Chapter 17 (WIP)- Where Do We Go From Here?

Still amazed by what he was learning, about money and artificially restricted supply chains Rodney stood up. “My brain is fried. Jessica, what would you like to see next?”

“I’m not sure. There is so much to see, and I’m still not quite 100%. What is nearby?”

“Well, most of what you wanted to see is pretty close. Let’s save the vehicles until you want to venture out a bit more. So how about we check out some of that automation?”

“That sounds good. Since we are thinking about food, maybe we should start there.”

Rodney thought for a minute. “The delivery is by vehicle, so that can wait. And preparation, well I’m not sure you ready for that.” He paused. “Why not? I can tell you about some of the infrastructure on the way.”

Jessica stood up to follow. “I know, most of our infrastructure is automated too, but people have to maintain it, don’t they?”

“Everything has sensors and routine maintenance is done by specialized robots. Initially building those and the sustainability overhaul took a lot of labor, but now it basically runs itself.”

Jessica thought for a moment, “I know I don’t know a whole lot about how modern life runs, but I’m pretty sure that in my world no one has bothered with a ‘sustainability overhaul.’ Is that just to make it something that allows it to be run by robots, or does it have to do with the environment?”

“Well, yes it got set up for the robots, but it was primarily because of the environmental damage we were doing before.

“For instance, to replace old fuels, the roofs, windows and sidewalks collect energy from the sun. Tiny windmills line the edges of most buildings. The roads were replaced with parks like this one. It’s not really my field, so I couldn’t tell you all the things they do. I know they are more pleasant and clean up something that would have wreaked havoc on the world.”

“That must have been expensive!” Jessica exclaimed before she realized how illogical her comment was here. “But I guess that is kind of a non issue here, as long as people are willing to do the work and the materials are available.”

“The people who did that work knew that as soon as it was done everyone would have less work, most were passionate about the benefits. Some needed the hours for something they wanted. The more things that people don’t really want to do gets taken over by machine, the more that people get to do the work they love.”

“That’s really awesome that people here were able to get together in time to do something before the world starts going all to hell. Where I’m from, the people who are in a position to orchestrate something like that refuse, and tell everyone else that it’s not happening.”
Rodney was confused, but that quickly became concern. “Why would they do that? And how would people let anyone who would do that get into a position of power?”

Jessica started explaining about elections and loyalties and disheartened people and betrayal, before she stopped and just said, “Money”.

Rodney wanted to ask why people would put up with a system that caused so many problems, but he could see that Jessica was wondering the same thing. And his confusion was no match for her frustration.

They walked in silence for awhile, before Jessica stopped. ” Can I tell you something?”
Rodney was encouraged by her trust. “Sure, what is it?”

Jessica took a moment to figure out how to say what was on her mind. “I have been frustrated for a long time by the way things work in my world. This place seems to have all the solutions.” She paused for a chuckle, “Which might be why it seems like a dream.” She became serious again. “In my world I work all night long, every night of the week, just to have a roof over my head and food on my table. My boss won’t pay more than they have to, I have no time to look for a better job. Then one night a kid comes in to steal money and shot my coworker. Now I have not been working for awhile to recover. I don’t know how I will pay my bills. And on top of that I spent some of that time in the hospital. Each hour there costs more than I make in a whole night. I am beginning to wonder if I am making up this world as a coping mechanism. Each time I am here, it feels more real than the last time. Sometimes I think I am going crazy.”

Rodney took Jessica’s hands. “Do you feel this? Is this real?”

“It feels real. But how—“

“Never mind how. Never mind what other people think of it. You are here right now. Maybe you are only here in spirit, but does that make your experience of it any less real?”
Jessica was beginning to cry. No matter how many times she thought that she had released her stress and anxiety, it kept creeping back. She looked at Rodney, who lifted up her face to look at him.

“It’s alright. You will be taken care of here.”

Jessica sobbed, “But it is there that I am worried about.” Rodney gave Jessica a great big hug.

“I know I can’t help with there in any way but through your mind. How about we fill your mind with solutions, and try to find a way for you to make a real difference back home.”
Jessica pulled back and looked at Rodney. She was beginning to trust him, in spite of the strangeness of this place, these people, and his own persistence. “Thank you.”

