Book Suggests We Coddle Our Kids…And Minds A Bit Too Much

One of my resolutions this year is to read more than I read last year. Last year, I read 15 books by my count, so obviously the goal is 16 or better this year. I figure if Dec. 28th rolls around and I’m at 14, it’ll be time to break out Hop on Pop and Green Eggs and Ham. Seriously though, the actual reason isn’t to rack up a score (and if it was, 16 wouldn’t be all that glamorous albeit it could be a lot more than many people do these days), it’s about just reading. Exploring new ideas, be they fiction or non. I’ve always enjoyed reading since I was young; just as with so many of us the “busy-ness” of life makes it harder to put aside a chunk of time to do more than a magazine article at a time.

Anyway, I just finished my second book of ’19, a non-fiction current near-best-seller entitled The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. The subtitle really caught my eye when browsing the new releases at the store a couple of months back : “How good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a generation for failure.” And the basic premise is just that – that we (Gen X-ers primarily) are raising kids hopelessly incapable of dealing with the real world.

They speculate the problem arises from three great untruths we are somehow brainwashed into believing and teaching the young ones (especially the I-Generation as he calls it, the ones just hitting the colleges in the last year or three). One, that whatever doesn’t kill you will make you weak; two, that they should always trust their gut, so to speak and never, ever doubt what they feel is absolutely right, and three, that the world is a battle between pure good and pure evil. These of course fly in the face of everything science, psychology and what we used to call “good ol’ common sense” have taught us. We know that some problems and adversity will in fact help us think, be more creative and more resilient. We know that sometimes our feelings get in the way of what’s real, create biases and stop us from examining thoughts or people that might possibly conflict with what we want to believe. And we know that the vast majority of us are capable of both good and bad and that few people are purely evil demons out to “get” us. Why then, they wonder, don’t we teach our kids that?

They outline the effects including kids who are immature and have never had their opinions even questioned and feel anyone challenging their thoughts is akin to a physical assailant.

Although they try to cover a broad range of topics – arguably too many – discussing what is wrong with society these days, they do zero in well on some main themes. Our over-protectiveness of kids spurred on by Amber alerts and hysterical media reports about the rare cases of child abduction by a stranger, the pressure on kids to do well and get into prestigious schools, their overuse of computers and phones at expense of making real contacts and real friends. They also venture into the increasingly obvious terrain of how social media is only making us less social and more antagonistic towards anyone who thinks a bit differently than we do.

Their arguments are by and large convincing and their conclusions about the problems – hate speech abounding, colleges eliminating readings and speakers who might be even a wee bit provocative or unpopular from the curriculum, etc – are obvious but need repeating. They see hope for the future with changes coming; I’m not so sure we’ll wean kids off their phones or that social media is going to suddenly enable users to hear, and appreciate all kinds of differing political or social opinions. But I have hope in those who have hope!

The book is a bit dry… it’s in the genre of Malcolm Gladwell but not such a rivoting page turner, but it’s well worth the read. Particularly is you have kids of your own.

I grew up with a mom that I thought was over-protective. But even I spent many a happy afternoon on nice days riding my bike here there and everywhere with school pals, once in awhile played some road hockey in the street if it wasn’t too too cold and walked to school (or rode my bicycle if the weather was good.) Walking to high school was over a half hour each way, and that was cutting across a park and , yes, cutting across a railroad line surruptitiously. To have done it along the actual roadways would have added a good ten minutes or so to each trip,day in day out, snowy or sunny. I grew up fine.

Or at least, grew up physically ok, not obese and not averse to exercise, and although often a bit pissed-off by people whose thinking is quite different than mine, not feeling like I was in physical danger listening to them. And I grew up reading. Books, novels, bios, history and geography texts, magazines, daily newspapers. I still try to do that. So I bid you a good night and for me…

14 to go this year! Don’t be surprised if you see a Cat in the Hat review here come December…

TV: Out With The Old, In With The New

Oscar Wilde said there were only two tragedies in life- not getting what you want, and getting what you want. Similarly, I have long thought there are only two things that can go wrong with a great TV show – they can change, or they can not change. Which leads me to today’s topic… two TV shows I love, one coming to an end, one just beginning.

