Archive for March, 2012

03/31/2012

Taking A Chance – The Capitalist Way

“Between to evils, I always pick the one I’ve never tried before.”Mae West 1892-1980

03/30/2012

High School High: Why Teachers Still Teach

As I look back to my high school days, I’m able to see clearly how each of my teachers made an impact in getting me to where I am today. Yes there are college professors that have made a similar impact – the late Dr Barry Chevannes, Joyce Walcott, Dr Brodie, and Michiru Ito (my first Japanese teacher) – it’s the high school teachers that had the toughest job. Not that I was a difficult high school student – far from it – but my group that went through high school could be a real hangover style headache for our teachers at times.

So in honor of my trip down memory lane, I want to give a shout out to some of my favorite high school teachers in no particular order:

  • Mr. Beckford and Mr. Wadsworth (physics) – who have left me with a last love of that science to the point I still have my Abbott Physics text on my bookcase in my living room.
  • Ms. Wint (chemistry) – who left me with a profound respect for her teaching ability even though I was never a fan of the subject of chemistry itself.
  • Mr. Archer (religious education) – a man who I have great respect for and who has given as much as anyone to the kids who walked through Olson Hall and the corridors of that school for many, many years.
  • Ms. Miller, Ms. Pinto and Mrs. Drummond (history) who understood my love for history but always encouraged me to question and not merely see or read and take things in. A special shout to Ms Pinto for book ending my high school years; she was the first teach I had in the 7th grade (summer school no less) and my last teacher in senior year.
  • Mr. Hernandez – a Cuban physics teacher who first seriously introduced me to chess and the Sicilian Dragon defense. While he didn’t teach me directly in classes (I was a junior when he came to the school), he got me interested in chess – a hobby which I’ve pursued over the last 2 years after a long hiatus since those high school days.
  • Ms. Richardson, Ms. Alvaranga and Ms. Stewart – who encouraged my writing ability in their English classes. While their styles were as different and unique as the four seasons, they still were sticklers for the things that mattered most: grammar.
  • Mr. Sylvester – the best math tutor I ever had (wasn’t a teacher at my school but deserves his day in the sun).
  • Ms Lawrence – (Accounting) a true accounting whiz that could balance a budget like no one else and inspired me to try for accounting. I’ll never forget being in a 3 hour exam and at the end begging the proctor for extra time!
  • Mrs. Bennett – (economics) who pushed us all to reach for the stars, especially when we were training for the Savings and Investment Quiz.
  • Mr. Cookson (geography) and Mr. Meeks (General Science) who were some of the sternest but fairest men in their commitments to principle I can ever remember meeting.
  • Mrs. Dundas and Ms. Warren – my two awesome French teachers. Mrs. Dundas with that old school way and car to match, and Ms. Warren with the new school passion and energy. Ms Warren, I’m still sorry my 8th grade class gave you that baptism of fire as a new teacher to the school.
  • Mrs. Bingham – boy I wish you taught me Spanish, you were tough on my friends but well-respected.

My list is nearly 20 deep and I’m sure if I go digging there are people you don’t make the list because their names escape me but their faces I cannot forget: my 8th grade Home Economics teacher (a dear friend of my aunt’s  my cousin – another teacher) who stressed style and proper manners; my last English teacher who taught me in both my senior year of high school and freshman first  semester of college; my 10th grade biology teacher; my woodwork and metal work instructors from the 8th and 9th grade; my 10th grade substitute physics teacher who was cool with us letting us hang out in the physics room by the lab; the physics lab tech who we talked philosophy endlessly when we hung out in the physics room playing chess; and my drama teacher from the 7th grade who was a famous actress from Lime Tree Lane. There were still others whose stories are more memorable than their teaching styles – Mr. McPherson and Mr. Peters (math), Mrs. Simpson (English) –  but it didn’t make them any less capable as teachers as the others.

I still have pics from my days of high school, and I am sure if I contribute to the alumni (I just might do that one day) it will help to give the next round of teens the chance to look back fondly at their years at 10 Ardenne Road as I do now. I guess in my own way I chip in, but deal with students in a different place yet with similar needs as I had back when.

I’m fortunate enough to work with teens now and with the changes I see happening in the school system that I have a school to go back to. Schools get closed and shuffled around more in that system based on performance than ever before. The teacher-parent relationship is filled more with distrust and blame than seamless co-operation. Still, I do my work partly because like others before me and in my generation, relish the opportunity to pass along lessons learned from those who taught them so well.

03/29/2012

Legacy of The Elders

“If I have seen further it is standing on the shoulders of giants.” –  Isaac Newton 1642-1727

03/28/2012

High School High: Life’s Best Years

Working with teens on the 9-5, particularly the high school juniors and seniors, often reminds me of my own high school days. With one of my favorite 90s high school movies returning – America Reunion (from the American Pie series), it really hammers the point home that high school can be some of the best years of one’s life.

