I Hate Our New Area Code

Columbus, Ohio has a new area code.  For decades, we’ve been the 614 area code.  It’s snappy.  It’s catchy.  It’s got the traditional lower number in the middle configuration, like the 202 or 212 or 312 area codes that are used by big cities in the country.  Columbus is so associated with its long-standing area code that (614) is the name of one local magazine.

But now Columbus has a new area code, too — 380.  It’s clunky.  It looks like the kind of number that would pop up on your phone when it’s an annoying telemarketing call from India.  And even though most people who live in Columbus couldn’t tell you what the new area code is if you asked, we’ve already grown to hate it.  In fact, “hate” doesn’t even begin to capture the depth of feeling we have for the new area code.  “Despise it with every fiber of our being” comes a bit closer, but still might not even get there.

0gwaf8e946du6_6228Why?  Because 380 is an overlapping area code.  That means that, rather than creating some new area code out in the suburbs defined by a specific geographic region, the 380 phone numbers will be doled out to people who live in the 614 area code territory.

It’s not that we mind 380ers in our midst, like they’re unclean or something.  No, it’s because now we have to dial the area code to make what used to be local calls.  So if I want to call Kish to tell her that I am heading home after the end of the work day, I have to dial three extra digits.  That might not sound like much of a burden, but understand that Kish’s cell phone number is firmly engraved onto every synapse in my brain, right there with the theme song from The Beverly Hillbillies.  When I pick up the phone and think “time to call Kish,” the mental reflexes kick in and the finger punches the number automatically — and there’s no 614 area code involved.  The 380 area code is basically requiring me to reverse decades of consistent mental conditioning.

We’re told that we need the new 380 area code because the 614 area code is running out of numbers.  It’s not just new cell phone numbers, either:  we’re told that now vending machines and other devices that take credit cards need phone numbers for “machine-to-machine” communications.

Really?  I need to rewire my brain just so an office worker can use a credit card to buy a Zagnut bar?  Well, I say the vending machines can bite me.  And the 380 area code can, too.

Everyone A Valedictorian

In Dublin, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus, there are three high schools — and this year those schools produced a total of 222 valedictorians.  That’s fully 20 percent of the graduates from Dublin high schools this year.  One of the three high schools, Dublin Coffman, had 96 students who achieved “valedictorian” status.

There were about 800 students in my 1975 Upper Arlington High School graduating class, and there were less than 20 valedictorians.  They all achieved a perfect 4.0 grade point average — the higest possible GPA — during high school.  I knew many of them, and one was my best friend, The Entrepreneur.  He was a smart and motivated guy who worked hard to keep that four-point average because he knew that one misstep would knock him out of the running, and he really wanted to attain valedictorian status.  His friends, me included, were proud of him.

Those days are long gone in many schools, where educators consciously are trying to avoid competition for the “number one student” position.  And a 4.0 average is no longer the highest GPA you can get, either.  These days, many schools give additional GPA credit for “advanced” classes, to encourage students to take a more challenging curriculum.  At the Dublin schools, for example, you get “valedictorian” status if you achieve at least a 4.1 GPA.  The Dublin schools call students in that category “valedictorians” to allow them to qualify for college scholarships that are linked to valedictorian status.

(Apparently the Dublin schools don’t ask every one of their hundreds of valedictorians to make a speech at graduation — which means that the students really shouldn’t be called “valedictorians.”  A valedictory, after all, is a farewell address.  But, I digress.)

What does it mean when 20 percent of high school graduates obtain valedictorian status?  Call me old school — pun intended — but obviously being a valedictorian doesn’t mean what it once did.  You can’t help but wonder whether grade inflation has played a role and the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality hasn’t crept in to the academic honors process.

And, at a deeper level, it also reflects the diminished role of high schools.  For decades, high school was the end of the educational line for the vast majority of students.  Now high schools view themselves as just another step in the educational process, and their grading and honors policies are consciously designed to help their graduates get into the best colleges — where, perhaps, the real competition will begin.

Are we helping American students by designing high school to minimize real academic competition?  Because, at some point — whether in college, or in graduate school, or in the real world — true intellectual competition will in fact occur, and stress inevitably will come with it.  Maybe giving students a dose of competition and stress in high school would better prepare them for that oncoming reality.

