Is The Nuclear Family Dying?

Does the nuclear family have to die for civilization to prosper?

Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, we revolutionized how we worked, whom we married, and how we raised our children.  We didn’t copy our parents – instead, we reinvented the “nuclear family” as we chased big money, questioned every parenting guru, and became super-moms and super-people. Even before the computer, internet, and virtual meetings, we jet-setted across that nation and took pride in our independence – and success.

This actually goes back to the Industrial Revolution where we automated everything from agriculture to transportation.  Bigger and faster became the motto.  We drove gas guzzlers because petroleum was cheap and abundant.  And we looked down on people who were afraid of technological advances. It was the demise of extended families as their children set off to chase get-rich schemes, and these new nuclear families used their education and resources to bridge the gaps that their families used to fill.

Now the sandwich generation is raising their babies while caring for their elderly parents in a very different world.  It’s not the 80’s when you could buy a house and make a 100% return in less than a year.  Millennials don’t have pensions and probably won’t have social security benefits by the time they retire. So raising children and paying $1,000+ per month for childcare and education without family support is a rude awakening for this new generation of families.  Then paying $6,000 per month for eldercare for each parent, is just about impossible for most Americans. Baby Boomers are retiring and with great medical care, they’re living much longer than their parents.

I’m hearing 20-somethings and 30-somethings talk about bringing back the extended family again.  The conversation usually starts when the real numbers hit them.  All of a sudden, having aunts and uncles, grandparents and even great grandparents nearby makes sense when they need help with child care, transportation, and meal prep.  Family dinners and gathering make a socially healthy environment to raise children and it takes off the tremendous burden of being a supermom who brings home the bacon, cooks it, cleans up, bathes the kids, runs errands, pays the bills and reads stories every night.  Sound familiar?

The nuclear family, like the Industrial Revolution, had its place in society. We kept improving technology and expanding our reach until we over consumed causing climate change, social injustice, and now family dynamics that are neither healthy nor sustainable.  It reminds me of a quote, “Just because we can doesn't mean we should, and just because we should doesn't mean we can.”

It’s time to look at the big picture.  Let’s get back to spending time with loved ones and living a more sustainable lifestyle.

Love To Eat Salmon?

Smoked salmon, or any kind of fresh wild salmon, is my favorite food.  Unlike the farm raised or genetically-engineered salmon that is sold in most grocery stores and fish markets, wild salmon meat is firm – not soggy – and flavorful.  Unfortunately, food scientists continue to mess with nature by genetically engineering a super salmon comprised of Atlantic salmon (farm raised), deep-water ocean eelpout, and Pacific Chinook salmon. 

So what’s wrong with this?

Their goal is to create a super salmon that grows twice as fast so they can reap profits quicker.  But the real problem is that this GE salmon has the potential to mate with endangered salmon species, outcompete the wild salmon for food and habitat, and introduce new diseases.  Beyond these issues, I’m worried about how our bodies will respond to yet another GE food that we consume.

Like all consumer issues today, our government and the FDA have been looking the other way and not considering risk assessments and allowing these practices to continue without proper oversight. 

The good news, however, is that the courts are leveling the playing field and pressing federal agencies to be accountable for omitting facts.  The FDA is now required to provide all relevant documents so the courts can decide whether or not these GE salmon should be raised and sold to people.

Let’s just hope this review is done with the intent of protecting consumers, and not corporate greed.

Is College Just For The Rich?

When I was a college student, anyone could pay for their own college education with a summer job and a Pell Grant (or scholarship).  Back then, Pell Grants covered almost 80% of the tuition.  Today, Pells only cover about 18%. 

Public colleges – you know, the ones funded by your hard earned taxes – were established to provide an equal opportunity for all students who wanted to get a college degree.  Anyone from any background could lift themselves out of poverty and into a successful career by sheer grit and determination. 

I’m worried that the divide between the haves and the have nots is going to create class wars. Socioeconomic status dictates who has more opportunities to advance themselves than race, gender, or religion do. 

When bright and eager students from low-income families don’t apply to colleges because they don’t want to start their lives in debt, that’s a big red flag in my book.  The wealthy students spend 4 years at elite campuses – I remember my father telling me that my college was like a country club! – taking classes, living in dorms, partying every night, and not worrying one bit about paying the $250,000 or more for a bachelor’s degree.

