Category Archives: Parenting

These Clowns Totally Prepared Our Kids. Just Not How We Wanted.

When my eldest son was pre-school age, my wife and I went on a tour of the University of Chicago’s Lab School. It was a formative experience. Here’s what we learned from the mom hosting the tour:

(a)arts classes don’t matter
(b) there is no homework and no grades in the elementary program
(c) the food of  Asian children smells funny
(d) that children with physical disabilities often “feel more comfortable somewhere else”.

I remember that last line clearly. One thing was emphasized over and over again on the tour: : students at Lab were constantly “evaluated for fit” during their careers to make sure they could continue on. Fitting in is important. And you can only do that if you eat appropriately fragrant food, learned piano on your own time, and please – don’t limp. I

You would think this would remove all sorts of kids from consideration at Lab. Heck no. Each person from the school took pains to say how diverse the school was. Mayor Emanuel sends his kids there, as does recently resigned Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Diversity: when kids of local and federal officials are at your school. At one point on our tour, I asked our host if “diversity” meant actual economic diversity, or just racial diversity. All I got was a blank stare. And an elbow from my wife. It was a dumb question: the diverse student body at Lab is filtered through a screen of eye-watering tuition: more than $30k a year, plus an expectation that you’ll “donate” more to the school. If a Potemkin village had a school, it would be like Lab.

clowns

The Potemkin Village might also choose Gems World Academy, a school so fancy that it exists in a residential area of Chicago I didn’t know existed – because there’s only one road in and out. I found myself in the lobby a few months ago. On a table near the giant touchscreens was a brochure extolling the diversity of the school, and focusing on their “core values,” which include “global citizenship.” Gems and Lab’s competitor, the Latin School, also wants to “shape leaders” for a diverse world. Francis Parker seeks to create “citizens and leaders…in a global community.” Francis Parker is also where the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, Forrest Claypool, sends his kids – though he tries not to talk about it. I don’t know why it’s a big deal, it’s totally ok to run a public school system without actually having kids in public schools.

These elite private schools have tuitions higher than the per capita national income of all but 20 countries (I checked). But that doesn’t mean they aren’t concerned about the global community. Just not the whole global community. The good parts. The parts without smelly food, limping weird kids, and poor people. And the students they’re turning out are absolutely prepared for a global community. But it’s a gated community.

For schools that make such strong claims about diversity, it’s awfully hard to get data on their demographics. And it seems to be impossible to get information on their expulsion, suspension, and attrition rates -their filters. Of course, if they published it, it might cause a minor scandal, like the when data from Chicago’s charter schools went public. That was especially embarrassing, because even while filtering out the difficult kids, they still didn’t do much better than the traditional schools – the very places where those filtered-out kids land. Charter schools. For parents who want choice. But not informed choice.

All of this makes me feel incredibly smug, since my kids go to a Chicago public school. No filtering here! Well, except for the fact that it’s a magnet school. Getting into a magnet school lottery required some work: a year before my son was to enter kindergarten, we attended information sessions, did research at the library, and filled out a bunch of forms. It was pretty confusing, and I’m a native English speaker used to dealing with public bureaucracy. And the end result is that my kids’ school is much wealthier and whiter than nearly any Chicago neighborhood school.

Nevertheless, our school is facing cuts like every other publically funded school, including the charters. Forrest Claypool, former Cook County Board member, head of the park district, and the CTA, appointee of our angry little Democratic mayor, is asking parents to to lobby the Democratically-controlled state legislature for education funding. You would think a veteran Democrat serving as CEO of the largest school system in the state would take the lead on that. But why should our leaders lead? This is Chicago. Claypool’s predecessor is going to jail, so he’s actually an improvement.  Meanwhile, the Speaker of the Illinois House, who has been in power almost non-stop since 1983, and the Governor, still test driving the office he bought last year, are in an epic pissing match. So this seems unlikely to end well.

Meanwhile, my sons get to ride the listing ship of public education. Nothing is the same year to year. Programs start and then are eliminated. Same with staff. Young teachers have kids and leave for the suburbs, because there’s no guarantee they can get their kids through the lottery process. Oh, and there was that teacher’s strike.

My wife and I sent our kids to public schools for a lot of reasons, but chief among them was this: we knew it was going to be a bit rough navigating the system, and we knew they’d meet people who weren’t like them. We thought that going through CPS would prepare them for adult life in the actual global community – tremendously diverse and more than a little challenging at times, but ultimately rewarding if you pay attention and invest some effort.

It turns out we were right about preparing them for adult life, but we had the context all wrong. In Chicago, a fair amount of money can buy you a gleaming existence free of the systemic failure, difficult people, and occasional unpleasantness everyone else contends with daily. Those without the means do their best to play within the system, selecting among bad choices and watching the value of their efforts steadily decline.

When I think about it that way, I figure that we probably didn’t do a great job preparing kids for the world, but we did a stupendous job of preparing them for America.

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Your Fat Child Is Upsetting Me

Tyler Prescott, Father

I have a reputation for being the dad that’s willing to say what the other parents won’t. I don’t know we can’t be honest with each other – we’re all at the same school seeing each other day. I think we should value openness and talk about it when something is bothering us, especially when it has to do with our kids. So I hope you won’t take this the wrong way, but your fat child is really upsetting me and a lot of the other parents.

It’s distressing to think that our school has an obesity problem, and frankly I’m upset that you aren’t taking the time to do something about it. We have spent so much effort making Taft Elementary the kind of school we can be proud of. We raised money for the landscaping and Smart Boards and new lacrosse uniforms, just to make the school look attractive to others. A lot of parents are worried that having such a fat student really takes away from the positive image we want the school to project.

You are certainly welcome to raise your daughter any way that you want. But it’s getting a little difficult to explain to my kids what’s with wrong her. The other day, Beretta asked me why I sighed when I saw her, and Dru wanted to know if calling a kid “disgusting” was a ok. There’s going to come a time we have to explain to our kids about the nicknames it’s ok to use for people who are different from us, but I didn’t want it to have to be so soon. All I’m asking for is a little consideration.

