The Poky Little Pundit


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Out of the mouths of babes

I have learned a few rather terrifying facts about myself after teaching for 12 years: I tolerate differences in my students much better than I tolerate differences in adults; I remember their names better than I remember adults’ names (much to my husband’s eternal embarrassment); I am more willing to listen to them, and less willing to judge. In fact, I think I am the opposite to most rational adults. I haven’t really gotten to the root of this, but I suspect it is because they are so guileless (or I assume them to be).

Case in point: I have very few republican friends. But I have LOTS of republican students, many of whom I greatly admire and actually enjoy spending time with. So I thought – who better to talk about bridging our nation’s political gap with than two of the finest brains of our next generation (who also happen to be republicans)?

I have known Julia and Emily, who are both seniors in high school, for three years. I have taught and advised them on  the school newspaper and literary magazine. Both are incredibly high-achieving in academics and sports and both are respected and admired in the school community. Teachers like them because they are respectful yet lively in discussion. I like them because they don’t take crap from anyone – a rare trait among the girls at this school.

Both also find our increasing political polarization as frustrating as I do. Below are Julia and Emily’s take on our current political climate – truly eye-opening reading for the over 30 set.

julia and emily

Two of WA state’s finest brains, posing in the beige corridors of their high school (Julia is on the left, Emily on the right). Thanks, ladies! I owe you.

What does it mean to be a young republican today?

Julia: “I’m not sure I would define myself strictly as a young republican, as there are some issues where I deviate from a party platform. For example, in the issues of gay marriage and abortion.”

Emily: “Well what does it mean to be a young democrat? It means different things to different people. I don’t think being a young republican is all that different from being a middle aged republican or an old republican. I think there’s an emphasis on fiscal responsibility and personal responsibility. I think younger republicans care less about social issues and more about things like the economy and not spending money we don’t have as a nation. Because at the end of the day what’s more important: that we made someone feel good about themselves because we pandered to them or that they have a job and can provide for themselves? I think being a young republican means sticking to your moral compass and understanding that you are responsible for you. Everyone has bad luck, everyone has days or weeks where nothing goes their way or where they have to do things that they don’t want to do. That’s life. It doesn’t get better by complaining about it or waiting for someone to fix the problem for you. The only person responsible for you is you.”

What frustrates you about friends who define themselves as democratic? 

Julia: “I’ve found that I am often stereotyped. For example, if I am pro Rob McKenna, my peers assume that I am homophobic. If I am openly patriotic by standing at attention at the pledge of allegiance, it’s assumed that I am a capitalist/imperialist who doesn’t care about the marginalized, the oppressed, or the poor. People who know I am a member of a mainstream christian church have also assumed that I am a bigoted pro-lifer. The tendency by my democrat friends to make superficial judgements about me is frustrating. The hostility towards opposing viewpoints contributes to polarization which takes place throughout the country today between republicans and democrats. It seems that there is a lack of intellectual curiosity and dilligence to engage in a meaningful exchange of thoughts with those who hold other viewpoints.”

Emily: “It depends on the subject. In terms of economy what frustrates me is the idea that we can spend money we don’t have. If you can’t do it in a household then why should you be able to do it in a government? Owing money isn’t a good thing, that’s not the way you want your budget to work. In terms of healthcare it’s their assumption that in a system more like Canada’s or the UK’s that it’s “free.” There is no such thing as “free” someone always pays for that somewhere. They may not pay money out of pocket as they go into the hospital, but they pay for it with (what I consider) obscenely high tax rates, with long wait lines, with rationing of care, with decreased innovation, and with older treatments and equipment. There a lots of people who work for the Canadian government who come down to Washington for their healthcare. I think that’s an indication of the system they’re in.”

Where do your beliefs come from, and how do you obtain your information?

Julia: “I come from an extremely diverse family. Our family gatherings include octegenarian grandparents who fled Hitler and Stalin’s occupation of their homes, several Bombay-born Generation Xers, card carrying union members, small business owners. In the religion department, we’ve got Eastern Orthodox, mainstream Protestants, both Roman and Greek Catholics, recovering fundamentalists, an atheist, and a few suspected agnostics. Probably what influenced me the most is the immigrant experience that underlies my family’s dynamics. With it, came a powerful work and education ethic. That energy was allowed to thrive in America. We were reared with an appreciation for American industriousness, ingenuity and independent spirit. That experience informs and inspires me.”

Emily: “Really where my beliefs come from are my values, my morals…I think it’s immoral to keep spending money we don’t have and kicking the can down the road, forcing our children and grandchildren to deal with our mistakes. I get my information from Fox News but I also get it from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal and other news stations. I think it’s important to see how different sources portray different events. Discrepancies are often telling. I like listening to Dennis Miller sometimes. He’s extremely witty and Laura Ingraham is incredibly intelligent (shocker, intelligent Republicans exist). But of course I don’t only listen to one side. I don’t think entrenching yourself is ever a good idea. I may not agree with a lot of democrats, but it’s still good to listen.”

