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The Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and Holidays in General.

Here's a link to Stephen Colbert's web site. You will see a video of a song from his Christmas special called "Another Christmas Song."

Easter Sunday is the most important date in the Christian calendar. It celebrates the resurrection of Jesus, the central event in Christian theology. What I have always found fascinating, however, is the fact that the United States, like many other societies I imagine, devotes much more attention, energy, and money to Christmas than to Easter. This is in spite of the fact that only two gospels bother to give any details about Jesus’ birth, and the New Testament epistles never mention it at all. The resurrection, however, is central to all four gospels, and the apostle Paul and other New Testament writers discuss it repeatedly. Is the story of a baby’s birth more appealing and comfortable than a story of execution and resurrection? I am not enough of a historian, psychologist, or theologian to say for sure.

The modern American celebrations of the two holidays, however, definitely have some things in common. Both holidays involve gift giving to good (and arguably bad) children, and they usually require a certain amount of candy. Candy seems to be a common staple in American holidays: Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving (if you count pie). The sugar industry is making a killing.  Other major American holidays, however, are mainly an excuse to have a barbecue, blow things up, or go to a special three-day sale. Christmas, of course, has got it all (except the fireworks). It has the candy, one or two (or three) months of special sales, parties where people gorge themselves, and the opportunity to get the coolest gifts: toys, clothes, electronics, etc. On Easter, all you get are baskets, eggs, chocolates, jelly beans, and that plastic fake grass. It’s not bad when you are a kid, but it sure the heck isn’t Christmas.

For many kids, however, the dominant characters associated with these holidays are two mythical gift-givers: Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Now for Christmas, there is some historical and theological basis for the fat, bearded, saintly gift-giver in the red suit. In Matthew’s version of the Christmas story, three wise men show up bearing gifts of precious metals, oils, and perfume. (Today, they would have picked these up at “Nordstrom’s.” If they were cheap, they might choose “Sears.”) More generally, Jesus himself represents the gift of a savior for all humankind.

It’s harder, however, to find a theological or historical basis for the Easter Bunny. So I decided to do a rare thing for this blog: conduct some research. I turned to trusty “Google,” and punched in “History of Easter Bunny Eggs.” Many sites came up, with not all of them agreeing on the details. From what I can gather, however, both rabbits and eggs are ancient symbols of fertility. Rabbits, after all, “breed like rabbits,” and eggs, of course, give birth to new life. There is some degree of evidence indicating that rituals involving eggs were performed in pre-Christian times to coincide with the rebirth of life at the beginning of spring. Christian missionaries, as they often did, probably adopted – some would say co-opted – these traditions into the springtime celebration of the resurrection. (Even the term “Easter” seems to have pagan origins.) Evidence for bunnies appears a bit later. The first written reference to an Easter hare appeared in seventeenth century Germany. By the eighteenth century, German immigrants to the American colonies were telling their kids stories about an Easter rabbit distributing eggs to good little kids. Kids at this time were making little baskets in which the Easter bunny could place their gifts. Then, most importantly for children today, sweets in the shape of eggs and bunnies began to appear by the nineteenth century. Eggs, after all, are not the most exciting “treat” in the world for a child. (When was the last time that you saw a kid eating his or her hard-boiled, decorated egg?) But you can’t go wrong with sugar.

I don’t think that my kids have ever asked me why a rabbit – or as they get older, a strange adult – sticks candy and plastic eggs in a basket for them on something called Easter. They are just happy to get any candy that a small furry animal or large human is willing to hand them. Of course, I doubt that many adults look into the origins of the annual rituals that we call holidays. Some complain that Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and other commercialized symbols and practices can snuff out the historical or sacred traditions that formed the basis for the holidays in the first place. We must remember, however, that holidays always take on a life of their own, and they are a reflection of the cultures in which they are celebrated. In some cases, holidays in ancient times were co-opted by the Christian church and given new meaning. This eventually caused many to lose sight of the original pagan symbolism associated with practices like decorating eggs or putting up Christmas trees.

