Tag Archives: school

The Importance of Routine

It’s the last day of August and my oldest daughter has been back to school since Wednesday. Somehow, it just doesn’t seem “right” to be going back to school when it’s still August! August is a designated Summer month. And school and Summer shouldn’t really intersect in my opinion!

None the less, it is what it is and we are very much attempting to get back into some semblance of a routine. Getting my oldest daughter to the bus on time, my youngest to daycare and (starting on the 4th) myself to school in the morning is a challenge.

We aren’t “morning people” (do those really exist??). On school days my children would likely sleep until noon if I didn’t drag them out of bed (why isn’t this true for weekends?!). If I don’t plan my mornings I wouldn’t have any chance of ever getting out the door remotely on time. Even with planning, there are mornings when the alarm clock somehow doesn’t go off and everyone ends up frantically getting ready, rushing to be late (such as the 2nd day of this school year! Oops!)

I’ve discussed how I deal with keeping my family on schedule as stress-free as possible before. I continue to schedule everything, prep the night before and meal plan. As my children have gotten older I’ve included them more in my routine making.

This school year I gave them both checklists for their morning and evening routines. I found some magnetic dry erase boards in the dollar section of Target (LOVE Target) and modified them by putting the markers on attached strings, so they wouldn’t get lost. I had each child help me come up with their list of tasks, which we separated into morning and evening. Since they take medicine in the morning and evening, we put that task in the middle so it only had to be written down once.

By the way… the checklist on the right… the task in the middle is “take your medicine”. I know. It’s really hard to decipher and I’m not so good at drawing a medicine spoon or bottle.

For my oldest daughter, Z, (8 years old) I wrote out her tasks. For my youngest daughter, E, (4 years old) I drew pictures to represent her tasks since she cannot yet read and I wanted both my children to independently be able to read and complete their tasks. Their checklists are hung on the side of our refrigerator (a central area in our house) at their height levels so they are easily assessable to them.

Being able to check off a completed task honestly feels pretty awesome and it helps guide them in what they need to get done without me having to constantly tell them. Instead, they can look at their checklist and see what needs to be completed. If they get distracted (which happens with children, especially those with ADHD) I can redirect them by reminding them that they need to look to see what needs to be checked off.

So far, this has worked quite well and has given them some responsibility over their morning and evening routines. It also doubles as a reminder to me what they need to be doing!

That hot pink marker will jolt you awake in the morning! Or make you add “change marker color” to your list…

Of course, I decided to run with the checklist idea and made myself one as well. My checklist is hung on the opposite side of the fridge and is something I see every time I walk into the kitchen. Having tasks written down really helps keep me organized. Instead of feeling overwhelmed with all that needs to be done, I can clearly see my tasks and focus on completing them rather than figuring out what they are.

Also, checking off tasks really does feel AH-MAZING!

This is only the beginning. Of my organization, planning, scheduling and routines. Of the school year. Of the rest of my life. So if this morning doesn’t go well, I can take a deep breath and realize I can try to have it go better tomorrow.

Fear, Success & Getting Out of Your Own Way

It’s very easy for me to lose motivation. To lose sight of my goals and aspirations. To over focus on others and false beliefs that I can change them, despite knowing only they can change themselves. To get caught up in negativity. To doubt myself and my abilities. To have many amazing ideas and, instead of focusing on one or two, half-completing or never starting any of them.

I don’t want to lose this moment and the clarity I have.

I’ve been working very hard on my education. Working to bring my GPA up so I can be eligible for Phi Theta Kappa and the potential scholarships it brings. Working to make sure the classes I take at my community college are the correct ones and will transfer to the private, four year college I want to attend after obtaining my (second) associates degree.

I’ve been planning ahead. Making appointments with advisors, program heads, financial aid counselors, transfer counselors and people at both the school I currently attend and the one I wish to transfer to. I’ve been making sure my “ducks are in a row”.

Last week I visited the private four year college I hope to attend. I had never been there before and it’s over an hours drive away. As I exited the freeway my car collided with the car in front of me. I instantly panicked. I instantly cried.

I felt that perhaps this was a “bad omen” that I shouldn’t attend this college. I felt so overwhelmed with emotion that I wanted to just turn around and go home. Thankfully, all parties were uninjured and there were minor damages to the vehicles. As many pointed out to me later, cars can be replaced. People cannot.

If I had let my emotions and fear control me in that moment, I would have gone home despite being five minutes away from the college. Instead, I was able to contain myself and keep my appointment.

I’m glad that I did. I very much liked the campus and the program I would enter. In talking with the program head, it appears that I can even complete my bachelors degree in three semesters instead of four, thanks to my ability to transfer in additional credits to the school.

Today I met with the transfer counselor at my community college and he told me I was well prepared. He stated that I had talked to all the correct people and taken the necessary steps to be set to transfer next fall. I left feeling amazing. Capable. Strong.

am capable and strong. I have been through so much in my life but when I focus I can accomplish so much.

