Tag Archives: Family

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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Thanksgiving and Why Barbecue Isn’t Restaurant Food

Let me say up front: I don’t come from an old southern family. I come from the opposite of an old southern family, raised in a kosher home by parents who didn’t particularly enjoy cooking. If you’re not from the tribe, traditional celebratory cooking for Jews involves large amounts of chicken fat, salt, and onion soup mix. And when I was a kid, having “a barbecue” meant burning the bejeezus out of kosher hot dogs on a Weber grill cleared of cobwebs for the occasion. In my fondness for cooking pork, I’m not an originalist when it comes to cooking Jewish food, and I’m not an originalist when it comes to barbecue.

I have no hipsterish claim whatsoever to having smoked meat before it was cool.  My wife bought me a smoker (pictured) for a wedding/birthday present in 2003. It is the greatest gift she ever gave me. Well, aside from the marrying me thing and the two kids. The smoker is the greatest gift that didn’t involve pain and questionable decision-making on her part.  I still have the smoker (and the kids, and the marriage, surprisingly) and have never felt the need to upgrade or replace it – just like me, it’s older, crustier, and more fragrant than it was in 2003. Unlike me, the smoker sometimes oozes black goo from its lower openings. I still have a few years before that happens.

Weber Smoker

My circa 2003 Weber Smoker. Note black goo.

The great thing about a smoker is that it’s a device that attracts people to your home. It’s a reason to come together whether or not there is an actual holiday. You can’t – or least I can’t – barbecue a piece of meat small enough for my family of four – anything that small cooks too quickly to come out right. If I’m using the smoker, it means I need to have a few people over to enjoy whatever charred hunk of beast I just made.  It’s what I think of as a “real” barbecue: an amicable humans eating together, interrupted only by the occasional panicked search for napkins.

Recent Brisket

A recent brisket

Here’s what rains on my parade: some well meaning person, grease dripping from their chin, will ask if I’ve been to Schmo’s for their brisket. Or Smookie’s. Or whatever the new barbecue restaurant is in Chicago. A new one opens every week. And the answer is almost always no. I don’t believe in restaurant barbecue. I can’t separate the food from the experience – to me, barbecue is barbecue because it’s served at a barbecue.

Maybe that’s not true with smallish idiosyncratic shacks in Texas. But in Chicago, a restaurant is an expensive business to run.  The goal must be to turn out an abundance of food consistently, serve you, and then turn over the table to serve the next people. They have to do this, or they couldn’t make their lease payments. No room for idiosyncrasy. Boring. What if they ran out of apple and used oak? Or the smoker ran cool because it was 29 degrees outside? What if the drippings that were supposed to go into the sauce ended up on the kitchen floor? I realize not everyone is going to make their own barbecue, but everyone who likes to eat barbecue should be friends with someone who makes it.

I’m not trying to convince anyone of this argument, because I don’t think I’m  likely to win. After all, investors are supporting all of these new barbecue places, so there’s obviously a market for sweet, damp protein. Probably people looking to step up from making “BBQ Pork” with a bottle of KC Masterpiece and a slow cooker.

For the record, I don’t understand those people.

The other day, I was picking up a brisket from the guy, and I asked if he was going to carry turkeys for Thanksgiving. He wasn’t going to and explained that he only carries meat and poultry restaurants use, and restaurants don’t really use turkeys. Flash! There it was: why I love Thanksgiving. Because like barbecue, Thanksgiving dinner is only Thanksgiving dinner when it’s served on Thanksgiving. It’s food made by amateurs for other amicable humans. Aside from the odd diner, there aren’t a lot of restaurants popping up all over trying to sell ol’ timey “traditional” roast turkey and mashed potatoes. You definitely aren’t getting cranberry sauce or challah stuffing. Yes, there’s Boston Market. And ok, there’s probably a food truck somewhere doing this. Or doing it in a donut. Because some people place a huge value on food handed to them out the side of a colorful van. Those people can also learn to push a bar with their nose to get sugar water.

Last year’s model

I have had some terrible turkey. It was like eating the heel of a cadaver. But it was cadaver heel prepared according to someone’s own SPECIAL recipe. I don’t care if it splinters when you cut it. It’s still awesome.  If your family tradition is serving dessicated poultry with a box of Stove Top and one of those Costco pumpkin pies the size of a tractor tire, that’s  a family tradition! It doesn’t even need to be turkey. Even people serving spaghetti carbonara or some sort of textured soy protein are having a Thanksgiving meal. And every family has a different one. When I finally mastered the Jewish Holy Trinity of schmaltz, salt, and  soup mix, I then had to incorporate my wife’s family traditions. She is a refugee from Oklahoma, and holiday food for her involves cheese, heavy cream, and sausage. Thus, we have both challah stuffing and sausage and cornbread dressing side by side on our table. And we have a ton of it, because just like barbecue, it’s not anything you can make for a small amount of people.

