Archive for March, 2018

Abington PA School Board Accedes to Billionaire: Names New School For Him

March 29, 2018 Comments off

Here, in it’s entirety, is an AP report on the Abington (PA) School Board’s decision to re-name it’s High School:

ABINGTON, Pa. (AP) — A Pennsylvania school board has approved a plan to rename a public high school after Blackstone Group CEO Stephen Schwarzman, an alumnus who is donating $25 million to the school.

Abington Senior High School would be renamed Abington Schwarzman High School under the plan approved Tuesday. The agenda for the school board meeting says Schwarzman agreed to make the donation in exchange for naming rights, among other things.

A news release announcing the gift last month made no mention of a name change. It said the move was part of a larger effort by Schwarzman to make public schools more open to private donations and to encourage other wealthy donors to support public education.

Billionaire’s substantial donations to their private college alma maters is nothing new nor is naming facilities and classrooms on campuses for those donors. Indeed, Leland Stanford, Andrew Carnegie, and Cornelius Vanderbilt have entire colleges named for them and countless business titans have graduate schools named in their honor. But public schools are supposed to be a different entity altogether. They are supposed to be funded exclusively by the public who, presumably, provides enough funding for the children in their State to fulfill the so-called American Dream where their hard work, diligent study, and positive attitude will enable them to advance economically. When billionaires begin supporting education, it will only make the equal opportunity for schooling more difficult than it is already…. and it is apparently nearing impossibility given the unwillingness of states to increase their broad-based taxes and unending willingness to provide incentives for low-wage businesses to build in their states and/or communities.

And one of the problems schools face is when they name a school after a generous billionaire, their school and community endorses that individual’s life style and the ethos of the corporation they led that yielded their fortune. Stephen Schwarzman, who was profiled a year again Vanity Fairmight not be the role model for aspiring students. And Blackstone’s business model, appropriately called vulture capitalism, might not be the ideal template for our economic well-being. But school boards hard-pressed to find the money for the kinds of renovations they need to make to be competitive in the 21st century need to take money where they can find it… and if that means districts with wealthy alumni can build better facilities and offer better programs than districts in poor areas, sobeit. If the American Dream is dying, public school’s reliance on the benevolence of billionaire philanthropist/alumni will ensure its demise.


Gun Suicides 14 Times More Prevalent Than School Shootings… Are We Targeting the Wrong Solutions?

March 28, 2018 Comments off

Medium essayist BJ Campbell’s recent post on gun deaths flags the “Left’s” and the media’s obsession with school shootings and as the reason most Americans are missing the point on gun control. The major cause of gun deaths isn’t school shootings, gang violence, or homicide: it’s suicide. and Mr. Campbell contends that our obsession with the school shootings and homicides is leading us down the wrong path if we want to limit deaths. He writes:

Why do the media outlets fail to identify the bulk of the “gun deaths” problem? It’s possible that they’re simply dumb, or careless, but I doubt it. It’s possible that pointing it out wouldn’t be profitable, because it wouldn’t drive clicks from their target market. Or it’s also possible that sympathy for men simply does not fit within the prevailing Blue Church narrative. Pointing out the truth about the data would create too much cognitive dissonance, so it is selectively and intentionally ignored. Instead, we are presented with a view as if men slaying children indiscriminately is commonplace, instead of the predominant truth — mostly it’s men slaying themselves.

Using the chart below, Mr. Campbell makes the case that in order to If we are going to ameliorate gun deaths we need to address suicide and not school shootings or homicide… and not even suicide among teenagers or young adults but suicides among middle aged adult males! 

He then lists the solutions now being offered and demonstrates that each is pointless given the need for suicide prevention.

· Waiting Periods: Statistics do not show that people buy guns to commit suicide, as far as I can find. They’re either going to use one they already have, or choose a different method.

· Banning certain classes of firearms, such as semi-automatic rifles or handguns: You only need the most basic functioning firearm possible to kill yourself.

· Tax bullets: You only need one bullet to kill yourself.

