1.) The Orchard: Lessons learned: a.) The air in autumn smells better than any air anywhere at any other time. (b.) Apples with both green and red in them are the prettiest, followed narrowly by the ones which are yellow and the ones which are yellow-green. This is not subjective. (c.) When visiting an orchard on a field trip in October, each pupil will receive a free pumpkin. This is awesome. (d.) Size and appearance matters; the free pumpkin will result in early introductions to comparative studies on the bus ride home. This will involve tears and disappointment for pupils who choose poorly. Their misshapen, flat-sided, and/or otherwise inferior pumpkins will elicit conversation/derision on the bus ride back to the school. (e.) Decision-making.
2.) Kroger: Lessons learned: a.) Each pupil visiting a Kroger (grocery store, for those outside the continental U.S.) will receive a free donut. The donut shall be glazed; it shall be yeast. (b.) The students will be taken upstairs to look out at the store behind the one-way glass mirror. (c.) Kroger has an upstairs. (d.) There is no privacy in a Kroger.
3.) McDonald’s: Lessons learned: a.) McDonald’s does not give free food to pupils. (b.) Birthday parties at McDonald’s include party favors, unlimited orange drink, and one box of McDonaldland cookies per child. (c.) Parents who truly love their children give them birthday parties at McDonald’s. (d.) Even young children are not fooled by McDonald’s, even though the French fries are good.
4.) The Fire Station: Lessons learned: a.) Dalmatians are optional at fire stations. Do not ask to see one; you will be embarrassed. (b.) There really is a pole in the firehouse. Yes, firemen will occasionally use it but they prefer the stairs. (c.) Firemen don’t fight fires every day. (d.) The grass in front of a fire station is greener than grass anywhere else. The grass in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day in the fulsome mists of spring wishes to be fire station grass when it grows up.
Are field trips in early elementary education worthwhile? Yes.
A Kid Called “Puce”
You know those “My Family” decals which festoon, and I am not exaggerating, every minivan in suburban Indiana? Those happy stick-figure man + woman + kids + pets decorating rear windows across the roads of this country? Well, I was stopped at a red light (as one generally finds oneself, you know, at the red light) behind a minivan with the whole family visually represented in cutesy shorthand and lo, and behold, all the names of the family members were marked underneath. So I knew the non-baby children were named (for the purposes of my story) “Brooklyn,” “Addison,” and “Haley.” (And incidentally, any pervs hanging around the Target who park next to that van will know, too, and will also know that Brooklyn and Addison are cheerleaders, which is helpful advertising if you’re the perv in the parking lot, I guess.)
Well, it being a free country and all, even for liars, there’s really nothing stopping me from being the life of the vehicular stoplight party: I’m thinking two female grown-up stickers, a male grown-up sticker, and like, 20, kids. And some stick-figure cats. And I’m going to name every single member of that fake My Family.
A couple of those kids are going to be named “Puce.”
Oh, the Things America is Googling!
In the blogosphere, in the ongoing quest for ever-increasing “more hits,” one starts to discover that nothing is so important as a really good keyword. Some people will actually load their “content” with keywords just to drive traffic to their site.
Other people, like me, will just check and see which search terms were used to lead people to their site. This is really entertaining, actually. Emerald/Orange has received more hits from people looking for “paul ryan abs” and “mountain dew pajama pants” than for any other search inquiries.
So, in the future, all my titles and tags will include popular and/or ironic really random (and fun!) keywords: Teddy Ruxpin! Gluten-free! Kardashian!
I can’t wait to see which one America googles first.
And a Brief Moment of Politics: The Food Stamp President
During this silly season of campaign-palooza, one of GOP candidate Newt Gingrich’s habitual lines involves calling President Obama “the food stamp president.” Former Speaker Gingrich loves to point out that this president has put more people on food stamps than any other president, which isn’t actually true, but even if it were, well, he also inherited the worst American economy than any other president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
But hey, why ruin a perfectly good and limitlessly usable sound bite with facts and context?
Why I hate Twilight
Edward: “But, Bella, I’m a killer.”
Bella: “I don’t care.“
(a.) Not much of a Thinker, is she? (b.) See also: Sweet Valley High, Super Milosevic Edition. (c.) Now she’s going to have to break off that long-distance pen pal love affair with that serial killer at the federal penitentiary. (d.) I’ll take “Things You Should Probably Care About” for a thousand, Alex.
The one and only thing Twilight didn’t get abysmally wrong
Bella: “Why do you like me?”
Edward: “Because you smell good. And, I can’t read your mind.”
Relationships have been built on worse grounds, really. Also, I can’t rule out the possibility that the entire evolution and proliferation of homo sapiens sapiens is built on the foundation of “Hey, you smell good and I don’t know what you’re thinking. Let’s go.”
