Friday, March 21, 2014

What You Say vs. What You Mean

“Recognizing power in another does not diminish your own.” -Joss Whedon

Jon Stewart's The Daily Show inspired this post. Because let's be real--I don't watch Fox News, though I may often have strong feelings about what goes on there.

(2014: A Waste Odyssey continues to expose some ridiculous hypocrisy) 

Here's the thing about food stamps, and Fox News' reaction. What really irks me is how people talk about how food stamps are used. Yes, maybe there are some abuses of the system. But there are abuses of the system at every level--from corporations, down to low income Americans. What else is new? And yes, perhaps buying expensive seafood is not the wisest choice on food stamps--given that there is a lot of other food you're going to need each month aside from fancy salmon.

That being said, all I hear when the morons anchors on Fox News are outraged that someone can buy organic salmon from some upscale market in some fancy pants section of New York is that they don't think poor people deserve good food. That they aren't worth enough to consume such delicacies. That they should be buying cheap, poor quality food, not because it's what they can afford but because that's what these sub-human beings are worth. It took me a while to pinpoint what was bothering me, and the second time I saw the Daily Show clip I figured it out. These anchors are just SO aghast that you could buy organic salmon with food stamps. Well, why couldn't you?

Their reaction is infuriating. When I did AmeriCorps I made very little money. I knew this going in--my job was a service to my country and community, and it was very much a living stipend--a wage to cover the costs of living so that I could give a year (or two) of service without starving or freezing to death. Because of how much I made, I qualified for food stamps, and took advantage of this. Why? Maybe I could have gotten by without it. If I ran out of money, my parents could have probably bailed me out--I had a safety net below the safety net I was using. But I wanted to both live independently, and eat well. So I got food stamps and could afford to buy organic produce if I wanted. I could afford to buy brand name food if I so chose, and buy higher quality this and that. And I realized, no wonder there is an obesity epidemic in America that coincides all too closely with poverty. Because it is hard to eat healthy and cheap. It is cheaper to buy a lot of crap. And this is the reality that a lot of students I work with deal with--I work in Title 1 schools, which means a good percentage of kids are on free/reduced lunch, which means many of my families are lower socioeconomically--and some may not even know where their next meal is coming from. I want my kids eating healthy, and making good choices--and I want my kids to have the resources to do this. And quite frankly, that they don't, is not their fault. It is the system they were born into, a system that makes it very hard to make your way up in. Does that mean they don't deserve nice things? Absolutely not. Maybe if we paid people a decent wage for all jobs this wouldn't be an issue. Maybe if everyone had the same access to education--that all schools had the resources they need for success--this wouldn't be an issue because no one would need food stamps, because everyone would truly have equal opportunity for success.

So screw you Fox News, and anyone who thinks the statistic that 99.6% of poor people have refrigerators tells us anything worthwhile about the state of poverty in America. Poor people deserve to eat well, and healthy, and keep their food fresh, just as you do. They deserve basic appliances. They deserve a little bit of luxury in their lives. And you know what, no one deserves to be poor. Just because you're below the poverty line doesn't mean you're worth anything less as a person. If you are appalled that someone can buy lobster with food stamps, keep it to yourself. And let these hardworking, struggling Americans treat themselves every once in a while.

At any rate, those buying crazy things with food stamps not only are mostly within the law, but are very likely outliers. The reason you can buy these things, is that it's none of our business what people do with food stamps once they get them. Yes, there may be smart choices to make the most of the money you get, but that's for those individuals to deal with.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Thy Children Ever True

O Carleton, our alma mater,
We hail the maize and blue.
Thy name is ever dearest, 
Thy children ever true.
O Carleton, our alma mater
To thee we sing our praise.
To thee we FIGHT,
To thee we pledge
The strength of all our days.

This is a departure from my usual posts, but tonight I was torn between an emotional upheaval, and focusing on the data entry for school (it had to be in by midnight, no exception), plus prepping for my masters poster presentation for tomorrow. I glanced at twitter and facebook before entering data about what graphemes my students have mastered in the most non-user friendly data entry system ever when several posts by former Carleton classmates and friends caused me to pause.

Carleton was, and is, one of the closest and most meaningful communities of which I have ever been a part. I cannot even begin to describe the impact Carleton has been in shaping my life, and continuing to influence my life 4 years after graduation. February has been heartbreaking for the extended Carleton community in many ways. A wonderful, artistic, lively girl with whom I had the pleasure of running track with one season passed away because of a failed medical procedure. Three boys (class of 2015) just lost their lives in a car accident. The outpouring of support from the Carleton community just on social media, from those who knew those who died-and did not know at all, has been overwhelming. It reminds me--though I don't need, nor wish for a reminder in this tragic fashion, how lucky I am to be a part of the Carleton community. It always makes me sad that it is often in tragedy which brings out the best in people. I am thankful and touched in the ways it does, but we must try to keep up the connection and support alive and at the forefront when everything is rosy. And I feel a little guilty--that my life will continue on, relatively normal despite these tragedies. It's true I did not know these 3 boys, and no one would likely think any less of me had I not commented on these events or for carrying on as usual, but it's still hard to process and react to. As is any needless death--or even an expected death.

 A few months ago my grandfather passed away from Alzheimer's. A couple of weeks ago, a 3 year old in Napa lost his (her?) life, and lived in my school's neighborhood. A year or two ago, one of my students' younger sister passed away. Back in 5th grade we had kindergarten buddies and we read with them and did activities with them, and the following year I found out that the girl I was partnered with drowned in a public pool. Death is unavoidable, and while it is a part of life, it leaves a mark. It leaves a hole that can never quite be filled. I learned during my comps project (my comprehensive exercise, ie my senior thesis for my non-Carl readers) that there is a set-point of happiness theory, where, for example, if you win the lottery you experience a happiness boost. However, within two years you fall back to whatever your "set point" was before winning (some proof that money doesn't buy happiness). Only consistent effort--volunteering, exercising, counting your blessings, etc. can maintain a happiness boost. But it takes work. It's like one good workout won't lose you those extra pounds, or give you a six pack. Constant effort does. Nothing can change your set point, but for a few exceptions, one being that people who lose a spouse experience a decline in happiness, and never fully recover. So I'm not just being philosophical--death really does impact us greatly.

I'm looking forward to the point where the school I am teaching becomes like Carleton--when teachers collect money for a former colleague and I know this colleague. When I know the families, and when we talk about alumni, I know who we're talking about. I have been lucky this year to have been hired at a school that has a very strong, collaborative community. I still feel like a little bit of an outsider--but with time, that can fade, and while no community will impact me in the way that Carleton has (and continues to), I am drawn to close-knit communities. (I just mis-typed close-knit as close-knight. A Carleton freudian slip, for sure--Go Knights!)

Tonight, my thoughts are with Carleton.