Individual differences

The Animal School

A Fable by George Reavis[1]

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Once upon a time the animals decided they must do something heroic to meet the problems of a “new world” so they organized a school. They had adopted an activity curriculum consisting of running, climbing, swimming and flying. To make it easier to administer the curriculum, all the animals took all the subjects.

The duck was excellent in swimming. In fact, better than his instructor. But he made only passing grades in flying and was very poor in running. Since he was slow in running, he had to stay after school and also drop swimming in order to practice running. This was kept up until his webbed feet were badly worn and he was only average in swimming. But average was acceptable in school so nobody worried about that, except the duck.

The rabbit started at the top of the class in running but had a nervous breakdown because of so much makeup work in swimming.

The squirrel was excellent in climbing until he developed frustration in the flying class where his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of the treetop down. He also developed a “charlie horse” from overexertion and then got a C in climbing and D in running.

The eagle was a problem child and was disciplined severely. In the climbing class, he beat all the others to the top of the tree but insisted on using his own way to get there.

At the end of the year, an abnormal eel that could swim exceeding well and also run, climb and fly a little had the highest average and was valedictorian.

The prairie dogs stayed out of school and fought the tax levy because the administration would not add digging and burrowing to the curriculum. They apprenticed their children to a badger and later joined the groundhogs and gophers to start a successful private school.

Does this fable have a moral?

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Despite the fact that the above tale is around 75 years old, public schools, with their emphasis on standardized tests and government regulations, still insist on cramming all children into the same mold, ignoring completely that people have many different learning styles. The image below, from Loving2Learn.com, outlines some of the major ones. There are others.

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Part of the problem is this:

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Much of the problem stems from where our country’s schools have come from in the past. Two books – older, but in a sense timeless, are

Lest anyone think “things have gotten better since then,” 2013 estimates indicate that it would take $270 billion to repair America’s schools and bring them to their original condition, and twice that to bring them up to date. Inner-city schools, not surprisingly, are in the most desperate straits.

On the other hand, there are people out there making a big difference by bucking the system. If you want a taste of what’s being done, I recommend two movies:

  1. Waiting for Superman – “Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim reminds us that education “statistics” have names: Anthony, Francisco, Bianca, Daisy, and Emily, whose stories make up the engrossing foundation of WAITING FOR SUPERMAN. As he follows a handful of promising kids through a system that inhibits, rather than encourages, academic growth, Guggenheim undertakes an exhaustive review of public education, surveying “drop-out factories” and “academic sinkholes,” methodically dissecting the system and its seemingly intractable problems” – Sundance Film Festival
  2. Won’t Back Down – “Two determined mothers­, one a teacher, look to transform their children’s failing inner city school. Facing a powerful and entrenched bureaucracy, they risk everything to make a difference in the education and future of their children.”

There has been considerable pushback from teachers’ unions with regard to films like the above. But then, that’s not surprising. These organizations tend to focus on preserving jobs for teachers rather than ensuring that children receive a quality education. That’s a guaranteed formula for failure from the get-go. America’s public-school system is ossified almost beyond salvation. Most school districts and individuals schools are run like petty fiefdoms, where the emphasis is on consolidating power and preserving a comfortable status quo. That doesn’t mean that reform is not worth fighting for, but it will continue to be a hard slog until until a system can be built where incompetent teachers and administrators can be weeded out, good teachers encouraged with respectable salaries, and the emphasis on standardized testing thrown in the dustbin of failed educational policies.

There’s another dimension to public education that needs to be addressed as well – the concept of social responsibility. But that will have to wait for another essay.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


[1]This story, in the public domain, was written by George Reavis when he was the Assistant Superintendent of the Cincinnati Public Schools back in the 1940s. This was a handout for my Educational Administration classwork in 1972.

Perspective

As I was growing up, even as a child, I was aware that the rapid advance of technology had begun within sight of my birth year, in relative terms.

I knew, for example, that my mom’s parents were married in 1912, the year of the Titanic disaster.

