Monthly Archives: April 2012

What is the Catholic Church Thinking? Nuns on the Run…

I am not Catholic, although more than half the members of my family, including my husband, are and our marriage was sanctioned by the Catholic Church. I firmly believe that organized religion has much to offer in terms of helping people discern what is ethically and morally right and wrong. And I realize that organized religion has helped many people who are struggling and looking for more meaning in their lives.

But I am absolutely baffled by the Catholic Church of late. It seems to keep digging itself into a deeper and deeper hole with each new scandal. First it was the apparent cover-up of sexual abuse of young boys by priests. After seeing the outrage over the scandal at Penn State earlier this year, I was struck by the lack of accountability illustrated in the tepid response of the Catholic Church to these heinous crimes.

Now, the Church has decided to publicly chastise one of its greatest assets: nuns. The New York Times had two excellent opinion pieces about this issue this weekend, one written by Nicholas Kristof and one written by Maureen Dowd. The Kristof article included a link to the public reprimand recently issued by the Vatican, in which the Church proclaimed that Nuns in the United States were getting a little too big for their habits (my words, not theirs).

I am sure all of us have seen the magnificent work that nuns perform daily throughout this country, indeed throughout the world. As a feminist, it is a wonder to me that women are willing to make the sacrifice that it requires to become a nun, when it appears that the Catholic Church has historically had little regard for women.

I truly believe that this could be the beginning, or at least the middle, of the end for the Catholic Church. I know that many will disagree with me, saying that this is just a conservative phase that the church is going through under its current leadership. But the Catholic Church has had a difficult time of late recruiting people to serve as priests and nuns. With displays like this, I can’t help but believe that the pool of people willing to make the significant sacrifice that is required to serve the Church and their higher ideals will only dwindle further – and that is too bad.

My Aunt was a nun who inspires me to this day with stories about her community organizing in low income neighborhoods. And my grandmother did the “holy wash,” cleaning all the church linens for more than 40 years. Both of these strong women significantly helped shape who I am today.

And I know the positive aspects of organized religion and the Catholic Church. My husband and I went to the required pre-marital counseling to enable us to be married in the Catholic Church and it was one of the most meaningful experiences of my life.

But the Catholic Church should play a central role in helping the poor and in comforting the down-trodden. And that is what nuns have been doing, without fanfare or glory, for generations.

I hope the Catholic Church rethinks their reprimand and begins to listen to the stories of these inspiring women. They should try to understand the nuns’ concerns with the current direction of the Church. The very future of the Church could depend on this.

These women are heroes and I have no doubt they will survive and thrive after this recent setback from Rome; I have less confidence in the Church’s ability to do the same.

What do you think? I am sure that plenty of people will have differing perspectives on this issue and I welcome those. Do you think that the Catholic Church will be able to recover from the scandals that have plagued it in recent years? Do you think that the Church will be forced to be more inclusive in the future to survive? Do you have an inspiring story about how nuns have touched your lives? What do you see as the future of the Catholic Church and of organized religion?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading!

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Filed under Religion, Women

Pineapples, The Limits of Privatization and Corporate Influence in Education

Gail Collins wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times earlier this week entitled “A Very Pricey Pineapple.”  This article highlights the increased influence of big business in the US education system since the No Child Left Behind Act passed Congress.

The article raises concerns about whether the companies who profit from education are more interested in improving kids’ educational attainment, or whether their main interest lies in improving their bottom line.

This story is directly related the post I wrote earlier this week about the new book by Professor Michael Sandel, entitled “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets.” That book appears to argue that certain fundamental things should not be subject to market whims and to the eternal quest to increase corporate earnings.

Access to health care comes immediately to mind. I realize this is a highly contentious issue currently being debated in a wide variety of venues, from the corner coffee shop to the Supreme Court. Of course, the morality of the market determining what type of health care a person can access is not what the Supreme Court is debating; they are simply deciding whether people can be required to purchase health insurance and whether the federal government has the authority to enact the law. Even if these provisions of the law are upheld, the market will still dictate which insurance a person will purchase.

