is release into the custody of parents/guardians if they are minors, a night in jail for the others and a Promise To Appear (PTA) in court for all of them (unless the shoplifting was accompanied by some physical resistance).

Teachable Moment & Opportunity Lost on all of them except the most contrite who might be “scared straight”. For the rest, where is the “tough-love”? When will the taxpayers say “enough is enough” and stop paying for this revolving door? Might it make sense to pay some attention and money now rather that keep pouring it down the drain later?

The doctors office for the annual check up

Here sits the patient dutifully answering the following questions:

  • What is your weekly intake of alcohol? Oh, just an occasional beer or wine with dinner
  • Are you eating plenty of fruits and vegetables? Oh, yes almost every day.
  • Are you exercising regularly? Oh yes, I have a gym membership
  • Are you getting at least 8 hours of sleep every night? Oh yes, no late night tv watching or computer screen surfing for me.
  • How is your home life and is anything bothering you? I’m fine
  • Have you paid the co-pay for todays visit? Yes, I paid on the way in.

Here sits the patient:

  • Morbidly obese
  • Bloodshot eyes, tired, forgetful
  • High blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes

Teachable Moment & Opportunity Lost on all patients except those who have taken a good look at themselves in the mirror and are resolved to change. For the rest, where is the “tough-love”? Might it make sense to pay some attention and money now rather that keep pouring it down the drain later with increased health insurance costs, increased medication levels and frequent hospitalizations?

The emergency room treating overdose victims

Here lies the drug overdose victim. They come from all sorts of backgrounds but they have one thing in common…they almost died from their addiction. Another thing most of them have in common is that this probably not their first brush with death and it will not be their last.

Teachable Moment & Opportunity Lost on all patients except those who have taken a good look at themselves in the mirror and are resolved to change. For the rest, where is the “tough-love”? Might it make sense to pay some attention and money now rather that keep pouring it down the drain later with increased health insurance costs, frequent hospitalizations and continued arrests? Might this be the time when bring them back from such dire circumstances to enroll them in long term hospitalizations that include both physical and psychological therapy? Costly up front but cost effective in the long run.

Hospital psychiatric wards

Here sits the “frequent flier” needing stabilization and safety.

Teachable Moment & Opportunity Lost: Might now while they are receiving direct care and supervision be the time to make sure their diagnosis and medicine management are correct. Might now be the time to transfer them to a supervised, therapeutic residence for longer term care and treatment rather than release them into the community where there is a high likelihood that they will relapse, hurt themselves or become victimized.

Emergency housing shelters

Here sits more “frequent fliers” needing stabilization, safety and longer term treatment

Teachable Moment & Opportunity Lost: See description above concerning psychiatric admissions. On a personal note, having worked for over 30 years in the affordable housing field, I recognize that every case of homelessness is different and treatments must vary accordingly. That said, the pervasive pattern of homelessness is a clear indication that issues must be addressed concurrent with putting a roof over someone’s head. Again, spending without tough-love is good money after bad.

The court room and the jail cell

Here sits more “frequent fliers” needing stabilization, safety (from themselves and for society) and longer term treatment.

Teachable Moment & Opportunity Lost: If they are in these systems (courts & jails) we know where they are and we have their attention (similar to the shoplifters described in custody at the start of this discussion). Obviously, the circumstances of every person in the criminal justice system will be different for each person. Solutions need to be tailored. Additionally, the punishments must be proportionate to the crimes committed. However, for chronic repeat offenders, there needs to be a mechanism in place that provides long term intensive supervision and therapeutic treatment (and confinement if violence is on the criminals resume) since it’s obvious that stints in jail are not turning this persons life around.

So what prevents tough-love, long-term, cost-effective solutions to the above described revolving door scenarios?

There needs to be a re-examination of our perspective on individual rights and autonomy when the safety of both persons and society are at stake. When there is a pervasive pattern of good-money-after-bad-money pouring down the drain with no evidence that the problem is being addressed, it’s time to consider more mandated, longer term treatments when we have the full focus of the person who is in crisis or in the case of persons engaged in criminal activity who are caught red-handed.