Hey! I accidentally agree with Grover Norquist. Sorta.
To the assorted members of the Do-Gooder Billionaires’ Club who are advocating for higher taxes on themselves, Grover Norquist has said that a change in tax policy is ridiculous and Mr. Buffett, you can just go ahead and write a check to the U.S. Treasury if you feel so strongly about it. (Seriously, under “Gifts to Reduce the Public Debt.”)
Well, I think it’s snarky of Mr. Norquist to put it that way, however, yeah, billionaires and Average Americans alike: if this is your thing, then absolutely, throw a couple bucks into the maws of that debt. Walk the walk, or walk the talk, you know what I mean. But (1) keep talking about changing the tax policy, Grover’s wishes to the contrary notwithstanding and (2) make sure the whole country knows you voluntarily wrote a check to put your money where your mouth is and practiced what you preached, et cetera. But keep preaching.
Oh, and (3) advocate to get that capital gains rate up to 20% or to match the income tax bracket. If nothing else, it’ll help me in my quest to avoid cases in which I agree with Grover Norquist.
(Yes, I realize that Mr. Norquist said this way back in Septemberish, but the recent story on PBS NewsHour about the “Patriotic Millionaires” refreshed me. So there you go.)
Lastly, Your Pre-Thanksgiving Dose of Americana
I had originally intended to post Edward Hicks’ Peaceable Kingdom as the prelude to Thanksgiving (a.k.a. “Black Friday Eve”). Goodness knows that any of the 60-plus versions Hicks made of it are more famous than this painting.
But this one has a turkey in it.
Somewhere in the past, when you were a kid, you learned about America. You learned that history with a capital “H” began with Columbus-ish and ended with the Great Depression. In November, you dressed up as either a pilgrim (good) or an Indian (somehow, not so good, though you did get feathers, which almost made up for it) and you ate something together while feeling really positive about the whole thing and what good people the old Puritans were for being so darned inclusive. In February, you heard the story about the cherry tree and you colored a big construction paper face that sort of looked like either Lincoln or Washington (this was prime, because you usually got cotton balls to glue to it, which was totally awesome). Whichever president you had was then added to the much bigger hearts-for-Valentines-day project you had going. And, of course, a huge section of the year was devoted to July, which was funny since it wasn’t technically during school, but July equals Revolution and Constitution and the Founding Fathers, which were like American versions of Santa Claus and Jesus or something. And the way all of that made you feel, and can still make you feel now that you’re grown up, especially when you hear violins and/or canons while looking at fireworks and/or the flag and/or the big bell and/or Lady Liberty, was what it meant to be American.
And it was good.
Better than that, you learned that you could be anything you wanted to be. If that failed, so long as you worked hard and weren’t too wasteful, you learned you would be alright. That, in America, hard work paid off. You could afford to eat. To live under a roof. To wear clothes. To go to a doctor. To have what you needed. That you would work hard and it would result in a living wage and that your children, if you did all of that, would do at least as well. A house and a good future for the kids was the American dream, but a decent, dignified, solid sort of life was the American promise.
And that was really good. Only…
Somewhere along the line, something bad has happened. The Great Recession highlighted it. Protests in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana underline it. The highly-charged atmospherics surrounding “the vanishing middle class” put it all in neon. But really, since about 1979, wages have been falling in this country and income inequality has become turbo-charged. More than that, there is a huge—and growing—proportion of Americans who have been so completely shut out of the middle class that the American promise they grew up with has become an American dream: the stuff of Other People’s lives, gossamer-thin and utterly out of reach. And that wasn’t what they were taught that being American meant.
We define poverty in this country at roughly $10,000 of annual income for one person, at $23,000 for a family of four. And we’re still, thankfully, providing some support for people living at these levels. But what of the people who are not middle class at about $40,000? Who receive no help because they are considered not to be in poverty because they earn at least $10K? Who are we kidding? What is a living wage in 21st century America? And if someone doesn’t earn that, how can they not be considered impoverished? And how, oh how, can we possibly justify the fact that people can work 40 hours a week and not earn a living wage in the richest country in the world, the last remaining superpower, America, the Exceptional?
When kids are dressing up in their little Pilgrim and Indian outfits in today’s classrooms, do we have the audacity to recite to them Article 23-3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection?” And then, are we honest enough, like construction-paper-Abe, to whisper in their little ear “so long as you don’t work at a socially ignorable job, dear?”
When this new generation is being torn away from their mobile devices long enough to hear about the Declaration and the Revolution, the Mayflower and the Greatest Generation, do we quote Article 25-1: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being…, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services…” and then clarify that we mean “well, maybe 60 percent of everyone?”
