Sunday, October 30, 2011

More occupied thoughts

This morning, D almost accused me of being a Republican for my comments in my last post about the Occupy Wall Street movement, and I have to admit it did sound a little uncharacteristic of me.  He and I and his mom got into a pretty heated discussion about the economy in fact, which made me think even more thoughts.

* Lord knows I am no historian, but my impression is that the middle class is a product of the late 19th and 20th centuries. My impression is that prior to the Industrial Revolution there was no middle class.  There was the very, very rich and everyone else.  So I wonder if a persistent and consistent middle class structure is sustainable?

* I think one of the things I dislike about the whole Occupy movement is that there isn't a defined "goal" or plan of action.  Some people are against bank bailouts and some people are bringing up the Iraq War and some people are against too high tuition at universities.  And it is hard for me to support a cause if I'm not very sure of what the cause is about.  I am equally against all those things, but a movement against everything sometimes seems like a giant bitch session....which is the jist of what I read among people who definitely don't support the Occupy movement.

* I completely disagree with the Supreme Court's decision to ban corporate spending limits for campaigns.  Corporations are not individuals and should not have the same rights as guaranteed by the Constitution.  They have the potential to become far too financially powerful which means politically powerful.

* I don't like it that government money was spent to bail out the banks that invested in mortgage-backed securities, but I believe that had the government not done this our economy would be in even worse shape than it is now.

* Corporations have the potential to be greedy and unethical and all the other nasty adjectives you can think of, and so I strongly support regulations on them.
* I also think corporations are not 100% to blame for this mess we're in.  Poor choices, uneducated decisions and a society fueled by bread and circuses (ala The Kardashians) played a role too.  At least 25%.

* Corporations move their manufacturing to countries where they can produce items cheaper, which we like because stuff costs less and when companies profit we make greater returns on our 401(k) investments.  But companies moving their manufacturing to cheaper countries means fewer jobs for our workers---often those who don't have college degrees---which we don't like.  We want cheap-ass stuff but we also want high wages for our workers, and those two things haven't found a way to jive.

* The American Dream of the 1940 and 50s is not the same American Dream of the 21st century.  Families in the 40s and 50s did not have televisions (and satellite television hookup) in every bedroom. plus the family room and basement.  Children shared bedrooms and did not have Jack-n-Jill baths.  Homes did not have central air.   Families that did own a car typically owned 1 car.  The square footage of an average home in 1950 was less than 1000 square feet.

I think the "problem with our economy" is firmly linked with a "cultural problem with our society," and it is far too complex to say that 1% is to blame.  Not that the 1% shouldn't be chastised/penalized/regulated for the greedy things they've done to make money (Bernie Madoffs and likeminded individuals).  But the 99% of us should also look very closely at what we do and what we expect as well.  

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Occupy Wall Street occupies my thoughts.

I have a whole lot of thoughts about the Occupy Wall Street movement so I'm just gonna lay 'em out in no particular order.

1. Many, many, many people in the US own mutual funds or are stockholders (mostly through their 401(k)s).  And because those people own stock, they are benefiting from capitalism in the form of dividends and stock splits and 8% return on their investments over time.  Capitalism is an ugly beast at times, but just as the Tea Partiers who yelled for smaller government and in the same breath said "Don't Touch my Social Security" were uninformed, so are many of the Occupiers who bitch about capitalism.

2. Yes, the banks were stupid to give mortgages to any Tom, Dick or Harry who asked for one.  But the Toms, Dicks and Harrys should have considered a little more whether they could actually afford a $300,000.00 home if they were only making $25,000.00 a year.  Banks are always willing to lend someone WAY more money than what they can actually afford.  You buy what you can safely afford.  Period.

3. Despite what we think, we do not need iPhones.  We do not need to spend a zillion dollars a month so we can text our friends to tell them we are sitting at home doing nothing.  We do not need to furnish our homes completely the instant we move in.  We do not need to own 65 pairs of shoes.  These are things we WANT.  And we have decided, as a society, that what what we WANT trumps good common sense.  (And if what you want cannot be paid for in a month's time (when your credit card bill comes due), you DO NOT buy it.)

4. The recession has been a bitch, to be sure.  But unemployment among college-educated people is 4.2%, compared to 9.4% among those with only a high school degree.  And while many of those with just a high school degree are dropping out of the work force completely, many college educated folks are slowly finding jobs.

5. I graduated from college 16 years ago, way before this recession.  The same was true then as is true now---some degrees are interesting but kinda useless.  They in NO WAY guarantee you will get a decent-paying job or a job in your degree field.  As an English major, I can speak from experience.  Those folks I know who majored in history and sociology and psychology are NOT working as historians and sociologists and psychologists.

Thus far it sounds as if I am very anti-Occupy Wall Street, but I am not.  I am not 100% behind it, but I am not 100% behind anything.

I do feel compassion for many, many people out there who are working full-time and still require food stamps or have to use state-sponsored health care programs for their children and themselves because their employer doesn't offer it.  I feel compassion for older workers who need a job and were let go because companies can hire younger workers and pay them less.  I feel compassion for women who unexpectedly became pregnant and had to drop out of college to care for their newborns and work.  I feel compassion for people who had health crises that depleted their savings and are now struggling, working paycheck to paycheck.  I feel compassion for people whose parents never taught them how to be financially sound, to balance a checkbook, to not use credit as a form of "free money."

I don't know when I learned it, but it didn't take an Economics degree for me to understand that nothing in life is free.  If there is any good to come from this recession, it is for people to remember this.

Outstandings (Os), Satisfactorys (Ss), and who really cares?

