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Your Tax Dollars

Your Tax Dollars

One of the crux differences between the left and the right is how our taxes are spent. The left believes taxes should not only be used for the needs of government – defense, statecraft, infrastructure and so on but also for social programs as well. The right believes that taxes should be as small as possible and pay for the bare minimum to keep the United States strong and prosperous. Social programs should be left to charities.

Often when I get into discussions with my friends on the right about things like Obamacare, food stamps and welfare, eventually they will inevitably say something along the lines of “not with my tax dollars.” All right, then. That leaves the question; what should we spend our tax dollars on?

Of course, there are those who say we should not pay taxes at all but that simply isn’t realistic. It takes money to pay for necessities, such as embassies and ambassadors, for the military and their equipment, and simply for making sure things run properly, or at least relatively properly. So let’s assume for the moment that we all want a military protecting us, diplomats negotiating trade agreements for us, roads to drive on from place to place and air and rail traffic transporting people and goods across the country.

For my part, I’d like to see my tax dollars spent on free healthcare for all. I’d like a European-style health care system that treats everyone regardless of their economic status. I’d love to cut out the insurance middlemen who serve no function at all except to make money for themselves. I’d like to see a healthier population, one who visit doctors instead of Emergency Rooms for basic care. I don’t want to see people dying because they couldn’t afford treatment. There is something so basically, disturbingly wrong with that last that it can’t even be expressed.

I’d like to see my tax dollars spent on eradicating hunger, particularly among children. No child should have to go to bed hungry. No parent should have to hear their children cry themselves to sleep because they haven’t eaten anything all day. No retiree should have to face a choice between paying for their medication and their food. This is a land of plenty; why shouldn’t everyone benefit from it?

I’d like to see my tax dollars spent on educating the young. Our future depends on having our next generations prepared to compete globally. Our children should be learning to think innovatively, to be inspired to learn particularly in science and mathematics. Our children should aspire to create things that will make the world a better place. We need to improve our schools and their facilities. Our teachers shouldn’t have to be paying for school supplies out of their own pockets. They should be compensated for the additional time they put in. They should also be held accountable for their performances as our students should be held accountable for theirs. We need to market education as a means out of poverty, a means to elevate not just individuals but entire communities. We need to involve parents directly in the education process but not just parents; the entire community. Businesses should be made to understand that they’ll only benefit from having a superior education system in their communities as it will turn out superior employees for them further on down the line.

I’d like to see my tax dollars spent on space exploration. As Robert A. Heinlein once said, the Earth is far too fragile a basket to put all our eggs into, especially when you consider what we’re doing to despoil it. We should be exploring the local solar system and sending probes into the furthest reaches of space as we’re doing but we should be doing more of it. The technologies that have developed from the space program have fueled our economy for the past half a century; imagine what we come up with in the next fifty years.

I’d like to see my tax dollars spent on rebuilding the infrastructure. I want to see good-paying jobs created to repair bridges and highways as well as constructing new ones. I want to see AMTRAK converted to a high-speed rail system that links the entire continent. And while we’re talking about jobs, I want to put some of my tax dollars in re-training the work force so that they are more computer savvy and able to do the jobs that are in demand. Those who have the abilities and the desire to change their lives should be given those opportunities, even the education to go into much-needed fields like engineering and medicine. I’d also like to see my tax dollars spent on helping students get college loans at reasonable rates that won’t put them into enormous debt before they’ve graduated that will take them decades to repay.

My tax dollars should go to a more sane military spending program. We are spending money on tanks and battleships we don’t need. I’d rather see that tax money go to the Veterans Administration that takes care of our soldiers, sailors and airmen after they’ve defended this country. I want our veterans to have the best medical facilities administrating the best care possible; I want them to have college programs to help them re-start their lives and give them a chance to prosper after their time in the military has ended. I want my tax dollars to go to the actual people putting their lives on the line for our country, not to the makers of helicopters and tanks who have oversold their products to our military and now want to keep their factories running even though their products aren’t needed anymore. The dynamics of the marketplace should apply to them too.

In short, I don’t mind paying for things that benefit people that actually need them. I have an issue with paying taxes that support people who are already rich by making them richer, by giving corporations making record profits tax incentives and loopholes to the point where they’re getting refunds while the deficit continues to be an issue. I want my tax dollars to mean something besides a dollar sign. How about you? How do you want to spend your tax dollars?

