This is my friend Marty. I have known Marty since 1971. At that time, I knew him as Mr. S., one of my new found friends’ parents.

You see I grew up in Teaneck, a town in New Jersey and went to a Junior High School on my side of town. The other side of town had their own Junior High School and there was not any mixing of the two. In fact, we had an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality. That was until we got to High School. The High School is almost smack dab in the middle of our town. In September of 1971 we all got thrown into this mixing bowl of a school. Suddenly we met, and made friends, with people on, what could have been, the other side of the planet. In fact, they were literally on the ‘Other side of the Tracks’.

Now I don’t actually recall how our group on my side of town became friends with this group from the other side of town, but we did. Maybe it was because we were all members of the Audio Visual Aids Department. Something that does not exist with the invention of the PC, Windows, and the White board. (I have just lost all of my younger readers). In any event our group suddenly doubled in size and logistics. Just like the parents of our friends on our side of town, these new parents took us into their homes and made us feel like family. In the case of Mr. and Mrs. S. I suddenly had another Grandmother, and two ‘little’ sisters that came along with my new friend Jeff. This was repeated with all of the new friends that I made but that is a blog for a different day.



Over the years Jeff and I have kept in close contact, regardless of the fact that he is not on Facebook. And over the years, my ‘little’ sisters grew up and Mr. and Mrs. S. became Marty and Anita. At first I felt weird calling them by their first names but as time went by it became easier and our relationship morphed as well. Topics that used to be taboo with your friend’s parents were suddenly okay to discuss.

A little over a year ago Anita passed away. After her funeral, during a Shiva visit, Marty waved me over. He then asked me to teach him how to use Anita’s iPad, something that he had avoided, letting Anita, instead deal with technology. Of course I said yes. And so our true friendship began. All under the guise of the iPad.

I started visiting Marty weekly. We would sit in the kitchen and I would explain to Marty how to order from Shoprite, how to read emails, and how to surf the internet. Sometimes successful and others not. Marty reads his emails but is not fond of writing back. But I know that he loves to look at the pictures of his children, grandchildren and the grandchild of one of his daughter’s boyfriend.  And now I send him pictures of my family and grandchild to see as well.

Somewhere along the way, the iPad, still the excuse for the visits, took a lesser role. We still sit and work with it for a while. He shows me pictures, I show him pictures, his son got him a keyboard to type on and that is making it easier for him, but more and more our visits and just plain social. We discuss everything. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Marty and I confide in each other and you would never know that there are about 27 years separating us in age. Recently we were exchanging stories about getting drunk and our not so great experiences with it. I found myself telling Marty about a night that his son found me wandering the streets in a Tequila haze and brought me home. How I passed out on the front lawn and ultimately locked my father out of the house when I tried to sneak in after the sun came up and I was covered in dew. We had a good laugh on that one. I love to listen to Marty tell me about growing up in Brooklyn, his time courting Anita, the time spent in the National Guard, stories about the kids when they were just growing up, etc. We go story for story. We look forward to our weekly visits together and are disappointed when we have to miss one.




Currently, I am in Florida visiting my Mother and Marty is preparing to go out west to visit his son and daughter-in-law. As I was leaving last week we hugged like it would be our last visit together. In reality I will be picking him up at the airport upon his return (I hope that I recognize him as he just shaved off his signature mustache) and will will have a few weeks of visits before I get a knee replacement. We will resume where we left off and have more tales to tell each other. Oh and we will work on the iPad some more too. After all isn’t that the reason for these visits? Wink, wink.






A strange thing happened this morning. For the first time in our 34 year marriage the day after Labor Day neither my wife or I got up at ‘0 dark hundred’ to go to work. I am almost 61 and my wife is almost 58. Actually we have been rehearsing for this day for a couple of weeks now but for some reason Labor Day made it official. Yes too early in our lives not to be working, but I am not going to go into the gory details in this post.

We always knew that this day would come. The turning of a page in our book of life, the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. It is exciting.  And yet?

We have been preparing for this time in our lives for a couple of years now. Oh we will have to work as we truly cannot afford to retire but the days of killing ourselves for ‘The Man’ are over. My wife and I are planning on pursuing things that we love in life and make money along the way.