At church, our kids learn that we are all beautiful because God loves us and created us in His image. It’s important to us, as I’m sure it is to you, that kids don’t find reasons to question what they learn at church. What am I going to say when Beretta asks me if God is fat? I mean, of course He’s not, because he’s a perfect being. So why would he make people fat? Is this one of those things where God just looks the other way, like the Holocaust or with the gays and Muslims? It’s upsetting me just thinking about it. Imagine what it will do to my kids. My wife and I want them to grow up with faith, not upsetting questions.

Your daughter has no way to understand the body choices that you’ve made for her. Does she even know of the many opportunities that would be available to her if she weren’t so fat? It’s very sweet that she tries to play with the normal kids, and I think it says a lot about our school culture that the other kids try to accept her in spite of her appearance. Thank God for the anti-bullying program, right? Still, I think we can all agree that life would be so much easier if she looked like the other children.

You should think about the example she is setting for the other students. She’s eating what she wants, not even looking at the calorie count or ingredient label. She isn’t even on a single athletic team – is that really appropriate for a third grader? I really don’t know how else kids learn about taking every opportunity to crush an opponent if they don’t play sports. Sometimes she just sits during recess and reads! And do you think she’s really comfortable being the only kid in school who never wears Under Armor? Beretta asked me if this means that she is poor. I don’t want my daughter having to worry that she goes to school with poor kids, especially when she’s already figured out that poor people mean bad neighborhoods, crime, and gangs.

Don’t take this the wrong way, but have you thought about counseling? Maybe your daughter has some sort of issue that makes her want to be so lazy. I’m sure there’s a psychologist that specializes in kids with messed up attitudes about their bodies. Better to take care of this now than when she gets older and has trouble finding a husband or a job, right? She still has a really good chance of having a normal life if  you start now, and we’re all totally ready to support you on this.

I’m glad we could have this talk.

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I F%&cking Love Standardized Tests. And So Do You.

This spring, Illinois and a bunch of other states rolled out a new standardized test: PARCC. PARCC and, it seems, the very idea of standardized testing has become controversial, with organizations actively organizing against them.  When I asked my son how it went, he said “fine.” This week, my son took another test, the NWEA MAP test. I also asked how it went. He said, even more anti-climatically, “fine.” He shrugged, then launched into a lengthy discourse about Fennekin, a fire-type that evolves into Braixen.

Given that my son’s feeling about testing was identical in intensity to his daily feelings about his lunch, it’s surprising how many parents choose to opt out of the exams on their child’s behalf. This is particularly curious, because -full disclosure- most people I know are privileged white people. Which means that:

(1) we likely chose our school based on the scores for tests that now we don’t want our kids to take
(2) our children will do well on these tests, since standardized test results track heavily to socioeconomic level
(3) we’re screwing the teachers we profess to love by removing our high-performing kids from the test results on which they’re evaluated
(4) we’re forcing the administrators  to find something else to do with our non-test taking kids, which won’t be classroom learning because everyone else in the classroom is taking the test.

But let’s leave all that rationality aside. We’re well-off white people. Being privileged means not having to be rational (see for example not eating bread). But I am throwing off the shackles of my socioeconomic class to say this:

I F%$CKING LOVE STANDARDIZED TESTS.

I f%$cking love standardized tests because they prepare my kids for college. We’re only seven or so years away from my third grader taking the ACT or SAT so that he can go to a college everyone has heard of. A few years after that, he will take the MCAT, the LSAT, or the GMAT so he can get a good job, drive a late model import, and fill his open floor plan house with Pottery Barn. In the evenings, he’ll be on the junior leadership board of an organization that gives food or money to adorable minority children. Or badminton lessons to the homeless. I f%$cking love standardized tests because I want what every privileged white person wants for their children: to be happy. That is, to be happy with commonly recognized symbols of prosperity. 

I f%$cking love standardized tests because they prepare my kids for life. Life is full of having to do long, stupid tasks because someone in charge tells you to. Do these opt out parents not have jobs? Have they never had a boss ask them to develop a bunch of SMART goals, then tell them to put them in a spreadsheet, not a Word document, then ask them to save it in the 97-2003 Excel format because they’re working off an old laptop at home, and then come back a day later and say they actually want SMARTER goals,because “evaluate” and “revise” are important steps as well, but not as important as the fact that she read a Lifehacker article on SMARTER goals on the elliptical that morning and thought it sounded cool? What skills learned in school will teach my kids to deal with this? Do “fact triangles” prepare you for the over-promoted? No. Does “chunking” words help you remain calm when dealing with the functionally illiterate HR person? Absolutely not. And what about dealing with the cable company, the county records office, or going to the Post Office?

I want my kids to know that life is about getting through 40 hours a week of inane, meaningless tasks for the few glorious evening hours on the weekend you get to spend farting on the couch playing Arkham Origins before you fall asleep. I f%$cking love standardized tests because there really is no better preparation for the endurance and endless humiliations required of an adult life.

I f%&cking love standardized tests because they turn your kid into a number. I read a parent’s complaint once about how standardized tests don’t tell you anything about the “real” child. That’s true. But do you really want anyone to know the “real” child? My real children, if left to their own devices, would eat cream cheese with their fingers, wash it down with Capri-Sun squirted in the direction of their face hole, wipe their hands on their shirts, and then sit pantsless on the floor staring at comic books until their eyes crusted over. The whole point of school is to keep my kids from being “real” kids! To give them a common knowledge base, something that resembles a universal set of skills, and the rules in which to live in a polite society. You know, standards. 