· Blanket gun confiscation: Won’t work, and they (the “Left” and the media) admit it won’t work, except all those times when they don’t.

· Mandatory gun confiscation of depressed people: Terrible, terrible idea, because it would only cause fewer people to go to the doctor for their depression symptoms, making the problem worse instead of better.

This is counter to the narrative used by those who want to focus on the fear factor generated by mass shootings… but it does illustrate a silent problem that Mr. Campbell believes CAN be addressed if it is given the proper and appropriate attention:

Slightly less than 1,000 women die from domestic violence per year in this country, and that’s a big, real problem. You can save six times this many men, simply by talking to them, and asking them nicely to sequester their firearms temporarily. The number of people you could save by doing this is double the number of people who die in gang and drug crime combined. It’s sixty times more than die in mass shootings.

This is easy.

It requires no new laws, no culture war battles, no erosion of rights.

It DOES require a dispassionate examination of data— facts— and a willingness and ability to ignore headline grabbing news stories in favor of silent, small, and persistent personal problems that plague middle aged men. Mr. Campbell DOES provide some food for thought.


Are Smart Phones Making Us Depressed… or is it What We Use Them For?

March 27, 2018 Comments off

I was a late adopter to the Smart Phones… not because I am a technophobe but because I accurately knew that if I had one I could become a compulsive “phone inspector”.  Given that degree of self-awareness that comes from having lived for 70 years, I am able to witness my use of the phone and observe those occasions when I might be trending toward compulsion and recognize when my mood can be altered by information that presents itself on the phone.

I am opening this post with that observation because a colleague sent me an article by Jean Twenge that links ” …increases in depression, suicide attempts and suicide” among teenagers with the advent of cell phones. Using a recent study she and some colleagues published in Clinical Psychological Science, Ms. Twenge found that

…the generation of teens I call “iGen” – those born after 1995 – is much more likely to experience mental health issues than their millennial predecessors.

What happened so that so many more teens, in such a short period of time, would feel depressed, attempt suicide and commit suicide? After scouring several large surveys of teens for clues, I found that all of the possibilities traced back to a major change in teens’ lives: the sudden ascendance of the smartphone.

Ms. Twenge and her colleagues identified a strong link between trends in the rates of depression among teens and smart phone ownership and especially the time spent online, a time that increased markedly since the advent of smartphones:

We found that teens who spent five or more hours a day online were 71 percent more likely than those who spent less than an hour a day to have at least one suicide risk factor (depression, thinking about suicide, making a suicide plan or attempting suicide). Overall, suicide risk factors rose significantly after two or more hours a day of time online.

Ms. Twenge’s post describes the vicious circle that occurs as online time expands: the time online crowds out other more wholesome means of face-to-face interaction and limits sleep, and those losses of productive and healthy time use leads to increased depression. Ms. Twenge concludes her article with the obvious solution:

It might be argued that it’s too soon to recommend less screen time, given that the research isn’t completely definitive. However, the downside to limiting screen time – say, to two hours a day or less – is minimal. In contrast, the downside to doing nothing – given the possible consequences of depression and suicide – seems, to me, quite high.

I would add one other possible solution: mindfulness meditation. As a meditation practitioner for several decades— first through running and later through formal sitting— I found that these practices helped me cultivate self awareness which, in turn, helped me eliminate thoughts and notions that were counter-productive   and hold fast to those thoughts and notions that helped me stay emotionally strong. I am certain that my sorting process is imperfect, but I am equally certain that the process led to iterative inspection of my thought patterns (or “mental formations” as they are called in Buddhist meditation practice). More than anything, it was this self awareness that helped me understand that I needed to disable all of the pre-loaded games from the first computers I purchased and to constantly examine what I am reading and doing as I sit in front of the screen. In this day and age where we are bombarded by information designed to distract us and constantly comparing ourselves to friends and celebrities on social media, it is more crucial than ever to develop some kind of self-awareness…. and it strikes me more and more that it may well fall on public education to provide that self-awareness training. Our national well-being might depend on it.