Poseurs

My first exposure to the word “Poseur” was from a friend (the Suicide Bomber) when he explained why he no longer wore earrings. “They used to mean you were a bit radical, now they mean you’re a poseur.” Other than my tragus piercing, I don’t wear earrings myself anymore, and poseurs have created an entire movement, going beyond trying to be “cool” by dressing like those of us who are, they tried to simply redefine “cool” by creating the ultimate poseur lifestyle, the “hipster.”

The scope has widened, and now poseurs infiltrate all walks of life. I’m sure this has always been true to some extent, but the definition “Poseur is a pejorative term, often used in the punk, heavy metal, hip hop, and goth subcultures, or the skateboarding, surfing and jazz communities, to refer to a person who copies the dress, speech, and/or mannerisms of a group or subculture, generally for attaining acceptability within the group or for popularity among various other groups, yet who is deemed not to share or understand the values or philosophy of the subculture.” no longer applies to a subculture phenomena, it is seen everywhere, as self identification has become popular. People simply say they are something, much like my old manager said his degree was in engineering in the days before the internet. He was an English major who had dropped out, but he got the job because no one checked.

My ex-wife, as the first example, continues to say she is a “good-person,” despite her self admitted anti social behavior and absolutely evil things she has done to me and other people who cared about her.  Lieve doesn’t remember having to repack the boxes for Belgium to remove my things, or that I learned Flemish and obtained the paperwork to become a Belgian citizen or that on our last visit we spoke to officials at the town hall in Leuven. She just says we never planned to move to Belgium together. She’s going with the “It doesn’t matter, I’m a good person because…I believe I’m a good person” line of reasoning. She poses as a “good person” rather well, until you have the opportunity to see behind the curtain.

My second example springs from that experience. Tired of being lied to I decided to look into an open relationship. Ethical non-monogamy or Polyamory. Not promiscuity or swinging, just open honesty between committed partners. My partner is free to do whatever she wants, and there is nothing to lie about so no need to lie. I’ve really come to detest lying, probably because I was blamed for causing my next girlfriend’s seizure, because he couldn’t handle the stress of lying to me. Polyamorists tend to over explain, and tell what some might consider too much. Polyamory is fairly popular in certain circles, and attracts the same predators as monogamy. There are a lot of guys who say “I’m polyamorous, my wife is okay with me dating” when in fact the wife thinks he’s out with the guys. Low lifes will use whatever tools are available. We started getting involved in discussion groups and found a large number of those kind of guys and girls, predominantly the younger ones. One person started a discussion aimed at people over forty, looking for more mature responses, and a fair number of people tried to join in with such statements as “I’m mature for my age.” They were not, having just “gotten engaged” to someone they met on line and would most likely never meet in person. Another said “I’m old, I’m twenty three.”  Well, we had said nothing about being “old,” and twenty three is far less than forty so the reading comprehension that comes with maturity was clearly missing. We eventually started a separate group, with Sam and I moderating, for people over forty and still had requests to join by people in relationships with partners who were over forty. I had to explain their partner was welcome, but they would have to wait. Who would have thought being older would be so fascinating? They have been posing as mature so long they believe it themselves.

Next I want to discuss education. I know many highly educated people, some of whom attended prestigious universities and have advanced degrees, others who obtained their education through life experience. None of them speak about how educated they are, they simply use the education to prove it. Maybe it is because it is an election year, and so many people are questioning the intelligence of their opponents rather than debating the issues themselves, but I am hearing a lot of people talking about how educated they are. Someone talking about how educated they are is similar to someone driving a Prius shouting to a person driving a Ferrari about how fast they can drive; if your Prius is up to it step on the gas and show me.

Most recently, an old acquaintance picked up the habit of starting statements with “My education tells me…” I know about his education, and his character, neither of which are anything to be proud of, but like many acquaintances I’ve known a long time there are sentimental reasons to maintain the relationship. His field of study was hospitality services, and while he never learned about being hospitable, he still feels confident in posing as educated. What troubles me, more than having an arrogant and ignorant acquaintance, is the growing prevalence of considering an education as something derived from being in the proximity of famous buildings. Students at my neighborhood university (Princeton) are under the impression they are all knowing merely because they were accepted as students. Even the university itself leans on the reputation of Albert Einstein, despite the fact his only association was teaching a preceptorial course (he didn’t even give the lecture) while he was a professor at the nearby Institute for Advanced Study. In the real world, an education is a reflection of the individual, not the institution they attended. 