Last night I had a dream. I somehow totaled my car and was unable to drive anywhere, leaving me housebound. This also meant I was unable to attend school. In my dream I did not try to find alternate ways to get to my school. I simply resigned myself to never being able to graduate and achieve my goals.

I woke anxious. As I analyzed my dream I realized what was most terrifying – I had let one obstacle (my car breaking) stand in my way of moving forward. I had lost momentum and became blinded to other possibilities because I only focused on the negative.

I will achieve my goals of education. I will not let anything stand in my way. Not even myself. I so often doubt myself and make myself believe that I am not smart enough or deserving enough or strong enough.

In the past I’ve put up road blocks subconsciously. Perhaps I was afraid to succeed. Perhaps it was easier to believe that I couldn’t do it instead of seeing it through and awaiting the outcome. I often wonder how much of our “failures” we have caused ourselves.

Let’s stop tearing ourselves down and instead build ourselves up. I can do it. And, if somehow I fail, I can view my failure as an opportunity to learn from it and try again. Isn’t that really what it’s all about? Making mistakes, learning and trying a different way instead of doing the same things over and over again (especially if it doesn’t work)?

I say, get out there and achieve your dreams, work towards your goals and live your life! You are, after all, the only one who can do any of these things for you.

The Road Less Traveled

It’s the time of year when high schoolers go to prom, when they live out their last moments as seniors and prepare for graduation.

Facebook is filled with prom photos: beautiful dresses, beautiful girls, guys wearing matching tuxes and smiles. So many smiles.

I didn’t have a traditional highschool experience. I stopped attending public school early in my sophomore year and, though I did graduate and receive a high school diploma through my local public school, I did not have the opportunity to experience any of the typical highschool festivities.

All I know of prom is from what I’ve seen on television and in movies.  What’s it like to plan out outfits, get all dressed up and spend a night with your friends and classmates dancing? Would I have had fun?

Is prom really like the Prom-asaurus episode on Glee?

I didn’t get to participate in my highschool graduation ceremony either.

The first time I walked across a stage to receive an educational achievement was last summer after I had earned my first college degree. I didn’t feel excited. I felt nervous and overwhelmed with emotion.

Would I have felt differently had I gotten to walk for my high school diploma? Would it have been more exciting?

Even having kids, there’s no good reason why I’ve seen any of these movies…

These are some of the things I think about when I see images of prom and graduation presented. There’s a bittersweet feeling that I missed out.

I also wonder how I will deal with my two daughters as they grow up and enter high school. I am so very unprepared to assist them in typical high school life, including prom and all that goes with it.

It’s so easy to get caught up in these thoughts. In these feelings that I am somehow missing something by not having a traditional high school experience.

If I take a moment and step back from my feelings, I can see that while I may not have traditional highschool experiences to share with my daughters, I have experiences to share with them none the less.

Very little of my life experience has been “traditional.” My experiences differ greatly from the mainstream in ways that expand far before and beyond high school. While this may bring up feelings of “missing out”, in reality I just took a different path than many of my high school classmates.

It doesn’t make my path nor my experiences any better or worse than those of the mainstream. Both are valid paths. I simply took the one less traveled.

My Life is Hectic! (Here’s How I Deal)

My semester at school just started up on January 23rd and, despite being thrilled to be back, the change in schedule (and routine) has really thrown me for a loop.

This semester I have classes five days a week and I’m at the school until just after noon each day. Compared to my three-day school weeks I’ve been used to the last few semesters, I can certainly feel a difference. Going from a month vacation off from school to being at school every weekday is more difficult that I had imagined.

To keep myself (and my family) on schedule and as stress-free as possible, I employ a few methods to organize our week:

First, schedule. Schedule, schedule, schedule.

Since getting a smart phone a year ago, I’ve stopped using a paper agenda and instead have been using Google Calendar to keep track of my days.

Google Calendar is great for many reasons.

I can view, add and edit my calendar via my phone, as well as on any computer connected to the internet. When I enter an event, I can set a reminder to alert me 15 minutes (or other specified time) before the event.

I can invite someone to my event by entering their email. This is handy for event’s that a family member or friend should be aware of, for example, a Father-Daughter Dance.

I can also share my entire calendar with another Google Calendar user. My partner and I have both shared our calendars with one another. All of my events show up on his calendar coded in a different color then his (and vice versa).

This is helpful with kids, as he can see all of the activities and appointments they have scheduled, without my needing to individually invite him to each one.

I use Google Calendar in the same manner I used my paper agenda.

I write down all of the events that are static (class schedules, dance lessons, swim lessons, etc) and fill in any appointments or other events as I become aware of them. I also block off times for myself to work on homework, when class assignments are due, when I need to pick a child up early, etc.

I even use the calendar to remind me of things that need to be done, such as “Clean cat litter” or “Call to make appointment” so I don’t forget.

Second, I get as much I can done the night before.

We pick out clothes the night before in our house because mornings are hectic enough without worrying what you’re going to wear. And having two daughters only makes that trickier.

