Reconceptualizing Education

I’ve spent nearly a lifetime, albeit a short lifetime, navigating through the United States educational system. I’ve succeeded, in a very traditional sense, throughout primary, secondary, and post-secondary curriculums. Yet, as these studies are coming to an end, I’ve been doing a great deal of questioning as to what I’ve really learned throughout this time, and what I think I should have been learning. Education serves as a reliable barometer as to what a society values. It seems readily apparent that this country values competent cogs above all else, or, industrialized citizens. Yet, what relevant role does this play in a rapidly changing American economy?

A great deal of the following ideas derive from Maslow (on a theoretical basis) and Huxley (on an anecdotal basis). What I wish I would have been learning doesn’t exactly differ from the subject matter I have been learning. The problem, though, presents itself in presentation, in the means. There is nothing inherently wrong with learning the governing laws of the world in which we inhabit (physics and mathematics). The subject matter is useful in a number of different fields. Yet where I think our educational system is failing us is in robbing these subject matters of their awe-inspiring aspects. Physics and mathematics, as they are currently taught, have been reduced to the rote memorization and application of formulas. Sure, this produces competent, linear-thinking engineers and mathematicians, but it does nothing to produce the novel, creative thinkers we covet, the next Einsteins, the next Leibnizs. These men were taught to see beyond the formulas we’re all familiar with. The formulas weren’t presented as reality, they were guidelines to a far more complex reality.  No one can be expected to fully immerse themselves into a subject matter if they are not encouraged to, and presented with the awesome nature of their subject matter.

This is not to imply that every man will be naturally inclined to be amazed by the governing laws of reality, as in mathematics. Our various idiosyncrasies dictate that our curiosity and our creative abilities will naturally lead us to absorption in one field over  another. The point is, that we must foster an environment for these innate curiosities to be expanded upon and explored. This is how we produce the individuals whose curiosity will produce the next wave of scientific and artistic breakthroughs. As it currently stands, we have made ourselves reliant on the extraordinary perseverance of a select minority to foster their own path to true education. Yet this is to deny ourselves the rewards of an entire population’s worth of untapped potential.

Most students are lost at a very early age as they find their education being dictated to them in a disinterested fashion, less concerned about the fostering of curiosity and wonderment than the reproduction of meaningless answers on a standardized test. It must be recognized that the need for industrialized cogs is quickly diminishing within this country and if we are to persist within this changing environment, then the core tenets of our educational system must change with it. The emphasis must be turned away from the production of competent works, to the production of competent thinkers, of competent innovators. Our system, as it currently operates, seems set up to inhibit the production of such individuals.

This article was written by Anthony Benedict. Anthony helps to run and maintain inetzeal.com. This website is an entity of an Internet marketing company which provides many services, which includes a white label link building service, as well as many other white label SEO services.

the chairs and links

chairs2

I’ve been stuck for blogging topics recently, and I realized that part of the problem is that I’m less interested in personal finance and productivity now than I was in the past since I feel I’ve reached a bit of a plateau.  I understand some of the core lessons, and while I’m not perfect in implementing them, I’m confident that even when I do the wrong thing I’m clearly aware I am and have some reason for doing so.

What I am excited about these days is the concept of sustainable living, which encompasses a lot of areas.  I’m heavily influenced by a few sources:  Early Retirement Extreme (see my review), The Good Human, and several other websites.  I’ve realized that while I’m always happy to save money and do things more efficiently, I feel better when I waste less and do more for myself rather than having others do it for me.  I have a long, long way to go in this area – I still have a lawn service cutting my lawn, for example, although I plan to change that soon – but doing better in this area makes me feel, well, better.

Case in point:  thanks to Bubelah, on the way home from somewhere one weekend a few weeks ago we saw someone was throwing out lawn chairs.  Now, they looked nasty: plenty of dirt and bugs and leaves ground into them.  They were on the curb and ready for trash pickup.  Bubelah asked me to turn the car around and take a quick look, and after examining them I hauled them into the back of the minivan and voila:  lawn chairs will get a second life thanks to us, scrubbed and cleaned and ready for sitting for another decade.  And we’ll do our best to pass them on to someone else who can use them.  That’s better than seeing that plastic in a landfill, right?