The same type of thing may be occurring today. The American religion of commercialism is often able to snuff out the original meaning of the symbols that make up our holiday traditions and stories. Halloween is more about candy than confronting death as winter draws near. Thanksgiving is apparently about thanking God for turkey, football, and large balloons floating in New York City. Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to buy off your significant other with candy (of course) and flowers. Is this a bad thing? I would argue that it is the inevitable result of living in a society where commercialism and materialism have largely replaced the sacred and symbolic. Still, I love most of these holidays. They have become an integral part of the annual cycle that makes up my life, and I, like everyone else, can give these holidays whatever meaning I choose. Plus, I sometimes get some cool stuff (especially on Christmas).

How Should I Spend My Precious Time?

Here's a video of Jackson Browne singing the title track from one of my favorite albums. It's about the struggle to balance dreams with reality.

Starting a new post may not be a wise move right now. As I will discuss shortly, I have never been a person who responds well to excessive stimulation and busyness, and the last few days have been “overstimulating” to say the least. (My wife’s father died a few days ago. When I'm ready, I will probably discuss this more in the future.) However, I have found in my short experience blogging that it is generally a good idea to write about whatever is currently on the forefront of my mind. So as I sit here feeling overwhelmed, I am going to write about the feeling of being overwhelmed.

Like many kids in our culture, I spent a lot of my youth feeling bored. Today, it is hard for me to relate to that kid who I apparently used to be. I sometimes wish that I could go back in time and get back some of those lost hours when I was sitting on my ass feeling sorry for myself. At the same time, I envy that kid somewhat, and I wish that I could tell my childhood self to enjoy those precious hours when there was nothing that apparently had to get done. Now, there are so many things that I either want or need to do that I seldom have the luxury to get bored.

Boredom somewhat ended for me when I entered college. Unlike high school, I actually had to study to do well in my classes. And when I was not studying, there were often lots of people around to keep me entertained, and I was developing plenty of new interests to fill up any remaining time. Still, I was single and sometimes lonely, so I was able to find opportunities to wallow in boredom. When college finally ended, I was consumed by my struggle to survive my first year of teaching. At the same time, however, I was in the process of getting engaged and then married (just a week after the school year ended.)  This went a long way toward solving the loneliness and occasional boredom problem. Now, however, I had a new problem. For the first time in my life, I no longer had exclusive control of my time. Marriage has undeniable benefits, which is why it remains so popular. Like everything else in life, however, marriage also has opportunity costs. To gain companionship, a certain amount of personal freedom must be surrendered (which helps to explain the popularity of divorce).

Still, I had enormous amounts of “free time” during my first seven years of marriage. I just didn’t know it yet. Sure, I was busy with work and the mundane activities of day-to-day life. Sometimes, like all married men I imagine, I felt that my wife was placing unreasonable “demands” on my time. But when my wife and I were not at work or busy doing other chores, we could basically do what we wanted. We could go out on a moment’s notice, play games, watch TV, have uninterrupted conversations, or engage in other forms of recreation (in various locations) that relative newlyweds have been known to perform. Eventually, however, we made a fateful decision related to the aforementioned “recreational activities”: children. Parenting, I have found, is an amazing, unique, and highly recommended part of the human experience. It can also, however, occasionally drive you nuts. And when you hear parents complain from time to time, there is often an overriding theme: parents, particularly of very young children, lose complete control of their time. You suddenly recognize the value of all of the little things that you completely took for granted before.

