Posts by Paul Costello1

Volunteer fatigue

Worker burn out is common current experience. Teachers, nurses, doctors, people working in businesses and organizations feel burdened by stresses and pressures. A general malaise results. Many leave positions and the workforce. Others “work to rule” — doing the absolute minimum. Pandemic complicates the problem as more people become accustomed to working from home and resist regular office hours and restrictions. Such burnout often results more from lack of meaning and purpose than from overwork and external pressures.

Volunteer fatigue and burnout are less visible and rarely publicized. Nevertheless, volunteer fatigue is a significant social problem. Fewer people volunteer to assist our agencies and organization that provide the social capital to improve social health in our communities.

Our current ethos emphasizes individualism, anonymity and identity groups. The emphasis on individualism is commonly identified and described in the media. As everything moves faster, long-term commitments become rare. Many individuals and families distance themselves from worksites to nearby cities for many reasons, one of which is freedom from unappreciated intrusions in their personal affairs, which leads to greater social isolation — what Harvey Cox described as attractive in the ‘secular city.’ Identity groups support activities that benefit the ingroup and only incidentally benefit the entire community.

Economic changes and heightened expectations regarding finances and status result in smaller families with both parents working full time. Fifty years ago, one parent’s labor could provide a ‘living’, so that it was dire poverty that demanded both parents have jobs. Also, women faced difficulties finding professional positions. Extracurricular activities of children have increased dramatically creating burdens on ragged parents. No wonder less time exists for them to engage in volunteer activities.

Generational differences exist regarding volunteering and charitable contributions.

Data from the Lake Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University confirm that older people donate more and volunteer as long as they are able in larger numbers than younger and middle-aged adults. The elderly faithfully volunteered in the past, but fewer able-bodied peers support them even as needs increase. It is easier to burn out and give up. Thus, unless more younger people are inspired to contribute and volunteer, the future of many of our helping organizations is bleak as financial and social capital gradually fades away.

Unfortunately, individualism results in fewer people joining social organizations that sponsor needed social services in our community. Churches that in the past have inspired and organized people to volunteer local non-profit organizations are declining in membership, especially of younger generations. These organizations rely on volunteers to provide services directly to the members as well as to help others. We face a deficit of inspiration. The focus of some has changed from local challenges to national and global foci. Fortunately, many elderly are relatively secure financially and continue to fund local organizations they previously served as volunteers. Such financial support enables the organizations to hire paid staff to do work previously donated by volunteers. One hopes that economic downturns and decline of pension income will not reduce that to a trickle.

No easy solution exists for volunteer fatigue and the decline of charitable contributions and volunteer service. Two avenues to improve prospects for the future are: (1) Volunteer for some service to the community. Everyone, including recently retired persons, can find additional meaning, satisfaction, friendship and joy in helping others in the community. (2) Support those organizations that sponsor volunteer activities, and especially support those that provide inspiration for charitable contributions and volunteer service. Thereby, perhaps we can reduce the dangers of volunteer fatigue in Montgomery County.

Raymond B. Williams, Crawfordsville, LaFollette Distinguished Professor in the Humanities emeritus, contributed this guest column.

MCPS teacher resignations, retirements up 38% in past school year

by Caitlynn PeetzJuly 13, 2022 2:25 pm

More than 1,000 Montgomery County Public Schools teachers resigned or retired in the last year, a 38% increase from the year prior, according to district data.

Between Sept. 1, 2021, and July 7, 2022, 1,070 MCPS teachers resigned or retired, compared to 775 during the same time period the prior year.

With a teaching workforce of about 14,000, the number reported this school year equals about 7.6% of the total, over the course of the year. There was not a surge in resignations or retirements at the end of the year, MCPS data show, but rather slightly larger totals most months.

Jennifer Martin, president of the Montgomery County Education Association, the union that represents teachers, said there are “real problems on the horizon” for MCPS if the staffing problems are not addressed.

Martin cautioned about the expected increase in resignations and retirements in May, at the time saying about 800 teachers had said they intended to leave the district.

Concerns about teacher burnout increased as stressors caused or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic escalated over the past year, such as addressing missed learning during online classes and also a rise in behavior and mental health problems among students, as well as losing planning time to cover classes for absent teachers.Advertisement

Teachers held a handful of protests and other events throughout the school year, urging the district to compensate them for extra work and do more to hire staff members to fill vacancies.

MCPS spokesman Chris Cram said there were 393 teacher vacancies in MCPS as of July 7. One-third of the openings were for special education teachers. At the end of June, a shortage of special education teachers forced about 175 students in a summer program to move to a virtual model at the last-minute.

It was difficult to convince many educators to take on summer courses because they need time to “recharge,” Tomas Rivera-Figueroa, MCPS supervisor in the Office of Recruitment, said in an interview last week.Advertisement

“We’re finding that to be a difficult task this year because teachers want to take the time, and they don’t want to be working, and they want to regenerate which will hopefully alleviate some of the tension and we’ll see them stay in the profession,” Rivera-Figueroa said.

There were an additional 422 open support staff positions, which include jobs such as bus drivers, food service workers and office staff. Some bus routes to summer school programs have not been able to run in the past week due to a shortage of drivers, according to notices posted on the MCPS website.

The pandemic has caused new recruitment challenges, Rivera-Figueroa said, but largely just “accelerated what was already an issue.”Advertisement

“We were already in crisis when it came to certificated teachers entering the profession — that was already a trend five or six years in the making of our schools of education becoming smaller and smaller,” Rivera-Figueroa said. “So there aren’t as many young people that are interested in becoming teachers as there once was and I think that the pandemic caused more of those young people to reevaluate their situation.”

MCPS has broadened its recruitment efforts in recent years beyond the immediate local area, realizing that the pool of qualified candidates across the country is shrinking, Rivera-Figueroa said.

Madeline Hanington — an MCPS recruitment specialist, former MCPS Teacher of the Year and Milken Educator Award winner — said the district recently created an “internal referral program” for employees to recommend people who are interested in working for MCPS.Advertisement

MCPS has invested in both in-person and virtual job fairs and events, and drill down into online analytics that show demographics about who’s visiting recruitment webpages.

Still, Rivera-Figueroa and Hanington said they can’t be certain all of the current vacancies will be filled when classes resume at the end of August.

“I wish I could tell you guaranteed we’re going to fill this all up and it’s going to be great,” Hanington said. “But we’re working hard and we’re going to do our best.”

Montgomery County allows students, staff to take mental health days

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Va. – This article is part of “Solutionaries,” our continuing commitment to solutions journalism, highlighting the creative people in communities working to make the world a better place, one solution at a time. Find out what you can do to help and subscribe to our Solutionaries channel on youtube.

More than a third of high school students reported mental health challenges during the pandemic.

Taking care of our mental health is just as important as our physical health and a letting students and staff take mental health days is paying off in one local school system.

“I think it’s always hard to be the first school division to do something, whether that’s across the country or in the state,” said Brenda Drake, director of communications for Montgomery County Public Schools.

Students and staff at Montgomery County Public Schools can take mental health days. It just counts as a sick day, which is an excused absence. The policy started in 2019 after students pushed for the change.

“There is no tracking or anything that they can just say they were out they were ill, and that is all that it takes to use a mental health day,” said Drake, who said these days can be used for a variety of things. “Stress, overwhelm, feeling like you just need a little bit of a break to really assess a situation, whether it’s school related or work-related or not. These mental health days allow for that break to happen so that we can all be at school or at work being our best selves.”