For all of the opposition in some camps about “Obamacare,” in many ways, the Affordable Care Act was one of the greatest corporate subsidies ever passed by Congress. This is a stark example of the tendency of policymakers in the United States to cater to the marketplace, regardless of the issue. Campaign financing plays a major role in this, as it does in most policy decisions. When the largest campaign donations consistently come from large corporations, policy decisions are inevitably impacted. The Citizens United Supreme Court decision will likely only make this worse.

Education is another area where corporate influence should be minimized. In a time when educators feel constrained by the need to “teach to a test,” it is disturbing to learn that the tests that have become so ubiquitous in our schools deliver a hefty corporate profit and may or may not be delivering actual value to the students and educators. The influence of the corporate lobbyists in crafting the No Child Left Behind law is striking as well.

What do you think? This raises the persistent question regarding the appropriate role of government in our society. Is there really anything wrong with a corporation making a profit on educational testing if the outcomes lead to better educated students? Are there safeguards that could be put in place to ensure that the interests of students are placed above the interests of corporate shareholders?  Are teachers finding that they must cater their classes to these tests? Do they find that this inhibits their ability to cater to an individual child’s needs? Are you concerned about the move to privatize government services and programs or do you believe that this will improve services and programs?

Please take a minute to share your thoughts. And thank you for reading!

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Filed under Education, Policy, Privatization, Role of Government

The Hunger for a Royal Baby Bump

Today’s article is entitled “Is Kate Pregnant? William and Kate Amp Up the Baby Speculation.”  It was written by Tom Sykes and published by the Daily Beast. I find these stories, which seem to be prolific in the media lately, highly disturbing.

As a 40 year old, I know quite a number of couples who have experienced the harsh reality of not being able to conceive a child. These struggles are very real, and just because Kate is young and healthy, that does not guarantee that she will be able to have children. Not to mention that if the couple does have trouble conceiving, the truth is, it takes two to tango.

In fact, who is to say that the royal couple has not decided to delay having children so they can enjoy each other for some time before taking on the duties of child-rearing? And is there anything wrong with that?

If it turns out that Kate and Prince William would like to have a child, but are unable to conceive, then what? Does that make Kate less worthy of admiration and less of a woman? This is such a personal issue for a couple. I realize that Kate knew what she was taking on when she married Prince William, but this incessant speculation seems to cross a line that should not be crossed.

The pressure on Kate at this point to produce an heir to the throne is relentless. The joy and exuberance surrounding this beautiful young couple’s wedding was enough to sweep anyone up in the excitement. But does the adoration that was overflowing at the wedding dissipate if the couple is unable to produce an heir to the throne?

What do you think? Am I overreacting to this issue? Do you feel that the media has the right to delve into the personal lives of celebrities and royalty? Do you think our society places a burden on women to produce children? And what about women who are unable to reproduce – what happens to the perceived value of that woman? If the couple is unable to conceive, will people automatically blame Kate or do you think that there will be an understanding that it is more complicated than this?

Feel free to add your own thoughts and questions. And thanks for reading!     

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Filed under Parenting, Women

The Skyboxification of America: Michael Sandel on Market Moralism

Today, I am posting a book review about Michael Sandel’s new book “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets.” The review was written by Michael Fitzgerald and published by Newsweek. You can find the article here.

Michael Sandel is a professor at Harvard who teaches a wildly popular philosophy course called “Justice.” This class was broadcast on PBS and by the BBC and explores issues of morality, using classical philosophical theory as his framework for examining modern day moral dilemmas.

A group that my husband and I belong to has been hosting viewing parties of these lectures and they are absolutely fascinating. It is especially interesting to observe how Professor Sandel engages his students and encourages them to think critically about these theoretical philosophical issues. The lectures are always followed by a lively discussion about how these philosophies and theories impact current political realities. Most recently, we watched the series on Libertarianism, which certainly has much relevancy in today’s political climate.

While I haven’t read “What Money Can’t Buy,” the idea that Sandel lays out in the book regarding the “skyboxification of America” is intriguing to me. Sandel coined this phrase to refer to the lack of frequent opportunities for people with different socio-economic statuses to engage with people from other backgrounds in everyday life. His book also explores the drive to subject all aspects of life to the market, regardless of the weightier moral and ethical issues involved.

