The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘knowledge’ Category


It was the final Friday of school, the last day I would enjoy the comfortable security of Mrs. Bounds class.  I liked Mrs. Bounds.  She used to tell us about growing up on a small farm in Canada.  It sounded like a good life – but a lot of work.  She and her four siblings were expected to do their part planting and harvesting the crops and collecting the eggs.  I knew I was going to miss her.

When the bell rang, a sense of jubilation ran through the room.  It was electric as my classmates rushed to get out and start their summer, dumping their books in the trash as they left.  Some couldn’t even bother with that formality and merely left them on or by their desks.  I took my books, cleaned out my desk, wondered for a moment who in the next class would sit in my seat the following  year.  But I didn’t have a lot of time to think about that.  I had a mission I needed to start.

During the two weeks from the time I had asked Mr. Tiffany’s permission, I had already set the wheels in motion.  There was a Gristede’s grocery store between my apartment and school and I had gone in several times to ask if they had any cardboard boxes that they would be able to give me.  I already had nine boxes and grandma had picked up another four at some other stores.  Our small apartment was starting to look like a cardboard jungle.

Grandma had allowed me to use the wire grocery cart that she wheeled behind her when she went on her shopping trips to get fresh fruits and vegetables.  It was waiting for me in our foyer when I got home.  I put my books on the desk and immediately returned to school.

I had decided to start on the top floor and work my way down.  The top floor where the older kids had their classrooms was the fourth floor.  I maneuvered the somewhat flimsy cart up the stairs and began by going into the furthest room from the stairwell.  I wanted to be able to track which rooms I had emptied and which might still contain some treasure.

I only completed picking up the books from two rooms and my cart was piled high.  But it was too heavy for me to wheel easily so I had to pull half the books I had accumulated out and put them inside the door of the second room.  I could see this was going to be a bigger project than I anticipated.  With some trepidation I approached the stairwell and the three flights down to the street.

It was pretty difficult getting that first load down the stairs because the cart’s wheels weren’t very thick and it listed from side to side as I gently tried to coax it along.  When I got my load downstairs and started to pull it home, I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to collect all the books that I knew were discarded.  I only had three hours until the school would be locked so I revised my plan.  I decided to attack the lower floors first in the interest of saving some time on the stairwells.

Back and forth, load after load.  I was not only getting tired but hungry.  And dinner was going to be ready soon.  I had pretty much resolved that I couldn’t do much more and that I should make this my last load when I encountered Mr. Tiffany.  I hadn’t expected him to be there.

He asked how my project was going.  I explained that I had hoped to clear out the entire school but I hadn’t even finished the first floor classrooms.  I think he sensed that I was both tired and a little disappointed.

Then he said he had some paperwork to do on Saturday and that he would be at the school from nine to one in the afternoon if I wanted to keep working at my project.  By this time my legs were feeling so wobbly and my back was getting sore from loading books at school and unloading them at home.  But I didn’t want to look like a quitter so I thanked him and said I would be back in the morning.  I wasn’t looking forward to fulfilling that commitment.

While she was cooking, Grandma had filled most of the boxes with the books I had brought home.  Even one of my favorite dinners of liver, bacon, onions and a baked potato with a nice salad wasn’t able to erase the fatigue that overwhelmed me.  And her home made apple strudel merely reinforced my need to sleep.  I went to bed within ten minutes of eating dinner.

The next morning I woke to a nice breakfast and then back to school.  As I pulled my cart, I saw that Mr. Tiffany was walking down the street.  He reached the front door precisely at nine o’clock.  I finished the first floor and a few rooms on the second, making another six round trips.  And then I could see from the clock on the wall of the study hall that it was two minutes to one.

I walked down to Mr. Tiffany’s office, pulling my cart and knocked on his door.  He invited me to come in and I said that I had done all I could and wanted to thank him for letting me work on Saturday and wished him a pleasant summer.  He smiled and wished me the same.

After church on Sunday, dad and I loaded up the car.  That took over an hour and we headed down to Barnes and Noble.  Dad went in while I stayed with the car since we were double parked and dad had turned on the flashers.  He returned with two young employees who helped carry our boxes inside while two other employees began calculating their value.  When the final box was unloaded, dad spotted a parking space, told me to wait on the sidewalk by the front door and hurriedly parked the car.