She says there’s no way to track how many mental health days are being used because of the way it’s reported, but it is helping connect families with resources.

“When a parent indicates that it was a mental health reason, whether a diagnosed condition or not, then the school is able to follow up with the family,” said Drake.

10 News checked in with several other local school districts and no one else we talked to has mental health days students can take.

“School for kids is their job and sometimes they need to take a step away from their work just like we need to take a step away from our work,” said Jamie Starkey, who works for Family Service of Roanoke Valley.

The organization provides mental health services, at a time when there’s a growing need and not enough providers.

“Mental health days are planned time away, to step away from your normal responsibilities, to intentionally reconnect and rejuvenate your mental health,” said Starkey. “I think a lot of times with kids, we sort of minimize the fact that they really know themselves best and allowing them to take a mental health day really is just us listening to them telling us what they need.”

She says no matter how young your child is, if they’re showing stress, they may need some time away.

“If a kindergartener seems extra tired or irritable, or doesn’t want to go to school one day and you think, ‘Are they just manipulating me?’ Maybe they just need the day,” said Starkey, who adds it doesn’t have to be an entire day.

It can be an afternoon or an hour.

“Maybe you let them go in late, maybe it’s a tardy, maybe it’s breakfast with mom before they go to school or, whatever the case may be that allows them that opportunity to just take a breath and reconnect,” said Starkey. “I think if we can reduce the stigma around mental health, and just look at mental health as health, then it helps kids to realize that everyone has these experiences and these struggles. It keeps kids from being other or disconnected from people because they feel like they’re doing something, or feeling a way that’s different from someone else.”

In Montgomery County, these mental health days are working.

“We’ve been able to connect some students who were flying, kind of right under that radar of things that we might normally look out for, and we were able to get them the help that they needed. That’s what this is about at the end of the day,” said Drake.

A school counselor checks in with the student when they get back to school to see how they’re doing and if there are resources they can provide.

There are some limitations. If a student is out for more than three days the school may require verification.

If a mental health day doesn’t feel like enough, Starkey says to talk to your doctor because you may need more help.

“If you’re sick, you go to the doctor. If you have a mental health challenge, then you seek someone to help you with that. Not addressing your mental health can be detrimental. It can result in physical stress, it can show signs of wear and tear on your body,” said Starkey.

Copyright 2023 by WSLS 10 – All rights reserved.

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You can see Jenna weekday mornings at the anchor desk on WSLS 10 Today from 5-7 a.m. She also leads our monthly Solutionaries Series, where we highlight the creative thinkers and doers working to make the world a better place.


Can a civics teacher persuade her students to believe in democracy?

Story by Greg Jaffe

Shannon Salter aimed to turn all the seniors in her high school civics class into voters. Her task has never been harder.

Story by Greg JaffePhotography by Michelle GustafsonJune 29, 2024 at 6:00 a.m.ShareCommentAdd to your saved storiesSaveHuman read|Listen30 min

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Shannon Salter checked the results of an online poll that she gave each year to her high school civics students. One of the questions asked whether they would support lowering the voting age to 16.

“Everyone said no,” Salter told her students in late April. “That has never happened before. So, I am dying to dig into why.”

Salter, a 53-year-old White woman, stood at the front of the classroom. Her students, Black and Hispanic teenagers drawn from Allentown’s working-class neighborhoods, were arrayed around her. All were seniors. Most were weighing whether they will become first-time voters in the fall when the presidential election could come down to their state, Pennsylvania.Story continues below advertisement

One student complained that social media had polluted his peers’ minds with misinformation and fried their attention spans. “A 16-year-old nowadays — that’s not old enough,” he said. “There’s no maturity or knowledge there.”

Another, who had spent much of the coronavirus pandemic living with his mother in an abandoned building, talked about the social and emotional damage that the restrictions had inflicted. “As kids, we’ve become way more social distanced,” he said. Some of his classmates were so isolated that they barely spoke to anyone, he added. Surely, they weren’t qualified to choose the next president.

Like most civics teachers, Salter wanted her students to believe that their voices and opinions could shape the nation’s future — that their participation in politics was essential to improving their country, their neighborhoods and their lives. A big part of her job, as she saw it, was persuading her students to vote.


Salter, 53, chats daily with students, including J’livette Baez, 16, at Building 21. For some seniors, November’s election will be the first that they can vote in.

Whether young voters will turn out to vote in November is one of the essential unknownsof the upcoming presidential election. In 2020, nearly 50 percent of the population between the ages of 18 and 29 cast ballots, one of the highest levels since the voting age was lowered to 18 in 1971, according to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University. Those young voters — particularly young voters of color — were critical to President Biden’s victory.

So far, polling suggests that young voter turnout in 2024 may not match 2020’s rate. In April, only 41 percent of Black people 18 to 39 told a Washington Post-Ipsos poll that they were certain to vote this year, down from 61 percent in June 2020.

The poll mirrored what Salter was seeing among her students, whose interest in voting had been hobbled by poverty, racism and two aging presidential candidatesseemingly far removed from the world of a struggling Allentown teen. “I’m pushing against more pessimism than I ever have before,” she said.

And so, on this morning, she decided to hit her students with a blast of idealism in the form of a clip from “The West Wing,” the television dramafrom the early 2000s that Salter called her “happy place.”

How we reported this story

Washington Postreporter Greg Jaffe made six trips to Allentown, Pa., starting in late April and attended 17 civics classes at Building 21 high school to document how young people think about politics and America’s democratic system.

Salter’s classroom filled with the sound of the show’s stately theme. On a screen at the front of the room a teenager in a suit was badgering the president’s communications director to rethink his position on teen suffrage. “I’m going to be drinking the water and breathing the air after you’re long gone, but I can’t vote to protect the environment,” the young man said.

Minutes later, the young advocate waschallenging the president at a packed White House news conference.

Salter hit the pause button and the students in her classroom picked up the debate, unmoved by the earnestness of their fictional counterpart. Their memories of politics began with the bitter 2016 presidential election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and included the U.S. Capitol riot two months after the November 2020 election.

To these students, American politics was an ego-driven, aimless mess. Adding younger, less-mature voices to the toxic mix would only produce more chaos and disappointment, they said.

After class, a few of the students congregated around Salter’s desk, continuing the argument until Salter realized that they were running late for their third-period classes. She shooed them on. Salter hadn’t changed any minds, not yet.

But she still had more than a month to go before the end of the term to convince her students that their participation in American democracy was worth it. She had no idea how hard a sell that would turn out to be.Story continues below advertisement

Turning ideas into action

Salter teaches at a public high school called Building 21, housed in an old banking call center just beyond the edge of Allentown’s urban core.

The eastern Pennsylvania city, which once helped powerAmerica’s industrial revolution, had undergone a transformation in recent decades. Its factories had given way to sprawling e-commerce warehouses. Today, more than half of its 125,000 residents — many of whom came from New York City in search of cheaper housing — are Hispanic.

Salter arrived at the school in 2015, when it opened asan alternative to the city’s two big, underperforming high schools. Building 21 wasn’t much to look at. It didn’t have athletic fields or a gymnasium. On sunny days, gym class was a badminton net strung up in the school’s cracked asphalt parking lot. The classrooms were windowless.

To Salter, though, the school and her civics class sat squarely on the front line of a nationwide battle to save American democracy. Public school is one of the few American institutions where people from all sides of the country’s political, social and cultural divides still come together. In her view, it was the place where a new generation — the most diverse in the country’s history — could learn the skills needed to revive America’s creaking system of self-governance.