For me, the hardest thing about being a parent is not directly related to parenting. My struggle has been figuring out how to get anything else done while I am parenting. And to make matters worse, the older I have gotten, the more interests I have seemed to develop. Here is a short, general list of things that I would like to do with my time: hang out with family, see close friends, read History, read current events, listen to NPR podcasts, tweak my lesson plans, play racquetball at least twice a week, swim three times a week, download music, listen to music, play strategy games, watch movies related to history, write blog posts, promote my blog, read other blogs, . . . I better stop now. I’m stressing myself out. And I haven’t even made a detailed list of the various things related to parenting, work, and household chores that need to get done on a day-to-day basis. I am blessed by having a job with irregular hours that provides me with a lot of free time. Still, I never seem to be able to satisfactorily fulfill my to-do list. Sometimes, I wish that I had a job that kept me busier. At least then I would not even bother to try and do some of the things on my previously mentioned list. I could just stay locked in to survival mode.

One of the first posts that I wrote for this blog was called “What is Greatness, and Can I Ever Hope to Achieve It?” Looking back, I realize that this was largely about my struggle with time management. Right now, I feel that I am a good parent (most of the time), husband (occasionally), History teacher, racquetball player, music collector, strategy game player, and now, blogger. This is in spite of the fact that none of these activities ever gets my undivided attention for any significant length of time. To try and be great at one or two of these things, will I have to give up being good at some others? Are the “great ones” people who sacrifice other aspects of their lives in the name of achievement? And if I come to realize that certain things need to be sacrificed in order to achieve greater success, then what specifically do I need to either neglect or throw out entirely? The economists are right. Life is largely about opportunity costs.

Blogging is my newest activity. I am thoroughly enjoying the creative process, and I occasionally daydream about turning writing into some sort of a second career. But is this worth the time and sacrifice that may be required, especially since it seems like an impractical dream? Are there other things I enjoy that I am willing to give up? One thing is for sure. I just spent some time writing about my lack of time instead of writing actual content. I guess that we could call this “metablogging” or just plain venting. So if you have indulged me this far, rest assured that I will go back to actual content in my next post. Hopefully, there was something in here that readers – especially fellow bloggers, husbands, and teachers – can relate to. Any time management advice would also be appreciated.

"Those that Can't Do, Teach"??

I should have put this video in my last post instead of "Teach your Children," which goes well with this post. It's an amazing band of kids called "The Homemade Jamz Blues Band." A link to the album can be found on my Music Recommendations list on the right.

“Those who can’t do, teach.” Statements like this have annoyed teachers (like me) for generations. It is based on some flawed but understandable assumptions. For many people, teaching is not a distinct activity that requires the mastery of certain skills and techniques. Teachers just talk about stuff, give out assignments, and show some videos. Since anyone can do these things, the teaching “profession” is supposedly filled with people of mediocre talent and skill who are apparently unable to do something more tangible.

So where does this perception come from? To a certain degree, it is the nature of the profession. It is difficult, after all, to accurately measure the performance of a teacher. This is not the case with many other occupations. If a civil engineer, mechanic, or stockbroker does his or her job poorly, it can result in crumbling bridges, dysfunctional automobiles, and heavy losses for investors. If a teacher does a lousy job, students still might receive a passing grade. It is difficult to measure the academic “damage” that has been done by the teacher’s poor performance. So when people say that anyone can teach, what they are really saying is that anyone can teach badly.

One of the central issues debated in education today is the question of teacher accountability. President Obama and his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, have both expressed support for the idea of tying teacher evaluations to student performance. This would be a first step toward measures that could give school districts more power to get rid of teachers who are not performing. Teacher’s Unions, concerned about the job security of their members, have expressed hostility to this idea. To a certain degree, I can understand their complaints. If teachers are judged by their students’ standardized test scores, there will be pressure to train students to be skilled standardized test takers. Are high test scores necessarily evidence that effective teaching and real learning has occurred? Also, student test scores are somewhat out of the teacher’s control. Should a teacher be penalized for having a “bad crop of kids”? On the other hand, resistance to teacher accountability standards can further weaken the profession. If teachers want the respect (and higher pay) that they feel they deserve, they need to be held to some type of a measurable standard. Guaranteed job security can promote mediocrity, and it gives credence to the phrase “those who can’t do, teach.”