But mostly, I f%&cking love standardized tests because with that number, I can achieve the one thing that all parents want: to know if my kid is better than yours. Remember when we compared our kids’ birth weights?  Then we compared where they fell on the height and weight percentages. Plus, we could compare them on months to rolling over, sitting up, crawling, walking. And then school started, and, what? We’re too polite to do that any more? Bullshit. Grades only tell me if they’re meeting the teachers’ expectations, and who cares about the expectations of people who took low paying jobs to be public punching bags? What do they know? Worse, I don’t know what grades your kid got. so they’re not relative. Standardized tests are. With standardized tests, I get to know that in a room of 100 peers, my kid can read better than some number of them and do math better than some other number. That is a black and white number issued by the government telling me precisely how good my kid is.  It’s parent crack. I want these numbers every day.

I f%&cking love standardized tests. And so do you.

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The Huey Academy: A Unique Option for your Special Student

Who We Are

The Huey Academy is a non-denominational, co-dependent, not-for-profit school serving the gifted, exceptional, or singular student. Though we draw on the Montessori, Dewey, and Rhythm methods, we are not constrained by them. At the Huey Academy, we seek to develop the whole child with a focus on their intellectual and emotional growth, as well as their financial potential and procreative success. Our children will enter the diverse globalized workforce of the 21st century, and we know that a carefully selected, homogenous cohort is the only way to prepare them for success.

The Gifted/Exceptional Child

Perhaps you’ve noticed that your child is more creative, talented,  or special than the children of your friends or relatives. Indeed, parents are often the first to notice that their child is gifted. We believe that every child has a right to education that is appropriate to his/her potential. The advanced cognitive abilities of the gifted child and their heightened intensity combine to create experiences, awareness, and chemical dependencies that are different from the norm.

As a precondition for admission, the Huey Academy requires that your child scores above the 95th percentile on a state-sanctioned standardized test. These tests are developed by consultants, political appointees, and bureaucrats and are an excellent way to confirm the gifted specialness of your child. In lieu of standardized test scores, families may confirm their exceptional student through submission of an IRS 1040 for the previous three years (1040EZ not accepted).

Your Experience at the Huey Academy

The Huey Academy does not believe in tests. Standardized tests are developed by consultants, bureaucrats, and political appointees, and are a poor indicator of student performance. Some are surprised to learn that there is no homework in grades K-6. The reason is simple: the first 12 years of your child’s life are an important adjustment period for parents. Learning to commit up to 30 minutes a day to working together is a burden that many aren’t ready for.

We are committed to stimulating learning experiences and a problem-solving/inquiry approach to instruction. We know that tomorrow’s leaders require a firm footing in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Quite simply, their future at a private East Coast university requires it.

Our outdoor classroom in North Dakota

Experiential learning is an important part of the Huey Academy experience. Students are offered unstructured time throughout the day to work with their hands, just like members of society without higher education. Our biological and physical sciences classes are conducted at outdoor field stations, offering students an opportunity to explore the many resources that can be extracted from nature.

High School students are encouraged to participate in one of our two week exploration programs abroad. These intensive programs bring students to Africa and Latin America to witness firsthand endemic poverty and other global problems. Many alumni tell us that it was their experience abroad that encouraged them to participate in gala dinners as adults.

Beyond the Classroom

Our 4th Grade Investment Club

A full range of extra-curricular activities are available. We have varsity sports teams for our students of color, and team ownership programs for our other students. In addition, students in all grades are encouraged to form clubs, teams, and interest groups around the activities most appealing to them.  These offer important opportunities to nurture the students’ interests in literature and the visual and performing arts, forming a basis for lifelong hobbies and endowment interests.

Statement on Diversity and Disabilities

We are committed to a diverse learning environment. Your child will be working alongside the children of doctors, lawyers, and businesspeople from around the world. A recent survey of our students’ home life showed that Huey Academy pupils speak 22 different languages to their domestics.  Of course, our doors are open to students with physical disabilities and other imperfections. We find that many of these students enjoy the challenges of our long staircases, highly polished and sloped marble hallways, and open floor grates.

 The Huey Academy: A Solutions-Oriented Approach

We believe that life is a series of races, and the race chosen determines where we finish.  While other schools can offer your children amateur races, the Huey School is committed to the master race.  We train tomorrow’s leaders to be bold, decisive, and visionary – adults that will not look to a world offering terminal problems, but a world offering final solutions.

 

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*This* Is the Thing That Chicago Public Schools Is Doing Equitably?!

My wife and I are very proud of the fact that our two kids go to a Chicago Public School. Chicago has one of the best public school systems in the country. Or it will once the city secedes from the rest of the United States. We were super excited for this school year to get underway, without the threat of an imminent strike or lingering ill will and uncertainty about massive school closings.

Maybe there wasn’t one big story that overshadowed this school year in the way that we enjoyed in 2012 and 2013. Or perhaps we’re just in a lull before Rahm privatizes or closes every neighborhood school in 2016. Or maybe it’s that we’ve overlooked the big story of this year: every CPS student now gets a free school lunch.

This is classic nanny state garbage. Who is the school to try and feed my kid a pre-packaged mass-produced lunch? I demand choice! I demand the right to feed my kid whatever pre-packaged mass produced lunch *I* choose, not what some bureaucrat tells me. I know what’s best for my boys. And what’s best is that they sport at least a B-cup by 6th grade. I don’t want my sons to know the agony of being appointed to the committee for itty bitty…oh, it’s too painful. It’s hard having boys.

How do I know the school is going to take into account my children’s many food-related allergies, religious beliefs, cultural taboos, and special needs? My wife and I carefully planned their regimen of homeopathic vaccines, raw milk, dried tiger penis (and not the fake stuff), and kombucha colonics. I’ll be damned if CPS bureaucrats are going to ruin all of our hard work.

But the lack of choice is not the only thing bothering me. The new initiative is wholly funded by a federal program that ends individual students’ applications for the program. Instead, because so many families in CPS are low-income, the whole district will qualify for free lunches. The old system required the lunchroom staff to keep track of which kids qualified for free or reduced lunch, and I’m sure there were kids who felt stigmatized by being identified as needing the program. But no more! The children of the affluent will be treated exactly the same as those with financial difficulties. All kids will be equal in the cafeterias of the Chicago Public Schools.