Will you become involved in politics in college? After college?

Emily: “I think that the most important form of political activism is keeping yourself informed and voting. You don’t need to go out and march the streets for your cause to believe in something passionately. This country and its form of government was established for an educated population. When you don’t stay informed or don’t understand what goes on around you, you open yourself up to exploitation. Maybe I’m cynical, but I truly believe that the more informed you are the more protected you are from people who would harm you (this isn’t necessarily physical harm, but it can be people who try to persuade you that safety is worth giving up your rights. According to Benjamin Franklin, that person would deserve neither).”

What advice can you give to parents hoping to raise politically active children?

Emily: “Educate them. Read to them. Let them form their own opinions. And don’t assume your opinion is the right one because it’s yours. And most importantly, teach them to respect the “opposing” side’s opinions. I have received more than enough insults because of my political beliefs. But that’s like insulting someone because of his or her religion or culture. If that’s not acceptable, why is it acceptable to have inter-party slurs? Not everyone who is a republican is a red neck and not everyone who’s a democrat is a hippie. That’s not the way the world works. I think teaching children to base their arguments in logic is also important. A lot of people argue based on what they ‘feel’ but that doesn’t make for intelligent discussion. Just because something ‘feels’ right doesn’t mean that it is.”


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Take candy from babies, dammit.

I can pinpoint the exact moment in my life when I actually cared about what was going on in local politics. (In national politics, that moment was Dubya, of course.) It was in the winter of 2010. Just a few days previously, I had filled in my bubbles, quite pleased with myself for performing my civic duties by voting on stuff. And then I heard on the radio that WA state had voted to repeal a tax on candy. I actually screamed at the DJ in my car, who thought it was just great that people could get cheaper candy while government-run programs suffered. The issue is long past now – thanks to voters, a Snickers bar is a whole 2 cents cheaper and my last class of seniors numbered 38.

Anyway, after a few days away this weekend with my son’s friends and their parents (yep, he’s three, and he has actual friends), I came home to my favorite little non-food-item treat wrapped in blue – the New York Times on Sunday. Inside was an op-ed by former Kraft Foods executive Michael Mudd called “How to Force Ethics on the Food Industry.” His first point of advice? Levy taxes on sugared beverages and other snack foods and candy. I screamed YES at the newspaper, but then I got to thinking: How do we change the thinking of people who will most likely not even pick up this newspaper?

TRK-CHD SUB PDP FULL

I ate this excuse for food more times than I care to admit as a child. Remember the bendy cheese, the salt you could lick off the cracker and the gumlike texture of the meat? Mmm.

I see the complexity, obviously – no one wants Uncle Sam peering over their meal, checking its contents. And everyone has eaten with that friend – the one who waits to see what you order (grilled cheese) and then chooses the quinoa-stuffed peppers with a small salad. Everyone wants autonomy over their choices – but what is the alternative? If our medical insurance rates are terrible because  people decide to literally eat and drink themselves into a hospital, shouldn’t we be able to limit the poison they dump into their bodies? When will we finally acknowledge that we are all on the same planet, and start acting accordingly? I keep thinking about the look on WA state Senator Karen Keiser’s face when we were speaking in Olympia – the unspeakable frustration of working with people day after day who disagree with you on such a fundamental level that it is impossible to even begin a conversation.

So many of us – myself included – feel truly despondent. Like there is no point in even trying to get in the game. We know the outcome. So how do we bridge the gap? How do we find a way to talk to each other? We are out there, reaching into the abyss of the Internet, looking for a way to connect, but ultimately finding ways to polarize.

This feeling of helplessness also makes me miss teaching. You see, teenagers haven’t quite decided about issues. They still really listen and, most importantly, they fight back. We are all so busy being polite that we have stopped talking. Can you remember the last time you discussed politics over dinner with friends? With co-workers? With your spouse? Sometimes, I feel like I have to check the political affiliations of those around me before speaking, lest I offend. It is the same with religion (which I think should just be called Philosophy).  I still can’t figure out why we don’t really talk about this – the one thing that means anything. Our purpose. Why we are here.

Politics is ultimately about how we want our world to work. It is inextricably tied to the fates of our children. Surely, we should all be very interested in this. Perhaps this is why I blog as well. I don’t like being impolite. I don’t like making people feel uncomfortable to their faces. But I guess I don’t mind doing it on a screen. I think taxing candy, soda and any other food that is processed all to shit to make schools or other worthwhile programs better is the greatest idea ever. Why don’t other people?

And where do we go from here?


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Guns, Grades and School (I heart Jared Diamond!)

Bushmaster

Today will be a quickie, as I have a set of essays to grade by tomorrow which no amount of wishful thinking can magic away. And here we have the reason that most English teachers quit within five years of beginning this career: grading. It is, without a doubt, the worst part of the job, especially since there exists such enormous inequities within a school regarding work load. Those in the field of ‘right answers’ (math and science and history) can simply tick a box. Right. English teachers, on the other hand, have to sift through the murky mass of a teenage mind to figure out just where they are going wrong in their logic, correct it via comments, and then assess.