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Red Flags

Red Flags

At some point “socialist” became a dirty word in this country. You get tarred with it and you’re regarded with some suspicion and downright hostility. I suppose there are some mitigating circumstances for this; after all, it was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It was the National Socialist German Workers Party whose German name became shortened to Nazi. Neither one of them distinguished themselves for their humanitarianism.

A lot of Americans think of socialism as being the next step to communism in the same way marijuana leads to, in their minds, harder drugs. Yes, it’s a gateway economic philosophy. The next thing you’re calling everyone comrade and abolishing religion.

The truth is that there are all sorts of types of socialism just like there are many different types of capitalism. There’s hardcore socialism in which the state owns all businesses (which is essentially the last step before full-blown communism) and then there’s social democracy in which the state provides social services (i.e. health care, postal and phone services, television networks and so on) while business remains privatized. This seems to be the most successful socialist system to my mind with Sweden and Canada both practicing it and having robust economies. It is also the direction China is trying to move in to a large degree albeit without the democracy portion.

I have rapidly begun to move in that direction myself. And yes I was like a lot of you who grew up thinking socialism was a bad thing. My father preached it to me. As a refugee from Cuba, he had particular reason not to have any love for a system that to his mind had betrayed his homeland and exchanged one dictatorship for another. He married a woman whose grandfather had fled Russia (or more accurately, the Ukraine which was part of Russia at the time) because of a communist takeover there. I grew up in a household in which there was personal experience with countries that had suffered through a conversion from capitalism to communism (or more to the point from a despotic monarchy to something more despotic). Needless to say my attitude towards anything socialistic was to say the least hostile.

But as I grew up, it soon became apparent that capitalism is far from perfect. There are far too many opportunities for abuse. While I agree it is the least objectionable to most economic philosophies, I don’t worship at its altar the way some do. I also don’t believe it can’t be improved upon.

I have come to change my philosophy about government as well. My dad had always had tendencies towards anarchy – no government whatsoever. He also understood that there were certain basic services that only a government could provide – an infrastructure for business to be conducted, education so that the country could remain competitive and innovative, a military to protect the citizenry from foreign and domestic threats – and that those services needed to be paid for through taxation. My father didn’t object to paying taxes, but he thought taxes should be lower because the services a government should provide should be less. My father didn’t believe in safety nets.

It wasn’t until after he passed away that I began to question my long-held beliefs. I’d always felt that there had been a discrepancy in them. I’d always felt vaguely uncomfortable that backing conservative precepts and the Republican party was potentially wrong. I always wondered if it was the liberals and the Democrats who weren’t exercising the compassion I longed to see in government.

It was the second Bush administration that finally woke me up. I saw a conservative government that was trampling on the constitutional rights of its people willy-nilly and using terrorism as an excuse to do that very thing. I saw an administration that believed in torture as a legitimate means of fighting its war on terror. I saw a government whose allegiance was to the wealthy and whose attitude towards the poor was that they existed to provide cheap labor for businesses whose sole existence was to provide wealth for their owners. I watched business, whose watchdogs were systematically dismantled and deregulated, take an economy that had been leading the world and bring it down into the worst crisis since the Great Depression.

I realized then that government had different responsibilities than I had always believed. While yes, I still believe that government should interfere in the lives of its citizens as little as possible, it has the responsibility to provide its citizens with the opportunities to pursue success as well. It has always been our common belief that in America, anyone can achieve success if they are willing to work hard and be innovative. The truth is that success now is mostly inherited; small companies face a terrible uphill climb to become successful and the people who create and invent are rarely the people who profit from their creations and inventions no matter how hard they work – often it is the financiers who reap the benefits. Legal recourse shouldn’t be the sole domain of the wealthy.

Neither should health care be. We define the basic rights of every individual of this country as those quoted in the Declaration of Independence – the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But what defines those things? To me, good health is a necessary component. Nobody should be forced to endure sickness and disease because they can’t afford to see a doctor.

That doesn’t mean I believe in Obamacare. Actually I believe in something far more radical – socialized medicine. I believe America should have a system like France, Canada, Denmark – heck what most of the world enjoys. There are those who point at long waits for physician visits in those countries to which I say that they are no longer than those who wait for months to see a specialist here. I also don’t think medicine should be a for-profit business and that medical insurance should be rendered unnecessary.