When I was in high school and someone told me to enjoy my high school years for those reasons, I remember thinking that they were high! While in the moment, high school wasn’t all that great for me. It was the first time facing the prospect of having to leave Jamaica to come to New York and the whole process was nerve wrecking. Plus I was dealing with some high school baggage that I was looking forward to escaping. For me personally I enjoyed college a bit more than high school for those reasons.

Still, whenever I go down memory lane it’s the stories of high school shenanigans I’m quick to pull out for some life lessons. Scaling fences, cutting a full morning of school to play cricket, working in a metalwork shop, nearly getting suspended for creating a ruckus in a quiet residential park by the school – the list is endless.

One of my favorite stories involving the lesson of “playing smart but not being clever” happened with the then assistant principal – Mr. Noel Roberts (RIP). So Mr. Roberts was a big fan of the environment – his favorite form of punishment was handing out garbage patrol duties to delinquent students.

Yes, he’d give you an industrial sized garbage bag and point you to a spot filled with litter and asked you clean up the trash – with no gloves! When you were done, you had to call him so he saw the full bag, you then had to dump the litter into a trash can and return his garbage bag! Hilarious – when you’re not the victim of the punishment. There was nothing more embarrassing than being on the “Clean up Crew” with the industrial sized translucent bag – everyone knew and would laugh at your misfortune quickly. He was very non-discriminatory in drafting students – male, female, freshmen, and upper classmen – as long as you broke the rules you joined the Clean up Crew. The seniors hated doing it the most because the ridicule was especially tough on them. He did give out disposable gloves at the end of my time in high school, but it didn’t make the job less glamorous or embarrassing.

The story goes (I saw much of this one in person) that 4 guys were busted for skipping classes. Mr. Roberts, who also had a habit of doing random foot patrols where he would go walking around the school to check on students, caught them at one of the popular “cutting classes hang out spots”. Feeling generous, he decided to split the offenders into two groups and chose to very separate spots in the same are for the offenders to provide the clean up service.

So Team A started working, picking up garbage at a furious rate. But as the sun’s rays piled on – our offenders chose to cut class right after their lunch break – halfway into the job they decided they had enough. So they found a half empty trash bin (they did pick up a half bag full of trash to that point by hand) and emptied the content into the trash bag. One went to fetch Mr. Roberts and after getting the seal of approval, they went back to class.

Team B decided that while it was nice to not be in class, they were not interested in Clean up Crew duties at all. We had to wear uniforms and boys wore all khaki (upper classmen wore white shirts and khaki pants) and those things are unforgiving once you start to sweat in them.

Having watched Team A’s successful shortcut, and having barely picked up any trash themselves; they decided to find a full trash bin for the dump trick. So within a few minutes they filled the bag and fetched Mr. Roberts.

So Mr. Roberts came around and took one look at the clean up site, the boys and the bag and bellowed: “what do you take me for – a fool? Go empty that bag and clear this spot of trash!” See our copycats didn’t think he was going to look at the clean up area to see if the trash was picked up. Not only did they have to empty the bag they had to pick up a full bag’s worth of trash – all with Mr. Roberts supervising and with no gloves! Hilarious!

If you’re going to take a shortcut, sometimes doing things the right way is much easier and more efficient. The headache of a shortcut isn’t always worth it.

03/27/2012

Watch Out For Lying Lips…

“Whoever would lie usefully should lie seldom.”Lord Hervey 1696-1743

03/26/2012

Only in America, Made in America

As I watch the election rhetoric start to ramp up while the Republicans figure out if they want to stand behind Mitt Romney or not for the General election, I cannot help but think about one topic that is always on the lips of politicians. There has always been a concern about stuff that is “made in America” and the loss of jobs “overseas”. Especially in light of Apple being so profitable yet manufacturing most of their hot products – iPads, iPhones and iPod touches in China. Some voters and politicians constantly bemoan how manufacturing jobs have gone overseas.

Here are two the dirty truths that people don’t talk about. The first is that those traditional manufacturing jobs that go overseas often hurt the foreign economy as much as it hurts here. Those dollars invested in foreign countries don’t get invested in foreign countries. The taxes paid for some of these US conglomerates with home offices here (who don’t keep the money here to avoid paying the full US taxes which can be pretty steep if Uncle Sam likes your bottom line) is small. Which means profits go into the offshore accounts of the conglomerates – less money to reinvest to improve the local US quality of life, much less the country where the labor is being outsourced to.

The second dirty fact: the only thing that’s made in America these days are anything related to service.

Yes the service industry is now what stirs the drink in the American economy. If you look at things closely, the taste of the consumer for specialty goods and services has caused much of the countries woes.

Here’s what I mean. Back in the days when I was growing up, agriculture was the backbone of the economy. Now with providing a service the new linchpin, agriculture gets rebranded the following way. Too busy to cook or trying to lose weight? There are companies who will ship prepared meals to your house. Companies will ship groceries to your door. Restaurants with exotic foods will take your money when you go out to eat. Seed companies promise you special seeds you grow in your house to get some fruits and veggies year round.

Buying an expensive toy and it breaks? Repair companies keep your stuff up and running. Cannot afford to watch the kids? Pay a nanny or tutor to take care of that. Cannot afford an item you want? Get a loan or credit card. Cannot afford a house that you want? Take out a high risk mortgage.