Chapter 18 – False Expectations

Table of Contents

Homeschool or Traditional School?

When I talk about the possibility of homeschooling my children, many people are skeptical. Stereotypically homeschoolers are anti-social religious zealots. But is that the reality? As with many stereotypes, there are people who meet that description, but many do not. I would venture to say that most homeschooled kids do not meet that description.

When looking up information on line I am having a difficult time finding any support at all of the stereotype. I like to have information from both sides, but it seems that the only people who find it worth talking about are either homeschoolers themselves or have some reason to be biased. The information that I am finding cite numerous studies that support the idea that homeschooled children are better socialized than children in traditional schools, and have an easier time getting into college. I would like to know more about these studies, and I wish that they had larger focus groups. I also would like to know how these students were found.

If the children for these studies were found in homeschool support groups, they are already part of the homeschooling community that actively engages in the community. Many of these kids are also active in other clubs and activities. I hesitate to trust the statistics completely because of this possible bias. It is possible that there is an unrepresented amount of children who are at home, isolated from people whose beliefs do not agree with their parents’, perhaps even homeschooled to avoid discovery of abuse. This is obviously a worse-case scenario, and I doubt that there are very many of these, but the scenario just points out how biased the studies may be.

So far this sounds like a real downer on homeschool, but that is far from being my intention. I simply want to point out a few holes in the research. All of that said, I would like to homeschool my children because I do believe that it can be beneficial. The key word is ‘can’. Because the parents are in charge, the parents have control over how homeschooling turns out.

Many homeschool parents choose to have their kids learn through the community, which means that they built relationships with people from all walks of life, in many different settings. This is the type of thing that traditional schools have great difficulty with. Students spend most of the day with children their own age, learning social skills from people who are no more skilled than they are. Once they get out of school, so much time is spent on homework, that doing anything outside of school is a great challenge. There are many studies out right now about the levels of stress on students, even in elementary schools.

The differences between how homeschoolers and traditional students spend their days has a huge impact on their social skills as well as their maturity and goals. Homeschool students have more time to pursue the things that interest them rather than only focusing on the things that are chosen for them. This gives them a greater sense of personal identity, and a love of learning. I believe that everyone is born innately curious about the world, but the way that schools have traditionally taught takes all the fun out of it and makes it a chore. While homeschoolers may gain more in the way of study skills, I believe that it is this love of learning that contributes more to their success after school.

Many people who think that homeschool is a good thing, but don’t want to deprive their children of some part of the school experience, be that the rites of passage like prom, or the perceived social benefits, decide to supplement traditional school with home based education or outings. That is a great idea, and I wish that more people would do that. There is one flaw, however; doing this does not give all of the benefits of homeschool and traditional school together. You end up with all of the ups and downs of the school environment and end up with very little time to spend on this type of enrichment. When it is possible, it can help to negate some of the negative associations that students can get to learning, and give them access to more information, which is certainly better than nothing. Many people though choose to homeschool not because of the perceived benefits, but to avoid the common downfalls of schools.

Schools foster a very specific type of social outlook. Students are pressured to fit in, which makes it more difficult for them to ‘find themselves’. This is supposed to happen during the growing up period, but in our culture there is a struggle for people as they leave school and adjust to the real world, only to find that the person they were trying so hard to be has no place in that world, and they don’t know who they are underneath that. Homeschoolers on the other hand, never experience that massive peer pressure and, provided that their parents allowed them freedom, they already have all of that figured out, which gives them a head start in their post-school lives.

Teachers in traditional schools can try their best to study things that their students are interested in, and to share their own passions, but despite this, much of the time students are studying things that they have little interest in. Not all students are interested in the same things, and it is impossible to cover everyone, someone will be interested in everything, another student may find that his interests are never discussed.

What are some other reasons that parents choose to homeschool? In general it is to have more control over the things that your kids learn. This can be behaviors (bullying, maturity, study skills), ways of thinking (religion, tolerance), or really anything. There are some things that kids can learn in public school that they do not want their kids learning, whether that is evolution or intolerance of others, homeschool allows parents to teach their children what they want, for better or worse.