We have raised two fantastic children. One married with a child and the other unmarried and sorting out his path in life. And us? We are learning, or should I say relearning, how to be alone together in the same room. How to not necessarily fill the air with talk. That it is okay for us both to read and just be. Sometimes  one of us will look over, catch the other’s eye and will say, “What? Is everything alright?” Of course it is, we are just getting to know one another again. We made a spaghetti sauce the other day and for the first time ever I did not get out the mega pot to make a mega sauce (if we had some meat to put into it it would have been ‘gravy’) because we didn’t need a mega sauce. Our Costco membership just ran out. That became a topic of discussion. Do we really need to buy in that quantity anymore? No, we decided but aren’t ready to give it up yet. We both love the Costco Buffet. I spent a good part of the weekend in what has become my ‘happy place’ when not staring at waves at the beach, my hammock, and my wife spent her time doing art, reading, and just relearning how to chillax.

Today I was going to make a special day as it is the first one after Labor Day when she was not going to return to a classroom. But my plans changed. It was even more special than I could have ever imagined. Our daughter-in-law asked us to sit for our 6 month old, first Grandson while she and our son had to work.

Yes this new chapter in our lives is starting off just great. I can’t wait to see how the next 20 years turn out.

Deadhead1155                                                                                                                                                  September 6, 2016


As Campaigns Seek Delagates, Ordinary Voters Feel Sidelined


   Normally, I begin my mornings with a cup of coffee and the NY Times on my tablet. Today I was greeted with the article above and it made me think that the time has come to update our Political System before it is too late. Yes, for most of my life I have heard people around me expound on the need to do away with the Electoral College. I agree wholeheartedly with this view.

      When our Nation was founded, the Revolutionary War was fought for economic reasons and less about taxation without representation as they teach us in school. Europe was at the beginning of their Industrial Revolution and they needed the colonies to supply the raw materials so that they could produce the needed product. The colonies in North America were just another cog in their wheel. We, on the other-hand, wanted a piece of that pie. Like workers today, we wanted to earn more and improve our wealth and status in life. 

      If you think about it, the Founding Fathers who hammered out the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were the owners of plantations, factories, etc.  The Revolutionary War, however, was fought by the working class.  Our government was not really ‘By the People, for the People’ because if it was, there would have never been the Electoral College, where appointed citizens vote for whom the feel would be a good candidate.  Never ever forget that although most people will tell you that our nation is a Democracy it isn’t. The United States of America is actually a Democratic Republic. I will let you google the difference between the two.

     Now to the Article in today’s Times.  Apparently about 150 years ago, the National Conventions of the current political parties began to change. This change was for the purpose of keeping the Party’s choice of the Presidential Candidate out of the hands of the general electorate. Sound familiar? I will let you read the article above and form your own opinions, but as I see it, this once great nation is in need of some serious change and soon, or we will end up like the Roman Empire.

     The time has come that we become truly a Nation by the People, for the People.



The Eight-Second Attention Span

I realize that many of you followers, assuming there are followers, have been waiting for me to post some original material. Well possibly the winter doldrums have set in but I promise I will be contributing my own material soon.  I read this during my daily perusal of the news online and felt that it was worth sharing.  The N.Y. Times posted this on the Op-Ed page.   deadhead1155

Timothy Egan Timothy Egan JAN. 22, 2016 51

This weekend, I’m going to the Mojave Desert, deep into an arid wilderness of a half-million acres, for some stargazing, bouldering and January sunshine on my public lands. I won’t be out of contact. I checked. If Sarah Palin says something stupid on Donald Trump’s behalf — scratch that. When Sarah Palin says something stupid on Donald Trump’s behalf, I’ll get her speaking-in-tongues buffoonery in real time, along with the rest of the nation.

The old me would have despised the new me for admitting such a thing. I’ve tried to go on digital diets, fasting from my screens. I was a friend’s guest at a spa in Arizona once and had so much trouble being “mindful” that they nearly kicked me out. Actually, I just wanted to make sure I didn’t miss the Seahawks game, mindful of Seattle’s woeful offensive line.

In the information blur of last year, you may have overlooked news of our incredibly shrinking attention span. A survey of Canadian media consumption by Microsoft concluded that the average attention span had fallen to eight seconds, down from 12 in the year 2000. We now have a shorter attention span than goldfish, the study found.

Attention span was defined as “the amount of concentrated time on a task without becoming distracted.” I tried to read the entire 54-page report, but well, you know. Still, a quote from Satya Nadella, the chief executive officer of Microsoft, jumped out at me. “The true scarce commodity” of the near future, he said, will be “human attention.”