We presently have a couple of candidates for President of the United States, both posing as civilized human beings. If you so much as scratch either of their veneers, you can see they are only posing, but oddly, only the Democrats can see the Republican for what he is, and only Republicans can see the Democrat for what she is. Just because you can each fool some of the people doesn’t mean they are all the same people, but it will be enough people to elect one of these clowns, because personal responsibility has been so degraded the thought there might be someone else qualified for the position has not occurred to an adequate number of voters.

Brian Williams, who spoke about the helicopter he was in being hit over Afghanistan, only to be corrected by other passengers that the other helicopter with them was hit, then brushed off his bald faced lie characterizing it as “mis-remembering due to the fog of war.” Poseurs are accepted by society. Okay, Brian lost his job, but Hillary was made Secretary of State after “mis-remembering” taking sniper fire in Bosnia.

When we don’t stand up for the truth, the truth dies. Do not be an accessory to murder.

 

 

The price of Education

A variety of subjects have been gathering like a snowball, the common threads being financing and higher education.

College is expensive, with tuition costs rising sharply in recent years, as much as a 77% increase in some states. The college board estimates the average yearly tuition for a four year private school at $29,000, public four year schools are estimated at $8,655 (. There must be some incredibly cheap schools out there, the private schools my step daughter has been looking at have all been over $45,000, our state university (Rutgers) is $13,499. That’s just tuition and fees, extras like books or living expenses can cross into five digit territory. On the other hand yearly expenses (total) at KU Leuven in Belgium runs about €9973, or $13,779.

One question I’m hearing for the first time in decades is “Is a college degree worth it?”, as the value of a degree suffers similarly to a currency based on wishful thinking, the expense of college is being weighed against the monetary impact of a degree in the job market. That Liberal Arts major is making the same minimum wage the High School dropout next to him is making at McDonald’s, despite the subtle nuances he applies while flipping burgers. Additionally, many art degrees are superfluous, there is more to be gained by practicing your art for four years than sitting in a classroom. One friend dropped out of college and started working off Broadway in his desired field of stage dressing. Two years in, he was earning more than college graduates (he was talented). Then he cut his hand in half while cutting scenery, and left the field entirely. He went back to school and got an MBA.

There are of course benefits that are measured in other ways than dollars, but as parents are asked for more dollars, less and less is being returned. More questions are being asked about what schools are doing with those dollars, but the answers are far from satisfying. It’s a sellers market, and if you really loved your kid you wouldn’t ask, would you? Well, maybe if you loved your kid enough to teach them something about economics.

One path for paying for college is scholarships, but the market is flooded and it’s not as easy as it once was. My second wife payed the majority of her tuition with scholarships, she spent most her senior year of High School hunting down and applying for scholarships and grants, some as small as $100. It all added up, and her student loan was only $10,000 after four years of private music schools. Not bad for a degree that landed her a job delivering singing telegrams upon graduation.

Sports scholarships are as trustworthy as a career in sports.  One friend in High School, an exceptional athlete who carried the school to a state championship, chose his college based on academics, he knew a career in sports was like chasing lightning. Today’s generation is raising the question of whether college athletes should be paid, and I’m not sure the answer is “no”. Big athletic schools rake in millions from sports, as does the surrounding community. Student athletes at such schools are athletes first, students second, so maybe they should have their risks covered in the same fashion as professional athletes (or maybe they should just drop the charade of being students altogether). The highest paid public employee in the state of New Jersey is the basketball coach at Rutgers.  The issue surely needs to be addressed, if an athlete is injured and can no longer play, he loses his future along with his scholarship, and while student athletes represent a fraction of students, the issues of college athletic programs muddy the financial field of all parties involved. My personal preference is to abolish college sports altogether, and focus on academics, but that will never be a popular idea.

You might think paying a premium tuition results in a premium education by tenured professors, but such is not the case. Adjuncts and teacher assistants are carrying the workload in most schools. When my sister in law was a grad student, she spent as much time teaching students who were only a few years behind her in their studies as she spent on her studies. This certainly affected the quality of the education she was paying for, but in this instance I believe her students got more than they paid for. In some community colleges, adjuncts teach two thirds of the classes, and across the board there are no figures for teaching assistants who are simply unpaid student teachers. In my sister in law’s case, she was working on a doctorate in biochemistry, not teaching, so the fact she is a natural instructor worked to her students’ benefit. To expect students to perform well as teachers is unrealistic in the overwhelming majority of situations, if it wasn’t, there would be no need for degrees in education or teaching certificates.

So we work our way through the expense of going to college and the value of the education received, and find ourselves looking at career value again. How do we expect our kids to pay off their student loans? The point of the education is to enrich the mind and soul of the student, but many people choose a career path based on expected income. Are there jobs available for which the education provides a benefit?