Each of my daughters picks out what they want to wear before going to bed each night. Before I go to bed, I do the same.

The rule is that what you pick out, is what you wear. When I started this, I said the rule upfront to both of my daughters. After a week, picking out our clothes the night before started to become part of our daily night-time routine. And it saves SO much time and drama in the morning.

Of course, you might end up with this. But remember, what you pick out is what you wear!

Anything else that can be anticipated needing to be done for the morning is also done the night before.

School lunches are packed and ready to go. Notes, permission slips and the like are signed and filed away into backpacks.

Homework is always completed the night before and everything needed for school is packed into backpacks as well. This includes me, as I’ve likely been guilty of forgetting items needed for school more times than my daughter.

Third, planning.

Yes, I know it seems like it could be categorized under schedule. But, trust me, planning isn’t quite the same thing (though they are intertwined).

The number one planning item is meals. After a long day at school/work/activities the last thing anyone wants to do is come up with what to have for dinner. I try to plan out two weeks of meals at a time.

I know some people plan out day by day, labeling X meal for Y day, but I can’t see doing it that way. What if I’m not in the mood for what’s planned? It’d very quickly throw the whole plan off.

Instead I plan out two weeks of main courses that I can then pick and choose from as I wish. Most of the time this is nothing more than a post it note and a list of meals.

This is an older meal plan. Back from when I still typed and printed them.

The one exception is Wednesday, which is our family’s busiest day of the week. On these days I try to plan an easy crockpot meal that I can quickly throw in the crockpot in the morning and come home to a wonderful smelling kitchen in the evening.

One of my favorite sites for crockpot recipes is A Year of Slow Cooking, which has some amazing (and easy!) crockpot recipes. I’ll likely go into further depth on my love of crockpot cooking in later posts.

Four, Breathe.

Being busy, being a student, being a mom and trying to be it all can be overwhelming. When everything starts to seem like too much, just take a break. Take a moment. Look at the sky. Count to 10. Take some deep breaths.

Take care of YOU.

It’s not going to be perfect. Ever. But sometimes all we need is a brief interruption of our steady swimming to stay afloat to realize that our heads our still above water and we can breathe.

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Obviously this isn’t an exhaustive how-to of juggling busy family life and stress (I didn’t even begin to cover procrastination).

But it’s a start. A change of any type will come with some added difficulty in the beginning but, with time and persistence, a new routine can be formed.

I know the next few months for me are going to be hectic and trying, filled with difficult courses and my self-imposed pressure to keep my high GPA (and that’s just my school stuff!). My goal throughout it all is to go easier on myself and enjoy the process as much as the outcome. Because it’s the journey that teaches us and inspires growth, not the destination.

The “First” Thanksgiving

Every Thanksgiving Americans across the nation gather with family and friends. Huge, multiple course feasts are prepared, with all the fixings and favorites. Turkey. Mashed potatoes. Sweet potato pie. Cranberry sauce. Corn. Green bean casserole. Corn bread. And finishing with desert (if we have any room left in our stomachs!). We give thanks and rejoice at the bounty we have before us.

There’s traditions in each family around Thanksgiving. Special dishes of food. Perhaps viewing the Thanksgiving Day parade on TV. Or a football game. These traditions are special to each gathering, to each group of people. We take comfort and joy on this day as we reflect on what we are thankful and grateful for.

This aspect of Thanksgiving, of being mindful and aware of our gratitude, is one I support and enjoy. I have much to be thankful for. However, the myth of Thanksgiving is something I strongly disagree with and that I find upsetting. Especially as it’s taught in our public schools.

I wrote about my disdain on how Columbus Day is perceived and taught earlier this year. I am equally appalled by how Thanksgiving is presented, especially in schools.

My oldest daughter, Z,  is in 2nd grade and for the last three years I have needed to “re-teach” her about Thanksgiving. This year she told me her teacher had read the class a book about the Pilgrims coming to America and how the Indians helped them. She told me about “the first Thanksgiving” where the Pilgrims and the Indians sat down and shared dinner on that day. In 1st grade she shared a similar story with me that she had learned in school. And in Kindergarten, she brought home a photocopied book she had made, the first few pages are shown below.

Looks real peaceful. Smiling Pilgrims with a gun and a solemn Native American.


So… what’s so wrong with any of this? Why am I upset over it? Honestly, I’m upset and saddened because what I was taught in school as a child, and what is apparently still being taught to my daughter, isn’t true. When I mentioned to Z this year that what her teacher read the class was a nice story, she defended the story of the first Thanksgiving by telling me that it really happened.

It didn’t. The story of the first Thanksgiving that we have been told is a myth. A legend.  The idea of Pilgrims and “Indians” sharing a peaceful meal is entirely fabricated.  There were many days of thanksgiving, both amongst the Pilgrims and in Native American tradition and these were celebrations of a successful harvest season. Much more of the myth is, well, myth, right down to what the Pilgrims and Native Americans wore or ate.