Of course, there needs to be oversight to make sure that there are no abuses of power concerning the application of tough-love, mandated treatments. Maybe if we crafted a system of conservators, mentors, and life-coaches coupled with technology to monitor those persons in need of monitoring for their own safety and the safety of society, we might be able to reduce the repeat offender syndrome. This approach would bring a stop to the ridiculous “catch and release” treatment of all the persons described in this article. As someone who has worked in the fields of community organizing, housing, criminal justice, education and mental health, I have seen my share of “catch and release” and observe that nobody wins in the long run. Maybe with dwindling funding to address problems, it’s time to think outside of the box in addressing these problems.

Some of this outside-the-box thinking and long-view perspectives are baked into my upcoming novel Mall Child so stay tuned for details!

Highway To Hell

No speed limits and no guardrails on the Highway To Hell

Build the wall…….Make it tall

Let icebergs fall…..While treaties stall

Burn the coal……That’s the goal

Grab the crotch….Stand by and watch

Who is friend and who is foe?…….Go to Putin, he will know.

Ban the press……Deny the mess

Never wrong…..Always strong

Ban the other……Let free speech smother

Back to work we go……to hell with what we sow

Health or wealth it does not matter…..go ahead and pick the latter

Toward the cliff we surely go……Where it stops we do not know.

Manifesto of Big Ideas: Arbitration for all that ails us

Replace overbearing over-reach with reasoned oversight

Too much oversight vs. too little recourse for injustices

The government is often accused of being too big and too intrusive. The judicial system is a lengthy process. Litigation is costly for the aggrieved and out of reach for the poor . They are the ones most in need of recourse for grievances. Expensive trial lawyers, class action suits and union protections are out of reach for those who are most in need of their services and protections.

What if a system of Oversight Boards following the arbitration model could be established? They could provide outlets for the aggrieved, the intimidated, and the frustrated who only want to air their complaint, call out an injustice and change the dynamic? How might this look?

To better conceptualize this proposal, consider the following situations that happen to most people:

  • Employee grievances could be brought before an independent board. That’s important if you have no union to protect you and no money to hire a labor relations lawyer.
  • Employee suggestions for improved work performance and upgrading a stagnant or rotting work culture through anonymous channels might be accomplished thru independent arbitration boards.
  • Student grievances and suggestions could follow same scenario.
  • Citizen and neighbor grievances and suggestions, same scenario.
  • Consumer grievances and suggestions, same scenario.
  • Adopt the format of an Advisory Review Board modelled in response to incidents of police brutality and misconduct.
  • Corporations and non-profits have boards of directors, most companies have a Human Relations Department. Police Departments have Internal Investigation Units, citizens have their elected officials and there’s always the Human Relations Commission/Civil Rights Department for those from protected classes (racial, ethnic, gender, etc.) seeking redress. So why propose OVERSIGHT WATCHDOGS and ARBITRATION opportunities. Because all too often “the fox is watching after the chicken coop” or “the fox just doesn’t care about your issue” or “the fox is too busy to deal with your complaint or your complaint does not match what the fox is supposed to keep track of”. I know I over did with the “fox analogy” but I hope it gets the point across.
fox & hen house
I hear your complaints, don’t worry about anything
  • You are overcharged for health care and/or prescriptions
  • You are denied services for health care and/or prescriptions
  • You are denied benefits or services even though you appear to be eligible for them . Making matters worse, you observe ineligible persons obtaining those services. You continue to be a diligent worker bee while observing others feeding at the public trough.
  • You work in a hostile environment that includes any (or all) poisons such as: sexism, racism, bullying, cronyism, financial irregularities (illegal or unethical), mismanagement, rampant gossip, or just plain chronic laziness and inefficiencies.
  • You find yourself in situations where you want to follow the mantra “see something, say something” but you either have not outlet to do so or you fear reprisal for doing so. This proposal takes the “see something, say something” as step further to include “do something”.
  • You experience a trend or pattern of behavior by persons, businesses or agencies that are either blatantly wrong or foreshadow harmful effects for the greater good. You want to do the right thing but you have no forum to express your concerns or your observations.
  • You sense that you are not alone concerning these situations and observations but there is no opportunity to aggregate these experiences so there is no opportunity for strength in numbers and real change.