I have not read this book and am only halfway through the Justice series, but I love the way that Professor Sandel makes people think critically about the world around them.

Discussion questions: Have you taken Michael Sandel’s course or watched his lectures? What are some key points and ideas that you took from that experience? Do you believe that our culture places a monetary value on certain things that should not be subjected to this type of analysis? What types of things? What do you think about the “skyboxification of America” idea? If you are a parent, do you look for opportunities for your kids to engage with kids from other backgrounds and economic statuses? Do you seek out these opportunities yourself?

Readers should always feel free to post discussion questions as well, since this blog is more about its readers and promoting a dialogue than it is about my limited thoughts.

I hope you will join the discussion. And thank you for reading!

For more information from Michael Sandel and his new book, click here to see a transcript from a live chat with the Daily Beast.

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Filed under Income inequality

Forget them! What Do YOU Want to Be When You Grow Up?

Today’s article is entitled “The Creative Monopoly.” It was written by David Brooks and published in the New York Times on April 23rd and can be found here.

This article talks about Peter Thiel, who founded PayPal and was an early investor in Facebook. In the article, Mr. Brooks explains that Peter Thiel was a highly successful student when he was younger, working his way through Stanford and Stanford Law School, only failing to meet his ambitions when he applied to be a Supreme Court clerk.

Mr. Brooks posits that this failure to succeed in one, traditional, competitive endeavor, led Thiel to think more creatively about what he might be able to accomplish in life. Obviously, as the founder of PayPal, Peter Thiel went on to become a highly successful businessman after overcoming that initial disappointment.

This opinion piece questions the value of societal pressures to pursue traditional professions encouraged by the US educational system and American culture. I like Mr. Brook’s hypothesis that we need more people to think outside the traditional “box” portrayed by most Universities in this country.

Students should be encouraged to think critically and creatively about their personal interests and how they would like to contribute to society, without feeling the need to bow to the immense pressure to conform to other’s expectations. And I agree that people who find a way to do this tend to be more successful and can make a significant contribution to society, sometimes in completely unexpected ways.

I do think, however, that the financial barriers are prohibitively high for most people to be able to even consider doing such a thing. How many of us could really denounce the traditional paths laid out for us throughout our education, to do something completely different and unique?

I admire the people in my life who have done this – the people in my high school who went on to become actors or to produce tv shows and movies or to conduct on Broadway. And one friend from my conservative college started his own gourmet peanut butter and jelly stand in a mall. It can take real courage to take a risk to do what truly inspires you. It is not the easy path. Sometimes I regret the fact that I have barely considered taking a risk like that. Do you?

Some Questions for Discussion: How do you think young people could be encouraged to think more about untraditional professions? How could we expose students to a wider variety of career paths? Do you feel that you were encouraged to walk away from traditional expectations and forge your own path? And did you learn any lessons from taking the path less travelled? Do you have any suggestions for people who are looking for financial support to pursue their dreams? Why do you think that people so easily give in to societal pressures when establishing their professional goals? Is there a role that parents or the government can play to help reduce the pressures to conform to traditional expectations? Are you a parent that has tried to expose your children to a number of different potential life paths? Do you have any suggestions for other parents trying to do the same?

What would you like to be or do if you could walk away from your current work? And do you think you will ever do that?

Please join the conversation. And thank so much for reading!

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Filed under Career Planning, Education, Parenting, Youth Leadership

To Connect or Not to Connect? That is the Question…

My name is Jennifer and I am a techoholic. Today’s article is an opinion piece in the New York Times, entitled “The Flight from Conversation,” which was written by Sherry Turkle and can be found by clicking here.  This article examines the impact of technology on society, and on personal relationships in particular.

For me, the slide toward my current obsession with technology was gradual. I was a late adopter of the cell phone and only gave in to the temptation to get a cell phone when I was training for the Texas AIDS ride, when I would ride 80 miles or more on my own on deserted farm roads and felt the need to be able to reach out in case of emergency. But the lure of technological advancements has grown stronger and stronger for me since that time, culminating in my current “Crackberry” obsession.