Salter played a role in shaping civics curriculums nationally through iCivics, an educational nonprofit organization founded by former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and the Educating for American Democracy initiative, a coalition of 300 historians, political scientists and education leaders. Her Allentown classroom was the place where she sought to put those groups’ lofty ideas about voting and democracy into practice.


The school’s students live in Allentown’s less-wealthy voting districts. Clockwise from top left: Alexander Cardona, 18, helps J.J. Morales, 18, into the suit for Fuego, Building 21’s mascot; Brylee Gold, 15; and Doh Nay Kaw, 16, and Morales, now out of the mascot suit.

One of the students she thought she could win over was Bryan Sticatto, the senior who had spent much of the pandemic living in an abandoned building.

Bryan was one of the stars of the school’s Ethics Bowl team, in which he debated issues such as the morality of mining precious metals or the use of semiautonomous robots in war. “I’d be shocked if Bryan doesn’t end up becoming a voter,” Salter said in late April.

Shedidn’t see the other forces — outside of her classroom and the school — that had played an even greater role in shaping Bryan’s views of the country and his place in it. One of the biggest was his experience during the pandemic, when he and his mother lived in a house that lacked heat and water.

Deep Reads

There were other families living in the two-story building, Bryan said. So he and his mother fashioned privacy screens out of cardboard boxes. Today, when Bryan recalls that period of his life, he talks about the loud music that played late into the night, the drinking and the fights.

He remembers the bucket he used to take “bird baths,” the hours he spent alone watching YouTube videos on his phone and the two jobs his mother worked so that they could escape.

At the time, she was only earning $12 an hour, $3 less than he made last summer at a local amusement park. “You can’t even afford a good meal at McDonald’s at that wage,” Bryan said. The experience left him believing that he shouldn’t dream too big or expect too much.

It was a lesson his mother reinforced over pizza one evening this spring after school. She had just finished her shift caringfor people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.Her pay, thanks to a recent raise, was now $17 an hour, enough to afford a clean apartment in which Bryan has his own room. But the extra money still didn’t cover rent in a decent neighborhood, she said. A day earlier, the police had booted her car and she had borrowed $400 so that she could pay the parking fines she owed and make it to her job.


Bryan, a senior in Salter’s civics class, said his views have been strongly influenced by his difficult experience during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The system just doesn’t work,” Bryan’s mother said. “It’s literally meant to keep us down.”

Bryan’s mother had last voted in 2012, when she cast a ballot for Barack Obama, but she had no interest in voting this year.

“I have no hope,” she said.

In school, Bryan listened as his civics teacher talked about how hard some Americans, particularly Black people, had fought to earn the right to vote and how they had used their new power to improve their lives. In an early May class assignment, Bryan argued in favor of extending voting rights to felons in states where they were currently denied.

“How can you put someone back into society and then tell them that they are not allowed to vote to change it — that their voice doesn’t even count?” he asked.

But when Bryan considered whether he would vote in November,the first election he’ll be eligible, the loudest voice in his head belonged to his mother. Neither Biden nor Trump seemed like candidates who understood or cared about his life, he said. Neither was likely to make itmaterially better.

“I don’t think my rent is going to get any cheaper. I don’t think jobs are going to get any better,” he said. “So, honestly, I don’t really care.”Story continues below advertisement

A system worth saving?

Salter knew her experience of America and its democracy was starkly different from that of her students. She had spent her high school years in Singapore, a prosperous and clean city-state, where her father was an executive with a big, U.S.-based company. After college in the United States, she worked in marketing, married a computer programmer, and then returned to school to become a teacher, a job that would give her time at home with her two children.

Now, her children were grown. Her marriage had ended a decade earlier in divorce. Home was a townhouse in a newish suburb, carved from farmland,about an hour south of Allentown.

Most mornings, she passed time on the drive to work listening to left-leaning podcasts. The view through her windshield spoke to the anger and disillusionment in the country: An “Arrest Trump” flag was followed a few hundred yards later by a “Make America Great Again” banner. A “Taylor Swift 2024” flag stirred in the wind across the street from a yellow sign that warned: “Today’s Illegals Are Tomorrow’s Democrats.”

Salter said she tried to bring an “optimistic patriotism” to class. She had seen American democracy work for people with “privilege” like her, she said. She wanted to teach her students the rules that would give them access to that same system.

One of her most meaningful moments as a teacher came the day after Trump won the presidency in 2016. Salter arrived at Building 21 and found two dozen students lined up outside her classroom desperate to talk about what had just happened. Most were old enough to remember Obama’s groundbreaking victory in 2008, which seemed, in the moment, to symbolize America’s overcoming the stain of slavery and racism. They had been expecting to wake up to another historic moment — the country’s first female president.

Many students felt betrayed by their country and fellow citizens. Several were the children of immigrants — some of whom were undocumented. They worried that their parents were going to be deported by the incoming president’s administration.

Salter reassured them, saying that nothing would happen imminently and that there were laws and processes that would protect them and their families. The anger and shock they and millionsof other Americans felt fueled a surge in activism that dominated Trump’s term — the Women’s March, the March for Our Lives protests of gun violence, the Black Lives Matter protests.

In 2024, Salter’s students saw American democracy through a different prism. They were fifth-gradersin 2016 when Trump defeated Clinton, andfreshmen when rioters, inflamed by Trump’s disproved allegations of election fraud in his loss to Biden, stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Now, Trump and Biden were headed for a rematch, with both insisting that the foundations of the republic could be irreparably harmed should the other guy win.

Salter was determined to convince her students that as damaged as American democracy might be, it was still a system worth saving.

Two years earlier, she had persuaded the Lehigh County elections office to hire high school students as Election Day poll workers. The county had an urgent need for Spanish speakers that her students could help fill.

Building 21’s students could benefit, as well. Salter knew that many of their parents didn’t vote because they weren’t citizens or because they had lost faith in politics. She hoped that working the polls would make her students feel more invested in the country’selections. She also believed it would help them see through Trump’s repeatedly disproved allegations of voter fraud.


Vanessa was a poll worker for Lehigh County during Pennsylvania’s April primary. For a class assignment, Vanessa created a proposal to increase voter turnout.

This year, one of Salter’s student poll workers was Vanessa-Lusianne Belony.

“How did yesterday go? What did you notice?” Salter asked her the day after Pennsylvania’s April 23 primary.

“There were a lot of White people,” Vanessa replied.

She told Salter that she could probably count the number of Black voters she saw “on both of her hands.” There were even fewer Hispanic and Asian voters, she said. Most of the 250 people who came through her polling place — located in an old banquet hall — were in their 50s or older.

Vanessa, 17, lived with her parents, grandparents and four siblings in a modest two-story house a short distance from downtown. Her mother and father — a nurse and long-haul truck driver — emigrated from Haiti more than two decades earlier and spoke often of moving back home.

Vanessa, who grew up speaking Creole and English, was born in the United States. But lately, she said she felt more Haitian than American, and she wasfilled with doubts about the country where she lived.Story continues below advertisement

One of her earliest childhood memories was of the police stopping her father as he was leaving a store in Allentown. “I remember being terrified. I was so confused,” she recalled. Vanessa said it seemed as if the police officer was using his power to intimidate her father “for no reason.”

The experience continued to resonate in the years that followed as she watched demonstrators flood Allentown — and dozens of other American cities — to protest the 2020 murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

Salter asked if she thought she could work to help fix the problem of American policing through voting or activism. “It’s been like this forever, like, since the country’s founding,” Vanessa replied. “If it hasn’t changed now, I doubt [it] … It feels like a systemic thing.”

