Turning Thirty-four

This morning I checked my email and saw that my brother emailed me, asking me how I felt about being in my mid-thirties? I honestly did not think of it until he said that, partly because I’ve been telling everyone I’m 29 for the last three years. However, I am now officially thirty-four and thinking, well it is not too bad. I enjoy things more, and I’ve learned to have more patience in general. Although I’d like to think it is because I’ve matured and learned the ways of The Force, but sometimes it is that the reflexes have slowed down over the years. It is not that my rebellious instincts have at all subsided, it is that mentally you no longer welcome the consequences. I guess when you are young and oblivious to such things as consequences your bravado will push you further than you really wanted to go, but with age comes the wisdom of knowing that when you engage yourself in a fight, most likely you will not come out unscathed. Nowadays I know to pick my battles wisely, as I know most wars can never be won. And even more importantly I understand how there are people that love to instigate wars that they never fight themselves. Life is about choices and experiences. Most often it comes to a crossroads between the arduous moral choice and the easier way out. Everyone likes to say how they always choose the right way, but in reality, most often we pick the easy way out because choosing the moral path is just too hard. Then there are times, when you have learned from past experience that the moral path does not exactly end with cheering applause, more often than not, people resent you even for making the right choices. Undeniably age does become a factor, but it isn’t so much that you can’t react like you use to, it is that you have learned from your past experiences.

Gender Education

Fixing America’s education system has become a fashionable thing to do of late; ever since No Child Left Behind was enacted (with the promise of fixing education once and for all) there seems to be no end to the wacky ideas that some people have come up with. In case you have any doubts that public education is broken, look no further than Kozal’s Savage Inequalities. It is an (entertainingly) dim view on the failure of public education. I should know, cause even my school, Bowen James High School, is included. There is nothing more inspiring than picking up a book in college and finding out just how bad adults failed you when you needed them most. But I digress, we were talking about those wacky ideas that people have about public education, and no idea is as simple as separating the boys from the girls.

We seem to think that by removing the bad influence of boys, we can create a challenging and comfortable environment for girls to prosper. At the same time we can remove the influences of sex and make everything nice. Who would argue against this, after seeing girls excel in math and get improved test scores? Probably the same people who have to work with men and women, that’s who! Separating children based on their sex is just a bad idea. While it may be that some girls do perform better in math or whatever subject you wish to test them on, the undeniable fact is that society is made up of both sexes. You risk creating dysfunctional adults. Women who find themselves fascinated by the opposite sex, but who are uncomfortable around men. The same scenario applies to men. If not think about what you are saying to children: that girls cannot compete with boys, so you are in fact lowering their standards, and for boys, that perhaps they cannot comport themselves around girls, so they have to be separated from them?

The problem is gender, but after so many years, we still have not addressed it properly. We still expect girls to be nice and pretty, and boys to be rough and athletic. We perceive sexual drive in boys as natural, and in girls, well it is just plain naughty. Ultimately, the sexes are not equal, because we are still perceiving their success on different standards. If we were to apply the same standards to both sexes, like we were suppose to do twenty years ago, we would not be having this conversation at all. Today we talk about how boys are being left behind, how they cannot compete against the girls, how we expect boys to be quiet like girls, or how girls are not as successful in engineering, or how women still earn less than men… we still have not solved gender discrimination, we just talk like we did.

Americans Reject Trade

The NewsHour last night covered the topic of free trade and how the 2006 election results tie in with how most Americans feel about international trade deals in general. Now frankly, I love how every time the media wants to talk about politics, they mention Iowa voters. It is almost trendy now to associate political debates with states like Iowa and Missouri. However, in the case of trade, NewsHour had it right. People here in Iowa, in general, do not like free trade. They see it as hurting their jobs and leading to anxiety over how their children will prosper in a diverse world economy. Speaking as someone who lost his job this last Spring and who had to hunt down a new job, I can tell you that it is not just the poor that have this notion that international trade is bad for their own individual economies, but the middle class who is deeply concerned about the economic situation. The continuing trends of rising healthcare costs, job insecurity, and minimized educational opportunities are causing the middle class to panic. We pay more in insurance premiums, prescription drugs, student loans, while at the same time working more dynamic and less secure jobs. Tax cuts do nothing to minimize these stresses, in fact they make the situation worse. As government removes more social programs and raises interest rates, the middle class sees how bad the poor are doing, and know that they are exactly three paychecks away from becoming poor themselves. It is in this climate that politicians who talk about NAFTA and other such international trade deals, will find little support for such policies.

Perhaps we as a nation have brought this economic stress upon ourselves by not saving enough, by choosing to use our homes as barter for taking on more debt, and by being more interested in individual excesses, but the reality is that the middle class does not see free trade as fair trade any longer. Politicians will have to learn to speak about trade in a more convincing manner. But if people continue to see climbing credit card interest rates, higher student loan rates, and rising prescription costs, I doubt middle class voters will be willing to listen to any debate on free trade.