Rearing “Free Range” Children

It’s high time for another screed about how America, at least as I understand it, seems to be vanishing.  This time, the precipitating event is a news story about parents in Silver Spring, Maryland who are under investigation by Child Protective Services because their kids walk the streets alone and play unsupervised in a park.

The parents recently were found responsible for “unsubstantiated child neglect” because they let their kids — a 10-year-old and a 6-year-old — walk home, alone, in December.  Now the parents are being investigated again because the two kids were playing together in a park at 5 p.m. on Sunday and another parkgoer reported the “unsupervised children.”  The parents, who are both scientists, believe that their “free range” approach will encourage their kids to develop independence and self-reliance.

UJ and I started walking alone to school in Akron when I was a five-year-old kindergartener and he was a six-year-old first-grader.  Mom packed our lunches, bundled us up if the weather required it, and set us off on a mile-long trek to Rankin Elementary School.  This was viewed as normal behavior in those benighted days of the early ’60s, just as it was viewed as normal in the ’70s when UJ and I rode our bikes to our junior high school in Upper Arlington.  Nobody talked about “free range” children back then because every kid was a “free range” kid — even though the “free range” phrase wasn’t invented until years later in connection with chicken.  Amazingly, kids were viewed as capable of walking to school, riding bikes to their friends’ houses, and playing sandlot baseball or a game of tag in a park without having the watchful eyes of parents on them every waking moment.

At some point that all changed . . . and in a poisonous way.  Now we apparently view our neighborhoods — even in Silver Spring, a suburb of Washington, D.C. — as so inherently dangerous that children can’t be alone on the streets even during daylight hours, and what’s more if kids are spotted outside without parents nearby our instinct is to report the parents for child neglect, even if the kids seem healthy, happy, well-adjusted, and fully capable of playing by themselves.  Rather than making our streets safe for unsupervised kids — if in fact they are truly unsafe, as opposed to the focus of overblown concerns brewed in the fevered imaginations of helicopter parents who must arrange every element of their kids’ lives — our approach is to investigate parents and put them on the watch lists of government agencies just because they don’t monitor their kids’ every move.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I’d want to live in Silver Spring, Maryland, where busybodies apparently feel good about reporting unsupervised kids in a park on a sunny Sunday afternoon and authorities dutifully investigate such claims and hassle responsible parents who hope to encourage their kids to develop a sense of independence.  Is every town in America like Silver Spring, Maryland these days?  Have we really gotten to the point where parents who simply let their kids play outside unattended are viewed as so irresponsible that we need to sic Big Brother on them?  What kinds of lost adults are the constantly cosseted kids of modern America going to turn out to be?

Walking To The Grocer’s

When Kish and I lived in Washington, D.C. years ago, we walked to the Safeway on Capitol Hill and, later, the Safeway in the Watergate in Foggy Bottom.  Like many other D.C. residents, we had a stand-up metal cart that, when folded out, could comfortably fit two full paper bags of goods, and that was how we carted our food back home.

When we moved to the suburbs of Columbus we kept that cart for a while but never used it, and finally we gave it away to the Salvation Army.  The suburbs are made for cars, not carts, and as the boys grew up, and showed the appetites that boys always have, we needed far more than two bags of groceries, anyway.

Now that we’re back to just the two of us, the idea of walking to the grocer’s, just as we did in our pre-kid days, is appealing — and I wish we still had that cart.  We’ve got a Giant Eagle in one direction and a Kroger in another; both are about 10 blocks away.  Yesterday afternoon I walked to the Kroger to shop.  It reminded me of some of the benefits of walking to the grocer’s.

For one thing, it encourages discipline.  You need to carry home everything you buy using your own muscle power, not horsepower.  This tends to encourage making thoughtful lists and avoiding impulse purchases.  At several points yesterday I weighed whether to buy something, took a look into my basket, and voted no because it probably would put me over the two-bag carrying limit.  You also tend to avoid the heavy and ungainly giant-size options.  The inevitable result is less food around the house at any given point in time . . . and less food going bad.  And, of course, you also get the exercise of walking to the store in the first place, and then the combination walking-carrying exercise on the way back.

My walk to the grocer’s yesterday felt good, and it brought back some memories, too.