There’s also many omitted details. Such as  in 1637, when the day of Thanksgiving was a celebration of the return of Pilgrim men who had traveled to Mystic, Connecticut and fought against the Pequot tribe resulting in the deaths of 700+ Pequot people. Or of Pilgrims robbing the graves of  the Wampanoag tribe and stealing their food (information that comes from a Pilgrim’s account of the first year). Rather than these events being altered, they are entirely left out.

My dismay over the Thanksgiving story as it is currently presented isn’t solely based on the omissions on how Native Americans were treated. Or the stereotyped construction of Native Americans being primitive and dumb. It isn’t from the way Pilgrims are presented either, as pure models on which to base our selves. My dismay is that we are teaching our children (and adults) that this story is truth. That the story that has been constructed as the first Thanksgiving is history.

Why do we teach false history? If the idea of the thanksgiving tradition is important somehow, then why don’t we frame it as a tradition? Why don’t we frame it as a story? When we frame it as, “this happened” we aren’t teaching our children anything worthwhile. James W. Loewen wrote in his novel Lies My Teacher Told Me that, “The antidote to feel-good history is not feel-bad history but honest and inclusive history. If textbook authors feel compelled to give moral instruction… they could accomplish this by allowing students to learn both the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ sides of the Pilgrim tale. Conflict would then become part of the story, and students might discover the knowledge they gain has implications for their lives today.” (p 97)

Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it

History should allow us to learn from it. It’s my hope to raise two confident, intelligent children with the capacity to critically think and examine what is presented to them. And to be able to decide what is truthful based on their own exploration of such, not blindly believing what they are taught or told. It isn’t only the past history of our nation that we are misinformed on. The events that are currently happening in our nation are often misconstrued, censored and even hidden — by the media, by those in power and by the overwhelming fact that most of us aren’t even aware. Try googling ‘UC Davis Pepper Spray’ or ‘Occupy Wall Street’ and see how aware you are of the events happening right now, in our nation.

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the teachers and people in my life who taught me to critically think, to question, to examine and seek out the truth in everything.

Taking Care of Yourself

I had my afternoon planned. I was going to find a frame for a picture of my dad from upstairs in my house, I was going to get some schoolwork completed ahead of schedule and I was going to write a blog post here about Triggers. As I was upstairs, looking through a box of frames, one of my cats suddenly screeched, jumped and ran like a bat out of hell over the box of frames and my hand.

My initial feeling was confusion. I didn’t see any reason why she was so suddenly spooked. As I looked down I saw that not only had she scratched my hand to the point of bleeding, but she had scratched the picture of my dad. Three deep scratches entirely through the picture.

You may be thinking, so what?, and not knowing the significance, I wouldn’t blame you. The picture of my dad was actually part of his memorial program from his funeral. I had wanted to frame it so I could look at it daily. As the cuts on my hand began to sting and bleed, I felt angry. And sad. I wanted to scream and yell at my cat. I wanted to throw things. I just didn’t want to feel this way.

Taking a moment to calm down, I took deep breaths and tried to focus. I knew that getting angry and acting on it wouldn’t help the situation. My picture would still be scratched. So would my hand. My cat would still be scared. I decided in that moment to move on. Holding onto any anger would only make things worse. Instead I took another deep breath, sighed heavily out, and went to check on my cat.  She was still quite scared. I still don’t know what scared her but, as my pet, it was my job to calm her down and comfort her.

Coming back down the stairs, still quite a bit frazzled from what happened, I decided to try and see what positive I could find in the situation. I had been running around all morning, doing errands, and was really running on empty. I hadn’t eaten breakfast or lunch. Sure, I was getting things done and being productive, but I wasn’t taking care of myself. I fall into this trap quite often, the trap of taking care of everyone around me and never quite getting to the part where I take care of myself.

So instead of doing all the (very productive) things I had planned for the afternoon, I’m going to make myself some lunch, sit down and eat it, and maybe watch some Sons of Anarchy (such a guilty pleasure!). I can do the other things later on. And I’m not going to feel bad about it. Of course there needs to be a balance in our priorities and what we do, but taking care of ourselves needs to be included in that.

I once heard an analogy that has been labeled the “Oxygen Mask Theory”. It boils down to this:

When you’re on an airplane you’re instructed to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others in putting on theirs. If you don’t put your own mask on first, you’d likely pass out from lack of oxygen before being able to assist anyone else (your child, your family members, your friends, the guy sitting next to you who can’t figure it out, etc). It makes sense it that context. In day to day life how often to we put the needs of others before the needs of our own?

Yes, everyone matters. And, if you’re like me, you want to help everyone. In anyway you can. But don’t you count as part of “everyone”? Don’t you matter too? On an airplane, putting on your oxygen mask allows you to better help everyone around you. In life, taking time to take care of yourself also allows you to better help everyone around you. This is so important as a parent. Or a social worker. It also serves as an example of what we wish for others to strive to do.

