Saving Providence Public Students

This fall, students will be returning to Providence schools that have been branded insufficient. Hand-wringing and blame throwing won’t make a difference to the young people. Regardless of the state of the buildings, on the first day of school, every child must be greeted where they are — emotionally and academically. And then their teachers and parents must lead and challenge them to learn and grow. 

Impossible? Let me tell you a parable:

Two people from Providence were enjoying a late summer walk on the beach, when a large wave swept in, soaking them to their knees.

The older one laughed, but the younger cursed the ruin of a pair of expensive sneakers.

The oldster laughed again, saying, “I told you to take off your shoes.” 

But the youngster wasn’t listening.

Scattered across the sand were thousands upon thousands of starfish.

“That’s beautiful,” the younger said. 

“And sad,” said the older. “Starfish need water to breath, and the tide is going out.

The youngster looked thoughtful, bent down, and picked one up. It was hard and bumpy, and wriggled a little. A few steps brought them closer to the water’s edge, and with a flick of the wrist, the starfish flew, like a five-pointed Frisbee, back into the ocean.

The youngster went back, found another, and flung it too out to sea.

“What are you doing?” said the oldster. “You can’t save them all.”

Everywhere they looked, across the beach were starfish, exposed and gasping in the fresh air.

“Perhaps not. But I can save this one. And this one.”

Two more starfish soared and splashed.

The oldster, moved by the youngster’s actions and words, took out a phone and began calling friends who lived nearby. The youngster paused long enough to post an alert on social media. 

Soon, the beach was full of citizens, collecting starfish and returning them to the ocean.

Working together, it didn’t take long, and except for the people (and the seagulls), the beach was clear.

When the last starfish was rescued, a cheer erupted. Some people left to return to their jobs. Others lingered, walking on the sand or swimming in the water.

The youngster was staring into the waves.

“What are you thinking?” asked the older.

“It wasn’t their fault. What would have happened if we hadn’t noticed? If we hadn’t seen them?”

“But we did. And you decided to save one, and then another. You inspired me, and everyone else. With a little effort by all of us, the world has changed.”

They walked together along the beach, while not far off, below the waves, the starfish thrived.


Thoughts on Books and eBooks and “Fall” by Neal Stephenson

I just finished reading “Fall, Dodge in Hell” by Neal Stephenson. Or rather I read the first bit and finished by skimming to the end.

Let me start with a review, and then go on about Book vs. eBook…Dodge in Hell / Fall by Neal Stephenson

I’ve liked Stephenson’s work since “Snow Crash”, and was on the Overdrive waiting list for this one for a while. According to the Big River Swamp Company in print the volume clocks in at 892 pages, though on my Kindle it didn’t seem that long.

There is much delightful about the book. It dances around the overlap between cyber and “meat” space. It plays with the stories of the Bible, the Greek Gods and Dickens’ “Bleak House”. And it’s very well written.

Until the last third or so. By this point, most of the major characters have died in the real world and been reincarnated into the poetic, mythic landscape inside an energy-hungry computer network. They retain no memory of human life. The story follows Genesis for a while and then turns into a bit of a long-winded D&D adventure. The final “Quest” at the end? Well, I got the sense that Stephenson came up with the idea, not really knowing where it was going, and then didn’t go back and re-edit to make the early breadcrumbs better.

The problem with the ending is this: all of the main characters are dead. They’re only bits and bytes in a computer. And the author can do whatever he wishes. Stephenson spends pages (which I skimmed) describing the end of the cyber-universe in great detail. Who cares? Not me.

That said, the beginning of the book — say the first 400 or so pages, is well worth reading.

Book vs. eBook

There is no way that I would have read the entire book if I’d purchased it in print. First off, the thing would have killed me if I’d done what I like to do — read in bed until I doze off.

Second, by masking the length, the reader gets to experience the now of the book very profoundly. Only when it started to drag did I begin to pay attention to the % left. (eBook pages don’t correlate directly to printed pages because they vary based on the size of the font.)

Finally, let’s talk about the cost. The paperback costs $24.49. The hardcover is running $19.31, and the eBook is $14.99. Crazy, right? I got it for “free” because it’s in my library’s virtual system, which gives me permission to read for three weeks. I got a notice about a week ago that it had expired, and my first thought was, “Brilliant! Write a really long book that you can’t finish in 3 weeks and have to purchase to find out the ending.”

But I know a trick. I quickly turned off my wifi Router, then set my Kindle to airplane mode. The book will remain on my device, readable, until I come off airplane mode and the Internet tells the device the book’s expired.

So. The author gets screwed. Amazon gets screwed (which I’m fine with). And I get to finish a book I was enjoying without having to pay the Big River Book Dump any more than I already do.

And I wonder why no one buys books anymore… Sigh.