And there’s my problem. We are in CHICAGO. These are kids in PUBLIC SCHOOLS in CHICAGO. Chicago, famous for being among the most segregated cities in the country. Chicago, where I can ignore appalling gun violence because it doesn’t happen near me. There are two things every Chicagoan loves: gross inequality and that other thing. Do you know the best way we’ve found to preserve inequality in Chicago? With our public schools! What’s the point of being a privileged white family in CPS if we’re going to be treated like those families whose depressing stories always lead the evening news?

Up until now, CPS was preserving inequality beautifully. Forty-one percent of CPS schools are more than ninety percent African-American. Sixty-eight percent of the system’s African American students go these homogenous schools. Close to 90% of students in CPS come from low-income families. A federal commission report noted that poor urban students “are getting an education that more closely approximates school in developing nations.” (source for all of this) CPS wants my kids to eat lunch like kids who might as well be going to school in Somalia?! I didn’t fork over all that money for infant French literature classes and MENSA preschool for this! If I wanted my kids to grow up in some desolate isolated backwater, we would have moved to Tinley Park!

Sure, CPS already treats all kids equally in that it  does a lousy job preparing all of its students for college. But it does an especially bad job preparing the poor and African-Americans. And it does a great job of making sure white kids go to the best high schools in the city. Fewer than 10% of CPS students are white, but they took better than 40% of the spots at Walter Payton and Northside College Prep, gems of our system. That’s the kind of inequality that I expect from the City of Big Shoulders. Of course, it could be that those white kids were just better prepared – helped by the fact that when the district has some extra money to throw around, it gave it to the whiter schools on the north side.

Here’s the other crazy thing about this new free lunch program: part of the justification for the program is that it will end corruption. WHAT?! This is CHICAGO.  In COOK COUNTY.  Which, last time I checked, is in ILLINOIS. No one with any integrity holds public office here. Every so often, someone of character and rectitude wades into the waters of local government. In mere seconds, their bones are stripped clean of morality and character by the piranhas of our political culture. They vanish below the surface, their bloated corpses becoming part of the effluvia of public office, rotten and ignored until their skeletons wash up years later and engineer a cush job for their offspring.  We have a finally balanced ecosystem of corruption in Chicago. You can’t go messing with it. Take away the piranhas, you get crocs. Take away the crocs, you get sharks. Try to deal with the sharks, you get sentient liquid metal assassin robots from the year 2031 by Governor Skynet. We put one governor in prison because he was selling drivers licences and he was replaced by a governor who tried to sell EVERYTHING. People complained about Daley because he closed ONE tiny airport. Rahm closed FIFTY schools!

The previous school lunch program was only defrauded by administrators, staff, and parents. By local standards, that’s not so bad. With the relaxed standards, everyone is going to get in on this — and then how am I going to guarantee that my kids are going to get more?

 

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Waiting: The Hardest Part? Evaluating the Assertions of Petty, et al

Last week, I returned to Six Flags’ Great America with my children and their friend. The kids had once again earned “free” passes by completing a reading program at school, and we felt compelled to go by the perceived “value” of only having to pay just  $60 for my admission and another $60 for food. As with my visit last year, I thought about the cultural absurdities the park is peddling, as well as the amusement park’s role as a luxury destination for (what I perceived to be) low income families. But mostly, I thought about the lines. The ridiculous lines. The staring at the operators who moved like slowly rusting robots between rides, the inventory of garbage in the holding pools, and my constant threats of bodily harm to my sons if they didn’t keep their hands to themselves. But mostly, I thought of the work of the American philosopher poet, Tom Petty, and his major work “The Waiting.”

Tom Petty and his collaborators (Lynch, Campbell, and Tench, referred to herein as “The Heartbreakers”) assert in the chorus that waiting is “the hardest part.” But is it? For this, I turned to the abundant research on waiting. Did you know there was abundant research on this? I did, because I have unlimited access to the world’s 9th largest research library. Janakiraman, et al (2011) point out that the longer you wait in line, the more likely you are to focus on “forgone benefits of alternative activities, experience boredom, or suffer from heightened feelings of anxiety and stress.” In layman’s terms, I could be thinking about how punching myself in the face would be more exciting, counting the people in line I’d sleep with in a pinch, or helping my children envision a life free of electronic media if they don’t shut up.  Maister (2005) describes a number of general propositions about waiting, including: occupied time feels shorter; uncertain, unexplained, and unfair waits seem longer; and waiting by yourself feels longer.

Whatever the reason you’re waiting, the hardest part is the psychological stress you endure, say, as your son only stops talking long enough to put his mouth on the guardrail recently touched by the 95% of people who don’t wash their hands correctly. According Janakiraman (2011) people don’t make rational decisions about waiting – stressing themselves out as they “balance two competing psychic forces: a growing disutility for waiting that induces a desire to abandon queues…versus a growing commitment to seeing waits through to their end as the time until likely conclusion shrinks.” Here, the authors are reasserting the paradox first described by Strummer, et al (1981) wherein one debates the merits of staying versus going based on the knowledge that persisting will result in trouble (n), while departure will increase said trouble exponentially (2n). Such indecision will bug you, and may inexplicably result in people yelling things in Spanish.

The waiting is also the hardest part because people are generally terrible at accounting for their time. Soman (2001) demonstrates that we’re more concerned about the time we piss away when we assign it a monetary value – though the argument is that this irrational since pissed away time is a sunk cost, just like the money you wasted on the new kitchen for that place in Las Vegas that you’re never going to be able to sell for what you paid. Speaking of irrationality, it’s apparently pretty easy to trick us into not realizing how long we’ve been waiting. In a relevant example to my own experience, Nie (2000) points out that people regularly endured a 90 minute wait for an 3 minute ride at Disney World because they were given some sort of treasure map to figure out while they waited. Dupes, right? Nie also points out that busy restaurants make sure to put menus in your hands fast so it feels like you’re being served, even when you aren’t. Mark van Hagen and his co-authors (2009) support this research: “infotainment” and blinky signs make people less upset about waiting around for trains and such. And these are Dutch people, who stand in line while wearing wooden shoes and eating hard pretzels.

