Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cut the Budget

I was just reading this article about further financial woes and teacher layoffs facing the ailing School District of Philadelphia. I was browsing through some of the comments below the article and this one comment really stood out to me, and this person said everything I was feeling so perfectly that I had to share:

The District has money. The state has money. The United States of America has money.

You worked for it, you know it exists. They're just not spending it on your kids. Or your health. Or your public transportation. Or your bridges that are falling down.

But back to the specific issue at hand, my favorite part of the press release was this:

"But, the anticipated funding cuts, now being proposed, will in fact disrupt the district's ability to serve Philadelphia's 200,000 public school students and sustain the momentum of the past eight consecutive years of rising test scores and charter school expansion."

The momentum of the past eight consecutive years of... rising test scores and charter school expansion?

Huh? From the build-up, I thought maybe it was going to say we had experienced eight years of improving the drop-out rate, sending more Philadelphia students to college each year than we did the year before, seeing more and more Philadelphia students take charge of their own education, design class projects alongside their teachers, coordinate volunteer programs, get involved in their communities, tutor younger students, visit more college campuses, etc. etc. You know, some actual measure of education that improves the functioning of one's mind, builds character, and leads to more and better options in life.

Nope. Eight years of rising test scores and charter school expansion.

Eight years of empty numbers and increasing privatization of everything that the American public once valued. Now the value of education is: Which companies can get in on the money? Everything is for sale, even your child's education.

Great. Hate to disrupt that. Would that we could.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Cape Wind Storm

I loosely follow the back and forth debacle that is the Cape Wind Turbine project in Massachusetts. As a Bay Stater I adamantly support the project which would install an offshore wind farm off the coast of Nantucket. Not only will this project support jobs and create renewable energy for the state, it will also set Massachusetts as a pioneer in large-scale renewable energy infrastructure in America. However, the project is very stop-and-go, with support on the state and federal level, but vehement opposition from local residents which have tied the project's early stages at the court level.

What could the opposition be fighting for? Many feel that the offshore wind farm would ruin the natural scenic beauty of the Nantucket Sound. Of course, a lot of rich, white people live in that area in their giant houses and love the beauty that surrounds them. Residents in the area argue that the wind farm would decrease property values, hurt the environment, and ruin popular areas for yachting. Sounds like a lot of rich, white bullshit to me.

Many critics argue in favor of offshore wind farms but claim this project is "the right project, in the wrong place." However, not only is Cape Wind a vision for the future, but in my opinion it would actually attract revenue. I've always felt that offshore wind farms have a certain futuristic sight to them. Given the project's milestone as potentially being the nation's first offshore wind farm, I think tourists to the area would actually be attracted by the sight and flock to see this historic energy source, and many proposing the project argue in favor of ecotourism revenue.

Those who argue in favor of environmental risks to sea and wildlife in the area have had claims refuted by environmentalists, many who claim that wildlife in the area would not be affected, including the catch of local fishermen.

Another argument is that the wind farm would bring privatized energy to the surrounding area, and that for years the prices would be nearly double what ratepayers may pay for traditional fossil fuels. I'm not sure what to comment about this, but I believe I've read that this will indeed be true but that over time the prices would begin to marginalize.

I fully support the Cape Wind Project, and hope the cogs continue to move in its favor.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Holy Sanctity

I read this news article on a few months ago concerning New Hampshire's push to repeal their gay marriage act or what-not. Again, it plagues me to think of all of the really pressing and troubling issues that our country is faced with, and yet we continue to squabble over who can and cannot get married in this "free" nation. While we claim to hold ourselves on a high pedestal as being the "founders of modern democracy" and bringing "freedom" to those around the world, there are people in our own country who are continuously being treated as second-class citizens. The hypocrisy, above all else, is what most infuriates me.

A few quotes from the article that really hit home:

Some opponents said that Massachusetts, which in 2004 became the first state in the country to legalize same-sex marriage, stands as an example of the problems gay marriage can create. Same-sex marriage “has deeply impacted what is taught in schools’’ in Massachusetts, said state Senator Fenton Groen, a Republican.
I cannot get over this. For one thing, Massachusetts has some of the highest standards of education in our nation, and the students in the state have outperformed students in other nations, which is a feat never claimed by the country as a whole (which always falls about twentieth in international rankings). And I would love for clarification over what education and content is actually being "impacted" due to same-sex marriages in the state. Unreal.