On to the links:

these are the reasons why I spend

Trolley

I forget, occasionally, why I care so much about money. I know that the easy answers are “I do it for my children” or “I do it for financial freedom” or even – if we’re honest with ourselves – “I do it for stuff.”  In the western world, in America in particular, it’s hard to forget money for a minute.

But money can’t be the reason for life. Money’s just a symbol for other things.  It’s the placeholder for a vacation, or a college education, or payments on a medical bill.  Trying to pretend it represents status or security or happiness is a false choice.  It means nothing other than a temporary victory against time.

If you had all the time in the world to work, you’d have all the time in the world to earn what you needed to get what you want. You use money to bridge the gap between your lack of time and your desires. I’d like to have enough time to earn enough money to obtain everything I want in terms of material goods – without working too hard in the meantime to acquire it.

Every iPod, every plasma TV, every air conditioned car and every creature comfort represents a few seconds or minutes or hours (or more) of your life that you traded for things. Some things are necessary – I like having a refrigerator, for example.  But I regret my mortar and pestle.  A few minutes of my life were spent earning the money I exchanged for something useless.

I‘m sure you’ve read plenty of screeds against materialism on the web. Books like Your Money or Your Life hammer this point home.  I talked about Early Retirement Extreme – a good primer for another way of thinking.  But why do we do it?  We do it because, no matter what anyone says, spending our measure of days on Earth is not as pleasurable without things or experiences.  Without that dinner on the bay in Barcelona, or the air conditioned car, or the gleaming black tux at New Year’s life would be a little less.  We can do without a lot, but not without everything.

Nobody needs an Xbox, or jewelry, or new books… but these things make the days a little better and a little brighter.  We can all determine what price these things are worth, but I’m tired of the idea that any glimmer of consumption in the pursuit of happiness is a flaw in one’s character. All of us can look around and see someone who lived a shorter life than they hoped for, and wonder why they saved or delayed living a little fuller life.  Nobody should be wasteful or spendthrift, but trade your time for money wisely.  Financial freedom is a worthy goal, but a life fully lived – which may mean some money spent – is also an end to be admired.

photo credit: macieklew

cutting the cord

cable cord

cable cord

Back in the early 80s my brother and I wanted to get a dog. Badly. We also lived in an area where TV reception was spotty (at best) and if we wanted to watch Star Trek reruns we had to go outside and spin the big aerial antenna around to pick up ABC. How are these two items related?

My parents weren’t “pet people”. I am sure they never had any intention whatsoever of letting us get that dog. But what they did know was that in early 80s America a new pop sensation – a music television channel! – was sweeping America. And for two early-teens boys, getting cable in order to get MTV was a priority.

Maybe you can see where this is going: we were given the choice between cable and a dog, and chose cable. That began a decades-long relationship between cable TV and me. Briefly I had satellite TV (once in Moscow, and once in New Jersey) but a cable always piped in a signal from somewhere into the house.

But a couple of years ago we got a Roku device, which completely changed how we watch TV. We started watching movies, at first, and then noticed that good, solid educational programs from PBS, Nick Jr., etc. were also available. Bubelah watched Russian TV and movies on a laptop, and my sports intake dropped dramatically with two busy little toddlers. I didn’t want to spend one of two weekend days glued to the TV throughout the fall and winter watching the NFL, especially since I’m a Jets fan and they don’t get shown much in this Jacksonville market (we get Bucs, Jags and Falcons).

So we finally dropped cable TV. We kept the high-speed internet. And we even dropped our VOIP “landline” in favor of our mobile phones and Skype. Now, we aren’t getting rid of the medium altogether. I’m not one of those people who is ready to quit watching the idiot box altogether – I do enjoy movies. I think some television is good for children, because they will get exposed to it one way or the other. And some shows and movies do teach, albeit only a little bit.

We’ll still have access to broadcast channels, but other than PBS I doubt we’ll ever watch them. I’ll probably tune in to an occasional football game, but if there’s an NFL lockout (as seems likely now) my sports viewing will drop to almost nothing. We’ll still let the kids watch their favorite shows, and we’ll still catch Anthony Bourdain on Netflix once in a while.

