Thursday, October 1, 2009

Cognitive Dissonance In Effective Teaching

I wish I had been more successful applying the cognitive dissonance concept in my science, engineering, and journalism classes while I was teaching in middle school. On those all too rare days, however ,I was blessed and excited with a glimpse of what learning could be. One such experience revolved around what I called the “Paper Structure” problem with the base question - How much weight can be supported by a single sheet of copy paper? I set a few parameters on how the paper was to be hung/supported then using a paper clip and a one pound fishing weight attempted to hook the weight laden paper clip over the sheet of copy paper with a resulting zip and tear with the weight crashing to the floor with a thump. Then I proclaimed that one set of students in the past had supported 8 pounds of weight using only pieces of wooden dowel , short lengths of 18 gage aluminum wire, eight pounds of fishing sinkers, a paper punch, scissor, and that lonely sheet of paper. Off they went for a week of exploration. These middle school kids universally were focused, excited, and self directed for that entire week. They shared, experimented, collaborated, asked questions, and learned to live with and grow from continual ‘failures’. What sparked the activity was ‘cognitive dissonance’. I must add, though, that showmanship as a set up to initiate the process is important in the contrived atmosphere of the classroom. I used, modified and evolved this activity over 5 years and 60 different classes of students. It was universally effective. Incidentally, the idea for this activity came from and Annenberg sponsored project I viewed one day on PBS.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

California State Parks and the State Budget

As a former Park Ranger, now a retired school teacher I can imagine a different approach to 'budgeting' the State Park System. The investment of years of public monies, time, and the realization of what we in California have created in a Park System is the essence of what government is about. We still need to continue to look to the future, planning ahead and refrain from actions that will undermine our achievements, investments, and non-renewable resources that the park protect and make available to our populace. There are some things that government can do that private enterprise can't, and the State Park System is one of those.

The easy way, but likely not close to the optimum, to manage the State Park budget is to simply eliminate tax supported funding. Moth-balling a park creates the potential for very serious problems down the road. Have those problems been considered? You have trained and site familiar staffs that are likely going to disappear. How will you bring the parks back on line? What of PM (preventative maintenance)? How will vandalism be prevented?

Why can't a 'fee-based' system be put in place that truly reflects the cost of operation of the Park System? For at least the short term, fees could be instituted, with the for knowledge that a number of people will be excluded from usage due to the higher fees, but that is certainly better than eliminating the recreation and historical resources for ALL. Along with streamlining management and services in the parks, and the elimination of some services might bring the cost of operation within reach of a fee-based system.

How about ROTATING access dates to parks, with seasonal or scheduled closures and for the short term rotating some staff between parks.

I strongly urge you to seek creative solutions that provide adequate revenue to keep our state parks open and accessible to all Californians.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Not-For-Profit in the Arena of Needs and Single Payer Health Care

Not-For-Profit in the Arena of Needs

Who should profit from a person’s need for medical care or disability maintenance? Should anyone profit? Why should the gross-charge for medical care include a profit above and beyond the actual cost of production-distribution-administration and prorated training, design, and development and be a part of the economic model for the provision of our essential needs? Are food, water, energy, shelter, provisions for health/safety, and transportation essential need? Are these rights or privileges? Is survival of the fittest the our operating paradigm, or is compassion?

Specifically – health, medical, pharmaceutical, and prevention - businesses and services which comprise a 15 percent of our present GDP are essential to each individual’s life. Is the idea of profit for these services exploitive, if not a form of extortion? The brokers and middlemen that are now interjected between the consuming individual and the service provider/product should become unnecessary, with the improved levels of - communication, automation, and education – available today. Could an enlightened, educated, and responsible citizenry be self responsible for maintaining accountability for the efficacy of the administration of these services, and the acceptance of risk? Do we now have a model on the internet, AngiesList, that attempts to accomplish this? Is this not the place for litigation, but instead a place for the ‘free marketplace’ to weed-out, or entrust, where individuals’ actions to purchase and use are the judge and jury? If we and our educational institutions work correctly, we can dramatically improve our own oversight of medical care, and if we are individually conscientious, we can exercise higher levels of preventative medicine as well as preliminary diagnostics and even treatment prescription. If we individually fail to assume responsibility that fault lies individually with us. What defines a non-profit business? Who or what agencies monitor those not-for-profit businesses, define the policies appropriate of non-profits, and enforce those policies? Why would anyone want to establish and run a non-profit business? Could true not-for-profit health care related products and service significantly reduce the cost of health care? Or, on the other hand, are health care and the insurance management/access industries currently mainly operating as not-for-profit, thus making this argument moot? Is this truly and issue of individual responsibility, and if so how do we foster greater individual responsibility?