“It’s imperative that government only promote the best, most ideal household arrangements,’’ said state Senator Raymond White, a Republican.
Hmm...we need to "promote the best, most ideal household arrangements" in our country. How about the two-thirds of Americans whose marriage ends in divorce - is that the "best, most ideal?" And what is it that makes a same-sex marriage non-ideal? Furthermore, it is not the government's job to do this - and it holds no powers outlined in any government documents to protect the value of household structures. This idiot's quote reeks of religious nonsense, and I'd rather not go off on a separation of church/state rant right now...

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Boston Blues

My spring break in Boston is almost up. The week has been quite the whirlwind (to quote Chelsea Handler). I made sure to touch base with all of my friends in the area and it was extremely fulfilling to finally see some amazing people that I haven't seen since last summer. While I loved being in the area and having my friends nearby, this week also showed me that no matter how long I may be in Philadelphia, I will always have these great people to come home to. That being said, while I'd love to drop everything and move back to Boston this instant, there will be plenty of time for that in the future and I shouldn't let that be the driving force of my emotions and hasty actions.

However, if I don't get rehired at the school I've been working at all year, then I'm not sure what course my future will hold. I would hate for Teach for America to throw me into some ridiculous Philly district school where I'll get eaten alive, and if that played out I could see myself wanting to return to Boston and even go back to retail for a bit while I got my feet on the ground there. It's sad to say, but the only thing keeping me in Philadelphia is my graduate work at Penn. I've put so much fucking money into it now that I feel I need to stick out the two years in the city just so I can walk away with the end product. It sucks, but having tens of thousands of dollars in loans for NOTHING would be a seriously stupid move.

Ugh, it's too early for life decisions!

Friday, April 22, 2011

People I Hate #4: Hummer Drivers

One thing I fail to understand in America, is our country's obsession with gigantic, out of control automobiles. It seems that the bigger your car, the better (if you can afford the outrageous gas prices). SUVs, giant mini vans, and trucks with enough storage to supply a small country dominate the market. However, the one model that gets me every time I see one on the road is the Hummer.

God tell me, what pray chance is the need for one of these monsters? This tank-like automobile looks more suited to be driving down the streets of Baghdad than Boston. Personally, I don't see the aesthetic of driving one of these machines. Nor do I find the utility of having one. Perhaps if you were in a rugged terrain and could fully utilize the features, but most often I find them in the cities. I just think these are useless and a complete waste of resources and gasoline. They are extravagant and show the lunacy that plagues the automobile craze in America.

In off-topic news, my birthday was yesterday and it was a pretty good day. I went book shopping in the morning by myself (I always try to devote at least part of the day to myself), had a delicious lunch with one of my friends, had yummy yogurt with another amazing friend, and then went out for a few drinks that night. Sadly I've dropped a ton of money this week on food and drinks, and I've probably spent about a quarter of my time in Boston on the MBTA, but I'm really enjoying myself this week! A bit too much so perhaps ... (see post below)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

TFA: Life Ruiner?

It's the eve of my 24th birthday and I'm asking myself this question: did Teach for America grant me opportunities and experiences that I am grateful for, or did the program in some ways ruin my life?

As I'm writing this I am in Boston for my school's spring break. A week in Boston to see friends and family is certainly enough time to make me want to reconsider my TFA commitment. Sure I can sit here and profess my devotion towards the TFA creed of ending the "achievement gap" and wanting to improve America's education for all students, but let's face it: for years now I've been determined to become a teacher and give my best to the students I serve regardless of Teach for America's help. Should I have just gone into teaching the old fashioned way (and better prepared way) and foregone jumping in blind?

My main argument would be that I wholeheartedly believe I should be in Boston. I look around this week and everyone I know, care about, and want to be around is here. Instead of starting over in Philadelphia where I don't know anyone, I could be living here and enjoying all facets of my life, even if my work were trying and difficult. I think that having that support around me would make me a BETTER teacher and would allow me to walk away from the stresses of work much more easily. Instead I am in Philadelphia, a city which to me symbolizes work and a place where I can never escape what brought me there.