The relatively small number of Black people who had turned out to vote in the primary had surprised and disappointed Vanessa. But it also didn’t fuel a determination to vote when she turns 18 or drive a desire for greater civic engagement. Instead, she said it left her feeling alienated.

“I don’t think I’ll ever feel that I belong in this country,” Vanessa told Salter before heading off to her next class.Story continues below advertisement

Empty desks, distracted students

The toughest students for Salter to reach were the ones who weren’t there because they rarely made it to her 9 a.m. class. She was supposed to have 12 students, but most days only six or seven showed up.

During the 2022-2023 school year only 54 percent of Building 21’s students were classified as “regular attendees,” down from about 80 percent before the coronavirus pandemic, said Jose Rosado Jr., the school’s principal. This year,the number rebounded, withabout 74 percent of the students attending regularly.

But students still struggled to make it to morning classes. Several of Salter’s students worked after-school jobs that kept them out until 10 p.m. or later. One student worked on the cleanup crew at the PPL Center, Allentown’s downtown arena, and didn’t get off some nights until 4 a.m. He told Salter that he had been working since he was 12 and landed a job washing dishes on the weekend at a cafeteria-stylerestaurantnear Allentown’s mall. “I lied about my age,” he said. “I don’t know why they believed me.”Story continues below advertisement

Other students had simply fallen out of the habit of making it to school on time. Instead of demanding they come to class, Salter worked with them during their free periods or after school. “I’ve only got one shot to convince a 17-year-old of the benefits of our democracy,” she said. “I’d rather they learn social studies than die on the hill of insisting that they show up in my room on time.”

In early May, Salter’s class studied the factors that tended to drive or suppress participation in presidential elections. The students discussed why turnout dropped precipitously in 1820, when James Monroe effectively ran unopposed for the White House, and why it spiked to about 80 percent in 1860, when Abraham Lincoln was elected amid rancorous division over the future of slavery in America.

Bryan oftenspent class reading Japanese manga novels on his phone or playing chess on his school-issued laptop. Some days he rested his head on his desk. Vanessa paid attention but rarely participated in class. The other students didn’t appear any more excited or engaged by the material.

Salterblamed some of the students’ apathy on this election’s uninspiring choices. Her students knew Biden from memes and short videos showing him slipping on the stairs of Air Force One or appearing to walk into a bush. They saw Trump as loud, profane and largely focused on helping the rich.

Salter envisioned her classes building to an exercise that she hoped would drive home the importance of voting no matter the candidates’ appeal. She had worked with a geospatial data analyst at Lehigh University to map 2016 voter turnout in more than 50 Allentown voting districts. The plan was to have students compare their district’s turnout with wealthier, Whiter and better-maintained parts of the city.


From left: Yeimy and Jinessa are seniors learning about the benefits of civic engagement; Jamalia Torres, 18, chats with Yeimy and Jinessa in Building 21.

In early May, Salter was helping a couple of seniors who rarely made it to school before 10 a.m. — Yeimy Lorenzo and Jinessa Gonzalez — catch up on their work. She decided to try the assignment out on them before she unveiled it to the full class. The two seniors noticed that voter turnout in Allentown’s wealthier west side, which has big green parks and wide, tree-lined streets, typically averaged nearly 80 percent.

Jinessa then zeroed in on her voting district, a couple of miles north of Building 21, where turnout in 2016 was less than 40 percent and the roads were full of potholes.

“This is why our shit is so shitty!” Jinessa exclaimed.

“Tell me more,” Salter replied.

“When you vote, that’s when [the politicians] look at you more and stuff,” Jinessa said. “And look at us. We aren’t voting.”

Salter was delighted that her students had made the connection. “I want you to bring all of these awesome ideas to class tomorrow,” she told them.

The next morning, a rainy Friday, only four students showed up for class; neither Yeimy nor Jinessa was among them. The students were restless and distracted. Salter directed their attention to the high voter-turnout rates in Allentown’s wealthier and Whiter western districts.Story continues below advertisement

“What do you know about the west side?” she asked, brightly.

“I didn’t even know there was a west side to Allentown,” one senior replied.

“I don’t go outside, man,” Bryan added, dully.

“It’s nicer,” Vanessa finally volunteered.

The class proceeded fitfully. “What’s going on?”she snapped at Bryan. “Why can’t you keep your head off your desk?”

Then class ended. There were two weeks until the end of the term. A frustrated Salter told the students that they would try to wrap up the lesson on Monday. The same exercisehad succeeded in previous years with other Building 21 students, she said. But, clearly, something had changed.

“What’s not working here?” she asked herself. “What’s messed with my students?”Story continues below advertisement

A new approach

The following Monday, after the students had settled into their desks, Salter asked them to put away their phones and laptops.

“Something happened in my life over the weekend, and it immediately made me think of you all,” she told them. She pulled up a picture from a few years earlier of her sitting in a restaurant in Washington with two white-haired men.

“The two older gentlemen I’m sitting with are my two high school social studies teachers,” Salter said. “In fact, I would describe them as the two voices that kind of sit on my shoulders, whisper in my ear and tell me, ‘Do better for your students.’”

She told them that Bob Dodge, who was seated to her right in the photo, had died of a brain tumor over the weekend.

“Whoa,” one of the students replied. For the first time all semester, everyone’s eyes were fixed on Salter.

Dodge had taught her that if she wanted her students to fall in love with history, then she needed to “be a storyteller,” she said.This was the mistake she had been making. “I realized that I hadn’t been doing enough storytelling with you,” she told her students.Story continues below advertisement

So, she began to tell them a story that she hoped might finally persuade them to become voters. It started with a 1963 photo of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and President Lyndon B. Johnson sitting together in the White House. Johnson wanted to move forward with his War on Poverty, but King insisted that the push for voting rights in the South should take priority.

Salter then skipped to 1965 and photos of Alabama state troopers attacking civil rights marchers as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge on their way from Selma to Montgomery — a day that became known as Bloody Sunday. “Look at the pictures carefully,” she said. “Are these protesters being treated humanely and decently by the police?”

“There’s Black people on the floor!” one student exclaimed.

Salter focused in on Amelia Boynton, a foot soldier in the civil rights movement, whom the troopers were beating unconscious. Just five months later, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which cleared away many of the barriers that blocked Black people from voting in the South. Salter knew that most of the students in her class were more worried about their economic well-being than voting. So she ended her story with a chartthat showed how the passage of the Voting Rights Act had helped open thousands of good-paying state and local government jobs to people of color.


Jalius was moved when Salter taught his class about civil rights protesters beaten by law enforcement officers in the 1960s.

Jalius DeJesus, 17, sat cross-legged on top of his desk. He and Salter had grown close over the semester; sometimes, Jalius would drop by her office just to chat.

After graduation, hewas thinking of going to trade school to learn how to be a plumber or an electrician. As for voting, he wasn’t interested. Politicians, he said, seemed more focused on their personal well-being and their party than the good of the country.

Now Jalius, who had been moved by Boynton’s bravery and sacrifices at Selma, had a question for Salter. “What argument do you have if I feel guilty for voting for somebody who I thought was going to do good but didn’t?” he asked. “I’d rather just not vote.”

“Sometimes, you’re going to kick yourself,” Salter replied. But it was still worth trying. Jalius hadn’t committed to voting in November, but at least he seemed to be considering it. The students drifted off to their next classes. For weeks, they had seemed distracted and disengaged. Salter felt that she had finally found a way to grab their attention.Story continues below advertisement

Time for a choice

For their final assignment, Salter asked her students to presenta proposal to increase voter turnout and an answer to the most important question of all: Were they going to vote?