Another take of the problem of health care costs was developed by the CATO institute in 1994, in which the primary premise is the over-use of medical services because of ‘ease-of-access’ to the system. You can follow the link here to the article Cato Policy Analysis No. 211. In addition, Cato argues that ‘third-party’ payments (government/medicare/medicade, and insurance companies) are paying the bills, enabling the patient, and thus encouraging higher costs. Is it a combination of these observations? Are we trying to provide for the delivery of too much health care? What is too much? Too much for whom?

Last, how do these arguments relate to the other essential needs of food, water, energy, and shelter?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Conditioned to Authority

Someone always knows or understands better! Yes? From the time we are born, through our ‘growing-up-years', then as participating grown adults, most of us may have a sense that for much which goes on in our immediate as well as the greater world, there are others better qualified to make decisions and take responsibility. For reasons that are laudatory, as well as sometimes seemingly practical, the adults around children, acting in what we believe are the children’s best interest, structure and limit the child’s world. “Children are children, you know, and are likely to make mistakes.” We want to protect them, shield them, and direct them in the ‘right direction’. Isn’t it more efficient to experience the right things and be exposed to the right-proven-ideas than to blunder around, explore blind avenues, and waste time not having things work out as planned? We don’t want people or society to ‘fail’. Someone else knows what is best and right for us and is better prepared to make decisions. As adults, do we also then adopt and accept a hierarchy of authority? Do we delegate or abdicate to others, who we perceive as authorities, the decisions and responsibilities that will protect and provide for us? Who has the motivation and self assurance to consider and tackle the uncertainties of our lifetimes, those things that will be “The Black Swans” as described by Nassim Nicholas Taleb? The authorities? Who are they? You? Me? or THEM? . Does this make things run better, or correctly? Correctly for whom, from who’s vantage point, for how long?

As a recently retired middle school teacher, I have experienced during those 40 years what I’m hypothesizing is a large part of the population highly conditioned to accept, desire, and cow to authority, more so as the years have progressed. I will be developing this hypothesis over the next few months through this blog as it relates to all parts of our individual and collectives lives. This will be kind of a debriefing of my world view after the experiences that have shaped me during the past 40 years. Hopefully these writings will raise questions, cause you to reflect and share your understandings from deep within you. I find I typically have more questions than understandings.
I also have biases. I'm sure you will point them out to me/us.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Who Profits Now in the Attendant Home Health Care Industry?

An overlooked area of health care is that supporting the aging population facing normal gerontological deteriorative processes. This is not so much preventative medicine, but supportive care. My wife and I have now directly participated witnessing the deteriorative aging process in 4 immediate relatives, both mothers, and two uncles all in their late 80s and early 90s. We experienced extended hospitalizations with the accompanying disorientation, the vegetative state fostered by most 'convalescent/nursing homes', the extreme cost of in-home 24 hour attendant care, and the hurdles of dealing with administrative paperwork, legalities/liabilities of health care workers transporting selves to acquire groceries and medications, etc. I was shocked to learn of the excessive margins (owners' profits) in the operation of home health care, and home attendant care businesses, where the ratio of owner operating costs to care worker salary 3:1, the care worker earning less than 30% of the charges, and in some cases, many making even less than this. The need for these services to the aged is great now and growing rapidly with a huge amount of exploitation of both the client/patients and the health care workers.

Care is being provided by individual workers with good intent, but with (poor/if no training) in the areas of meal preparation, first aide, basic medical symptom recognition and appropriate action, and psychosocial interactive techniques. Most of the workers are first generation Filipino, or other Pacific Islanders here in California. The wages they receive are substandard and sometimes exploitive, with often no job security.

Some form of subsidized training, needs to be a part of the healthcare mix, as these individuals are living at the subsistence level already. As many of these individuals may work 24/7, some accommodation needs to be provided for training that allows the care worker to attend training without losing their current job assignments. Better yet, a subsidized training program prior to working seems more reasonable with a living wage/stipend provided during the training period, followed with a license/certification. This could be a state or Federal program. In addition, as many of these individual care workers COULD be self contractors, the state could ease the process of running a soul proprietor contracting business by providing the counseling resources to locate liability insurance and complete the necessary forms and procedures to establish the ‘business’, as well as have a central site to advertise services as well as assess those services, much like AngiesList.