Putting aside Microsoft’s self-interest in promoting quick-flash digital ads with what may be junk science, there seems little doubt that our devices have rewired our brains. We think in McNugget time. The trash flows, unfiltered, along with the relevant stuff, in an eternal stream. And the last hit of dopamine only accelerates the need for another one.

I can no longer wait in a grocery store line, or linger for a traffic light, or even pause long enough to let a bagel pop from the toaster, without reflexively reaching for my smartphone. One of the joys of going to Europe was always the distance — nine hours in my case — from compulsive contemporaneous chatter. While I hiked the Cinque Terre, the West Coast was sleeping. No more. Somebody, somewhere is alerting me to something that can’t wait.

You see it in the press, the obsession with mindless listicles that have all the staying power of a Popsicle. You see it in our politics, with fear-mongering slogans replacing anything that requires sustained thought. And the collapse of a fact-based democracy, where, for example, 60 percent of Trump supporters believe Obama was born in another country, has to be a byproduct of the pick-and-choose news from the buffet line of our screens.

Even “Downton Abbey,” supposedly an exemplar of popular taste for refined drama in the Digital Age, is in fact a very hyper-paced entertainment. The camera seldom holds a scene for long, cutting from Mrs. Patmore’s sexual advice to the butler Barrow’s latest plotting at a speed that is more Nascar than “Masterpiece Theatre.”


A New York friend used to send me clever, well-thought-out emails, gems of sprightly prose. Then he switched to texting, which abbreviated his wit and style. Now all verbs and nouns have vanished; he sends emojis, the worst thing to happen to communication in our time.

But all is not lost. I don’t know what the neuroscience has to say about this, but I’ve found a pair of antidotes, very old school, for my shrinking attention span.

The first is gardening. You plant something in the cold, wet soil of the fall — tulip bulbs or garlic — and then you want to shout, “Grow!” Eight seconds later, nothing. Working the ground, there’s no instant gratification. The planting itself forces you to think in half-year-increments, or longer for trees and perennials. The mind drifts, from the chill of a dark day to a springtime of color. Hope, goes the Emily Dickinson poem, is the thing with feathers. But it’s also the thing that rises from a tiny seed, in its own sweet time.

The second is deep reading, especially in the hibernation months of winter. I’m nearly done with the second volume of William Manchester’s masterly biography of Winston Churchill, “The Last Lion.” (O.K., I’m late to the book, Churchillians.) It’s zipping by. Next up is a new history of the Roman Empire.

Remember all those predictions that technology was going to kill book reading? It never happened. Paper books and stores that sell them are experiencing a revival of sorts. So, yes, I’m as screen-scrolly as the next guy when I’ve got the world in the palm of my hand. But put the thing aside, and kneel next to fresh-tilled earth, or curl up with an 800-page tome, and you find that the desire for sustained concentration is not lost. If anything, it’s greater.

Irony alert: I invite you to follow me on Twitter, @nytegan.


Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a Federal Holiday. Unfortunately, it appears to me to be just a day where there is no mail delivery, government offices are closed, and the same for many school systems. It is, however, a day that reminds me of a generation that held so much promise and, in my eyes, did not even come close to its potential.

The decade of the 1960’s was like none other in our young nation’s history. Let’s go back a ways into U.S. history for a moment and touch on some points. By 1960 the Civil War, also known as the War Between the States, depending on where you live, was over for 95 years. After the Civil War, America began to move from an Agrarian Society towards an Industrial one. This actually began before the Civil War, and was a main reason behind the war, but this is not taught in school. The late 19th century saw the laying of rail roads all across the continent, which meant mining, steel mills, the new oil industry, new towns, the growth of the clothing (textile) trade ,Unions and much more. Slavery might have been abolished, but we still had ‘Colored only bathrooms, water fountains, and restaurants. Blacks were relegated to the back of the bus, literally. Decent jobs, housing, and good education was scarce for them.

In 1960 I was 4 going on 5 years old, and was really only aware of the world around the garden apartment complex where we lived at the time. When the decade ended, I was 14 going on 15 and much more aware of what was going on in the world. I was even active at our local Peace Center (these were all over the country and were involved in the Anti-Vietnam War movement).