The perception that teaching is easy is also the result of a teacher’s unique work schedule. After all, teachers only work for about eight months of the year, and the school day typically ends at about 3:00. This creates the impression that people take these “easy,” low-paying jobs rather than doing some “real work.” Community College teachers like myself seem to have it particularly easy. If a college professor teaches about five or six classes per semester, then he or she is working about 20 hours per week. Plus, we still get all of that vacation time, we don’t have to worry about decorating classrooms, and we don’t have to stress out over discipline problems. This job is cake!

 There are a couple of problems with this perception that teaching at any level is easy. A teacher’s workload cannot simply be measured by the hours spent in front of a classroom. The time spent grading papers, creating productive activities, increasing one’s knowledge of the course material, and interacting with students and/or parents after class hours is not included in simplistic calculations of a teacher’s work hours. Also, during those official class hours, a teacher must always be in performance mode. We can rarely relax (as people on 9-5 schedules may have opportunities to do.) Yes, there are times where we can pop on a video or hand out an assignment, although even these activities require a certain amount of monitoring. Most of the time, however, is spent communicating with students either through lectures, the facilitation of activities, or one-on-one instruction. Anyone who has ever done these things for an extended length of time knows how exhausting it can be. I generally love performing in front of a class, but there are days when I am just not feeling it. I do not have the option, however, of mailing it in for an hour or two (or three). I need to kick myself in the butt and find the energy and enthusiasm to keep students interested and awake. If students pick up on any lack of energy on my part, it will not be a productive day.

Teaching well requires skill, energy, passion, and a certain amount of intuitive talent. Of course, if someone without these qualities slacks off and just hands out worksheets and shows movies, then the job is a piece of cake. Of course, it’s also true that any job is easy to do poorly.

A "Shark Tale" about a Teacher's Potential Influence

Click here to see a "YouTube" video of Crosby, Stills and Nash singing "Teach Your Children." Link to Song at Amazon

I have been writing some long, “heavy,” and in some cases potentially controversial blog posts lately on topics such as gay marriage, abortion, disasters, death, and most importantly, Tiger Woods. Because my brain is tired, things have been stressful due to my father-in-law’s health problems, and my teaching schedule is about to get busier, I may be keeping things a bit shorter – if I can control myself – and lighter for a while.

So for this post, I want to do a little bragging about my older daughter. Her school had a little science fair a couple of weeks ago, and because we are not (one of those sets of) parents who take over projects in order to show off our kids, we gave her free reign on her topic choice. She loves sharks – she has probably watched “10 Deadliest Sharks” on TV ten times – so she chose them for her subject.  Unfortunately, we did not have any sharks on hand on which to conduct an experiment. But in spite of our shark shortage, she managed to come up with some cool ideas. First, she glued some shark pictures that she found online on a couple of big pieces of poster board, and then she came up with some little captions, which were sometimes pretty funny, to write under each picture. She also made a little undersea diorama and decorated the table with shells and plastic fish.

The display, however, was not the coolest part. She also decided to conduct a survey of the two third grade classes at her school in order to test two hypotheses. First, she theorized that girls would be more afraid of sharks than boys. Apparently, she has already figured out some behavioral differences between genders in our culture. (I am tempted now to ramble for a while about the nature versus nurture debate, but I am supposed to be on brain rest.) Second, she hypothesized that her class would be more afraid of sharks than the other third grade class. So what was the basis of this second theory? It turns out that her teacher at times has shared with the class her intense fear of sharks. My daughter wondered if this fear might rub off on the students.

Sure enough, when students in both classes filled out their four-question multiple choice surveys, both hypotheses proved to be true! Now a pollster or sociologist would have a field day pointing out flaws in our study. The sample size was too small. We did not control for enough other factors that could explain the differences. The questions may not have been specific or plentiful enough. Of course, if someone had made these complaints at the science fair, I would have told him or her to get a life. It’s third grade, for God’s sake! Whatever the case, my daughter deserves some praise. Predictive thinking on this level must be ranked highly on that “Bloom’s Taxonomy” thing that I was supposed to memorize all of those years ago. How many eight-year-olds could even think of a study like this?  It’s hard to say. Maybe many of them could if we parents just gave them the chance. They are probably smarter than we sometimes think. Of course, it’s also possible that this is a case of a child inheriting her dad’s genius.