I realized the magnitude of this problem this past Easter Sunday, when I was at church with my husband. We had just gone up to receive communion and returned to our pew. There were a lot of people in church that day, as there frequently are on Easter, so communion was taking some time.  All of a sudden, I felt the subtle pull to check my phone to see if the red light was blinking, which would mean that I had some sort of message – be it a voicemail, an e-mail, a text, a Facebook post or, even better, a Facebook friend request! I am nearly helpless in the face of that flashing red light; I simply have to check! I did deny the urge to look that day, but only because I knew that if I caught a glimpse of the blinking red light, the rest of the service would be torture for me until I could see what communication was waiting there.

Facebook and other technological advances have been a godsend for me in many ways. I have a complete aversion to the phone and rarely initiate a phone conversation. I am always grateful to my friends who live far away who reach out by phone to catch up; I almost never make that initial call. But Facebook has allowed me to maintain important friendships from afar in a much more effective manner than before I had access to this virtual connection.

And, just yesterday, I was able to catch up with a friend who I had not seen in years just because he posted that he happened to be in Boulder. These are some concrete benefits of technology that can, in my opinion, actually increase connections with friends and family.

But there does seem to be a downside to all of this connection; I should be able to ignore that flashing red light on my phone, when I am surrounded by people I love. And one has to ask whether all of these virtual connections really add to the personal connections that lead to a truly fulfilling life.

A few years ago, I received an invitation to my 20 year high school reunion. I was excited about the prospect of going back to Baltimore to see people who I had not seen in years. I am fortunate to have maintained close relationships with quite a few high school classmates, but there are other people that I have not stayed in contact with, and with whom I would love to reconnect. As my high school friends and I were debating whether to attend the reunion, one of our friends said that he felt that he was already connected to our classmates through Facebook. It turned out that I was unable to attend the reunion, but I couldn’t help hoping that Facebook made the conversations at the reunion more meaningful, enabling people to get beyond the “Where do you live? What do you do? Do you have any children?” conversations and onto meatier topics that could lead to true connections.

So, on this picture-perfect Earth Day, when the universe (at least in Boulder) has chosen to display the wonders of nature in all their glory, I challenge myself and all of you to see if we can find ways to disconnect from our technology and connect more with nature, with neighbors, with our family and friends. Let’s take a stand and scale back our use of technology in whatever way would be meaningful for each of us. For me, that might mean leaving the phone plugged in upstairs after 5 PM, so I can’t see that seductive blinking red light. And then maybe, with time, I will be able to see that red light and not even respond. That is the goal; that, and reconnecting with my real life. Happy Earth Day everyone!

Some questions for discussion: Do you share my tech obsession? Does this concern you or are you finding ways to make technology compliment your personal relationships, rather than replace them? If you have children, do you place limits on their use of technology? Are there things that have worked for you to encourage your kids to get outside more or to build more face to face relationships? How does this new connected culture impact the work environment? Do you have any tips for me or for others about how to wean off of technology without having to go cold-turkey?

Please add your thoughts! And thank you for reading.

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Filed under Parenting, Relationships, Social Media

Who Needs Government Anyhow? Except…

Since many of us paid our taxes this week, it seems only appropriate to highlight an article about how our tax dollars are spent. So, in that spirit, I am posting an article entitled “Who Needs Government Anyway? Except…” This opinion piece was written by Kevin Horrigan and was published in the Denver Post on April 15th. You can find the article here.

This article, while certainly tongue-in-cheek, highlights some of the critical functions performed by government on which we all rely. It is easy to get caught up in the partisan rhetoric over the size of government and cutting costs or controlling spending by shrinking government; but maybe it would be more productive for all of us to actively engage in a meaningful dialogue about how our tax dollars are spent.

I remember when Colorado was looking for ways to cut the state budget a few years ago, and they closed some of the Department of Motor Vehicle Offices. I was amazed to see how, all of a sudden, people from all walks of life were impacted personally by budget cuts. People were talking about this in every locale. But it was difficult for people to see the connection between the amount of taxes they pay and the long lines at the DMV.