Last week ABC announced Modern Family was going to come to an end after the next season, which will be its 11th and final. Not lost on TV trivia buffs, the 11 seasons ties it with two of the all-time sitcom classics, Cheers and its superior spin-off, Frasier. And will be one year more than the ever-present Friends, although coming in a year shy of the current laugh ratings juggernaut, Big Bang Theory, which wraps up this spring after 12 years. Modern Family, like Frasier, picked up 5 Emmys for best comedy series, more than Golden Era classics All in the Family or Mary Tyler Moore.

And it deserved it. Through the first few seasons, Modern Family was not only touching but a true laugh-a-minute masterpiece. The story, for the few who haven’t caught it, centers around one extended L.A. family with all its foibles and complications- a grouchy old patriarch (played fantastically by Ed O’Neill who quickly made us all forget about Al Bundy and Married with Children which he starred in years prior) and his new trophy wife Gloria, played by the show’s first breakout star, Sofia Vergara, his gay son Mitchell and his cornfed husband Cam, his daughter Claire (the second series I’ve praised that Julie Bowen was a female lead in) and her goofy realtor husband,Phil and the three couple’s assorted kids. Among those, Gloria’s old-man-in-a-boy’s-body son, Manny, and Claire and Phil’s the fashion-conscious Haley, played by the cute-as-a-button Sarah Hyland. Jay (O’Neill) is old school and tries his best to deal with the new realities of the world including gay kids and his brilliant but mouthy stepson. If you haven’t seen the first few seasons, do yourself a favor if you like laughing. Watch them. They deserved the Emmys.

But then, TV happened. The show managed to both stagnate and change, not a good combination. While most of the main adult characters stayed roughly the same, which becomes tedious (aka, Phil the clueless real estate agent), there was no way to avoid the kids changing. Ten years will do that to any child not named Bart Simpson. Cute youngsters morphed into sullen and/or mouthy and/or lazy teens. Meanwhile, the longer Columbian Gloria stayed in California, the more over-the-top her accent became somehow.

Honest assessment… I’ve rarely tuned in the last three years, and when I did, I found myself embarrassed more than amused most of the time. Seems I wasn’t alone as the one time ratings juggernaut has been tumbling in the Nielsens the last couple of years. I hope the writers come up with a great , and happy, way to wrap it up, and I will be looking forward to tuning into that weeks in advance, but honestly, it is time for it to make way for the new before we see a graying Phil hop on a Harley and jump a shark.

Meanwhile, for the first time in quite awhile, there is a new show I’m raving about. After only four episodes. Project Blue Book on cable’s History Channel is based on…the Project Blue Book. Go figure. That, for those not in the know or the conspiracy theory universe, was an actual American government study through the height of the cold War. It reputedly investigated UFO sightings and strange occurrences; its creators say they debunked the theory of extraterrestials, the critics say they whitewashed and covered up. The project was largely administered by a professor, Dr. Hynek, played by Irish actor Aidan Gillen, well known to many before for his role as … somebody… in Game of Thrones Never saw that show, so to me he’s “Muldar II”.

Because, make no mistake about it, Project Blue Book is nothing more than a new take on the X-Files with a dash of Mad Men thrown in for mid-century stylish good measure. If Air Force Captain Quinn was a cute redhead instead of a dashing young man, it’d be difficult to tell the difference. The creepiest thing about Project Blue Book’s theme music might be its eerie resemblance to the theme from The X-Files. The rest of the show has its similarities as well. A skeptic, in this case, a young Air Force vet fresh off WWII, and a believer (but skeptic of government explanations about UFOS and such) in this case, not Muldar but the poorly-shaven professor Hynek. All that set in the ’40s with lots of cool post-modern furniture. And some mysterious guys in black hats, smoking, watching everything that happens.