Many of the benefits that I see to homeschooling are really just logic, whether or not the studies are trustworthy, one can see that spending time with many different people means learning to communicate effectively with different types of people. It makes sense that if you are able to study the things that you love, you will love learning. But this does bring up a conundrum. How do you teach the things that a child needs in life but has no interest in?

That really depends. To me it seems that in order to be well-rounded, you do not need a high-school level education in every subject. More important than certain subjects is the ability to acquire information. First up is reading – this one is easy – let the kid read about things they find interesting. My mother is a librarian at a middle school. Every year she meets many students who tell her that they do not like reading. So she asks them what they are interested in and sends them to that area, or suggests something they might like. Even if that ‘I don’t like to read’ idea does not go away, they usually leave with a book or two and will come back – even if it means sneaking away from their friends to do it.

Study skills, like learning about quality sources, looking for differing opinions, and different ways to present the information (formal presentation, written paper, power point etc.) can all be taught, like reading, in the context of any material the child is interested in.

It is not so much the material that we need to know in today’s society, but the skills we use to acquire information and interact with the world. If you are not an engineer, math is only so helpful your day to day life. But you do need those basics. And those basics can be taught in fun ways. I will not even try to delve into that here, just run a search on ‘hands on math’ and you will find hundreds of ideas, even into middle school level.

In the interest of understanding quality sources, I would also put learning the scientific method in the category of life skills. Many people seem to misunderstand what science is. Science is not a collection of infallible facts, it is a system of best-guesses. Science gives us a way to consistently improve our understanding of the world by providing a framework with which to come up with new ideas and narrow the possibilities nearer and nearer ‘the truth’. All with the understanding that we will probably never know the full truth.

Beyond that, education can largely be child-led. As much as I think that people need to understand history, this is more about learning about cause and effect. The people who make decisions need to be well versed in the past so that they can use that to make informed decisions. That said, if history is taught in fun ways, and focusing on a child’s interests, everyone should be able to find some sort of history to teach. After all history is just a collection of true stories, and what child does not like hearing stories.

The other thing that I would like people to have more knowledge of in general is different religion. There is a great emphasis on learning one’s own religion, and I think that is fine, but in order to have an understanding of others, we need to understand a little about their beliefs. I understand that this may not fit into everyone’s interests, but as a protection against the dangers of acting on a misunderstanding, if the lessons of forming an opinion only after doing research, which can be taught with any subject matter, I think that the worst aspects of ignorance on this can be negated.

So homeschool or traditional school? That decision rests largely on the type of people the parents are. If they will use homeschool to isolate and indoctrinate their children, I do not believe that is good for the children or society, but if homeschool will be used to give the children the opportunity to learn to love learning, and find their place in the world then if you can do it, go for it!

That said, from a practical perspective, how do you make it work? Unfortunately, no matter how much the parents might be amazing teachers, or might benefit their children, if they cannot afford to have one parent stay home with the kids, homeschooling is usually not an option. Some people might be able to find a way to have each parent work opposite schedules, or have the child in the care of others for some of the time. This takes a very large commitment, and often rests on a delicate balance.

Homeschool can be an amazing experience, and that I wish everyone could have, but not all parents are suited for it, and even more cannot fit it into their lives. It is unfair that something that has so much potential is only an option for so few. It is also unfair that the stereotypes may prevent people from ever trying something that could be so beneficial.

 

Kindness

I am a kind person, I do my best. In the face of the evils of the world I genuinely believe that we need more kind people. There are so many people in the world who need that kindness.

At other hotels, where less than once a year someone would come in just to be indoors, I would let them spend some time in the lobby to warm up, maybe have some coffee. It wasn’t a problem. I met some very interesting people doing this, but not once was I frightened by them, or felt like I was being scammed.

More so at my current job than at any other I have people coming in and asking for help with things. Since it is a hotel, it’s usually a room. I am willing to work with them as much as possible within regulations. I have called over a dozen churches in the area to see if any one of them could help a homeless woman get out of the cold for a night. None of them serve that function.