It’s the second decade of the 21st century, and there are what, two things that are still great about America? You can argue whether the second one is our tremendous capacity for self delusion or John Hodgman.  But the first one is that we have a national holiday that both traditional and evolving and remains rooted in giving thanks for our many gifts and eating with loved ones. Or eating parts of loved ones, depending on how the turkey tastes.

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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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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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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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I Demand More Standardized Tests

Teachers at 2nd school boycott ISAT
Activists say they know of 1,000 kids at 57 schools who are also skipping the test.
-Linda Lutton, Chicagopublicradio.org, February 1, 2014

This is an outrage. I can’t believe that Chicago Public Schools parents and teachers would act like this. I’m already deeply concerned that this is the last year for the test in question, the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT). What if public schools in Chicago actually started testing less? It’s too horrible to think about.

I demand MORE standardized testing for public school children. Because I love tests and test scores. I need tests – and so do you.

How did we pick a school for our kids? By looking at test scores. How do we evaluate the quality of a school? Test scores. I don’t know if my principal is doing a good job, so I better go look at our test scores. Sure, in Atlanta and DC you can buy test scores, but in Chicago, the only way to get test scores is via sweet, wonderful standardized tests.

You, me, and everyone we know carefully researched schools’ test scores around the time our oldest kids turned three, if not before. Well, this is true for those of us who stayed in the city and opted for public schools. The rest of our friends got so frightened looking at their neighborhood school’s scores that they decamped for the burbs or sent their kids to private schools. Private schools aren’t big on standardized tests. We know they’re good because they cost a lot. Also, because the Mayor and the President – both of whom are really concerned about inequality – sent their kids to one.

We pored over that big catalog of school info we got from the library. Checked out the schools test scores online. Looked at websites that compared schools. Not a single one of these resources compared schools based on how happy or well adjusted the kids were. That’s what counseling and Zoloft are for! Worse, we got our minds turned inside out because the State of Illinois and the Board of Education changed standards often enough that it was impossible to make apples to apples comparisons between schools. Of course, in doing so we totally bought the idea that standardized test scores are a useful way to compare schools in the first place. Because we LOVE test scores.

We don’t usually say that we love standardized tests. We use our clever secret code. For example, we can say that we want our children to be “challenged” in school. So clever. We don’t mean challenged like Malala Yousafzi or like the kids on the West Side of Chicago who have to cross gang borders to get to their new school because their neighborhood school was shut. What we mean is that our kids are super smart, super creative, and super artistic. They’re like Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, and Steve Martin all rolled into one. They’re Mega-Steves. And Mega-Steves need a special type of environment in which they can thrive. To be clear: it’s not that I think my Mega-Steves should be tested, but I want all the other kids in the school tested to make sure my Mega-Steves will reach their full potential. 

It’s ok, no one but we affluent white people here. We can be honest. Once all of our kids are in a school, we will speak up and announce that we’re against testing. After all, if it weren’t for the time spent on testing, our kids would have time to learn more about music, poetry, and other arts. In the current curriculum, we simply don’t have time for those things. We have to focus on STEM subjects. And that’s as it should be. STEM makes for nice salaries. Arts make for nice hobbies.

This isn’t just for our kids. Standardized test scores are important for the community. Communities do best when they share the common bond of rising property values. Property values in Chicago rise based on the test scores of the local school.  Without testing, property values fall. No one can get a second mortgage to add 900 square feet to their kitchen. They leave, their house goes rental, and suddenly the Starbucks and Forever Yogurt decide to open somewhere else. What will stop this? More standardized test scores.

When high school rolls around, you can bet that we’ll be looking at standardized test scores again. All of us who love test scores love high schools. In addition to the mandated tests, we can also look at data from the SAT and the ACT. There are so many good numbers to obsess about – and that’s before we get to the most important thing: college placement data. There is no way I’m sending my kids to a school that isn’t ranked well by US News and World Report. How are they going to get into a top five business school and earn a six figure salary?

I just want them to be able to afford a nice house in a neighborhood with good schools.