Petty reminds us that “every day you see one more card/get one more yard. ” Thus, the illusion of progress is important to the perception of waiting. Again, Professor Nie’s finding support Petty’s instinctive assertions.  “…If the line is arranged with a zigzag of five aisles, it does not seem hopelessly long.” What Petty calls getting one more yard, Nie calls “managing the perception of distance.” Apparently, theme park lines are arranged in long, twisting paths because it screws with our perceptions — furthered by the fact that you usually can’t see the end of the line, so that you can figure out just how long the line is. We’re being tricked all of the time. Thanks, Professor Nie, for point out that we’re so easily duped.

1323982745tompetty_img03_hires

In the course of my research, I learned that there is one party for whom the waiting is not the hardest part: the operators of the amusement park. Reza Ahmadi (1997) includes the fascinating insight that people have a 12 ride “threshold value,” which is the number of rides they want to go on to feel as though they got their money’s worth. On a crowded day, people end up staying in the park longer to reach that threshold value. Ahmadi tells us that “operating profits are positively correlated with the duration of visitors’ in-park stay.” Longer waits for rides = more money for Six Flags. Which is good, because the rest of the company’s strategy is based mostly on being a little cheaper than Disney World.

But let us return again to the words of Tom Petty:

Well yeah i might have chased a couple women around
All it ever got me was down
Then there were those that made me feel good
But never as good as I’m feeling right now
Baby you’re the only one that’s ever known how
To make me wanna live like I wanna live now

I believe that what Petty and the Heartbreakers are saying here is that though waiting is generally a negative experience, a positive conclusion makes it worthwhile. Again, Petty’s insight is supported by careful experimental design. Ahmadi (1997), states that “waiting may contribute to the experience…low waiting times tend to have a negative impact as well.” The implication is clear: just as Tom Petty would not feel as good as he feels having endured the wait for the right woman, all those people waiting in line for two hours to ride Goliath at Great America might have found the ride less thrilling if they hadn’t had time to let their anticipation build, and assigned value to the ride based on the visible demand for it. I think those people are nuts, because I don’t particularly enjoy roller coasters or anything that makes my stomach drop (I’ve passed out twice on airplanes, which is another story). Miller, et al (2007) find another time when long waits are beneficial: when you’re waiting for a negative experience. A longer wait time may help you develop a coping strategy – like, say, enduring the flume ride your sons want to go on so they can then go to the kiddie rides and you can stay on the ground. Ground that doesn’t whip, spin, drop, or turn upside down. I love the ground.

So, is waiting the hardest part? Standing in line at Great America, it certainly feels that way to me, but obviously not to everyone.  America apparently loves waiting. Consider another important research finding: the average NFL broadcast is 174 minutes long. Can you guess how many minutes actually show action on the field? Eleven. In this way, amusement parks and football are exactly like porno movies: based on juvenile fantasies with dumb, tacked on plots, featuring dumb characters with inhuman physiques setting up for a quick climax. When it’s over, you feel some guilt for having wasted all that time. And you desperately need to wash your hands.*

*you know, because you ate all those Doritos watching the Superbowl.

References

Managing Capacity and Flow at Theme Parks
 Reza H. Ahmadi
Operations Research, Vol. 45, No. 1 (Jan. – Feb., 1997), pp. 1-13
Published by: INFORMS
A Further Extension of Osuna’s Model for Psychological Stress
Henryk Gzyl and Edgar Elias Osuna
International Journal of Contemporary Mathematical Sciences, Vol. 8, No. 17 (2013), pp. 801-814
Published by: Hikari, Ltd.
The Psychology of Decisions to Abandon Waits for Service
 NARAYAN JANAKIRAMAN, ROBERT J. MEYER and STEPHEN J. HOCH
Journal of Marketing Research, Vol. 48, No. 6 (December 2011), pp. 970-984
The Psychology of Waiting in Lines
David Maister, 1985
Accessed at: http://www.columbia.edu/~ww2040/4615S13/Psychology_of_Waiting_Lines.pdf
Consumer Wait Management Strategies for Negative Service Events: A Coping Approach
 Elizabeth Gelfand Miller, Barbara E. Kahn, and Mary Frances Luce
Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 34, No. 5 (February 2008), pp. 635-648
Article DOI: 10.1086/521899
Waiting: Integrating Social and Psychological Perspectives in Operations Management
Winter Nie
Omega, the International Journal of Management Science,  Vol. 28 (January 2000), pp. 611-629
Published by: Elsevier
For further insights into the major works of Petty, et al, this is an excellent starting point.
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What the Hell Is This? Another Parenting Blog?

I promise to return to my usual posts about the hilarity of Chicago street gangs, the futility of peace negotiations in the Middle East, and the absurdity of the American consumer next week. For this week, something different:

When we planted our garden earlier this summer, I asked my 5 year old son what he wanted to grow. Among other things, he was very excited about growing “milky way.” It quickly turned out that he actually wanted to grow milkweed so we could have monarch butterflies. I guess the school had some lesson on about monarchs and their decreasing numbers due to habitat loss. From that point in April forward, I spent entirely too much time trying to satisfy my sons’ interests in milkweed and monarchs.

First, of course, I went online to see if I could buy milkweed seeds or plants. You can, but it seemed awfully expensive to buy something that is a WEED. Luckily, I had a friend who grew milkweed in her yard and she was willing to share some. I dug it up, replanted it in a sunny spot in our yard…and it didn’t take.