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Electricity was still a novelty in many places. Automobiles were still replacing horses.

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1912 White Motors vehicle

Telephones were still basic in many areas, although dial phones were becoming popular.

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1912 – Connecticut Telephone and Electric Company

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The dial telephone was touted for it’s “secret service” convenience, meaning no operator was required to connect the call. This advertisement targeted delegates to the 1912 Republican National Convention.

Radio had yet to become popular, and was still being used in things like ship-to-shore communications.

Television was not even a glint in Philo T. Farnsworth’s eye, and was strictly the stuff of laboratory experimentation.

The first commerical flight, with one passenger, happened two years later.

Fast-forward to the 1950’s.

Telephones looked like this:

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Our television was the “Cadillac” of TV’s at the time – a hand-made Andrea. Mom always had good taste.

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For some history about the Andrea enterprise, see the article from Radio & Television News from May of 1950.

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TV’s had a 13-channel dial. UHF was provided for, but no one was broadcasting on those channels yet. Remotes were unheard of – you actually had to haul your ass off the couch and change the channel or adjust the volume by hand. This made channel surfing difficult – unless, like me, you sat 5 inches away from the screen and spun the dial like crazy. My mother always told me I’d hurt my eyes by sitting so close…

Vintage Television

New York City had 7 channels – 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 13. Everything was black and white – it wasn’t until the 60’s that we began seeing this:

Channels were pretty much off the air during the night time. Broadcasting would begin at around 5:30 AM. One of the first things to come on (even before the cartoons) was The Modern Farmer. I learned a lot watching that show, waiting for the cartoons to come on. If I was up earlier, all I’d see was something like this:

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My mother married for the second time in 1959, and she and her new hubby (that relationship lasted about a year) flew on one of the first commercial jets, to Puerto Rico.

Flying, which I did often during the 50’s and 60’s to visit my mom’s family in Utah or my father in Los Angeles, really did look a lot like this:

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They took good care of you back then. Those meal trays would come with little promotional packs of cigarettes, too – usually Marlboro, with four cigarettes in a tiny flip-top box. Kids would get games, or playing cards, and always a set of wings:

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Don’t know what happened to my wings from United, but I still have a set from American kicking around somewhere.

One of my favorite books in 1959 was You Will Go To The Moon, by Mae and Ira Freeman.

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The Univac 1 was delivered in 1951, its successor, the Univac II, was delivered in 1958.

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Univac II. My smartphone has more power than this did.

So today, in 2013, technology is advancing at a pace so rapid as to be breathtaking. I write this post on a core i7 machine, still relatively new – and already surpassed by new models. There are kids alive today who have never known what a world without the Internet is like (although they don’t remember NCSA Mosaic, or trying to surf the web over a 300-baud modem.)

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Original cartoon courtesy of somethingofthatilk.com. I added this last panel.

In 1959, I could not have possibly imagined what I am seeing today (although I’m still ripped off about my flying car and that trip to the moon). Even with today’s technological and scientific miracles, I cannot imagine what kind of world my grandchildren will see. I can only hope that the world they grow up to see will have advanced in terms of humanity as well as technology.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

 

22 Years Later, Waiters Still Work for $2.13 a Hour

A recent article at Bloomberg highlighted a situation that has long irked me. And I’m part of the problem, and I’m groping for answers.

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One thing about the Bloomberg article that I’d change is “waitresses” -> “servers.” Obviously the problem is industry-wide, and not limited to those who are y-chromosome-challenged.  But whatever. That’s a subject for a different  essay.

I’ve written about tipping before. For reasons outlined there, it’s not optional. If you eat out, be prepared to tip, and tip well. The people who bring you your food depend on it, as do numerous others in the restaurant who don’t get tipped directly.

So here’s what I struggle with. While states can set their own minimum wage numbers, New Mexico and 12 other states use the federal level, which hasn’t been raised in 22 years. And even states that have raised the minimum for tipped employees tend to err on the side of parsimony. That means “being cheap.” I happen to think that paying a server $2.13 an hour (I only made less than this back in the 60’s and 70’s, when the minimum wage in Utah was $1.65) is an abomination and an affront to ethical business.

