Posts in Susan’s Musings

A Room with a (Distorted?) View

May 14th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 22 comments

With local libraries closed, my reading has branched in two directions. I am re-reading old favorites from our shelves and browsing available library downloads for fresh selections. Among the latter is E.M. Forster’s 1908 novel, A Room with a View. Written just over a hundred years ago, it may not qualify as a new book by most definitions, but I have neither read it nor seen a movie of it, so it is quite new to me. 

As I tend to read in bed at night, my mind is far from fresh and I sometimes fall asleep in the middle of even the most interesting book. Nonetheless, I was jolted awake by these words at the beginning of chapter 4:

“Why were most big things unladylike?… It was not that ladies were inferior to men; it was that they were different. Their mission was to inspire others to achievement rather than to achieve themselves.”

These words described what young Lucy, the protagonist of the novel, was taught as a budding English lady in Edwardian England. In my experience, a number of people today who are antagonistic to those who choose to be traditional wives, homemakers and mothers think that these “old-fashioned females” share this 19th-century view of a lady’s ‘mission’. 

I found something off-putting about those first and third sentences (I have no problem with men and women being different), but only once I awoke the next morning did I realize what I didn’t like.

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Vaccine Development: Seeking Poets?

April 30th, 2020 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Susan's Musings 28 comments

My husband and I were discussing whether the production of pharmaceuticals and other vital commodities would move back to the United States from China. He brought up an angle that had eluded me.

“We aren’t raising enough people with the education and ability to produce many of these things,” he said. “To make matters worse, not only are we not producing nearly enough design and production engineers, chemists, and people who know how to operate numerically controlled machine tools,  powerful unions have placed almost insurmountable impediments to manufacturing in America and have pushed wages beyond the economically sustainable.  Add to that all the politicians willing to buy votes with unrealistic economic promises and seeking power via unnecessary regulations, and we simply are years from returning to a manufacturing economy. That’s without even mentioning lawyers poised to attack any successful company.

With that in mind, my attention was caught by a newspaper article that was part of a series of how a variety of professionals are working during this pandemic. We have all read so much over the past few years about a renewed focus on STEM— science, technology, engineering and math—exactly those areas in which my husband was declaring our country to be deficient. This particular article featured a science teacher developing remote lessons. Although meant as a laudatory piece, it actually showed how meaningless a STEM label can be. To paraphrase Shakespeare, “A touchy-feely humanities class by any other name would still be a liberal arts class.”

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Time to Outlaw Homeschooling?

April 23rd, 2020 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Susan's Musings 37 comments

Rabbi Simcha Wasserman, an esteemed mentor of my husband’s and a revered teacher of thousands, once gave my husband an unusual blessing. He said, “May God protect you from those who believe they are acting for the sake of Heaven.” His eyes twinkled as he spoke, but there was deep sincerity behind his words.

Those who believe that their motives are entirely pure, selfless and represent the only truth are dangerous indeed. Those who deliberately use the language of morality, selflessness and idealism to bamboozle others are likely even more dangerous.

I do not know Professor Elizabeth Bartholet or whether she believes that she is acting only for the public good, but having read her essay in the Arizona Law Review warning about the potential abuses of homeschooling and recommending judicial action to counter parental authority, I do know that her thinking is dangerous indeed. As the Faculty Director of the Child Advocacy Program at Harvard Law School, she is in a position to do great harm.

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Taking a Back Seat While Others Man the Front Lines

April 2nd, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 27 comments

Some of you may have caught the front-page story in the Wall Street Journal  highlighting how overwhelmed New York City hospitals are. The prime example used to illustrate the dysfunction, disorder and dangerous staff conditions was Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx. That is the hospital at which our daughter first worked.

After graduating from nursing school, Lapinette #5  began her nursing career on the medical/surgical wards. After a few years, she moved to the ICU (intensive care unit). Two years ago, she went back to school to get an advanced doctoral degree as a nurse anesthetist. While her training requires clinical rotations in hospitals around the city along with classroom study, those rotations have been canceled due to COVID-19.

Her nursing license is current, the skills she painstakingly acquired during her years in the ICU are somewhat rusty but, like riding a bicycle, she could probably quickly get up to speed. Mayor de Blasio has written to her as well as to every other non-working nurse and she is getting phone calls from City Hall, pleading with her to go back to work.