Teaching has also brought me a lot of stress and cynicism. This past year has opened my eyes to education in America and the worst methods to solve the inequity among the school systems. Opening my eyes is a great thing, but if anything it's made me begin to decipher where I want to teach, and where I would not want to teach. Sure Philadelphia needs great teachers to help children achieve and move through the public school system, but I'm not nearly close to the potential of being the caliber of teacher that these students should have. And yet, there I am, on the front lines.

Teach for America has definitely given me a lot of things. Without this program I would not have achieved obtaining a full time job teaching the wonderful students that I have now. I would not have been given the opportunity to witness firsthand the challenges that comes with being a teacher, especially in an urban environment where school resources and organization are lacking. As I said, I support Teach for America and the things I have learned through their program.

But turning 24 and realizing that I am not (geographically) where I want to be in my life, and surrounded by the people that I want to be around (people I've spent years building great relationships with and who I truly care about and want to be around) makes me upset. But I'm not sure where to go from here. Now I'm halfway through an expensive grad program, I've completed the first year so why not finish the second?, and I have no job or apartment opportunities in Boston - so all of these things compel me to at least stick it out in Philly for another year. Another long year.

April is always a thought-provoking month for me...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Economic Blues

Come on America, get it together already!

The ballooning US deficit is set to be a top issue in the 2012 election campaign, and in recent weeks, Republicans have laid out their own plan to cut it, based on big reductions in healthcare and social programmes for the poor and elderly and in education spending.

That's the right path: forget about the elderly. I can't wait to grow old and be in even more debt than I am just coming out of college. I can't wait to lay in my bed, praying for medications that I won't be able to afford. What boggles my mind is that most of these Republicans are themselves nearing their elderly years, yet because of their wealth they can rest assured in their final days because they won't have to rely on the government programs which they are cutting funds from.

"We have to live within our means, reduce our deficit, and get back on a path that will allow us to pay down our debt," Mr Obama said in a speech at George Washington University. "And we have to do it in a way that protects the recovery, and protects the investments we need to grow, create jobs, and win the future." (Obama)

I personally just want to make sure that China doesn't come to own America.

Led by Mr Ryan, Republicans have offered their own proposal that would go further than Mr Obama's, slashing $6.2 trillion from government spending over the next decade, in large part through cuts to government programmes that serve the elderly and the poor. The proposal would also drastically reduce taxes for wealthy Americans, a move conservatives say would boost economic growth. Yes! This is the answer! (sarcasm)

I don't understand how Republicans (eh, politicians in general) can be so clearly stupid. How much more can we cut education and government welfare programs? Pretty soon we will be a country full of idiots because we've slashed our education programs too far. Already we are trailing behind other nations in test scores and academic research, and from what I see in the school system in Philadelphia is that these schools are already in dire shape, and many around the city are proving to be a disservice to the children they are serving.

"They want to give people like me a $200,000 tax cut that's paid for by asking 33 seniors to each pay $6,000 more in health costs? That's not right, and it's not going to happen as long as I'm president. The fact is, their vision is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America. There's nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires." (Obama)

The state of this union makes me utterly depressed for the future.

Monday, April 11, 2011

And the Rockets' Red Glare...

I taught my third graders a lesson today about the history and significance of the American national anthem as a national symbol. It was a really interesting lesson that I was surprised to find many students engaged in. Not only that, but I used a variety of multimedia for the lesson which students seemed genuinely excited about. We watched the anthem sung at the 1996 Olympics (found here) and Christina Aguilera's version/mess up at the Superbowl this year. After that I found a clip on YouTube that featured a karaoke-style sing along for kids, and most students really enjoyed singing along. Furthermore, I found that all students grasped the importance and respect one needs to have for our national anthem (which to me seemed like the bulk of the message for today's lesson).

However, the highest point of my day was when three girls in my last period class volunteered to stand up in the front of the class and sing the anthem together. And when I say sing, I mean they belted it out beautifully - none of that reading it off the paper nonsense (which was what I did :P). It was a really great end to a full day of classes that all seemed to go well!

Thursday, April 7, 2011


I was just reading a short passage I'm using tomorrow to teach about the symbolism of the Pledge of Allegiance and it mentioned how the "under god" part was not originally in the Pledge. It was added in by Congress nearly seventy years after it was written. I bet most Americans don't know this fact; I didn't.

My stance on whether to keep "under god" or not? Get rid of it.

