Light paths that lead children to wholesome living

By Ramnath Subramanian / Special to the Times

Posted: 10/31/2013 12:00:00 AM MDT

A most troubling trend in societal violence is that more and more young people are involved in it.

Last week, a young and personable math teacher at Danvers High in Massachusetts was killed by a 14-year-old student using a box cutter. Her body was stashed in a recycling bin, rolled outside, and then dumped in the woods skirting the school.

After committing this heinous act, the alleged killer changed clothes, ate at a fast-food restaurant, and took in a movie.

It was only a short while ago that an Australian student on a sports scholarship was gunned down and killed in Duncan, Okla. One of the teens who took part in the killing is reported to have told police that they were “bored” and decided to kill someone “for the fun of it.”

Hillary Clinton, aspiring to the presidency and wishing to position herself more to the political right, had called video games “a silent epidemic of desensitization” that is “stealing the innocence of our children.”

About the same time, Sen. Charles Shumer had taken aim at the gaming industry and said that “little Johnny should be learning how to read, not how to kill cops.”

These were powerful messages coming from powerful people, but, unfortunately, once the political season was past its prime, the attention on youth and violence became subsumed under “non-pressing matters.”

Do violent video games cause real harm? Do they desensitize youngsters, and thereby increase their proclivity to engage in violent behavior?

One may argue that an overwhelming majority of children are smart enough and have the acumen and sagacity to distinguish between fantasy and reality.

Social scientists and psychologists go even further to posit that such games may have cathartic value, and they offer children a safe way to act out their aggression.

Such an argument, however, serves no useful purpose, for it ignores children who suffer from exposure to real-life violence inflicted on them by abusive parents, bullies at school, and gang members, and are adrift in a sea without a moral compass to guide them.

The entertainment industry, on the other hand, is powered by avarice and shows no regard for the mental health of our youngsters. One does not need a college education or research data to conclude that the violence and licentiousness that commonly pass for entertainment can have only a deleterious effect on children’s psyches, even those that are well-nurtured and well-balanced.

Setting all that aside, the way we raise children should be based on moral, ethical, and religious maxims, not on psychobabble and academicians’ pronouncements.

Besides, why allow children’s minds to become sullied by ungodly things when the world is replete with delectations and splendors.

“Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are stah-ving to death,” shrieks the inimitable Rossalind Russell in the movie “Auntie Mame.”

It takes better parenting and better teaching to steer children to the banquet halls where speech and manners are measured by their style and eloquence, where wit is abundant, and nature abounds.

I encourage parents not to gift-wrap a video game for this Christmas, for the simple reason that the banquet halls of life’s true pleasures lie in a different direction.

The poet A.E. Houseman said that 50 years of living were not enough to capture the grandeur of things in bloom. The astronomer Johannes Kepler was so taken with the sexangular scintillations of snowflakes that he wrote an entire book on the subject.

Children do not always know what is best for them. It is the job of adults — especially parents and teachers — to shine the light on paths that lead to wholesome and salubrious living.

Ramnath Subramanian, a retired public-school teacher, writes for the El Paso Times on educational topics. E-mail address:

Day in life of retired teacher; no mundane routines

By Ramnath Subramanian / Special to the El Paso Times

Posted: 10/24/2013 12:00:00 AM MDT

During the course of a conversation with an erstwhile student whom I encountered at a mall, I was asked an interesting question.

“Now that you are retired from teaching,” said the young woman, “how are you spending your time?”

I sidestepped the question by saying that I found retirement most agreeable, but later felt the need and desire to catalog a typical day.

I wake up early each morning and go for my constitutional with my wife, Maria. There is nothing like a brisk hour-long walk in the park to start the day on a regal footing. Besides, the stirring of birds among the leaves and their morning songs create an impetus for causerie.

By 7:30, I am in front of the computer and watching the financial channels on television to see if the movement in the markets offers buying or selling opportunities for some of the stocks we follow. Each day after market close, Maria and I spend about an hour studying the financial metrics of these stocks.

When I was teaching, I had my students participate on a voluntary basis in the Stock Market Game each year. Surprisingly, this project faced concerted and stiff opposition from my grade-level peers who felt that I was diluting education with “fun and games.”

Far from being “fun and games,” the equities market is a serious enterprise that demands study, analysis, and timely decision-making for success.

Whenever the market is in a soft spot and moving sideways, I turn my attention to writing. For as long as I can remember, I have set aside at least two hours each day for uninterrupted writing.

Around this time, I can sometimes faintly hear Maria as she conducts “story time” with Toy-Toy, the feline member of our family who is almost 18 years old. These stories where Toy-Toy plays the roles of sage, savior, and hero, are short and sweet, and Maria hopes one day to collect them into book form.

It is also during this space of time that Maria starts working in her laboratory, also known as the kitchen, and mixing spoonfuls of this and spoonfuls of that concocts her culinary delectations.

Lunch is always greatly anticipated, and following the repast, we hold a tete-a-tete to discuss our future trip. There is always a future trip to plan. As the trip we are currently contemplating takes us to different cities in Europe, Maria spends a few minutes reading from books that provide a narrative of places we want to visit.

On the kitchen table is a stack of travel books, magazines, and museum catalogs waiting to be studied. “Planning is almost half the fun of traveling,” Maria tells me.

At least once a week, I create a short video lesson and post it to my mathematics channel on YouTube. On any given month, I get a few calls from my erstwhile students seeking help with homework. I had set up the channel so the help I provide would have a useful, visual component to it.

If my day seems short, it is because I have left out mundane routines that make their claim on the quotidian aspects of life. Also, there are all those occurrences — from a flat tire to a leaking roof — that will not arrange themselves into any tidy pattern.

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe’s prescription for a healthy lifestyle was that one should “hear at least one little song every day.”

Maria and I hold firmly to the belief that since all of our days are a gift from God, we must bring them into harmony by spending a little time every day doing the things we enjoy, and enjoying the things that are gifted to us.

Ramnath Subramanian, a retired public-school teacher, writes for the El Paso Times on educational topics. E-mail address: