Monday, February 29, 2016

Homework—think again….

Homework. You know what I’m talking about. It’s one of those things, gotta do it. Practice makes perfect, right?

Try thinking twice about homework, maybe it’s not alright.

The first public school in the North American colonies—the Boston Latin School—assigned homework to its students because the Puritans were sure that “practice makes perfect.”

In the middle of the 19th century, there was some sentiment that homework wasn’t entirely healthy for kids. In 1900, the Ladies’ Home Journal and pediatricians across the country started a movement to cut back on homework in favor of exercise and outdoor play. That didn’t last long.

The Sputnik scare and the Reagan administrations’ A Nation At Risk report cranked up the pressure for more homework to boost scholastic test scores.

Students today are doing about 50 percent more homework than their counterparts in the 1980s.
Of course some after school book work can be beneficial to students, but the modern pile of homework also contributes to student stress and lost playtime and lost sleep.

The trouble is that there’s no rigorous evidence that a lot of homework does a lot of good.

Here’s an excerpt from a new book on what ails our public schools:
“…excessive homework does more harm than good…Scientific research demonstrates that in many cases, homework does nothing to improve students’ academic performance…In 2006, Duke University’s Harris Cooper surveyed fifteen years’ worth of homework studies conducted across the country. The conclusion: homework was found to have little to no benefit before high school and diminishing returns for high school students as the hours spent doing it increased.”

Some homework helps some students. Parents and teachers should start believing that.

Vicki Abeles, Beyond Measure, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015, 69-74.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Get crazy—let your kids go outside and play

Kids aren’t playing enough. Plain and simple.

As in: play time, unstructured, lots of imagination, no adult direction or rules, you know, playing outside, building the pillow fort, making up stories about monkeys and ghosts, “I’ll be the monster and you be the monster catcher…”….

University of Michigan researchers did some checking, and concluded that kids ages 6-17 spent twice as much time playing outdoors in the 1980s as they do now.

Here’s an unforgettable memory of my childhood: my mother routinely said to my brother and me, “You boys go outside and play.” It was up to us to decide what to do.

Let’s nail this part down: “playing outside” does not mean suiting up for the traveling soccer team’s semi-championship game two states away after putting in 35 hours of “mandatory” practice every week, especially if you’re 9 years old.

In her new book Beyond Measure, education reformer Vicki Abeles says “…in these unstructured moments [of free playtime]…children develop essential capacities for reflective thought, creativity, social skills, and self-control.”

Amen to that.

Vicki Abeles, Beyond Measure, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015, 47-48.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Full circle….

I was born before the debut of commercial television. There was no TV on the wall in the maternity ward.

Of course, I’ve had a TV (and later, several TVs) in my home since I can remember. For better or worse….

I wouldn’t say I’ve been a TV junkie in my time, but yeah, sure, I watched my favorite shows for close to 60 years.

A few years back, for my taste, the “better” stopped happening and the “worse” started kicking in.

I just said “No,” cold turkey, seven years ago today. Stopped watching the boob tube. Stopped wondering what the heck was the appeal of reality TV. Stopped getting angry enough to yell at the screen during news broadcasts. Stopped wishing TV news would get sensible and meaningful.

So I don’t turn the TV on now. OK, I make exceptions for the Super Bowl and the State of the Union address and election returns in early November and maybe, every other year or so, an old movie I can’t find on one of the streaming sources.

I’m bound to say I don’t think I’m missing much.

The news media industry, particularly TV, has become a beast with no scruples. I think it is deranging our society.

At least, in the old days, we had Dragnet and Sgt. Bilko.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The few have spoken again….

You probably know that He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named won another Republican primary caucus this week.

The folks who voted for HWSNBN were exercising their right in our democracy, befuddled as it may be. That’s all I can say without getting into fear and trembling.

The gross shame of all this is made so much worse by all the folks who didn’t vote.

There are almost 2.2 million men and women of voting age in Nevada.

About 34,500 of them voted for HWSNBN—that’s about 1.6 per cent. So, more than 98 per cent of Nevadans didn’t vote for him.

Only about 15 per cent of registered Republicans turned out to vote for anyone.

Non-participation is killing our democracy.

If you don’t vote in your state’s primary, you’re going to have to live with the candidate picked by a few other folks. How much do you trust ‘em?

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Another take from Peter Drucker

"Plans are only good intentions
     unless they immediately degenerate into hard work."

Influential management consultant, "knowledge worker"

For a long time Drucker's name was a meaningful buzzword in what I will call "management circles," with full consciousness of the double entendre that Drucker might have enjoyed….

His epigram explicitly links "good intentions" with "hard work." I'd like to think that it's a warning to the blithe folks who suggest plans (with good intentions screwed on every which way) as objects of desire for others or for their organizations at large, with little understanding of and no commitment to the hard work required to even get those plans started…..