Do we teach our youngest to be technologically proficient from the earliest possible age so that they can be doubly disappointed when they grow up and can’t afford the connection fees? So that they can be shut out of participating in the local, national, and international conversation (and the opportunities that accompany those) in violation of Article 27-1 because technology prices and monthly rates are not considered necessary to “life,” though “living” and “betterment” are other things entirely?
We don’t do any of these things, and not just because we are too exceptional to ratify the silly little Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We don’t tell the truth about the working poor in America because only scary people (read: leftist, redistributionist liberals a la Paul Krugman or Robert Reich) are saying these things. Because the Declaration of Independence includes “the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” not the right for a dollar earned to cover a dollar of shelter, food, energy, and a coat. It also mentions nothing about dentistry (teeth are for elitists. Also, for the rich).
But most of all, we don’t educate our young about the truth that they can go to college, work hard, and still not be able to afford to live because the working poor deserve what they get—or don’t get, rather. Otherwise, how can the U.S. be fair, be great, be exceptional? And how can we, as citizens, stand by and observe the injustice of it when someone tries like hell and busts it 40 hours a week and still can’t make it? It’s so uncomfortable, it just can’t be true. Left over from our Puritan work ethic, the belief of our forbears, material gain is a sign of God’s favor, of desert. Or the vestiges of Social Darwinism: the fittest survive, and thus are the ones who somehow were able enough to make it. Those that “fail” were/are less able. They just have to be. And they should struggle; they should be humiliated as misfits always deserve to be.
“Democracy can be cruel to misfits. The reason it’s cruel is you’re told you can be anything, and there’s enough evidence around you of people getting ahead that you believe it’s true. So when you don’t, it’s crushing. The more democratic a society, the more humiliating the failure” (Charles Peters).
And we’re the most democratic there is. And to hear the politicians talk, to watch people sleeping in the statehouse in Wisconsin; to hear the powerful privilege zygotes over the currently living, or bankbooks over access to health care; to hear concern over the “privileged elites”[i] working for moderate income in public service; or to hear the suggestion that people earning $35K have more benefits than other people and so should lose them[ii]–well, that’s a Race to the Bottom that’s so democratic, it’s Exceptional.
It’s so democratic, it’s supercalidemocratic.
And won’t that be fun to fit in to the Social Studies curriculum of the future?
[i] Mitch Daniels, PBS NewsHour and The Diane Rehm Show.
[ii] Several politicians this week, seriously, employing the most ridiculous logic ever. And, incidentally, when President Obama suggested “taking” greater taxes from the top 1% and elevating the top rate from 36% to 39% , these same politicians decried it as socialist redistribution. So, logic when applied to the public sector is valid, when applied to the wealthy, it is unpatriotic? Logic doesn’t work that way.
From John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley: In Search of America
- “American cities are like badger holes, ringed with trash—all of them—surrounded by piles of wrecked and rusting automobiles, and almost smothered with rubbish. Everything we use comes in boxes, cartons, bins, the so-called packaging we love so much. The mountains of things we throw away are much greater than the things we use. In this, if in no other way, we can see the wild and reckless exuberance of our production, and waste seems to be the index. Driving along I thought how in France or Italy every item of these thrown-out things would have been saved and used for something. This is not said in criticism of one system or the other but I do wonder whether there will come a time when we can no longer afford our wastefulness—chemical wastes in the rivers, metal wastes everywhere, and atomic wastes buried deep in the earth or sunk in the sea. When an Indian village became too deep in its own filth, the inhabitants moved. And we have no place to which to move.”
- “He said bitterly, ‘If anywhere in your travels, you come on a man with guts, mark the place. I want to go to see him. I haven’t seen anything but cowardice and expediency. This used to be a nation of giants. Where have they gone?…’ ‘Must be somewhere,’ I said… ‘There used to be a thing or commodity we put great store by. It was called the People. Find out where the People have gone….Maybe they never existed, but if there ever were the People, that’s the commodity the Declaration was talking about, and Mr. Lincoln….’ I remember retorting, ‘Maybe the People are always those who used to live the generation before last.’”
- “Can it be that we do not love to be reminded that we are very young and callow in a world that was old when we came into it? And could there be a strong resistance to the certainty that a living world will continue its stately way when we no longer inhabit it?”
- “But Charley doesn’t have our problems. He doesn’t belong to a species clever enough to split the atom but not clever enough to live in peace with itself…I’ve seen a look in dogs’ eyes, a quickly vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that basically dogs think humans are nuts.”
- “…all the polls and opinion posts, with newspapers more opinion than news so that we no longer know one from the other…”
Steinbeck, John. Travels with Charley: In Search of America. New York: Viking Press, 1962.