Our daughter is hearing firsthand from her former co-workers about exactly what the newspaper article described. There is not enough protective gear to make even a pretense of keeping nurses and doctors safe from exposure to the virus. The physical and emotional toll on the staff is devastating.

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Thinking of You

March 27th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 28 comments

This has been a very strange week, certainly for many of you as well as for me. Somehow, a new normal is evolving. It includes not seeing children, grandchildren and friends in person but meeting them online. It means not going to the supermarket, and exercising via my computer rather than in the class that usually starts my day. It consists of a world that is at one and the same time slower yet more overwhelming. I am physically doing less, but my mind is running in a hundred different paths.

We, probably like you, know of people who are ill, in hospital and sadly, some who have lost their lives. We are living in times that the history books will describe. They will use the word plague, which previously for many of us privileged individuals was associated with the Exodus from Egypt or distant-sounding words like Bubonic or cholera. The financial stress is real and that will have long-reaching physical, psychological, emotional and political implications.

I recognize how fortunate we are to have technology that allows us to go beyond physical isolation. The library building is closed, but I can download books from there as well as other services. I am finding new choices as well as comfort-reading old favorites. Along with re-reading Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazon series (I just finished Pigeon Post), this week, I read Lori Gottlieb’s new book, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. It provided a fascinating look into the world of therapy. I am being incredibly moved by Abby Johnson’s book, Unplanned, and hope I have a chance to discuss it with you.

How are you doing? What is your new normal? What are you reading and how are you coping? We are thinking of and praying for you as we know that you are for us.

Are We In This Together?

March 20th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 13 comments

“We’re all in this together,” is a rather contradictory phrase to use at a time when we are being exhorted to stay apart from each other. Nonetheless, the more widespread that sentiment, the more successfully we will weather this crisis.

I suspect that many of you, like me, vacillate between thinking that we, at community, state and country level, are dealing with this virus too leniently or alternatively in too draconian a fashion. I do not envy those making decisions. Nonetheless, I am concerned at social and governmental factors that belie the idea of one people pulling together in a tough time.

There have always been greedy, power-hungry and selfish people. Communities that could be loving and warm to those who fit in could also be indifferent or hostile to those who didn’t. However, I don’t think I am guilty of over-romanticizing the past in claiming that when doctors, storekeepers, teachers and mayors met the individuals they served in church, at Rotary and on the street, they actually saw them as individual human beings. When times were tough, those who had much helped those who had little. Those who had little helped those who had even less.

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Panic Isn’t Personal

March 12th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 16 comments

Like most of you, I do not know how to assess the actual health threat of the Coronavirus while recognizing that much of the panic, economic and social damage is media and politically driven. Panic hit my town today, with markets overflowing as customers stocked up in preparation either for being quarantined or for shortages. At the same time, friends and families co-ordinated, recognizing that we can share resources. Sharing a laugh—even a nervous one— and scheduling virtual activities for children sent home from closing schools makes it easier to deal with the unexpected.

Yet, today, many individuals around the world have few friends. A singular focus on career leaves little time for establishing families, building community on the local level, or for keeping up with relatives and childhood buddies. A few years back I wrote the following and it is as true or truer today.

What do high tax rates, entitlement programs and a dinner in honor of our nine-year-old grandson have to do with each other? It turns out, quite a lot.

My husband and I were privileged to attend a siyum at our daughter and son-in-law’s house. A siyum marks the conclusion of studying a specific portion of God’s word. (For a deeper understanding of a siyum see chapter 50 in Thought Tools Volume 1.) In this case, our grandson, Yosef, completed his very first section of the Mishnah—a compilation of ancient Jewish wisdom. Learning Mishnah marks a growth in maturity of thought and is a portal to deeper understanding. To mark the event, Yosef’s parents invited his teacher to a celebratory dinner.

What made this event particularly special is that we have known Yosef’s teacher since he was born. We met his parents when, as singles, they began attending my husband’s Torah classes. We rejoiced at their wedding; our families have shared many joyous and some sad times together as the teacher/student relationship evolved into one of close friendship. When our children were looking for a Torah teacher for Yosef, our friends’ oldest child was a natural choice.