See, tips were never designed to be part of a server’s base wage… it’s just that employers saw a gold mine and took advantage of it. Restaurant owners justify their actions by saying that servers are making at least minimum wage with tips included and often more, and while this can happen, it’s the exception rather than the rule. Raising the base minimum would “also spur firings and reduced hours as thin-margin businesses grapple with higher costs, say some restaurant owners and economists.” And therein lies the rub.

According to the Houston Chronicle, in an article dealing with operating margins in the restaurant industry:

“Recent times have proven very difficult for the full-service restaurant industry. According to the NRA [National Restaurant Association, not the gun lobby], in 2010 the casual restaurants had an average operating margin of 3.0 percent with respect to gross sales. More formal $15 to $25 restaurants had an average operating margin of 3.5 percent. Fine dining establishments, costing $25 or more, had the worst margins of all, at 1.8 percent on average. Many such restaurants earned a loss, rather than a profit. Overall sales for the full-service restaurant industry came to $184 billion, a nominal increase over 2009.”

These razor-thin margins are built on the base + tip model, and if restaurant owners are required to quadruple their waitstaff’s wages and still keep the same pricing structure, the business goes under – which means loss of jobs for people and loss of tax revenues for localities, neither of which is a good thing. There’s no way to balance the equation without changing some variables, and the only one I can see that can change is price.

As Americans, we have developed a sense of entitlement regarding cheap eats, either in restaurants (supported on the backs of the servers), or in the grocery store (supported on the backs of low-paid migrant workers.) Raising prices for dining and groceries to give a fair living to the people who provide them would be the right thing to do… but would go over like a lead balloon with much of the public and would be a logistical nightmare – push over that domino and the whole house of cards would come tumbling dow, to mix metaphors.

You can see why I’m conflicted. I like eating out. Boycotting restaurants to make owners pay a living wage is the worst kind of self-spiting solution, because it would simply force many eateries out of business. The problem is multifaceted, and there are better minds than mine working on addressing it. One of them is Gina L. Darnell, a former server who authors Wiser Waitress. Here’s her wish list.  It’s not too much to ask.

In the meantime, all I can do is try to make a dining experience as pleasant for my server as they are trying to make it for me… and leave a decent tip.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The Voice of Alexander Graham Bell

According to The Verge, new data-retrieval techniques have enabled researchers to play a wax disc recorded by Alexander Graham Bell on 15 April 1885, and previously deemed “uplayable”. Not only was the wax disc, which had been donated to the Smithsonian by Bell himself, heavily damaged, there was also no indication of what kind of device could play it back. However, by dint of taking high-resolution images of the disc and then using computer analysis to rebuild damaged areas, Bell’s voice can be heard clearly. He spends most of his time reciting numbers, but provides an audio “signature” at the end of the recording.

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Bell’s transcript of the recording

The recording itself, with captions.

An intriguing bit of history.

The Old Wolf has spoken (but not as well as Alexander Graham Bell.)

The Century Chest

Here there be treasure.

“On April 22, 1913, a “Century Chest” was buried in the basement of the First English Lutheran Church (now the First Lutheran Church of Oklahoma City) at 1300 North Robinson. The ceremony was witnessed by a capacity crowd including Governor Lee Cruce and other notable Oklahoma residents.

Through a century of dutiful vigilance the congregation of the First Lutheran Church has guarded the Century Chest in order that on April 22, 2013, the chest would be unearthed and the past would come alive. The church has partnered with the Oklahoma Historical Society to ensure the treasures of 1913 are preserved and exhibited at the Oklahoma History Center.” (From Oklahoma History)

Some of the beautiful and well-preserved items found:

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Kodak camera

 

 

 

 

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Graphophone

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Wax cylinders for graphophone

 

 

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What a wonderful glimpse into the world of 100 years ago. Many other items were included, and will be preserved and curated by the state.

The Old Wolf has spoken.