Another Perspective on Poverty

This is a story that hits much closer to home for me, as it happened to a friend of mine. But her story has done as much as anything to affect how I understand poverty, how I understand the role of government assistance, of social safety nets.

And it has done as much as anything to teach me the dangers of making assumptions.

I have a friend who experienced difficult times during the recession of the Bush Years. She and her husband are both capable and hard workers, college educated. He worked in a skilled labor field and she did general office work. They did fine for themselves.

Then he was involved in an accident and was severely injured. He’s disabled for the rest of his life. As a result, he could no longer work in his chosen field. He lost his job, lost his health insurance. And we all know COBRA is prohibitively expensive.

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Perspectives on Poverty

[I posted a truncated version of what follows as a Tweet-thread.]

Poverty is something I think about frequently. Working in an urban public library system, many of our patrons are poor. The community we serve has significant neighborhoods of poverty. It’s our responsibility to understand what our patrons need, what life is really like for them.

This is an issue that’s always on my mind but it seems particularly important to speak out about it now.

There’s a group of kids—teens and tweens—who hang out at a local library. Sometimes they hang out at the McDonald’s down the street. These kids clearly live in poverty.

All of them have smartphones.

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Why Tech Can’t Replace Manufacturing

[Author’s Note: This is adapted from a tweetstorm I posted recently.]

Many people yearn for the return of American manufacturing. Other people correctly point out that manufacturing is never coming back. The latter argue that we need to focus on creating new jobs, new kinds of jobs, and they point to the modern tech industry for this.

But the tech industry isn’t a present-day equivalent of our bygone manufacturing economy. It can’t replace it.

Consider: In the ’50s, a man who never finished high school could get a job working a factory line, and that job paid enough for them to raise a family and own a home. Nothing much, no frills, but a decent quality of life. They could learn new skills on the job and advance to more skilled positions. They could have a career and retire in some comfort.

Name one job in today’s tech industry that you can get without a high school diploma. Name one tech job that you can get without a college degree.

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This Is Why I Love Libraries

In my post about hatred the other day, I mentioned my life motto: “I am human: nothing human is alien to me.” (In the Latin, “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.”)

And all at once it strikes me—this is why I have always loved libraries.

Libraries give me access to the full depth and breadth of humanity. All of our thoughts and ideas, our hopes and dreams, our fears, our creativity and cultures, our histories, our plethora of worldviews and philosophies and beliefs.

All our stories.

I can access all of this through my library. If my library doesn’t have it on the shelf, they can find it and get it for me.

Libraries are where I go to learn how to be human, in all our myriad aspects.

Libraries Should Be About Books

It’s de rigueur nowadays for people to criticize libraries for being “too much about books.” The idea being that too many libraries are still stuck in the past, in outmoded service models, and failing to adapt to new technologies, trends, etc.

There is some truth in the criticism—although I also find that too many of these critics fail to be critical enough of new trends and tend too often to promote faddishness.

It makes me want to ask the obvious question:

What’s wrong with libraries being about books?

Books mean reading. Books are still the best, most valuable tool of a reading life. This makes books timelessly important—beyond fads, more enduring than ever-changing technology.

Books matter. Still and always. Because reading matters.

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Education in America: An Expanded Argument

I keep thinking about my latest posts on education and the need I see for a three-legged balance between STEM, liberal arts, and vocational training. It occurs to me that this is incomplete. There needs to be a fourth leg:

Arts education.

Music, visual arts, performing arts—these are different from liberal arts (philosophy, history, literature study, rhetoric, etc.), just as liberal arts are different from STEM. But just like liberal arts and STEM, arts education also seeks to develop critical thinking skills, along its own lines and according to its own standards.

When I critiqued the STEAM concept, I did so in terms of liberal arts but that’s incorrect. The “A” in STEAM stands for “Arts”—as in arts education, not liberal.

I think my critique still stands: integrating arts education with STEM is a mistake. I believe that conflating them makes it virtually impossible to avoid subordinating the arts aspect to the STEM aspect. They’re both best served when they’re allowed to stand on their own.

A four-legged educational system: STEM—Liberal arts—Arts—Vocational training.

That should be our goal.

STEAM

A couple of people responded to my previous post about education and the need for three pillars: liberal arts + STEM + vocational training. They point out that a movement exists to expand STEM to STEAM—to integrate arts education into STEM education.

I disagree with this idea. I’m convinced that liberal arts and STEM education need to be allowed to flourish each on their own and to interact with each other as equals. I feel that STEAM initiatives intrinsically subordinate the arts aspect to the larger STEM aspect.

But my concern about STEAM speaks to something deeper. At their cores, both liberal arts and STEM educations seek to teach strong critical thinking skills. They use very different methodologies to do so, and are based on different structures of reasoning, logic, discourse, etc.

I know many people for whom STEM education doesn’t work. Their minds simply don’t respond to that teaching methodology, to those structures of knowledge. Likewise, I know many people for whom liberal arts education doesn’t work and for the same reasons.

If the goal is to promote critical thinking skills, it’s obvious to me that we need to maintain multiple avenues for people to get there.

Intentionally conflating different educational methodologies and pathways is a mistake. Cramming them together narrows the options available for people to learn the critical thinking skills they need in ways that are best suited to them.

I believe that this can only reduce the efficacy of education overall.