Wednesday, August 27, 2014

#176 - What Were They Thinking?

According to a news report, a nine-year old girl in Arizona has accidentally shot and killed her shooting instructor while learning how to fire a gun. Note that this was not a pistol or even a normal rifle. It was an Uzi submachine gun.

I don’t know and don’t really care where anyone stands on the issue of gun control. I would hope that no sane person could rationally argue that a nine-year old should learn to fire an Uzi. For that matter, why should anyone outside of the military even have an Uzi, let alone learn to fire one. I can’t see it as a legitimate weapon for hunting, and I personally would find it too dangerous to have one in the home. To me, the only purpose of such a weapon is to kill other human beings.

I don’t normally write about such hot button topics, but I just did not feel I could let this one go by. I get that some parents want to teach their children how to hunt. I personally don’t hunt, but I know for many it is a chance to bond with their children and also serves as a rite of passage.

What I don’t get is how any parent in their right mind could think their child needs to learn how to fire a weapon like an Uzi, which is capable of firing up to 600 rounds per minute. I find it even more incredible that these parents could think it make sense for their nine-year old daughter to hold, let alone try to fire such a weapon at an age when they might reasonably be expected to have trouble controlling any gun, let alone a machine gun.

I can’t pretend to know or understand what was going through the minds of that girl’s parents when they made the decision to have their daughter learn to fire the Uzi. Nor can I pretend to know what went through their minds in that instant when it all went horribly wrong. I don’t know what the girl thought about learning to fire such a gun or what she thought when she realized what had happened.

What I do know is that, at nine years of age, this girl has taken a life. Accidentally, yes, but taken a life nonetheless. It is an act of such finality that even some soldiers never get over it. I can’t begin to imagine how she ever will, though I hope she can. As for her parents, they could easily be accused of child endangerment. They are at least guilty of incredibly poor judgment. Whatever else they might be guilty of is up to their conscience.

Monday, August 18, 2014

#175 - Fighting That Blah-g Feeling

Lately, I’ve been feeling a bit blah and nothing feeling like I have much to say or write about. My day to day life is not all that exciting – eat, work, sleep, rinse and repeat – and some things are best not blogged about, at least until I get the okay from “the boss.”

None of that explains why I’m feeling a bit blasé these days. Perhaps it’s the fact that summer is winding down, which means colder weather won’t be far behind. I know many sweltering in triple-digit heat would welcome some much cooler temperatures about now, living in Idaho, I won’t be one of them.

Perhaps it’s knowing that, while we try to use our RV year-round, with school about to start back up, our opportunities to get out will diminish. Even though we still have a few trips planned before the end of the year, it still feels as if RV season is ending for some reason as we will have to winterize the beast before too long, which means we won’t be able to use all of its systems to their fullest.

Maybe it’s simply that I’m feeling in a reflective mood, and I’m not all that happy with the reflection I see. I look at where I am, where I thought I’d be, what I’ve done, and what I haven’t done in my life. As it likely is for most people, the picture is a mixed one.

At some level, I've always been a dreamer. This can be both good and bad. It is good in the sense that having a dream or two has made it possible for me to get through many a mundane 9 to 5 day. On the other hand, having a dream without possessing the willpower, determination, or perhaps talent to make that dream come true can be frustrating and demoralizing. I struggle occasionally with that one.

It could be that I’m simply over-thinking things. Or maybe I just need to work some more exercise (mental and physical) into my routine. Perhaps I simply need to reflect more on what I do have – a wonderful wife and son, a home, a beagle (can’t forget him), fairly decent health, no massive debt, and the aforementioned RV.

While I do that, simply think of this entry as a placeholder until I think of something else to write.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

#174 - Feeling Random

Heard a co-worker come in this morning and state that she wanted to leave early today because she had an appointment for a pedicure. That sent my mind off in a dozen directions at once. At least. With apologies to Stephen Wright, here goes:

Why do people call it a manicure when women are much more likely to get one? If, as the Rolling Stones once said, “time is on my side,” why do I need to wear a watch on my wrist? If you’re not Formica, are you against it?

Why are UFOs called “unidentified flying objects?” If we call it a UFO, haven’t we just given it an identity? With all the current debate about immigration in America, do you suppose the French ever think about asking us to return the Statue of Liberty?

Do you think prostitutes ever get tired of being confused with garden implements? Why is an oven also known as a range when it isn't wide open and never goes anywhere? If you were a groundhog and saw a shadow that looked like that, wouldn't you be scared too?

How much lettuce should you feed a dust bunny? How long did it take God to stop laughing after putting Jimmy Swaggart and Jerry Lee Lewis in the same family tree?

Is the population in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico lower because they've killed all the liars? In order to get more done in Washington, should Congress consider changing its name to Progress?

Why do people buy big houses then spend most of their time in a couple of rooms or the garage? If you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, what does a one-legged person wait for?