I drive my car to work, and so does everyone else. Parking around my office at the university is impossible. Parking in the adjoining neighborhood is close to impossible because the neighbors hate the university (and vice versa), so most of the parking is zoned for residents. Downside: I park really far away from my office. Upside: all that zoning for residents is just for spite — the neighborhood south of the University isn’t densely populated, and there’s a lot of vacant lots. Vacant lots = milkweed! So every day on  my way to and from my car, I would look for monarch caterpillars. A couple of weeks ago, I found one on my way in. On the way home, I found another. I put them and a few leaves in one of the old plastic takeout containers I carry my sandwiches in and took them home. Later, my older son noticed that there was a really tiny third caterpillar on one of the leaves. Here’s a picture I took of one of the caterpillars. This is on my dining room table, using a helping hand-type soldering stand to hold the leaf, a Nikon D7000 and 85mm lens with a close-up lens, and a Maglite to illuminate the thing:

Monarch Caterpillar

 

Here’s another shot I did, trying to capture its face – which turns out to be fairly featureless. This was also done with my D7000, but with a 50mm Series E reversed on the front. This is a really difficult set-up to work with, using the camera fully manually and looking through a viewfinder that’s very dark due to stopping down the lens all the way.

DSC_4862

I mention all the camera equipment to mock myself. I have all this stuff. I use it a few times a year. I make no money off of it, I don’t enter any contests or anything, and I don’t usually share pictures I take that aren’t of my kids.  But find me a caterpillar and an hour to kill on a Tuesday night, and BAM! I pull it all out and set it up and then think of all the other things I could buy to make the next time easier. Any gadget-driven male who tells you they think any differently is lying.

A long time ago, my sister- and brother-in-law bought the boys a little plastic earthworm farm. You put vermipods in the little box and then thrill to the xtreme excitement of the life-cycle of an earthworm! Let me summarize it for you: they start as little worms and grow to be bigger worms. Then you throw them in the garden. YESSS! Anyway, I took the thing and fixed cheesecloth over the ventilation holes. You can see the set-up in my kid’s hands below.

In what became a strange daily ritual, I would grab a few milkweed leaves everyday on my way back to my car. And then get sticky white sappy stuff all over my fingers.  Hey! I guess that’s why the call it milkweed. Caterpillars eat and poop a surprising amount. They also grow really fast. If you’re lucky, they’ll form a chrysalis. If you’re even luckier, they’ll emerge from the chrysalis. I prepared my kids for the eventuality that one or all of the caterpillars would die at some point. But the first one to form a chrysalis actually emerged. Here’s a time-lapse that I shot with my GoPro Hero 2, which I set up via WiFi on my Galaxy SIII. Because sedentary higher ed office monkeys need WiFi-enabled action cameras:


If you look carefully, you can see the other caterpillar at lower right coming in and out of the picture. The things moving in the background are our guppies that my son took home as fry from his class last year. They’ve also managed not to die, which is nice.

Here’s my kids with the butterfly in the enclosure on our way out the door to release it:

DSC_4863 This is the former resident of our sunroom resting after a short initial flight. My wife, kids, and I were all pretty excited that this worked out so well. If you’re not a parent, you probably don’t know that most parenting blogs have deep moral lessons; even those that are ostensibly about craft and science projects are written by people who are either home schooling their kids or leading a vacation bible school. I’m doing none of those things, so I’ll just say this was pretty cool. I’m really grateful for all of the information that’s published by the University of Minnesota Monarch Lab on how to do this. I’m still checking the milkweed twice a day for caterpillars, but I’ve been distracted by the pressing needs of building a giant Batman pinata for my son’s birthday. But that’s a different story.

DSC_4869

 

 

The Millennial Numbers Game

I was reading David Brooks’ column on May 5, “The Streamlined Life,” in which he reflects on the results of UCLA survey of incoming college freshmen. An hour or so after I read the column, I was in my university’s gym locker room, overhearing an older professor lamenting the manifest failures of “the current generation.” As a member of Generation X, I hate the Millennials as much as anyone. They’re entitled, inappropriately casual, poor at grammar, and don’t seem all that concerned about maintaining the legacy of Nirvana. Plus, they can type with their thumbs much, much faster than me.

Brooks’ cites the survey’s finding that “affluence…is now tied as students’ top life goal.” I think I was supposed to read that bit, wring my hands with everyone else, and wonder why kids today have such superficial concerns. But I didn’t.  What exactly did we think was going to happen? I don’t know about you, but I live in a world that worships wealthy people. In fact, I can’t think of anything else that we accept as a symbol of success other than wealth. The strength of your ideas, your contributions to society, or even your personal well-being don’t mean a thing if you don’t got that bling. If you’re entering college this year or last, you were born in the mid-90s. They’ve known nothing else but our national love affair with Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs.  Innovators? Maybe. Colossal jerks? Definitely. But we celebrate them and make movies about them because they got to be disgustingly rich.

Millennials may have no real memories of the Clinton years, but I’m sure they remember the last two elections, in which nearly half the voters in the US supported a party that believes the economy should be based on the principle of “I got mine, Jack.” We expect empathy and concern from kids raised in a world where Paul Ryan and Rand Paul aren’t treated as the wild-eyed cranks they are? Since we’re mere years away from having no middle class at all, the student’s outlook is pragmatically black and white: be rich or be poor. And who the hell wants to be poor? Those people can’t even afford iPhones, much less Under Armour. I feel badly for the Millennials –  it’s going to take them a few years before they figure out that the path to wealth began at birth:  the path that led out from a wealthy uterus, on through an affluent birth canal and into prosperous arms meticulously toned by P90x.

David Brooks goes on to note that “today, less than half say a meaningful philosophy of life is that important.” Well, of course. Why would you spend somewhere in the  six figures on a college education to get something as unmarketable as a “philosophy of life?” I’ve been through a lot of job interviews, and not a single person has ever asked me what my philosophy of life is. Maybe it’s enough for them to know that I went to a small liberal arts college, so they suspect I have one. Worse, I have to admit that I don’t know what good having a philosophy of life has ever done me in a professional context. Believe me, if I could get a raise by arguing in favor of rationalism, I would. For that matter, I would take being able to end a meeting with an appeal to humanism, but I can’t see that working either. I wonder if I could have gotten some incompetent colleagues fired by sharing the wisdom of Machiavellian philosophy with a previous Executive Director. 

At this point, every discussion of higher education is based around a simple transactional evaluation: get to a school with higher numbers in some ranking so you can get a job with a higher number in salary. Universities – including my own – fall over themselves trying to improve their US News rankings. Yes, ,major research institutions are worried about an index published by an otherwise defunct print magazine because of the power of their numbers. Big stories are created when some website ranks colleges with the worst return on investment, and people take this seriously. God help you if you’re a student interested in the arts or languages and literature. Those degrees don’t pay anything, dummy! Remeber when President Obama made a funny joke about Art History majors? It was especially funny coming from a guy with a BA in the lucrative area of Political Science, whose later output as an academic consisted of two books about himself.

We should push students with unprofitable interests like Art History into places like the University of Phoenix, where the transactional understanding of higher education is made explicit.  Even in the non-profit education world, everyone is excited about massively open online courses (MOOCs) because you can learn the things you need to make money without having to interact with other people who might challenge your ideas, tell you flatly that you’re wrong, or steer you in a different direction. David Brooks notes that incoming freshman “rate themselves much more highly than past generations on leadership skills, writing abilities, social self-confidence and so on.” Of course they do. They’ve never encountered anybody to tell them differently, and if they’ follow their parents careful plan, they’ll never have to. 

I’m not clear on what David Brooks or other hand-wringers think the problem is. This is what we trained these kids for. From the minute they were born, we made our decisions on where to live based on the test scores of the local schools and their presumed output. We’re abandoning public schools broadly, and urban public schools particularly. Everyone moved a few more highway exits out, where they swore they could still drive into the city, but never do because it’s so hard to parallel park the Canyonero.  Baby Boomers and GenX traded the rich culture and socio-economic diversity of urban areas for aggregate numbers in a standardized government report and wonder why Millennials have no philosophy of life? We show them and tell them that the purpose of college is solely to get a good job, and wonder why they’re more concerned with personal gain than with their philosophy of life?

They do have a philosophy of life, and it’s the one we taught them by example after example: nothing matters but higher numbers.

 

 

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Lies from 225

When I was about 27, I went to the doctor for the first time since high school. Among the mottos I live by is “don’t ask questions you don’t want the answers to,” and I didn’t want to know that I weighed 225 pounds. I am an optimistic 5’10. A few years later, I dropped to  207 after spending a summer walking in the desert in Jordan, but I bounced back to the 220s a few years later. Sadly, I still hadn’t grown any taller, nor developed 19″ biceps. I also didn’t discover any localized gravitational phenomenon that would justify that weight.

As I write this, I weigh just over 172. I’m still not convinced that I don’t have some sort of wasting disease and that I’m not mere months away from dropping dead – or, worse, getting better and finding those decorative creases on my abdomen again.

When people start noticing you have bones in your cheeks and jaw again, they ask you how you did it.  I didn’t buy into any proper noun diet, I didn’t give up one dastardly ingredient, and I never read about the one “weird tip” that’s always featured in pop-up ads. The answer is pretty straightforward – I stopped lying to myself. It wasn’t just one lie, it was lots of lies. The only way I could fend off my insecurities and anxieties about my belly was to tell myself all sorts of stupid things so that I didn’t have to do the thing that would actually make me feel better, which was lose my big stupid belly. Among my favorites:

This makes me look thin. I believed that if I wore vertical stripes it would make me look thin. Or, I could cleverly leave my shirttails out to smooth out the bulges. I could buy”relaxed fit” pants. Also, I could hold my head just right in pictures andhide chins two through five. Magazines are full of tips like this, but what they don’t tell you is that to truly look thin, you should not weigh 225 pounds. It would pretty cool if Men’s Health had a cover story with the title, “You Should Not Weigh 225 lbs!”

Chicks dig the big guy.  This is a lie partly based on watching TV, where big slobs always have thin, hot wives. Being a “big guy” is completely acceptable, even encouraged. When I dropped from XL t-shirts to M, I actually thought “who wants to be a medium man?!” Yes, Girls used to tell me that I was like a big teddy bear. But is that a compliment? Is it because I had a round fuzzy belly? Or because I walked around in a red shirt and no pants like Winnie the Pooh? No one ever talks about Winnie the Pooh’s later life when 50 years of smackerels caught up with him and all he could do was sit in his recliner with his hunny pot cupped in the gap between his disgusting bear boobs.

Eating this will help me lose weight. You’re a food company, trying to fight against all of the bad press of the obesity epidemic. What do you do? Rely on three things you know about Americans: we like to eat, we like to try and buy our way to solutions, and we’re kind of stupid. Whole Foods’ entire business model is based on those three principals. So is the entire vitamin and supplements industry. Make a claim about the relative health of this or that product, and we will buy it. I wanted to eat snacks. Rold Gold was lower in fat than Doritos. So I ate them, and surprisingly, I didn’t lose any weight. It turns out that to to lose weight, you shouldn’t eat different things – you should just eat a lot fewer things.

That’s supposed to hurt.  I used to think that my ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders were starting to go. I was, after all, getting old in my mid-30s. In one of my first jobs, I worked with this miserable woman who always complained about her aches and pains. She was 26 at the time, and she was one of those deleterious voices in your life that conspires to convince you that you aren’t going to be active as you get older. Those are the evil voices of enablers, emanating from the same people who always make sure there are pastries in the break room. I couldn’t run around the block in my 20s, and I can run a couple miles at a stretch now. My knees got a whole lot better when I stopped asking so much of them. I motivate myself when I run by imagining that woman in my office, and running away from her as fast as I can. She’s probably rolling her ass around  in one of those Rascal things now.

I am a total gym rat. I started going to the gym regularly a decade or so ago. And for years, it didn’t do anything. I blame the fact that  I work out at the fitness center of an elite university, where I’ve witnessed people lift empty bars, drop medicine balls on their faces, and fall off the back of treadmills. It’s hard not to feel like Usain Bolt among such people. They’ve got their elliptical machine set at two so they keep their eyes on Das Kapital. So I set my machine at four, to be twice as tough – and I still don’t have to worry about actually sweating and dirtying my shirt. Tough and clean, that’s me. Keep that up for a few years, and it will do absolutely nothing.