I also heard a story recently about a town where people in the community had a choice whether or not to pay into the fire protection services in their town. But when the house of a community member who had not paid into the service caught on fire, the community was horrified that the fire department did not run to the rescue to put out the blaze.

There is so much double-speak when it comes to talking about taxes and the size of government. Sometimes it feels like people want plenty of government services – including public transportation, high quality public schools, rapid street repairs, snow plowing, protection from crime and fire – the list could go on and on. But people are not willing to pay more for these services.

Some questions for discussion: What is behind the fear and hatred of government we hear on the nightly news? Do you think it would help if people had a better understanding of how their tax dollars are spent and the specific benefits they, personally, receive from government? Would you be willing to pay more taxes to have more benefits, such as guaranteed health care or quality child care? Or do believe that government is fundamentally mismanaged? Would you rather spend your own money to provide for yourself, and deny any community-provided benefits? Do you feel that the government is choosing to spend your tax dollars in ways that you disagree with? How would you allocate the dollars differently if you were a policymaker? Have you been engaged in these debates in the past? Are there any particular resources you have found helpful to educate yourself on these issues?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. And thanks for reading!

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Filed under Policy, Privatization, Role of Government

Studies Question the Pairing of Food Deserts and Obesity

The article that jumps out at me today is entitled “Studies Question the Pairing of Food Deserts and Obesity.” It was written by Gina Kolata and can be found here.  Many of my friends work in public health and I will be very interested to hear their thoughts on this article. The article calls into question the hypothesis that a lack of access to healthy foods leads to obesity in low income neighborhoods.

The article sites two recent studies. The first study shows that, in the low income neighborhoods examined for the study, grocery stores were actually more prevalent than in wealthy neighborhoods, which contradicts the long-held belief of many policymakers and public health experts. The lead author for this study is quoted as saying, “‘you can get basically any type of food’ within a few miles of almost any urban neighborhood.”

The second study found that, in 13,000 teenagers who self-reported their weight, height and diet, there was no relationship between what people said they ate, what types of foods they were able to access and their weight.

Obesity in the United States has become an epidemic and is a leading cause of the astronomical increase in health care costs in this country. Michelle Obama has helped elevate this issue recently, but people still seem to see this through a personal freedom and liberty lens, rather than as a public health issue.

There are laws in place around the country to require food establishments to list the calorie counts on their menus; or to eliminate trans-fats; or to improve nutrition in school lunches – there is certainly a lot of advocacy going on in the public health arena. But this feels like an issue that will be complicated to address in the United States, perhaps due to the individualistic nature of our American culture. It reminds me of the debates around smoking – the arguments that people make that they have a personal right or freedom to do harm to their own body, balanced against the public health arguments about the impact smoking has on health care costs.

Questions that come to mind: Aside from the fact that “a few miles” from home can be quite a distance when a person has to take the bus and has children, I can’t help wondering why it is so hard to get people’s attention on this issue. Is it because healthy food is more expensive and so healthy food is seen as a luxury item? Is it that emotions are heavily involved when it comes to food? My family always gathers around a big meal to celebrate any event and I can’t imagine not partaking in the Baltimore crab cakes and mashed potatoes. And if I’m lucky, strawberry shortcake or a Vaccaro’s cannoli for dessert! How much do you think family, and culture and tradition plays a part in what we eat or whether we exercise? And do you think that policy efforts or advocacy efforts can make a difference to stem the tide of the problem? What do you think will help bring about change in this area?

Please share your thoughts or expertise here I would love to hear from you! And thanks for reading.

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Filed under Health, Policy

Stephen Colbert on “Rosengate”

Sometimes, Stephen Colbert simply tells a news story best.

http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/412438/april-12-2012/the-other-war-on-women

The way that both sides of the political divide latch onto an incident like the Hillary Rosen gaffe would be really funny if it weren’t so depressing to think that this is what our political discourse has turned into. The media and pundits have been like sharks who smell blood on this one.

At least Stephen Colbert, with his usual flair and genius, can point out the absurdity of it all.

