Tuesday, February 23, 2021


Having worked very hard to put myself through college and then taking out loans to help my wife and children do the same, and then working many years to pay them off, I surely do not want to pay on other people’s loans as well. If Democrats follow through with their promises to “forgive” $1.5 trillion in student debt, I’ll be very pissed — and I won’t be alone.

A WWII vet I knew told me he could work his way through the University of Iowa just by working summers. His summer jobs paid all his tuition, books, and fees just prior to Pearl Harbor — and then he joined the Army Air Corps as an officer. Then he finished graduate school on the GI Bill and finally retired as a Professor of English at Boston University.

I too was able to pay my own way through college by working. My parents couldn’t afford to help me other than letting me live with them through my first year. After that I was on my own. I worked summers and also after school during the year, so it was harder for me than for my WWII friend. While my fellow students lived in frat houses and dorms, did sports and partied, I paid rent for a tenement apartment and worked full-time. Thus I finished undergraduate and graduate school with no debt.

By the time my own children were going to college, it had gotten more expensive. For many years I was writing checks for two daughters and my wife to earn degrees. I told the kids I could pay them what it cost for tuition, books, and fees at a state university in Maine but if they wanted to go somewhere else, they had to make up the difference. I worked three jobs; they all worked too, but it still wasn’t enough. I had to take out loans and so did they. 

For years after they had all finished I was still making payments — my last one about fifteen years ago I think. One daughter still has payments but then she chose to attend college out west. So, why have college costs gone up so much since my WWII friend and I went? Because they could. And why could they? Because government started “helping.” That began with Sputnik in 1957 when our federal government panicked and started lending money to promising STEM students to help Americans catch up to Soviet scientists. That program paid off all around, but subsequent student aid programs are what really drove up costs.

Those programs started in 1965 with the Higher Education Act. Other subsidies too numerous to mention piled on from there. Before government got involved, college tuition had remained fairly stable for decades. Ordinary people could work their way through as I did, but when virtually every student could get federally subsidized loans, colleges could get away with jacking up tuition and fees. In competition with each other to attract students, they added expensive frills unrelated to learning. In the fifty years between 1969 to 2019, the price of a college education in America went up over 3000%! Why? Because it could.

Maine is among the poorest states, usually competing with Alabama or Mississippi for the lowest per capita income in the country, yet the median salary for college president in Maine is almost $300,000 a year. When Senator Elizabeth Warren of neighboring Massachusetts ran for president, she complained about college costs, yet she made over $400,000 for teaching part-time at Harvard. Some claim she taught only one class, but her apologists like those at Politifact say: “[University] salaries are determined principally by research output and associated reputation, rather than the number of students the professor teaches,” and “she taught two classes, not one.”

While numbers for teaching staff have remained fairly stable over the past forty years, the number of university administrators has skyrocketed. So have their salaries — especially “diversity coordinators” who average over $103,000. There were no “diversity coordinators” when I went to college, but they’re everywhere now. The University of Michigan alone has nearly 100 working full time and one has a salary higher than President Biden’s.

With Covid 19 restrictions over the past year, few students actually attend classes, yet tuition charges have not gone down. I suspect salaries haven’t either. Academic rigor, however, has certainly been reduced from its already declining pre-Covid levels. As college costs have increased astronomically during my lifetime, academic standards has declined precipitously. As we pay more and get less, students, their parents, and taxpayers are suspecting college isn’t worth the cost anymore.

With the exception of STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering & Math] programs, and perhaps law school, many conclude that it isn’t. Government should consider eliminating grants and loans to students who want to study anything else — and never even think about forgiving loans already made.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Left & Right February 17, 2021

 New guest Jonna Carter of South Conway, NH sits in the left chair for this show. She describes herself a "left of liberal" but not a "leftist" which she considers radical. She's a writer and the owner of five rescue dogs. Her column appears in the The Conway Daily Sun on Wednesdays.

We discuss many things including division within the Republican Party, what a Trumpist (her word) is, preservation of historical buildings, my use of "pro-abortion" vs her recommendation of "pro-choice" instead.

Monday, February 15, 2021


For several years now I’ve been doing a small, local TV show called “Left & Right” on Conway, New Hampshire’s “Valley Vision.” It evolved from of a previous show called “Taking Sides,” hosted by New Hampshire investment counselor Anthony Cloutier. I was a frequent guest there beginning about eleven years ago and was expected to argue for the conservative side because of views expressed in my newspaper column. Cloutier eventually lost interest however, and I sort of took over, inviting people to argue opposing viewpoints on issues of the day — and the show was renamed.

Sometimes, however, my invited guests are not completely comfortable being called leftists. While a few were, others consider themselves moderate, center-left, or libertarian even though I considered them liberal or leftist based on their writings. Consider also that President Joe Biden emerged from a large pool of leftist Democrat candidates as a moderate, although many pundits are questioning that characterization based on his recent executive orders. So, what exactly does it mean to be on the left in today’s parlance? And what characterizes someone on the right?