By the time he and I went into the store, the clerks who had been pulling out the books had only two more boxes to evaluate.  It only took them a few minutes and then they told us the total they would pay me.  When they said, “The value of your books is $1,085.50” I’m sure my mouth widened enough to have put a small cantaloupe in it.  And immediately I thought, “I didn’t even finish two floors.”  I later learned that my old enemy envy had brought with him another vice, greed.

Dad smiled at me and said, “Good job,” and collected the money from the cashier.  I had never seen so much money.  When we got in the car to drive home, he handed the cash to me and asked if I had given thought to what I was going to do with it.  Since I had been hoping perhaps to earn one hundred dollars, this large amount was far beyond my expectations.  I had made no plans for its use.

At dinner that evening my new found wealth was the only subject of conversation.  Grandma who was typically direct had remembered that Mr. Tiffany had suggested a contribution to the school.  She didn’t ask me whether I was going to do that.  She simply asked, “So how much will you be giving to your school?”  Nothing escaped this lady’s attention.  And a question such as that coming from her was less of an inquiry than it was a demand that I behave responsibly.

I thought about it for a minute and asked, “Would three hundred dollars be good?”  I winced a little as I computed that was three years’ allowance – gone in one moment.  She nodded, “That would be good.  And I’ll bake a box of cookies for you to give Mr. Tiffany.  By the time you start school it will be cool enough to bake.”

On my first day of the new school year, mom closed her store early and met me at Mr. Tiffany’s office as the school day was concluding  She carried with her grandma’s cookies and the envelope containing the three hundred dollars and my handwritten note (my mother oversaw its composition) which read:

Dear Mr. Tiffany,

Thank you for giving me the chance to earn some extra money.  Enclosed please find three hundred dollars ($300) which I would like you to accept on behalf of the school.  My grandma baked some cookies to thank you – but they wouldn’t fit in the envelope so they’re in a separate box.

Very truly yours,


I thought up the last line myself and when my mother read it she laughed.  But she allowed me to keep it in my thank you note.

Mr. Tiffany thanked mom and me and we went home.  He didn’t open either the envelope or the box of cookies while we were there, but it seemed to me that after that he always had a little extra smile for me when we passed in the hallway and I received the Good Citizenship Award that year.

As to the rest of the money, I made my first stock investments, five shares of Celanese Corporation of America and three shares of Dow Chemical.  The remainder went into my college fund.

My classmates still lived in their fancy co-operative apartments on Park Avenue and they still received distributions from their trust funds.  But I had something that none of them could claim.  With the help of my family and my school, I had taken an idea and turned it into a reality.  That was an accomplishment which no one ever would be able to take from me.

I was ten years old when this happened.   And that was a very good year for me.


Having the opportunity to receive a private school education had both its benefits and its drawbacks.  As a child, only the negatives were clear to me and it would be many years before I recognized the advantages I had received because of my parents’ self-sacrifice so that I could attend.  But the most important lesson that I learned was that what I thought of as a disadvantage when I was a schoolchild was actually a great character builder and provided one of my most important early life lessons.

That big negative to my young mind was that I was the poorest kid in my class.  No one had to point this out.  I figured it out on my own.  I knew where my classmates lived and I knew where I lived.  I knew the amount of my allowance and I knew my classmates got three or four times as much.  I knew that my classmates’ dads were doctors and stock brokers and my dad was in sales.  And I knew that I was the only child in my class whose mother worked.  And with all that knowing I came to know envy.  And it ate at me quietly, stealthily, continuously.  I didn’t like my new guest – but I didn’t know how to rid myself of him.

It was mid-May and the school year was drawing to a close.  Because part of our tuition paid for our schoolbooks we were free to take those home and keep them if we wanted to review their contents.  But most of my classmates couldn’t wait to dump them in our class wastebaskets when our last class was finished – as if to say they had been given a reprieve from the oppression of having to learn – at least during their summer vacation.  I had seen that behavior play out the previous two years.

I happened to be looking through the newspaper one night and saw an ad that Barnes and Noble had placed.  The ad said that they bought used school texts.  And an idea came to me.  Maybe they would buy all those thrown out textbooks that my schoolmates couldn’t wait to consign to the trash.  So I called and asked if they would buy fourth and fifth grade textbooks.  The young woman who answered my call said, “Barnes and Noble will buy all school texts.”  After I thanked her I got very excited and couldn’t wait to discuss my idea with my parents – to collect all the textbooks that were thrown out and sell them to this bookseller.