What exactly is "a stitch in time," and why does it save nine? Nine what? If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, how would you really know whether it made a sound? Can a sound truly exist if no one hears it?

If it's true that the movie "The Greatest Story Ever Told" really was, why does anyone else bother? Finally, if a movie flashes up “The End” on screen, why does it sometimes then follow with ten minutes of credits?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

#173 - It Makes a Village Online

Since rediscovering a love of camping more than eight years ago – after moving to Idaho – and then discovering an even greater enjoyment of life in an RV (recreational vehicle, for those not up on the lingo), I have had in the back of mind the goal of taking to the road full-time in an RV once my working days are done. The road and some of the places I see help to make more real the journey aspect of life.

The move to life on the road in many ways seems a natural for me and my wife. Our fathers were both truck drivers, as was my grandfather. I also have an uncle and a cousin who drive a truck for a living, so it seems a natural that we would take to the highway at some point. In addition, my wife has lived in at least six states for some period of time, and I have lived in nine states, so there is a bit of the nomad in our blood.

Roughly five years ago, I began exploring the notion of full-time RV living. I discovered that an entire subculture of “full-timers” exists, complete with blogs and organizations  geared toward RVing and RV life. One of the blogs I stumbled across in my research features a retired teacher from Georgia who had never done any RVing before beginning her grand adventure. RVSue, as she is known travels with her two dogs, known affectionately as “the Crew,” across the West mainly in her van and small travel trailer.

Although I read several blogs on full-time RV life, Sue’s is the blog I read most often and most consistently. Part of the reason is her entertaining writing style. An equally important reason is the fact that Sue does not write about typical destinations (state parks, RV resorts, and the like). She prefers to get off the beaten path, away from the crowd. It is the type of RV life I envision living, at least most of the time.

What perhaps makes RVSue’s blog the most entertaining of any blog I read is the multitude of comments from her readers (affectionately known as “blogorinos”) and their interaction both with Sue and with each other. The conversations that take place in the comments section are often as entertaining in their own way as the blog post that got everything started. Even though Sue’s blog does not contain flashy animation or graphics, does not usually feature videos or have interactive games, chat rooms, or a discussion forum, it is certainly much more than a static web page.

Comments, replies, rebuttals, and further responses, all help to make RVSue and Her Crew perhaps one of the most interactive sites on the internet. Her blog serves as an example of what good writing, done in an entertaining fashion, can lead to, even in our mile-a-minute, always connected world. The fact that her readers and commenters almost always get along and respond to one another with humor, respect, and civility further go to show that meaningful discourse is still possible in our electronic and often divisive world, the example of the current Congress notwithstanding.

In many ways, RVSue and Her Crew is a 21st Century carrying on of the long standing tradition of talking after dinner, a practice carried on by cowboys around a campfire, guests at a fancy dinner gathering in the drawing room after the meal to discuss the issues of the day, even such things as a girls’ or boys’ night out. More than that, Sue’s blog is an opportunity for people of different backgrounds, different incomes, different demographics, different locations to come together to discuss things they have in common, creating in effect an internet village.

The RVSue and Her Crew blog is a shining example of what the internet can be and all too seldom is, judging from the many comments I glance through on other web sites. Even though she looks to escape in some ways from civilization, Sue’s blog actually gives me a little hope for the civilization she seeks to leave behind. I hope to hold on to that hope, at least until I, too, can escape.

Friday, August 1, 2014

#172 - Idaho Dumbing Down or Just Needing to Take a Different Look?

New figures indicate that the percentage of Idaho high school graduates who go on to attend college dropped from 2012 to 2013. The decline occurred in spite of – or perhaps because of – the state’s somewhat lame Go On campaign aimed at encouraging more grads to pursue post-secondary education.

According to the story at Idaho Ed News, a little more than half of Idaho’s high school graduates in 2013, 52 percent, opted to continue their education. The Idaho State Board of Education president says an improving economy may be partly to blame, with grads opting to work now and save money to attend college later. It’s a nice thought, but I suspect it has little to do with the actual reasons.

The same Idaho Ed News article also seems to suggest that Mormon grads putting off college until they complete a mission may also play a part in the decline. The idea that God told me to wait before attending college doesn’t seem to me to carry much validity, either, despite the large Mormon population in Idaho. Especially when the article only attributes that reasoning to the decline in the one Idaho country where the branch campus of Brigham Young University is located. As if graduates in that county would only consider attending that university.

The article’s loudest alarm bells are reserved for the declining numbers in Idaho’s two largest school districts, declines that took place despite their proximity to two and four-year colleges. The fact that both the two and four-year schools in and around these districts have, rightly or wrongly, reputations as commuter schools more likely to attract older students than recent grads is ignored.