Healthcare is a big culprit too. Doctors, pharmacists make tons from the sick and the healthy. Those obsessed with looking young can go in to get any nip, tuck Botox shot and Brazilian bikini wax done to fight the aging process. Sure, the insurance companies won’t cover it, but the specialist will help you find ways to pay for.

There are enough gyms and spas and vitamin shops filled with nutrition bars and fitness shakes and diets to suit any goal – no matter how tight the dress or ripped the abs need to be. Let’s not even talk about feminine beauty products, many of which are made from some materials that are more toxic than a dictator’s endorsement of an elected official.

People buy childhood memorabilia. People buy companionship. People buy pets. People buy thrills and spills – both legally and illicitly. Anything you can think of in your life has a service component attached to it. Yes – the service industry is driven by the convenience of paying someone else to do it for you or supplying you with the tools you need to do it yourself. See all the infomercials from cookware to grout replacement to male enhancement to home gyms.

What’s made this so fascinating about our addiction to consuming and being served such a diverse plethora of options to choose from is that the old school manufacturing process has been applied to all aspects of life, especially the service industry. Look at the pop culture. The clothes and music and other trappings are manufactured by those who wield ideological control. They have a time-tested formula to dictate to us what we wear what products we need how we should look and act in order to keep their hands in our pocket. Seeing the inner workings of a fast food chain and how  “assembly line oriented” your meal is made that it feels like if you swap the lettuce and patties out for computer parts, clothing materials or car parts it would all look the same. Convenient stores and retail spaces don’t have an accidental layout either – everything is catered to getting into the consumers wallet through logic, emotion and impulse. Ever wondered why we get force-fed the idea of finding the formula for success? It’s because once we come up with that blueprint it really never fails.

Am I hating on what society has become? Not quite – this is the price we pay for a capitalistic world. The old school connoisseurs of vice like Nero and Caligula would probably nod in approval at the decadent modern life can provide. I just wish the politicians would stop lying to us when it comes to the economy. The one thing that is made in America is the capitalist consumer: life is manufactured to serve him and keep the hands of the powers that be entrenched in his pocket, forcing him to always consume and never be able to fully afford both his wants and needs comfortably.

Yes, only in America, made in America. Ain’t life grand?

03/25/2012

Being Yourself Pays

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else, is the greatest accomplishment.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803-82

03/24/2012

Do I Walk Away or Work On It?

Alex the Great asks: “How come people lazy suh sometime? The minute dem nuh get weh dem want,and how dem want it, dem bawl and cry fowl. Dem nuh know seh nutting come easy inna life?”

It’s always easier to walk away than put in the work – or so it seems.

Recently, I was watching a few episodes from a series aired on Discovery Fit and Health called Unfaithful: Stories of Betrayal (aired originally on TLC, I believe). There were a few things that stood out from seeing those stories of betrayal that caused me to reflect on who we view relationships with a very quick hook at times.

Firstly, the producers were fair – this wasn’t a series of cheating guys leaving destroyed wives and kids in their philandering wake. They really made an effort to show that both men and women are capable of infidelity and often do so for different reasons across many social and ethnic groups. As much as we know better, sometimes we get caught up in playing into the stereotypes of the roles both gender play in a relationship. They also didn’t show the kids at all – it focuses on the people in the relationship and that’s where it should be.

Secondly how strong the partners who were wronged were for trying to save their marriages. From cheating with friends, strangers, coworkers, hanging out in strip clubs, it really takes a lot to forgive and to use an incident of infidelity as a point to be closer than before to a partner. The stats aren’t usually in favor of a relationship – about 30% survive after the occurrence of an infidelity that is revealed. Maybe that’s why people try as hard as they do to cheat and keep it hidden.

But the stat that stood out the most for me though was that about 80% of those that walked away regretted their decision. That’s a pretty high number! Sometimes people want to cling to a relationship for selfish reasons. We all know how tough it is to take someone back under those conditions to make it work. But maybe the reason why that number is so high is that people haven’t really taken the time out to process what happened. The good times can look really good if the person isn’t around – after all it is easy to romanticize the highest of highs and ignore the lows. Perhaps what was need was a moment to really talk things out to see if it is worth salvageable – but that can be hard to do when the cheater is just trying to get things back how they were and aren’t willing to really deal with the consequences of their actions.

It’s not only intimate relationships that it’s seemingly easier to walk away from. There are jobs that we are at and don’t like, friendships that may not be going our way, family members who don’t agree with our current point of view. There are times that the pressures of life can be so great that letting go might be the best option. While there are times that this is indeed true, when we get into a habit of always pull the car off the side of the road whenever there we hit a pothole it becomes harder to grow and get anywhere in life.

It’s hard to know what’s worth putting in the work for, and what’s worth walking away from. Some of the lack of that skill comes from a Western way of life that makes many things disposable, people and stress filled situations especially. One thing is clear: if you walk away classy or work hard in a classy manner, people are able to respect you – no matter how they feel about you in the moment.