When society functions successfully, this is how life works. People get to know, care for and trust each other. They interact in small family units, extended units of family and friends, and larger units like synagogue, church or business networks. When times are good they share Fourth of July barbecues, pick up groceries for each other and exchange recipes and books.  In a time of need, such as illness, losing a job or a natural disaster like a hurricane, they support each other, providing not only physical assistance but also loving comfort.

Inevitably, as government grows bigger, family and friendship ties shrink. The more government expands, the more the private sector must shrink.  The more an impersonal government provides, the less people rely on each other. The less people rely on each other, the more they generally need government support.  As taxes increase to provide more necessities and entitlements it forces more people to work longer hours, leaving them less time for strengthening ties to family and friends. When government is the first resource rather than the last one, forming relationships becomes optional and temporary. “What can you do for me” associations replace the traditional connections that are a vital, necessary part of successful living.

In the final analysis, the government cannot supply love, affection, compassion or charity. It can transfer or redistribute money and services, but not heart. It can label you as needy but not recognize and encourage the sparks of your soul that turn you into a giver rather than a taker.  It can fool you into thinking that you are self-sufficient while stopping you from forming networks of community and recognizing that there is no such thing as self-sufficiency. Current society is increasingly devolving so that people relate more to the government than to each other.  The sad results are poorer and more bitter lives. 

Yosef’s teacher and his wife brought their newborn daughter to the siyum. Since my husband’s late parents were also part of the web of connection with our students and friends, four generations were spiritually present at the celebration. That kind of safety net cannot be equaled no matter how many billions of dollars a government spends.

What’s Your College Admission Scandal?

March 5th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Susan's Musings 19 comments

We have been having stimulating and entertaining conversations in our America’s Real War Master Class. One topic we discussed had to do with the terrible job our generation, in general, has done in passing on the values of gratitude, hard work, faith and patriotism to the next generation. Not only has this left younger people vulnerable to warped ideologies but it has also resulted in many of them feeling depressed, anxious and lonely.

There are many reasons, but I’ve been thinking about one potential culprit in particular. Whether articulated or not, many parents have turned their children’s education into a false god. Many of us may have expressed disdain at the recently exposed college admissions scandal. In the desire to see their children attend “top” universities and/or the school of their choice, parents became embroiled in lying, bribing and other underhanded activities. Yet, since few of us have the monetary resources that would make us susceptible to that scheme, honesty demands that we ask if we have done even slightly similar things on a smaller level.

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Keep the Good, Leave Out God

February 27th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 27 comments

While driving to my exercise class the other day, I was listening to a religiously agnostic podcast host grapple with the challenge of filling the void left behind when taking God and faith out of life’s equation. Recognizing the benefits of community and support that often stem from religious affiliation and acknowledging the increase in isolation, pessimism and depression among today’s youth, he wondered how to achieve all the advantages that faith brings while leaving God and His direction out of the picture. His words reminded me of historian Will Durant’s quandary at realizing that the “advances” he enthusiastically promoted as an atheist might be leading people and society in the wrong direction.

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Despair and Hope

February 20th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 29 comments

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that in attempting to solve a problem we sometimes make things worse. Not only do characters in Jane Austen’s books learn this lesson, but examples abound in personal and public lives. Ronald Reagan told his son that his greatest regret was being the first governor to sign a no-fault divorce law. While his intentions were good, it was a decisive step in devaluing marriage and the traditional family, a move that has harmed men, women, children and the country.

A Wall Street Journal editorial (Feb. 20, 2020) bemoans the difficulty business are having filling blue-collar positions and concludes that we need more legal immigration since a greater percentage of young people are enrolling in college and their participation in the labor force is lessening.  I happened to read that editorial at the time that I am reading Senator Ben Sasse’s book, The Vanishing American Adult. I have just started the book, but I was intrigued by the idea he presents that the increase in mass schooling was a major factor in developing a previously non-existent youth culture in the United States. Mr. Sasse points out that in 1870 fewer than 2 percent of the population were high school graduates while by 1950, that percentage had risen to 75 percent. It is obviously higher today.

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