But what really gets under my skin about this is that essays are virtually meaningless as a means of testing one’s skill in “English,” whatever that means. Truly, since college, have any of us EVER written an essay, other than PhD students or other teachers? Why the fixation on essays? Why not short stories or poems? Why not a well-constructed email? A Facebook post? A cover letter for a job? There are myriad counter arguments here, but really what I want to say is I HATE ESSAYS and I wish I could get out of grading them tonight.

Other stuff I want to say is that as hard as I am trying, I still can’t help but judge and ridicule anyone who still thinks the 2nd Amendment applies to automatic weapons – or even handguns. We’ve all heard about South Dakota passing a law allowing teachers to carry guns, which makes me sullen and angry in a way that is hard to describe. We also see people in our country flouting basic gun control to the extent that reforms just seem futile. The BBC recently went undercover at a Texas gun show and demonstrated in just a minute how incredibly easy our country makes it to obtain a lethal weapon.

Lest you forget, dear reader, I lived for some time outside of this country’s borders, and yes, they all think we are BAT SHIT CRAZY. Can’t we just give them a wee concession, and stop buying automatic weapons? Can’t we just stop allowing guns in schools? Can’t we admit that our constitution was created ages ago by a very different population of people, and amend this absurd amendment? Go on, conservative readers. Spout your crazy defense in my comment box. I dare you.

I gotta go educate young minds. Peace.


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Teach me how to track a bill!

Last week, I received an email from someone in ‘The District’ informing school personnel that ‘they’ are reviewing our Internet usage, compiling the data into reports, and sending it to our principals broken down by department and individual. Apparently, the district is exceeding bandwidth because people are using Google and Pandora too often.

This amused me so much that I forwarded the email to a few friends. And because I didn’t even know we could access Pandora, I immediately logged on. What is it about this nanny mentality that provokes an absurd kind of rebellion in people? Rather than talking to the few individuals who are perhaps spending too much time listening to music (gasp!), we receive a thinly veiled threat: We will hunt you down, music lovers! How dare you play music for those miserable youngsters? 

Despite this and other sundry shit teachers must endure, I have decided to stick with teaching. I know, I know. What can I say? Quitting teaching is like abandoning an ugly, annoying child. I know I shouldn’t love it, but I just do. I wish I didn’t. I wish I wanted to spend all day in an office, making boatloads of cash while sipping lattes and googling ex-boyfriends. But no. I am willingly going back to a badly paid job with no chance of better pay where I cannot find the time to pee and where I am told I must not listen to music. And people wonder why teachers are so weird. 

Make no mistake, fans: This does not mean that I am abandoning my attempt to enter politics, though I feel obliged to state yet again how disappointingly unglamorous Olympia was. Legislators have just about the hardest, most boring, most underpaid job ever – and this is coming from a teacher.

I made time in my schedule last week, during my visit to Olympia, to meet WA state Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles – a woman who has made enormous progress on many issues dear to my heart, including human trafficking. Unfortunately it was right when I was scheduled to testify, which is how I found myself running up and down the stairs to her office every five minutes to see if I could re-schedule. At 3:15, our allotted time, she wasn’t there. At 3:30, she wasn’t there. At 3:40, I may have fallen down the stairs a wee bit. At 3:45, I talked to her (secretary? page? assistant?) and finally settled down to wait for her. 

Me and Jeanne Kohl-Welles. Not the best photo ever - can't get the assistants these days.

Me and Jeanne Kohl-Welles. Not the best photo ever – can’t get the assistants these days.

At 4:00, I was rewarded with a brief but interesting conversation with Ms. Kohl-Welles. She explained that she had been up since 4:30 am and would be working until 9 that night. I, for one, am truly grateful that good people such as she (correct grammar?) are working hard for us. She gave me many suggestions of organizations to investigate and perhaps join, such as the National Organization of Women, the Center for Women and Democracy, and Win With Women (not sure if there is a more up to date link – this one is specific for 2012). For people who live in my area, the 36th District Democrats provide an immediate link to the legislature. 

But let’s get back to HB 5292. Since attending the hearing, I am fully invested in tracking the bill’s progress through – well, whatever our system is. I REALLY want to know whether or not it passes, so how on earth do I find out about Senate Bill 5292 or House Bill 1457 (its companion bill)? I mean, I’m pretty smart and generally good at research, even if I did go to college in the age of microfiche. If anyone has any reliable sites I could go to or ways I could find out online, please, please share. It seems rather pathetic that someone who truly wants to find out what is happening in our government cannot do so easily. Shouldn’t it be as simple as Googling?

Of course, I will have to wait until I get home to do that, because teachers aren’t allowed to Google. Obvs.