Thursday, May 20, 2010

Some Random Thoughts On A Thursday

So, I'm thinking this random thoughts thing is working for me. Let's see where it goes today. As usual I offer thoughts will little factual backup, and few links.


So, yesterday I spoke to kids at the Explore Charter School in Brooklyn for a program called ABC Day. I spoke with my friend Eric and we talked about being journalists. We spoke to eighth grade students, and told them the ups and downs of it, at least from our angle, and why we keep doing it. It was good to remember why I got into this line of work when I started and what has kept me at it all these years. Eric's presentation included a great piece he created for radio program Studio 360, about the use of music in Disney movies and shows, and went down a storm.

I have to say, I really don't feel all that informed about the charter school vs. public school debate, but I very much liked being in that school yesterday. The hallways were clean, the kids were well-behaved and respectful of their teachers. Everyone seemed to genuinely be there for the best reasons, and administrators seemed very much a part of the lives of the students. I even saw the principal directly comfort an upset student. The student had gone to the principal personally, and they had a little talk about whatever it was that had been on the child's mind.

I believe it is probably quite rare for most big city principals to be that close with their students.

And, yes, the students wore uniforms. I know that 15 years ago this would have seemed extremely upsetting to me, making the kids in the poorer areas conform like this, but it didn't bother me at all yesterday. In fact it seemed, to me, to help foster a sense of mission: we are here to learn, this is our learning uniform.

What can I say, I really liked it. I need to learn more about the pros and cons of how charter schools impact the rest of the educational budget and all that, but for now, count me a fan of at least one school. If they are all, or mostly, run as well as Explore then I can't see how they are bad for students, the world of education and ultimately our nation.


The financial meltdown seems to just be getting started. Gold is shooting through the roof, and yesterday I read an extremely depressing article in Rolling Stone about how various parties are trying to scoop up land in Africa to farm it because they believe the world is headed for a food crash. When that crash happens they want to be the ones holding the food, because people will pay anything for food.

Money will mean less and less in this reality, because if you're starving your paper currency can't really help you.

God, this really seems like a "Mad Max" sort of reality that is being bet on. But the sad part is so many of the world's nations already believe this Malthusian scenario is likely. Various nations are fighting to buy this African land from the various political factions that control it, with some wildcat-style American capitalists coming in too.

Add in our horrific oil spill, malfunctioning economy, corrupt banking industry and even more corrupt culture in Washington, D.C. and you have a picture that is as grim as any I can remember.

I think we in America have been accustomed, over the past several generations to just sort of knowing that things will work out somehow. And they mostly have. A lot of this, however, has come from borrowed money in the past decade, more or less, but now there is no more money to borrow. What now? We are going to have to go on a money diet, in a big way, in this nation, and also go on a goods and services diet. Whether we want to or not.

On the one hand this upsets me, but on the other hand I know that we have so much crap we don't need in this country and we are always frivolously spending our money, borrowed money, on even more crap. There is a conspiracy to keep us buying stuff we don't need. Maybe the coming reckoning will finally downsize our materialism with what we actually need and can afford. If we did that, I am confident America and the world will be just fine.

However, I am loathe to give up my six guitars.


I really hate to end today's entry on such a downer note. So I'm not going to. Speaking to those kids yesterday probably did more for me than it did for them. I remembered the best part of what being a journalist is about, and in the process I got to remember some of the best parts of me and who I am. I felt a reconnection with my idealism, ambition and love for writing, interviewing and sharing stories with the world.

I am continually inspired to learn from those younger than me, including colleagues, and know that I have far to go. I now know that I not only want to start tackling bigger, more ambitious projects, but I want to get much, much better at planning the next step in my career. I am inspired to become better at setting goals. I've coasted at times, but I don't want to any more.

Of course I am rambling, but I hope you get the idea. Happy Thursday, it looks like a nice one here in Brooklyn.


Amanda said...

I'm at it again!!!

Charter schools have great potential. Maybe they're different in NY but in the west they suck. I went to a charter high school and wore a uniform from Soph. year to graduation. The schools aren't state funded so enrollment is a big deal because its how they get money. So, there's a selling point when you visit the school. We didn't have a gym, a basketball court, a science lab, a cafeteria, or a student center for pep rallies. The school has since added a few of those things but overall, not much. The teachers also don't have to have bachelor's degrees, depending on the subject they teach. Also, charter schools are the only ones who will let kids who were expelled or kicked out of their school district to enroll - this meant my school was full of drugs & gangs, basically all the "bad kids" . Why did I go there, you ask? My mom worked there and she wanted to see what I was doing 24/7 lol.

I think elementary charter schools are a lot better and many have waiting lists! My aunt owns and runs a charter school in southern California.

David Serchuk said...

Hi Amanda,
Thanks for your insights. It's such a complex, multi-faceted problem that I really don't feel qualified to know if they are good or bad. On the one hand the more kids a charter school has the more funding is taken away from the local public school. That sounds bad on the face of it, but then I wonder: if the local public school has fewer students shouldn't it have less funding?

Also, why are parents so crazy to get their kids into these schools? In NYC in the poorer areas there aren't enough spots for these schools.

But then I read that charter schools don't actually test any better than normal public schools. Then I hear that the test are flawed anyway.

I just don't know what to think about this. The reflexive liberal in me says charter schools must be bad, but I felt so encouraged by the one I was in yesterday and a friend works there and loves it.

I would welcome anyone else's opinions on this too, or experiences, or, even, facts!


Holly said...

I'm glad to hear you had such a great experience talking at the school! But, like you, I am also really kind of depressed about the way things are going in the world. I hadn't heard about place in Africa. Wow. Let's hope it doesn't come to that. But on your happier note, what are thinking, bigger picture, in terms of your career? I'm curious to find out.

David Serchuk said...

Hi Holly,
For one thing I would really like to apply more rigor to how I think about and plot my projects. I would like to blog more on the Huffington Post, and I am thinking more specifically about how to go about making my stories come to life.

But in general I have come to realize that I have been guilty of a lot of lazy thinking in regards to my ambitions and career. Instead of imagining very specific goals for myself and what I would like to do for a long time I just kind of set up these more vague goals. I would like to write, be a journalist, etc. But I would like to focus more on things that are very specific. What kind of journalist? Writing about what?

Without specific goals it is impossible to know what you really want to do, and how to get it, so I never get real projects done. I am starting to rearrange my thoughts so that I look at projects in a more exact way.

I know I am being vague about being specific. :-)