Friday, September 13, 2013

Video Games and Violence

          I was reading an article on earlier today about video games and violence. The author was pretty fair, I thought, simply relaying what studies have shown and the conclusions drawn from such studies by people who study behavior. The studies all point to one thesis: Violent video games make violent people. 

            In all honesty, I completely disagree. Here is the real thesis: Violence makes violent people more violent. Want evidence? OK, how about the guys that get paid to be violent. Most of these “violent” video games are military related. Wouldn’t that mean that people who actually fought in wars would be violent? Yet, oddly enough these ex-military guys are some of the least violent people I have ever met. Oh, there are a few nutjobs, to be sure, but by and large they are decent, well-tempered people. The nutjobs were nutjobs before they ever enlisted.

            How about football? Does that make you violent? They say spousal abuse increases during football season. Does Madden make people more violent?

            It’s easy to see why violent people would be attracted to violent video games. They get to do violence and it’s OK. So why assume the game makes them that way? Wouldn’t an inordinate amount of violent people be playing it? Would people with violent tendencies be more likely to play Halo or chess? So would it be fair to point out that after 10 years of Halo vs 10 years of chess, the Halo players are more violent? Of course they are, they were BEFORE they started playing.

Let’s take this a step further. Does a casino make someone a compulsive gambler? Is that why casinos have more compulsive gamblers in their buildings? Or do compulsive gamblers go to where the gambling is? 

Violent video games are not a bad thing (although I think the wholesale slaughter of people in a Russian airport was way over the top). I have learned a great deal about military jargon, weapons and tactics from playing games like the Call of Duty series. It is so realistic that it offers useful insight into the military world.

And I do appreciate that the violence and language can be toned down quite a bit in some of the games for younger players. While I don’t think the games will make them violent, there needs to be age appropriateness in the subject matter. I don’t want an 8 year old seeing a person’s head explode. He doesn’t need that imagery haunting his dreams. I played Call of Duty:Black Ops 2 when it came out with my young son sitting next to me. I turned the violence and language down. I’m glad I did, even though I missed a few key character deaths. It was worth it to be able to enjoy the game together.

By the way, if you are worried about your kids playing any video games, keep the machine in the same room as you. Don’t put it in a separate room where you can’t monitor the content. Don’t let them play online where the real violent weirdos are.

In the end, you know your kids. If you really think they are becoming more violent when they play, limit how much they play. It’s that easy.

And when are they going to make a Prepper–related video game that doesn’t involve zombies or some such non-sense?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Home on the Range……

            There are a lot of ways to take that title. Am I going to talk about cattle? Travel? Guns? No, I’m going to write about my extreme desire to live on a farm.

            I grew up in a small town with large family farms surrounding us. While many are not so “family” any more, my hometown is still considered by most that live there a “farming community.” Of course, I don’t live there any longer, but I’m a short 15 mile drive away. So, living on a farm should be easy if I really wanted to, right?

            Sadly, there are issues. I don’t want (and couldn’t pay for) 400 acres of prime farm land. I want 5-10 acres of decent farm land and no one sells plots that small in my area. Not to mention (though I will) the cost per acre of halfway decent farm land in my area would be astronomical even if you could buy such small acreage. Also, I live in CA where the taxes and regulations put even large farming operations out of business.

            Of course, there is nothing nailing my feet to the ground in CA except a slightly underwater mortgage (that is getting closer to the surface every day) and family. The wife would absolutely love to move away to another state. The kiddos would get over it when they find out how much easier it is to breathe outside our area. Even some of my extended family has hinted at a “you first” approach. I’m a teacher, so I can move anywhere there are schools and likely find a job.

            So what is stopping me from moving to another state and living my dream? Well, fear, mostly. The last time I did something so drastic I was much younger with a smaller family and no real career. Now, I’m in my 40’s, a wife, 2 kids and a career where I have some potential (arguably). Within a year, my house will be worth more than I owe on it, so I could leave CA with a few dollars in my pocket, but not nearly enough to just start over.

            Don’t get me wrong, I know it is possible. People have done exactly what I would like to do under far worse conditions. But, have you ever noticed how a lot of the homesteaders that blog online were given their land by family? That would an incredible gift as the land is the most expensive part of the process and knowing someone with intimate knowledge of the land is beyond incredible. That will not be happening to me as no one in my family has anything beyond their 8,000 square foot suburban lot.

            So will I ever move to a farm and become more self-sufficient? I don’t know. I do have a plan formulating in my head, but nothing substantial. I will be looking at what types of credentials one needs to teach in other states and the cost of property, water, etc., before I make any more decisions. You never know what the future holds…..