Shut It Down

What is a government shutdown and what does it mean for us? This question has been circulating around the media lately as the United States appears to be headed towards a shutdown of the government tomorrow. Even after reading news articles about it, I'm still not sure what it means for the country, but I'm sure it will hurt us even more than we're hurting now.

Basically, a lot of government agencies that are deemed "non-essential" will be mothballed for the shutdown, such as the Parks Service, visa and passport application services, and veteran's services. And I even read that employees who work from home or try to come in to work will actually face fines and could even face prison time - outrageous.

But the most ridiculous thing I've read, from this article by the BBC is that even with the government shutdown, when it's over those affected will receive back pay for services and work they never did, and specifically were told NOT to do! As the article says, tourism suffers, and people are paid for not doing any work. So I ask: how is it that we're saving money with a government shutdown!?

"That helps contribute to the irony: shutting down the government is expensive."

A group of democrats are pushing for no pay during the government shutdown (if it comes to that), which I believe is the right thing to do. Not surprisingly, the bill is not gaining approval and will most likely not be taken into effect. Great job, America!

“Our bill is simple: If we cannot do our work and keep the government functioning, we should not receive a paycheck,” the Senate Democrats wrote to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). “If we cannot compromise and meet each other halfway, then we should not be paid.”
(The Washington Pot)

In my opinion, government workers (senators, representative, judges, the president, etc.) should have significantly lower pay than they are benefited with having now. If you are getting into these positions of power and enacting laws, you should be getting into these position because you want to bring change and improvement for our society and make a difference. You shouldn't be getting into government for the reason of having a cushy job with high pay and benefits and then cause more arguments and stalemates that actually destroy our nation (as many seem to do).

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

People I Hate #3: Celebrities I Hate (part I)

This post has been a long time coming. First of all, I had anything to do with "celeb-reality" - I couldn't care less what type of lifestyle celebrities are living, who they may or may not be dating, or what they are naming their children. I. Don't. Care. Of course there are many celebrities that I enjoy and think are truly talented, but then there are a handful (well, more than a handful actually) that I can't tolerate. And this post is dedicated to them!

Ryan Seacrest. Yes, he tops the list. He is literally the most annoying personality in the media. Not only is his fake attempt to create suspense on American Idol irritating (and I don't even watch that show!), but he has no apparent talents. While his talents are none, that doesn't stop him from critiquing and following around those who do. As the host of E! News he makes sure to shed spotlight and "poke fun" at celebrity gossip. His appearance bothers me, as does his voice. I can't listen to any top 40 radio stations during the weekend because I'm sure I'll come across his voice as he hosts the billboard charts for the week. 

The Sun Drop girl. Never tried this new (?) soda, and because of their ridiculous commercial, I never will. This commercial runs rampant on MTV, especially during Jersey Shore nights. If you haven't seen it, I highly suggest you YouTube it. Hopefully it won't make your blood boil in annoyance like it does to me. The commercial features the girl above drinking Sun Drop, which makes her begin dropping her booty to "Drop it Like it's Hot" in some public locales. The whole time she has this ridiculous look on her face that is somewhere between confusion and cluelessness.

Mike the Situation. Like the Sun Drop girl, I don't consider him a "true" celebrity, but he is in the main stream of American pop culture (sad that our nation's "culture" has come to this) and he seems to be here to stay. I'll admit, I've recently become a mega fan of Jersey Shore, and I honestly enjoy watching the show and enjoy the characters (I say characters because god help that they don't act that way in real life). While I do enjoy Mike "the Situation" on the show, he is by far my least favorite character, and a complete idiot. I get chills of anger watching him try and lie his way out of a "situation" - such as defending his actions of calling Sam out on seeing Arvin because he was "sticking up for his boy." The way he speaks is downright annoying, and he thinks that just because he takes care of his body and has a nice set of abs that that is all he needs to go through life. Honestly, I think Mike is getting a little too old to be creating drama on MTV...

That's all for now, but there will certainly be more coming soon :)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Life Support Lasagna

Quick update on the lasagna debacle from last night: came home from work today and the building manager had gotten my stove back online, so I popped it into the oven after having it sit in the fridge all night. I cooked it and then let it sit in the oven for three hours (I had to rush to class) and when I got home I heated up a piece of it. Turns out, aside from a few hard and crusty parts of the noodle on the top, it was really good! The best part were the orange pepper slices I added into the second layer (learned that from a friend).

