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Tag: nostalgia (Page 1 of 2)

Not Exactly The Hometown

In the title of a book, Thomas Wolfe declares “you can’t go home again”, and many other writers and philosophers have expressed a similar idea in their works. That sentiment has been running around my warped little mind during a visit to my chosen hometown, Tucson, Arizona.

I say “chosen” because, as a cold war-era military brat, I don’t really have one of those picture perfect GOP-endorsed small hometowns where kids grew up in some kind of idealized past. The military hospital in which I was born was torn down many years ago and the base housing area I first came home to is now an industrial park.

Besides, my family only lived there for a few months before moving on to my father’s next posting. Followed by seven or eight additional transfers before I left for college.

None of this is presented as an appeal for sympathy. For me, my siblings, and many of the kids around us, it all seemed pretty normal – packing up every few years and heading for somewhere else. Not having a “real” hometown and eventually selecting one from the many stops along the way.

At two times during my stream of childhood we landed in Tucson (for a year each). Then I returned to the university here for most of my undergraduate program1 and graduate school. Add in the fact that my in-laws live here, and I acquired an adopted hometown.

I'm pretty sure all of this is a contributing factor to why I don't do much dwelling on the past – here or anywhere else. And why I feel Americans in general spend way too much time memorializing that past (much of which is heavily fictionalized), energy that would be better used in planning for the future. I know, I would be a real downer at reunions.2

Anyway don't get me wrong about this trip. It's fun to wander through the university campus and to visit landmarks around town about which I have hazy fond memories. Places that have changed ownership and been remodeled more than a few times in the decades since (with the possible exception of my dorm :-). And catching up face-to-face with family and friends (as opposed to whatever happens on Facebook).

A few days every so often digging into the past is nice. I just don't want to live there.

Some Things Never Change

Don’t underestimate the value of doing nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering. – Winnie the Pooh

Ok, it’s been a week since I became unemployed and, while I haven’t quite been doing nothing, it’s been an interesting experience knowing that I could have done just that with no repercussions.

Along with plenty of reading and reflection, I’ve been cleaning out lots of the cruft, physical and digital, that has accumulated over many years. Including a few bags of stuff brought home from the former cubicle. No matter the origins, it’s a process that’s often quite cathartic.

One of the odder items that came out of the bottom of an office desk drawer was a folder containing magazine and newspaper articles from my college days. Stories featuring headlines like “What’s Wrong With Our Teachers?” and “Saving our Schools”.

The articles behind those inflammatory headlines called the quality of teaching “woefully inadequate”, related how kids didn’t work hard enough (or were not required to work harder), and declared that their learning was lacking compared to students in other countries (Japan being the big baddy at that time). Accompanied by one or two cherry picked examples of where schools are “working” in the US.

These declarations of a failing American education system were based on the now legendary A Nation at Risk report, which in its executive summary made this provocative claim:

If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.

I remember that hyperbolic line being held over the heads of teachers for many years after that.

Anyway, A Nation at Risk was written by a federal commission, largely populated by people in higher education and corporate executives, and based on reports of poor student achievement from colleges and SAT scores.

As opposed to any number of negative reports about our current education system today, written by think tanks funded by billionaires with no education experience and based on a flood of data from largely meaningless standardized test scores.

It’s a little depressing. The impression of public education and the national discussion of school reform hasn’t really changed in thirty years. Except that back then one of the major solutions was to provide better pay and support for teachers. You won’t find many “reformers” supporting that idea today.

One more nostalgically fun item from the publications for edtech fans: the full-page ads by Apple, IBM, and Texas Instruments (complete with Bill Cosby) pushing their machines for home learning.

User Defined Packages

The iTunes store is now selling something called Digital 45’s.

Now for you youngsters who have no clue about that reference, back before you were born, music companies sold something called a single record which had two songs on it, one on each side.

As best my fading memory can recall, they sold for around 79 cents and usually only one side was worth listening to, although once in a while, the “B” side was as good or better than the “A” side.

Anyway, beyond nostalgia value for the over 40 set, the idea of resuscitating the concept seems a little silly since virtually the whole digital music store is nothing but singles.

Unlike the all-or-nothing package days of vinyl records, people now get to decide for themselves which songs will be packaged together.

Actually, for an increasing number of other consumer products, it’s very much a customized world, one in which each person gets to decide the contents of packages they buy.

Now all we have to do is figure out how to apply that to the education system.

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