As I mentioned earlier, a career based in professional sports is a long shot. So are performing arts, not everyone delivering singing telegrams is an operatically trained vocalist, there just aren’t that many jobs for musicians and actors, or for that matter writers or production engineers. Despite laws addressing internships, we are at a point in our economy when well educated people will grasp at whatever straw is offered. Internships may provide valuable experience, or they may teach the intern how to make coffee just like her manager likes it. An internship may result in a permanent position, but probably not at the firm where you were an intern. An internship will never help pay off a student loan. Being an intern is in most cases one point five steps above slavery, without the glamorous fighting of lions.

The price of education is not the same as its cost or value, and all three need to be reevaluated on a case by case basis.

 

 

 

 

Unexpected consequences

Romans chapter 8, verse 28, reads “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

What do you see? Do you read this as only those who believe in God reap the benefits of his works? Do you read that because of God only good things happen?

Try it this way. “Those who believe can see the good in all things”.

A friend tried to point out that if there was a God, he would not have allowed the typhoon to destroy so much of the Philippines. Really? God would prevent weather? Without the typhoon, many people would never have the opportunity to display what they were made of. This can be both good and bad. Without God, maybe the effects would have been worse.

My cousin said he felt he wasn’t allowed to be what he should have been because he wasn’t able to serve in the military. Really? He’s a very good husband and father, his parents think he’s a good son, his sister thinks he’s a good brother, his nieces think he’s a good uncle, I think he’s a good cousin, countless people think he’s a good friend. Maybe that’s what he was supposed to be. Maybe serving in the military would have prevented all or some of that.

Lieve wanted to be an architect, but she did poorly in math the year she was to decide on her scholastic path. She decided to go into arts instead, and in photography had to study physics, in which she did very well. She wonders what would have happened if she had gone ahead and gone for architecture, since she obviously could handle the math. I would like to thank her math teacher. If he had been able to connect and teach this student, her life would have taken a different path, and I probably would have never met her.

Loving God means accepting the fact that his purposes are not always what we might want for our lives. Loving God means letting go of personal desires and trusting our creator. Being able to say ” It doesn’t really matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will”. You recognize those words, right? Being “to the mountaintop” is one way of saying you understand God’s vision is different than your own, and accepting it.

We don’t always see the consequences of our actions. We don’t always understand them. Some people only see the horror of the typhoon. My cousin saw that he couldn’t do what he had wanted to do. Lieve’s teacher may have thought he failed to teach his student mathematics.

It works the way we want it when we acknowledge we want whatever God wants. Listen, not just to what you want to hear, but to the message that keeps coming to you in different ways. Follow that path.


 

Is education over rated?

A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. Jaden Pinkett Smith shared his views on education recently. As a well educated and successful young man, his views are certainly worth considering by his peers, that is to say, all the other fourteen years olds with a net worth of eight million dollars who intend to live with their parents for the next thirty years. In other words, he could save his discussion for dinner.

He also stated that he would like to be “emancipated” for his fifteenth birthday (not legal). Again, not because he wants to leave home, because “everything at home is free”. Apparently his education has not provided him with the common definition of emancipation.

I have some level of admiration for Jaden’s father, Will Smith, and I choose to believe that Will is letting Jaden make an ass of himself as part of a larger lesson. Millions of parents are no doubt thankful to Will, for all the conversations they will have with their children which begin with “I don’t need to go to school, Jaden Smith said it’s mind control”.

After every election, I hear from the winning party how their members are better educated. Defined as “Well they voted for the winning (and therefore intellectually superior) candidate”, that statement is true. That’s not my definition of education, but then I’m not a politician. Somehow, Republicans were better educated in 2004, and Democrats were better educated in 2008. Yet the Democrats blame the Bush administration as being “anti-education”, so how did they become better educated during his terms?

By now you’ve figured out that it all depends on your definition of education. If you agree with me, you’re well educated, if you disagree you’re the product of inbreeding.

“Formal education” should be teaching students how to think. Unfortunately, the process has become bogged down in a results oriented society, and the measure of “education” became test results. How to think took second place to what to think. If you can pass the tests, you are deemed educated, when all you have done is memorize a list of test answers.

At the same time, these “educated” people are unable to actually “think”. Their education became less meaningful. Jobs that were previously performed by high school graduates now require a bachelors degree. “Experience” has been refined to mean “Have you done precisely these functions in the past” rather than “have you demonstrated flexibility in learning variations of your training?”. We have become, in many ways, a society of robots. A degree certifies that you invested money in a school, and attended classes. It does not indicate that you actually learned anything.

So in some ways, I agree with Jaden. Schools are not doing their jobs of educating people. But dropping out is not the answer. A little bit of knowledge is better than no knowledge at all.

Part of thinking is knowing that you do not know everything. Jaden has failed there. He is not alone. Knowing that nobody knows everything, that you should evaluate and compare information, as well as knowing how to evaluate information, is the basis of actually thinking. As I said earlier, education no longer teaches thinking, it teaches memorizing. So in the sense that we still believe that accomplishment of higher education creates higher intelligence, formal education is indeed over rated.

The truly educated never “graduate”. Education never ends, survival requires adaptation, which requires constant learning.

Measuring equivalence

A few years back, I was in a discussion about the meaning of words such as “equal”, “equivalent”, “identical” and “same”. All those words appear interchangeable, but they are not. A substitute, by definition, is not the real thing. The question was asked, “If a boat leaves the harbor towing a barge containing all the parts to build the same ship, and during the voyage every part of the ship was exchanged with the parts on the barge, is it the same ship when it returns?”. Yeah, it’s amazing what you’ll talk about when you’re incredibly bored.

My step son isn’t terribly interested in attending school. He’s clever, and the phrase “if only he would use his powers for good” comes to mind often. Students are required to attend class, as well as get passing grades, in order to graduate, and there is a specific number of absences that are allowed. My step son knows that number. As far as he is concerned, that is how many vacation days he has during the year.

Schools are dependent upon funding, and funding is dependent on attendance and  passing grades. So, if you were motivated by keeping your job in the school district rather than by educating young people, your goal would not be impeded by a bunch of lazy kids who won’t pay attention in class. You would develop ways of moving the kids through, year by year, until they weren’t your problem anymore. I would suggest at this point that my step son is smarter than the system, not that it’s doing him any good.

All the numbers here are for example and only approximate reality.

Let’s say that the number of allowed absences are eighteen (per semester, over three weeks of missed classes). Let’s say that my step son missed twenty classes. Bummer. All that playing the averages with grades is about to go out the window (the kid could, does, get A’s, but only to balance the D’s he gets in the classes he’s not interested in). But not so fast, how can the school maintain its status if students don’t graduate? Oh, you can “make up” the missed time. Not the missed classes, or the missed information, but the time. So after school and on Saturdays, he spends his time in a room full of other kids who missed too many classes, surfing on his iphone. He “makes up” the time he missed, the school gets paid for “instructional” hours, and he graduates with a High School Diploma, which is literally worthless in the job market (for obvious reasons).

Somehow, when the school tells you that spending an hour in a classroom has the same value regardless of whether a teacher is present, it says a lot about the value of a teacher being present. You might come to the conclusion that the classes you did attend were equally worthless. Which in this case is probably true.

This would happen when I worked in the Philadelphia Schools. During inclement weather, school would stay open until one o’clock. The only reason was that if they were open until one they were paid for a full day. It wasn’t any mystery, they had to hold the announcement until twelve thirty, otherwise it would have been “obvious”. How obvious was it that regardless of the weather, school never closed at any time other than one?

My step son goes out into the world “knowing” that there’s always another chance to get by. His impression that school was simply incarceration and not education is reinforced. Should his children decide they would like to succeed in school and actually learn something, there won’t be a cheerleader at home cheering them on. There won’t be anyone to help them with their homework. If he should choose to attend college (he’s been accepted to the only school he applied to), he does not possess a secondary school education. He has learned how to get past a course, not how to pass a course.

If he were a slouch, I would be the first to say so. But he’s not, and had he been allowed to fail at some point he would have accepted the challenge and done what it takes to pass. Instead he was given chance after chance after chance. I don’t believe the world that is waiting for him will give him anything approximating the same leeway. I pray that the world waiting for him is not the same that was waiting for me, he would never survive.

It’s not that he’s alone. There were scores of kids at the school when we picked him up. And his school is not unique. Princeton High School has been investigated for falsifying attendance records. Test rigging is being investigated in Camden NJ and Atlanta GA, among other places. I had a colleague who used to say “You can’t manage a squadron into battle”. You also can’t manage a class into education. The profit in education is an educated generation. These are the people who will be paying in when I’m collecting social security, I’d like them all to get good jobs.

I know there are many dedicated educators out there, but they are outnumbered by “union members” and bureaucrats whose only interest is the money they receive. As bad as teachers are paid, it’s actually pretty good for babysitters. If we are to pay good teachers what they are worth, we need to cut the teachers who are motivated by their pension. Unrealistic goals, such as one hundred percent graduation and zero failing grades, undermines instruction.

Teachers are rarely less intelligent than their students. It seems everyone has figured out how the system works, at least how to make it work for themselves. The sad thing is, it doesn’t work. Unless we intended to prepare our kids to fail, without providing the tools to deal with failure.

If that’s the case, we’re doing a great job.