The Book of the Week is “Over My Head” by Claudia L. Osborn, published in 2000. This depressing memoir describes what happened to the author, a medical doctor, after she sustained a severe head injury. She was, without wearing a helmet, bicycling in the Rocky Mountains with a friend when she was hit by a truck. She did not remember the accident. The damage done to her brain prevented her from resuming her career. Osborn was referred to New York University’s head trauma program to try to recover her ability to live a normal life. The program features group therapy. Read the book to learn the kinds of techniques used to help brain-damaged individuals regain cognitive skills, and how the author fared thereafter.
I am pleased to announce that Noah Gotbaum and I will be appearing as guests on the CUNY TV show, “Edcast,” to be aired on:
Wednesday, March 23, 10am, 3pm and 11pm
Saturday, March 26, 8pm
and Sunday March 27, 10am.
That’s channel 75 on TimeWarner and Cablevision, and channel 77 on RCN in New York City.
You may recall that my book: “The Education and Deconstruction of Mr. Bloomberg, How the Mayor’s Education and Real Estate Development Policies Affected New Yorkers 2002-2009 Inclusive” is available at Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com, among other online stores.
Edcast lasts 30 minutes, but the Mayor’s education reforms have set New York City grade-school students back for decades to come.
There is an easy two-step solution to improving education in this city:
Step 1. Get rid of all of the patronage-hired, pricey “education consultants” that are draining the education budget, and select vendors through competitive bidding. (I mention in my book a mere handful of the countless examples of this exorbitant spending:
Platform Learning, whose fee was a projected $7.6 million for a projected five years, that snowballed into $62 million in three years;
All Kinds of Minds, which fulfilled only 20% of its $10 million contract with the Department of Education;
Cambridge Education, which was paid more than $16 million to measure schools’ usage of data; the personnel commuted from England at this city’s expense;
Accenture was paid $2 million instead of $500,000, which should have gone to the lowest bidder in a nine-company competitive bidding process.)
Step 2. Use the vast quantity of money saved to reduce class sizes, hire experienced teachers, purchase books and supplies, etc.
The Book of the Week is “The Shadow of the Sun” by Ryszard Kapuscinski, originally published in 1998, translated by Klara Glowczewska. This book details the personal observations of a Polish journalist who traveled to various African countries from the late 1950’s through the late 1990’s.
He noted that in 1958 in Ghana, when it came to private citizens’ interaction with their federal government, there was no bureaucracy. If they had a comment or question, they simply personally visited the relevant minister, such as the Minister of Education and Information, and reported their issues. Children started school as young as three. The two types of schools were missionary-run and state-run, but the state still held ultimate power over both, and there was a nationwide curriculum.
The continent of Africa has had its inhabitants and resources exploited for centuries. Colonization gave rise to exportation of slaves, the creation of infrastructure on the land, the importation of weapons, medical advances against tropical diseases and dispersal of goods around the world.
The author remarked that in Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika (now Tanzania), his “prestigious white status” decreased after he contracted cerebral malaria and then tuberculosis.
There is a common pattern to the way Africa’s military leaders have acquired the maximum resources they possibly can. Once they’ve stolen all they can get from their citizens and made enemies along the way, their next trick is to negotiate a peace treaty and schedule elections. This charade fools the World Bank into lending the leaders money.
The endings of numerous dictatorships have followed a common pattern, too. The new guard attempted to coerce the old leader into revealing his private bank account number. However, the stereotype, which also may be true, is that he engaged in arms and drug sales, and put his money in foreign accounts so that he could draw upon funds when he went into exile.
Because Nigeria is a large nation, in January 1966, the rebels had to invade all five of its regional capitals, taking over the airport, radio station, telephone exchange and post office in each. The sending of outgoing telegrams was banned.
Through the decades, Ethiopia’s governments went from feudal-aristocratic to Marxist-Leninist to federal-democratic.
In 1989, the torture of Liberian dictator Samuel Doe was videotaped and shown continuously in bars and on the wealthy’s VCR’s.
On the whole, Africans are quite superstitious. They believe in witch doctors, herbalists, fortune tellers, exorcists, amulets, talismans, divining rods and magical medicines. The author was assisted in taking advantage of this to deter further frequent burglaries of his residence, by hanging white rooster feathers on his door. “Witches are capable of vengeance, persecution, spreading disease, inflicting pain, sowing death.”
Inhabitants of the Sahara desert regions are paralyzed by drought. The drought in Ethiopia in 1975 closed all establishments, including schools, and caused a lot of deaths in the villages.
African children under 15 accounted for more than half the population in 2001. They have participated in all aspects of adult life in recent decades– fighting in armies, living in refugee camps, toiling on farms, purchasing and selling goods and fetching water for their families.
Very often, lack of repair and maintenance of infrastructure makes for major eyesores on the African landscape. In the 1990’s, the war-damaged Robertsfield airport in Liberia , the largest airport in Africa, was closed, abandoned and left to deteriorate.
The author wrote this book of his African experiences because “The kind of history known in Europe as scholarly and objective can never arise here, because the African past has no documents or records,” only oral stories, passed on from one generation to the next. Time is described as “long ago” “very long ago” and “so long ago that no one remembers.”