Yes, two years at a community college does reduce your college tuition by 50% but only 35% of low-income students actually transfer to a 4-year college.  When that much-sought-after bachelor’s degree is the surest way for low-income students to break out of poverty, these stats just aren’t fair.  

School Shootings

As an educator, I see school shootings differently than the polarizing NRA vs Mental Health advocates.  I work one-on-one with teens every day.  I hear about their studies, their families, their friends, and their fears.  They’re inundated with information.  Receiving over 100 texts per day, they don’t have the bandwidth to engage in conversations, dig deeper to learn more, or reach out to friends/family who need them.  Our teens are lonely.  Yes, technology interferes with healthy, and much needed, human-to-human interaction.

Today teens have the attention span of a gnat.  Seriously, if you text more than a phrase, they’re not going to read it. They won’t read magazines, newspaper, or books because they want the condensed version – no more than a paragraph-long description.  In my family, we call it the “10-second rule” – if you can’t say it in 10 seconds, don’t bother!  What’s worse, teachers only require students to write short essays, not research papers (that require extensive reading and editing), which will create a new generation of adults without the depth and breadth that we need to lead the world. 

My students tell me that they spend more time alone than they do with friends and family.  Most friends are superficial and convenient, and very few of them have true friends – the ones they can confide in.  But, these same students who are lonely have social media popularity that would make you believe that they have dozens of BFFs, hang out with friends every day, go to all of the parties, and have more fun than anyone. The sad part is that teens bottle up their disappointment in their friends, and in themselves, and don’t have a healthy outlet.

When our media glorifies these murderers (mass shooters) by posting their photos and telling their bios, they humanize the shooters.  Then other teens who share these same frustrations, fears, exile, and bullying, identify with the mass shooters.  Playing violent video games, watching gory TV shows, and even reading news clips normalizes brutal killings.  When teens don’t have real friends to talk to, sadly they won’t have friends to talk them down when they have crazy thoughts and to find other ways to deal with their pain.

Having a smartphone 24/7 is like being enveloped in cyber bubble wrap. They can’t have a conversation because it’s difficult to communicate.  They can text a few words but certainly not sentences. They can ask, “How are you?” but they really don’t have time to read or learn about anything other than “fine.” They scan the social media of choice (Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter) because it’s fast and easy.  Feeling left out – a social loser – they turn to YouTube to watch something to take their minds off of everything.

I don’t understand why anyone would need a gun intended to kill dozens of people in few seconds. Given how short-circuited individual people have become as technology reduces face-to-face interactions, I believe this is just the tip of the iceberg with mass shootings.

Let's reel back technology and let's bring back get-togethers, phone calls, and letter writing. Reach out to others and connect... then maybe we'll see more kids with empathy and less school killings. 


Save Your Seeds!

I remember when my grandmother used to let her beans “go to seed” and dried them in a cool, dry place until the following season.  She had the best vegetables.  Her green beans were sweet and crisp.  Her tomatoes were flavorful. 

Over the past 20 years, I’ve found that the veggies we buy at Safeway and large grocery stores look beautiful but taste bland.  Monsanto has created genetically engineered fruits and vegetables that are bigger, last longer than their organic counterparts, and made rubbery to resist mold.  They have genetically engineering these plants to produce seeds that won’t grow – Yup! – to ensure that they can control all seed sales.

When I first heard this, it reminded me of “FernGully” – you know the animated children’s movie with Robin Williams about big business clear cutting all of the rainforests. But, there is hope.  The Global Seed Network has organized a program uniting seed savers to create an independent and diverse seed supply. 

Check out the Global Seed Network to see how you can share your seeds and get seeds that are favorable to your locale.  

We can beat Monsanto!  Save your seeds! Share your seeds!

Thinking About Getting An MBA? Think Again.

Considering getting an MBA?  Think again.  Many full-time MBA programs are changing the direction of their programs, and MBA grads are giving these programs low rankings. Although the international MBA programs are continuing at major universities, domestic programs are scaling back their executive MBA and MBA markets because of these 3 reasons: (1) employers are reluctant to pay higher salaries; (2) many MBA programs offer online courses; and (3) grad students are losing interest in the MBA programs. Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, and Simmons College have closed their MBA programs and that seems to be a new trend, but full-time MBA programs at the most elite colleges will continue.

