Sunday, December 30, 2007

Our Daughters

I remember, being in eighth grade, and wanting to grow up to be a teacher in the inner city. I devoured a constant stream of books about teacher success stories that could have easily been made into Disney movies. I was inspired and I believed that I too could change a piece of the world. My girlfriends also had dreams of growing up and pursuing careers. Nobody discouraged us from being whatever we wanted; we went on to college and graduate schools. Some of us pursued careers, some of us became full-time mothers and some tried to balance the two. This was before Title IX opened up playing fields to equalize access to athletics, before sexual harassment was outlawed and bias for college scholarships and financial aid was banned based on sex.

According to Dan Kindlon, a psychologist and adjunct professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, my daughters are profoundly different from who I was at their age. He studied 900 girls and boys in grades 6 -12, from the US and Canada and concluded in his book, Alpha Girls: Understanding the new American Girl and How She is Changing the World:
This generation of girls can be labeled, “alpha girls” because data shows they outperform boys in grades, honors, high school graduation rates and college entrance. That this new girl power is characterized by ‘emancipated confidence’ that is raising self esteem, reducing depression and altering gender roles among girls and women.
Last night I was at my 12 year old daughter’s basketball tournament. Before the game, the opponents were sitting together in a group, waiting to go into the gym. As I watched them, I stubbornly realized that they really are different from who I was at that age and they are growing up with very different expectations. There were basketball teams for girls my age, heck, my mom played basketball in high school - but girls’ athletics was not given the legitimacy that it has today. We didn’t have Recreation leagues, Little League, summer sports camps and sports clinics. Of the four teams that were out on those two courts, last night, 3 of them had woman coaches. Today, girls believe they can be as good or even better than boys, their playtime counts and their competition is just as important. And it is. Those girls played hard, aggressive basketball. And this confidence carries over to their school performance as well.

Annually, I attend the Awards nights at our high school. I have been tracking this phenomenon since before my son graduated in 2005: By my rough estimate, at least 2/3 of the academic awards always go to girls. The National Honor Societies, whether for foreign languages or general academics, consist of a strong majority of girls and my kids tell me that the presence of testosterone in the Honors and AP classes is almost non-existent. I can’t remember the last time our high school valedictorian was male.

And it’s cool now for girls to be jocks or to be smart or even better to be both. When I was growing up, it was acceptable to excel in tennis or track, but enter the culture of male dominated sports and watch out. My best friend was captain of the girls’ basketball team. She was smart and an incredible athlete, but boys shied away from her - way too intimidating. We were class presidents, team captains and honors recipients. In fact, according to Lawrence Katz, a professor of economics, “girls have been ahead of boys in precollege education for well over 100 years: in high school graduation rates and in constituting 2/3 of honor students”. Here’s the difference: we weren’t taken seriously until the women’s movement accelerated change through Title IX, and other political and legal advancements.

In an article about this study in Harvard Magazine, the author acknowledges:
Today, there is a “paradigm shift in the way parents think about their girls’ options in the world. There’s a whole generation of girls whose creativity and intellect are being supported by their families. Their mothers and fathers are cheering them on, coaching them and setting the bar high, so that their ambition can soar and take them high”.
The playing field is leveling off and for the first time, girls and young women have an opportunity to realize their potential. They do have more self-confidence and great self esteem. They are definitely more empowered.

But, if Dan Kindlon is going to label these girls, “Alpha Girls”, then I take offense. The term “alpha girl” was coined to describe those horrible middle school bullies who rule the school, set the trends, decide who will be popular and who will be relegated to the lowest rung of the social ladder. We all knew them and even though they now have a title, they existed way before any of us were even born. The fact that Kindlon chooses this term to describe this present generation of young women is insulting and perpetrates the exact stereotype that women of my generation are trying to erradicate - that successful, professional women are backstabbing, power-hungry, disingenuous bullies.

And what about girls who do not have educational or economic advantages? Although Kindlon points out that there are “alphas” in the inner city, they are less widespread among low-income and minority girls. I believe there is still a lot of work needed in these communities before this entire generation of girls is on equal footing with the boys. The girls that Dan Kindlon characterizes still represent a fraction of the entire female population.

Putting the disparity among socioeconomic groups aside for a moment, I want to believe that my daughters are on the cusp of economic and social equality and they no longer have to “confront the psychological demons that used to affect girls and women in this country”, like I guess I did. Or at least I am told I did by the psychologists who wrote about my generation. But at the end of the day, the big issues remain unresolved. With 72% of American mothers working outside the home, the work/family challenge is widespread. “From a women’s rights point of view, that’s still the hardest hurdle to overcome.”