So what might be the solutions?

All too often the response is to pass more legislation, establish more programs, create rules and regulations and spend more money. Governmental responses tend to be a meat cleaver rather than a surgical laser strike at the source of problems. What if effective, impartial oversight could be applied whenever and wherever these problems crop up at their sources rather than wait until government overreach appears to be the only response?

How did I come to this proposal? My personal experiences and observations:

  • I have worked in a variety of toxic work environments where the culture was rotten but the options for change were few. Consequently, job change was the only logical option.
  • I have observed innumerable conversations involving complaints about the behaviors of specific persons followed by broad brush generalizations denigrating all persons of that particular background be it their race, culture, ethnicity, etc. Let’s have more targeting of the offenders rather than generalizing the masses.
  • I have experienced waste and financial gouging in the health insurance industry (astronomical increase in both costs and ridiculously high deductible levels). I have been repeatedly told that smaller businesses and non-profits are too small to be self-insured so they don’t have sufficient size (critical mass) to command competitive health insurance rates. We can’t be alone in this boat so if we all started rowing together, might we overcome this falsehood.
  • I have experienced innumerable conversations with persons from both the far left and far right political spectrum expressing outrage over a pet peeve and anger that they are not heard. Polarization and animosity will never be resolved as long as it persists and has no outlet. If a Community Level Arbitration infrastructure could be crafted, angst could be addressed on a micro level where there is a greater chance of agreeing on what’s right and wrong. We might avoid the macro level of polarized discourse where the trenches of our respective positions are dug too deep.

Why we need this, more thoughts on why this might work and how it might look

  • Letters to the editor used to appear in the local newspaper. Now its hard to find a paper version of newspapers.
  • Letters could be sent to the offending entity (business, government agency, organization, etc.) with the result nothing more than the polite, carefully crafted response letter informing you of their “sincere” desire to provide quality customer service and their “apology” for any disappointment you have experienced. End result is nothing. You have been politely disrespected and you have no idea of how many others have complained.
  • Contact your local official. The higher up they are on the food chain, the less likely you will get a response or any sense of satisfaction. Also, you have no idea of how many others are complaining. Politics is all about power and at the end of the day expressions of complaint (even if there are a bunch of them) are nothing more than that if there are no consequences.
  • Vent on the internet. Yelp, likes/dislikes, blogs all provide opportunities to sound off by you and fellow complainers. However, in the long run it often serves as nothing more than a sound chamber where you hear your own echoes.
  • How many times have you been upset by something but you had no recourse to complain. You might have feared recrimination. You might have thought you were the only one bothered by what you experienced. You might have felt that even if you and others complained, nothing would result from it. So instead you ruminate and stew in your own juices of resentment till it boils over into a sense of apathy and fatalism. You start using phrases like “they’re all crooked” and “my vote doesn’t count” and you ultimately live by the mantra “life’s a bitch and then you die”. Without an outlet where you can be heard and have a sense of empowerment, you are on the path to tribalism and anarchy.
I just want someone to listen to me.

The devil’s in the details….

How the ARBITRATION Boards are established, how they function and what powers they have is critical to their success.

Participation should be voluntary to keep costs low and no compensation would present no opportunity for members to be beholden to any vested interests. They will only be effective if they are transparent, independent and unbiased.

Participants must include a healthy cross sample of society akin to the format of a jury. Depending upon what issue they are overseeing, some members of the oversight board should have expertise in the appropriate field (i.e, pharmacists concerning pharmaceuticals, criminal justice professionals concerning law enforcement matters, etc.). However, the “professionals” can not have an undue voice or a deciding vote.