Over a baked chicken dinner that night I told my father what I wanted to do and asked if he would help me.  Before he answered, he took a moment, tilted his head and his always kindly eyes seemed to moisten a little bit.  He said, “If that’s alright with your school, I’ll be happy to help you.  But you need to ask the principal for permission.”

The following day I was at school a little earlier than usual.  I went to my homeroom and Mrs. Bounds was writing on the chalk board when I walked in.  I asked her if I could have permission to see Mr. Tiffany.  I had something to ask him.  She agreed and I left the room and walked quickly down the stairs to his office.

When Mr. Tiffany’s secretary showed me in, my heart skipped a beat.  My interaction with him was limited to watching him on the stage during assembly leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance and to three days when he taught my English class when our teacher was out with the flu.  Most of us kids did not voluntarily seek out an audience with him.  And those who were sent there by their teacher always appeared a bit shaken by the experience.  He was a tough cookie.  Tough – but fair.

I was relying on that rumor of fairness to get me through and I hoped that I would be able to spill out the words in a sensible way to make my case.

Mr. Tiffany sat behind his desk as I explained why I had sought an audience with him.  He listened attentively as he placed his hands on the blotter in front of him.  His hands and fingers never moved once he had properly placed them and he never took his eyes off mine.  Finally, I had presented my request as best I could.  I remember feeling nervous to be in front of him as a penitent, begging that he would grant me this small sop.

Perhaps a minute after I had concluded he finally spoke.  Here it was.  The pronouncement.  The verdict.  The final judgment from which there could be no appeal.  As he began to speak I could feel my pulse pounding.

“How did you like your school year,?” he asked.  I had no idea why he would ask me that.  That wasn’t the reason for my visit.  But if it came from our principal there had to be a reason – unfathomable to a mere student.

“I liked school very much this year – especially math and history,” I answered.  I wanted him to get to the point of my request.  But he kept on talking about my experience and what I had learned.  And the more he talked about academics, the surer I was that he was going to deny my request.

But he finally paused, leaned back a bit in his chair and said, “The fact that you’re trying to be enterprising shows initiative.  We hope to encourage that in our students and I’m happy to allow you to engage in your project.  There is only one thing I would like you to consider.”

I had no idea what it was he wanted me to consider since I already had a plan for how I was going to pull off this money making venture.

“It would be thoughtful, when you sell the textbooks, if you would consider making a donation of part of your earnings to the school.  Whether you do or not is up to you.  And if there isn’t anything else with which I can help you today, it’s time for you to return to your classes.”  And with that I was dismissed.

In tomorrow’s installment, I’ll tell you how this ended.


Mrs. Bounds was my fourth grade teacher.  I liked her a lot.  She was warm and friendly and so it was easy for me to overlook her small speech defect.

While we children would say “about”, Mrs. Bounds pronounced the word, “aboot.”  I mentioned this to my parents the third or fourth time I heard her say it.  I wanted to know what the correct pronunciation of a-b-o-u-t was.  When I explained how Mrs. Bounds said the word, dad said, “Oh, she’s probably from Canada.”  She was.

Well, I never did find out whether Mrs. Bounds was a big hockey fan or whether she liked catsup.  It was many years before a college friend from northern Minnesota informed me that hockey was the Canadian national pastime and catsup was the national food.  But I did learn a lot from her in the year she taught me.

I remember all of us took a math test which she administered.  I scored a perfect 100.  (We had moved past the third grade stage of having various colored stars pasted on our work and were now having to deal with looking at pure raw numbers).  It was such a young age to be confronted with reality.

When Mrs. Bounds returned my test to me she had a broad smile on her face.  She handed me my test with the big 100 marked on it, put her left hand on mine (now probably the basis for a child molestation suit) and said, “Well, you certainly did yourself proud with this test.”

I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant but I was reasonably certain it was a good thing – a compliment.  And I remember walking around the rest of the day with a smile on my face.  It felt good to have “done myself proud.”

In a much earlier post I told the story of my mother accompanying dad on one of his buying trips to the Orient.  They always stayed in a particular “native inn” (which is to say that the sleeping accommodations were futons) and how mom always remarked about the cleanliness of the place saying, “You could literally eat off the floor, the property was so well-maintained.”

