11.27.2006

Choose Life

The weekend was great. I spent quality time with good friends, including Meghan and Paul's fabulous wedding on Saturday where I witnessed not only the greatest father-of-the-bride speech ("I'd like to thank everyone for coming. Peace."), but also heard the greatest back-to-back-songs-at-a-wedding ("Wake Me Up Before You Go Go" by Wham followed up by "Just Like Heaven" by The Cure). I danced like Molly Ringwald.

Chris also, while listening to "Needle in the Hay" by Elliott Smith, buzzed his head. Along the way he looked like my 7th grade boyfriend, Anthony Kiedis circa 1991, and Travis Barker. Transformation photos to follow.

Speaking of Chris, he got HEATED by an e-mail forward from one of his friends. Have y'all seen the e-mail, sent by Republicans, about the ant and the grasshopper? It's basically uses the story of the ant and the grasshopper to make the case that people are poor because they don't work hard enough and people who work shouldn't have to help out those that don't. The forward ended with "Vote Republican." This pissed Chris off and he fired back an eloquent rebuttal that silenced the haters, I think. I mention all this because I had a similar conversation, via e-mail/blog, with my good friend Geoff, who has recently started owning his Republicanism. Anyone who knows Geoff knows that he's kind of bandwagon, so he'll probably come back to the brighter side of things sooner than later. Anyway, his argument, which I can understand, when it comes to poverty and public assistance, was that when he opened his business, he was working a ton and was broke but he didn't go on welfare or EBT. He goes on to say that if people want better jobs, they have to educate themselves and work hard. In theory, this is true. In practice, however, this shit is false as hell. Not to diminish what Geoff has done, because I am incredibly proud of how he started his own business and I know he's worked his tail off. However, Geoff comes from a comfortable family. He is independent in the sense that he pays his own bills, but not in the sense that if something were to happen, it's not like he would starve, lose his house, or not be able to pay the bills. Clark and Annie would help out. As they should, as good parents. However, not everyone has that luxury. That is a middle-to-upper class luxury. So who helps out the working poor when they have an emergency?

We live in a world of middle class values and norms. If you were not raised in the middle or upper class, how would you know how to properly navigate a middle-class world? For example, in my middle-class upbringing, it was never an option for my brothers and I to not go to college. The question was just which one. My parents knew how to help me fill out a FAFSA. They knew what questions to ask on a college visit. They knew about college visits, for chrissakes. They took me to a college counselor. For some of my kids, who have no one in their family who has ever gone to college, that idea is not automatic. It takes calculated efforts from teachers and other influential adults to get them to assume that college is their future and to help them jump through the hoops that they have to in order to be successful. I think a lot of middle-to-upper class people have no idea of what poverty means. I have seen where some of my students live and it would shock you. Honestly, even I had no idea until I saw it myself.
There are several books published in the last five years that document the struggle of those in poverty. Two fascinating reads are Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickle and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America and David Shipler's The Working Poor: Invisible in America. All three are excellent reads and I own them if you want to borrow them.
The idea of the American Dream is dead. Nothing teaches you more about the cyclical nature of poverty and ignorance more than working in a school. I can't tell you how many kids I have that are messed up and rightfully so if you meet their parents. If outside agencies such as education and social services don't step in to help people break that cycle, impoverished people will continue to be impoverished and society will bear the burden of that poverty. We are becoming less of a nation of opportunity and more of a nation of classist castes that doom children to repeat their parents mistakes.

My kids are sponsoring their second annual Tent City on January 13th at my school. Kids will camp out for 12 hours in support of poverty-relief efforts in their community. We are taking donations of new or gently-used clothing to benefit the Salvation Army in Maplewood, canned food to benefit America's Second Harvest, and money to support Joe's Place, a new home for homeless teenaged boys in our school district. There will be displays with information on poverty and every donation is tax-deductible. Please come support my kids and their efforts to help make a difference in their community.

2 comments:

Geoff said...

Kelli,

Many thanks for giving me a shout out on your blog. Maybe this will propel me to superstardom.