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Preppers and the Public Schools

            I know I might stir up a Hornets nest, but I keep hearing so much from Preppers and “conservative” media about how bad our public schools are. As a public school teacher, I have to respond. Below, I discuss the some of the current hot topics in public education bashing.
“Common Core State Standards”
            The Common Core State Standards are a set of English and Math standards developed by a group of people with input from anyone who would give it. The standards apply to K-12 education and have been formally adopted by most states. The standards were designed to build on student skills each year and require student to think more deeply about fewer concepts. So what is all the fuss about?
            The quick answer is: I don’t know. These are just standards that have always been there, just more concise. Some people have complained about the standards being too universal. Some complain that it teaches our kids to be communists (a laughable conclusion). I have never heard a cogent argument against the specific standards, only railing against individual assignments that have nothing to do with the standards. Assignments are generally made and distributed by teachers. If you think an assignment is offensive, blame the teacher. I will probably be standing right next you complaining myself. But blaming the standards for bad assignments is like blaming the Bible when someone kills an abortionist.
            By the way, Science education recently got our own set of national standards call the Next Generation Science Standards. Oddly, few people are complaining about these standards (except some science teachers).
            In the interest of full disclosure, I don’t think we need ANY national education standards. I believe in local control when it comes to education. If a local school is failing, turning out sub-par students, it should be up to the local community to fix them. If they don’t, they get what they deserve. We don’t need a huge, bloated bureaucracy thousands of miles away telling us what our students need to know.

“Charter Schools Are Better than Public Schools”
            If you have seen “Waiting for Superman,” you have seen some great examples of charter schools. Some of the greatest teaching innovations out there are coming from charter schools. That being said, you are comparing apples and oranges.
            Sometimes I think I would love to teach at a charter school. They are smaller, have more parent involvement, push their students more, have more control of their curriculum, take more field trips, remove poor teachers quickly, and lot of other things. That works really well for them because they are so small.
Public education doesn’t have that luxury. We HAVE to teach EVERY kid. We can’t pick and choose. If a student is falling behind or just doesn’t want to perform at the charter school, they can kick them out. Then what happens? WE get the student in public school. Of course the charter schools tend to look better. They take the better students from the public schools. I don’t begrudge any parent from wanting to place their kid there, but remember it is not necessarily the education that increases performance. It is often the ability to pick and choose who they teach. Their test scores are always going to look better because they don’t have the same range of students. It skews the results. I would put my top 20% against any charter schools top 20% any day.

“Homeschooling is Better than Public School”
            A lot of Preppers homeschool their kiddos for a lot of reasons. Some disagree with curriculum on religious grounds. Some don’t like the “Commie Teachers.” Some are afraid of the other students influence. I understand and sympathize with all of those comments.
The sad fact is that most home school educations are lacking. Unless you are properly trained to teach, formally or informally, you are probably not that effective. Now don’t get butt hurt and start yelling about how great a teacher you are. You may be doing a stand up job and I am not saying every homeschooling parent is bad. I’m saying most are not as good as they could be. Your specific child may flourish under you tutelage, but I have met too many homeschooled students that behind their peers in many ways.
A lot of homeschoolers use prepared curriculum. These resources are good enough, I suppose, but are they as good as having someone with years of training in that subject, and in the art of teaching, teach your kid? Probably not. How about teaching your kid to deal with others? They can deal well with mommy and the brothers and sisters, but what about dealing with “different” students? How well does homeschooling teach the ability to deal with all the jerks they are going to be dealing with the rest of their lives? You can’t shelter them forever.
I don’t want to argue with people about their particular situation because there are so many I can’t possibly address them all. I will absolutely concede that there are times when homeschooling is the better choice. Having a truly horrible school system in your area or a dangerous community environment, for example. But by and large, you may be doing your child a disservice by depriving them of everything a public education entails.

“Public Schools are Failing!”
            Yes, some public schools are horrible. And most of them are in large, urban areas. Chicago and DC come to mind. That doesn’t mean all public schools are failing all their students. Some are not serving specific populations such as English learners, special education, athletes, etc., as well as they could. Generally, students who want an education and are willing to work do well in public schools. Students who have involved parents, not just complaining parents, tend to get a better education.
            We face a lot of challenges in public education. That is not a dismissal of accountability. My students, school and district are one of the highest performing in the state despite having a high percentage of english learners, a high poverty rate, gang problems and a high level of student apathy. We also have dedicated professionals and involved parents which help to overcome a lot of issues.
            Why are some schools truly failing? Personally, I blame the Union mentality. After studying school reform for many years, I see the same problems over and over again. Poor quality teachers and administrators are allowed to remain in their jobs because they are protected by Unions and bad contracts. It’s far easier to reassign an employee than to fire them. Charter schools don’t have that issue. Homeschooling doesn’t either. Dissolve the teachers Unions, get rid of collective bargaining and make teaching a competitive job and you will see students perform like never before. If every Olympian got a gold medal just for showing up, would records still be broken?