This is not just about women. I accept that our girls are different than we were. So this creates issues for both sexes. Now it’s about choices and the ability to choose the kinds of family couples will have, how child-rearing responsibilities will be shared and the division of labor. Unless this generation opts not to procreate, then all the strides that have been made to get girls on equal footing with their male counterparts will be for nothing. Once women enter the workforce and want to have a family, what choices are they left with?

I opted out of the workforce. I didn’t make it into the inner city to teach. If I was a young mother today, I wonder if my choice would be different. Would I be caught in this wave of equality and expectations that women can “have it all”? Would I believe that I could pursue my professional dreams and have a large family and raise my own kids? I really don’t know. Maybe my decision was easier back then because I didn’t believe I could “do it all”. Maybe the choices are becoming different now.

My wish for my daughters is that when the time comes for them to choose, their options will abound with flexible work hours, telecommuting, reasonable maternity and paternity leaves and other creative solutions that we don’t even know about yet. I sincerely hope they can have it all. But I am afraid, that I may be expecting too much, still too soon, and this may only, possibly, be a reality for my granddaughters.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Really, now.

Dear Random Woman in the grocery store parking lot,

I know it was only a parking space.

Let me refresh your memory. The parking lot was so packed, that shoppers were being stalked by drivers who were waiting to park. You had one of those golden spaces right out front. In parking lot culture - you were the Queen. Remember, you were there with your husband and two daughters who must have been about 9 and 11? You only had a few bags left to unload from your cart. I stopped and waited for your space. I am sure you saw me put my directional on because our eyes met.

You had two choices: to hurry your family along and gracefully participate in this parking lot economics, or drag your feet and intentionally and methodically slow down progress. Predictably, and unfortunately for me, you opted for the latter. I saw it coming- it was as if my car blinker signaled your brain to move in slow motion. And then, what timing. Someone appeared out of nowhere from across the way, whom you hadn’t seen in a while (or at least you made it appear that way). You flagged her down to introduce to your whole family. You could really drag this out for a while now. You held me hostage, sort of. I know I was free to leave but the daunting line of hapless drivers was your ransom. Do you remember I rolled down my window and asked you nicely if you were leaving, reminding you that the traffic was like, excuse the pun, a parking lot??

Do you remember you acted surprised by the sound of my voice, but then assured me you were leaving? So I waited. Patiently. And then there was absolutely no correlation between your words and your actions. I noticed my fingers had started tapping the steering wheel, and I promise it wasn’t to the happy beat of my music from the car radio. I would have moved on if you told me that you wouldn’t be leaving - but you chose instead to play your version of a game of chicken. You knew as well as I did, that you couldn’t wait to get out of there - you probably couldn’t even stand this woman. You probably had a whole checklist of other errands to do before the holiday - oh yeah, the holiday, Christmas.

It’s also comforting to know that you found a mate with whom you share such common values. The game seemed so familiar to him and he played along so willingly. But your young daughters looked embarrassed. At one point, I thought I saw one of them even shrug helplessly at me.

Two young shoppers caught the gist of the scene when they saw my flashing blinker and the coffee klatch that had unfolded in front of me. They walked right up to my car and offered their space to me. With determination and kindness they quickly unloaded their cart and backed out and let me maneuver my car into the space. One of them even returned the cart while the other one moved the car. I hope your daughters were watching. Actually, YOU should hope they were watching so they could see that there actually are decent people in this world. They obviously aren’t going to be learning about decency from you.

I am writing now because I refrained from confronting you when I got out of my car. I didn’t even look at you. I was too embarrassed for your behavior and I was above the notion of becoming another story of crazy holiday parking lot incidents. Trust me, I had more than a few words to say to you.

I am perplexed by your blatantly selfish behavior. I am embarrassed for your children. I am infuriated by your rudeness. I am dumbfounded that any human being could feel so self-important. I am not sure who won our little game of chicken, and honestly, I could care. But I do know that I walked out of my car feeling like a winner because in the end I was touched by kindness. I would rather live in my world that embraces people like those two young girls than in your ridiculously selfish one. You, on the other hand, have to live with yourself everyday and to me, that seems pretty painful.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Can't Get it all done...