One’s position on abortion is probably the over-arching criterion. Leftists today are overwhelmingly pro-abortion while those on the right are usually against it. All the Democrats who ran for president in the past several election cycles were pro-abortion while only a few Republicans were. The second-biggest issue would have to be the role of government. Right-wing conservatives consider government a necessary evil and would agree with a statement by  Henry David Thoreau and John O’Sullivan: “That government is best which governs least.”

The left attempts to solve problems by instituting government programs. The right leaves it to private individuals acting alone or in concert. The left would see more power exercised by the central government in Washington, DC. The right would uphold Constitutional limits on federal government power and, when possible, devolve to states or to the people as the 10th Amendment states. The left believes in universal healthcare funded by the federal government. The right opposes that and believes competition between private health insurance companies would lower costs.

The left pushes income equality. It would raise taxes on the rich and spend on social programs. However, despite trillions spent on social programs beginning with President Johnson’s “War on Poverty” over more than half a century, poverty seems to be winning. The right would reduce taxes, reduce government regulation of business, and balance the federal budget. However, Republican Presidents Reagan, the two Bushes, and Trump preached such principles and were considered “right,” but the size of government and the federal debt both expanded under their administrations.

Regarding education, the left would make public colleges and universities free and abolish existing student loan debt. It’s already changing K-12 public school curricula in Illinois, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and other states to accentuate “social justice” even in English, math and science. Literature by white men is being abolished. LGBT issues are broadly emphasized as well as a “non-binary gender spectrum” with more than two sexes. This week, Illinois is expected to rule outright that teachers must: “embrace and encourage progressive viewpoints and perspectives.” 

In history curricula, white men like Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, and others are de-emphasized or ignored altogether and replaced by “people of color.” The right champions achievements of western civilization in science, math, and literature. It would teach those along with governing principles based on individual liberty and proposed by Founding Fathers like Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton. It stresses civics lessons portraying the US Constitution as the best plan for government ever designed in human history.

Although I saw some of this coming when I was still teaching US History ten years ago, I never would have believed how far and how fast the left has been able to push its agenda in our schools.

Regarding immigration, the left would virtually ignore illegal immigration, end deportations, and stop building a border wall. The right generally opposes illegal immigration and especially welfare for illegal immigrants, although some factions of the Republican Party do not. Aside from them, the right supports a border wall, deportations of illegals, and strictly limiting immigrants from terror-supporting countries like Iran and Syria.

The left favors strict gun control. It would confiscate “assault rifles” without defining exactly what those are. It would limit ammunition sales, the size of gun clips, it would more strictly control concealed carry permits, and institute stringent background checks. The right stresses a literal interpretation of the second clause of the Second Amendment: “…the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

On future shows, I’ll ask my guests if they agree with the above outline of what comprises the left and the right in 2021 America.

Thursday, February 11, 2021


There’s a certain look on students’ faces when they’re learning. Behind that expression their brains are making connections, associations, projections. Their imaginations formulate questions: “If that’s true, then what about…?” And “What would happen if…?” and “Could it be that…?” A good teacher knows the lesson is working by the questions it generates. I wish I could have pulled out a camera and photographed them, but that would have ruined the moment.

I always enjoyed seeing that look when I had a classroom and now I’m seeing it on the faces of my grandchildren. Not, however, when they’re doing “remote learning.” Because of continued overreaction to Covid, they seldom go into classrooms anymore and that’s too bad. Lately when the four belonging to my youngest daughter visit, they bring along their laptops to access their teachers through Zoom at certain designated times. Zoom learning is okay in an emergency but it’s a poor substitute for being in a classroom with a good teacher. I look for the telltale expression as they’re gazing at their screens but I’ve yet to see it.

Another daughter asked me to teach U. S. History to her son this year and I’ve been doing that once a week for months. I’ve thus observed him accessing “remote learning” as well and I’m not encouraged. Public school systems are pretending that all is well but it’s not. While I was still in the public schools ten years ago, I saw steadily declining academic standards and wrote about it many times. That was depressing, but the recent school shutdowns have been disastrous for those standards. My only hope at this point is that teachers’s unions, who have for decades lobbied state and federal agencies to resist teacher accountability for student learning, are being exposed for the selfish, controlling bullies they are as they use their enormous clout to keep schools closed.

When first hearing about Covid, we all agreed to shut down schools along with everything else last winter. More recent evidence, however, indicates that school closures weren’t necessary because the chance of children dying from Covid were and are extremely remote. We didn’t know a year ago but we do now. To continue the school shutdowns, as the teachers’ unions are insisting, is madness. The unions claim they’re still at risk for Covid but there’s little evidence for that. Most studies published so far point in the opposite direction. Anthony Fauci has repeatedly recommended that schools reopen." 