Why I Won’t Be Celebrating Columbus Day

 For many it’s a day off from school or work and, I guess, reason enough to celebrate. For me, it goes back to history and the manner that history is taught across our country.

My seven year old daughter came home from school this past Friday and told me how her teacher read her a book about Christopher Columbus to explain “Why we celebrate him.” When I asked her what the book was about she told me it was about “some guy” who sailed on 3 boats, the Nina, Pinta and the Santa Maria and who “discovered America.” Then she rattled off the grade-school rhyme that many educators use to teach students about Christopher Columbus:

“In fourteen hundred ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

What my daughter describes being taught is not much different from the myth of Columbus that is perpetuated throughout many classrooms in the US. A google search of ‘Christopher Columbus rhyme” brought up numerous pages with lesson plans for teachers, incorporating the rhyme and other myths. Some common myths of the Columbus story: Columbus thought the earth was round when everyone at the time thought it flat. Columbus set sail to search for much-needed spices. Columbus discovered America or Columbus was the first European to discover America.

These statements simply aren’t true. Columbus, and most people of the time, knew the world was round. Columbus didn’t set sail in search of spices. His primary  motive was the search for gold and a secondary motive of spreading European Christianity. That Columbus discovered America is false for several reasons: a) Columbus landed on many islands in the Americas (as seen in the map above) but never touched ground in continental North America, b) many explorers, including Leif Erikson, the Viking, landed and founded settlements in the Americas, many years before Columbus and, c) Native Americans discovered the Americas, including North America, tens of thousands of years before Columbus was even born. In sum, these statements are false, though the greatly exaggerated and omitted parts of the Columbus story are what truly make me upset.

In fourteen hundred ninety three, Columbus stole all he could see.

Christopher Columbus is portrayed to be a hero. Humanizing factors of his character have been exaggerated and focused upon. The history that is omitted and, often not know by many Americans, does not fit in alignment with a hero. Christopher Columbus was directly involved in the enslavement and genocide of entire cultures. “[He] introduced two phenomena that revolutionized race relations and transformed the modern world: the taking of land, wealth, and labor from indigenous peoples, leading to their near extermination, and the transatlantic slave trade, which created a racial underclass.” (excerpt from Lies My Teacher Told Me, by James W. Loewen)

Other acts of cruelty committed or ordered by Columbus included sexual slavery, rape, punishments by way of cutting off a native’s nose, ear or hands for resisting slavery, sending dogs to hunt after natives and maiming them, killing natives to be fed to the dogs and many more horrific atrocities. Not to mention Columbus’ role in the destruction and genocide of the Lucayans, Taínos and Arawaks cultures.

So, why does Columbus get the hero treatment? Why are the parts of his cruelty omitted while the parts of his exploration played up? Looking back on my childhood education I wish I had been taught the true story of Christopher Columbus; the truth of all history. Teaching children blatant lies about history, often omitting the negative details, does not benefit them or the adults they grow to be. If more people in our world were taught all of the truth and not just bits and pieces, they could potentially form better, more informed choices.

Of Interest:

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, by James W. Loewen. I received a copy at my high school graduation from one of my teachers. It was an eyeopener at the time and a book I recommend to everyone.

Transform Columbus Day, webpage for the Transform Columbus Day Alliance who actively rejects the celebration of Christopher Columbus and his legacy of domination, oppression, and colonialism. As well as rejecting historical misconceptions regarding Columbus.

NY Times, Slavery and Colonialism Make Up the True Legacy of Columbus.

Huffington Post, Eric Kasum: Columbus Day? True Legacy: Cruelty and Slavery

Me, Ever Evolving

I’m (still) working on staying in a positive place. In a positive state of mind. In a positive perspective.

I cannot change the world around me. I cannot change the way other people choose to act. Or not act. I cannot change who my family is. Or which of them are alive to be here with me. I cannot change what people think or say about me. I cannot change how the driver on the road in front of me drives. I cannot change the teachers my daughter or I have. I cannot change the weather. I cannot change where I live. I cannot change the bills I have to pay or the things that need to be bought. I cannot change the work I have to do. I cannot change the chores that need to be done. I cannot change the way my kids react to situations. I cannot change the choices of others.

I can change how I deal with it. And how I view it. And how I react. I can change what I do. Nothing more.

“Life is not a matter of having good cards, but of playing a poor hand well” – Robert L Steve

I’m working consciously every day to do this. My world isn’t going to change any other way. And in doing so I am starting to see things as looking up.Last week the home daycare my girls go to needed to close for the day last minute, due to the death of a family friend. In the past I might have gotten worked up and anxious about it, jumping ahead to all the what-if’s without even allowing myself to process. Instead, I looked at my calender, saw I didn’t have anything I had to do sans children and simply told the provider that I was sorry for her loss. No panic. No worry. That day I kept E, my 3 year old daughter, home with me and we watched a movie and painted our nails. Later she helped me make bagels into pizza for lunch and chili for dinner. Nothing had changed except how I chose to look at the situation.