I must disagree with your assesment of me as "bandwagon." I did vote, and I did not vote straight ticket. If a person is so blind as to not see the issues then that's their fault. If you can say that you agree with a party 100% then you aren't doing your research. My core values do lean to the right, however, my stance on the death penalty or abortion really didn't have that much to do with my vote this year. There were other issues that I felt were more important in the most recent election.

As far as your assessment on my stance on poverty and my thoughts on capitalism, you are pretty accurate. Sure, there are some that are less fortunate and may have to work harder to get ahead, but to say that the American Dream is dead is a pretty pessimistic way of thinking. Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffett, Howard Schultz (C.E.O. Starbucks), Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Clinton, and many others came from far less than desirable backgrounds and made something of themselves. Not to mention the thousands, probably millions, of people that live average, comfortable lives after being raised in poverty, coming from single parent families, abuse, etc. If the opportunity of making something out of nothing were not possible in this country, why do we have such a problem with people coming over both legally and illegally?

It is true that I was raised in a middle class household. I didn't go without very often and had the benefit of a solid family unit and two parents that expected a lot out of me and were very good role models. I didn't get everything that I wanted and learned that lesson very early because my parents knew that life is not always fair.

Starting a small business (the backbone of America) was not the "easy" choice. Sure, I could have graduated, got a safe, secure job with benefits, and been happy and living comfortably. I thought (and still do) that being in charge of my own future and having my success or failure lie directly on my shoulders was the way to go. Much like sports, some are more naturally gifted. Others can make up for a lack of talent with hard work and determination (i.e. Rudy). If a person that doesn't have the talent, and chooses not to put forth a good effort, does that person deserve to play? Should he or she play because we feel bad and they need an equal opportunity? The answer is no.

Taking home no more than $1000 a month for over two years was not easy. It was my choice, and I had to alter my lifestyle to fit what I did and didn't have. I asked noone, my parents or government included (when I could have), for help because I put myself in that position. Many times I was in a difficult place but using the brain that I was given got me out of those predicaments.

I agree with you that it is the kids that are being hurt by poverty. They know nothing but living with little and do not have solid examples to look up to. What is the solution? Give more money? From talking extensively with Jack (who knows first hand about poverty from running in District 66), the problem is not more money, it's making sure that the money that is given is used wisely. The people who recieve this federal money need to be more accountable instead of perpetuating the problem. By keeping the status quo, program leaders can keep getting their money while noone gets any help. "Poverty Pimping" is a real problem in the less fortunate communities and needs to be fixed.

Giving more money perpetuates poverty and gives no reason for people to grow. Receive welfare but only for a year. If you can't get a job in one year and you have no disability, too bad. To collect a check, do some work (collect trash in ditches or something). To collect a check, one may not be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Guidelines like these would make people get off their couches and make a living. If, as a person that receives this money, I know that I don't have to do anything different to get a check, why would I? Life is about choices and, unfortuanately, too many people don't make sound ones.

Solving the problem may include giving the money (not more) to schools, counselors, and programs that help people get jobs and better themselves. Maybe schools should teach kids financial literacy and not just "book smarts." It's great to know a lot of "stuff," it's great to be able to win at Trivial Pursuit, but when a kid gets done with high school (or even college), and doesn't know how to save, budget, or purchase a house, that's not right. Proper education and accountability, not simply throwing money at the problem seems like a much better idea to me.

America has been, and always will be, the best country on Earth. Nowhere else can someone become anything they want, IF THEY CHOOSE. I want to help those that are less fortunate and support programs that actually work, not just throw money at the problem and give people no reason to advance.

As a person that sees this problem on a more first hand basis, what would you provide as a solution?

Also, you mentioned your students having a fund raiser- how can I contribute?

Regardless of your position, it's nice to see young people that are informed and care about what is going on. There are too many people that just hear bits and pieces of information and don't research and think for themselves.

Geoff

P.S. ISU's new football coach is going to be sweet.

Anonymous said...

You know I have a friend in springfield who gets government assistance b/c he doesn't claim his tips where he works. He has a kid and a wife and probably makes a ton more money than I do and I'm the one paying for his grocereis. He owns a house and wants to buy another to fix up. Those are the people that ruin and disrespect what the govn't has put in position to help prevent poverty, not keep people in it b/c it's easy.