Also ignored are what I think may be the main reasons for the decline. First is the fact that Idaho, despite the growth of Boise and the surrounding area, remains a largely rural state dependent on the land for its people’s livelihood. For better or worse, many in agriculture or other trades may not see the need for continued formal education after high school.

The next fact, I suspect, is the fact that Idaho does not allow much overlap in educational offering between the state’s institutions of higher learning. As a result, many programs may only be offered at a single school. Given Idaho’s position near the bottom in terms of per capita income, coupled with the rising tuitions cited by the article, this restriction may put higher education out of reach for some.

Finally, with the shift in focus in recent years by many colleges toward more business-oriented offerings, colleges have come to more closely resemble vocational schools. The latter, because of more accelerated programs, can be less expensive. Plus, they are often easier to get into.

So what is the solution? It is doubtful that one size fits all. However, it is equally doubtful that Gov. Butch Otter’s “spectrum of educational opportunities” (whatever that means), with “an emphasis on reading in the early grades and a rigorous high school curriculum” will translate into “college or professional-technical training and completion.” Idaho, along with a number of other states, is already trying that with Common Core. Yet the numbers are still falling.

Idaho needs to try to think outside the box, which leads back to Otter’s “spectrum of educational opportunities.” The first opportunity is for Idaho to stop trying to remake all higher education into expensive, glorified vocational schools that no longer put money, let alone emphasis on anything other than business, engineering, and science. Yes, those are important fields, but the arts and humanities are no less important.

I might argue the arts and humanities are even more important than business fields in terms of living. It is through the arts and humanities that a person learns discernment, critical thinking, and appreciation of life outside of work, as well as the ability to articulate one’s thoughts in spoken and written word. A broadening rather than a narrowing of one’s education leads to a balanced and well-rounded mind and spirit. It is people such as this who will best be equipped to survive, if not thrive in an increasingly demanding and ever changing social and economic landscape.

The next thing I think Idaho should do is look more at forming partnerships between various schools so that students in one part of the state do not have to move to another part of the state to pursue a particular program of study. This could be conceivably be done through online courses taught with an on-campus component or support person at the student’s home school. It could also involve online or teleconference discussions with student’s on the campus of the school where the program is centered.

The same kinds of partnerships could also be explored between four-year schools and vocational schools, whereby vocational students might take classes in the arts and humanities but geared more closely to the needs of the student’s chosen field. Regardless of whether a person is studying to be a lawyer or an auto mechanic, the need for critical thinking skills remains as does the need for exposure to areas outside the person’s chosen field, especially if those areas can somehow be related or tied back to that field.

Something else that would definitely be out of the box would be for at least some of Idaho's colleges and universities to develop programs for the developmentally disabled. These programs could be both degree and non-degree programs designed to help these people live more independently and also help them pursue areas and fields they are interested in at their own pace and with the necessary accommodations to allow them to succeed. As the father of an autistic son, I admit to an ulterior motive here, but I also think such programs could bring a new clientele to college campuses and also cause education to be looked at in a different light, by administrators, educators, and students alike.

I also think Idaho has an opportunity to lead in the area of making money for college more affordable to prospective students. I find it no coincidence that college tuitions began to rise more rapidly and more often once private lenders were given more leeway and freedom in what they charge for student loans. Some sort of state-private partnership, whereby the state given some financial benefits or tax breaks to lending institutions offering reduced interest rates (say five-percent or less) on student loans, is one possibility.

Another possible component of this could be an Idaho version of AmeriCorps. In such a scenario, the state might pay a portion of the student’s tuition or make a student’s loan payments for a time in return for a specified length of service by the student in a part of the state where the student’s talents might be most useful or needed. This might also work as part of a beefed-up internship program.

Any or all of these will require forward thinking and a willingness to risk failing. Because of that, I don’t expect Idaho to explore, let alone implement any of these suggestions. Which leaves me with my last and easiest to implement idea. Reduce the focus on recent high-school graduates and turn attention to those considering a return to school and those who perhaps need additional education and/or retraining.

At least one of Idaho’s four-year universities is already referred to as a “commuter school,” although most of those who use the term do so in a derogatory manner. However, just as some people don’t need or aren’t meant to go to college, others don’t need or aren’t ready to go to college right out of high school. I tried and failed simply because I was not ready. 15 years later when I decided I finally was ready, I went back, earning a B.S.Ed. and then a MA in English. That 15 year interval allowed me to gain some maturity, as well as an appreciation of what I was learning, and I suspect it made me a much better student.

Since the population as a whole is aging, it is likely that the greatest potential for growth in Idaho’s colleges will not come from those fresh out of high school but from those who already have a few years out of school (or more) and perhaps a few jobs already under their belts. That “real world” experience will allow students to bring a different perspective to the classroom, and the added maturity that often comes with age may allow them to better appreciate the new ideas that the classroom can bring to them. It’s worth a shot.