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Almost 40 and I Still Hate Gym Class

Following my last post on bullying, I talked to some friends about their own experiences with bullying. I think men are always surprised by how much bullying girls endure, and that was certainly the case. But even more surprising was this: ask your friends where they were most often bullied and they will almost certainly tell you gym class.

The highlight of my own “physical education” was in my first year of high school, lined up outside the locker room. Tom, a thick, dull, brute got bored. A day earlier, he pushed a fully clothed kid into the pool, books and all. That day in 1988 it was my turn. Tom stepped out of line and gave me a “titty twister.” It hurt a lot. I punched him. He kicked the crap out of me.  The gym teacher, who my memory has warped into looking like an aged Spike the bulldog, didn’t care that Tom had assaulted half the other boys in class. I was suspended for fighting.

My school had a “zero tolerance” policy for this sort of thing. This was a genius plan for the school administrators: they could put on a good show of doing something by coming up with a tough-sounding policy rather than doing something difficult, like intervening in the maladjustment of thugs like Tom. (The only good thing about that day was that I asked the dean, a humorless refrigerator of a woman, what she would do if someone grabbed her breast and twisted. A minor joy of already being suspended.)

I already hated gym for years by that point. I hated it from the time I was little and was introduced to dodge ball.  It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that dodge ball was the official sport of the Khmer Rouge. Strong, fast kids launched high speed assaults on the faces and crotches of the less physically gifted with balls special designed to leave the largest red marks possible. I hated gym because I wasn’t particularly strong or especially fast, and the gym teachers seemed to enjoy watching the powerful prey on the weak. Maybe they thought PBS nature specials didn’t involve enough wildebeest taking blows to the crotch.

Gym class was required in Illinois. In high school, you didn’t have to take four years of English or Math, but you were required to take four years of gym. Mr. Harrison, my school’s vice principal, explained that this was because legislators wanted to make a good show of looking like they cared about kids’ health, and this was faster than doing something difficult, like revamping the cafeteria’s menu or turning down income from all of the vending machines. Teaching generations of kids to associate physical activity with pain, humiliation, and genital injury is probably a lot of the reason we all turned out to be so fat as adults.

I’ve been angry about being suspended for 25 years. Of course, I learned something about the world from gym class. And I don’t mean just the bullying world of professional sports, where the teams bully cities and states for new stadiums with specious arguments about economic benefits, and bully the fans by seizing on their nostalgia to squeeze more money out of them every year. The players bully each other, their wives, and girlfriends, and the fans bully other fans – but that’s allegedly part of the magic of Wrigley’s bleachers. We tolerate all of this because having sports teams is a very visible way to pretend you have civic pride and unity without actually doing anything difficult, like improving urban public education.

I was thinking about gym class in this season of the State of the Union, the Superbowl, and the Olympics.Gym class taught me that no matter what you did in the other seven periods, you were going to be put in your place by someone stronger than you. In the high school hierarchy, the physical kids were dominant. Who have we been celebrating as heroes for the last few weeks? : Soldiers and athletes. When we see America on TV, we see large people staring steely eyed into the middle distance. We see the flag wrapped around our corpulent middles. We see people sitting in  F-150s, the bed full of apple pies and AR-15s. And when we see  heroes, we see  those people possessed of exceptional physical strength: soldiers and athletes.

Surely there are other kinds of strength. Somewhere in America are people who have toughed it out against the odds with their ideas, their inventions, their presence of mind or exceptional emotional strength. Of course, they’re probably only featured on PBS in a non-prime time slot, and they’re crap for the quick and inane soundbites we get from football players.

Now that we’re adult citizens pretending we care about things like STEM subjects and K-12 education, perhaps NBC or Fox could dedicate an hour or two to the teachers, inventors, artists, doctors, and activists who show the triumph of the human spirit with something other than well toned arms and broad chests. But they’d rather look like they were celebrating heroism, while not actually doing anything difficult.

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My Children Live in a Terrifying World of Terrible Things

Our school PTA hosted a parent information session last week on bullying. The true lasting value of the lost hour of my life is that I learned a fun new word: sextortion. I really wish that it meant bodily contortion during sex. But then we wouldn’t be talking about that at a PTA meeting, unless we were shooting video for my awesome new site for mature meeting porn, PTandA.com.

Sextortion, I was fascinated to find out, is when someone is blackmailed after a sexted image of them is received by a sextortionist. This is a Terrible Thing to happen to a sexcitable and insexperienced young would-be sexhibitionist, who will probably be sexcoriated by her parents for sexchanging sexts in the first place. I’m sexhausted just thinking about the sexperience.