"Why did you do all this for me?" (Wilbur) asked. "I don't deserve it. I've never done anything for you." "You have been my friend," replied Charlotte. "By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift my life a trifle. Heaven knows, anyone's life can use a little of that."

~from Charlotte’s Web by EB White

Today I came the realization that writing everyday -- especially about the troubles in our world, is way too large and (depressing task). The solutions are overwhelming and who wants to feel overwhelmed every time they read a posting? Besides, on many days I can barely find the time to do, although I would love to make writing one of my "must -dos". I commend any blogger who can post daily - and post with meaning -- my “friends” who visit me often seem to achieve this with great skill… perhaps I am not organized enough, in my mind or in my life, to do this….yet.

But I will work towards that goal. In the meantime, I am not abandoning my idea of WMD’s, just tempering it a bit. On Monday it seemed like a great idea. Today, life got in the way, bit it's all good and that’s fine with me...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

High School Dropout A Silent Epidemic - We Must Do Something (WMD'S #1)

Every 29 seconds, another student gives up on school. This translates into more than 1 million American high school students every year. Nearly 33% of all public high school student and 50% of all black, Hispanic and Native American students fail to graduate from public high school with their class.

Take a moment to forget about the question I have posted earlier, about whether our high school graduates will be able to compete in the global market in the 21st century. What about the one million students per year, who barely have a chance to compete here in the United States?

What surprises me most about high school dropouts, is the major reason why they drop out. I naively believed that it was due mostly to personal reasons, such as helping support a family, pregnancy, or care for a family member. From a study sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, I learned that nearly 50% of all dropouts do so because their classes are not interesting. Furthermore 70% have said they were not motivated to work hard and 66% said they would have worked harder if more had been demanded of them. Only 1/3 of all students dropout because of family or personal situations.

Our schools are failing our kids. As I read this study further it is unquestionably clear that dropping out is an act of last resort. A fair percentage of these students enter high school unprepared and are destined to fail. We all know “those” kids -- the one’s who struggled early on either academically, emotionally or socially. Teacher and peer expectations are lowered, kids become underachievers and before long it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As unhappy as some of these kids may be in school, none of them look forward to the day when they are old enough to drop out. The study pointed out that dropping out is not a “sudden act, but a gradual process of disengagement”. In other words, there is time to intervene before that last act is committed.

I realize the seemingly insurmountable challenges that teachers and other school officials contend with on a daily basis and I applaud their efforts to confront these challenges. I have only researched the tip of the iceberg when looking for nonprofit, for-profit and government agencies putting forth enormous efforts to help fight this problem. But here is my position.

If you look in the eyes of any child, no matter the age or socioeconomic background, and believe that each one individually wants to succeed, find happines and be a positive and contributing member to our society, then there’s the first step. Kids need someone who can believe in them. Every child wants to grow up to be something - ask any preschooler - they all have an answer. So much can go wrong during this process of growing up and graduating from high school and we come out the losers. There is so much potential that goes untapped because kids get lost along the way.

So, what can we do? Here are a few suggestions:

1) Think about becoming a mentor. I have had the privilege of being a mentor for the last years and I promise anyone who volunteers to give one on one time to a child will reap benefits that are far beyond anything you can imagine. Here is the website of which is the national clearinghouse for mentoring advocacy and programs. Check to see if your town has a program already in place. January is National Mentoring Month.

2) Check out your school district to see what its high school graduation rate is and how it compares to other towns in your state and the United States. Then decide if there is something you want to do about it if you are unhappy with the statistic.

3) Find out the presidential candidates stand on this issue.

4) Further educate yourself on the issue. This will get you started, or this

5) Think about education reform. Take a look at these stories and websites: NPR did a story today about Boulder's school system and an innovative approach to education, Edin08is a fairly new initiative, have a look.

And finally, here’s something to remember:
“Make a habit of two things: to help or at least to do no harm" ~ Hippocrates

Monday, December 17, 2007

Band Aid - Do they Know It's Christmas

This YouTube Video of Bob Geldoff and Band Aid, in 1984, singing about famine in Ethiopia at Christmas time is a fitting way for me to introduce something new to Minivan Diaries. I have been enjoying writing and thinking about issues that are important to me, educating myself and anyone else who wishes to read my blog. However, at times I feel frustrated at not going beyond the issues to offering some solutions.

So I am beginning a daily post on important causes and issues of interest in my community, my state, the country or the world that affect kids. I propose turning the negative and hopeless implication of the awful acronym, “WMD’S” into positive action. Instead of “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” let’s think, “We Must Do Something”. And hopefully we can all think positively about making this world a better place for our kids. Along with my posts, I will try to include ways to help or get involved and at the very least always offer resources to learn more about it.

