Sunday, February 21, 2010

Working Out -- commnetary

The acerbic columnist Malcolm Berko recently ranted about health care and health insurance. He bemoaned the fact that we Americans are “becoming increasingly reluctant to take responsibility for our own actions.”

He pointed out that 74 per cent of health care costs are derived from four things: cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity, all of which are highly preventable. Two things play into this in a big way: nutrition and exercise. My wife insures our healthy eating habits; I am on my own for the exercise.

I have learned some things about exercise over the years. First, regular exercise requires motivation. For many years, having to pass the military annual physical test motivated me. As I got older, I could not wait until 30 days before the test to get in shape. I had to stay in shape.

The bathroom mirror also motivated me. When my image reached the disgust level, it was back to the workout regime. Of course the results were motivational. I remember an ex Marine who ran five miles a day saying he “hated the process but loved the results.” The results are worth the effort.

Age 60 brought forced retirement from the Army National Guard and there went my best motivator. For the next six years I quit working out and joined the ranks of the obese, until an accident, which led to physical therapy, got me back on track. A desire to return to normal and the need to stay healthy, knowing that I have already consumed more than my fair share of medical costs, became the new motivator.

For me to stay with a workout regime, I have to make it as convenient as possible. That means rolling out of bed and going straight to my workout. To do this, I have had many types of home exercise equipment over the years.

The cheapest was a good pair of running shoes. There was a time when I ran six miles a day, six days a week. During this time, I could eat as much as I wanted, whenever I wanted and not gain weight. It came to an end when I damaged a knee. Jogging, though enjoyable, is hard on the joints, especially as you age.

Also, in Alaska running was pretty much a summertime workout; something else was required in the winter. For several years, I had a Concept Two rowing machine, which was supposed to be the closest thing available to competitive rowing. This provided a great workout in that it worked both upper and lower body and the respiratory system. Unfortunately, it took up a lot of space and had to be left behind when moving. For a while, I had a single station weight lifting machine that I liked. It was good for bulking up muscles. Somewhere in this mix there was also a Nordic Track cross-country ski simulator, a Power Rider and a snow shovel.

After coming to Arkansas, bicycling became my primary workout. It is hard to beat bicycling. It is very aerobic, doesn’t jar your skeleton like jogging does and is good ten months out of the year. The furthest I have ridden was 150 miles over two days, from Conway to Russellville and back, for a charity fundraiser. I also rode to Batesville once on a hot, summer day, and rode back the next day. This was my introduction to heat exhaustion.

Sadly, Jonesboro is not a bicycle friendly town and bicyclists take a risk on the public streets. However, there is an active bicycle club working on making it a friendlier place for riders. I also read where a bike trail will be added to the Crowley Ridge Historic Highway. It sounds like a great ride.

Now that I am back in a workout frame of mind, I have purchased a Bowflex home gym and am working on building a Bowflex body. I have also purchased one of those gadgets to turn my bicycle into a stationary, exercise bike for winter use.

Before obtaining this equipment, I had a gym membership for $17 a month, but I had to work out in the evenings and only got in two sessions a week. It costs me $20 a month to pay for the home gym, and now I get in five or six workouts a week. (The spirits of our overworked ancestors must think we’re insane spending money on machines dedicated to making us work.)

So, Mr. Berko, I do take some responsibility for my wellbeing. By so doing, I hope to avoid getting more involved in the high cost of health care than is absolutely necessary. Aside from that, I kind of like the idea of dying healthy rather than surrounded by doctors. I invite my readers to also get involved.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Schol Consolidation -- commentary

The school consolidation dragon is about to swallow up the Weiner School district. However, this victim is not going to be eaten without a scream or two. They discovered a legal loop hole that might allow them to keep their school in operation while saving the Delight School District from also being eaten by the dragon. The districts, though 200 miles apart, intend to consolidate, allowing each to keep their schools open. By consolidating, they will no longer be below the 350 student population which requires consolidation or closing. I hope they make this succeed.

To begin with, a school is the heart and soul of a small town. Over the years, I have not been a great sports fan, but when I started teaching school, I felt compelled to attend the athletic events my students participated in. To my surprise, I discovered a football or basketball game wasn’t so much about the game as it was about the fellowship of the town folk who had come out to cheer on the players.

The high school ball game is where the people of the town exchange gossip, visite with those they haven’t seen for awhile, exchange greetings and comments with their kid’s teachers, and keep up with what goes on at the school. And of course, it is nice if their side wins the game. To take this out of the community devastates it. How do you replace it?

In a small town, the teachers get to know their students’ families. This puts a teacher in a much better position to accurately empathize with her students. Also, a small community acts as a conscience for its citizens. I wanted so badly to steal a car when I was a teenager and go for a joy ride. However, I knew what it would do to the family reputation in our small town. The community served as a restraint, as a part of my conscience. When my son was in a small, neighborhood elementary school, he did all right. Things started going wrong when he had to go to the distant, larger junior high school. But when he then had to go to a huge, and even more distant high school, it was the end of his schooling. And, the anonymity of the situation allowed him to misbehave without our knowledge.

Theologically, I belong to that branch of Christianity that believes man has a fallen nature. Because of that, we must train children to be civil and moral. Unfortunately, not all children get trained adequately. If you have three hundred students, and 10 per cent of them didn’t get trained adequately, you have 30 problem kids. The teachers and administrators all know who those students are and they are able to keep track of them. When you have a school of 3,000 students, you now have 300 hundred such students. It is impossible to keep track of them and they spread their poison.

What is the justification for this seeming need to consolidate our schools? It seems to be that we can offer a much more diverse curriculum: more foreign languages, more music, more art, better laboratories, etc. There was a time when this argument had some legitimacy, but with modern technology and distance learning labs, even a small town like Weiner can provide anything their students desire. This is no longer a valid argument for creating larger schools. Isn’t it ironic that Arkansas insists on closing down smaller schools, while the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is spending millions to create and promote smaller schools?

I was listening to “Booknotes” on C-span recently and Brian Lamb was interviewing Dianne Ravitch, author and education historian. He asked her why she thought educators promoted these huge school campuses. She said it was a way to track students. Tracking students, that is grouping them by ability, became a big taboo in education in the 80s and 90s. It hasn’t produced better education for anyone, and by having a greater selection of electives, the kids will sort themselves out, thus skirting this issue.

In her book, “Left Back, A Century of Battles Over School Reform,” Ravitch says, “Large schools may have worked well enough when adult authority was intact and educators set the tone, but they became dysfunctional when adult authority dissipated in the late 1960s and early 1970s.” (You will hear more of this terrific book in future columns.)

Weiner and Delight will get the news sometime in March as to whether they are going to be allowed to do this most unusual and creative consolidation. I hope they do succeed. They may be skirting the spirit of the law, but they didn’t create the loop hole and they are justified in taking advantage of it.