The Book of the Week is “An Irish Country Childhood” by Marrie Walsh, published in 1995. This is the kind of book on which a movie or TV show (such as Meet Me in St. Louis or Little House on the Prairie) might be based. It describes the spirit of the times of a particular culture in a certain era; in this case, an agricultural community in County Mayo, Ireland in the 1930’s and 1940’s.
Walsh was born in 1929. She attended public school where “The teachers were not local and they never mixed socially. Teaching was a very prestigious job in those days…” Her maternal grandmother and great aunt attended a Hedgerow School, which evolved during the enforcement of the Penal Laws (1695-1829), a time of oppression of Catholics by Great Britain. Classes in Irish, Latin and English were held outdoors. Tuition was in the form of corn or turf.
“Brought up on a daily diet of legends, myths and ghost stories,” Walsh and her many siblings were fascinated by the paranormal. Various places mentioned in her anecdotes were haunted. The author’s ancestors thought weasels were actually witches and were therefore scared of them.
The kids performed labor on farms in the community, and received compensation in the form of being taught a song or story, and perhaps some food. They loved drinking buttermilk, and participated in daring episodes of pinching fruit from the neighbors’ orchards until they got caught. Read the book to learn more about this and Walsh’s other adventures.
The Book of the Week is “True Story” by Michael Finkel. It is an unbelievable story about a journalist (the author) and a criminal. The journalist’s future looked bright at the start of the story.
Finkel was assigned to write an article on slavery in the cocoa plantations of West Africa. He discovered for himself from interviewing hundreds of people, that the said slavery was almost nonexistent. He was under pressure to write an honest story, but also one that would sell. He did not want to denigrate the community of media people who had been reporting the falsehood (knowingly or naively).
If he had written honestly, he would have had to explain that his fellow journalists had been lying. Besides that, the word “slavery” could provoke a boycott of West African cocoa, which would only increase the level of poverty. Half the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa.
Finkel ended up sabotaging himself by concocting a story about one poverty-stricken Malian boy (from Mali), a composite of several boys he had interviewed. He used the real name of one of the boys. When his story was printed, Save the Children complained that the story was inaccurate, and his cover was blown.
The story gets curiouser and curiouser as events unfold.
Around the same time, a criminal was fooling around in Cancun, posing as Finkel. The criminal, Christian Longo, knew only that Finkel was a journalist, and had stolen his name because he liked his stories. He had committed the most heinous crime of all just days before.
Read the book to experience the intrigue.
The Book of the Week is “The Dragon’s Pupils” by Kenneth Starck, published in 1991.
Starck was a professor from the University of Iowa’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He visited China to teach journalism to Chinese graduate students in the 1986-1987 academic year. He detailed his experiences of the culture. Due to the ravages of Communism, the country had resumed its academic degree system only five years prior to his visit. In December, there was student unrest. In the 1980’s, “only 5% of each year’s 10 million high school graduates were admitted to universities. The country had 1,016 universities, about 1 for every million people. In the United States, there were 1,875 colleges, 1 for every 123,000 people.”
The author distributed the book, “The Best of Pulitzer Prize News Writing” (published in 1986) to his students. It had a story from the Korean War of 1950 and a quote that was an ethnic slur on the Chinese. The author lectured on historical context, explaining that at that time, the United States did not have good relations with China.
Under Deng Xiaoping, China was moving toward a more capitalistic society, but the government was resistant, because “There is loosening of family ties and the placing of individual self interest above community interest.” There was still censorship in higher education. Cadres (government officials) were charged with making sure students were appropriately schooled in political and ideological matters. Their titles ranged from ” lecturer” to” professor,” even though they were just party hacks. In May 1988, the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party Central Committee and the Central Committee of the Communist League co-founded the Youth Ideological Educational Research Center.
Read the book for more examples of the disturbing state of affairs in China in the late 1980’s, and her progress (or lack thereof) in terms of freedom of the press and the freedom of her people in general.
The Book of the Week is “Reckless Courage” by William Fuller with Jack Haines, published in 2004. This book focuses on a family living in Stavanger, Norway during World War II. It also provides a bit of Norwegian history. One of the family’s sons, Gunnar, a teenager, risked his life needlessly to irk the enemy in various little ways, out of anger against the German occupation of Norway.
Before getting to the heart of the story, this blogger would like to convey some information about the Norwegian education system (at least during WWII): Students in a given class had the same teacher for their entire seven years in elementary school. Almost all of the teachers were men, and teaching was a highly regarded profession. Most schools started every morning with a Lutheran prayer and hymn.
When Russia invaded Finland in late 1939, Norway sympathized with Finland, as “Norwegians felt a special closeness with the Finns, who they saw as hardy like themselves, not soft and effete like the Danes and Swedes.” October 1942 saw the Gestapo abducting Norwegian Jews– half of whom were assisted by various good-samaritan groups and individuals, in escaping to Sweden.
