Summer Reading and Thinking

What I’m reading. Janesville by Amy Goldstein. What happens to a place when a majority of people work for an automaker that closes shop? When people used to earn $28/hour with some overtime and now make somewhere between $0 and $16/hour. Here’s a part of the answer:

     “In the shadows of town, hundreds of teenagers are becoming victims of a domino effect. These are kids whose parents used to scrape by on jobs at Burger King or Target or the Gas Mart. Now their parents are competing with the unemployed autoworkers who used to look down on these jobs but now are grasping at any job they can find. So, as middle-class families have been tumbling downhill, working-class families have been tumbling into poverty. And as this down-into-poverty domino effect happens, some parents are turning to drinking or drugs. Some are leaving their kids behind while they go looking for work out of town. Some are just unable to keep up the rent. So with a parent or on their own, a growing crop of teenagers is surfing the couches at  friends’ and relatives’ places—or spending nights in out-of–the-way spots in cars or on the street.”

Robert Putnam on Janesville,

“Reflecting on the state of the white working class, J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy focuses on cultural decay and the individual, whereas Amy Goldstein’s Janesville emphasizes economic collapse and the community.  To understand how we have gotten to America’s current malaise, both are essential reading.”

On deck. In the hole.

Shifting to thinking, I’m thinking about how artists talk about becoming artists and the implications of that for parents, teachers, and coaches. How do parents, teachers, and coaches cultivate true artistry or other specialized forms of expertise in young people? Specialized expertise that might enable them to independently make a living in the new economy. My thoughts are still in the subconscious primordial ooze phase, but I trust they’ll settle in some sort of coherent pattern sometime soon.

In short, here’s what I don’t hear artists say, “I took this really great class in school.” Instead, musicians for example, almost always say, “My parents were always playing the coolest music.” The word I keep returning to is “milieu” or social environment. In this data obsessed age, we’re utterly lacking in sophistication when it comes to the cumulative effective of the environments young people inhabit. Granted, formal schooling, think Juilliard for example, can contribute to artistic excellence, but meaningful learning is mostly the result of osmosis outside of school.

How do some families, in the way they live day-to-day, foster specialized expertise in children almost by accident, whether in the arts, academics, cooking, design, computers, or athletics? What can educators learn from those families to reinvent formal academic settings? What might “osmosis-based” schools look like? Schools where students watch adults actively engaged in learning and get seriously caught up in the fun.

 

Thank You For Being Late—Buyer Beware

Excellent take down of Thomas Friedman’s newest NY Times best seller by Justin Peters of Slate.

Fav pgraph:

“Thank You for Being Late was put to bed well before the presidential election, and throughout the text Friedman makes occasional dismissive references to Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. (Ha ha, remember those clowns? Good thing technocratic rationality prevailed!) Near the end of the book, Friedman presents an earnest 18-point plan for governmental reform in the age of accelerations; a platform for the “Making the Future Work for Everybody” party, as he puts it. Thomas Friedman doesn’t know a damn thing about the future. Despite all of his self-serving rhetoric about necessities and inevitabilities, he still couldn’t recognize that Trumpism is in part a consequence of thought leadership, of rampant globalization with blithe disregard for its domestic casualties, of having your head jammed so far up the future’s ass that you’ve completely lost touch with the present.”

If you’re looking for something better to read, I recommend Hillbilly Elegy: Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by JD Vance. In this day and age, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that it has become a political beach ball, batted around by Republicans and Democrats to argue for conservative and liberal social and economic policies. It’s Vance’s story of growing up in a dysfunctional family in Kentucky and Ohio, two states I grew up in. Here’s an idea, you can’t tell a person their story is “wrong”. Yes, if you must, you can tell them the conclusions they draw from it are misguided, but how about waiting awhile.

Alibaba, can I count Hillbilly Elegy as a 2017 book if I started it in the final days of 2016? What do your “book list” rules say about that? I also just finished the sup short collection of essays by Oliver Sacks that you gave me for Christmas. Does the fact that I enjoy reading and thinking about how people approach the end of life mean I’m old? How ’bout waiting awhile to answer that.

I just started a bruiser, Empire of Things by Frank Trentmann. Hoping to finish before UCLA cuts down the nets in Phoenix and/or JSpieth birdies #12 at Augusta National on Sunday. Also hoping everyone forgets I’m reading this so no one asks how it’s coming. #toomuchpressure

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