In the early 1960’s we lived in an apartment in Bergen County NJ. My first recollection of the world around me came on the day that our President, John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. An announcement was made in school and we were all sent home. (Most children walked back and forth to school in those days). When I got home, I found my mother sitting on a chair in the kitchen, watching our little black and white TV with the rabbit ear antennas. She was glued to the set and was crying. I recall that my father made my brother and I sit in front of the television for next few days to watch this ‘history’ unfold. We weren’t happy about it, but in retrospect, I am glad that we did. We saw Lee Harvey Oswald get assassinated by Jack Ruby on live TV. We watched the funeral of our President, and who would ever get the image of young John, John saluting his father as the caisson with the casket came rolling by. The rein of Camelot was over.

We had a new President, Lyndon Johnson. A man that inherited a society in turmoil, a war that began in the 1950’s and, no matter what, could do nothing right. President Johnson did have a dream of his own. He wanted to give us a new program that he called the ‘Great Society’ of which the main goal was the elimination of poverty and racial injustice. New major spending programs that addressed education, medical care, urban problems, and transportation were launched during this period. These spending program and initiatives were subsequently promoted by him and fellow Democrats in Congress in the 1960s and years following. It sounded good but decades later in retrospect much of it did not work, or was never given a chance to work.

By the middle of the 1960’s our family had moved to Teaneck, NJ which had the very first integrated school system in the United States. A book about it was published called Triumph in a White Suburb, and is still available today if you care to look it up. Black children were bussed to elementary schools all over town and sixth graders were bussed to a central grade school in the black side of town. We got to meet and talk to black children, play with them on the playground, and we found out that they really were no different than us white kids. But we were just still children and when Malcom X was killed, and anger raised its ugly head, us little white kids couldn’t really get it. By the time we entered junior high school, we began to learn more about current events and what was really going on out there. The black kids that were still our friends talked to us, but hung out more and more by themselves; they seemed angrier.

Many of us began to protest the Vietnam War. This was the first war that was brought right into our homes on television every night; the filmed footage, the body counts, the protests. Protesting made us feel powerful. During the next few months though, the shit really hit the fan. On March 31, 1968, President Johnson realized that there was no chance for reelection and announced that he would not run for office. On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in cold blood by James Earl Ray. I remember the black students at our junior high school marching out and a starting a mini riot. I saw them go into garages, grab gardening tools, and smash windows. Needless to say, us white kids tried to stay away. I personally went home and kept watch over my shoulder. In June, Robert Kennedy was assassinated while campaigning for President. It was hard to believe that the Summoon-landing-1mer of Love, was just a year ago.

During the year 1969, Vietnam raged on, the Civil Rights movement raged on, man walked on the moon,
 and Woodstock happened; a decade ended and a new one began. There was once again the promise of peace, love, tie dye, and HOPE.

We can never give up on hope. Dr. King had a dream and a part of that dream was and still is hope. 

Is the Drive for Success Making Our Children Sick?

I know that most of you that take the time to read this blog (and I can’t thank you enough) enjoy when I publish my own thoughts and ideas. Many times I find things while reading various new services online (what used to be a newspaper, I guess) that I feel need more exposure. And has been said in a better way than I would be able to do it. Thank you for taking the time to read these as well, please pass them along too if you would like.    deadhead1155

Is the Drive for Success Making Our Children Sick?


STUART SLAVIN, a pediatrician and professor at the St. Louis University School of Medicine, knows something about the impact of stress. After uncovering alarming rates of anxiety and depression among his medical students, Dr. Slavin and his colleagues remade the program: implementing pass/fail grading in introductory classes, instituting a half-day off every other week, and creating small learning groups to strengthen connections among students. Over the course of six years, the students’ rates of depression and anxiety dropped considerably.

But even Dr. Slavin seemed unprepared for the results of testing he did in cooperation with Irvington High School in Fremont, Calif., a once-working-class city that is increasingly in Silicon Valley’s orbit. He had anonymously surveyed two-thirds of Irvington’s 2,100 students last spring, using two standard measures, the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale and the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory. The results were stunning: 54 percent of students showed moderate to severe symptoms of depression. More alarming, 80 percent suffered moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety.

“This is so far beyond what you would typically see in an adolescent population,” he told the school’s faculty at a meeting just before the fall semester began. “It’s unprecedented.” Worse, those alarming figures were probably an underestimation; some students had missed the survey while taking Advanced Placement exams.

What Dr. Slavin saw at Irvington is a microcosm of a nationwide epidemic of school-related stress. We think of this as a problem only of the urban and suburban elite, but in traveling the country to report on this issue, I have seen that this stress has a powerful effect on children across the socioeconomic spectrum.