As I’ve just demonstrated, everything is more important and more dire if you put the word “sex” in it – especially when talking about dangers to children. The speaker, like all parents, knew two things: our kids are more sexually active than ever and technology has made the world a more dangerous place. Parents know this the same way we know that vaccination is right: we listen to poorly informed people like Jenny McCarthy and we don’t look at data. If we did a modest bit of searching, we would find the CDC’s national Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which would show that kids are having less sex and engaging in less risky behavior than they were in 1991. Coincidentally, most parents I know were around high school age in 1991, and probably having risky and awkward sex with each other at the time. Personally, I attribute all teenage sex in the early 90s to the use of the term “heavy petting” in my health class. I had no idea what this meant until I was in my late 20s. When I was 16, I imagined people firmly rubbing their open palms down their partner’s backs.

I agree with the speaker that the world is a more dangerous place than ever. Even if the violent crime rate is at a twenty year low. I’m about to turn 40, my kids are faster on my iPad than I am, and that scares the bejeezus out of me. Also, September 11th. I am scared of everything, even things like sextortion that are tailor-made for parent blogs and cable news to flip out about, as they cover the same three stories in such repetition that it gives the appearance of epidemic. Remember the new LSD that made face-eating a thing? Like that.

The workshop took place in an old Chicago public school auditorium. I imagined that in a similar auditorium, on the other end of the city and 60 years earlier, my grandparents and their friends could have attended a similar PTA workshop. In the late 50s, if you wanted to send naked pictures of yourself to someone, you’d have to load film in the camera, compose the shot, take the film to the drug store, wait three days, and then another three for the post office to deliver it. No wonder that pornography wasn’t invented until the 1970s, when instant cameras and abundant mustaches made it easier. Parents concerned about Terrible Things in the late 1950s would have learned about the myriad dangers of comic books and rock and roll. It’s too bad the Greatest Generation didn’t  have the same fondness for portmanteaus  as we do, or they could’ve called silly songs like “Louie, Louie” something catchy, like “crotch and roll.” (Is that technically a portmanteau?).

Before I could stop thinking of words that began with “sex-,” the speaker moved on to another Terrible Thing: violent video games. According to him, video games caused the massacres at Sandy Hook and Columbine. They also caused Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina and make our kids violent bullies. The message was clear: if you love America, children, kittens, and long walks on the beach, you must absolutely keep your kids away from Call of Duty. The lack of any conclusive connection between violence and video games doesn’t matter. Of course, what matters even less is that parents could make choices about the games their kids play. I don’t let my kids play Call of Duty because I worry they’ll kill anyone, but because I’m certain that they’ll find the games upsetting. They’re too young for the aggression, violence, and Manichean worldview.  This is also why I haven’t told them about Dick Cheney.

For good measure, we also learned about the dangers of Facebook, Snapchat, and God, I don’t know.  Are there horrible people out there who want to do unspeakable things to kids? Yes. And they will always avail themselves of the latest technology to do it. And there are also bullies – mean, maladjusted kids, deeply insecure about their hyperthyroidism and poor dentition.  In our state of permanent alarmism as parents, we’re not only failing to distinguish between predators and bullies, we can’t even distinguish between gradations of bullies –  between mean jerks who say stupid cruel things – Sen. Rand Paul – and people capable of real physical and emotional harm – like  Rep. Michael Grimm.

I think it matters. My friends on the PTA put a lot of time and effort into organizing and hosting the workshop. But the meeting offered few if any takeaways on preparing my kids for a world full of bullies large (Chris Christie) and small (Rahm Emmanuel). How could it? With so many Terrible Things, how do parents with limited resources choose their targets? A lot of people want to bring this all to the teachers and administrators, expecting them to act with equal alacrity for the kid who wasn’t included in tag and the kid who was shoved at lunch. There’s only so many hours in the day. Maybe we should check our concern with the rare and terrifying Terrible Things and spend more time on the more likely Real Things.

 

 

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The Absurd Food of the Future

I’ve come to the realization that cookbooks aren’t actually meant to be cooked from. They’re meant to be ogled. Look at the bindings. Perfect for sitting on a coffee table, lousy for opening on a counter. Nowhere is this more true than in the books dedicated to “modern cuisine.” This is the food that is usually thought of as being all about foams, “airs” and assorted concoctions made with liquid nitrogen. While that image is true, there is also a fair bit of work with centrifuges, dehydrators, agars, and physical transformations you couldn’t accomplish in your kitchen unless your name is Henry Jekyll. If you’re a pedestrian, fork-knife-chopsticks kind of person, modern cuisine is barely recognizable as food offered at prices that are barely recognizable as reasonable.