Even if the Arbitration Board does not have binding authority, their very existence and recommendations might provide much needed transparency and a sense of empowerment which in the long run will encourage positive change.

Arbitration Boards as conduits to channel societies frustrations (especially among societies most frustrated), might actually re-engage the alienated, reduce polarization and even bring together members on the far left and far right together on irritations at the micro lever which we all share. Who knows, this might even reduce societies epidemic levels of loneliness because “birds of a feather will be able to flock together” (even if we are various species of birds at least we will begin flying in the same direction).

Reflections While We Hit The Pandemic Pause Button

Quietness of the Quarantine Prompts Reflections

Lulled By Life

  • Sun Rises, Sun Sets
  • Breath In, Breath Out
  • Steady rhythmic heart beat
  • Don’t be deceived by the regularity
  • All things change, albeit at a glacial rate
  • Paycheck to paycheck
  • Bills to pay, every 30 day.
  • When will it stop, nobody know
  • Aches and pains creep up, still got to keep up
  • Crisis flares up but life’s routine returns
  • Memory’s fade, sharp edges soften
  • Birthdays come and go, school alumni I no longer know
  • When was the last new thing, big thing, original thought, sea change, paradigm shift?
  • Will this steady state go on in perpetuity? Might that be the definition of hell
  • If so, then what is heaven? Might that be “the next big thing?”

Next

  • The present is fine but it’s what’s next that really counts.
  • Are you next in line?
  • What are you going to do next?
  • What are you going to be next?
  • Where are you going next?
  • It’s the source of our anxiety.
  • The next doctors visit, dentist’s visit
  • The next draft notice (back when there was a draft, if there is another draft)
  • The next bill, the next school, the next job, the unknown
  • The teacher, the coach who call us next to answer or perform
  • Our creator who says “next”.
  • It’s our source of joy. Our hope. Our anticipation
  • Scholarship
  • Nomination
  • Award
  • Job
  • House
  • Child
  • Change

From the moment of our birth and our first breath, life is essentially a series of NEXT’s. Breath to breath, heart beat to heart beat, emotion to emotion, person to person, goal to goal and challenge to challenge. We live in the present but our subconscious focuses on what’s next.

Maybe that’s why life’s most enjoyable moments are when we are thoroughly immersed in the present with no concern for what’s next.

Which leads to the question of life’s ultimate mystery. So what’s next when this life as we know it is no more? As youngsters, we were taught that there is a heaven to reward the good and a hell to punish the bad.

With the passage of time, experience and natural curiosity, we develop various scenarios of what might be next.

If there is no next…..

Is life in the present more important and more fulfilling? Or might it just be meaningless? What keeps us from misbehaving if there are no consequences in the next life? Can there ever be true justice for unfairness and atrocity experienced in the present if there is no next?

Is the concept of an afterlife a construct of the human imagination to compensate for these unsettling questions? Does the very nature of our present existence cry out for some sort of NEXT?

Someday

The sneakiest, most insidious word on the English language.

The ultimate thief of time, negotiator, procrastinator.

Someday is the deceiver that implies we have more time. Tomorrow I will be more ready, more confident.

Someday and its cousin “somehow” sooth us with the notion that somehow my problems will go away someday.

Somehow and someday team up for a knock out punch of inaction and inertia.

Somehow and someday are the two pillars of a house in a fools paradise.

Why do today, what you can do tomorrow?

Somehow and someday can not stand up against the march of time. Change is inevitable whether we like it or not and whether we are prepared or not.

So let’s all take this Pandemic Pause to…..

Reflect on the past, appreciate the present and prepare for the future.

