November 4, 2011

Going gently into that good night:

Different from what I thought.
For those whose adjustment has not gone as smoothly as they had wished, here are some notes I took from Jules Willing's book The Reality of Retirement.

It was this or psychoanalysis.

[Some notes, some paraphrased, some in direct quotes. And I didn't take notes on the chapters dealing with married life.]

Ninety percent of retirees (he's only talking about people retiring from professional jobs) have a health crisis the first year.
Retirement means the total loss of authority.
People try to deal with "safe" problems, i.e., those whose outcomes do not really matter. These safe problems disguise the cause of the anxiety. 
We get depressed because we're facing the question whether we were essential in the first place. We have to deal with the fact that what we thought of as our "good works" will be forgotten. We are thus psychologically swirling, and to a large extent unaware. If we are aware of some of it, there's little we believe we can do about it.

Retirement transforms a world where there was an active present, a meaningful past and a pregnant future into a world where there is no present and no future.

At retirement, all of these reactions happen at the same time:
— Recapitulation of a career
— Final judgments on that career
— Subtle devaluing of that career.

Simultaneously, there's the giving up of career goals never attained. Everyone underestimates the trauma of giving up unattained goals. A person facing retirement can scarcely do so except by diminishing their importance.
Upon entering retirement, you're at the very lowest point at which you’re capable of planning a future. You can’t visualize it, the data is too scanty. And you’re feeling loss, self-doubt, and psychic diminishment. Rational and analytical skills are unsuitable for introspective thinking.

The retiree has to invent his own concept of himself. He starts at a familiar point (e.g., golf, etc.), but plans don’t work and he's taken aback. He mistakes fantasy for reality.

He starts to make a big action plan for the future, but it's the worst possible time to create such a plan, because one's ability to think things out efficiently is severely limited at this juncture. We've become a deactivated mechanism, with zero readings for productivity and potential for further achievement, career progress, influence, authority and responsibility.

The entire value system is overthrown. We discard vital parts of our identities—most particularly the parts that have value to ourselves. To accept the fact we’re forever useless is psychologically in a class with suicide and self-mutilation, except these feelings are entirely interior experiences, unobserved by others.

We try to repress and conceal our emotional distress because we consider it be an inappropriate response, a fault or failing in ourselves.

The tools people carved out successful careers with had been judgmental skills, a capacity to be right more of then than wrong, first-hand knowledge of the terrain, memory, history, carefully built network of relationships, a structure of enormous complexity that must be constantly tended, skill of finding optimum line between one’s own career goals and the objectives of the organization. These must all be discarded at retirement.

Very few of us, no matter how long we have lived, know ourselves well enough to be certain that we have any worth aside from what we know and what we do. The idea of abandoning the career skills seems inevitably linked to the idea of self-diminishment. We have no foundation for imagining ourselves to be able to exist as a whole and functioning person outside the social and psychological world in which we made a career.

We ask ourselves: What parts of ourselves can we save and enlarge to fill up the empty spaces? What skills can be adapted to other purposes? What knowledge or experience can be reshaped and redirected? Whatever we can’t use or redirect will be junked.

There's thus a strong tendency to fill the void with almost any sort of goal, however arbitrary or poorly thought, the idea being not so much to achieve it as, by establishing it, to give one an air of purpose and direction. This finds its expression in busy-ness, preoccupation with plans and arrangements, investigation of all sorts of technical questions, and pinning down of details. The impression is of someone accelerating rather than slowing.

Busy-ness seems to be the universal remedy for easing the shock of plunging into the unknown.  When the initial plans don’t work, we tend to describe any plan as “getting it out of my system.” What we really get out of our systems is the myth of retirement as a perpetual holiday.

Retirement as an experience separate from aging is seen only peripherally and sometimes not at all. The dismantling of the social structure (i.e., the workplace) of the career life is far greater than one anticipates.
We are often unaware that we have been on a steady diet of small satisfactions, and we don’t know we’re addicted until the supply stops. 
Retirement does not assure a flow of accomplishment and satisfactions: they can't be provided in the early stages. There's no continuous level of activity that throws off these small sparks of satisfaction. It’s a period of stops and starts, of isolated and one-time problems. No day is ordinary, nothing is routine.
There is no larger structure into which we must fit. Nothing really has to be done now if we want to do it later, and practically no one is affected by whether or not it is done at all. Pressure must be almost entirely self-generated rather than imposed by others or outside events. Thus, we  become aware that some vital fluid has stopped flowing.

It is almost as if we sense that the struggle is essential to survival—and that there must be something to struggle against. The capacity to struggle must be fueled by inner forces when outer forces no longer provoke the adrenaline flow. We are addicts who must get our kick one way or another. The alternative is too awful to contemplate.