I enjoy thinking and writing about general observations and rambling thoughts that may pass through my brain - so there will be other posts too -- but I am excited about this new addition and I hope you will be too. So keep a daily (I hope!) lookout for WMD’S. We need not fear them, we just need to become educated, have some dialogue and find ways to help!

..and just think, this was produced 23 years ago - how much progress has been made?

Friday, December 14, 2007

18 in '08

Whenever I listen to John Mayer’s song, “Waiting on the World to Change”, it makes me sad for this generation of young adults who believe they are disenfranchised. His lyrics resonate with young people. Yet to me, his words sound hopeless: rather than believing they can play an active role in addressing the world’s problems, they’ll just “wait on the world to change”. I have to believe that the current administration has been partly to blame for their cynicism and feelings of hopelessness. But we are less than a year away from the next Presidential election and now is the time for them to realize that their voices are important and must be heard. The first step is to vote. There will be over 29 million people between the ages of 18 and 24 eligible to vote in 2008.

There is a new documentary, directed by a Haverford College freshman, entitled “18 in ’08”. Young people should get hold of this film and watch it - then they should pass it on to somebody else they know and so on, and so on until it has reached this entire cohort of people - waking them from their passivity and stirring them to action. If the candidates only realized the potential influence this demographic has in deciding our next president, they would be campaigning hard for their votes. Instead, because they are “waiting on the world to change” we are not hearing the voices of this generation nor are they asking the tough questions and demanding answers.

I recently wrote a post about the documentary, 2 Million Minutes. I feel a similar sense of uneasiness after viewing this film. What is the future for the young people of this country? What roles will they play academically, economically, politically and socially? John Mayer sings:

Me and all my friends
We're all misunderstood
They say we stand for nothing and
There's no way we ever could
Now we see everything that's going wrong
With the world and those who lead it
We just feel like we don't have the means
To rise above and beat it

My hope, is at the very least, they will realize that their vote counts and it will be the first step to discovering that they can’t “wait on the world to change” or it will be too late.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Childhood Obesity Revisited

The other day, my kids reminded me of the dessert policy I instituted when they were young. They could choose to either have: 2 small items, like two cookies, or 8 M&M’s. Don’t ask me how I came up with this crazy formula. But I do remember firmly adhering to it and except on special occasions they knew never to even ask for special dispensation.

When they were too young to know any differently, there were no sweets or junk food in our house, at least not for them. As they got old enough to know better, I declared that complete abstinence would create cookie monsters, so “that food” became permissible but only in a natural, controlled rhythm. I do admit to sometimes finding empty candy wrappers and chip bags under couch cushions and under beds, but I allowed these digressions to pass without confrontation. I attributed it to youthful spunkiness and small acts of rebellion - allowing the guilty parties to believe that they had gotten away with something. Instead, maybe it should have been my wake up call.

By the time my kids became adolescents, they could easily have been labeled “chunky”, or “full”, or dare I say, overweight? Although I knew they weren’t skinny, they were very active, avidly playing all kinds of sports and most importantly, they had great self esteem, lots of friends and definitely no body image issues. Today, when I look back at their pictures they were definitely “overweight”. Back then I grappled with how to deal with the problem. Or was it a problem? They were far from obese, lead busy, active lives and quite honestly were very happy. The last thing that I wanted for my kids to believe was that their size mattered. Who's problem was it really?

So we framed it with discussions about eating healthy and the importance of being fit. We always had healthy meals and rarely ate fast food. Removing the sweets and chips from our cupboards was not the answer. I believed that teaching my kids how to eat in moderation and to enjoy food - every type - was a life skill they needed to learn. Removing temptations, instead of learning how to manage them, is no way to enjoy life. Perhaps this approach was a leap of faith, and either it worked or they just grew out of it. As they passed through adolescence, they eventually shed their extra weight.

But how would have I felt if their pediatrician actually labeled them “fat” to their faces at their annual physicals? I am positive I would not have welcomed this harsh reality check. Not only would I have been insulted, I never would have condoned such callous and insensitive behavior from our pediatrician. The American Medical Association has recently proposed such a recommendation:
"We need to describe this in medical terms, which is 'obesity.' When we talk to an individual family, we can be a little more cognizant of their feelings and more gentle, but that doesn't mean we can't discuss it," Washington said. "The evidence is clear that we need to bring it up."

