Wednesday, January 27, 2010

So I've Been Thinking...

...and if you know me, thinking is never a short-term process.

(halted while I go do the dishes and further ferment these thoughts). On a related note: I don't mind doing dishes - the reason I put them off till Midnight on a work night (given that I called off work this evening because of a sore throat and slept half the day, I'm not quite tired yet anyway!) is because I hate the back aches that come from slouching over our not-quite-tall-enough sink. Sometimes being tall sucks.

Right, but back to the thinking. I've been reading more than I had before Christmas, given that it's midwinter and I've been calling off sick a lot (yet another issue that needs to be addressed, but will probably be put off till I get my taxes done and see if I'm getting anything back to pay the doctor), and that I got as a Christmas present a wonderful, magical gift card to Half-Price Books, which makes good on its name's promise with a great variety of fun stuff.

So in the last few weeks I've consumed a book on school bullying, a bestselling journalist's exploration of the working-class life, and a selection of essays by New York Times journalists about the class divide in modern America. (I link to Amazon, because it has pictures and reviews. These should be available in your local library system if you'd like to find them for yourself). I'm now starting another poverty-related book: The Working Poor: Invisible in America by David K. Shippler.

Aside from the bullying book, which I picked up because I'm one of the survivors of school bullying, these books are variations on a theme which has starred heavily in my experiences, especially since I started my current job. The issues of class and income in our country are ones I have long been aware of in some form or another; they influenced how I was raised and how I currently live. And sometimes, they make me feel really uncomfortable, depressed, or just plain mad.

Poverty is a tricky thing to define but in this country there is little argument that poverty describes a pretty big group. Dictionaries say things like "Lack of the means of providing material needs or comforts" (American Heritage), "Want or scarcity of means of subsistence" (Webster's International, 2nd ed). I like the third definition: "The state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions." (Webster's Collegiate). Poverty in this country holds that connotation - of someone who can't afford what the "rest of us" desire. A lot of the "poor" that I know are quite happy where they are, including my father who despite occasional sighs over the availability of funds to pay the gov't their due (in land taxes and the like) seems rather content to chase turkeys around the yard and dig up potatoes with his girlfriend. Is he "poor"? Yes. Is he lacking in love, housing, or food? No!

I have no doubt I'll never be rich in the traditional sense of the word. I'm too far in debt; even if I got a better job tomorrow, worked my way up to a decent middle-manager position with great benefits, won enough on a lotto ticket to pay off my debts and continued to save for the rest of my life, I wouldn't be rich. And so I fall firmly into the lower class at the moment, with vague hopes of becoming lower-middle and a homeowner in some far-distant future. I figure I'll be rich in other ways, with laughter and friends and loving family and a great-looking veggie garden. But even if I make all my homesteading dreams come true, I'll still be "Poor", which strikes me as very odd, and a very undesirable label. And from this vantage point, the books I'm reading ring very, very true, and bring up a lot of food for thought about why I'm so bothered by poverty and class-ism.

The books say things like this:

"Breaking away and moving a comfortable distance from poverty seems to require a perfect lineup of favorable conditions. A set of skills, a good starting wage, and a job with the likelihood of promotion are prerequisites. But so are clarity of purpose, courageous self-esteem, a lack of substantial debt, the freedom from illness or addiction, a functional family, a network of upstanding friends, and the right help from private or governmental agencies. Any gap in that array is an entry point for trouble, because being poor means being unprotected... With no cushion of money, no training in the ways of the wider world, and too little defense against the threats and temptations of decaying communities, a poor man or woman gets sacked again and again - buffeted and bruised and defeated. When an exception breaks this cycle of failure, it is called the fulfillment of the American Dream." (The American Myth, as the author later calls it).
The Working Poor: Invisible in America. Shippler, David K. (New York: Vintage, 2005), p5.



After some personal observations this week that brought reality sharply home on the heels of having read all this scholarly discourse, I wondered what we can do (and more specifically what I can do) to alleviate the problems we're seeing. If there are so many widely-read books out there about poverty and class issues, why are there so few widely-promoted organizations devoted to fixing them? If so many people struggle in poverty every day, why aren't more of them working -together- to ease the struggle? And a question for the politicians: if the struggle with money is such a serious problem that the President is now admitting that the so-called middle class in America has been struggling since before the recession, why is consideration of this growing class of between-the-cracks Americans not higher on the list of things to look at when passing legislation?