My first exposure to teachers’ unions was in 1979/80 when I left an administrative post and returned to the classroom. I signed a form to allow union dues to be deducted from my paycheck and soon found myself serving as chief negotiator for the local NEA affiliate. It troubled me that all classroom teachers got the same pay regardless of ability or performance. Every teacher was paid under a formula that only considered years served and number of degrees. Performance evaluations had nothing to do with salary. There were more than a few incompetent teachers who were veterans with advanced degrees and they were usually active in the union.

Sometimes intelligent, well-meaning people get teaching contracts but are not able to do the job for various reasons. They could be let go for any reason during their first two years, but after they signed a contract for the third year they could only be fired for “just cause.” That wording seemed okay with me during negotiations until I realized that if a lazy or otherwise incompetent teacher was protected by the union, it would cost the district $250,000 in legal fees to fire him, and that was in the 1980s. It would likely cost several times that now.

Each year, a state union official with a fancy vehicle, a big expense account, and pushy personality would take the negotiating team out for a lavish dinner. He would tell us to demand nothing less than a certain starting salary for beginning teachers, how much to demand in annual increments, and how big a benefit package to insist on — all based on what other teachers in Maine and nationally were getting. When I inquired about merit pay, he looked at me like I had ten heads and strongly advised against it.

Later in the eighties my political views were moving rightward, but I noticed that virtually all my union dues and everyone else’s went to left-wing causes. When I tried to change that I got nowhere. In Maine I could resign from the union but it took a Supreme Court decision before teachers in other states could. In some states, they still pay the union to represent them in negotiations even if they don’t belong, because they aren’t allowed to negotiate on their own.

That was a long time ago, but teachers’ unions have become vastly more powerful since. Just look at who really runs our public schools now as President Biden avoids opposing them on reopening.

Monday, February 01, 2021


When your last parent dies as
mine did six weeks ago, you become, like it or not, part of the elder generation. If you have children and grandchildren, they look to you for wisdom. And what is that? It’s part intelligence, part experience, part humility — the product of living many years, making many mistakes, and learning — a little bit at least — from each one. It’s knowing your flaws. If you feel like you don’t have much wisdom, it’s a sign that you probably do.

Wisdom is quiet. It observes. It listens. It doesn’t speak until asked. It knows that telling people things they’re not ready to hear is counterproductive. That’s why Will Rogers said: “Never miss a good chance to shut up.” With young children, making an occasional observation is okay, as in: “I see this happening,” or “I see you doing that,” but avoid following up with advice unless you’re asked for some.

Even then, it would be best to answer by telling a story. It could be from your own history or part of someone else’s that contains insight. As a teacher I was charged with passing on designated slices of U.S. History to students. With a textbook, any literate person with attentive scholars could, theoretically, do that. Answering perceptive questions, however, requires broader knowledge than the textbook imparts. Offering different perspectives on historical events does too.

Some historical perspective is necessary for wisdom. It may only be of personal and family history with keen observation of a small community lived in during one lifetime. The same patterns can be detected in a small place as can be seen in the wider world over a longer time. No one, not even the most learned historian, knows it all. Will and Ariel Durant, a 20th century husband/wife team of historians wrote “The Story of Civilization” which ran to four million words in eleven volumes. They chronicled up to about the 1930s and had plans to extend the series, but they died.

I’m old enough to remember the buzz around publication of R. Buckminister Fuller’s book “Critical Path” in which he postulated that the sum total of all human knowledge gathered by the year 1 AD took fifteen centuries to double. Then it took only 250 years to double again, and only 50 years to double yet again. Now it takes only one or two years. “Knowledge is power,” said Francis Bacon. If he and Fuller were both right, humans have been getting very powerful very fast, but has there been a commensurate accumulation of wisdom?

Doesn’t seem like it from where I sit. Maybe it’s all around me but I lack sagacity to recognize it. If wisdom has been piling up it’s not disseminating, perhaps because too few people are disposed to take it in. I cannot recall the last time I tried looking up something on the worldwide web and didn’t find information about it. We can access knowledge on the internet, but what kind of alchemy is required to convert it to wisdom?

Some religious traditions indicate that wisdom can be divinely granted. In the Old Testament God told Solomon to ask for anything and he requested wisdom. Impressed, God then granted him other gifts. In the New Testament Book of James it says anyone may ask God for wisdom and get it. Other religions suggest it’s attained through meditation or reincarnation. The Old Testament’s Book of Wisdom, whose author is unknown, uses female pronouns when referring to it. Then he or she portrays wisdom as an amalgam of other virtues, especially humility.

So, when as a wise elder you’re asked a difficult, timeless question by a grandchild, it’s okay to humbly answer by saying: “I don’t know.”