Education Matters: Remind us what's improved

Editor's Note: Numerous instances of plagiarism have been discovered in Dan Kimber’s “Education Matters” column, which ran in the News- Press from September 2003 to September 2011. In those columns where plagiarism has been found, a For the Record specifying the details will be appended to the piece.

I see my brother Dave once a year when he packs up his family from Michigan and returns to his California roots. We invariably spend many an hour reminiscing, much like my father and uncle did sitting in the same patio 50 years ago, dredging up old memories and recalling "how it used to be."

I suppose there is a natural tendency toward the latter half of one's life span to compare the present with the past with the latter generally receiving more favorable ratings. But conversations about "the good old days" very often segue into "What's this world coming to?" and that can get pretty depressing, especially for people who are so stuck in the past that they regularly, and predictably, discount the future.

And so, just for the sake of balance, we tried to come up with a list of things that are better nowadays than they were when we were growing up. It broke down into two categories: things that are unqualifiedly better, and things that come with a mixed blessing.

Heading up the first list was an improvement in L.A. Basin smog. Those of you who have lived here for a while remember the brown air and aching lungs that were very much a part of our lives, especially in the summer.

T.V.'s are better. Reception is clearer, screens are wider, programming is vastly expanded — all for the better. Some might argue that the content has deteriorated, but that's a subject for another day.

Audio and visual technology has taken quantum leaps, delivering both in smaller components and superior reproduction. Likewise with photography, replacing bulky cameras and a costly developing process with home systems and cell phones that capture more moments at a greatly reduced price.

This mini-list obviously only scratches a surface that deserves a little more scratching, and I'll be asking for your input at the end of this piece, so stay with me.

A few other improvements our lives that came up also came with asterisks, or we viewed them as mixed blessings. Like say the Internet. It is an amazing (sometimes questionable) and instant source of information, but I ask myself after 30 years of teaching whether kids are smarter because of their greater and quicker access to all of this information — and my answer is unequivocally, "NO."

In light of the present nationwide emphasis on greater remediation in our public schools, these hot-wired kids of today are no more (and likely less) intelligent than previous generations, at least as we presently measure intelligence.

Women today occupy a greater percentage of the workforce and are more equal to men than ever before and that is purely, unarguably a good thing. But some will assert that it has come at a price. They would point to the traditional nurturer-homemaker role that was primarily filled by women and correlate that to stronger, more intact families in the past.

Our country continues to be the most open and diverse in the world, and that is a source of pride for all Americans. But when the natural flow of immigration becomes a flood — whether in our nation, a particular state or a city — it promotes segregation and insularity rather than diversity. When the word "assimilation" takes on a negative connotation, as it has in some quarters of this country, perhaps it is time to dim that lamp held by a certain statue "beside the golden door."

With our phones we can call anywhere, anytime and for cheaper. Add the Internet to our communication revolution and there's no question — we've never been so interconnected.

But has it really improved our lives? Ask any teacher whether cell phones in the classroom are a good idea. Ask someone injured in a car wreck caused by a cell phone user; ask virtually anyone whether they have grown weary of the inattention of people around them who are absorbed with their hand-held devices.

Medical advances have definitely improved our health and lengthened our life spans, but they have come at a very steep price. Improvements in medical technology have indeed improved our longevity, but often without regard to the quality of lives lengthened. The cost increases, which we can all now attest to, have become unsustainable.

As far as coming up with a list of things that were better in the past, I can rant with the best of them, but as I mentioned earlier, that gets a little tiresome, particularly if it is done to downgrade the present.

So I would ask once again, dear readers, for other examples that might pop into your heads about the way we are, to the betterment of the way we were. Drop me (or the News-Press) a line because I'd like to follow up next week with an expanded list and, possibly a reason for old-timers like my brother and I to celebrate a little more and complain a little less.

DAN KIMBER is a former teacher in the Glendale Unified School District, where he has taught for more than 30 years. He may be reached at

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