One day while staying at this hotel in Nagoya, mom came home early and interrupted the maid who was going about the job of cleaning the room.  Mom was relatively proficient in Japanese and engaged the woman in a conversation, complimenting her on the outstanding job she did.

The woman, in Japanese fashion, was a bit abashed at this praise.  But my mother went on to say, “You know, with your diligence, I would think there are a lot of companies that would hire you – and probably at higher wages.”  (A typical western response – although I know my mother meant it as a compliment).

The maid said that she was working as an apprentice watchmaker for the Seiko company at night and that in six months’ time would be offered a position there at three times her present salary.

My mother said, “Well, I’m sure you are looking forward to that.”

The maid responded.  “Oh, yes.  But in the mean time I will be the best cleaning lady that I can be.”

That Japanese cleaning lady, “did herself proud.”

My parents in both their businesses were never satisfied with less than excellence.  While mom’s was a one person operation, dad expected excellence from all his employees.  He did not merely preach that at them – he demonstrated it to them in his personal conduct.  Excellence is not an accident – it is a standard – or at least that’s what my parents thought.

Having been raised by people such as they, I naturally tried to meet the high standards that they considered normal.  And, naturally, I expected to find that same desire to be the best you could be in others.  What a disappointment.  Customer service wasn’t bad in the 60’s but it’s been on a hyperbolic decline since then.  If this isn’t it’s nadir, I’m almost afraid to think what’s in store for us consumers.

I walked into my neighborhood Smith Food and Drug store (a Kroger division) about a month ago.  All of the employees were wearing t-shirts with bright yellow lettering on them.  The message on the t-shirts read:


If I happened to wear dentures (I don’t) I can assure you that they would have been on the floor of the store, clacking away in the same manner that we used to see in the early cartoons.

I simply couldn’t believe this message which to me translated as “Okay, we messed up the first time and now we’re going to try to rectify our error.”  If there is another interpretation of that message, I have been unable to figure it out.

And I thought to myself, “Let’s see.  Someone here goofed up something (I wasn’t sure exactly what the antecedent of ‘IT” was), and will try to undo her or his previous mistake.  But if that person made a mistake in the first place, why should I have the confidence that he will be able to fix it the second time around?  I mean, after all, if he didn’t realize that it was wrong to start with, what Divine insight has he since acquired to see the original error?  Or if the mistake merely occurred because he executed his job in a sloppy manner – why should I expect him to be any less sloppy now in trying to fix it?”

If I worked in Kroger’s PR Department, I would issue an immediate recall of these t-shirts and replace them with ones that say:


Even if that statement is an outright lie, who cares?  Anyone who has ever seen a political spot on TV knows that there is no truth in advertising.

Being raised by my parents had both its high and low points.  Mostly they were the former.  But I know that there were times when I struggled with a particular subject, I wished that they would have been satisfied with an 80 instead of the expected 100.  I knew that wasn’t the case – so I just had to try a little harder and work a little longer – partly to avoid the shame of disappointing them – but mostly out of the fear of losing my own self-respect.

I know that mom and dad always tried to conduct their affairs in a top drawer manner – and with the response they received from their customers, they must have been pretty successful at it.

I guess it would be fair to say, they “did themselves proud.”


About eight or ten days ago I described my experience with a young man who was at the grocery store trying to raise money for his public high school baseball team.  I explained how I had offered to donate if he could answer a simple question on geography – and how he failed that test – and a second question as well.

So when I went to the same store last Saturday and saw several mid-teen boys wearing baseball uniforms, I knew they were going to solicit me as I left with my groceries.  And they did.

The banner that they had put in place said that the sponsors for this baseball team was the American Legion.  And one young man enthusiastically came up to me and said, “Excuse me, we are raising money for our baseball team and would appreciate it if you could help us out.”  I truly appreciated his politeness which it is so hard to find these days in most children – and not much easier to find in most adults.

So I made him an offer.

“If you can answer one question about American history, I’ll give your team a dollar.  Do you want to try?”

He said, “Sure.”

“Name one of the Founding Fathers.”

Without more than a second’s hesitation he replied, “Benjamin Franklin.”