What do you think?

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Filed under Women

Making Education Brain Science

Today’s article is entitled “Making Education Brain Science,” written by Jenny Anderson and published in the New York Times. You can find the article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/15/nyregion/at-the-blue-school-kindergarten-curriculum-includes-neurology.html?_r=1. This article explores the alternative teaching methods used at an elementary school in Manhattan named the Blue School. This school attempts to use current research related to child development to develop its curriculum and has an increased and intentional focus on emotions and developing social skills.

It was particularly interesting for me to read about the field trip to the aquarium described in the article. The students were going to the aquarium, ostensibly, to learn about sharks. But the article makes it clear that the true focus of that trip was as much on planning the activity, as it was on participating in the activity. It seems that this type of experiential learning could be highly beneficial for children.

I am extremely fortunate that my parents placed such a focus on my education, telling me when I was looking at colleges that money was not an object when it came to my education, despite the fact that I do not come from a wealthy family. And, unquestionably, I received one of the best educations that money can buy.

And while the schools I attended prepared me well for future success in many ways,  it would have been helpful to have had classes that were more focused on thinking critically and questioning what we read and hear every day in the news. These are important skills that lead to future success on both a professional, and a social level. In a world full of cable news channels, working round the clock to tell us what we should be thinking and why – it is important to be able to think for oneself when surrounded by all the noise.

I am not a parent, so I have not had to make the difficult choice about where to send my kids to school, but I have observed close friends trying to navigate these complex waters. Of course, school financing for public schools makes this all the more complicated. As wonderful as the Blue School sounds, it costs more than $30,000 per year – and that is just for elementary school.

Some questions that arose for me as I read this article: Have any of you chosen to send your kids to alternative schools? What type of alternative school? Do you think that public schools should have more flexibility to use these types of alternative teaching methods? Do you have concerns that many schools seem to just be “teaching to a test,” and may not have the flexibility to focus on some of the other critical skills that a balanced adult needs to function in society? And how in the world do parents afford to send their kids to school?

As usual, I imagine that those of you reading this will have much more insight into this issue than I, so please feel free to raise other issues that come to mind for you.

Thanks for reading!

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Filed under Education

Sam Spade at Starbucks

Today’s article is entitled “Sam Spade at Starbucks.” It is an opinion piece published in the New York Times, written by David Brooks and can be found here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/13/opinion/brooks-sam-spade-at-starbucks.html?src=me&ref=general

In the article, the author appears to question the idealism of youth and suggests that young people who are imbued with this idealism should be more practical and realistic. As a 40 year old who has yet to grow completely out of this youthful idealism, while I see where Mr. Brooks is going with his hypothesis, I also have to question the need for young people to proactively seek out opportunities to be more practical.

When I think back to when I started doing public policy work, I remember feeling extremely frustrated that people placed such limitations on what they would allow me to do. I felt like I had so much to offer, but it seemed that people were unwilling to listen to my ideas because of my age. I was bursting with energy and passion and ideas, some of which were lofty goals, but some of which were absolutely achievable. But it was hard to find adults who were willing to give me a chance to contribute in a meaningful way.

When I did finally find a mentor who encouraged me to aim high and go after what I believed was right, I did just that. I remember, perhaps naively, believing that I could almost single-handedly pass legislation  to give battered immigrant women in Texas access to public benefits like Medicaid and cash assistance before they had been in the country for five years. Federal law bars most immigrants from accessing these benefits for their first five years in the United States, but states can choose to create exceptions to this law. That is what I intended to do – in Texas.

I think I still have a copy of that draft legislation, with mark-ups from people who I worked with to try and get the bill passed; in the end, the bill failed by one vote. I have often thought that I should frame that draft legislation and hang it next to my desk as a reminder of what I once believed was possible.

For good or ill, my sights at the state legislature have been recalibrated to a much more achievable level than they were then. But sometimes I mourn the loss of the belief that anything could be done if you tried hard enough. Besides, history has repeatedly shown us that true social change only comes about when someone  is willing to believe that change is possible.