All of the students who participated earned some type of a ribbon for their project. (It’s not like the good old days when a few kids won something and the rest of us were losers.) She earned an award for uniqueness, which I found very appropriate. I saw some cool projects that night, but no one else conducted a survey. Her project also reminded me of a simple idea that is often easy to forget. Teachers, especially at the grammar school level, can impact students in all sorts of subtle ways. In many cases, their thoughts and attitudes on subjects that have nothing to do with the curriculum may have the greatest impact. As a college teacher, I can also impact students, but a grammar school teacher is dealing with kids whose basic worldview is still being shaped. Many of my college level students have core beliefs, values, and emotions that I will never impact.

Did my daughter’s teacher really help shape her students’ views of sharks? Did she further contribute to shark discrimination, continuing the bad rap these creatures have gotten ever since Spielberg’s “Jaws” came out? This would probably require further study. But I can guarantee you that every day, young students are picking up on a teacher’s beliefs, values, and emotions, and some of these can have a much greater impact on young minds than the promotion of “sharkism.”

The Appeal of Simplistic Ideas

Click here for a song called "Yellow Brick Road" by Kris Delmhorst.(It will take you to, where you can click on the play button at the top left.) A link to the album is on my recommended music list on the right.

The human brain does not handle uncertainty and helplessness very well. We all need to develop an ideological framework to make some sense of the world and to give us some course of action. You see this in particular with beliefs about politics and religion, the two areas that deal with the most fundamental questions. Because we want clear answers, there is a tendency to gravitate toward simplistic beliefs. Some of us want simple, straightforward answers about the afterlife, proper ethical behavior, and the spiritual activities that will bring blessings and aid from on high. If someone then points out problems with our religious beliefs, the tendency is to tune that person out or to convince ourselves that it all just comes down to faith anyway (which of course it ultimately does).

In politics, some of us might convince ourselves that if our political party gains power, then the world will be a significantly better place. Once Obama (or Bush) is gone, everything will be different. Some throughout history have not been content with simply displacing leaders. Instead, they believed that society needed a revolution. Then, once communism, fascism, anarchism, theocracy, capitalism, democracy, or any other kind of system is implemented, society’s problems will be solved.  Of course, history has repeatedly demonstrated that revolutions tend to not be particularly revolutionary. For some reason, the problems that preceded the change of government did not miraculously disappear when the revolution succeeded. The same has proven true when a political party is swept aside in a democratic election. As Democrats are learning now and Republicans learned previously, it is easier to be the party out of power blaming everything on the opponent than it is to be held responsible for governing. These simple truths, however, do not stop some of us from latching on to an ideology or political faction and convincing ourselves that those who oppose us are completely wrong and maybe even evil. The need for a belief system based on logic and evidence, I guess, is not the highest priority for us humans.

The problem with recognizing complexity and not accepting simple answers is that you can end up feeling paralyzed. Because you are not sure of what to do, the tendency could be to do very little. This is why simplistic answers generally win out over ideas that recognize complexity and uncertainty. An extreme and particularly evil example of humanity’s attraction to simple ideas would be the Nazi movement. As evil and twisted as Hitler was, you cannot deny that he provided his followers with clear answers. To improve Germany’s situation, the government needed to invest in public works and the military, take revenge on those who defeated and humiliated Germany in World War I, and exploit or eradicate “inferior” races and peoples. The Nazis definitely had a simple, clear program, and his followers did not feel paralyzed by indecision. They were empowered by knowing what tangible actions needed to be taken.