So who knows how I’ll feel about this move in a few months, but saving $70 a month for something we didn’t use much and really only used for mindless viewing (”hey, let’s watch Bad Boys II for the nth time!” or “look, House Hunters International is in El Salvador!”) doesn’t seem like a bad idea. Plus, I changed my car’s oil by myself this weekend – reading Early Retirement Extreme must have had some kind of effect on me.

Photo Attribution Some rights reserved by Andrew Mason

what if no one was watching

Although I’ve lived in three different countries and worked for long periods of time in dozens of others, I had never spent a lot of time around young children (other than my own, of course, in the last five years).  I certainly never paid much attention to child development or early education. I’ve read here and there about child development in different countries, and parenting theories, but I did most of that reading early on in parenthood, and now I don’t care as much – I simply try to do the best I can within the narrow set of philosophies that Bubelah and I have adopted and treat as gospel (the importance of play as taught by Waldorf schools, promoting reading and storytelling, and a very low-pressure approach to achievement, i.e. letting them find their own pace).  But I don’t have a good understanding of how other people in my community raise their kids, let alone how parents in other cultures in the US or in foreign countries do it.

One of the aspects of our Western – particularly American – society that troubles me is the community ideal that focuses on what people “are” in terms of their work. Children are asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?” by well-intentioned adults as if the goal of life is to find a profession.  Nobody ever asks kids what they want to be when they grow up with the expectation of hearing “happy” or “curious” or “living near a beach.”  Schools promote the idea of education as a “path” leading to the mythical job-guaranteeing “college” and then to a “secure” job with a multi-national corporation offering sick-care benefits and a carefully directed “retirement plan” in which the company forces you to save your money in funds they selected while they squeezed you over forty years for ever more time and ever less money.

Two thoughts:  first, my quotation marks key is starting to creak, and second, this current model of life in modern Western society is going to be unpleasant to the great majority of people. Many people may not recognize it as unpleasant, and will pay great attention to attending University X and getting a job with Megacorp Inc. all the while going home to sit in front of their 52″ widescreen and watch people who – if nothing else – are actually pursuing their dreams in the 21st century version of gladiator combat, American Idol.  And that’s something that bothers me increasingly.  I hate the stupidity of shows like American Idol (which I have never seen – I’m judging based on commercials) but I’d rather see my daughter singing “classic” songs from Toni Braxton on American Idol than hunched over a keyboard on the 3rd floor of a 5 floor office park building with the gentle flickering of fluourescent lights above her.  I’d rather see my son working as a park ranger than trudging back and forth to a job he hates so he can afford “necessities” like a gym membership and a subscription to The Economist.

I don’t meant to rant. I just wonder how much of what we “do” – meaning our work, not what we REALLY do – is driven by the idea that someone is watching us.  There are expectations everywhere: not to let down parents, relatives, friends, our schools, our community, our spouses, our children and even ourselves.  But why would anything be a “let down”?  I think that often the let down is solely internal.  I have no doubt that if I was able to maintain a reasonable lifestyle – meaning healthy food, a home, health insurance, clothing, etc. – I could do whatever I wanted without disappointing anyone.  If I switched tomorrow to being a sanitation worker/blogger, would that “let down” anyone?  It might disappoint the self-constructed mental image I have of myself, that society has contributed to, as an “educated” person who shouldn’t do manual labor.  But what would I do if no-one was watching?  What would you do?  I would argue that based on the large amount of pharmaceuticals and their heavy dosage of reality TV in America that many people are attempting to medicate themselves and their brains into not pursuing this mental line of questioning.  I’ve certainly been guilty of that myself (although I substitute movies for reality TV).

If I am honest with myself, I’d agree with an offhanded comment made by the comedian Bill Burr on (I think) Doug Benson’s podcast. He said nobody is sitting in a cubicle working on spreadsheets because they dreamed of it as a child. Nobody’s getting “filled up” by that work.  And life’s a compromise, in many ways.  Many people are happy to exchange their time for money so they can buy an iPad or a Roku.  I’m fully engaged in that compromise as things stand today.  Maybe I still will be in five years.  And maybe the goal of children in this world is to live like characters in “Defending Your Life” (one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, watch it if you haven’t seen it).  Parents do the best they can to provide a sturdy, well-built diving board for their children to leap off of, but once kids hit the water they have to swim.  The trick will be to learn to swim without fear, using whatever stroke is best for them, and not to worry that anyone is watching that they do it the “right way.”