Bryan, soaking wet from a heavy storm that hit as he was walking to school, focused on the need for more voter education in middle and high school. Some students learned about politics and the importance of voting from their parents, he said. Bryansaid hedidn’t have that opportunity. He and his mother were too busy trying to survive.

The other students listened quietly or fretted over their presentations. Bryan began to walk back to his desk. “So, what are you going to do?” Salter asked. “What are the chances that you show up on Election Day?”

He was going to register but didn’t plan to vote, he said. He was waiting for a candidate who deserved his support.


The school is in a town that has been transformed — factories have given way to e-commerce warehouses. Clockwise from top left: Keane Carrington, 17, prepares to play flag football; Alisha Peña, 15, talks to Promyse Swift-Ford, 16, in between classes; and students play badminton.

Vanessa suggested that a better, more diverse set of candidates might boost turnout.When she thought about voting, her mind went to a bridge that she passed over on her way home from school. Beneath it was a stream, a grassy bank and a homeless encampment. “We need to fix homelessness. We need to fix poverty. Inflation is crazy. Gas prices are crazy,” she said. “I think that’s part of the reason why people don’t vote.”

She thought of Boynton and the marchers beaten at Selma. “We, as Black people, fought so hard for this chance to vote. … We came from such inspiring and amazing people, and it feels like we’re here stuck in the dirt, not able to find a way out of it,” she said. “How would voting even begin to change that?”

In the fall, Vanessa plans to attend Temple University’s campus in Tokyo. She isn’t going to be old enough to vote, but even if she were, she didn’t think she would participate. “I feel like it’d be a matter of which choice isn’t as bad as the other,” she told the class.

Jalius proposed getting rid of the two-party system, which he said fed politicians’ “egotistical tendencies” and inhibited cooperation. More humility and compromise, he argued, would lead to more progress and higher voter turnout.

But like Bryan and Vanessa, he didn’t plan to vote. “I don’t consider myself well-versed enough,” he said.

In all, nine of Salter’s 12 students completed their final presentations. Only four said they planned to vote in November’s election. None seemed particularly enthusiastic.

Salter was disappointed by the final tally. She had underestimated the damage the pandemic had wrought on her students’ learning and social development, she said. She hadn’t fully grasped the ways in which the last decade’s angry and divisive politics had filled them with a deep mistrust of government and the collective wisdom of their fellow citizens.

But she didn’t feel that she had failed. All of her students had described voting as important. They hadn’t entirely quit on the idea of democracy — even if many of them were choosing not to take part. Eventually, she told herself, some issue would energize them, or some politician would inspire them. They would find a reason to have their say.


Meeting the Chronic Absenteeism Challenge What Do We Know?

Everyone Graduates on X: "Meeting the Chronic Absenteeism Challenge - What Do  We Know? A new report by @bobbalfanz, @GRADpartners, @nps_success, &  @JHU_EGC covers what we know about district & school challenges

Robert Balfanz Everyone Graduates Center, School of Education, Johns Hopkins University

This brief aims to provide a synthesis of what we know about the district and school challenges of post-pandemic chronic absenteeism, and what can be done to meet them. It further analyzes existing federal and state data on chronic absenteeism, shows variation across states on key metrics, and examines the evidence-base on what has proven effective in reducing it.

By now, most of us are aware that chronic absenteeism rates doubled post-pandemic. The multiplicity of personal, health, social, economic, and educational disruptions caused by the pandemic made it harder for millions of students to be in school every day, even as the direct health impact of Covid-19 receded.

But what does a doubling of the number of students who are missing a month or more of schooling in the school year mean? What do the numbers tell us about the challenges our schools and communities face, and what does the evidence base say about the types of solutions and responses that are needed to meet them?

It’s a big problem.

With close to 15 million students chronically absent in the 2021-22 school year, two-thirds of the K-12 students in the US were attending a school where at least twenty percent of the student body was chronically absent. This is problematic because research has shown that when a school’s chronic absenteeism rates are at these levels, the whole student body can be impacted. Not only are a fifth or more of students experiencing interrupted schooling, but the instructional pace of the whole school is interrupted when teachers constantly have a shifting set of students in their classrooms. If they slow down to catch up the students who were absent the prior day, they lose the attention of the students who were there. If they keep moving ahead, the students who were absent feel lost, and can demand additional attention. Given the unprecedented number of schools with chronic absenteeism rates of twenty percent or more in 2021-22, we need to understand that the pandemic has caused two plus years of interrupted learning in most locations.

High rates of chronic absenteeism spread to districts that had not experienced it before.

Prior to the pandemic, chronic absenteeism was a significant challenge, and its impact was heavily concentrated in schools serving students from high poverty neighborhoods. Like a tsunami wave, bringing waves of water to dry land, the impact of the pandemic spread chronic absenteeism far and wide across the country. As seen in this map, created by the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, in nearly all states, the majority of school districts had chronic absenteeism rates of twenty percent or higher in 2021-22; many experienced rates of thirty percent or more. Rural areas were not immune from large increases. Looking at the five rural districts in each state, with the greatest number of chronically absent students, shows that 138 rural districts had between 1,000 and 9,000 chronically absent students. This means that large numbers of school districts were confronted with an issue with which they had little experience, accumulated know-how, or established response systems.

In districts where chronic absenteeism had been a challenge prior to the pandemic, post-pandemic levels exceeded the capacity of existing response systems.

Before the pandemic, a district with a high rate of chronic absenteeism typically had rates between twenty and thirty percent. Post-pandemic, many of these districts saw their chronic absenteeism rates soar to fifty percent or higher. In short, missing a month or more of schooling became the normal experience for the majority of students in the district. When this occurs for a district of any size, the sheer number of students who were chronically absent becomes daunting. A large district with 80,000 students could have 45,000 who were chronically absent. A smaller district of 10,000 could have 5,000 chronically absent students. The intensity of the challenge might be best seen at the school level. In 27 states in 2021-22, half of the chronically absent students in the state attended a school where there were 200 or more chronically absent students. Think for a moment of what a school faces in reaching out to and supporting over two hundred students who are facing assorted challenges to attending school on a regular basis. Very few school’s student support systems were built for this scale and intensity of need. In 35 states, there were between 100 and 950 schools where 200 or more students were chronically absent. In the four largest states plus Arizona, there were between 1,000 and 3,000 schools with 200 or more chronically absent students.

Half of the nation’s chronically absent students are concentrated in just six percent (1,000) of school districts, which are located in every state.

The significant increase in chronic absenteeism rates in the school districts that had the highest rates of chronic absenteeism before the pandemic resulted in half of all chronically absent students in the nation being concentrated in just 1,000 (6%) of the nation’s roughly 17,000 school districts. In 36 states half of chronically absent students are concentrated in twenty or fewer school districts in the state. Districts’ ability to establish comprehensive and effective responses aligned with the scale and intensity of their attendance challenge will have outsized impacts on state and national chronic absenteeism rates and related educational and well-being outcomes. The other half of the nation’s chronically absent students are found everywhere, spread across the remaining 94% (16,000) of school districts.

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Montgomery County executive unveils spending plan with no tax increase

By Steve Thompson  Washington Post March 15 2024 

Montgomery County property tax rates would hold steady while the county puts more money into schools, affordable housing and other priorities under a spending plan unveiled by County Executive Marc Elrich (D) on Thursday.

