Posts Tagged US

Second time on political talk show radio …

After receiving generally positive feedback from my first foray into the political talk show world (about which I blogged earlier), I was invited today to participate in a discussion about the second debate that took place between President Obama and Mitt Romney earlier this week. 

In addition, this time I had the opportunity to express my views about the political involvement of Indians inAmerica as well.

As before, if you have the time and the inclination, you could listen (link below) and share your comments (NOTE: My participation begins around the 75th minute – so once the audio starts playing, you can click on the bar at around the half way point and move it forward till it displays 75 to skip the first 75 minutes):

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An Indian perspective after watching “Waiting for Superman”

The following post was published by the Coppell Gifted Association at:

What led me to see this movie was the catchy title – Superman comics were highly popular in India when I was growing up and my brothers and I used to have endless debates as to who was stronger, Superman, the Phantom or Tarzan and which one we needed on our side to win any battle!  So I could definitely relate to an African-American school administrator who grew up in the projects talking about, as a child, “Waiting for Superman” to come and save the broken school system in his neighborhood and then being heart broken when he was told by his mother that Superman was not real!  The gist of the movie is that it is you and I who need to do our bit to fix the US school system – Superman is not going to show up to do this job!!

The sentence that resonates for me is a statement made in the movie that “till the 70s, the USA had the best public school system in the world” and on the screen flashed pictures of all the luminaries in all walks of life that had graduated from the public school system and all the great strides made in the US in the fields of science, math and engineering during that period.

The next thing that struck me, which is something that I mentioned in my review of “2 million minutes” (scenes from which were used in this movie), is the fact that in those days, only around the top 20% of the students graduating from High School went on to college (to become CEOs, doctors, engineers, etc), the next 40% went on to vocational schools (to get jobs as computer operators, etc) and the bottom 40% just went to good jobs in manufacturing, services, etc.  (This is exactly what we in India thought was a great thing – that kids who had no interest in higher learning were not being forced to go to college just to collect a piece of paper to improve their job prospects).

The problem is that the US economy (which is now tied way more tightly into the global economy) is no longer the same.  High unemployment on the one hand exists side by side with lack of qualified employees to fill hundreds of thousands of jobs available in areas like high tech (a point made in this movie).

The film also makes the point that when Nixon opened the door to China in the 70s, American businesses were salivating over the prospect of being able to sell every Chinese a toothbrush (for example), which meant American businesses could sell a billion additional toothbrushes, not realizing that, in due course, it would be the Chinese who would be selling toothbrushes to the US putting US manufacturers out of business!

The film focuses on the worst performing public schools in the US and the (lack of) prospects for children graduating (or dropping) out of such schools.  Also, the whole idea of the lottery system to assign children to better schools (with the children, sitting at the lottery drawing, watching with devastated faces as if their world had come to an end at such an early age, when they did not get picked) seemed like a travesty to me.  Why not just have some kind of entrance test where the children at least get a sense (which might influence their entire outlook on life) that they can get somewhere due to their own efforts and abilities rather than pure luck?

Looking at this topic from the perspective of someone who grew up in India, when I look at these (so-called) worst schools, almost every one of them looks better than some of the (what we considered) “better” schools in India.  For example, the school I went to from KG to 6th grade was located on top of a busy railway station with heavy and noisy traffic just outside of the school gates.  And yet, this was a “better” school for which my father stood in line overnight to get me admission there because it was run by Christian missionaries who had a reputation for imparting a solid education (meaning it had great teachers) and strict discipline (including corporal punishment, administered even by the Principal or the Head Master, in special circumstances!).

And there were schools on top of movie theaters, schools with broken windows and hardly any facilities for learning, etc and yet students from these schools have made it big both in India and, in fact, many have come to the US and done well here as well.

So how come US students (with access to comparably much better facilities even in their “worst” schools compared to their Indian counterparts) not fare better than Indian students coming from schools with practically no facilities?

In my opinion, the answer is just two factors – “Great Teachers” and “Strong Families”. 

Motivated students (with parents) who believed that only education could pull them out from their poor and lower middle class life style (example: I grew up in an apartment with just one single room and a kitchen with parents and 4 siblings sharing this space resulting in all the kids having a burning desire to learn, succeed and reach a better standard of living, which we all accomplished).  So when I see the so-called “poor” people in the US (depicted in this movie), probably living on Government dole, having relatively nice apartments, driving decent cars and with no shortage of basics like food, it makes me wonder what would motivate kids from such families to stay in school and get a decent education, especially if the family is broken, with no tradition of higher learning.

 When it comes to the topic of having great teachers, what strikes me in this movie is the implication (which could be an overgeneralization) that in the US, Teacher’s Unions have such a stranglehold over the system that even an innovative administrator like Michelle Rhee (trying to reform the DC school system) is not able to push through a reasonable scheme that will reward better performing teachers (while not even threatening the jobs of poor performing teachers).