There are those who will disagree. There are those who think that medicine like everything else should be on the free market system. You’re wrong. Your health care should not be based on how profitable your care is or is not. You deserve better than the lowest common denominator of health care. If you’re going to pay your entire life into a system, that system should not then deny you the care your physician prescribes based on expense.

I find it ludicrous that the people who complain that government is too inept and bureaucratic to administrate your health care don’t seem to find it too inept and bureaucratic to administer your defense. I also find it that those people who complain about social welfare programs aren’t above obtaining government grants to help them go to college, or start a business or aid their business when it needs it. Apparently the government should only give aid to those who deserve it.

I believe the government should give aid to those who need it. Are there abuses in the social welfare system? You bet. There are also abuses in the military, in religious institutions, educational facilities basically anywhere you find humans. That’s what we do. We find loopholes and take advantage of them.

That doesn’t mean we should deny the millions of people who need help – the single moms, the disabled who are unable to work, the children who have been abandoned by their parents – and who don’t take undue advantage of the system. Those who take advantage should be punished on an individual basis. An entire social strata shouldn’t be punished because they need help.

Yes, I am a socialist in many respects. I believe that a government should behave with compassion towards the less fortunate. I believe that a government should encourage innovation and excellence and give those people the opportunity through low-interest small business loans to grow their businesses which can then become economic engines for that country – investments into that government’s own future prosperity, you might say. I believe that the role of government is to defend its people but not just from foreign governments and terrorists – but from rapacious businesses who choose to use their wealth to intimidate and defraud those who can’t afford to fight back. From health crises that would incapacitate a productive member of society. From hunger and want. Nobody in a country as prosperous as ours should ever go hungry.

I no longer care if I’m labeled a radical for believing in those things. So be it. I am tired of people being more concerned with their wallets than the welfare of others. I am tired of greed trumping compassion. It’s time to raise the red flag and say there’s something wrong here. It needs to change. We need to change. We deserve to have the best lives possible. We deserve opportunity and safety. In short, we deserve the American dream that the founding fathers always saw this country providing. And it’s time to stop saying we believe in Christian values and start acting on them. IF Jesus were alive today, he’d be a socialist. Don’t think so? He shared everything among his disciples. They lived in a socialist system, one far more extreme than the one I’m advocating. He healed the sick without requiring them to pay anything. He fed the hungry and helped the poor. Quite the radical, this Jesus.

The Value of a Good Adyookayshun

The Value of a Good Adyookayshun

It has become painfully obvious that the education system of the United States has become ineffective. We have sunk lower and lower in test scores until third world countries are beginning to pass us by. We are turning out fewer and fewer engineers and scientists and more and more psychologists and liberal arts graduates. And I’m not one to knock a Liberal Arts education – lord knows that we need people versed in history, writing and the arts – but we also need people to build things. To innovate. To solve problems and let’s face it – a person with an English degree is less likely to do that than a person with a degree in, say, computer engineering, or quantum physics.

There are a lot of reasons we have fallen behind in education and it falls squarely in three categories – the system, the parents and the students. The system has made education less and less of a priority, cutting funds to it ruthlessly until teachers are forced to buy classroom supplies for their students because there’s no money in the budget for paper, pencils and sometimes even textbooks. We have to stop looking at education as an extraneous expense and look at it for what it is – an investment in the future of our country. This is a country whose education system has turned out people like Jonas Salk, Steve Wozniak, George Washington Carver and Thomas Edison. Who knows how many kids on that level are sitting in classrooms right now?

But that’s not the only issue with the system. The way we educate our kids is largely antiquated. Children these days have the attention span of a mayfly. Standing by a chalkboard and talking isn’t the way to connect with them. They need to be involved in an interactive system that allows them to take part in their education. Education has to become a dialogue rather than a lecture; it has to become a two-way experience. Thankfully, many schools are gearing up with computer programs that do just that, but we have a long ways to go.

Parents also need to become more involved with the education of their kids. School isn’t a day care for your kids; it’s their job to go there and learn. You, as the boss of your kids, are responsible to see that they do just that – making sure their homework assignments are completed, being involved with their activities and taking an active part in the educational dialogue. Make appointments with your teacher and find out how you can help reinforce their lessons at home. Find out where your kids are having trouble and help them out with it. If you can’t do it, find a family member or friend who can. Send them the message that their education is important and that you’ll support them in getting the best one possible.