Higher tax bills from rising property values are projected to help support the roughly $400 million in increased spending baked into Elrich’s plan for the budget year that begins July 1, a $7.1 billion framework that he said marked a return to normalcy after navigating the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’ve been able to manage this without increasing the rates to get this extra money,” Elrich said Thursday during a budget briefing.

That marks a departure from last year, when the county executive’s initial pitch included a 10 percent property tax increase to help pay for schools; the county council, which ultimately approves the budget, favored a 4.7 percent tax hike.

Nearly half of the county’s budget is devoted to the public school system, Maryland’s largest with about 160,000 students and more than 200 schools. The schools budget under Elrich’s proposal would total $3.3 billion, an increase of about $128 million, or 4.0 percent over this fiscal year.

Elrich’s budget proposal comes as the state continues to roll out the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, a landmark law that funnels billions of local and state money toward public schools. Some county executives have expressed concerns to state leadership about the law centered on costs, and they have gone to the General Assembly to request changes to their tax codes to foot the bill.

Added expenses during the pandemic years brought budget-wide challenges, followed by new problems when federal aid began running out.

About $33 million of the school budget would pay for positions previously covered by federal coronavirus relief funds, according to the school system’s budget request. Those federal funds will expire for school systems across the country in the upcoming fiscal year. Montgomery County Public Schools plans to use the requested $33 million to cover the costs of about 100 positions, which include social workers and psychologists.Share this articleNo subscription required to readShare

The next biggest chunk of the proposed county budget, $755 million, or nearly 11 percent of the total, goes to public safety expenditures that include police, fire and correctional services. That is an increase from this fiscal year’s $701 million approved public safety budget.

Elrich said his budget proposal also includes “an unprecedented $65-million increase in affordable housing” money, bringing the total to more than $169 million to help finance the preservation and production of affordable units.

The county was short 24,590 units for residents who made less than 100 percent of the area median income, according to a report last year from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. It estimated that Montgomery’s existing stock of naturally occurring affordable housing could shrink by an additional 7,000 to 11,000 units before the close of the decade.

The county’s economic advisers are forecasting a possible slight recession later this calendar year, which could affect both this and next fiscal years’ budgets. “But everybody says it’s mild, it could be extremely mild,” Elrich said. “We hope it’s extremely mild.”

The county is expecting property valuations to increase 5.6 percent in the coming fiscal year.

Montgomery officials expect to end this fiscal year with $957 million in reserves, which represents 15 percent of adjusted governmental revenue, exceeding the county’s policy of holding at least 10 percent in reserve.

County Council President Andrew Friedson said the council appreciates Elrich’s work on the proposal.

“With unprecedented needs and finite resources, we must ensure every dollar is put to its best use to serve the greatest needs of Montgomery County residents,” Friedson (D-District 1) said in a statement. “We look forward to receiving the views of our community members during the budget process, so we can carefully balance the need for important County services with pressures on our taxpayers.”

The council is scheduled to hold public hearings on the budget before a June 1 deadline for final action.

Nicole Asbury contributed to this report.


Four Montgomery schools lose Title I money after change in poverty metric

By Nicole Asbury Washington Post March 31 2024

Nine-year-old Leo Kennedy used tostruggle with writing.

Then an enrichment teacher at Viers Mill Elementary School in Silver Spring, Md. — where Leo is a fourth-grader — started pushing him more, recounted his mom, Laurel Kennedy. After the teacher gave him C’s, itmotivated him to try harder. Leo started writing, and he loved it. Now, his dream is to become a reporter.F

But the program that helped Leo discover his love of writing is in jeopardy, now that Viers Millis losinga federal Title I grant that’s key in paying fortheenrichment teacherand other positions. Three other Montgomery County elementaryschools are in asimilar predicament.

The four campuses are among 58 Montgomery schools participating in the Community Eligibility Provision,another federal program that gives free breakfast and lunch to all studentsat certain schools withhigh need. Through it, Montgomery County Public Schoolssays it is feeding more children than ever at no cost.

But schools participating in the program are no longer collecting applications for free and reduced meals, a metric that the Montgomery schools district has traditionally relied on to measure poverty at schools and dole out Title I money.

Now, there are concerns that the school system’s new methodology doesn’t fully capture how much need ison a campus, and schools that need additional federal funding may notget it. It also comes as the Montgomery County Public Schools is seeing a drop in Title I money overall as its demographics change.

Last school year, about 75 percent of Viers Mill students received free or reduced-price lunch, Montgomery County Public Schools spokesman Chris Cram said. But under the district’s new metric, the poverty level fell to about 65 percent. Under the new estimate, Viers Mill Elementary will lose its Title I status in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

During an October 2022 report, the Maryland Department of Education warned of an “inevitable disparity” for schools participating in the Community Eligibility Provision: “These CEP schools will then intrinsically have a lower FARMs rate than other schools who are not participating in CEP, even if the student population is identical.”

The state’s Department of Education saidat the time that it would work on an “alternative income eligibility form” that could capture some of the students that are missing in the data. But while the agency initially promised to create that formby 2023, it isn’t expected to roll out until the 2025-2026 school year.

Poverty calculations are vital to establish which schools qualify for Title I status, a designation that enables campuses toreceive extra federal aid. In the Montgomery school system —which has 45Title I schools in the 2023-2024 school year— the funding has helped establish summer programs and recruit staff.

Census data on an area’s poverty levels is used to determine how much Title I money is distributed to school divisions like Montgomery. The district receives a preliminary allocation of money from the state Department of Education in the spring, Cram said.

Last year, Montgomery received about $52 million to split among schools, but it has not received an estimate for the upcoming fiscal year. However, the school system typically will make its own estimate of potential Title I funding by reviewing census data. This year, with census datafrom 2022 indicating there were fewer students in poverty in Montgomery, school officials project the division will receive less Title I fundingin the coming school year.

With some schools no longer collecting the free and reduced meal applications, the school system used a different method to decide how to distribute its Title I money.The new “direct certification” process uses data from public benefits like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to estimate the poverty level of a school — a method that follows guidance from the federal government, according to a document issued in February 2022. The district then ranked schools by amount of need.

That method “changed the ranking of the schools quite drastically,” Peggy Pugh, theMontgomerydistrict’s chief academic officer, saidduring a February school board meeting. “Some of the schools slipped [in the ranking]. Some of them moved up much faster than we anticipated.”

In addition to the changes at Viers Mill,Brookhaven Elementary School in Rockville, Md., went from 72 percent to 66 percent. At Oak View Elementary School in Silver Spring, the number dropped from about 74 percent to 65 percent. But the largest decrease was at Strathmore Elementary School, which went from 73 percent to about 60 percent. Each school lost between about $360,000 to $520,000 to pay for staff and other programs.Share this articleNo subscription required to readShare

On the flip side, sixnewschools were identified as Title I. Through the method, the poverty level atEast Silver Spring Elementary Schoolrose fromabout 62 percent to about 80 percent. Other schools showing higher need under the new method wereS. Christa McAuliffe Elementary School and Waters Landing Elementary School in Germantown, Md.; Benjamin Banneker Middle School in Burtonsville, Md.; Meadow Hall Elementary School in Rockville; and Strawberry Knoll Elementary School in Gaithersburg, Md.

In February, principals at the four schools losing their Title I status started notifying their parent-teacher associations of the change. A letter from Brookhaven Elementary School Principal Xavier Kimber explained that the school would be losing several important learning interventions, including summer school and key staff members.

“This loss brings about several significant implications for our school, staff, and most importantly, our students,” Kimber wrote in his letter.