On Saturdays the girls take swimming lessons at the Y, with a 1/2 hour break in between the timing of their lessons. It’s usually a struggle and quite stressful. But last week I brought coloring books, workbooks and colored pencils.  Z, my 7 year old daughter, and I walked down the street to get some coffee/steamed milk for everyone while B, my partner of almost 7 years, stayed at the Y with E while she swam. It was the last class of the session and E did so well in the Pike level of swimming that she was been moved up to the next level (Eel) for the next session! This will work out much better for us because now their lessons will be one after another, instead of a 1/2 hour break in between. Instead of what could have been a stressful morning, I was able to feel more relaxed due to planning and going into the situation positively.

I’ve been thinking more about what I need and want. It still feels really selfish most of the time but I need to take care of me in order to begin feeling like I’m moving in some direction (hopefully toward happiness!). Currently I’m in the Human Services Social Work transfer program at my community college. I’ve already completed an AA in Early Childhood Education. I want to transfer after graduating to earn my BS but hadn’t really looked too deeply into it. Mostly out of fear. This week I met with the transfer counselor to find out when Elms College (where I’d like to transfer to) is sending a rep to the community college so I can meet with them. I’ve also been looking into financial aid and scholarships, since Elms is expensive. I was looking through the Elms website and noticed that Elms College offers merit-based scholarships to transfer students, noticeably the Elms Phi Theta Kappa Scholarship that is offered to students that have been inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society (the scholarship is pretty hefty at $8-10k a year!).

In further researching Phi Theta Kappa I learned you need a 3.6 GPA to be invited to join. So I am now working to get my GPA up to a 3.6 (from a 3.549) so I can get admitted to Phi Theta Kappa. This means I need a 4.0 from here out at the community college, though if I retake a class I previously had earned a C grade in and received a B+ or A, that would significantly help my GPA. I likely will retake that class since it’s a 100 level class and I took it in 2002 when I honestly (and unfortunately) didn’t care much about my education.

I’ve been attending a weekly DBT class since the beginning of 2011. It’s structured in modules, each covering two topics and lasting 11-12 weeks. I’ve found the class itself and the skills taught to be quite helpful and very likely helping in my growth. I was upset that I had to drop out of the last module due to time constraints but I’m really glad I could take this current module. I hope to begin sharing some of the skills I have learned in DBT here.

All in all, I feel better. It’s not perfect. I still cry when certain songs come on the radio. Or when I’m watching sappy kids movies with the girls. Or when I think of my dad (who passed away in November of 2010). I don’t know that those things will ever change though. But I’m choosing to look at them differently. It is what it is and nothing more. Making it anything more than me crying at a song (etc) just makes that feeling bigger than it truly is and allows me to get stuck in it. I don’t want to get stuck feeling like that. Instead I will try to ride it like a wave, to just let it come and wash over me, to experience it, to acknowledge it. And then to let it go.

Income Inequality

Note: This post was constructed for an assignment in an Honors Contemporary Social Problems class I took in the Spring of 2011. I rather liked the work I produced for this class, so I will continue to leave this post up despite the (potential) disconnect from the current focus of my blog. This post was a part of the final project for the class (along with an oral/visual presentation) and included researching and examining all aspects of claims-making on a topic of choice (income inequality).

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What are the claims?

Timothy Noah, who authored a series looking at income inequality on Slate states, “It’s generally understood that we live in a time of growing income inequality…” (Slate) A large portion of claims-makers on the topic of income inequality view it in the same belief: that income inequality is rising in the United States.

Another major claim that was frequently seen is the belief that there is a correlation between income inequality and social issues. The construction of this in claims ranges from implied to near fear-inducing.

This claim leads into another claim, “the gulf between the wealth of America’s richest and poorest is widening, and few signs show any indication of it slowing.” (Huffington Post)

The rich are too rich. This is illustrated with the use of graphs, charts and the data most used in claims on income inequality:  “the richest 1 percent of Americans hold about __ percent of U.S. income/wealth.” I will go into deeper detail on this later in my post.

Sub-claims?

One sub-claim that consistently appears is that Americans believe in social mobility and that this believe is imagined and does not match real social mobility. Along the same line, there are claims of Americans having, “[a]n incorrect assessment of one’s own standing in the income distribution…” or that all,  “[a]mericans all seem to think they’re ‘middle class.’” (Economix Blog, New York Times)

Not all economists agree income inequality is a bad thing.

Who are the claims-makers?

Claims-makers of income inequality are varied and include the following:
Media
Government
Academic
Activists
Economists

What is income inequality?

The majority of claims-makers that I looked at did not explicitly define income inequality. Defined loosely, income inequality is the unequal distribution of income. In order to better understand income inequality, income itself needs to be defined.

How is income being defined?

Most of the data I looked at defined income vaguely as “market income.” Non-Profit Quarterly stated, “The data purposefully includes only market-generated income (wages, pensions, business income and interest), excluding government transfer payments.” (Non-Profit Quarterly) Government transfer payments, are those from social service agencies such as welfare payments and social security.