That might sound like a bit of a knock, but it isn’t. The X-Files in its early days, was smart, thought-provoking and revolutionary. It was suspenseful and curiosity-provoking. Unfortunately, as its creator Chris Carter admitted, he never thought the show would last so he didn’t have a long-range plan for where the show would go. After about 4 seasons, it became convoluted, confusing and at times boringly repetitive. Let’s hope Project Blue Book has a better long-term plan. It has an interesting side story to work with, Hynek’s lonely wife,Mimi, and her friend who in Mimi may be seeking a lover or may be seeking information to give the Russians. It has a chance, as it has 20 or so years of case studies to write about. The Lubbock Lights (put down to being flocks of birds reflecting light back to the ground) and crashed spacecraft (or meteor, according to Blue Book) in West Virginia barely get the ball rolling. So far it’s been fast-paced, historically intriguing and suspenseful.

Maybe like some shows, the writers will really get a sense of the characters and the show will shine even brighter after another couple of years. Maybe like Modern Family and the X-Files the characters will verge closer to caricatures and the stories less intelligible as time goes by. Either way, it’s like life itself. Here to be enjoyed when its good, and looked back on fondly when its not. That is no tragedy.

News For Kids, But I Like It Too

Not many of us use all the things we were taught back in school. A few weeks ago I touched on things that perhaps should be taught in school but aren’t. However, for all the shortcomings in preparing our youth for everyday life it seems at least a decent portion of our schools do one thing right in stretching the boundaries of the kids’ education beyond prepping for SATS and learning geometry and Shakespeare. They let kids get a little look at “what’s going on” each day. Now, several decades after I last walked out of a high school, this bit of added curriculum has become a part of my daily Monday – Friday routine. I’m talking about CNN 10, which used to be known as CNN “Student News”. I’m not knocking memorizing Vice Presidents or learning sines and cosines, but to me this little daily video seems to be a very good use of kids’ time.

The Atlanta cable network bill it as “compact, on-demand news broadcasts ideal for explanation seekers.” The host, Carl Azuz, enthusiastic and the apparent Prince of Puns, describes it as “a right down the middle explanation of the day’s events”. Both seem accurate descriptions. Essentially, the daily ten minute clip looks at three or four stories, including some of the major news events, here and elsewhere, with explanations of what and why. As well they throw in scientific developments at times, and a few “Feel good” stories, be they just flat out funny or ones which are inspirational, like meeting Chris Stout. Stout spearheaded a project to provide little houses for formerly homeless vets in Kansas City. A few days back they showcased a cafe in Indiana that gives back to the community…and free coffee to those who do good around town. A new pilot project many large companies are getting behind to deliver their products (from Axe deoderant to Haagen Daaz ice cream) in returnable, reusable metal containers? Learned about it on the student news.

My first introduction to the news clips came about three years back when my sweetie decided her teen daughter should watch it to get a better idea of what was going on in the world. She no longer does that now that the kiddo is older and busier with a part-time job, but after a month or two, I found I missed the segments. Designed for teens or not, they are pretty decent little updates. I’ve learned more about Brexit from CNN10 than from all the newspapers and network news shows I’ve encountered, learned about the horribly bad economy in Venezuela and how it effects the people there a week or two before I saw any mention of it on TV news or in Time. When it comes to national events like the recent government “shutdown”, they inform about what’s happening while giving equal time to both sides – Democrat and Republican – without picking “right or wrong”.

Given the polarization of the public these days and the lack of in depth understanding of complicated problems on the world stage, I rather wish our adult workplaces might get on the bandwagon and have the staff take a look so that we all might be a bit better informed and understanding.Maybe have something more to talk about around the proverbial water cooler than if Kato or Tom Green will be booted out of the Big Brother house. 

I probably won’t soon be refreshing my memory on how to figure out sines and cosines, nor studying to be capable of naming the pre-Agnew VPs (pre-Agnew? Who am I kidding? I have no idea who was Vice President for Gerald Ford or Jimmy Carter.). But this is one piece of schoolwork I might never graduate from.