I smiled, pulled a dollar from my pocket and put it in the donations jar which sat at the front of the table the team had put up.  As I turned to get my groceries, I could see the young man had a broad grin on his face.  He was proud of himself for knowing the answer to my question and proud that he had raised money for his team.

So I decided to ask him a second question if he were willing to try.  When I suggested that, he enthusiastically said he would like to give it a shot.

My second question was, “Name the three branches of American government established in the Constitution of the United States.”

As he thought about the question, I reached in my pocket and pulled out another dollar which I held in my hand.

In only a few seconds he replied, “Legislative and Executive.”  I was pretty sure he knew the third one but was struggling a bit to retrieve it from his memory.  All of a sudden it came to him and he said, “Judicial.”

“Correct again.”  And I walked over and put that dollar in the jar.

I was very impressed with this young man because if I were to ask that of most kids his age, a majority would come up with the DMV.

I said, “Want to go a third time?”

“Yes, please,” he said.  I think that he was genuinely enjoying this.

So I reached for another dollar and held it in my hand.

“Who is the Vice-President of the United States.”

I thought this might prove a little problematic for him, so I was willing to give him some extra time to think about it.

Much to my surprise, not five seconds passed when this young man blurted out, “That idiot Joe Biden.”

I put the dollar bill back in my pocket.  You should have seen the crestfallen look that occupied this young lad’s face.  “Wasn’t that right?”

I said, “Young man, I couldn’t have given a better answer myself.”

I pulled the little stash of remaining bills from my pocket and removed a five dollar bill, which I showed him before I deposited it in the collection jar.

When I returned to pick up my groceries, the smile that had come over this young man’s face was all-consuming.  I wished him a good day and encouraged him to keep up with his school work.  As I left I said, “America needs young people like you.”

I’m pretty sure that as I walked to my car, there was a grin on my face that could have rivaled any Cheshire cat’s.  That encounter made my day and gave me reason to believe that there is still some hope for America.


There were no winners in the Zimmerman/Martin trial.  Trayvon Martin is still dead.  George Zimmerman is still living in hell.

If there were anything good that came out of this farce of a well-orchestrated operetta (sans musique) it is that those engaged in the garment industry who manufacture sweatshirts with hoods saw a rise in their sales.  And we had the opportunity to hear from some of America’s brain trust (a number of NFL players and some of their kin) who made direct and indirect threats against Mr. Zimmerman and who spoke of terminating his continued residency on planet Earth.

The DOJ which had been considering bringing charges against Mr. Zimmerman for possible violations of the “Civil Rights Act” prior to the criminal trial, announced today that it is evaluating pursuing those charges.  And I believe that Mr. Zimmerman should be grateful that the DOJ is vigilant in this regard.  I hope that his attorneys request that Atty. General Holder investigate those NFL twits who tweeted their violent responses to the verdict.

But we all know that will not happen.

Falcons receiver Roddy White, who rarely bites his tongue, sounded off loudly on Twitter. ”F–king Zimmerman got away with murder today wow what kind of world do we live in,” White said. ”All them jurors should go home tonight and kill themselves for letting a grown man get away with killing a kid.”

Marcus Vick, the brother of Eagles quarterback Mike Vick, continued a theme he began during the prosecution’s closing argument. ”Like I said before, a dogs life mean more then a human of color,” Marcus Vick said. ”My people’s did 2 years over some bullshit when this dude took a human life. Y’all MF’s sick. . . . Zimmerman u peace of DOG shit if I ever seen u I would run up n let u beat my ass then I’ll pop u right between the eyes u cricket Bitch.”

Even Giants receiver Victor Cruz, who isn’t known for saying or doing outlandish things, offered up a chilling prediction for George Zimmerman’s future, via Deadspin: ”Zimmerman doesn’t last a year before the hood catches up with him.”

Bengals linebacker James Harrison made a very strong point that gets to the core of the case. ”Think I’ll go pick a fight and get my ass kicked then pull my gun and kill somebody and see if I can get away,” Harrison tweeted.

Ravens receiver Torrey Smith, who lost a brother last year under far different but no less tragic circumstances, realizes that eye-for-an-eye revenge shouldn’t happen. ”Also as mad as a lot of people are over the verdict…trying to take out Zimmerman isn’t the answer neither,” Smith said.

Thank you, Mr. Smith for offering a bit of sanity to this conversation.