Good plans do indeed drop from the sky……

The hard part is to cultivate and continually dig up that hard work stuff…

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Maybe your kid shouldn't go to college

Don’t assume that the college track is the only life path that makes sense for your high school senior.

I'm talking about what we all think of as the four-year college experience.

Try asking your child if she wants to go to college. Try asking your child what kind of career training he’d like to have.

Maybe the answers will surprise you.

Two recent commentaries are worth your time:

Michael Petrilli on   lays it on the line:
“Kid, I’m sorry, but you’re just not college material.”

Valerie Strauss on asks this policy question:
“Who should decide who is college material and who isn’t?
Obviously, parents and their almost-high-school-graduate kids are the folks who need to do the heavy lifting on this issue.

For starters, parents need to stop insisting that their kids must go to college.

Robert Samuelson of The Washington Post takes the trouble to point out that about 70% of real life jobs don’t require a college degree….  see College isn't for everyone part I

and yet, way more than half of high school graduates go to college (of course, not all of them actually get a degree).

In general, college costs way too much for what you get. If you want some amplification on this point, talk to a recent graduate who’s still looking for a job.

And here’s the thing: not everybody is qualified to be successful in college. Notice, I’m not arguing against the “right” of every kid to go to college, I’m just saying that a lot of college freshmen don’t have the skills and mental horsepower to get passing grades and graduate. For example, last year only 43% of the high school students who took the SATs scored high enough to be successful in the college classroom.  See College isn't for everyone part II

Too many college students end their college careers with no degree and lots of student debt, and too many college graduates leave the campus with lots of student debt.

The whole mantra about “every child should go to college” is based on wishful thinking and ignorance or indifference about the real-life certainty that a lot of kids couldn’t possibly succeed on the college campus. Neither their parents nor you and I (i.e., taxpayers) should spend a pile of money to pay for ultimate failure.

As a matter of national policy, let’s decide that every high school graduate should have the opportunity to go on to get suitable training for a job/career that’s compatible with the student’s capabilities and interests.

So somebody can write a column with this headline:
“Hey kid, good news, you’re gonna get education/training that’s right for you.”

>>>>>  UPDATE  <<<<<
Here's a current comment on college expenses from Mary Bromley at Cornerstone University:

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Fat city, the wrong kind....

Almost 30% of American kids, ages 2-19, are overweight or obese.

That means they’re a lot more likely to have big health problems.

If you have a loving or concerned role with children—as a parent, grandparent, aunt/uncle, brother/sister, you know who you are—you can do something about this.

If you’re not going to do something about it,
you’re not going to do anything about it.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The boob tube....

My parents were early adopters in the early 1950s: they bought a television set. How they rationalized that expenditure I do not know. I think it was a portable, maybe with a 7-inch screen.

They were among millions who were putting down the cash to acquire technology with rabbit ears.
TV in its infancy was the fastest blooming technology in the history of humankind.

At the end of World War II there were only a few tens of thousands of privately owned television sets. Within 10 years, two-thirds of American households had one. By the early 1960s more than 90 percent of homes had a boob tube.

In the early years, when few households had a set, the neighborhood tended to gather at the house with a TV for a social evening, watching whatever was on one of the (maximum 3) available channels. I was a kid when the family drove into Philadelphia to watch The Wizard of Oz on my uncle’s brand-new color TV.

I don’t watch TV now—stopped channel checking almost seven years ago. OK, I make exceptions for the Super Bowl and the State of the Union address and election returns in early November.

I’m bound to say I don’t think I’m missing much.

The news media industry, particularly TV, has become a beast with no scruples. I think it is deranging our society.

At least, in the old days, we had the Milton Berle Show

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Papillon redux

It doesn’t hurt to keep on dreamin’….

You never know when the wings may sprout….

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved

Raise your hand if you paid for the bonus to Delta employees

If you flew on a Delta jet last year, you should feel proud. The airline just handed out $1.5 BILLION in bonuses to its employees to mark its record profits in 2015. You helped pay for it.

That’s the equivalent of a 21 percent pay boost for the “average” Delta employee. You can bet a big chunk went to Delta executives—for example, outgoing CEO Richard Anderson hauled in more than $17.5 million last year.

The thing is: airlines’ record profits last year were largely based on the steep decline of jet fuel prices. In 2014 jet fuel averaged about $2.70 per gallon, and that price dropped to an average of $1.52 per gallon last year—in fact, jet fuel was selling for about $1.09 in December, that’s 60 percent lower than the average 2014 price.

Think about Delta’s ticket pricing last year. Did you see any big price reductions? A big chunk of what you paid for your flight went into that $1.5 billion bonus pool.

Did you get any free peanuts or anything? How about the leg room, everything OK there?

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Your great-grandmother didn’t have a teddy bear

Did you have a special name for your teddy bear?