On more than one occasion, the aforementioned Gunnar, without being caught, was able to relieve German soldiers of their firearms when they had let down their guard. There was a close call, however, when an officer at the hotel where Gunnar worked, threatened to search Gunnar’s house. The teen was shaking in his shoes, as, “In his basement were a machine gun, three pistols, ammunition and a few grenades thrown in for good measure.” Luckily, the officer did not follow through on the threat.
Read the book for more of Gunnar’s adventures and interesting thoughts on how the course of the war was changed by various incidents.
The Book of the Week is “My Childhood” by Maxim Gorky, first published in 1913. This slim volume describes the first sad ten years of Gorky’s life (1868-1878), although throughout, neither dates nor place-names are specified. Gorky’s father died when he was very young, and his mother chose not to live with the author and her parents. His (maternal) grandfather was physically and verbally abusive toward him and his grandmother.
Alcohol and violence flowed freely among them and his uncles, who ran a fabric-dyeing business. Gorky felt his character was shaped by the “various simple obscure people” he met while growing up. He learned to accept the way the Russians did, that “through the poverty and squalor of their lives, suffering comes as a diversion, is turned into a game and they play at it like children and rarely feel ashamed of their misfortune.”
His grandmother gave birth to eighteen children, but it was not made clear how many survived. She frequently told him stories and advised him on culinary and religious matters. Her meager income was derived by lace-making. She had learned the craft at ten years of age from her mother who had become crippled. Thereafter, they did not need to beg anymore. Sometimes Gorky’s mother put in a brief appearance and later she quickly disappeared, leaving nothing at all to be remembered by. He began short-lived bouts of formal education, and endured Bible-related and poetry teachings from his grandparents. By the end of his first decade, Gorky had fallen in with a crowd of kids his own age with whom he hung out on the streets, and was taking care of a baby brother.
The Book of the Week is “The Vineyard” by Louisa Thomas Hargrave, published in 2003. It is a memoir about the first wine-grape farmers on Long Island in New York State.
In the early 1970’s, Louisa and her then-husband, Alex, wanted to grow grapes to make wine to sell. “I [Louisa] decided that having a vineyard wouldn’t take much time, so I enrolled in chemistry and calculus courses at the University of Rochester while we scouted for vineyard property.” They thought they would be able to spend more time with the children they planned to have, if they worked in the same place where they resided. Running a winery seemed to fit the bill. The endeavor turned out to be more difficult than they imagined. The Hargraves had never managed a vineyard before, let alone any business, but prior to plunging in, they “did their homework” the best they could, were passionate about wine and were willing to work hard.
They purchased a plot in Cutchogue on the North Fork of Long Island. Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were the first grape varieties they planted. Fortunately for them, the soil was compatible with these high-quality varieties. They released their first wine in July 1977, from fruit picked in 1975, aged in barrels.
Louisa provides a detailed account of the numerous risks grape farmers and wine makers face; the birds, bugs and weather, to name a few. She also recounts problems her family encountered, including educating their daughter and son and dealing with legal tangles concerning their business. One particularly stressful episode involved fighting an extortion attempt by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
Despite all the hardships, the Hagraves nurtured a successful vineyard because they possessed and/or acquired the passion, courage, focus, skills, talents and luck in sufficient amounts.
The Book of the Week is “Sesame Street Unpaved” by David Borgenicht, published in 1998. This book commemorates (almost) thirty years of the scripts, stories, secrets and songs of “Sesame Street,” an award-winning American educational television show for very young children. It went on the air November 10, 1969. It features dialogues between human and combination-marionette/puppet characters, animated segments and music/video snippets.
There have been countless humorous features, such as the recurring early-episode bits when Big Bird kept flubbing the name of human store owner Mr. Hooper, calling him Mr. Looper, Mr. Blooper, Mr. Duper, Mr. Snooper, Mr. Pooper, Mr. Scooper, etc. In one of many memorable skits involving puppets Ernie and Bert, the latter asks the former whether he’s aware that he has a banana in his ear. Ernie asks him to repeat that. Bert starts yelling. Ernie yells back, “I’m sorry– You’ll have to speak a little louder, Bert! I can’t hear you! I have a banana in my ear!”
“Kermit the Frog” came into being around 1955, and in previous shows, his appearance evolved through the years. For the sake of neatness, the puppet character “Cookie Monster” usually ate painted rice cakes rather than real cookies on-screen. Another early, (but short-lived) popular character included Roosevelt Franklin. A purple puppet featured in a classroom, he was booted off the air because some of the show’s creators felt he portrayed a “negative cultural stereotype” in that he was a smart-alecky, paper-throwing disruptive kid, and he appeared to be African American.
A host of celebrities have also visited the show, and have usually sung songs. When Ralph Nader visited, he insisted on correcting a grammatical error in the song “People in Your Neighborhood” by changing a line to “…the people WHOM you meet each day.”
On one occasion, the Boston Pops accompanied the show’s cast in playing the song, “Rubber Duckie” but a union rule considered squeezing a rubber duckie (so it would squeak) to be an instrument additional to that each musician was already playing– requiring that extra wages be paid. The rule was skirted by having only the percussionists play rubber duckies.
Sesame Street has garnered wide international appeal through the decades, airing in Kuwait, Turkey and Mexico, among many other nations.