It is important to make note that income is not the same as wealth. “Income is what people earn from work, but also from dividends, interest, and any rents or royalties that are paid to them on properties they own.” Whereas, “…wealth is the value of everything a person or family owns, minus any debts.” (Wealth, Income, and Power,by G. William Domhoff) In this way, a person’s income and wealth are too very different things. In looking at claims on income inequality, many claims-makers do not distinguish the differences between income and wealth, and thus income inequality and wealth inequality. Claims-makers take income and wealth to be interchangeable, which objectively they are not.

For example, the first sentence of an article from PBS Newshour states, “Income inequality has changed over time: today the richest 1 percent of Americans hold about 24 percent of U.S. wealth.” (PBS) The article continues stating, “But almost a century ago in 1915, that same top percent had 18 percent of the nation’s wealth, according to Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez in his report ‘Striking it Richer.’” The report by Emmanuel Saez clearly states income data in the US, not wealth.

And yet the statistics from this report are consistently used in many claims-makers claims about income inequality incorrectly.

Timing and Motives:

Picture Mill, End Credits “The Other Guys”

Timing plays a HUGE role on the claims being made. Some of the relevant issues are the president’s proposed tax rates, current debates regarding the national debt and decisions being made on investing or defunding the safety net for people or places (cutting services and funding). Claims about income inequality are also a way to frame the economy, unemployment, the recession, corporate crime and government bailouts. The claims very much piggyback on these already widespread issues.

The claim of inequality in relation to the economy and money is already a mainstream idea. It was referenced in the end credits of the Will Ferrell and Mark Whalberg comedy “The Other Guys” with an animated sequence explaining Ponzi schemes, TARP bailout, and imbalance of CEO pay. A buddy-cop, light-hearted comedy one wouldn’t expect to find such serious, political information in the end credits. What’s more interesting to me is that, “‘[t]he sources were official government documents,’ [says] art director Grant Nellessen. ‘Sony had to vet everything to confirm we weren’t making up facts,’ he says. ‘It wasn’t just our opinion.’” (MovieFone)

Typifying Stories

Claims-makers make use of typifying stories that focus on victims. Victims are mainly the middle-class and poor, though occasionally the upper class (such as in this Fortune article)

“Many feel the middle class is disintegrating, as are their prospects. Cookie Sheers, for example, who works at a non-profit:
‘There are days that I walk to work because I couldn’t afford $1.25 to get on the bus,’ said Sheers, a single mother of three who makes $34,000 a year. ‘There are days that I sacrifice a meal because I want to make sure my children eat.'” (PBS)

As you can see in this story from PBS, the claims-makers are constructing a victim that is very sympathetic. She’s a single mom, who sacrifices for her kids and going without meals so her children can eat. And she works for a non-profit, which helps construct her as a moral person and adds to the construction of victim purity.

“…a woman named Colleen, a single mother of two, saying much the same thing about the wealthy families whose floors she scrubs on hands and knees. ‘I don’t mind, really,’ she says, ‘because I guess I’m a simple person, and I don’t want what they have. I mean, it’s nothing to me.'” (Slate)

In this story from Slate we are again presented with a sympathetic victim. Another single mom, who is scrubbing floors for the wealth. And not just scrubbing the floors, she’s on her hands and knees scrubbing the floors. But despite the hardships that have been constructed on her, she’s modest and portrayed as being content with what is constructed as a difficult life.

Villains in this claim are usually not clearly defined. If a villain is defined, it is framed as being the social problem itself.

The social problem of income inequality is constructed in the diagnostic frame as social, as it is a societal issue that requires a societal change. Motivational frames in the construction include capitalism and the family.

Extreme Consequences


Income inequality claims include everything from crime to financial problems to political instability to increasing social issues to the disrepair of roads…all the way to CHAOS! Many are not specified but are definitely intended to provoke fear. The Yonder has an article that claims, “Our brief analysis documents how income inequality has some relationship with crime rates (both violent and property), teenage birth rates, and poverty rates (overall and child poverty). ” They illustrate this with brightly colored charts, each showing that as income inequality increases so does crime, teenage birth rates and poverty.

Data and Statistics

Claims-makers use graphs, charts and statistics to help construct their claims.

One thing that confused me was that there were different figures used by claims-makers stating 1% of Americans have 18%, 23.5% or 24% of all income.

“The share of total income going to the top 1 percent of earners, which stood at 8.9 percent in 1976, rose to 23.5 percent by 2007” (NY Times)

“Today, the richest 1 percent account for 24 percent of the nation’s income.” (Slate)

The data comes from a report by Emmanuel Saez. Upon researching it I found that the statistic of “Top 1% of US earned 18% of all income” is from data in 1915. The statistic of  “24% of all income” is a rounded up number from the correct data of  “23.5% of all income” which was computed using IRS data from 2007 and that was published/analyzed in 2009. It is the most recent data available. This statistic was also skewed at times, interchanging income and wealth to mean the same thing (they are not). This PBS article  incorrectly states, “Income inequality has changed over time: today the richest 1 percent of Americans hold about 24 percent of U.S. wealth,” substituting wealth where income should be. (PBS) Other claims also made this mistake. Despite income and wealth being two different things they are often times used interchangeably by claims-makers.