I did not, or, at least, I don’t remember one. My teddy bear was nearly as big as me, as I recall my earliest memory of that huggable creature.

He got all scruffy with age, and a bit broken down….nonetheless, I think I cried when I spotted that bear in flames in the trash burner we used way back then. I think I wanted to save him, but I don’t think the rescue actually occurred.

1903 teddy bear
Anyway. Your great-grandmom likely didn’t have one, because retailer Morris Michtom introduced the stuffed bear toy in 1903 after getting approval from President Roosevelt (Teddy) for the use of his nickname in the soon-to-be-quite-popular commercial sensation.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Chocolat redux

Even if you don’t have a sweet tooth for chocolate, you may have wondered about the iconic Hershey Kiss—how did that luscious temptation get started?

You remember Milton Hershey, the Hershey Bar guy. Hershey was a caramel kind of guy who switched to chocolate and struck the mother lode. In 1900 he created the Hershey Bar, probably America’s milk chocolate favorite.

In 1903 he started building his first chocolate factory in what was then called Derry Church, PA. The town later changed its name to Hershey.

In 1907 the diminutive masterpiece made its debut: a little hunk of milk chocolate, flat on the bottom with an approximately teardrop shape, called the Hershey Kiss. For more than a decade that famous morsel was painstakingly produced and wrapped in foil by hand. By 1921, it was machine-produced with the little paper strip sticking out the top.

Oh yeah, almost forgot to mention that Mr. Goodbar came along in 1925.

And hey, you can'y eat just one.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Sunday, February 14, 2016


Understanding the “o” word

“Old” is a highly charged word. A poem about the process of aging and being aged, without using the “o” word:

This post has been moved to my website:

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Populism: just say no

Okay, who wants to take the blame for this one?

I want to mention that I am past my limit in tolerating repeated uses of the words “populist” and “populism” in commentary on the current presidential campaign.

A recent New Yorker item pushed my button. John Cassidy wrote a piece titled “Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump Ride the Populist Wave.”

I think anyone who has finished 7th grade can figure out that Sanders and He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named-Again could not, in any planetary system, simultaneously represent a singular socio-political phenomenon.

Furthermore, Cassidy refers twice to a “populist wave” without clarifying his meaning in any way.
Strictly speaking, nobody knows what “populism” means, at least not in the way that we have a consensus understanding of “apple” or “rainbow.”

So, “populist” and “populism,” here are some attempts to define them:

—a member or adherent of a political party seeking to represent the interests of ordinary people—that’s right, you can move right along to argue about the meaning of “ordinary people”….

—a belief in the power of regular people, and in their right to have control over their government rather than a small group of political insiders or a wealthy elite—let the dance begin, what does “regular people” mean?

—political movements or philosophies that offer unorthodox solutions or policies and appeal to the common person—yup, this narrows it down, until you start arguing about who the “common people” are….

Wikipedia mentions that definitions of “populism” have varied widely over the centuries, and the term has often been employed in loose and inconsistent ways to denote appeals to "the people"—ah, at last, everyone knows who “the people” are….

Politicians and commentators and the news media don’t hesitate to use and abuse emotionally-laden words like “populism,” and everyone tacitly agrees to avoid defining the word. Who is served by this convenient and inflammatory obscurantism?

I think we can rule out ordinary people, regular people, common people….

Next time you hear someone say “populism,” just say no.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Massive stock buybacks: it’s a shame

Big companies are squandering their cash reserves to prop up their stock prices.

The stock market dropped almost 9.5% in January, its worst start of any year on record.
Of course, every time a stock is traded, there’s a buyer and a seller. So, who was buying in January when the sellers were pushing prices down?

Goldman Sachs Group says U.S. companies were buying their own shares with corporate cash reserves, accounting for about 20 percent of market volume last month.

That’s stunning. American companies have a couple trillion dollars sitting in their cash accounts, and they can’t think of anything better to do with it. The money could have been used for new product development, expansion and job creation, training and productivity enhancements or other productive purposes.

Yahoo Finance says hundreds of S&P 500 companies have lost $126 billion in the past three years by investing in their own shares and then watching the share price go down. Some of these firms actually borrowed money to cover their share repurchases. By the way, the stock market overall was up 39 percent in the same period.

Why are all these companies using their cash with such awful results? The standard wisdom is that companies buy their own shares when the stock price is “cheap,” below their actual value as determined by the company. This reduces cash outflow for dividends, and makes more shares available for stock grants and options as part of executive compensation plans.

Another result is that earnings per share (EPS) are increased when there are fewer outstanding shares, and this looks good in corporate reports and also may boost executive compensation.

Let’s call the spade a spade, here. Corporate directors and CEOs are spending their hoarded cash to try to prop up share prices—often for their own benefit—instead of using the money for constructive corporate purposes that would preserve and expand jobs.

Shame on them.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.