I can eat that.  I once read something by the NYU professor Marion Nestle in which she mentioned that even trained nutrition professors couldn’t guess how many calories were in restaurant meals. When you’re trying to keep to roughly 2000 calories a day, the 100 calories per tablespoon of butter and mayonnaise really add up, and they’re in everything made at restaurants, because they help stick the cheese to the bun. In fact, I can’t eat that, and I really started dropping weight when I was making 18 or so of the 21 meals I ate each week. Luckily, without much use for God or professional sports, I have plenty of time each weekend for shopping and cooking.

I can lose weight whenever I want.  That’s a crock. My doctor said I could probably lose two pounds a week and be healthy. I can almost never do that. I’ve been much closer to losing 20 or pounds a year. I didn’t do any particular diet, but I also never put weight back on. The real downside of all this is that my old clothes look ridiculous on me. I spent a lot of money getting my suits taken in when I hit 190 and was on the job market.  With another twenty pounds gone, they look ridiculous again and I’ve been giving them away.

I still want to drop another 8-10 pounds. But I might be done lying to myself about my diet. I feel much better knowing that I’m a truth-telling 172 pounds of great driving, excellent dancing, original hairline-having human being. And you can’t even tell I’m almost 40.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Talking to My Sons About Breasts

One morning last week, I sat down with my eight year old for breakfast. He put one arm behind his head and put his other hand on his chest. “Dad,” he asked, “are girls breasts made of the same things that these parts of men are made of?” I explained that they were, that they were muscle and fat and glands for making milk. “Good,” he said, “because that’s what I told Olivia.”

And there I was again, repeating what I think is a pretty good rule for boys: we don’t talk to girls about their bodies. Ever. It took me years to learn this. And when I finally did, I still had to learn that you never ask girls if they think they have enough shoes. Also, never tell your wife when she tries on her new interview suit that she looks like a flight attendant. I’m trying to give my sons what I never had: common sense about what to say to women.

I think it’s positive that the boys feel comfortable asking me these things , just as it was positive that when my eldest saw a topless woman at the Pride Parade, he referred to her breasts as “the parts that feed babies.”I was happy because seeing breasts for function over form is putting an anchor in my sons’ minds for when their ships of consciousnesses set a collision course with their hormones in a few years. I’ve seen the other side of this. When my son was about six months old  the two of us went to visit my aunt and her family. I don’t see them that much, and her early-teenage son was fascinated to have an adult first cousin. For whatever reason, this came out when he asked – in front of my aunt and uncle – if I could buy him skin magazines. I said that I could, and then asked if he knew what a lactation consultant was. I explained that once you spent time with a lactation consultant, women’s breasts lost a lot of their appeal. I was of course lying, but I got a  laugh out of my aunt.

What I didn’t tell my cousin is that if you wait long enough, someday women will talk to you about their breasts. Unfortunately, that day will be when you are at Target trying to buy nursing pads for your wife. Two women will realize you need help, and with elaborate hand gestures describe in disgusting detail how engorged and uncomfortable their breasts became upon childbirth. When that happened, I did actually think, “hey! strange women are talking to me about their breasts!” Unfortunately, my second thought was “God, I’m tired. I wonder if I can nap in the car before driving home to my wife and newborn son.”

I try to be consistent in the things I tell my sons. I think that explaining them not to talk to women about their breasts is of a piece with my general advice to my kids: we don’t talk about what people look like. Except if those people have those giant stupid ring spreaders in their earlobes. Then we can talk loudly and laugh, because those people put in serious effort to look like they do, and they look ridiculous.

Power Girl

We don’t talk about what people look like because it could be construed as rude, insensitive, or worse. We used to say that we don’t talk about breasts because it objectifies and demeans women. It does, and this is the argument a lot of people still make. It’s highly effective, and probably the reason there are so few busty women on TV , and so little porn on the internet. Good job, traditional scolding argument. It may be true, but it’s a lousy argument. The implication is that women are weak, or that they’re victims. The aggressive, the dominant, the strong don’t have concerns about being objectified, and in 2014 I’m not raising my sons to believe women aren’t any of these things. I want to believe the media has caught up – in recent super hero cartoons, there are far more tough women characters. Unfortunately, they tend to look like Power Girl (pictured above).

Here’s a better reason to tell my sons not to talk to women about their breasts: no women you’ll want to interact with – romantically, professionally, amicably- will want anything to do with you. That’s pretty bad, but the flip side is worse: women that are ok with you talking about or obsessing about their breasts or bodies in general are THE WORST. Someday, you will want to talk to them about something other than their diets, their workout plan, or their skincare regimen and you’ll realize they can’t. You might find some girl who fills out her cardigan nicely, and you’ll go out with her and her friends on New Year’s Eve. She’ll say a nasty thing to some other sweater-filler while you’re trying to get out of the cold on Clark Street, and that other girl will get angry. Her boyfriend will want to fight you. You will find yourself saying something like “punch me if you want, the night’s not going to get worse.” In that moment, you will look so pitiful and weak that he won’t fight you, and then you have to figure out how much money you have to give the cabbie to take your date wherever she wants to go while you walk home alone. And that is how you will start 1999.

Assuming my sons are straight, being fascinated by breasts is pretty much inevitable – as inevitable as the fact they will soon not want to talk about these things with their dad. I just want them to be able to politely moderate that fascination so that they can have good relationships with women.  We know there are men out there who wear their fascination on their sleeves, or  – via anatomically impossible silhouettes — on the mudflaps of their pick-up trucks. I saw a guy on the playground – the playground! – last year wearing a shirt with the word “Vagina” styled like the Coca-Cola logo. Has anyone ever done a study on the kind of relationships those men have with women? Do they even have relationships with women?

Maybe they would do well to spend some time with a lactation consultant.

 

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