Airline Mile Credit Cards

Airline flights, hotel stays, rental car purchases – all of these things are better when they’re free! Learn the secrets to getting these free perks from your favorite airline, or from your card company…

The frequent flyers among us know the secret – those points we earn are worth their weight in… well, miles. Whether you travel for business or pleasure, if you’re going to fly, you might as well take advantage of the perks that the airlines offer us. And if you’re someone who uses their credit card often, why not earn miles for that too? It’s amazing just how quickly the money that you were going to spend anyway, can earn you a free flight. But just because all of the airlines offer credit cards that accrue points, not all of these programs are equal. Some things to look for when evaluating a credit card that earns frequent flyer or mileage points:

Most airline mile credit cards are only good for flights on that airline. In addition, they often have restrictions on when you can fly.

Many airlines have affiliate programs that allow you to also use your points for hotel and rental car purchases, so check before you sign up for one. Usually the cards offered by the airlines charge an annual fee of between $35 and $150, or more. Also, since the cards are not issued by the airlines themselves, but rather by a credit card company, be sure to check the issuer’s own fees and penalty structure.  Different airlines reward purchases differently, and some are more generous than others. Be sure to check around for the best plan that meets your needs.

An alternative to a card issued by a specific airline is what’s called a travel rewards card. Most credit card companies offer some type of travel reward or points program. The way these programs are structured can offer a little more flexibility than an airline credit card program. For one thing, the points can generally be used toward flights on any airline. For another, they typically accrue more points for purchases. Also, these credit company rewards cards usually don’t expire the way miles with an airline can.

As with all credit card offers, be sure to read the fine print in the card agreement. Many of the reward programs – whether sponsored by an airline or a credit card company – can quickly turn into a money-vacuum if you’re not careful. Be sure to pay off the money you charge as quickly as you can, to avoid what are usually some pretty hefty interest rates. Also, always pay your bill on time, if you don’t want fees and penalties to eat into your hard-earned miles. Finally, take advantage of the double- and triple-mile rewards that your card offers, as these can really help you to rack up the points and get you into the air sooner than you think.

Finally, don’t get so enthralled with the idea of earning points and miles that you end up making purchases that you don’t need and will never use. Just because a purchase earns you miles for every dollar, doesn’t make it a good deal. On the other hand, if it is a purchase that you would normally make anyway, and a partnering vendor is offering triple reward miles – in that case it may make sense to take advantage of a good thing. Bottom line; be smart and you’ll be rewarded – in free travel!

Today’s guest post comes courtesy of Compare Cards.

Finding Room for Mindfulness in Small Spaces

small house

 

small house

When you live in a small space, especially a shared space, it can be difficult to find a way to create the appropriate setting for mindfulness or meditation. If you are persistent and creative, you can create a space that will allow you to meditate quietly in almost any location. The key is to discipline your mind so that your surroundings play a small part in your ability to remain mindful for a period.

Create Temporary Space with Folding Room Dividers

If you feel the need to block yourself from the rest of the room while you are meditating, a small room divider can be a convenient way to create a tiny mindful space. Dividers are available in many different colors and textures to suit your needs. You can unfold the divider to block yourself from the rest of the room while you meditate, then fold it up and put it away again when you are no longer using it. The divider can be effective even if it only blocks one side of the space. It is not necessary to block off four walls or pen yourself in entirely.

Transforming a Corner of Your Room

Sharing a space with a roommate can make it more challenging to set apart a special area for mindfulness. Try to find an area of the home that is strictly yours, like the bedroom. Place a simple candle on your nightstand, and light it when you are in the room for meditating purposes. When you light the candle, consider your bedroom a quiet and safe place. When the candle is not lit, you can use your room all of the other purposes it serves.