I let people use the computer to make a reservation, but the other day it was on a bad card and they had an elaborate facade of getting someone else to pay for the room. I know they are locals and I have to add them to my mental list of people I cannot trust. *Since initially writing this, one of the women returned and did have someone to pay for the room. I was obviously skeptical, and made her wait outside, but everything is sorted out. I kinda needed that to restore a bit of faith in humanity*

People come in and try to eat the condiments that are left out for breakfast and drink the coffee. I know that if they need to do this there is a reason, but I also know that if I let them, not only will they be back, but so will others. Once a year for someone passing through town is very different than every day for several locals.

Over and over again I am reminded of why people are unkind to others. We have had people use counterfeit money. People smoke in the rooms several times a week, even though we are a non-smoking hotel. We charge $250 cleaning fee, and the same people return, thinking they will get away with it this time. I have had many people use elaborate stories to buy time in the lobby for different reasons. Many of these stories end up screwing the hotel. I have had many people try to scam us.

While I am kind, I am not stupid. One woman stayed in the lobby for more than 8 hours trying to get hotels.com to get her reservation straight. I did what I could to help her, but of course I could not let her into a room without payment. When I left, I told the next shift to make sure that the hotel received payment before giving her a key. The next day I found out that the girl had just checked in the woman with no payment. At the time I thought that the woman was genuine and had gotten lucky with the other girl. A few months later the same woman came back with the same story.

I find myself more and more skeptical of people, and it hurts. I do find that my instincts are usually right, but I often choose to be kind until I know for sure. I probably end up with more problems as a result, but I hope that by doing so, I can help more people who truly need it. I know that when people see my kindness they know that they can push the limits more, and that is not good for me, or the business I represent.maxresdefault

I do my best to thin out those who are up to no good from those who are genuine. For every bogus story that I hear, I have heard the story in truth once before. I know that there is a fine line between doing things because they need to be done and needing something done and using excuses. Even the people who try these simple scams do it for a reason. Something about the world has made them think that either they need to lie to get what they need or that lying gets them better results. I will tell you that lying is not serving them better than telling the truth. These people get kicked out of here and other businesses a lot. They need a way to get what they need without the lies. I need a legitimate place to send people who are in this predicament. I hate having no recourse but sending them back on the street. I hate that being kind means being taken advantage of. I hate that the media has made these people into monsters.

I have lots of ideas that might help, but they all need a source of funding. Most are the thoughts of an idealist that rely on the idea of ‘Pay it Forward’ actually working. I know that it has worked in some industries, but I am still skeptical about it working as an economic model on a large scale or over the long-term.

In the end, I am more willing to do what I can to find someone a job than to give them money. I could provide the homeless with an address, a haircut, a shower, photo id, and a reference. I would even like to provide temporary housing until they could get on their feet again, maybe job training too. The job market does not look kindly on long-term unemployment and this would likely by where my idea falls apart. In theory, once the person was able to move out they would, and would re-pay us over time. I do think that treating it as credit would result in more of these people disappearing before we were able to collect anything from them, whereas allowing them to donate to us to help another person in the future would work better.

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Fear & Trust

Once upon a time people knew everyone they came into contact with on a regular basis. When a stranger came to town everyone knew about it and was full of curiosity. That stranger was alienated by a sense of otherness, and could cause problems, but they were so outnumbered by the locals that it was not likely.

As cities grew larger people grew into small groups of trust, and people who were up to no good had the ability to blend in and hide. Bandits could come into town, work their mischief and leave as quickly as they had arrived. On the other side, locals could scam people, but if they tried to scam other locals they would probably be caught, and so most choose to prey on people passing through town or skip the scam and go the sneakier burglary  /pickpocket route.

As transportation has become easier, strangers are more common, and are largely ignored. In large cities no-one even knows who is local and who is not. Small towns seem to exist largely due to the tourism industry, and so strangers are just a part of everyday life.

Most people have just accepted this status quo of not knowing who is nearby. We routinely lock our homes and automobiles, women carry pepper spray to protect themselves, and we choose to live under the watchful eye of video surveillance systems to keep others in check.

Why do we, especially Americans, do this? We have been told so many times that the world is out to get us that we believe it. On the news we hear stories about people who were trusted with something taking advantage of, or just generally not deserving that trust. We hear stories of the time that a child was left in the day care’s van after a field trip and left to die, we hear stories of people’s lives being torn apart as the result of a burglary, and we hear about people being massacred on a public street. These are terrible things, and we should be aware of them.