In this, modern cuisine is one of those cultural things loved by its target audience while the rest of society – to the degree they’ve heard of it – makes derisive jokes about the effete nerds who enjoy it. It’s a lot like Dr. Who.  Needless to say, I am all for expensive dining trends. Wealthy people need inconspicuous things on which to spend the money they worked so hard to inherit. Otherwise, the rest of us would grow fed up with inequality in this country and fritter away our lives forwarding Rachel Maddow clips to each other.

I would be in the derisive joke camp (which is right near fat camp, for obvious reasons) but for one uncomfortable realization. After the talks I’ve listened to, and spending some time poring over the bible of this stuff, the six volume Modernist Cuisine, it dawned on me that some people think modern cuisine is actually the future of food. Not the future of food for the children of bankers, professional athletes, and Williams-Sonoma shoppers, but the actual future we will all live in.

This will be a future where we all eat food transformed beyond recognition by a frightening amount of engineering. Not the bad kind of engineering of the sort that Kraft uses to sell guacamole that’s less than 2% avocado. That’s food tampering for rubes. The future of food is good engineering, where you freeze dry watermelon, inject it with dried pea powder and allegedly make it taste like tuna. This sort of elaborate tampering currently requires a perfectly coiffed crew in fashionably framed glasses and kitchen whites, but in the future highly skilled labor will be free.

Because this future is brought to us by media-savvy buzzword-spewing food professionals in the 21st century, they insist on the virtue of local food. As we know because the guy selling chard at the farmers’ market told us, local food requires less energy for transportation and storage. This will be very important because you’re going to need that all that energy to power the fancy ovens, dehydrators, centrifuges, and sous vide machines required to make modern cuisine. If only someone could discover a way to generate abundant energy from hype.

The other kind of bad food engineering is genetic engineering, which produces the dreaded GMOs (genetically modified organisms).  Again, these are 21st century food professionals, so they will tell you that using technology and chemicals to increase crop yields and decrease pesticide use is evil. The best use of technology and chemicals is to make everyday food into balls! Because it’s food and it’s also BALLSAnd who doesn’t need that? Also, did you know that genetically modified food causes autism? We know this because both have become more prevalent in the same period. This is also how we know that iPhones cause Miley Cyrus. I’ve noticed a lot of professional chefs have formed their own Bourdainian creation myth in which they were complete failures academically and – aside from culinary school – lack any further higher education, where they might have learned the difference between correlation and causation.

So here we are in the early 21st century, trying to steer ourselves and our kids away from highly processed food while the emissaries of the year 2050 gleefully tell us that tomorrow’s food will make Cheetos look as wholesome as rolled oats. Is high fructose corn syrup going to come back into vogue? Why wouldn’t it? Food wizards took a common and abundant food, processed the bejeezus out of it and made it sweet. It doesn’t taste like you expect corn to taste, and it certainly doesn’t look like you expect it to. They made corn sweet and CLEAR!  How has no one sold Karo shots to credulous foodies for twelve bucks a pop? In the future, I’m going to be a millionaire. Of course, thanks to inflation and Obama, that million will be worth twelve bucks, and I’ll have to give six of it to lazy poor people.

I hate the future.

Or I thought I did. Because I also learned that in the future, this will not happen: you will not tell people that you cook dinner for your kids every night, or baked a few dozen cookies for a fundraiser, or maintain a small garden and have them say “oh, who has the time for that?” I learned that thanks to advances in hydroponics and artificial lighting, in the future we will (1)have our own small room dedicated to growing fresh greens, (2)have kitchens equipped with hydrators and dehydrators and powders and potions to make things taste like other things and look like modern sculpture and, (3) we will evolve venom sacs in our mouths. Ok, I made up #3. But it seems no less likely than the majority of Americans changing their hatred of procuring and preparing their own food, something no one in the modern cuisine crowd seems to have noticed.

When they do, they’ll have to figure out a way to bring all of this highly processed carefully engineered food to us in plastic pouches and boxes available at the grocery store. Better yet, maybe we’ll see a future where you can drive your car up to a window and have someone hand you a miracle of food engineering that vaguely resembles ethnic cuisine and contains a fairly convincing replica of meat. One could then take that food home, share it with their family, and provide them with a fairly convincing replica of health.

I can’t wait for the future to get here.

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