The problem also lies with the students. The attitude has to change. Too many students look at school as a waste of their time, which it is if they aren’t invested in their own education. I get that it’s boring, I also get that looking into the future is kind of a drag. However, if you don’t acquire the skills you need, finding work is going to be hellaciously difficult. It used to be that the uneducated could get jobs in factories and in manual labor that while not requiring even a high school diploma, at least paid enough so that you could live a relatively decent life. Those jobs are largely gone now, moved overseas to places where that kind of labor is much cheaper than it was here. Now you’re mainly qualified for things like fast food, retail, customer service, phone sales and the like. These are low-paying, menial jobs that generally you can’t support yourself on. And even the latter two of those jobs are also largely being offshored. Why pay an American nearly eight bucks an hour to do what someone in India or Ghana can do for a fraction of the cost?

The future is really grim for those who don’t get a college education. The need in America is for engineers, programmers, biotech and medicine. There are also needs for chemists, physicists and biologists. The world is geared towards technology – you can see it in your daily lives with your cell phones, tablets, laptops and smart cars. It only makes logical sense that the jobs are going to be in those fields. The thing is that American companies see that the education system isn’t generating enough people in the fields that they need and so are having to go elsewhere to find the people with the knowledge and the drive to be successful innovators in their fields which more and more means Asia, Brazil and Eastern Europe.

Our kids lack ambition and focus. They also lack inspiration. We find it far easier to buy ’em an X-Box and a TiVo and let them do their thing. We find ourselves increasingly looking for our own space while letting our kids have theirs. Unfortunately, that sends the message that they aren’t important, that we don’t give a crap about them. Why should a kid work their ass off for a generation who can’t be bothered to be invested in their future?

Changes need to be made. Our future depends on it but more importantly, our children’s and grandchildren’s future depends on it. We need to make the education a priority because you can be damn sure the Chinese, the Indians, the Brazilians – have already made it a priority of theirs.

Tomorrow

Ever since I was a boy and my father introduced me to science fiction in general and Robert A. Heinlein in particular, I’ve been hooked on the future. Futuristic cityscapes with fantastic architecture, amazing mass transit and flying cars (goddamit, where are the flying cars they promised us?!) never fail to catch my attention. Star Trek and Star Wars became my fascination; the fiction of Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Larry Niven, Spider Robinson  and Joe Haldeman  became an escape from the doldrums of my high school years.

I dreamt of travelling to worlds both strange and fascinating aboard starships gleaming and beautiful, reflecting the glow of nebulae from their chrome hulls. I imagined what alien races would look like; would they resemble life on earth – reptilian, insectoid or even humanoid? Or would they look like something completely strange to us, shapes and sizes that even Lovecraft couldn’t imagine?

That continued as a young man and in a large extent right up to today. I still carry an affection for even badly made science fiction movies and get excited for films with even a hint of a sci-fi element to them. Even if it’s just a few years in the future, the advent of new technology is exciting. It is this feeling of a brave new world that has moved my support of the space program.

There are plenty of Proxmire sorts who think that NASA is an enormous boondoggle, a waste of money that can be put to better use solving earthly problems (you want to solve earthly problems? eliminate the freaking tax breaks for the rich – that will contribute far more to the bottom line than eliminating NASA ever would). I find that thinking incredibly short-sighted.

For one thing, the space program of the 60s has contributed so many industries to our economy that you could say that it paid for itself many times over. No, I’m not talking Tang and Velcro. I’m talking personal computers. Yup, computers used to fill entire rooms. NASA had to find a way to fit one in a vehicle not quite the size of a jumpy castle for kids parties. This spurred development in semi-conductors which would lead to new kinds of processors which form the heart of our modern PCs.

The cell phone industry wouldn’t be around without the space program. The satellites that orbit the planet which power the GPS devices that are commonly in use now are almost all launched by NASA. Those satellites were developed in part so that NASA could communicate with the astronauts who were on lunar missions.

Medical research has also benefitted from NASA. The artificial heart pump developed by Dr. Michael deBakey was inspired by the design of the space shuttle fuel pump.  Designs of space suits meant to be used in high heat situations are now being used to help burn victims.

There have been other, subtle benefits of the space program as well. Protocols developed by NASA to protect the astronauts from food poisoning on their long extra-terrestrial voyages are now in use by the FDA, leading to a significant drop in salmonella cases since those safety protocols were put in place. Restoration of 19th century paintings damaged in a church fire as well as an Andy Warhol painting vandalized in a Pittsburgh museum that were not restorable by conventional means were saved using technology developed by NASA to test materials for satellites that might otherwise be gradually eroded by high-atmosphere oxygen molecules that erode materials in spacecraft and satellites.

