Education Matters: Readers weigh in on the good and the bad

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 asked you last week for examples of things today that are better than they were "back in the day," leaving both periods indefinite, time-wise, and inviting any and all comparisons.

A few who contacted me went back as far as the 1930s, and others recalling subsequent decades remember more basic, work-filled lives and are thankful for modern living to the extent that machines now do most of the drudgery they once did.

Esther writes, "We never had an electric refrigerator. On the farm, as long as grandpa was alive, ice blocks would be cut from the pond and stored with hay in a small stone house which was also used for a smoke house in the fall."

Others harkened back to childhood memories of similar vintage and were fairly unanimous in their appreciation for labor saving devices. Still others were nostalgic and recalled that, along with their drudgery, there was a certain pride in managing tasks that gave them a sense of accomplishment.

Here's just a short list I received from readers who added to my very short list of reasons to be thankful for the way we are compared to the way we were:

Cars: More fuel efficient, less polluting and safer.

Infant/child car seats: Definitely better — no possible argument there.

Kid's toys and video games: This would have come under the category of "mixed blessing" in my book, but Patrick writes, "Gone are the days when a stick and a cardboard box were enough to keep kids entertained for hours in their own imagination. I am amazed at the plethora of exotic and mind-bending toys that kids have to choose from today.

"Today kids (and many adults) sit on the couch at home and partake in virtual, life-like wars with people on the other side of the planet."

Somehow those of us of an earlier generation were satisfied playing with kids on the block or at the park around the corner. Last week, my 3- year-old grandson learned how to navigate YouTube (Pirates is his present passion), and I couldn't help but think that he was entering into a world that would tend to exclude all others around him (like me).

Tom remembers "mom and pop stores instead of 7-Eleven, Bob's Big Boy, hitchhiking, home-made skateboards, water from drinking fountains, staying out till dark without parents fearing for our safety, getting up at 4:30 to deliver the Ledger, swimming at Indian Springs — was life better then? You betcha it was."

A few readers celebrated "No Smoking Areas" that were unheard of in the previous century and that presently reflect a public awareness of a product that shortens the life of the user and threatens the health of others around him.

JoAnne lightly scolds me: "I have read your column over the years and it is quite obvious that you had a nice childhood which is every child's right, but you make the mistake of assuming everyone had the same childhood you did. I think you and your brother were very lucky, or you would not be griping about the small stuff. I certainly don't."

Fair enough, but her examples of "better today than yesterday" are not without controversy. I think she makes a lot of sense. You be the judge.

"Birth control about 1962: A woman finally had a chance over whether or not she wanted children. Roe v. Wade: At last a woman could have a safe, legal abortion. This country is still run by old, mostly impotent white men who will never have to deal with an unwanted pregnancy. Woman have always gotten abortions, legal or not."

"Women in the workforce. Don't believe for a minute, when women had no choice, that most Suzie homemakers were happy."

"Better help for the retarded. We have an 18-year-old Down syndrome grandson and the help he got from birth is night and day from what he would have gotten 20 years before. He is highly functioning, acts better in public than 'normal' kids, and has a job."

"Today people are actually believing children when they talk about being abused. The system is still not perfect, but it is a lot better."

Artine adds a balanced perspective on our improving technology.

"Most of us do not leave home without the cell phone, but because of a few irresponsible individuals who have abused the use of it and caused the death of innocent people, should we stop using it? No. Should we stop using the Internet or e-mail because some people use it for personal gratification? No.

"How else you would you have been able to read this e-mail within minutes (depending how often you check your e-mail) after I click on the 'send' button?

"With all the technical progress, if every individual makes it his or her primary concern of taking advantage of the progress and using it for the good instead of abusing it for his or her individual lifestyle, this world then will be a better place to live."

To change and change for the better are two different things. We can learn from the past without having to relive it and we can adapt to the present without having to accept every new thing that comes along.

As for the future, I'm counting on some "good old days" yet to come.

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 DKimb8@sbcglobal.net.

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