All humans make statements and decisions based on either logic, emotion or a combination of the two.  At certain moments one side or the other may be dominant.  But the problem is that if we allow our emotions to direct our thinking to the exclusion of logic, our decisions tend to be catastrophic.

Consider that if the Captain of the Titanic, realizing the boat was imperiled ran around yelling, “Oh, no.  The ship is sinking.  The ship is sinking,” rather than ordering the crew to prepare the lifeboats in order to evacuate the passengers.  That might well have resulted in there being no survivors.

And so, perhaps, we can overlook the over-reactive emotional response to a situation that the administration, the media and the self-styled “quasi-intelligentsia” in the black community stirred up and fostered.  After all, making sure that adding kindling to the fire of “race relations” is their agenda of distracting us from the real racial tragedies in this country.

After a few days have passed and emotions have subsided, those within America’s black community who really want to address this important matter in a serious way should start asking some serious and important questions.  And they should look at the facts, not the TV screen.

It is a fact, according to FBI statistics, that when interracial violence and death occurs involving a black and a white person, 81% of the time the victim is the white person.   If the white community has this information, do those in the black community not understand why white people might be legitimately frightened of blacks?

But there is more than this with which the black community in America should be concerned.  And that concern should not arise from their worries about “crackers” or the KKK doing them in.  Over 95% of the murders which befall blacks in America are committed by other blacks.  The “hood” is a very, very dangerous place to live and to raise children.

To my brothers and sisters who reside there, I would say to you that you have settled for enslavement as surely as if “Old Massa” purchased you at an auction.  You have been bought and paid for through that EBT card and your sub-standard healthcare that Medicaid provides and your Obamaphone.  You have sold your souls to the devil – and his name is your congressman or city representative or ward alderman.  And until you wake up and hear that call of truly great leaders like the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. who had a vision and a plan, you will live out your lives in servitude – and you will condemn your children to the same fate.

In the current culture and climate, there are no winners.


Mea culpa – I confess it.  I love math.  I’ve always loved math.  It comes very naturally to me and I revel in its precision.  I guess it’s for the same reason that I enjoy crosswords and jigsaw puzzles and those games where you have to get from point A to point B by drawing a line through a maze without running into the barricades while en route.  When you get the right answer or complete the puzzle, you have the reward of knowing that you accomplished something.

So here’s a math-ish question for you.  Now before I state the question, you might be thinking that I read this on a five hour flight and who is seated next to me but a man who spilled half a bottle of Gaucho Boy Cologne (primary ingredient being horse sweat).  So I picked up the In Flight magazine to see if there are any ads or stories which pique my interest – but primarily I am going to use the magazine to fan myself to keep the cologne odor as dispersed as possible.

I turn to page 33 and this is the question.

“You and some friends have gone out to dinner.  You are extremely happy both with the food and the service your pleasant server provided.  The bill comes to $200.00.  What would be a good (my italics) tip to leave your server?”

Answers (Multiple choice, of course):

A:  15%

B:  20%

C.  25%

D.  50%

Frankly, that is just the kind of question that I might expect to find in an In Flight magazine.  But that is not where I read it.

That question appears in a seventh grade “math” book that is currently in use in the Las Vegas School District.  One of the children in the neighborhood was carrying this text home from school.  As a matter of curiosity I asked her if I might take a look at it.  In flipping through the pages this question caught my eye and as that was the last day of the school year, I asked if she would lend the book to me overnight, which she did.

If you remember my opening paragraphs, I enjoy math because it is precise.  There is a right answer and every other answer is incorrect.  There is absolutely nothing that is precise about this “math” question as it merely asks for a value judgment.  In fact, other than the fact that there is an amount stated for the bill and various percentages are given as potentials to be applied to that bill for the tip, there is nothing mathematical in the question.  The children are not asked to compute a tip amount – perhaps because the question assumes that their calculators or smart phones will always return the “correct” answer once the multiplier is input.

This was not the only such question in this textbook.  So I wondered who wrote this piece of garbage.  Only mildly to my surprise, one of the contributors to the book was the “Education Committee of the S. E. I. U.”  If you don’t know what those initials mean, they stand for the Service Employees International Union.  Parenthetically, that union represents, among other people, restaurant servers.

