David Altshuler, M.S.
(305) 978-8917 | [email protected]


In a valiant attempt to “save time” Patti and I trundled off to the Charlotte Airport yesterday afternoon to sign up for “Global-Skip-the-Line-Retinal-Scan-TSA-Double-Secret-Probation-Decoder-Ring-PreCheck” having been unable to negotiate the required forms on the “computer” because we are old, curmudgeonly, and–on a good day–technologically inept.

Or so we thought. Because, as it turns out, while we are indeed old and curmudgeonly we are no more feckless when it comes to government websites than a number of other folks who had not been able to convince the glowing rectangle to allow them to forego the jaunt to the Charlotte Airport, motto—“you probably wouldn’t let us park at your house either”–and were milling aimlessly near a sign that read “we’re from the government, why would you even think we would want to help you?”

We got to know the other folks in the line fairly well because, as it turned out, no walk up appointments are allowed under a well-known codicil to the founding documents of the United States and since everyone who has ever taken seventh grade civics cannot help but be intimately well acquainted with the 34th amendment which states in part, “we’re not even going to put up a sign suggesting you’d be better off putting a fork in your eye” there was no reason not to strike up a conversation with people one of whom, after 93 minutes of being on hold with one government office or another, decided to try their luck at the airport.

Said individual was an endocrinologist by trade. In a given week, she might sign a death certificate, prescribe opioids, save the life of a child suffering from obscure, unpronounceable diseases, or accomplish other grownup tasks, but under no circumstances could she figure out how to sign up for the thing-y that let’s you go through security without dealing with Euclid who said something about parallel lines never meeting but has never, to my knowledge, been in the basement of the Charlotte airport because the lines there go on much farther than just plain old vanilla infinity. Endocrinologist during the day. But unable to deal with a government website.

Which brings me to my point about parenting for this week: not everybody is good at everything. And that which seems simple and straightforward to you may be impenetrable to your kids. Impenetrable, overwhelming, and scary. In spite of your best intentions. Or theirs.

To be successful in the classroom, students need to be able to sit down, stay still, and pay attention. As a classroom teacher, I was all in favor of young people who possessed and demonstrated those skills. I didn’t know what to do with kids who wanted to bounce around or needed to be in motion in order to learn. At the elite school where I taught, we distanced ourselves from those children. We “counseled them out” or “helped them find other educational options,” euphemisms for expelling them if we had made the mistake of accepting them in the first place.

But what about the kids who didn’t make it through our highly selective process? Our educational system reminds me of a multi-level marketing scam. A minuscule percentage of folks who have the ability to sell vitamins, cosmetics, or plastic containers drive around in pink cars. Similarly, a small number of children hang on to get a PhD in chemical engineering. But what about the overwhelming majority of people who can’t bring themselves to inflict sales pitches on their friends? What about students who can’t attend to teachers droning on about dividing fractions? What about endocrinologists who can’t figure out a government website?

Shouldn’t there be something for those folks, some guidance, some help? Maybe it’s a minor point given what else is going on in the world, but a sign in the bowels of the Charlotte Airport that read, “There are no walk-in appointments; we respectfully suggest that you go pound sand” would have been a significant help to me and my wife and the endocrinologist and all those other folks who had taken off from work to wander around looking for information. Surely we can do better with our children–help them find what they need–than the government does with Global Entry sign-ups.



One thought on “On-line

  1. Martin

    An apt and well conceived analogy to the way schooling is structured. Multi-level marketing? A way of showing people who don’t fit the stringent but often unstated requirements for “success” in school and garnering the real and also the putative rewards of schooling by showing most people that it’s their own fault that they have not met the requirements. And much worse now than when Ivan Illich and Everett Reimer outlined the scam in “De-Schooling Society” in the 1960s.

    Multi-level marketing is a good way of understanding it: many people pay into it; few enjoy the rewards. Ponzi is another word that comes to mind, but the marketing scheme is a better description.

    Thanks for your good words and your good work.

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