losingourway-075I’ve been a long-time fan of Bob Herbert. From 1993 to 2011 he was an opinion columnist for the New York Times, and when he left the paper I was heartbroken.

But lucky for me I read his book Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America and it is the perfect read this election year, very timely and a healing balm for me after reading Donald Trump’s truly loathsome Crippled America.

Losing Our Way is divided into carefully crafted chapters, written in with the wisdom, thoughtfulness and compassion that made me such a fan of Herbert’s to begin with. They include:

  • Falling Apart
  • Falling Apart II
  • Jobs and the Middle Class
  • War and Its Aftermath
  • Understanding the Costs of War
  • Poverty and Inequality
  • The Public Schools
  • Poverty and Public Education
  • War’s Madness Runs Deep
  • Hurricane Sandy and Other Disasters
  • Cashing In on Schools
  • Mistreating the Troops
  • Epilogue: Looking Ahead

In Losing Our Way, Herbert goes into great length discussing the various issues that plague our nation and how we got to this point. He does this by writing about four crucial elements that need fixing in our country. They include our falling apart infrastructure, our endless wars and the treatment of our troops and veterans, our education system and how it is not benefiting needs of our children, and how unemployment and under-employment is affecting working people of all kinds. Finally, he offers some ideas and opinions on how we, as a nation, can stop losing our way, and make America work for everyone.

Herbert begins Losing Our Way the crumbling of the I-35W Bridge in Minnesota back in 2007. Several people fell to their deaths, and one victim, Mercedes Gordon was almost one of them. She suffered a broken back and crushed legs, needing a great deal of medical intervention. Not surprisingly, the effects of her injuries plague her to this day. Sadly, the disintegration of the I-35W wasn’t an insolate incident, and expect more to come. Many of our bridges, streets, highways,  power generators, sewer systems and other public facilities were initially built generations ago and need a great deal of repair, but are being neglected instead. Our infrastructure is also threatened by “acts of God,” which Herbert explains in his chapter on Hurricane Sandy and Other Disasters.

The fate of our troops and our returning veterans is also painfully conveyed throughout Losing Our Way. The costs of war aren’t only in huge amounts of money that have gone into fighting in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The costs also include our troops and civilians lost to the violence of war. And then there is the aftermath of serving America in our wars. Many of our war-weary veterans return with horrible injuries requiring continuous medical intervention and physical therapy. And then there are injuries that can’t be seen with the naked eye, most of them mental and emotional. Many of our veterans are dealing with PTSD, depression, and addiction. These stories are also brought to life by Herbert’s interviews with returning soldiers, and they will break your heart.

It’s no secret our public schools are in need of serious overhaul and improvement. However, instead of putting blame on the usual suspects-teachers, teacher unions, disinterested students and uncaring parents-Herbert focuses on some of the issues that plague students and their families like poverty, family strife, violence in the community, and how these conditions need to be attended to before students can work at a top notch level. Many teachers are absolutely treasures, but they are not miracle workers. Furthermore, thanks to concepts like “No Child Left Behind,” teachers are caught up in a web of “teaching to the test” instead of focusing on a student’s individual needs and making the classroom a truly engaging community where students love to learn and thrive.

But one aspect of modern education that truly made me angry while reading Losing Our Way is how big business and business leaders have made themselves “experts” on education and have tried to alter and dismantle the school system not realizing that education isn’t exactly the same as running a business. A couple of these people include Bill Gates and media executive Cathie Black. Bill Gates meant well, but his ideas fell flat. And Cathie Black was in way too over her head; she didn’t last very long and her condescending attitude towards teachers, students and parents were completely out of line and unprofessional.

And when it comes to the place of work and the state of the middle class, Herbert has his finger on the pulse of every American who has earned a paycheck. While working Jacks and Janes are dealing with unemployment and underemployment, stagnating wages, layoffs, outsourcing and other work woes, the 1% are getting huge bailouts, tax breaks and huge salaries that don’t reflect their actual output. Guess what, “trickle down” doesn’t work. Haven’t we learned this lesson by now?

Throughout Losing Our Way Herbert carefully explains how we got to this point, but in the end reminds us that not is all lost. We can, as a nation, find out way. And it relies on those of us in the 99% and goes beyond voting. WE need our voices heard, whether it is protesting, marching in the streets, working on causes that benefit all of us, getting in touch with our representatives and writing opinion pieces on everything from making taxes fairer to those of us who aren’t wealthy to how we treat our returning to veterans to how we can truly improve our schools. Change truly begins at the bottom, not the top. And I believe just by reading Herbert’s wonderfully written and thoroughly researched book, Losing Our Way, we can stir the sleeping giant that resides in all of us.

Losing Our Way is probably one of the most important books I have read this year. Heck, it’s probably one of the most important books I have read in my lifetime!

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