Closing Thoughts, 2015

Hello all. I hope you are enjoying the holiday season and are looking forward to the New Year. As usually happens with vacation, I have had some free time and found myself contemplating things. Some of these topics are related to education, others are not, but as I occasionally do on this blog, I’d like to share some of my thoughts for your consideration.

Electronic devices in school

After years of trying to resist the invasion of the personal electronic devices in our schools, the war is finally over. The machines have won and now we are left simply negotiating the terms of the truce. The advent of the smart phone and tablet and the availability of wi-fi has made it basically impossible to monitor all devices, and so we have to come to terms with this new reality.

While I still maintain that the less we see of the electronic buggers the better, I have also witnessed students who use their devices to type papers, do research, review flashcards, and otherwise organize their academic lives. On a couple of occasions, when we did not have enough computers to host two classes, some students were able to work on their smartphones and turn in their assignments via Google Docs or Google Classroom.

I’ve also seen students studying, doing homework or typing on a computer while listening to music from the personal devices, and while this used to bother me, I have come to accept it because it’s the way most students (and adults) probably work at home. Besides, as I said before, the war is over, the invasion is complete, and now we have to learn to work with this new, morphing electronic presence.

The rise of “a-literacy”

One of my favorite Mark Twain quotes is, “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read”. Overlooking the fact that he excludes half the reading population, it’s a pretty good quote about reading and one that points to the obvious truth … that reading is like physical exercise, and only benefits those who actually do it. Knowing how to do it isn’t enough.

This observation is related to the above-mentioned electronic invasion, of course, but it runs much deeper than just reading books. I don’t see students reading newspapers or magazines like they did in the past either. And this is not because they are reading it online on their smartphones or tablets. In all the informal surveys that I have conducted over the last several years, students routinely tell me that they do not visit news and magazine sites. They are more likely to get their information through their social networks and places Buzzfeed, Reddit, or the news feed on their browser. According to a 2013 report, the way younger people consume the news is changing and this is reflected by their reading habits.

My concern as a librarian and a lover of reading is not so much that students are not reading at all, but rather that what I observe them reading tends not to be long, in-depth, and challenging texts. The time that used to be spent in the library reading a “good book” (and today there are so many) is now often taken up by the entertaining sparkle of a hand held screen. When I try to convert students back to a reading lifestyle, I often point out that if they read just 20 minutes a day (about 6-7 pages) during their “study” period in the library, at the end of a week they’d have practiced reading for an hour and forty minutes and have read about 35 pages. A couple have taken up the challenge, most have remained faithful to their devices.

The Presidential Candidacy of Donald J. Trump

I find it more than a little bit remarkable that less than a decade after Wall Street and its machinations nearly brought the economy to its proverbial knees, the leading candidate for one of the two major political parties in the United States is the poster boy for wealth, privilege and power. Donald Trump, who called “a million dollars” a small loan he got from his father. But being wealthy and successful doesn’t disqualify you from being Presidential. In fact, nowadays it is an asset considering how expensive it is to run for political office.

Most of the expense of running a campaign is getting your message out to the people, of course. If you’re a newcomer or a relative unknown, you spend your money introducing yourself to the people. Donald Trump was a known commodity, a reality TV star, who also happened to be a billionaire. It didn’t hurt that he was bombastic and impolite, willing to get personal and mean. His oversimplification of complex political and social issues such as terrorism and immigration, fed people what they wanted to hear which was, “trust me, I’ll fix it”.

But his terms were extreme, racist, and even unconstitutional. Building walls that span a continent, halting all immigrants of a certain religious tradition, deporting 10 million “illegals”, revoking the citizenship of children born in the U.S, shutting down sections of the internet and other such propositions demonstrate that Trump’s solutions are impractical and churlish.

Still, even as 2015 comes to a close, Donald J. Trump remains the leading candidate for the Republican Party. His presence has made the Republican debates some of the most watched political events in television history. A fact that Trump certainly attributes to himself, and which we can’t really argue against. In defending him and his sometimes outlandish remarks, his supporters will say things like, “he tells it like it is” or “he’s not afraid to speak his mind”. That may be good for television, but it makes for harsh, inconsiderate politics.

If Donald Trump does become president, here are a few firsts he would bring to the office. He will be the first president to ever have:

  • buildings and golf courses bearing his name before he came into office.
  • his own top-rated reality show.
  • his own vodka, fragrance and board game.
  • to leave a better living situation to move into the modest White House.
  • been roasted on Comedy Central with a panel that included Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, rapper and marijuana enthusiast Snoop Dogg (before he became a Lion), Larry King and Mike “the Situation” from the Jersey Shore.

In the words of FDR, “never underestimate a man who overestimates himself”.

Happy New Year and thank you for stopping by.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2015. All rights reserved.