Life experience forces all of us to become more pragmatic as we get older. We are faced with harsh realities that remind us that everything does not always work out for the best and that some people do have bad intentions. But do young people really need to go out and seek that type of education, or is that simply the education that comes with age and experience? Doesn’t that education come to us all eventually anyway?

I think of the idealism of youth as a precious resource that we can only benefit from nurturing and encouraging. Who knows – the young person who one person dismisses as too young to know anything could turn out to be the next great leader or inventor?

As usual, this article raises some interesting questions for me: Doesn’t this article really just portray the natural tensions between generations that happens periodically as one generation ages and another prepares to enter adulthood? How does this idealism that David Brooks refers to differ from the activism of people from my parent’s generation in the 60’s and 70’s? Are we living a in a different time that enables young people to look outside their borders more for their activism rather than within the United States? Are young people disconnected from local political issues? The last presidential election certainly questioned this assumption. Do you think that young people will be as energized in November and will make their way to the polls?

What is it that makes older people so afraid of the idealism of youth or of acknowledging what young people are capable of?

Do people have to lose their idealism as they age or are there strategies and tactics to keep those dreams and values and philosophies alive? Doesn’t society benefit from young people pushing and encouraging their elders to think about things in a new way? Doesn’t being faced with young idealism help people reconnect to their own youth in some way? Or is David Brooks right that young people just need to be more practical?

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading!

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Filed under Career Planning, Education, Parenting, Youth Leadership

How Micromanaging Educators Stifles Reform

The Atlantic article by Teach for America CEO and Founder Wendy Kopp entitled “How Micromanaging Educators Stifles Reform” raises some interesting issues about the education system in the United States. You can find the article here.

I believe that this is one of the most – if not the most – pressing issues of our times. I am certainly not an expert on this issue, but whenever I learn more about education policy, I can’t help but feel that there is a direct link between the growing income inequality and the unequal access to education in the United States.

I would love to hear thoughts from teachers, principals, parents, policymakers, or anyone else who has thoughts on this issue.

Some questions that come to mind: Do you believe that there is a link between access to quality education and the growing income disparity in this country? Do public schools have less ability to adjust their curriculum or to use creative teaching strategies than private or charter schools? Are you a teacher or former teacher who felt stifled by policies that required you to “teach to a test”? Do you have suggestions about how this could be addressed through policy or parental advocacy? Why wouldn’t policymakers who are working on improving our education system want to encourage more innovation and more of a focus on meaningful outcomes for our kids?

I am sure that those of you who understand this issue better than I do can find other issues worthy of discussion. Please take a moment to comment! Thanks for reading.

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Filed under Education, Parenting, Policy

Welfare Limits Left Poor Adrift as Recession Hit

An article in this Sunday’s New York Times, entitled “Welfare Limits Left Poor Adrift as Recession Hit,” written by Jason DeParle was both disturbing and informative. You can find the article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/08/us/welfare-limits-left-poor-adrift-as-recession-hit.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1.

As someone who has worked on public policy issues, mostly related to low income families, for the past 15 years, this story really hit home for me. I started working in this field in 1996, right at the height of the debates around “ending welfare as we know it.” I was working for NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund at the time and we were actively engaged in the debates.

We were working to inform Congress about the devastating impact that this new law could have on people – mostly women – who were experiencing domestic violence. Research had come out at that time about the disproportionate number of women receiving cash assistance who were being abused and on how many women found cash assistance to be a life-saving resource that allowed them to finally escape the violence. This advocacy led to to adoption of the Family Violence Option, which intended to allow domestic violence survivors some relief from the strict requirements of the law.

The 1996 welfare reform law, as you can read in this article, imposed significant work requirements and strict time limits on people receiving cash assistance. The debates were highly contentious, with people on both sides of the issue predicting either economic Armageddon or a society where every person would obtain a job that would enable them to become “self-sufficient.” In fact, as this article shows, neither of these predictions turned out to be entirely accurate.

It has been interesting to observe how the political rhetoric around these issues has evolved as the country has experienced a deep recession with significant job losses and rising poverty. You can hardly open a paper without seeing an article about the number of people who have been supported by food assistance in the past several years. And while some politicians and pundits say that this is evidence that the United States is creating a welfare state, others work to debunk the stereotypes about who is accessing food assistance and to tell the human stories of what a difference this support made for their family.