When Left Meets Right

Sometimes we have more in common than we realize if we only listen to each other and consider mutual goals and objectives

The pandemic and the ramp up to the November election got me to thinking of the following reflections:

  • Some claim the pandemic provides an excuse for capitalist overlords and the “powers that be” to scoop up the property of homeowners and small businesses because foreclosures and bankruptcies will occur in the wake of the quarantine. They predict monopolies on steroids consolidating power (capital and political) among the few who will dominate the masses and plunge the final nail into the coffin of the middle class. It’s a terrifying scenario for traditional conservatives who support low tariffs, free trade, free markets, small business innovation and a vibrant middle class fueling consumerism. It’s equally terrifying for traditional liberals who fear over-reach of monopolies, oligarchies and “the powers that be”. Left meets Right.
  • Some claim that the pandemic will provide an excuse for government overreach of biblical proportions in a never ending and ever expanding quarantine. They predict total government control. Socialism and communism on steroids. Terrifying scenario for conservatives who generally support states rights, privacy, personal liberties and limited government. Equally terrifying for liberals concerned with the erosion of personal liberties, privacy issues and the potential for a tyrannical, dictatorial governmental concentration of power. Left meets Right.

Left and Right might end up on the same page all because of the pandemic and quarantine. Might some good result from so much bad?

Consider how the Left and Right might be forced to play nice in this Covid-19 sandbox:

  • Everyone agrees that no business in a capitalist system stocks up on masks, respirators in anticipation of a pandemic. Pharmaceutical firms don’t devote resources to a maybe/someday pandemic threat. There’s no profit motive. Left & Right might agree that this might be the one circumstance when a command economy makes sense. Government subsidizes what the private sector would never do on its own.
  • Everyone agrees that the economy needs to be re-opened but everybody also agrees that we do not want to return to square one and risk a reigniting of the pandemic. Everybody wants to work and nobody wants to die. Now might be the time to launch a campaign to test and isolate the infected while tracing those potentially infected. End goal: clusters do not become outbreaks. Now might be the time to launch a Manhattan Project/D-Day magnitude initiative to facilitate a safe re-opening and longer term cure. This will take money (lots of it, but it will be cost effective in the long run for saving both lives and the economy).
  • It will require big government, big money, mandatory measures
  • Mandatory testing, treating, isolating of the infected, with mandatory tracing & testing (and isolating as needed) those who are potentially infected (repeating the process as needed to insure there are no virus flare ups). All employers will be required to have their employees tested to certify that their workforce is virus free and continues to be virus free. Costly yes, but the government may be the only entity in a position to fund this so it’s implemented. It’s in everybody’s best interest
  • Financial compensation of the tested, treated and quarantined. We can not mandate people to remain quarantined without compensation. Costly in the short run but savings and safety in the longer run. People are not being compensated willy nilly. Only those who tested positive for the virus and those who came in contact with them as high risk contacts would be isolated and compensated.
  • Housing arrangements for those who can not safely and consistently be tested, treated and quarantined.
  • Medical costs for treating this illness will not be the responsibility of the patient. There can be no allowance for an infected person to avoid treatment and quarantine for fear of lack of resources.
  • Ongoing and repeated testing, treating, tracing, housing and quarantining until such time that the virus curve and its manifestations are manageable, flattened, and an effective vaccine has been developed.
  • Testing of all persons and quarantining of all infected persons at all points of entry be that via plane, boat or vehicle. Herculean task….yes. But worthwhile since germs know no boundaries. While we’re doing testing for virus, maybe we could make sure that they are not bringing any illegal drugs or weapons

All of the above recommendations are costly, long-term and draconian. However, the Left and the Right can agree that:

  • The economy can re-open gradually and safely. Good for capitalism.
  • The response is targeted. Only those who are infected are isolated and compensated. Only those who are at highest risk due to physical contact are isolated and compensated. Cost effective solution monetarily and medically.
  • Financial safety net for both persons and businesses.
  • We get to try out a nation wide comprehensive health care system specific to this illness to determine if it could be applied to other illnesses. We put in place an apparatus (policies, procedures, supplies, etc.) that might better prepare us for the next pandemic. Left & Right plan ahead and work together for mutual benefit rather than mutually assured destruction (MAD).
  • Most importantly, we tackle the pandemic while re-starting the economy. We might even find a way to live in greater harmony where Left meets Right