NASA has also found ways to utilize Teflon in space suits which have now been used in roofing for buildings and stadiums all over the United States. There are also parachutes that have been developed for NASA that are now in use in commercial and private small planes that have been credited with saving more than 200 lives.

But put that aside. As Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson commented on the Real Time with Bill Maher program earlier this year, the space program helped create an atmosphere of innovation that pervaded our culture for more than twenty years after the last Apollo mission. It was an atmosphere that encouraged innovation, of different disciplines working together to solve problems that led both directly and indirectly to new products, new industries and a robust economy.

As the space program has been marginalized over the past few decades once the moon landing was achieved, people have seen it as a relic, a government institution that has outlived its usefulness. After all, what has it accomplished since 1969 other than being a colossal waste of money and time? And in these days of economic stress, is there really a need to send up glorified city buses up to the International Space Station which in itself seems nothing more than a destination for Russian billionaires to live out their Buck Rogers fantasies.

The space program is much more than that. It provides innovation and it provides inspiration. Both are in short supply in our culture these days. I can understand the complaints against NASA. Truly, I can. I realize that there are plenty of things that need attention and funding right here on Earth. NASA is in the tomorrow business. The data that the Curiosity rover transmits today may not bear any fruit for months, years, even decades – but the sky crane that dropped it onto the Martian surface may pay dividends not only for future space exploration but here on earth as well.

There will always be problems on earth. Eradicating hunger, homelessness and hatred are going to take more than a budget and a plan and quite frankly, chances are that we aren’t going to ever eliminate the last of those. You can’t legislate smart and you can’t legislate thought. People will be idiots and bigots and there’s not much you can do to change that. Well, there is – you need to make education a good thing. A desirable thing. You have to put money into the school system and in paying the teachers properly. You need to emphasize science as a means of effecting change and technological improvement. You need to give kids dreams and goals; show them that hard work and tolerance for all cultures, creeds and beliefs is preferable to fear, mistrust and hatred. But that doesn’t seem to be in our DNA these days in terms of educational goals.

But what you can change is tomorrow. You can invest in tomorrow by aiming high now. Is there a reason to go to Mars? Hell yes! There are reasons to create habitations in space. There are reasons to send probes to the planets. It’s not just so eggheads can get work; it’s so that our fundamental understanding of how things work becomes more accurate. What does that do for us? Not just satisfying intellectual curiosity – it helps us understand the things that may threaten our species and how to prepare for them, be they asteroids from deep space or bursts of radiation from the sun that might irradiate the planet and wipe out all life on this very fragile rock. It also helps us discover new ways of looking at things – not the least of which is ourselves and our place in the universe. Is that practical? No. But it IS necessary.

Somewhere Out There

The world is caught up in Olympic fever as people tune in to the nearly non-stop coverage, cheering on their home country to gold and admiring the performances of the athletes who soar to new heights on this, sport’s most dramatic stage.

Yes, I can admire the athletic skills we see in sports ranging from track and field to gymnastics to swimming to basketball to tennis and shooting and bicycle riding and horse riding and archery and…well, just about every damn thing. But the thing that amazes me isn’t necessarily the athletic feats but the stories behind them; the people from all over the world who sacrificed the normal social life of adolescence to practice, to hone their skills so that one day they’d have a crack at even trying out for the Olympics.

They come from small towns and big cities. They come from every corner of the globe. Some are athletic talents, nurtured from the earliest moments of their life with the expectation of a big future. Others are underdogs, not expecting much out of their passion but giving their all nonetheless because on that one day, some miracle might happen and gold might be theirs.

But these miracles don’t just happen. They take long hours, hard work and dedication by not just the individual who will be stepping into the spotlight on international television, but by their parents. Their coaches. Their siblings. Their friends. And even their nations, who spend big money to operate training facilities for their athletes.

There are some who complain at the money spent (although in this country almost all of it comes from corporate sponsorship) and feel that the money could better be used to fix the ills of those countries. I can’t disagree that if we spent the billions that are spent on Olympic training, facilities for training and for the games themselves and for the infrastructure surrounding them, a legitimate difference could be made in world affairs.

Is all this worth it? Is national pride more important than feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless and curing the sick? If the United States were to spend on education what we spent on the Olympics, would our kids have a better future than the one they have now?

