On gangs, education and child obesity
"When you are convinced that all the exits are blocked either you take to believing in miracles or you stand still like the hummingbird. The miracle is that the honey is always there, so right under your nose, only you were to busy searching else where to realize it. The worst is not death but being blind, blind to the fact that everything about life is in the nature of the miraculous."
-- Henry Miller
Father Gregory Boyle of Los Angeles has built a small industrial complex from the fruits of his labor as a permanent advisor to and champion of the gangs in that notorious town. For over 20 years he has been working with the creme de la creme of gang fiefdom, and has come in contact with over 25,000 gang members. Los Angeles being the unofficial capital for gang members of all shapes and sizes and backgrounds.
Many of his group are now in their 40's but they stayed on to be part of the Pastor Boyle world view. They now have a large building almost one block square and a Homeboy Bakery and a Homegirl Cafe. Pastor Boyle is well acquainted with the catechism of gangs but he believes in the power of redemptive love, with a touch of humor thrown in for good measure.
Here is a quote from one of his girls:
"Just because you are in a gang doesn't make you a bad person. When you see a kid wearing gang colors, reserve your judgement on their character until you've had the time to see what they are made of, yeah? You don't know them."
-- Rachel Terrell, age 15
Father Boyle is aware that 80 percent or more of all crimes are committed by gang members. But he looks you right in the eye and says, "So what are you going to do about it?"
He has a 5 step program all worked out.
1. Support an agency that works with gangs with money or time.
2. Donate some one on one, face to face contact with individuals in gangs.
3. Step down from the pedestal you put yourself up on and go into the trenches and the neighborhoods, and help clean up.
4. Run for office or at least vote.
5. Advocate for realistic solutions and then follow through.
He then says, "Can we stand with the disposable until the day comes that we stop throwing them away."
Now let's talk about realistic education.
"Most American don't go to small private liberal arts colleges, or any college at all according to a 2009 report on educational attainment in the U.S. About 28% of Americans over the age of 25 have a bachelor's degree. The Northeast is the best educated region in the country but just 32% of the areas residents have bachelor's degrees."
-- Sarah Foss, The Daily Gazette
She goes on to say,
"A recent survey showed that 40% of new college graduates are under-employed or need more training to get on to a career track."
"Politicians seem to think college is some kind of magical solution to this country's economic and social problems, and that if we all just had bachelor's degrees, life would be great."
Like Sarah, I feel that college isn't always an answer, that even if it were free and no debt load was involved it still isn't right for everybody. A few years ago colleges were advocating for a classic arts education program. A large survey course of great literature, art and music. Philosophy as a basis for life studies, and of course a dip into the waters of great religions. Well, by now we have all heard that tired old joke about liberal arts students whose first job was asking that age old question, "Would you like fries with that?"
Some of the greatest people in our nation have never graduated from college -- Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, for example. The great visual artists of the world would attach themselves to someone they held in high esteem, and learn by watching and doing. I certainly cannot name a single monumental religious figure with monumental degrees. Certainly doctors and dentists need some serious training and preparation. But remember, Einstein failed high school, and was told by his teachers he would never amount to a hill of beans.
Education is a state of mind, a hunger for learning, an obsession for all that knowledge can bring. We are not a wise nation, we do not climb mountains to find our destiny. We are firm believers in that tired old saying, "Knowledge is power," but I believe that knowledge begets wisdom. Power for power's sake only makes despots and evil. But wisdom? Ah -- that's one for the ages.
And yet, still another journey into a step back from education as the political interests would have it. Physical education, gym, recess, call it what you will, it is crucial to our children's health and well being. The Institute of Medicine is recommending that schools provide opportunities for at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day for students and that P.E. become a core subject. Surpised? I'm not.
Our youth are constantly plugged into something iphones, ipads, video games, and of course ye old computers. About 40% of school administrators report slashing big chunks of time from physical education, the arts and recess to make more time in the classroom for reading and math. I always thought reading should be a joy to the child not an onerous task.
However, childhood obesity is on the rise. Some 17% of children from ages 2 to 19 are obese. And the feeling is that since children spend so much of their life in the classroom, school is the place to tackle the problem. Physical education should be a priority for children and for us as society. So here's the recommendations.
1. All elementary children's P.E. atleast 30 minutes. per day.
2. Middle School and High School Students 45 minutes. per day.
3. State and local officials should find ways to get students more physical activity in the school environment. And it should become a whole school approach which could include walking or riding a bike to and from school or finding ways to add a physical component to math and science class lessons.
The report cautions against taking away recess as a form of punishment and it urges students to get frequent classroom breaks. The goal is offering a minimum of 60 minutes a day for active engagement of kids.
This research shows that being physically active helps them to perform better in school. It helps them focus in the classroom and evens out behavioral and discipline problems.
We have always admired the Greeks, and used their ancient society as a marker of civilization and knowledge. Their philosophy stressed physical and mental stimulation. After all both the Olympics and democracy have their roots there. Sometimes all our fuss and to-do of daily living we forget to remember what is necessary to a balanced and creative life of meaning and accomplishment.
Since I have been writing about the well rounded life, let me introduce you to Cornelia and Leo, my long lost friends. I spent last Saturday with Leo & Cornelia reminiscing. We have not seen each other for 15 years. Leo was born in Russia, grew up in South America and was a musical prodigy. He got his master's and undergraduate degree on full scholarship at Julliard and wound up at Skidmore the same time as me. Leo, Robert Ashby (now living in Switzerland) and myself were the three musical musketeers. Leo married a woman from Germany (Cornelia) and that is where he is living now. I am the only one left in this area and it felt so good to talk of things philosophical and far reaching and to get a European view of the world.
And Saratoga, ahhh it took my breath away. What an exquisite city. Wide, broad sidewalks, memorable plantings. And benches for people just to sit and watch the world go by -- street musicians everywhere and outdoor seating at countless resturants. Retail ensconced in appropriate buildings; much of the original architecture has been saved. Conveniently situated parking, no meters. But don't take my word for it -- visit yourself. And I recommend the Spanish restaurant Boca -- right on Broadway surrounded by zillions of eateries. Spanish not Mexican, though Saratoga has many Mexican cafes as well.
Go visit, walk the streets, sample the people. The food, the night life, a truly cosmopolitan city.
P.S. Between the 2 of them, Leo and Cornelia speak 7 languages and play 4 instruments, as well as sing in choral groups.
"Stop. Don't do it. Get a broom and a dustpan. Pull out your tiny brush. Save every piece, every jagged shard. Do not loose a sliver. I have witnessed the miracles. I have see then happier under my own hand.
Everything is not perfect.
Everything can be fixed."
-- Paul Gordon: Sunday, New York Times
And oh yes, all you doubters, this goes for people also. Redemption is universal.