In our ambitious attempt to confront these important issues, physicians still need to be mindful of the power in which they are vested. All adults, for that matter, cannot underestimate the potential damage their words can cause. Stigmatization can do as much harm to children as their overweight bodies. All my kids are average weights now. But they each have gone through different weight phases in their short lives. Had there been intervention by a teacher, a physician or even the government it may very well have had a detrimental affect on them. Who is to say what the best practice is?

It is crucial that we act on the obesity epidemic in our country. However, this call for action needs to be balanced ever so carefully with our responsibility to protect our young people from living a lifetime of never feeling good enough unless they are a size 2 or flaunt a sculptured body of muscle and fine lines. It’s a balancing act on a tightrope that requires master skills to gently make the way unfailingly across that wire or we risk raising an entire population of unhealthy as well as unhappy adults.

Children deserve time to be kids and to not feel like failures because they are overweight - especially when it’s not their fault. Parents, media, schools, economics and social factors are what is responsible for who they are and who they will become. They deserve to be healthy and to have a chance at living happy, normal, productive and fulfilling lives. Fixing the obesity problem in America is far more challenging than we may even begin to imagine.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Childhood Obesity - A Threat to our Public Health

About 33% of US children and adolescents between the age of 2 and 19 years old are overweight and 17.1% of those are obese

“If we don’t take steps to reverse course, the children of each successive generation seem destined to be fatter and sicker than their parents.” Dr. David Ludwig made this statement in an editorial he wrote in a recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, in response to the findings of two published studies of childhood obesity. Both studies looked at the effects that childhood obesity will have on the future health of overweight children. One study followed 277,000 Danish students for decades by evaluating detailed health records. The study found,
…the more overweight a child was between ages 7 and 13, the greater the risk of heart disease in adulthood. The older the children are, the higher the chance for later heart risk. So, for example, a boy who was heavier than his peers at age 7 had a 5 percent increased risk for later heart disease, but a boy who was heavier than his peers at age 13 had a 17 percent greater risk.

If these findings aren’t startling enough, there’s more. The most obese child in the Danish study was at a 33% greater risk for heart disease in adulthood. Yet, the fattest boys in the entire Danish sample are barely considered overweight by US standards. Barely considered overweight by US standards! Think about the implications of that finding. This means that the risk for adult heart disease for Americans is most definitely even greater than 33%.

Now combine this information with the findings out of UCSF which state that:
if the number of overweight children continues to increase at current rates, then by the year 2035, the rate of heart disease will rise to 16 percent or as many as 100,000 extra cases of heart disease attributable to childhood obesity.

Although it may not seem like it now, it won’t be long before we are standing on the threshold of a Public Health crisis. The economic costs of this strain on our health care system will be enormous. A surge in serious illness (and obesity also increases the risk for Type 2 diabetes, kidney failure, limb amputation and premature death) translates into lower worker productivity, job loss and in the end a dying economy.

Pretty bleak forecast and in the meantime, not a lot is being done to turn this crisis around. Our kids continue to lead more sedentary lives, snack on junk food, eat fast food for meals, be inundated with ad campaigns for these dangerous foods and then be served them in their school cafeterias.

I don’t mean to say that nothing is being done to attack this epidemic. The State of Arkansas began a health report card for all students in grades K -12. At the end of every year students are sent home with a report their weight, BMI etc. Apparently there have been some positive results. When the fact that their child is overweight is staring them in the face some parents and kids take action; however, the program is purely elective, so it is unclear which families are opting in and which families are not being counted.

School systems have instituted nutrition and exercise programs with some success. For example, a research group, The Healthier Options for Public Schools, followed 3700 students in a Florida county over 2 years. School districts instituted an intervention program in 4 schools and the results were measured against two schools that did not have a program. The intervention program included dietary changes, increased exercise and nutrition awareness. There were dramatic changes in the kids who had intervention, however, when those students returned from summer vacation, most had reverted back to their old habits.

The good news is, that with education, changes in lifestyle and healthful diets, this trend can be reversed. The broader and more daunting question, is how? When the cost of healthy eating is often too high for low-income families and fast food has become the norm because families are too busy to sit down for a meal, and our entire population has become sedentary, it appears that we are doomed to fail our children. The issues are economic, cultural and political. But if we do not create a comprehensive national strategy to attack this problem, it will soon be too late.
We have in our communities a perfect storm that will continue to feed the childhood obesity epidemic until we adopt policies that improve the health of our communities and our kids," Frank Chaloupka, an economics professor the University of Illinois at Chicago.