The problem is that these are the only stories we hear. We do not get to hear the stories about a nurse who spends her time off the clock reading to coma patients, we do not hear the stories about the homeless man who picks up garbage in the neighborhood for free every day, or the bank manager who knowingly sets his own wages less than his employees and sets raises based on personal situations rather than work ethic.

We have been conditioned to think the worst of everyone around us. Fear is used for advertising everything from mouth wash to legal policies. It is also perpetuated by laws that hold the homeowner responsible for injuries on their property, even when the person is not supposed to be there. Many tales have been told of robbers who successfully sued the homeowner for injury, even if the robber themselves broke the window that injured them. In some countries homeowners insurance covers break-ins even if the front door was unlocked.

So how can we trust anyone? The short answer is we can’t. But as social beings who need human interaction, we balance risk and reward. We go to school, work, shopping malls, etc even though we know about the massacres that have happened in these places. Our experience tells us that these are very rare, and we take that risk. In fact we scorn the people unwilling to take that risk as insane.

As we meet people and make new friends we do develop a level of trust, but deep down we know that there is no way to know what they do behind our backs. This is part of what causes so many paternity suits and why we have structures built up to keep businesses accountable.

Today a movement known as the ‘sharing economy’ has been making an appearance. This is still largely a fringe movement, but some things have become mainstream, like eBay. In the beginning this was a very risky way to purchase or sell things. The product might not be what was advertised, or even exist at all. The payment may never arrive, and the seller had no recourse. Policies have been enacted since then that hold both parties responsible and protect them from the possibility of things going wrong.

Craigslist is still very basic. When using craigslist the risk is still a part of the user experience and something to be wary of. The company has published tips on how each party can protect themselves, but does not vet participants in any way, no reviews, or much in the way of account creation. They have chosen to welcome newcomers as equals rather than to embrace those who are in it for the long haul.

Both of these examples are largely just a way to facilitate a single transaction. Craigslist encourages in person exchanges, while eBay requires no face-to-face interaction. Other examples of this ‘sharing economy’ are just coming into the market. These range from renting out rooms in your home to hooking up for the evening or going out to eat at an aspiring chef’s home. These examples have followed eBay’s example to assist the users in trusting the other party. This allows participants a way to engage in activities that would normally be considered very risky with less fear. That is good thing, but some have also been accused of deleting negative reviews in the hopes of creating a positive public perception. There is also the issue of being held accountable for those reviews and not wanting to criticize a nice person.

I see this movement as a good thing as a whole. We need to find a way to trust again. Even if that trust is supported by a business structure. Anyone who has walked down a public street in New York knows that of the thousands of people we may come into contact with on a given day, we avoid 99% of them. Even those we do interact with, like cashiers, we cannot fully trust.

This is also a great way for people with similar interests to meet up and make friends. Even something as mundane as ride-sharing can lead to a lifelong friendship, especially if both parties are put at ease enough to open up.

As someone who works in customer service, I also see the potential, if this type of economy really took off, of the weeding out of the bad apples leading to public businesses, who have no way to review guests, having to deal with only those left out of the sharing economy. This means that since businesses are the only ones held accountable , they are forced to stretch themselves more and more to accommodate, and keep happy, worse and worse customers.

But is that really a bad thing? I could replace my income by renting out rooms and giving people rides, so long as I was a trustworthy person. I could use those services from other trustworthy people, creating a parallel, better, more transparent, economy. This would encourage people to be trustworthy, and so able to use this economy where people share the things that they value, adding value to the economy as a whole, without the need for more products. The economy of those who are deemed unworthy would be unsustainable, and self-punish those forced to use it. I honestly believe that most people are good. Even more so when being bad is not rewarded.

By supporting people who share only what they personally have, rather than those who have more than they need, this also creates a more equitable system. It could return the balance of power to the individual instead of the corporation, but only if you trust the corporation to properly vet the individuals.

 

Fashion

With my obsession with clothing, it may come as a surprise that, while I do enjoy studying historical fashion trends, I find modern fashion largely uninteresting. Every once in a while something will pop up that I like, but usually it is something that references historical fashion. In casual conversation I usually just dismiss modern fashion as boring, which is the reason that I don’t really like it. But there is more to modern fashion that bothers me than that. Prices.