I try and will continue to try to keep a level head about grades as my children move through school.  Sure, N is only in 2nd grade, but I have to think of my own life experiences as both a student and a teacher and try to dial down the "neurotic parent" part of me.  

During early elementary, I didn't think a whit about grades.  My grades were alright....mostly As and Bs, with maybe a C thrown in there.  It wasn't until 7th and 8th grade that I remember becoming fanatical about getting As.  Maybe this was when the OCD really kicked in?  Maybe my focus on my grades was because I suffered so much socially that I wanted to grab control of something I felt I could control?  

All through high school I worked ridiculously hard to get really high grades, and while I managed to get a small scholarship to college, I certainly didn't get anywhere near a full ride or even a half-ride (hell, my scholarship wasn't even a quarter-ride), which I thought good grades and being highly involved extracurricularly would get me.  

Despite this, I continued to work ridiculously hard in college for high grades.  I double-majored in English and Economics and graduated summa cum laude, which means my GPA was 3.90 or higher.  

Bully for me, but my first job paid as an editor at an electronic publishing company paid $17,000.00 a year (in 1995).  This was beans then, and it is even fewer beans now.  My first full-time job after college was great because I could wear jeans to work, but it was also tedious and didn't challenge me in the least after the first 3 months.  I stayed for 5 years to take advantage of tuition reimbursement benefits.  (The company paid half of my Masters of Arts in Teaching.)

So even though I worked hard and got high grades, that did not translate into a grand salary or a satisfying career.  It was a j.o.b.

I loved being a teacher, and even though a teacher's salary isn't high, I felt like I was making a zillion dollars a year compared to what I made as an editor.  Plus I had loads of time off.  And I loved what I was doing.  And I was challenged  

But from a teacher's perspective I saw (again) how pointless grades are.  

I taught upper middle class kids whose parents read to them from early ages and ensured homework was completed and came to conferences (these kids were considered "advanced") and many of those kids got As.  I also taught very poor kids whose parents never came to conferences and where not at grade level in reading and math and who, compared to the advanced kids, were SO FAR behind they would never catch up, and yet some of them managed to get As too.  

So what did an A mean, then?  For many kids, it meant that they turned in all their work on time (and if they botched it and I gave them an opportunity to redo it, they redid it correctly.)  For many kids, it meant they took advantage of extra credit whenever it was offered at the end of the grading period.  For some kids, it meant they redid and redid and redid writing assignments until they were actually fairly pretty good (given where they had started.)

I remember one student of mine who could barely read at all and his spelling was even worse.  He was the sweetest kid, and he really desperately tried to do well.  And I passed him because he always made an effort to redo his work and I thought this kid deserved something for effort.  I didn't pass him with an A or a B or even a C (maybe a C- or D+).  And I didn't feel guilty doing this because somehow some other teachers had passed him along so that he got to 6th grade unable to read.  (I don't blame the teachers because often administrative policies play a role in kids getting passed along when everyone knows they absolutely should not.)

An A didn't necessarily mean a student was a genius or destined for greatness or whatever it is parents think an A (or an "O for outstanding" means).  

Whenever I hear moms I know carry on about whether their child got an "O" or an "S," I just want to roll my eyes, maybe retch a little.  I share with them some of my experiences to help them understand that a grade doesn't actually tell them as much about their child as they think it does.  
I fervently hope that my children have what I think really matters in educational life.  

*a true love of learning new things at every stage of their lives.
*a desire to keep at something even if they find it to be difficult.
*a love of reading whatever it is they like to read (even if other people think it doesn't "count" as literature). 

And that their momma doesn't get bogged down by the absurdity that is grades.  

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The weekend that kicked our collective asses--Sunday

Saturday afternoon we were covered from stem to stern with hay, but we ventured out into nature again on Sunday.

N's Girl Scout troop made a scarecrow for a local forest's Scarecrow Jubilee celebration, and we wanted to see it on display before it got too cool to visit.  Nana and Pa (my parents) met us there.

N with Brownie the Girl Scout.  

 The tree canopy walk was pretty cool to see.  Got a great view of the changing leaves.

We headed to the children's play area next to picnic and let the kids run wild.

 Momma got hay thrown at her face on Saturday, and on Sunday was pummeled with gum tree balls.  Nana got whacked with some too.  G can be what some people refer to as a "dick."

 I hope when I'm 73 years old I have what it takes to jump up and even reach the bars.  GO NANA!!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The weekend that kicked our collective asses--Saturday

Our usual weekend routine is to maybe do a family activity on Saturday morning and then lay low until late Sunday afternoon when we visit Mamaw for dinner.

But this past weekend was different.

Saturday morning we visited a nearby county farm where we went on a hayride, picked pumpkins and enjoyed lots of fun in and on the hay.  I first visited this farm when N was 18 months old (2005), and have gone with the kids in 2008, 2009, 2010 and this year.  (G was a newborn in 2007, but I have no idea why we didn't go in 2006?)

Being there on a beautiful fall day with my family brings me tremendous joy, seeing them enjoy it now and remembering all the wonderful visits we've had in the past.

In honor of our family tradition, I present Pumpkin Picking Past and Present:

2005--N was around 18 months old.  

 This (above) is one of my all-time most cherished photos of N.  

2008--With N (who was 3-and-a-half) and G (who was a year old)

In 2009, with N (who was 5), G (who was 2) and me (who was ready to pop M out).

In 2010, with N (age 6), G (age 3) and M (age 1)

And this year, 2011, with N (age 7), G (age 4) and M (age 2)

 Love this pic of my babies.