At the moment, we don’t have a lot of Nazis in the United States. (I have heard, however, that white supremacist groups have revived as a result, to a large degree, of President Obama’s election). In recent years, however, we have often demonstrated this natural human tendency toward extreme partisanship and simplistic responses to complex issues. Two of the most complicated and hotly debated issues of our time are health care reform and climate change. As I have struggled to wrap my brain around these issues, I am amazed and frustrated by the ability of some people to so easily and happily accept a simplistic argument or point of view. Those who oppose health care reform often say that they don’t want “socialized medicine,” health care benefits going to illegal immigrants, or grandma being sentenced to die by a so-called “death panel.” Some supporters of health care reform might say that they simply want health care for all without bothering with the details of how to carry this out. How many of the people who have strong opinions about this issue can make specific references to the actual plan being proposed? In a recent “Newsweek” report (March 1, 2010, pg. 29) a poll was taken in which only 37% of those surveyed said that they supported Obama’s health care plan. But in the same poll, people were asked about specific measures in the plan without being told that they were Obama’s proposals. On these questions, between 73-81% of those surveyed said that they supported these specific measures. So they largely support the measures in the plan but oppose the plan itself. Apparently, knowing very little about the details of the plan has not stopped many from having a general opinion about it. A strong opinion, after all, gives someone a sense that there is something important he or she can do. But where are these opinions coming from?

A week or two ago, I heard a report on “NPR” about people’s opinions on climate change. The basic thesis was that opinions on this issue had little or nothing to do with scientific evidence. Instead, you could easily predict someone’s view on climate change by asking questions about their general political ideology. If a person distrusted government regulation and saw economic development as a high priority, he or she would believe that global warming was a myth. A person who distrusted corporations and was more favorable toward government regulation would believe that global warming was for real. People’s opinions on this scientific question had little to do with their (limited) knowledge of climate science. In a perfect world, beliefs would derive from evidence. In the real world, beliefs often dictate the evidence that we humans choose to see. We tend to seek out information that confirms our beliefs and filter out the rest.

Of course, in the real world, decisions have to be made. If leaders (and voters) analyze everything to death, they can be paralyzed by indecision. Ultimately, we all have to take the leap of faith that seems the most logical. Leaders who truly wrestle with problems, however, will have the ability to adapt when decisions do not work out as planned. Too often, we seem to have leaders who “stay the course” in the name of ideological purity. Change is viewed as a sign of weakness. In my mind, a willingness to adapt and the recognition of one’s limitations should be viewed as a sign of strength. It can also lead to the political compromises that are the key to making democracy work. Unfortunately, for many Americans, compromise, like a capacity for change, is a sign of weakness. After all, you can’t work with an enemy that is always wrong and may possibly even be evil.

All of the Things That Worked Today.

I tried to think of a happy song for this post. I settled on this song by Creedence Clearwater Revival, one of my all-time favorite bands.

It was a good day today. I woke up a little before 6 AM. I know this because the digital alarm clock next to my bed was apparently working, indicating that my home still had electrical power. I also noticed that the house seemed to be at the normal wake-up temperature, indicating that my furnace and our neighborhood natural gas network were also functioning properly. I wanted it slightly warmer, however, so I performed my manly duty of bringing heat to the homestead. In other words, I pushed a button on the thermostat. Sure enough, it powered up quickly.

Speaking of natural gas, it was now time to perform my morning bathroom “ritual.” To my pleasure, water came out of the tap as usual, and it seemed as clean and clear as it ever is. After the toilet was filled with the former contents of my bladder, it flushed properly. The human refuse had now magically disappeared. (Please don’t tell me where it goes.) Now it was time for food gathering. I found the milk in the refrigerator, and it was cold, so the fridge was apparently working fine. After locating the traditional cereal and oatmeal, it was time to catch up on the news. (It was “ESPN news” of course.) The TV came on. Thank you, once again, electrical power company. And since the channels all seemed to be available, I knew that the satellites flying around in space were also functioning. It was now time for my version of work.

I hopped in the car to head off to college number one for the day. As it has loyally done for twelve years, the car started properly. (You’ve gotta love those Hondas!) As I drove to work, I noticed that the roads were still paved and generally smooth and all of the traffic lights were also working. Apparently, the electric grid was functioning all over the place. Because other drivers were competent enough to avoid crashing into me, I made it to work on time, and as I drove, I gained more information about the world because the NPR station in town was broadcasting successfully. God bless good old- fashioned radio.  In the large forum classroom where I have my 8 AM Modern American History course, the lights came on as usual. Now it was time to fire up other wonders of the modern age: the classroom computer and LCD projector. Within minutes my lesson plans were on the screen arranged in a beautiful little outline – if I do say so myself – and for the next hour and a half I simply pushed my little wireless remote to scroll through the “slides.” (No more chalk and annoying overhead projector transparencies for me.) “Power Point” is a beautiful thing. As an added bonus, most of the students seemed engaged for much of the class. Talking about prostitution, gambling, and alcohol, among other things, may have helped them stay awake.

Now, it was back in the car to head off to racquetball at LA Fitness. The car starts. The roads and traffic lights still function. The radio provides more information. It’s mostly bad news. Nobody mentions the fact that things are working properly in Southern California. I guess that normal is not, by its very nature, news. Because the air conditioning and lighting at the gym were functioning properly, I was able to get in some games – I started off playing badly but ended better – in relative comfort. When I finished, I was my normal sweaty mess. Now it was time for another joy of the modern age: the hot shower. Their water heaters, as usual, worked perfectly, and I could now fully enjoy the after workout high. Next it’s back in the car, and the drive home once again went as it should.

It was time for food gathering again, so I quickly performed the hard labor of making P, B, & J and slicing an orange, completing my feast by getting water and ice magically produced by the refrigerator. Finally, it’s back to my good friend the computer. Only this time, because I am not at work, I get to mess around online. Thankfully, the internet – a technological concept I can still not fully wrap my mind around – was functioning perfectly. Due to another magical device called a router, I could sit on my couch and get some brief “facebooking” and blogging done. Then, it was off to school number two. It’s the same routine all over again: the car starts; the radio comes on; the lights and the computer in the classroom work properly; the students stay mostly conscious. I was even able to pull in a couple of short videos about Pocahontas and Martin Luther (not in the same video, of course), both of which work perfectly. After that, it’s back to the computer, which works again, to kill a little time while traffic dies down. After the familiar trip home, it is time for one last joy of the modern age. Since Thursday is trash day, the cans need to be moved to the curb on Wednesday night. Then, a magical device called a trash truck can make all of the garbage disappear. (Once again, please do not tell me where it goes.)

If you have gotten this far, you may be wondering why I am sharing the mundane details of my average day. It is to make a simple point. The modern world, on so many levels, is a miraculous feat of modern engineering. My average day was made possible by complex networks involving energy, water, food, communication, and transportation. Because we are born into a world blessed by these remarkable achievements, we typically take them for granted. We only seem to notice them when they are not working. When the power goes out, it is akin to the sun not coming up. Our infrastructure, after all, is as much a part of our natural environment as the air, sky, clouds, and wind. And because of all of these things, many of us are not required to do an ounce of physical labor. If you look at my tough three-hour workday, the closest I came to actual physical labor was on the racquetball court. The food that I ate came from a store. I receive energy and heat by plugging things in and pushing a button on a thermostat. A car takes me where I need to go. Water magically comes out of a tap at the temperature of my choice. Trash and human refuse just seem to disappear. I basically talk for a living, and the state gives me money so that I can have access to these technological wonders.

In a world of tremendous problems, it is important to recognize all of the things that work remarkably well almost every day. Of course, there is a cost to these modern conveniences. Our systems for producing food and energy, distributing water, and disposing of waste can have devastating effects on the environment. They may become inadequate and unsustainable in the future. Some people in my country and many in the world do not have access to many of the benefits of modern infrastructure.  For today, however, I choose to think about the things that do work. There will be plenty of opportunities to depress myself on another day.