I do not, cannot, and  will not understand how brand names mean higher prices. The Louis Vatton bag looks the same to me as the one at wal-mart, except that the one at wal-mart I am not paying someone to advertise for them. The quality is no better than the cheap wal-mart version or the knock offs. I have had people argue this one to no end, but I do work with these things, I know what I am looking at. As far as I have seen, men’s suits and the fabrics they use is the only exception to this rule, but even then the nice fabrics that are worth a higher price do not always go with an expensive brand name.

I completely understand paying more for a better product, I understand paying the person who makes something what it costs for them to make it. I expect that. I charge more for my work than you could buy a Halloween costume at party city, but I make it out of sturdy materials, I make it to fit the customer, and I expect to be paid for my expertise and time, as well as the costs of materials. What I do not get is paying more money for the EXACT SAME PRODUCT. We are not talking a few dollars here, it is the difference between $20 and $500. The only difference is the big showy label that says “I paid way too much for this bag!”

Honestly if people choose to spend their hard-earned money in this way this is their business, not mine. It does become my business when people assume that ‘homemade’ means cheap. It is my business when people want me to make them a real Victorian corset for the same as they could buy a cheap Halloween costume ‘corset’. It is my business when people think that because I do not make these brand-name things that my labor is worth less than they would pay for that.

Education in Finland

Much has been said of late about the amazing success of Finnish schools. In many ways they are the antithesis of U.S. schools. Everything that we have done in an effort to improve our educational system, Finland has done the opposite. To many Americans the system would seem to be counter-intuitive, but the results are a proof of concept.

Recess – In Finland students spend around one third of the day at recess. This may sound like a lot, but when you consider that this is broken up into many small breaks, it can sound more manageable. These frequent breaks make the day less monotonous for students. After each 45 minute lesson, students go outside for a 15 minute recess. This success of this routine is backed up by the science. When the human body sits for too long, the brain begins to shut down. Obviously students need their brains working at their best in order to make the time in class as effective as possible. Allowing students time to move and play gives them a chance for their brain to stay engaged in the class work.

This has also allowed the school day to be shorter. Students spend only around 4 1/2 hours in school a day. They also start school later; while publicly funded day cares are available at younger ages, mandatory school does not begin until age 7. Despite what many people might think, less class time has not had an adverse effect on education, but may be contributing to its success.

One surprise however, is that even with so much outside time, Finnish students are not getting that much more physical activity. While free play is of more value to getting students less distracted in the classroom than teacher directed play, it may be necessary to integrate some structure to prevent kids from spending this time in sedentary activities.

Testing – In Finland, student assessment is left up to individual teachers until graduation, when a single, comprehensive test is administered. This saves class time for instruction. Testing would also conflict with the intention of getting students more active. Formal testing is a stressful activity. Students free of this stress are able to get more enjoyment out of school. When you enjoy something, you are more likely to prize it, remember it, and value it.

Teaching – In Finland, being a teacher is such a lucrative career that only 1 in 10 graduate applicants are accepted for the required master’s degree program. Incomes for teachers are on par with other professionals. Teachers are a highly valued resource, and given far more respect. Teachers also have more freedom to make their own decisions for their classroom. While they are given a generalized curriculum, they are free to tailor the lessons to their students. Teachers are trusted to keep their students on track and find ways to give them the assistance and attention that they need. Students are not held back for poor performance, but are instead given special attention. This way they are not stigmatized by their peers. They are able to avoid repeating the same information, which would make anyone bored.

Administrators – Those who are in charge of making decisions about school policy are recruited from within the educational system, instead of from the outside. This means that they are largely former teachers. They understand the struggles, and they understand the students. This means that they are better equipped to make decisions that will be beneficial.

Public Funding – Rather than having funds drained into private schools, and allowing vast disparities between the education of the haves and the have-nots, Finland had only publicly funded schools. This means that anyone who has an idea has only one place to enact it, so that everyone receives the benefits. Schools do not have to compete with one another, but are encouraged to work together, as are teachers. This team mentality allows everyone to succeed, rather than only those on the winning side.

Finland has a lot that they can teach the world. The experiments that they have undertaken prove that more is not necessarily better. Having a balance is the best way to achieve success.