What we are struggling against is not placidity, but paralysis, the leveling down to a monotone, the loss of sharp reflex. Our great dread is that the jiggling marker will subside until it draws a straight line, like an electrocardiograph of a lifeless thing.

We feel disoriented and helpless at having to find an answer to the question of what we want to become. Throwback to childhood: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Activity is the operative word at this stage. When work no longer provides it, interests and hobbies are substituted. Early in retirement there’s an unnatural carryover of attitudes: you approach your hobby as you did your work: intensively. Hobby gets the highest priority, the most time, the greatest energy, the extensive investment. At this stage it’s job replacement, not a “leisure activity.”

One part of the universal dream is “the trip.” A trip performs other functions not as clear as a reward, the ultimate vacation. It is a reassurance, a validation of the fact that all is well, that one’s affairs are in order, that one can depart free of care and worry and put anxieties to rest. Corroboration that one is physically fit and active. Verifies you can afford some luxury. It is a safe first step into the unknown new way of life – you go to a place never visited, enjoy it, and return safely. A metaphor of reassurance that one can enter retirement and survive, even enjoy.

Two big differences between other vacations and this one: from this one you don’t come back and pick up where you left off, and retirement is not for an interval, it is for as long as you live. Retirement does not feel like a proper stopping place but more like a permanent interruption.

The retiree has met very few people who complete this process in less than a year or two; settling into new roles takes that long. These years are transition and time for discovery. You become aware of problems not anticipated and feelings never experienced. In a state of self-awareness, busy sorting out what is good from what is not, matching actual experience with prior expectation. You watch yourself critically, somewhat mistrustfully.
How many of the things one “never had time for” remain undone or forever uncompleted in retirement. Part of the revelation is that many of our yearnings are for things we really didn’t want, that we have been nourishing ourselves on spurious notions of what we are capable of — we learn we’ve created our own myths. We may sign up for a course or two, then go onto other things, fool around with a few chess books then lose interest, begin great and little adventures we set store in but find them without nourishment. Part of the adjustment in the early stages is this sampling and discarding of long-held ambitions.

Retirement brings an end to striving. One no longer has to measure up, to achieve, to produce, to deserve whatever is received, to protect and defend whatever one has won.

No one is keeping score anymore; the game is over.

It seems logical that a new game should begin, but this trail of logic will never get to the question “What am I now free for?” this is a question that looks to the future, unlike it’s counterpart, “What am I free from?” which looks at the past. An entirely different equation thus: retirement = freedom = release of formerly employed energy = action in new directions.
While making the abrupt turn into retirement, we have slowed down for the curve and the road ahead has not yet fully come into view. This is the point at which so many of us go off at a tangent and miss the right road altogether. What successfully retired people take most pleasure in is themselves — who they are and what they are becoming.

The act of relinquishing all at once your unattained career goals is an act of profound meaning and cries out for recognition. Without a ceremony of closing and renunciation, retirees have no way to mourn the causes that now become forever unfinished business, to honor the intentions that will never be fulfilled. To turn away from them so casually is to trivialize them and diminish themselves.

For one's children, “home” was the place where parents remained and children departed.
Retired parents don’t know the extent to which the place where the family had lived, or the familiar place where they as parents were, becomes for the children a fixed point, firm ground in a shifting world. It was a place from which they measured psychological distance; it was what they were growing away from, achieving independence of. So, if the retiree changes his home for somewhere new, he has to examine what effect that has on the kids.

Payment. The assumption is the retiree should be happy to do for nothing what he used to be paid to do. What is most resented is being denied the option of foregoing payment. Feeling of being written out of the economy. I must pay for everything, but no one expects to pay me for anything.
The distinction generally made was that retirees approved donating time and energy to causes outside commercial considerations, though these did not use their best skills. They balked at being used by those with self-interest: e.g. a hospital that saw them as a ready pool of free labor and also at using retired volunteers in ways that deprived working people of jobs.

It may come down to this: that in our culture, value is measured in dollars and expressed in price, so the retiree gets the message that his services have no real value. He’s expected to be glad of the opportunity to get the reward of satisfaction instead of money, because the remaining alternative is the veiled threat of not being permitted to participate at all.

We have become a new form of leisure class — a leisure class of moderate means. We have long know the idle rich and the idle poor; what is new is the idle middle class.

Primary characteristics of retirees: they have incomes for which they do not work. They have 10-20 more years of productive life, but no clearly formulated sense of the purpose of these years. They are a generation whose only established relation to the rest of society is to constitute a market for what others produce.