 In India, teachers (whatever they are teaching) are supposed to be treated with utmost reverence (because of the Indian tradition which teaches, in the order of respect, it is “Mata, Pita, Guru, Daivam” – meaning “Mother, Father, Teacher, God”), that is, teachers are supposed to be respected more than even God!  And correspondingly, it is expected that for teachers (for whom earning money should be their lowest priority), nothing should be more important than sending out learned kids into the world.

 From what I saw in this movie, the implication that many (but this again could be an overgeneralization) teachers in the US are just like any other vested interest protecting their rights and jobs with scant regard for the quality of education they are providing to their students and having least interest in the future prospects of their students.

Themovie’s main thrust appears to be that till the matter of eliminating poor teachers and rewarding the good ones is addressed, however much money is poured into school education by the US Government (where a lot more money is available to expend compared to relatively impoverished places like India), nothing substantial is going to change. 

However, to conclude on an optimistic note, the movie depicts several people who are cognizant of the problems facing the school system in the US and who are coming up with innovative solutions (like the Kipp schools) and, in my opinion, in due course, sufficient course corrections will take place making most US schools once more the citadels of learning (accessible to children, from all strata of society, who are motivated to learn) that would again become be the envy of the world.


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26/11 v/s 9/11

VT Station (now CST Station), Bombay

VT Station (now CST Station), Bombay

Taj Mahal Hotel, Bombay

Taj Mahal Hotel, Bombay









Last week I was in Bombay exactly 1 year after the terrorist attacks of a year ago (26/11).  I made it a point to visit VT station and the Taj Mahal Hotel (site of two of the terrorist attacks).

VT station was its normal, bustling self.  The only signs that anything untoward had happened there was that there was one armed military person behind a stack of bags at one entrance, a few other armed policeman loitering around and strangely enough a bunch of metal detectors at the various entrance and exit points which hardly anyone bothered to walk through.  No signs any bullet holes or any indication of any kind of memorial to those 50 odd people who had been killed at this location last November.

The Taj Mahal Hotel (across from the Gateway of India monument) looked exactly the same as it did prior to the terrorist attack of last year which had left several sections of the hotel on fire.  The only changes that I saw was the side walk around the Taj was cordoned off and at the main entrance, one had to go through a metal detector and bags were also scanned separately.  On walking around inside, I met a Commander Ramamurthy who told me that he was a consultant to the Taj (presumably on security matters).  I asked him about any memorial that might be present to remember those dozens of people who had died in the terrorist attack.  He directed me towards the Golden Dragon restaurant where most of the killings had taken place and to the adjacent area where some of the terrorists had been killed.  However on going to these locations, I could not find a single indication of bullet holes or more importantly any memorial to the tragedy that had taken place at this hotel.

Bottom line – after the terrorist attack of 26/11/2008, people in Bombay had just cleaned up and resumed business as usual at all the locations that had been hit.  India had not invaded Pakistan to capture or kill the terrorists (who are clearly based out of there) and so no war had resulted which could have thrown the whole region into a turmoil.  But despite this, no further overseas based attacks had taken place a year since 26/11 either because security in Indian cities had been improved so much or just sheer luck or that Pakistan itself was now in turmoil with the home grown terrorist creating havoc there or a combination of all of these.

Compare that to the attacks on NY City of 9/11/2001.   Eight years later, the site where the World Trade Center stood is still a hole in the ground as competing interests (including politicians, lawyers, builders and victims’ groups) compete with each other to decide what exactly to build at that location.  The place has been given a new name (Ground Zero) and a grand memorial is planned to be located there to honor the victims / heroes that died there on that day.  Afghanistan was invaded to eliminate Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda but after more than 8 years of war involving more loss of thousands of US lives and billions of dollars in expense, this mission has yet to be accomplished.

Bottom line – the mark that the terrorists made on NY City continues to be there for all to see.

So why has 9/11 had such a different impact than 26/11?

In my opinion following are the reasons:

  • India has been used to terrorist attacks and mass deaths due to the same and so 26/11 quickly became just another blip in history while for the US, which considered itself fairly immune to overseas terrorist attacks in recent times, 9/11 was a seriously, unexpected shock
  • India was in no position to invade Pakistan (since it is a country possessing nuclear weapons) while Afghanistan had no such weapons to defend itself against a US invasion
  • Indian people have not yet developed the individualistic mentality of those in the US and the Indian Government was no compulsion to listen to bunch of people’s opinions as to when to rebuild and how to memorialize those who died in the attacks and so could swiftly move to restore normalcy

So while India has apparently brushed itself from 26/11 and moved on (for better or for worse), the US continues to wallow in the aftermath of 9/11 having failed to rebuild the edifice that was destroyed and getting mired in an unending overseas conflict.

So in which instance did the terrorists win?  The answer, at least in the short term, appears to be obvious …..

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