Expectations surrounding education have spun out of control. On top of a seven-hour school day, our kids march through hours of nightly homework, daily sports practices and band rehearsals, and weekend-consuming assignments and tournaments. Each activity is seen as a step on the ladder to a top college, an enviable job and a successful life. Children living in poverty who aspire to college face the same daunting admissions arms race, as well as the burden of competing for scholarships, with less support than their privileged peers. Even those not bound for college are ground down by the constant measurement in schools under pressure to push through mountains of rote, impersonal material as early as preschool.

Yet instead of empowering them to thrive, this drive for success is eroding children’s health and undermining their potential. Modern education is actually making them sick.

Nearly one in three teenagers told the American Psychological Association that stress drove them to sadness or depression — and their single biggest source of stress was school. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a vast majority of American teenagers get at least two hours less sleep each night than recommended — and research shows the more homework they do, the fewer hours they sleep. At the university level, 94 percent of college counseling directors in a survey from last year said they were seeing rising numbers of students with severe psychological problems.
At the other end of the age spectrum, doctors increasingly see children in early elementary school suffering from migraine headaches and ulcers. Many physicians see a clear connection to performance pressure.

“I’m talking about 5-, 6-, 7-year-olds who are coming in with these conditions. We never used to see that,” says Lawrence Rosen, a New Jersey pediatrician who works with pediatric associations nationally. “I’m hearing this from my colleagues everywhere.”

What sets Irvington apart in a nation of unhealthy schools is that educators, parents and students there have chosen to start making a change. Teachers are re-examining their homework demands, in some cases reviving the school district’s forgotten homework guideline — no more than 20 minutes per class per night, and none on weekends. In fact, research supports limits on homework. Students have started a task force to promote healthy habits and balanced schedules. And for the past two years, school counselors have met one on one with every student at registration time to guide them toward a manageable course load.

“We are sitting on a ticking time bomb,” said one Irvington teacher, who has seen the problem worsen over her 16 years on the job.

A growing body of medical evidence suggests that long-term childhood stress is linked not only with a higher risk of adult depression and anxiety, but with poor physical health outcomes, as well. The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Study, a continuing project of the Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente, shows that children who experience multiple traumas — including violence, abuse or a parent’s struggle with mental illness — are more likely than others to suffer heart disease, lung disease, cancer and shortened life spans as adults. Those are extreme hardships but a survey of the existing science in the 2013 Annual Review of Public Health suggested that the persistence of less severe stressors could similarly act as a prescription for sickness.

“Many of the health effects are apparent now, but many more will echo through the lives of our children,” says Richard Scheffler, a health economist at the University of California, Berkeley. “We will all pay the cost of treating them and suffer the loss of their productive contributions.”

Paradoxically, the pressure cooker is hurting, not helping, our kids’ prospects for success. Many college students struggle with critical thinking, a fact that hasn’t escaped their professors, only 14 percent of whom believe that their students are prepared for college work, according to a 2015 report. Just 29 percent of employers in the same study reported that graduates were equipped to succeed in today’s workplace. Both of those numbers have plummeted since 2004.

Contrary to a commonly voiced fear that easing pressure will lead to poorer performance, St. Louis medical school students’ scores on the medical boards exams have actually gone up since the stress reduction strategy was put in place.

At Irvington, it’s too early to gauge the impact of new reforms, but educators see promising signs. Calls to school counselors to help students having emotional episodes in class have dropped from routine to nearly nonexistent. The A.P. class failure rate dropped by half. Irvington students continue to be accepted at respected colleges.

There are lessons to be learned from Irvington’s lead. Working together, parents, educators and students can make small but important changes: instituting everyday homework limits and weekend and holiday homework bans, adding advisory periods for student support and providing students opportunities to show their growth in creative ways beyond conventional tests. Communities across the country — like Gaithersburg, Md., Cadiz, Ky., and New York City — are already taking some of these steps. In place of the race for credentials, local teams are working to cultivate deep learning, integrity, purpose and personal connection. In place of high-stakes childhoods, they are choosing health.

Vicki Abeles is the author of “Beyond Measure: Rescuing an Overscheduled, Overtested, Underestimated Generation,” and director and producer of the documentaries “Race to Nowhere” and “Beyond Measure.”

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A version of this op-ed appears in print on January 3, 2016, on page SR2 of the New York edition with the headline: Is School Making Our Children Ill?.