So here’s my take on the whole thing.  We have one union (S.E.I.U.) writing questions which it supplies to another union (The Teachers’ Union) which, of course, accepts them.  The question serves more to the benefit of propaganda than it does to the mathematics purportedly being taught in the book.  This seems not to bother members of either union.  If there’s no such term as crony-unionism, I think I’ll just coin it now.

The kids get brain-washed into an agenda which benefits members of the S.E.I.U. (notice that the lowest answer given is what most people accept as a normal tip) and the Teachers Union member who is instructing the class doesn’t really have to bother grading any papers since it would be hard to argue that any of these answers was either correct or incorrect.

And that’s education in America today.  It certainly adds fire to the argument in favor either of private or home schooling.

“In the first place God made idiots.  That was for practice.  Then he made school boards.”  – Mark Twain


About a week ago as I was going to the supermarket to do some grocery shopping, I was greeted by a very tall young boy whom I took to be in his early teens and several of his teammates who were wearing their school’s baseball uniforms.  They were soliciting donations to buy some new equipment.  Accompanying them and sitting at a table that the store had allowed them to set up was a man in his early 40’s whom I guessed was either the father of one of the team members or perhaps one of their coaches.

The young man was very polite and explained that they were trying to raise money for their team.  I gave him credit for taking his time on a weekend in order to solicit us shoppers for something that was a purpose in which he believed.  So I was certainly willing to contribute to the cause.  However, I was curious about his level of scholastic achievement and so I decided to offer him a little test and, if he answered correctly, told him I would donate to help him in his efforts to purchase new equipment.

I am not quite sure why I decided on this particular question but I asked him if he knew what the capital of Chile was.  I could see a blank stare come over his face – as though Chile was not so much a location as it was something you ate.  The coach at the table tried to help him out – “It begins with an ‘S’.”  No help.  “The last letter is ‘O’.”  Still nothing.  I admonished the coach for these helpful hints – but they proved to be of no value.  The young man simply had no idea.

In a very early post I explained both my interest in and how I learned a great deal of the geography that I know.

If you read that earlier post you will realize that one of the things that helped me learn about different countries was in collecting the stamps of those countries.  I seriously wonder if anyone under the age of 30 has ever actually written a letter or sent a Christmas card that wasn’t done through electronic means.  Perhaps that is part of the problem in our technological age.  But the other part may be the curricula in our schools.  So I asked, “Don’t they teach geography in school anymore?”  He answered, “We get a little of that ‘World Stuff’ but not much.”

I had never heard geography phrased as “World Stuff” but I guess that’s the new normal.  Perhaps it is for that reason that a fair number of younger folk think that Afghanistan is somewhere left of Mexico and just right of Hawaii.  In the olden days, we might not have been terribly concerned about what was happening in Niger or India or Australia – but at least we knew where they were.

So I decided to offer this young man a second opportunity to raise money for his team.  I got away from the “World Stuff” and brought things as close to home as possible by asking him if he knew what the capital of Nevada was.  I told him that I would give him two chances and he should consult with his younger teammates before giving me his choices.  A gleam of hope shone on his face and I thought that he was going to give me the correct answer.

Without consulting his teammates he blurted out, “Las Vegas.”  I presume that if you’re relying on pure guess work, picking the largest city in the state is not an unreasonable choice – but, of course, it is incorrect.  That left only about four cities of any size from which to select and he chose the second largest one, Reno.  Also incorrect – though only about twenty-five miles from the actual capital, Carson City.

So, although he didn’t get my donation, which I had hoped to provide him, I decided to use the opportunity to turn this into a life lesson.  So I said, “I’m sorry that you will not be getting a donation from me today.  I really would have liked to help you and your teammates out.  But there is a lesson to be learned here – which is that the only things in life that are free are generally things that we don’t want.  We have to work to earn the rest.  The next time I see you, I’m going to ask you another geography question and I hope that you’ll study up on the subject so that you can give me the correct answer and I can give you my donation.”

This is not to say that this young man falls into the category of folks we used to categorize as “Dumb jocks” or in any way impugn his intelligence.  He seemed very bright and eager.  But that is not enough if the raw materials for learning are not being provided by our schools and further fostered in our homes.  And that is a pity in a society which views our world as a “Global Village.”

Sadly, in this Global Village, I’m not sure that this youngster would be able to find either the kitchen or the bathroom.  And in all honesty, I wonder if his teachers would do any better.

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