Taking Time Away From Home

Some people find that they need to go outside of their homes in order to be fully mindful. Your car can be a wonderful private place for meditation. The seats in many cars can be more comfortable than traditional sofas or armchairs. Park in a comfortable place where you know you will not experience interruptions. Anywhere that allows you to park and sit alone for half an hour will be fine. Since your car is movable, you have more control over the noise level than you would have inside a shared home.

Mindfulness Does not Rely Entirely on Location

Once you gain discipline with your meditations, you may find that you don’t need to set apart a specific space to be mindful. You can meditate in your favorite chair in the main room of the house. You might prefer to create a mindful space while leaning against some pillows in your bedroom. The peace of mind that you bring to the space when you are centered and fully mindful will transform any area into the right place for being mindful. You might never be comfortable meditating in a room full of talking people, but you may be able to create a peaceful place in a corner of your home that is not strictly set apart.

Jessica Bosari enjoys writing helpful articles for AffordableHousingForRent.com. The site helps those living on smaller incomes find affordable apartments.

Photo Attribution Some rights reserved by Andy Hay

Coping with Depression After a Natural Disaster

Natural disasters cause more than just physical damage to people and property: they can also cause tremendous emotional and psychological damage. If you are the survivor of a natural disaster, you may have lost your home, sentimental belongings, a pet, or a loved one. You may have witnessed tragic events that will remain in your memory for the rest of your life. These kinds of traumas are difficult to move past, but there are ways to make the process a little bit easier.

Remain Active

In the aftermath of a disaster, it may be difficult to pick yourself up and get back into a daily routine. You may feel tired, hopeless and despondent. However, forcing yourself to maintain some kind of daily routine may help take your mind off of the disaster and help give your life structure.

Treat Your Body Well

Do your best to take care of your physical health after a disaster. Make sure that you are drinking plenty of water, sunlight, and exercise, and that you are eating well-balanced meals. Maintaining your physical health will make it easier for you to maintain your mental health.

Set Manageable Goals

When you are very depressed, it may be nearly impossible to maintain a routine that is just as active and productive as your routine was before the disaster. If this is the case, set manageable goals for yourself, however modest, and make sure that you meet them. Here are some examples of goals you may set:

– Cooking at least one meal per day at home
– Taking a walk at least once per day
– Scheduling time to spend time with friends at least three times per week

Allow Yourself to Grieve

If you are the survivor of a disaster, you may have the instinct to suppress your grief, striving to be strong, help others, and perform your duties despite the internal sorrow you are experiencing. Although this is noble and admirable, in the long-term, allowing yourself to go through the natural grieving process will allow you to be stronger, healthier and more supportive to your loved ones.

Avoid Repeated Viewing of Disaster Coverage

Only view as much disaster news coverage as is necessary to stay informed. You already have enough emotional stress to deal with, without subjecting yourself to reliving or re-witnessing disaster scenes through television or news articles. If you are safe and well-informed without watching this coverage, turn it off.

Know that You are Not Alone

Chances are that you were not the only one affected by this disaster, so join hands with others who are going through a similar process to you. These people may include friends, family, or neighbors. You can share experiences, start a support group, and exchange favors. Be honest and open with one another, and know that you can get through this together. If you do not have access to support in your local area, explore the Internet for online support groups for disaster survivors.

Get Professional Help

If you are in a position to afford psychological care, find a therapist who is experienced in counseling disaster survivors. Especially if you are experiencing recurring flashbacks, nightmares, or panic attacks, it is important to see a professional who can help you regain your emotional health.

This article was written by Wendy, who writes at Depressions Symptoms.

early retirement extreme: book review

I’ve had an atypical personal finance ‘journey’, so to speak. I never thought about personal finance for most of my life.  My family had a harsh, almost unforgiving attitude towards debt, driven by Shakespeare’s maxim:  “Neither a lender nor a debtor be.”  I was taught from an early age to spend less than I earned, to be frugal when I could and always be prepared for the unexpected.  So using these simple guidelines I made it into adulthood without debt, and with substantial savings that were carefully invested in diverse markets.

But I had no end goal. My plan was to simply work until I couldn’t work anymore, save a little bit more than I earned and never enter into debt for any reason.  But when I first started to think about my responsibilities as a dad, when I learned Bubelah was pregnant, I decided I needed to read up on personal finance fundamentals.  So I went to amazon, searched on “dad finance” and lo and behold, “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” came up.