Can't Shake This Feeling

I'm not sure what brought my mind to this dark place, but it's a terrible way to start the day. I was sitting here at my classroom desk watching a Brain Pop video on US symbols that I'm going to show my third graders today. The video mentions the Statue of Liberty as being a gift from France in 1886. Out of the blue, my mind quickly cycles through these thoughts: "1886, I was born in 1987 - 100 years later, will I see 2087?, no way I'll live that long, oh crap I'm going to die someday." And BOOM! my mind is caught thinking about death and dying - my greatest fear.

When my mind wanders to this subject, I feel as though it is paralyzing to me. My insides take a loop and my mind starts to panic. I'm not a religious person, therefore I have no idea what is waiting for me when my time is up. My fear, that all ceases to exist at your moment of passing, scares the shit out of me. Is all that I'm working for in life, all the people that I know and love, and all of the things I have come to experience and enjoy, are they all for nothing?

But I can't let myself think that, because if I do then there is really no point in trying to make the best of life, because your time can come when you least expect it (morbid, I know). Funny how when it comes to spending money that becomes my motto (enjoy yourself now because you never know where you'll be tomorrow!) but then when I truly stop to think about this mantra that I apply when I go on a shopping spree I freeze up.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Disasters in Cooking

It's been a long while since I've posted about my adventures in the kitchen. Lately I've become a little more creative in cooking and trying some new things - nothing too crazy or fancy. I'm still too terrified to cook meat thinking I'll get salmonella or something, so I'm feeling a bit limited.

Nevertheless, two weeks ago I was shopping and the perfect lunch/snack idea came to be, simple as day: BLT! I figured I couldn't screw up something that only has three key ingredients to it, so I set forth with my plan to make a nice sandwich for dinner. Did everything turn out great? Well, it did taste good but getting there was a process: I somehow managed to burn my first strip of bacon, set off the fire alarm in my apartment, and proceeded to break the smoke detector to make it stop screaming at me. Next batch of bacon later and I was all set!

But then tonight happened...

I had all the ingredients for lasagna for a week now. I've been all excited to make it myself and have a week's worth of food. I boiled the lasagna, sauced the pan, built the lasagna in the pan, added in some veggies, turned the oven on, and then........

My oven decided not to heat up. I'm thinking the pilot light is out for the oven but nevertheless I have no clue how to fix it, so there I was standing there in front of a cold oven with a big pan of already-made lasagna sitting on the top of the stove. Long story short - I put it in the fridge, called the building manager, and hopefully I can make it tomorrow night (if it doesn't get too mushy overnight). All of my excitement over trying something new was so quickly shot down by the oven. Damn you, oven! With the lasagna in the fridge I grumpily made myself a peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwich and watched some TV on the couch, feeling like a complete waste of life after a highly productive day at work.

Life on the Other Side

This past weekend I took a trip with my family up to Maine for a pseudo-family reunion with my mother's side of the family. It was great to see all of my relatives and even to be able to spend some time with my sisters. I think the best part of the weekend was that it grounded me in realizing that while things in my life may not be as stable as I'd like them to be, no matter what may happen, it's not the end of the world.

I think that during the past few months I've really lost sight of myself. It seems silly to say, but I've spent so much time keeping myself busy, spending time with other people, and making sure my work and schoolwork are up to par that I have in turn lost myself. To put it simply, I've been going with the flow of life for the past few months and haven't really stopped to reflect or look at the bigger picture around me. I'm absorbed myself into my work and schoolwork and I haven't taken the effort to separate my life from these two facets. And what makes it that much harder is that I've come to simply associate work with Philadelphia - because to put it simply, I'm living in this city solely for work. Therefore I find it difficult to separate the two. Then when I go home to Boston and I distance myself from work, the city takes on this bright glow of positivity and I find myself wanting to stay longer.

Basically what I've learned this weekend is that I need to separate myself. Perhaps I could have a 9-5 job that I wouldn't have to think about when the work day was over. However, I'd miss out on doing something that I really enjoy or seeing children that make me happy each day. I may not be the greatest teacher, but I think it's evident that I am building relationships with my students and that (for the most part) I am happy to be teaching them each day.

I just need to keep my head above the water and hope that I don't drown.