Individual care worker contractors would reduce the overhead to nearly “0”, while improving the salary compensation of the worker and reducing the cost to the patient/client. The overhead would be minimized by the municipality, state, or federal agency overseeing this contracting/licensing/certification/training/advertising. Accountability of care workers could fall on 2 sources, family members, or in the event of no available family, a municipal/state/federal caseworker, much like those used for foster care. Family members would also require training on what to observe/assess and how to assist through training once again provided through municipal/state/federal resources. How about if all of this became a part of the K-12 public education curriculum, right from the start? What a novel idea, teaching real life skills in school!

For the instances that large scale business provide for these services, some form of oversight and monitoring of the businesses that provide these workers is needed, as they should surely be NOT FOR PROFIT businesses. If profits are hidden in owner salaries and administration, as I suspect is currently the case, then there needs to be some way of creating a transparency here so that excesses are not being taken.

The need is huge and a profit based industry will not support the need of individual elderly who need these services, and who are mostly on minimal incomes themselves.

What IS Working and What Is NEEDED?

With 90% of the workforce still employed, take a look at the parts of the economy that ARE working. We have electricity flowing to our homes, waste and sewage are removed, water is available, the grocery stores have shelves filled with food, gasoline is there when we need it, the communication grid still allows me to use the internet/phone/tv cable, UPS trucks still are dropping off packages, pharmaceuticals are there if we have the money for their purchase, the courts/lawyers seem to be available and functioning, cash still comes out of our ATMs for those that have cash or credit, doctors/dentists/optometrists and hospitals still seem to be in business, schools are open but are getting more overcrowded though getting by with fewer supplies and support, planes still streak across the sky, and the freeways and roadways are still bumper to bumper at commute time. What does this tell us about what is necessary in the economy? To what extent are these components in danger? How can we insure the continued availability of these structures to support our society. If not the focus of those who are setting policy, what is THEIR FOCUS? As people become unemployed, to what jobs in the economy are they to be re-directed? How do we open up the job market to the employable? How do we provide living wages for those who will work? How do provide for the potential improvement of jobs for the ‘under-employed’? Are we each individually going to have to move-over a bit to make room and maybe SHARE part of our employment job market?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Needs and Wants and Needs Not Met

Needs and Wants and Needs Not Met

We are trying to live in an economy of wants. We've been living in ignorant bliss, nourished by whom? Natural law dictates that we can only live in an economy based on meeting needs, if that economy is to be maintained and stable. Aside from the obvious needs of - food, water, and shelter – what are our other needs? Acceptance, approval, being valued, being wanted, being recognized, learning and appreciating, safety, security, and the elimination of risk and fear constitute a social/psychological need! These last needs are non-material.
Our present economy of wants capitalizes on our social/psychological needs, and in a virtual way attempts to meet or replace these needs with something that can be commoditized and sold, ‘wanted’. Social/psychological needs take individual work, risk, and sometimes perceived sacrifice to achieve. Work, risk, and sacrifice we often set as virtues, but do we also get another set of signals to avoid, if not abhor these when we view them through a pragmatic lens? If shown something that appears to satisfy one of these needs, are we easily persuaded to purchase it, ‘want it’ to soon find it really doesn’t satisfy the real underlying need and we continue to search, find, want, and buy. Is this the basis for our consumption based economy which necessitates ever increasing levels of consumption? Is the real satisfaction of the underlying needs not being found, and the need to consume continues.
Why the need for ever increasing levels of consumption? We can produce what we need today with many fewer hours of human work. Do we then invent jobs to employee those who are not needed to provide for real needs. As we live in a closed system, this can not go on indefinitely. One solution may be to put more people to work for fewer hours producing the products and services that meet real needs. The social/psychological needs presently perceived as wants, may be then realized in the time individuals are not working at paying jobs, but instead interacting socially with others. What changes might evolve in the interrelationships of people over several generations if time was available and spent to meet our social/psychological needs, rather than earning money?
Who are the beneficiaries of ever increasing levels of consumption? We are being encouraged to help our economy grow. How far can an economy grow, forever? What if the paradigm was for a stabile, balanced economy? I’ve not yet heard politicians, or anyone in finance or positions of power suggest that a stable balanced economy is to be desired. Why? For that matter, I’ve not heard anything in the media about the significance of population and technological capacity as it relates to the marketplace or economies.