Parents were perplexed by the switch-up. One of the schools losing funding, Oak View, serves only students in grades three through five. But its feeder school, New Hampshire Estates Elementary — which serves children in between prekindergarten and second grade — kept their Title I status.

“Our numbers haven’t just changed overnight,” said Danielle Ring, a parent of a fifth-grader at Strathmore Elementary School. “They are pretty consistent over what they’ve been for the past few years.” She added that the method the school system uses appears to cut out families who are undocumented, since it relies on public benefits.

Donna Gunning, an assistant state superintendent, said state officials are working on a method that would help districts with schools in the Community Eligibility Provision identify more students who may be in need.

Meanwhile, Montgomery County Public Schools has sought grants to pay for resources provided at the four schools losing their Title I status. “It goes without saying that our focus on equity remains no matter the Title I status of any school,” Cram said.

Parents and students at the schools are wanting to bring more attention to the issue.

This month, third-, fourth- and fifth-graders at Viers Mill Elementarywho arepart of a local Girl Scouts troop organized a walkout during the school day. The elementary school students called on the school system to keep their teachers and programs.Advertisement

Leo, the 9-year-old who used to be hesitant to write, decided to cover the rally as his first reporting assignment. The change will probably affect the accelerated math and enhanced reading classes he takes.

“I feel a bit sad that I’m not going to be able to get an education that I’m on level for and stuff, and that some teachers are going to lose their jobs and stuff,” Leo said. “I feel mad because, seriously, MCPS? What did we do?”Share163Comments

By Nicole AsburyNicole Asbury is a local reporter for The Washington Post covering education and K-12 schools in Maryland. Twitter


Fighting the phone-warping of Gen Z doesn’t require government intrusion

By George F. Will Columnist|Follow authorFollow

Children are like trees, only more trouble. Winds that bend young trees expand the tree’s roots on the windward side, firmly anchoring the tree. And winds strengthen the wood on the other side by compressing its cellular structure. This growth dynamic, called “stress wood,” is a metaphor for the intelligent rearing of children, who need wind — the stresses of pressure and risk-taking — to become strong and rooted in the social soil.

Jonathan Haidt says a social catastrophe has resulted from the intersection of two recent phenomena. One is the “safetyism” of paranoid parenting, which injures bubble-wrapped children by excessively protecting them from exaggerated “stranger danger” and other irrational anxieties about the real world. The other is parental neglect regarding the “rewiring” of young brains by extreme immersion in the virtual world. This has been enabled by the swift, ubiquitous acquisition of smartphones, granting children something that is not, Haidt argues, age-appropriate: unrestricted access to the internet.

With his just-published “The Anxious Generation,” Haidt hopes to demonstrate that Johannes Gutenberg’s legacy — movable type, mass literacy: books — still matters more than Steve Jobs’s devices. Haidt, a New York University social psychologist, encourages dismay about what has happened since, around 2010, smartphones became common accoutrements of children at vulnerable developmental ages. Haidt: “Children’s brains grow to 90 percent of full size by age five, but then take a long time to wire up and configure themselves.”

High-speed broadband arrived in the early 2000s; the iPhone debuted in 2007. Since about 2010, social media companies have designed “a firehose of addictive content” for Gen Zers (born after 1995) who are often socially insecure, swayed by peer pressure and hungry for social validation. Gen Z became the first generation “to go through puberty with a portal in their pockets that called them away from the people nearby and into an alternative universe.”

Phone-based childhood displaced play-based childhood and its unsupervised conversing, touching and negotiating the small-scale frictions and setbacks that prepare children for adulthood. Fearful parents, convinced the real world is comprehensively menacing (and worried about overbroad “child endangerment” laws), will not allow their children to walk alone to a nearby store. But they allow their children unrestricted wallowing in the internet, especially social media.

The results, Haidt says — sleep deprivation, socialization deprivation, attention fragmentation — produced “failure-to-launch” boys living protractedly with parents, and girls depressed by visual social comparisons and perfectionism. Soon, college campuses were awash with timid, bewildered late-adolescents. After their phone-based childhoods (Haidt calls social media “the most efficient conformity engines ever invented”), they begged for “safe spaces” to protect their fragile “emotional safety.”

Haidt recommends “more unsupervised play and childhood independence,” “no smartphones before high school” and “no social media before 16.” There is, however, a “collective action” problem: It is difficult for a few scattered parents to resist the new technology’s tidal pull on most of their children’s peers.

Techno-pessimists should avoid the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy: The rooster crows, then the sun rises, so the crowing caused the sunrise. If smartphones vanished, schoolchildren would still be spoon-fed anxiety and depression about (if they are White) their complicity in their rotten country’s systemic racism, and (if they are not White) their grinding victimhood, until we all perish from climate change.

Haidt’s data demonstrating a correlation (the arrivals of smartphones and of increased mental disorders) suggest causation, but remember: Moral panics about new cultural phenomena — from automobiles (sex in the back seats) to comic books (really) to television to video games to the internet — are features of this excitable age.

Although Haidt is always humane and mostly convincing, his argument does not constitute a case for government trying to do what parents and schools can do. They can emulate Shane Voss.

In Durango, a city in southwest Colorado, Voss, head of Mountain Middle School, acted early, and decisively. In 2012, he banned access to smartphones during the school day. The results, Haidt writes, were “transformative”:

“Students no longer sat next to each other, scrolling while waiting for homeroom or class to start. They talked to each other or the teacher. Voss says that when he walks into a school without a phone ban, ‘It’s kind of like the zombie apocalypse and you have all these kids on the hallways not talking to each other.’”

Soon Voss’s school reached Colorado’s highest academic rating. This local experience constitutes a recommendation to the nation. Recognize the potentially constructive power of negation: Just say no.

Opinion by George F. WillGeorge F. Will writes a twice-weekly column on politics and domestic and foreign affairs. He began his column with The Post in 1974, and he received the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1977. His latest book, “American Happiness and Discontents,” was released in September 2021. Twitter


Here’s why Americans under 40 are so disillusioned with capitalism

By Heather Long Editorial writer and columnist Washington Post April 2 2024

I was at an event recently where several top business executives were perplexed about whyAmericans under 40 are so disillusioned with capitalism. What could they do to restore trust in our economic system?

My suggestion was simple: Treat workers better. This wasn’t the answer they wanted. Many rushed to tell me how generous their pay raises have been, how easy it is to go from an entry-level job to management at their company, and how they have diversified their workforce. These are all welcome efforts, but they miss the bigger picture. Young people in America have come of age during the Great Recession, the sluggish recovery that followed and then the coronavirus pandemic. Unemployment has been 10 percent or higher twice in the past 15 years. Young workers have seen how expendable they are to companies and how quickly financial security can evaporate.

Millennials have had such a tumultuous start in the workforce, they have been nicknamed the “unluckiest generation.” Theyare struggling to navigate the most unaffordable housing market since the early 1980s. And that’s before anyone talks about the larger challenges of climate change, wars and political partisanship and paralysis.

No one expects business leaders to solve all these problems. But they need to start acknowledging how dramatically the relationship between workers and employers has changed in the past half-century. People no longer work for the same company for the bulk of their careers. There are benefits to job-switching: It usually leads to bigger pay raises. But it has made many other aspects of people’s financial lives more complicated and less secure. Each new job has a unique, complex benefit package. Workers are now largely on their own to figure out — and fund — their retirement, plus a growing share of their health care and educational training. It is even more complicated for the millions of people in gig, freelance or contract jobs who are entirely on their own.