We need more than this to justify our existence. We must consciously try to invent a future, find purposes and goals appropriate to this stage of life and to make it separate and distinct from aging.

Self-evident solution: The person set to retire should develop outside interests and activities, but they must be designed to approximate and embrace similar kinds of tension, high level of difficulty, possibility of failure, etc. that (business) professionals became addicted to, that kick off the conditioned responses in us that keep us feeling alive and worthwhile. These suggest a good general direction: the task must provide a genuine sense of achievement, it is a real-life task, it enables using our authority, and it involves some risk (which gives it the bitter tang of reality that takes it out of the class of things we think of as hobbies and interests).

Most of the books on retirement advocated advance planning.
The remedy would be to find a way to retire gradually or partially.
Negotiate something with your employer.

We should recognize the wisdom of investing both time and money in preparing ourselves for retirement, yet we tend to feel impoverished if we do anything that lessens our income or our capital, and wasteful if we spend any substantial amount of time in getting ready to retire.

Common thread amongst retirees: Calmness. They are invariably active — not in the level of busy-ness, but in the connection, the maintenance of linkage between the self and other selves. Diversity: mix with other generations and other kinds of people.

Personal values will change. The middle class values power over others and our own lives and possessions; acquisition of material comforts and conveniences, wardrobe, kitchen, nice home, car; progress in such forms as upward mobility, promotion; security of social and professional recognition and steadily growing financial reserves. 
In retirement we don't much change them. Security does not increase, the upper limits of upward mobility have already been reached, power does not grow, the time for acquiring turns into a time for disposing of things no longer necessary. We don’t strive for promotions, raises. We will not get much richer or better known. We don’t really need the big house and the things in it. We are no longer in charge of anything except ourselves.

We feel we have finished with all the important things and what remains seems comparatively trivial, not enough to devote our lives to. We need a new list of important things, and the only place we can look for new values is among those what weren’t very high on our first list. And that means making fundamental changes in our reasons for living.

There must be developed a focus in one’s life other than the all-consuming intense focus of successfully earning a living.

Part of the act of retiring is the act of altering, perhaps reversing, the values we have been living by, a slow and difficult process that must begin long before we put our value system to the test of retirement.

I also looked at Tillie Olsen's Silences. She quotes Rebecca Davis:
"Drift with the stream because you cannot live deep enough to find the bottom."

August 25, 2011

Teaching math: That is the question

The following was circulated in the listservs, and I'd like to post it here as well:

Some Observations on Structural and Social Issues in K-12 Mathematics Education

by Arjun Janah

(A) The problem does not lie mainly with the current organization of the mathematics syllabus, but rather with structural & social issues such as:

(1) the pace at which these topics are taught, which leave little room (at least here in New York city) for confidence-building practice and for the kind of applications the authors of this article mention;

(2) the misguided attempt, noble in intention but cruel and disastrous in practice (for both students and their teachers) to try to teach all students at the same pace and to the same level of rigor, whether they are willing, prepared, able or not;

(3) the social problems arising from the cultures that permeate our communities, arising either \"naturally\" from historical and socio-economic causes, or \"artificially\" from the manipulation of youth by the media and its commercial support;

(These social pathologies, intruding into classrooms and homes, destroy focus and make the struggle that is learning impossible to carry on effectively.)

(4) undue obsession with educational methodology, its over-generalization and the imposition of methodological fads and diktats on teachers;

(5) once due, but now, belatedly (greatly exaggerated, undue and injurious) attention to results on standardized examinations.

(B) There is a reason for the abstraction that we find in mathematics. It gives it a generality and concision that is lost when we particularize it.
That said, time and energy are needed to see how the abstractions arise from the particular and concrete and can, in turn, be applied towards solving particular, concrete problems — including those of everyday life. And extended journeys into formal abstraction are best avoided with younger students, especially those in lower grades (typically below the tenth) — and with those who are unable, for a number of reasons, to comprehend these.

(C) As in other K-12 subjects, due attention needs to be restored to traditional educational subject-matter concerns. These include: purpose, choice, motivation, sequence, focus, pace (and time allocation), practice (and habituation), along with, of course, application.
Students need all of these, plus time and effort, to build familiarity and confidence and to deepen and broaden understanding.

(D) There are no substitutes for logical coherence, sequence and structure on the part of the syllabus or for focus and effort on the part of students and their teachers. Given these, the small successes and the understanding and enjoyment follow. And it is these that sustain the focus and effort, in a virtuous circle.

August 17, 2011

Going backwards in America

Thanks to Big Money in the hands of the wrong people.
Oops, my bad. Big Money is ALWAYS in the hands of the wrong people.

Produced by

May 24, 2011

What can Albany be thinking?!