I didn’t know anything about the ‘baggage’ that’s associated with Kiyosaki’s work.  All I knew was that someone here had opened up my eyes to a new way to view the world.  Life didn’t have to be about working until a government-mandated retirement age; you could have another plan, financial independence.  Now I know that many of Kiyosaki’s real estate principles are ill-advised, to say the least, but you know what he did that many other authors didn’t do?  He made me think.  He presented an alternative to the mainstream.  I’ve read a few dozen “get a side job” or “cut out the latte” type books, and they are all good advice… but they don’t really make you think.  Rich Dad did.

So in that vein I’d recommend the book Early Retirement Extreme. I’ve enjoyed Jacob’s blog for years.  You know why?  Because, in a sea of advice about how to advance your career and manage your 401(k) and deal with your mortgage, he simply says:  you can leave it all.  You don’t have to live by society’s dictates:  get a house, get a yard, push your way up the corporation, and utilize the stock market as laid out by your retirement plan’s administrator.  He offers a very clear and very reasonable model for doing something DIFFERENT.  This is not just practical – it’s also philosophical.  Jacob begins the book by exploring Plato’s allegory of the cave.  I hadn’t heard of this before I read this book, although I had read Plato.  But there’s nothing wrong with that – in the sense that philosophy is ‘elite’ we probably need more elitism these days.

Jacob retired in his early 30s. He had saved drastic – almost draconian – amounts of his salary in his twenties and thirties by living an exceptionally minimalistic lifestyle, although he argues that he didn’t do anything truly exceptional – he simply avoided the temptations of consumerism and was attentive to the use of his resources.  One of the things that struck me reading his book was that he lays out a vision for life that’s predicated on the idea that none of us really need any “things.”  That’s an exaggeration:  we need clothes, and some utensils, and shelter, and maybe a few semi-extras like computers and high-speed internet; but by and large most of the things we think of as ‘must haves’ are not.  If you have a neighbor with a shovel, and you have a hammer, the two of you can share; you don’t both need a shovel and a hammer.  We don’t need martini glasses and winter/summer tablecloths, or multiple sets of dress belts.

Maybe much of this is obvious to people who live a minimalistic lifestyle, and maybe much of this is insane to those who live the standard suburban lifestyle. I don’t think Jacob’s writing to convert anyone, to be honest.  He seems to be trying to convince readers of his plan, but I don’t think you could come to this book treasuring your Lexus and enjoying your lattes and Netflix and occasional trips to TGI Friday’s and have the right mental mindset to absorb what he’s talking about.  You have to be halfway there already.  If you’re already thinking about an endgame – financial independence – then what he’s talking about will open up a lot of new ideas for you.  The idea of extreme minimalism, of community sharing, of making maximum utility of the resources you have at your disposal will all seem quite simple and yet have a “why didn’t I think of that before” feeling.

I’m not sure this plan is for everyone.  As someone who’s further down the suburban white picket fence/4 bedroom/2.3 kids model than I’d ever thought I’d be, I’d say that the transition from an air-conditioned, cable-supplied house like ours to an early retirement extreme existence would be exceptionally difficult.  But the important thing about books like ERE is that they point out that difficult does not, by any means, imply impossible.  You can minimize your expenses.  You can make the goal of your life independence, not wage slavedom.  You can do these things – others have and you can, too.

So while I can’t recommend ERE to everyone – it’s technical, it’s unforgiving and it’s hard – if you want to learn something new about personal finance and frugality and minimalism and environmentalism, you have to read this book.  I haven’t read many personal finance books that have deeply affected my thinking about money and the role it plays in my life.  One is Rich Dad, Poor Dad.  Another is The Millionaire Next Door.  And Early Retirement Extreme will sit alongside those books, too.  Not so much because it’s a guideline, but because it’s a philosophical work that deserves to sit in the back of your mind all the time; every time you buy something you should have this formula ringing in the back your mind.  You won’t read many books like this, to be honest, but that’s exactly the reason you should read this one.  I’d imagine if you read this blog, you’re probably the type of person who would enjoy Early Retirement Extreme; so buy a copy through amazon or visit your local library and request a copy.