It seems to me that the entire reason to have public assistance programs for needy families is to help people weather significant economic hardships.

As usual, this article raises some important questions: If these benefits are not available to people in need during an economic downturn, what are the consequences for that family and for society as a whole? Why has the political rhetoric around these issues become so divisive and polarized? The Ryan budget looks to essentially dismantle these programs entirely over the long term. Is that what we want as a society? Why does it appear that many of the politicians who portray themselves as highly religious are some of the individuals who are most interested in dismantling these programs to support the poor? And why can’t moderate politicians on both sides of the political divide set aside the rhetoric and work together to find a middle ground, where these critical supports are guaranteed and available for people when they are in need, but still include some strong incentives and work supports? As income inequality grows in this country, do you think that movements like Occupy Wall Street will gain momentum? What will that look like? Do you think that money in politics and Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United impact this debate?

A lot of food for thought in this article. I hope that you will consider commenting! And thanks for reading.

This graph from the New York Times article was amazing to me and may be helpful to put this issue into context:

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Filed under Income inequality, Policy, Poverty, Role of Government

36 Hours in Mendoza, Argentina

It will be no surprise to those of you who know me well to see that I chose to highlight the article in the travel section of today’s New York Times exploring Mendoza, Argentina. You can find the article here: http://travel.nytimes.com/2012/04/08/travel/36-hours-in-mendoza-argentina.html?src=me&ref=travel. Just reading the article made me crave a glass of Malbec and a lomito (a traditional beef tenderloin sandwich on a crusty roll with a slice of tomato – super delicious!). I have not had the pleasure of traveling to Mendoza yet, although I have spent quite a bit of time travelling throughout Argentina, as my husband is originally from Buenos Aires. Mendoza is absolutely on the top of my list based on its reputation for great wine and spectacular mountain scenery.

Have any of you been to Mendoza? Do you have any must-see’s or must-do’s for me or for others who might be travelling there in the future? Any travel trips or books to read before you go? Do you have a favorite wine that you discovered in Mendoza? Personally, I am crazy about Terrazas Malbec, which you can find in most stores in the United States. In fact, I think I will go pour myself a glass right now!

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Filed under Uncategorized

Selling You on Facebook

One article that struck me looking through today’s news, is entitled “Selling you on Facebook” and was written by Julia Angwin and Jeremy Singer Vine. It was published in the Wall Street Journal and can be found here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303302504577327744009046230.html?mod=WSJ_hp_mostpop_read.

This article raises concerns about the privacy settings, or lack thereof, for the new technologies that many of us use every day. It talks about a concept called “habituation,” through which ” people who see frequent warnings come to disregard them…people become accustomed to simply pressing the “yes” button when faced with an alert or warning.”

It seems to me that this could turn out to be the next huge corporate scandal in the United States. Technology has been advancing so rapidly, and regulations to protect consumers simply have not kept pace. Many of us, myself included, have become accustomed to agreeing to privacy policies rather than taking the time to read the fine print. Companies have made much of this information indecipherable for the average person, yet can hide behind the cover of a legal disclaimer if they are ever challenged.

This article raises some interesting questions: How diligent are you with reading the privacy policies of applications on your Ipads or smartphones? Does this trend alarm you? Have you experienced negative consequences from ignoring a privacy warning that you later regretted? Do you have any advice for other readers about how to protect themselves? And for the lawyers among us, does clicking “accept” really absolve corporations of any responsibility for how they use and share that information?

And from a corporate perspective, do you think that corporations will eventually pay a price for misusing consumer information or for asking for more information than is needed to run an app? Do you know of trusted organizations that help provide practical guidance on how to protect yourself from privacy violations?

The Wall Street Journal did add some practical guidance on how to protect your privacy on Facebook, which can be found here: http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2012/04/06/how-to-control-what-facebook-apps-see/

Please share your thoughts on this issue when you have a moment. And thank you for reading!

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Filed under Privacy, Social Media