An extraordinary teacher I know wrote this poem after she heard about changing the weight of tests in a teacher evaluations to 40%. I asked her if I could post it so it could weigh as heavily on everyone's heart as it does on mine.

Sad Reality

who will teach them now
the now
where 40percent of
your eval
depends on their evals
no not evals just the data
the numbers
seen as products

so who will teach those who are
slow to trust
slow to process
slow to show
in data form

would I tolerate
the injustice of
being measured by that
instead of what really developed
the trust
the strategies
the motivation
to become
a lifelong learner
but not within 8 months until the
but with another teacher
who got to
open the “jar”
after all your first moves

with you they started
to walk the walk of a student
came as a result
but later later later.

even Ms. Rozin
would have to choose
the gifted,
as is her degree,
to pay to her bills
in the business man’s model for
educating America.

— Muriel Rozin

April 22, 2011

Clearing out some files

I just found an email I wrote to UFT exec Mike Mendel in September of 2009 about being a music teacher.

Clearly nobody at the UFT responsible for negotiating the contract has ever understood the overload: there's way too much disparity between those who teach general-ed-type subjects to a class of 50 students and those who service a mere 34.

Of course, the points I made to Mendel a couple of years ago only apply when you work a full music program, not when your school cuts music and makes you teach out of license most of the day.

Here's what I wrote him:

Sent: Sunday, September 13, 2009 8:35 PM
To: Michael Mendel
Subject: About music overload


I meant to write you earlier, but the overload is enormous.

HS Music teachers can be given 50 kids per class. Of course they all do not show up each and every period, but some things are constant:

1. You have to take attendance on a weekly bubble sheet IN ADDITION to keeping your own attendance records. This usually involves Delaney cards because you can't memorize so many kids (250) without a seating plan.
[editorial comment: you do get to know all the names, sometime in October]

2. If one of these classes is your "homeroom", which requires a daily attendance sheet, that's a third attendance effort.

3. These lists are complicated because they have to be accurate, and you can't do it quickly. Let's say you turn over the Delaney cards to save time. You still have to do the bubbling in your lunch or prep for 250 names per day. And they're not just absent or present. They can be late. They can also be late halfway through the period, which means you have to go back and annotate those too.

4. Talking about differentiation: you get in the same class: grades 9-12, spec. ed (learning disabled plus behaviorally challenged), regular ed, self-contained class members (their IEPs allow them to be mainstreamed for the electives), hearing impaired, and ELLs.

5. Absenteeism is erratic. There is little consistency, so some kids are up to date with the work, and lots and lots of others are missing a day here or there each week.

6. Grading: if you care about your job, you give classwork, and it needs to be graded. Grading so many kids is a nightmare.

7. Report cards are another nightmare, because even if they don't show, they all have to get a grade and a comment. This can only be done on a PC, not a Mac, and many music teachers use Macs at home because it was traditionally the best computer for music and art.

8. When they ask us to CALL HOME for every single person absent, try doing that kind of volume. It's only possible to do this on your lunch hour and in your prep. You should not have to do this kind of work at home or on your own time, but one is forced to under these conditions.

9. Now they're asking for PROGRESS REPORTS: they have to be done on a computer for each and every one of the 250 students, even if they aren't coming to school.

10. This leaves no time whatsoever for lesson planning, collaborating with other teachers, fixing your room, making your music tapes and/or class materials. It all has to be done on your own time -- which is normal for teachers, but so very much more for us.

11. On top of this you get a Circular 6 duty taking up a period.

Please can you to do something about this terrible disparity. A spec. ed teacher or a RR teacher has 14 kids max each period, gen ed has 34, and we have 50 — that's half again the reg ed class. But admin makes no exceptions in the obligations we must fulfill as subject teachers.

Failing a contractual class size change, please can you get someone to say that Music teachers with these numbers should be given NO other circ. 6R duty than to finish up the attendance, calling home, grading, and school marks.

The remarks above are for GENERAL MUSIC and small music classes like Keyboard. They are not for CHORUS, BAND or ORCHESTRA, which are "perfomance" groups and many music teachers want as large a group as they can get for better sound. I was most happy in MS with a performance group of 80 or 90 (though I rehearsed them in groups of 32 or so, as well as some lunchtime kids 3 times a week, then combined them all for concerts).

I brought this up two or three years ago at a DA. RW's response was to see if there could be some "non-contractual relief".
That never happened.

Best regards,

His response: "I'm going to push this."

Good luck, you guys. I threw in the towel a month ago and am on terminal leave.

April 13, 2011


Some are fasting against the Tea Party/Republican budget cuts (video link) — but they shouldn't be saving any dessert for Obama and the Dems who are enabling these corpoholics.