“The shift from defined benefit to defined contribution has been, for most people, a shift from financial certainty to financial uncertainty,” BlackRock chief executive Larry Fink wrote in his annual letter published last week.

Many Americans aren’t saving enough for retirement on their own in 401(k)s and other individual plans. And when they do retire, they struggle to know how much to spend, because no one knows whether they will need their nest egg for a few more years — or decades. Pension plans took care of this uncertainty by guaranteeing a monthly payment for as long as someone lived. The risks were on the company.

Fink was refreshingly blunt that it’s not hard to figure out why millennials and Gen Z workers are economically anxious. “They believe my generation — the Baby Boomers — have focused on their own financial well-being to the detriment of who comes next. And in the case of retirement, they’re right,” he said.

While Fink correctly identified a key problem, his proposed solution wasn’t to bring back pension plans. It was a new BlackRock product that helps people better manage their retirement spending. In other words, it’s a way for BlackRock to likely make more money.

It’s a shame that Fink didn’t use his bullhorn to call on business and political leaders to shore up Social Security. It’s hugely popular and the country’s most successful policy to keep people out of poverty. Young people have seen the headlines that, if nothing changes, Social Security will start having to reduce benefits in 2034. It’s another reason to worry. Fink calls for raising the retirement age. That’s probably part of the solution. But a better way to ensure that Social Security will be there for younger generations is to raise taxes slightly on corporations and the wealthy. It wouldn’t take much to restore this critical source of financial security for millennials and Gen Z.

Another way to look at how much less workers are getting from companies is a metric known as labor’s share of national income. What executives don’t like to talk about is that while pay has increased a lot in the rebound from the pandemic, corporate profits have soared even more. The share of the economic pie that goes to worker pay remains well below historic norms, as even Goldman Sachs has pointed out. It’s one more way that today’s employees are losing ground compared with prior generations.

Young Americans have had a harsh introduction to capitalism. Even as the economy is back on strong footing, many remain deeply anxious. If business leaders want to change that, a wise place to start would be to give workers a secure retirement again, starting with Social Security.Share5593Comments

Opinion by Heather Long

Heather Long is a columnist and member of The Washington Post’s Editorial Board. She was U.S. economics correspondent from 2017 to 2021. Before The Post, she was a senior economics reporter at CNN and a columnist and deputy editor at the Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. She also worked at an investment firm in London and was a Rhodes Scholar


Trying to decipher a man’s mind? Now there’s a name for that.

By Nick Roberts March 27, 2024 at 8:02 a.m. EDT Washington Post

When Ellie Anderson, an assistant professor of philosophy at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., had coffee with female friends, she noticed the conversation often involved dissecting the meaning of comments or texts from their male romantic partners.

Together, they’d talk through an argument with a boyfriend, or try to interpret a vague text message from the night before. They’d game out the next step, deciding when, if at all, to bring up the issue, and then carefully prepare what they’d say or draft a text message in response.

Anderson says many of the women she knows “spend what seems to be an inordinate amount of time interpreting the pretty opaque cues of men they’re dating.”

Anderson felt she was observinga form of “emotional labor,” a term first defined by sociologist Arlie Hochschild to describe how certain workers — typically women — have to suppress emotions, such as flight attendants who deal with unruly passengers.

But what to call the mental work women were doing in deciphering cryptic conversations and texts? In a paper published last year, Anderson penned a new term: “hermeneutic labor.”

Hermeneutics refers to the interpretation of language. Hermeneutic labor, Anderson says, encompasses three phases of emotional work:

  • Interpreting the feelings of others.
  • Determining when and whether to bring difficult, emotional conversations up.
  • Interpreting your own feelings.

Anderson argues that hermeneutic labor is largely performed by women who are forced to interpret the emotions and motives of male partners who lack the emotional vocabulary to explain themselves.

The men, Anderson says, “are often really taken aback and are like, ‘Oh, why are you causing a problem?’”

She argues this dynamic can have a particularly negative effect on women in heterosexual couples because their work to maintain the relationship is often met with disbelief, accusations of overreacting or fixating on problems their partner claims don’t exist. This, Anderson says, has the effect of punishing women for attempting to maintain their relationships.

It starts in childhood

Amy Warren, a licensed mental health counselor in Sarasota, Fla. has seen the pattern Anderson describes again and again over the course of her 29 year career. More often than not, it’s the woman in a heterosexual relationship who pushes the couple to seek counseling.

“Oftentimes, the man’s blindsided,” Warren says. “Men are unhappy in the relationship because a woman’s unhappy, and the woman’s unhappy because a man’s emotionally disconnected.”

But rather than blaming men for their emotional disconnection, Warren faults how men are raised.

“So many men think of their role in a relationship as the provider, the father, sometimes the protector,” Warren says. “That’s because they’ve been groomed to believe that is their role. Not really because they chose it.”

Warren, who is also a psychotherapist, says this lack of emotional expressivity arises from what she calls “little T traumas” in early childhood.

“When you tell a child, ‘Don’t cry; don’t be a baby; grow up; be a big boy,’ that’s definitely a little T trauma, because it teaches them to shut down their emotions,” Warren says.

The toll of masculine norms

Psychology professor Ronald Levant says he frequently starts lectures by asking the audience if they know a man who has trouble verbally expressing his emotions. The result has almost always been the same.

“Almost everybody raises their hand,” Levant says.Share this articleNo subscription required to readShare

Levant, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Akron and a former president of the American Psychological Association, has been studying emotionally inexpressive men for more than four decades.

While it’s true that many women and nonbinary individuals also have trouble expressing emotions, the stereotype of the emotionally inexpressive man persists. The reason, experts say, is because so-called masculine norms still dominate many cultures.

Levant’s research focuses on these masculine norms, which include dominance, toughness, self-reliance, a strong interest in sex, disdain for all things feminine, gay or bisexual, and restricting the expression of emotions. The result of these norms, Levant and other experts say, is that boys often are socialized to suppress the expression of vulnerable and caring emotions.

This inability to identify emotions with words also has a name — “normative male alexithymia.” The condition, Levant stresses, is “normative” not because it is common enough to be considered normal, but because it arises out of social norms associated with traditional masculinity.

2012 study co-authored by Levant found the condition was associated with higher rates of fear of intimacy and lower rates of relationship satisfaction and communication quality.

“If a boy is essentially punished for showing affection or crying,” Levant says, “he’s going to kind of not allow this emotion to come out.”

How to improve communication

When one partner struggles to put their emotions into words, it requires both parties to improve how they communicate. Here’s some advice.

Take turns being upset. Amir Levine, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at Columbia University, has a rule for couples that come to his practice: Only one person is allowed to be upset at a time.

Levine, who also co-wrote the popular book “Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find — and Keep — Love,” says that in relationships, one person’s mood — whether it’s miserable or happy — affects the mood of the partner. The person who is upset first should be the one who is allowed to be upset.

“You have to put your upset aside and find a way to make them not upset because that’s your job,” Levine says. “That’s kind of what relationships are all about.”

Reflect back the words. Reflecting back what your partner says has the effect of showing them you’re listening to them, and invites the opportunity to clarify what’s upsetting them.

Warren says it’s important “to say back to the person what you think you heard them say, so the speaker can then clarify.You get the whole picture, and you can respond accordingly rather than getting reactive and defensive.”

Let your partner know what you want. Warren says it’s imperative for intimate partners to let each other know what they want in their relationships, and “stand firm” that you won’t tolerate certain behaviors.

Warren notes that many people wrongly believe that their partners should intuitively know their needs without being told.

“It’s up to us to let them know in a gentle, loving way what we want,” Warren says.