            If you have chosen to opt out of public education, I urge you to examine the reasons why. Is YOUR public school system failing? Is it REALLY more dangerous for your child to be at school? Are you worried WHAT the school is teaching? If you look at all the data and decide to homeschool, I can’t really blame you. If your choice to homeschool is based only on things you've HEARD about public education, I urge you to reconsider.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Reluctant Outdoorsman

           There is a reason why I am called the Reluctant Prepper. Prepping requires a lot of time, a lot of money, and a lot of thinking. I don’t have a lot of time. I don’t have a lot of money. I don’t have a whole lot of room left in my brain to allocate to more diverse thinking. So I am reluctant, but doing it anyway.

            To date I have concentrated more on the” stuff” more than the “skills.” My fellow Preppers are always quick to remind me the absolute necessity of learning more primitive skills, things that can be done very simply without modern conveniences. I have some skills and a lot of books that I will study more closely “someday.” Take heart, I recognize this is my big flaw as a Prepper and will take steps to improve my “toolbox” as I can.

            One area I plan to work on is being more “outdoorsy.” Don’t get me wrong, I am not “city folk.” I grew up in a rural farming community and currently reside in a large town that considers itself a rural farming community. We tent-camped a few times a year growing up and still continued that up to a few years ago, when our little sojourns into the state campgrounds became fewer and fewer. At that point, when we did camp, we went to areas that had running water, flush toilets and showers. Now, we haven’t been camping in years and more primitive camping is even further in the past.

           I would like to change this sad state of being. I plan to begin camping again this Spring, working my way from modern convenience tent-camping back to deeper woods, outhouse campsites (eventually). Yes, I could start sleeping under the stars and pooping in a hole now, but let’s try baby steps first. Not only for me, but to preserve my marriage. Mrs. TRP does not poop in holes (at least, not yet.)

           Another skill that I lack completely is hunting. Sure, I can shoot and I can hit moving targets fairly well, but I have never in my life hunted and killed an animal, butchered it, cooked it and ate it. Fishing I can do (although some would disagree), but hunting I have never done. I say I could do it, but I am wholly untested. I have no doubt I could shoot an animal, but butchering it efficiently is another story. So as soon as someone has the patience to teach me, I will start working on my hunting skills, too.

            There is a lot left to learn to be a good Prepper. I have started out pretty well and continue to grow, but it is time to start filling in the gaps. I need to go from theory to practice.


Thursday, February 7, 2013

“World Made by Hand”

            I am always on the lookout for a good survival fiction novel. I read a lot and even listen to books in the car during my commute. In the last year, I have read more books than I can even name. Many are not that good plot-wise. Sure, I can glean some good Prepper info usually, but the stories are not always engaging.
            I downloaded “World Made by Hand” by JH Kunstler as well as its sequel “The Witch of Hebron” to listen to in the car on my commute. I forget who recommended them, but after reading about them a bit I took the plunge. It is set in world after the oil supplies have dwindled and been cut off. There has been a major war in the Middle East as well as some flu epidemics and society has slowed down and returned to a simpler pace. The setting is a small town in Upstate New York. Crime is low and food is available, though not bountiful. People have returned to doing almost everything by hand (or on foot). 

            I don’t want to give the plot away too much, but the jist of it is that all is not serene. There are problems due to a lack of law enforcement and just a general “keep to yourself” attitude. When something major happens, it sort of upends everyone’s life style and they are forced to deal with the world again. Making things even more interesting is the arrival of a group of religious travelers from Virginia who want to set up a new base in town’s high school.

            When I am looking for a good survival fiction book, I am most interested in what skills the book can teach me and how they are applied in the story. The plot should be believable to some extent (zombies, right?) and have a natural flow. It doesn’t have to be a happy ending, but not outright horrible either. 

            The World Made by Hand series is hard to pin down. The plot was hard to follow in places as it jumps around a lot (especially in the second book) but I was drawn into the story quite a bit. While there is some survival strategy involved in their lives, it seems that the people of the small town are beaten down by their circumstances and happy to subsist. They have food because there are farms and fish. People are also growing their own small gardens. They make their own candles. They make their own soap. They make their own alcohol. They make their own anesthetics. Unfortunately, they never say how they make anything, just that somebody made it.

            I have a feeling that the author wasn’t trying to make a typical “survival-manual disguised-as-a-novel” so I can forgive these oversights. However, that doesn’t mean there is nothing for the Prepper to learn. What I got from the book is that cooperation is necessary for there to be society. There needs to be order and there needs to be people to ensure it. You don’t have to know every survival skill imaginable when you are part of a community made up of good people that know them.

            I recommended the World Made by Hand series for the serious readers out there. I can’t say I liked every bit of it, including the many instances of sex described therein, but I liked the series overall and would pick up the next volume when it drops.