So what do we do? There are countless competing issues. On the one hand, we have a culture that is unhealthy and overweight and on the other hand we have a “body image” obsessed society. There are issues of self esteem, bullying, and stigmatization attached to obese kids yet we also want to teach our kids to like themselves for who they are and not for what they look like. The one thing is clear, however, we cannot stay on this trajectory and if we do we will be doing a terrible disservice to this future generation.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

2 Million Minutes to Face the Competition

I have finally had an opportunity to view the documentary, 2 Million Minutes.

Briefly, the film focuses on 6 high school students, two each from the United States, China and India. Each pair attends the same high school, which by the way, are all top performing schools in their respective countries. The students represent the stereotypical profile one would expect to see: the American students are high achieving and successful but are not particularly academically motivated, the Chinese students are high achieving, intense and focused and the Indian students are high achieving and hard-working but seem internally conflicted by the external pressure of their parents and Indian society. The film explores cultural attitudes about education and whether or not American students will be able to compete in the global economy in the 21st century.

I immediately wondered how the students were chosen for the film. All six of them were very bright and ranked in the upper end of their classes. At first, I thought they purposely profiled “typical” high achieving American students but picked “extraordinary” Chinese and Indian students to make a more drastic point. But as I continued viewing, I realized that all the students seemed pretty typical whithin their own cultures. As extraordinary as the Chinese and Indian students appeared to me it was evident that I was judging them through my American eyes. Although I was impressed by their commitment and fortitude, I realized they were clearly not the most distinguished students in their countries. However, those typical high achieving students in China or India are more similar to our most extraordinary students in America.

I was prepared to watch yet another documentary that mocked our broken system and hailed the Asians as superior in their methodology and resolute in their academic rigor. It is not what I found. Instead, I watched a thought provoking dialogue about the potential crisis that America may face if we don’t,

wake up and realize the new threat, the fact that we are competing with anyone anywhere in the world and we’re going to lose. We are not going to be the leaders in the next 30 years or so unless we wake up and realize that. And it takes decades to create a high performing scientist or engineer. Because these things unfold over time, people tend to overlook them. It is a crisis because by the time one recognizes what has happened it takes time to remedy the situation.

Despite the warning, I couldn’t help cheer a bit for the American students. I found comfort in their individual spirit and wholesome attitude about finding balance in their lives. The openness of our society breeds opportunities that don’t exist in other countries. As a result our high school students face different challenges and expectations. The opportunity for economic mobility, the freedom to decide what’s going to help them lead happy and fulfilling lives also adds a certain pressure that students in these other countries cannot relate to.

And then I thought about yesterday’s announcement of the winners of the 2007 Siemens competition in Math, Science and Technology. All three winners for the individual and team competitions were girls (which is fodder for another time). I went to the Siemens website to read the bios of the National finalists. I expected to find science “geeks” whose lives were absorbed only by academics. To my surprise, I found public school kids who not only excelled in the sciences but were captains of sports teams, newspaper editors, community activists, literary geniuses and accomplished musicians. Even those extraordinary American science students find time to balance their lives with other interests and commitments.

What motivates these kids? Is it their schools, their families or some internal drive that has been nurtured by a combination of both? Why are they the extreme examples of our educational system rather than the norm? Do they represent the models for our future? It would be interesting to interview these students to hear about their experience and interaction with the American educational system as well what expectations they have for themselves. I would venture to guess, that their core values may not differ much from the two students interviewed for this film. Chances are they are also seeking balance and happiness in their lives but is there a place for these values in the global market?

Although I believe that our educational system is in terrible need of repair, I don’t believe that the Chinese or Indian systems are models we should necessarily aspire to. There is no question that our students face greater challenges than earlier generations and they will certainly confront the competition of an ever increasing, highly motivated and incredibly sophisticated international workforce. But I am not sure what we, as a nation, are willing to compromise to stay ahead or even remain in the race. By who’s rules will this generation play by?

Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under President Clinton sums it all up in the film:

It’s not to be #1 necessarily in everything. It’s not to knock the Chinese or the Indians down, it’s to be part of an increasingly, hopefully more valuable set of human minds doing more and more complicated and more productive things.

I don’t think we need a crystal ball to look 30 years into the future, but the bigger question is, what are we going to do about it and when will it become too late? 2 Million Minutes is the springboard from which we must begin to dive into these issues.