Ideas for America Series
The final edition of the Ideas for America series will come out in June of 2017; Ideas for America; Restoring the Middle Class. As you can see below, the books have developed over time. Many themes with one overriding theme; how to help people be happy. If you want to know the full story of the creation of this book, you can read below.
Origins; The Full Version The original decision to write Ideas for America; New Hope Rises came in October of 1997, at which time I was living in Germany. I had taught and studied languages there for three great years, and I would have liked to have stayed longer, but I just knew that the United States was eventually headed for some dark times and I felt like I needed to prepare. I understand it sounds strange, but it’s true.
The other unique thing about the book is that I didn’t even know what I was going to say, but I remember going to the library in Siegburg, Germany and writing; “The two political parties fighting each other is not going to solve any problems.” If nothing else, the past decade has taught us that this is true.
In October through December of ’97 I worked construction in Quincy and, believe it or not, studied Chinese at night. After teaching and studying language with such intensity for three years, I wasn’t ready to just drop that, so studying Chinese after a long day of banging nails or whatever else was relaxing and fun. To be honest, I was experiencing a bit of culture shock coming back to my own country and wasn’t quite ready to start working on the book.
In January of 1998 I took a job as a live-in building superintendent in Brighton, while I took courses part-time at Boston College. It was then that I took out a notebook and began writing down sentences, which became paragraphs, which became pages. I had learned some things in Germany that I though we should adopt here in the states, such as affordable, high-quality recreational facilities, as well as some other dimensions of community building. However, my core ideas came from reading the reports of MassINC., an evidence based research group in Boston. The report I studied most intensely was The State of the American Dream, a report that analyzed such changes as income, transportation costs, trends in education and other indicators of standard of living.
The core principle that has caught my attention was the need for greater utilization of vocational education. According to MassINC, whereas only 7% of Massachusetts were enrolled in vocational programs, that number should be around 30-40%, with as many as fifty percent doing a combination of vocational and classical studies. This core insight gave me the foundation upon which to build all other principles.
The core question I asked myself was; “What do young people need to maximize quality of life?” And, by 2001 I had the answer to that question; greater utilization of vocational programs. In the winter of 2001-2002 I was teaching in Waterville Valley, NH, and I used to go for a walk on winter nights through a cemetery to a platform that overlooked a gorge and river. I would bring coffee there and would practice asking and answering questions such as the previous ones. From 2000 to 2005 I taught high school Spanish while landscaping in the summer and building up the essays. And, on August 8th, 2005, Ideas for America; New Hope Rises was introduced.
I should say that the transition from teaching English at European language schools where customers were paying to acquire a skill was very different from teaching high school Spanish, where acquisition of language ability is not so much the focus as is doing well on the test. That’s not necessarily so bad, except for the fact that the tests would often emphasize extremely advanced Spanish grammar when the students often hadn’t even mastered the basics.
It is out of this experience that it became clear that maximizing language programs was an option for any school on any budget that was ready to take some new approaches to learning. Part of these new approaches can include emphasizing expression and not pressuring students to do well on a test.
The period from 2005 to 2010 involved a slow but steady expansion of the core concepts in the book. i was in the summer of 2010 that I began to look at “green” initiatives, which was in part inspired by the work of the Salem Farmer’s Market. That summer I read Winning the Green Revolution by David Freeman, and it was the beginning of a new dimension of the book.
One of the core environmental principles I was working with prior to 2010 was that we need to expand our national parks system while we have the space to do so. The addition of an awareness of the importance of local farming led to an integration of of core principle of environmentalism.
It was also during this period that I worked in special education, dealing with young people at the grammar, middle and high school level. If I learned one thing, it was that occupational therapy actually works really well. Later, taking a course in Adolescent Psychology with Professor LaCroix at Salem State taught me a huge amount about how to think about students in special education, not to mention all families. Professor LaCroix is one of those rare, truly gifted teachers with forty years experience that you can find at what used to be teacher’s colleges.
The writing and research from 2010 to 2012 and the publication of this book was the most intense of any time. I spent about five to six hours a day watching documentaries, PBS movie and shows, reading all I could about local economies and farming, and integrating all the different chapters into a cohesive whole. By this time, I had witnessed the fallout from the the bursting of the housing bubble, as well the seeming increased severity of virtually ever problem I looked at. I tried to not just report on the growing income and wealth inequality, but tried to look at how ideas from other parts of the book could help.
Another relatively new theme to this edition was to look at progressive coursework at colleges and universities, coursework that could be imitated and/or expanded upon to best serve the common good. It became increasingly clear that colleges and universities could be huge contributors in many areas, if only they would choose to do so.