I think that it might be true but the Olympics are also an intangible. They inspire national unity as well as the will to achieve. Neither can be measured and quantified but I do believe that those are important elements of life just the same. We need to be inspired not just taught. We need to feel elated, not just satisfied. We need to have someone to root for, not just something to hope for. We need the Olympics and this is coming from someone who deplores the massive amount of spending that goes into them.

I don’t watch a lot of the events. Unlike Da Queen who will switch back and forth from various channels covering the games, I watch a few events here and there but not always. Some days I’ll just sit and watch from noon to night; others I won’t watch at all. It depends on my mood. Still, I’m fairly aware of what’s happening and I read about the games often. I’m aware of what’s happening. Maybe I’m typical, maybe not – I think most people are more into it than I am – but then I get hyped out pretty quickly about most things. Don’t even start with me about the Super Bowl.

The Olympics are different. Despite all the hype, all the glitz, there is still at the core the innocence of the amateur. While professional athletes make up the high-profile basketball and hockey teams in the winter, the bulk of the sports are contested by people who are not paid directly but compete for the love of the game whatever it might be. A select few – a Michael Phelps, a Gabby Douglas, a Tyson Gay – might achieve big endorsement deals but otherwise most will return home after the games whether they medaled or not and a life of relative normalcy.

But while they return to lives of post-Olympic anonymity, the seeds for the next generation have already been planted. Somewhere out there a child is watching Olympic glory and wanting it for themselves with all their heart. Somewhere out there a coach is drilling a young gymnast to repeat their grueling routine again and again and again. Somewhere out there the next feature narrated by Bob Costas is taking form, ready to inspire yet another generation to come

Equatorial Guinea Pavilion

Equatorial Guinea Pavilion

THEME: Sustainable Beauty of the City

PAVILION: The design is meant to express the distinctive character of Equatorial Guinea, utilizing the elements of soil and water to make a visually striking Pavilion.

Equatorial Guinea Pavilion

EXHIBIT: Throughout the Pavilion, visitors will be treated to the smell of coffee, a reminder of the importance of the bean as an agricultural export to the developing economy of Equatorial Guinea. Visitors enter past a reception desk and are carried along the waves through the island of Bioko, along the Benito River and through to Basile Peak where the iconic statue of the Virgin Mary was the scene of Equatorial Guinea’s independence. A video plays on a central display screen highlighting the natural landscapes and resources of Equatorial Guinea. In the second exhibition area, the abundance of petroleum contributes to the development of the country’s infrastructure, creating one of the most dynamic economies in Africa. In the future of urbanization, Equatorial Guinea’s investments into education, tourism and agriculture from her energy profits give a glimpse into the exciting future of this modern-thinking nation.

CUISINE: There is no dining area listed for the Pavilion.

SHOPPING: There is no specific shopping facility listed for the Pavilion.

Note: This Pavilion is located in the Africa Joint Pavilion.

An Expensive Education

An Expensive Education

There are few things that Democrats and Republicans can agree on, but one of them is the state of the American education system. Everyone knows, regardless of political agenda, that the system is broken.

The evidence is undeniable. The United States lags behind the majority of developed nations in nearly every measurable category, from language skills to reading comprehension to math and science. According to the documentary Waiting for “Superman”, the only score in which American students excelled was self-confidence.

That’s not surprising to me. We have been on a campaign for decades to raise the self-esteem of children, often to the points of the ridiculous. We teach children that each one of them is special, which of course in the end means that nobody truly is. We try to engage children in activities in which co-operation is emphasized and winning and achievement, not so much. Even when children fail, we tell them that achieving is less important than trying.

That’s insane. The advocates of this kind of thinking should be suffocated in their own granola and their heads and Birkenstocks left on a pike as a warning to others. The world is a competitive place. That competition is a motivation to innovate, to achieve and excel. Without that competition, there is no need to do any of those things.

Why are our children falling so far behind? There are a number of reasons; pointing fingers of blame is easy. Some of it rests with the schools, some with the teachers, some with the parents and some with the kids themselves. A lot of it rests with our society and what we’ve become.

The popular theory is that we have slashed funding for the schools to the bone and they are barely subsisting, but the fact is that we spend more per student than any other nation on earth except Switzerland. The issue is not that we are not spending enough on education, it’s how we’re utilizing the money we do spend. Far too much of the educational allotment goes to administrative costs; school boards and administrators take far too much of the education budget pie, teachers not enough. This inequity needs to be addressed.