Seems that grad students are preferring the master’s programs that can be completed in just 9 months and at about half the cost of an MBA.  These programs are more specialized so students can focus on finance, accounting, international business, management, marketing, economics, or business analytics.

Hmm. Sounds like you might consider avoiding more student debt in lieu of gaining specific business skills for half the cost.  Or, apply your knowledge and skills set where you’re currently working and reap the financial rewards and bonuses.

[Source 1] [Source 2]

If You Missed The May 1st College Decision Deadline, You Still Have Options

While May 1st WAS the deadline for most private and selective public colleges, there are plenty of colleges still recruiting students for Fall 2018.  Only 36% of the thousands of colleges in the US have filled their incoming classes by May 1st.  Yup.  So BREATHE.

There are over 400 colleges that still have spaces for fall undergraduate enrollment according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling.  Check out which colleges have openings using this easy-to-use list:

And, if you don’t like any of these 400 colleges, you can always go to a community college and transfer into your #1 college junior year.  You do have options!

Smartphone Pouch Can Improve Study Habits

I get annoyed when people respond to smartphone texts and calls while I’m talking to them.  Call me old school, but it sends me the message that whatever or whomever is tugging at that person is far more important than me.  It could even be a wrong number – and our conversation was awkwardly disrupted. But when parents pay for their children to work with me and their children still check their phones (even when it’s on vibrate!) during our meetings, I find that downright disrespectful!

If these students are doing this during my meetings, imagine how many times they check their phones in class? While doing homework? Or driving?  I just read an article about the Yondr pouch that eliminates smartphone use that concert venues, courtrooms, and doctor’s offices are using to prevent people from recording activities.  Wouldn’t it be great for teachers to have all students put their phones in these fabric pouches during class to keep the students focused on lectures and discussions? 

Take this a step further and imagine how students could finish homework, study for tests, read with better comprehension and generally improve their learning – and grades – if parents had these pouches at home.


Guidance Counselors: Not Available To The Students Who Need Them Most!

When high school students at public schools in wealthy areas have access to better classes and better college advising than others, we are increasing our divide between the haves and the have nots.  Some public school students have engineering, robotics, speech and debate, over 20 AP courses, and excellent introduction to high-paying careers in STEM, while students from inner city ghettos don’t have basics like AP classes, honors courses, and the breadth of courses that selective colleges require for eligibility to attend.

The average high school counselor works with about 450 students, while counselors in poorer districts can have upwards of 1,000 students. These students from low-income families rely on their school guidance counselors to choose the necessary courses to meet minimum requirements for college but when their counselors are struggling to handle the sheer volume of students, they don’t have time to offer the support the college-bound students need to look at majors/careers, GPA and SAT/ACT averages, and financial aid. 

It seems unfair that students who attend public schools in wealthy areas have smaller counselor/student ratios and better courses offerings than students who attend schools in poverty-stricken areas.  Wouldn’t we want those underserved students to get more help?  After all, wealthy students work with private college advisors and most only meet with their guidance counselors for class schedules.  Hmm.

Video: Tim Niemier's TEDxMeritAcademy Talk

In August, Merit Academy hosted TEDxMeritAcademy at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz.

Tim Niemier was a featured speaker, and his TEDx Talk is embedded below.

How do we stop the flow of plastic pollution into our oceans?

We need healthy oceans, but we can’t give up our plastic. Maybe there’s a way that we can have healthy oceans and still use plastic. If we create value for recycled plastic as a new resource, we can prevent it from harming our life-sustaining oceans. Tim will discuss a clever way of combining great worldwide designs with an inexpensive local recycling process that can stop the flow of plastics into our oceans.

About Tim Niemier: Tim’s goal in life is to put “A billion butts in boats in healthy water.” He is the founder and designer/entrepreneur who introduced the sit-on- top Ocean Kayak to the world. These kayaks revolutionized all paddle sports because it made kayaking water-friendly. Bringing millions of people into the water makes them appreciate the delicate balance of our eco systems. Tim was 100% responsible for all post-consumer waste and pioneered product stewardship in the water-sport industry and other endeavors.  He also continues to lead many environmental organizations with creative and sustainable innovations. Tim enjoys finding solutions to cleaning the ocean using resource management and recycling.