Graphs are also widely used. The Daily Yonder, a site for rural Americans, posted an article on income inequality using counties. They also correlated income inequality to a host of social issues and crated graphs for each one. I find the choice in graph coloring makes it somewhat difficult to read. It also seems much of the data they used was from estimates or surveys. (Daily Yonder)

Another site that was encompassed almost entirely of graphs and charts was this post from Mother Jones, entitled “It’s the Inequality Stupid: Eleven charts that explain everything that’s wrong with America.” An important thing to note is that only the first chart is about income inequality. (Mother Jones) Labels need to be clearly read, as well as one having the ability to properly read charts and graphs in order to obtain accurate information. In this way, claims-makers can often confuse or misinform people who aren’t paying close attention to the information provided or ignore charts and graphs all together, leaving gaps in the bigger picture.

Constructing Solutions

Interestingly, while most claims agree that something should be done, many don’t give any solutions:

“…we should just agree that it’s a bad thing — and try to do something about it.” (New York Times)

“What is the ideal distribution of income in society? I couldn’t tell you, and historically much mischief has been accomplished by addressing this question too precisely. But I can tell you this: We’ve been headed in the wrong direction for far too long.” (Slate)

“We would suggest that policy makers also consider the continuing increase in income inequality in this country” (Daily Yonder)

The ones that do offer a prognostic frame, focus mainly on changes in taxes or the need for more education and higher skilled workers. “So if you look at it, there are, basically, a few ways to change the distribution of inequality of wealth, taxes is one of them.”  (NPR)

Fortune offers this:
“Worker education is the key. It will make them more productive — and richer…Workers’ skills aren’t keeping up with the advance of technology, so the shrinking proportion of workers with the needed skills command a larger share of the pie. Get high school and college graduation rates rising again, and the economic forces reverse, spreading the benefits of economic growth more evenly.” (Fortune)

While more education sounds like a good idea, since higher education levels should ideally equal higher incomes, it isn’t necessarily the case. The US already has issues with unemployment and recent college graduates being unable to find jobs is their fields. Additionally, a college education isn’t free. The cost to benefit ratio of paying for a higher education needs to be looked at, as well as career outcomes and employment opportunities in those fields.

Additional Information

Income Inequality Slide Show : Power Point Presentation

Access of Choice

I don’t think people wake up one morning and decide not to have any motivation, any goals. I don’t think anyone one day thinks to themselves, ‘Self, you know what? I’m just not going to try anymore. I’m just going to give up.’

Honestly, giving up is a last ditch option. Yes, you know that person who just never really did anything. But, really? Did they really not ever do anything? Or did there life never present them with that option? With the choice to do something, anything?

I think if we really look at people, more often than not, people merely get stuck in their lack of options rather than actively choosing not to do anything. A child who grows up in a family with parents whose primary concern is obtaining and using drugs never had the experience of anything different. That’s not an easy thing to just cast off once they’re 18 and on their own. The child who grows up in foster care, being bounced from one house to the next, where they are primarily a “paycheck” and a burden, doesn’t suddenly have the experience of feeling secure once they turn 18.

And yet that’s what ‘society’ (and I use that term oh so loosely) expects. That all these people in our world who are homeless or jobless or lacking of a variety of experiences… well, they just don’t want it enough. Or they aren’t trying. But that’s like expecting someone who has never flown a plane or driven a car to just get in one and know how to drive it. And when they don’t telling them, ‘You just don’t want it enough,” or “You aren’t trying.”

People cannot possibly know how to do something they have never done before. Have never even seen before. And yet, that’s what we expect people to be able to do. “Just do it.” It has nothing to do with not wanting it enough. Or not trying hard enough. It comes down to lack of experience and knowledge. And underlying all that is the issue of self-esteem and self-belief. If your entire life – hell, even part of your life – someone, many people have told you that you are lazy and stupid, etc., eventually you’re going to believe it. And that’s not even what you are saying to yourself!

We, as society, need to be so much kinder to our fellow human beings. I truly believe that everyone is doing the best they can in the moment with the knowledge and resources they have. It doesn’t mean they couldn’t do better. It means that, at this very moment, with the information they have on how to do things and what things are available to them, they are making the best choices they can.

However, ending it there gives people an out to just continue to do the same things. And doing the same things (regardless of what they are) over and over is insanity (Theodore Geisel). Resources need to be expanded. Education needs to be expanded. And the knowledge of both of these needs to be expanded. Most people have no idea of the resources in the own community – education institutions and programs, classes, programs for a wide-variety of people. Housing, shelter, heating, etc. resources. And so much more.

The more people know about what is available to them, they more apt they are to make better choices for themselves.