We also need to look at the reality of our modern society. There are way too many distractions for children; cell phones, videogames, the internet, the malls. Kids are spending most of their lives with their eyes glued to a display screen of one sort or another. Research indicates when watching a video display screen, certain functions of our brain tend to decrease; we become pacified, lethargic. Our abilities to reason lessen; we tend to accept whatever we are told in this state. In effect, we become more prone to suggestion.

We also have discouraged learning and thinking for ourselves. Thinking requires energy and learning requires thought. Both of them require effort and unfortunately, that’s something that is nearly taboo among our children today. We have become a society of instant gratification; we no longer cook, we nuke. We can’t read a newspaper, but we can skim a sound bite. You can see it in our movies and television shows; the pacing of modern movies and television is much faster than it was 25 years ago; quick cuts and barebones plotting are the standards. Compare what we watch to the movies and television shows in Europe; the difference is pronounced. We want our information spoon-fed to us, rather than having to earn it.

In this kind of environment, what chance does a teacher have of keeping the attention of a student used to iPhones and Worlds of Warcraft? The competition is fierce, and teachers are going to need to adapt to this kind of learning environment. Those who are rigid and think that the only way to educate is the way that they themselves were educated are going to fail as teachers. Those who are able to make learning relatable to their students, who are able to communicate with them, interact with them and see them as individuals will succeed. It’s that simple.

One of the big complaints I’ve heard from friends who are teachers is about the parents. Many take almost no interest in their kid’s education. Others want to micro-manage it. The truth is that we as parents have to take a stake in the education of our children. We cannot afford to abrogate all the responsibility to the schools with a dismissive “well, it’s their job to educate my kid; that’s what I pay my taxes for.” No, nimrod, it’s OUR job too. We are responsible for making our children accountable. We are responsible for seeing that they learn to follow through and take responsibility for themselves.

Children follow the example of their parents. If we don’t show an interest in their education, they sure as hell aren’t going to. That means talking to them, going over their homework, demanding excellence and not just “trying.” That doesn’t mean throwing them to the wolves when they fail; it means teaching them that the only failure is in giving up. As one of the great teachers of all time one said, “There is no try. Do. Or do not.” Failure is not a dirty word. We learn by failing. Most great discoveries in our time came after lifetimes of failure. Failure teaches us tenacity and gives us incentive to achieve. We need to give out kids the freedom to fail, so that they might learn that the cost of success makes it worth achieving.

Unfortunately, we hand too much to our kids that they haven’t earned. It’s easier to give in and shut them up than it is to say no, but we wind up spoiling them. There is a certain value in saying no. Like failure, disappointment isn’t necessarily a dirty word. Disappointment gives us the incentive to earn things for ourselves. The parental urge is to want to please our kids, but sometimes it’s better for our kids not to please them. Give them the gift of self-sufficiency and you give them a chance at success in life. Keep trying to please them and chances are they are going to learn some very hard lessons when the time comes for them to be on their own.

We can talk about the problems of our educational system until we’re blue in the face, but it all boils down to a simple fact; you cannot teach someone who doesn’t want to learn. If the student shuts the door, the best teacher in the world won’t be able to walk through it. Kids have got to want to be educated, and that is something that comes from the parent, and is best set by example. We need to show them that learning is important to our growth as individuals; the more we learn, the easier our lives can become, and I’m not talking about learning superficial things, like game cheats and celebrity gossip. I’m talking about learning about how the world works, the wonders of science and technology, the mysteries of math, the joy of language and reading. If we ourselves have that kind of enthusiasm, it becomes contagious. Our children, seeing how learning and growing fulfills us, will want the same thing for themselves.

It is an economic certainty that if our education is inferior, we will be unable to maintain our competitive edge. Already we can see that in the economies of Asia, where education is paramount, and our own where it is not. This is something that’s very fixable, but it has to start at the grass roots level. We have to start demanding better of our kids, at home and at school. We also must demand better of our education system. We need to explore alternate methods of education that are more successful than traditional means but also continue to go with traditional educational methods that still work. We need to put more emphasis on basic skills and less on elective ones.

Things left to their own devices tend to stay the same, and so it will be for education unless there is an outcry loud enough to force change. Take an active role in the education of your child, and if you don’t have children, take an active role in demanding that the children of your community get the education they deserve. After all, those children are going to be in charge someday; it is in our own best self-interest that we help make them the best leaders we can while we still have the ability to.