Readers of this blog know me as a huge proponent of education - something that would alleviate the skill deficits of many working poor, would improve self-esteem and (hopefully) add purpose to lives, and might even improve friend networks as students (both kids and adults) meet teachers and workers who would support them instead of dragging them down. However, teaching a person won't guarantee them a job (that's the economy's problem). It won't provide the help they need from the gov't or private charities (volunteering is a good option, but not the only one!), and it won't set a better starting wage or give the option of advancement. And for the middle class, it's hard to say that education would have helped them avoid low-interest variable rate mortgages, overspending on brand-name "necessities" and chasing that terrible cultural belief that You are defined by Your Stuff. Education may teach you how to pursue a better life, but it won't guarantee you'll get there or even that you'll be immune to people who prey on insecurity to sell goods. A lot of highly-educated families are now paying the price of keeping up with the Joneses.

Then there's the question of whether it's even possible to eradicate poverty and class, and if so, whether it's a desirable option. Poverty provides our economy with cheap unskilled labor, which in return provides the consumer with cheap goods and services, which creates an upward cycle of saving and spending for both company and individual. The only ones who fail to benefit in this upward cycle are the working poor who eventually disappear into the shadows of their employers' skyscrapers. If they did benefit, eventually someone else would have to replace them at the bottom. We can't pay everyone in our society $14/hr (what a study in Nickel and Dimed quotes as a "living wage"). If we did (and if companies actually dealt with it and didn't immediately make the problem worse by outsourcing their factories to China and thus removing the jobs entirely from our market), the prices of goods and services would rise immensely to make up for the new "wealth" pouring into the hands of the poor, as well as the increased cost burden on business... and we'd be back to square 1, only with inflation to boot. In economic terms, in order to keep capitalism afloat, someone somewhere has to lose.

Some people go willingly into this sacrifice. They don't mind the long hours, the tedious and often body-breaking labor, the low pay. They have other loves - stargazing, their kids, their tiny gardens. Others hate it but have no escape and still others willingly try their best to break free only to be beaten back down. But the ones who choose to live a quiet, frugal lifestyle are never thanked; the ones who attempt and fail to rise are rarely comforted. I've always wondered why the mantra that "hard work will get you somewhere" is so rarely confronted and so often upheld as the absolute Truth in this place where hard work is as likely to turn around and bite you as it is to lift you into the executive's Comfy Chair. David Shippler provided some food for thought on this one, as well:

"...the American Myth also provides a means of laying blame. In the Puritan legacy, hard work is not merely practical but also moral; its absence suggests an ethical lapse. A harsh logic dictates a hard judgment: If a person's diligent work leads to prosperity, if work is a moral virtue, and if anyone in the society can attain prosperity through work, then the failure to do so is a fall from righteousness."



I've seen that attitude at work; it prevails in comments online when I or someone else offers the information that they can't afford this or that, it shows itself when a co-worker sheepishly admits they shop at a thrift store and then hastens to add that it's only for play clothes for the kids - as if wanting to save money is the same as not having any to spend.

Then again there's the other side, the anarcho-socialist railing against The Man that riles up the traditionalists and at first glance makes sense to a lot of disillusioned youth - that poverty is not anyone's fault but that the poor are victims: of corporations, the government, the rich and all their bad influences. I don't like that reasoning, either. It excuses the poor for their bad decisions because most (but not all) decisions can be traced to a lack of options or a lack of education - and therefore it is the system's fault that people end up poor, drug-addicted and in gangs and it's the system's responsibility to get them out. A lot of people, especially a lot of borderline-poor people, use this as an excuse for why they do the things they do.

And I feel like if these attitudes don't change - if people continue to think that hard work is all that's separating a single mom on welfare from the suburbanite couple the next neighborhood over, or conversely that the suburbanites are somehow repressing the poor by supporting sweatshop labor to make their angora sweaters, we'll get nowhere in the discussion of how to alleviate poverty. And I do want to alleviate it. I think a lot of the reason I'm bothered by poverty is that I've seen the higher levels of it - places where my parents lived for a long time, where the term "paycheck to paycheck" doesn't just describe your work schedule but your life schedule - waiting for the money that barely covers the bills, worrying about missing a day or the car breaking down or the school taxes, scared of your dependence on things going just right, unable to gain security on your own and yet too far above the poverty line (by $10 or by $1000) to get help. That kind of balancing act, the fact that someone who is making enough to "get by" isn't really secure or happy at all, is what bothers me - that, and the fact that if you're in this group, you don't talk about it. It's a silent struggle, and admitting it is an exercise in shame, because of the poverty stigma and the worry that you really aren't good enough, after all.

Then there's abject poverty, which is in a class all its own. While the moderately poor and lower-middle classes have to worry every week about whether the next paycheck will be enough to keep a roof over their heads, the abject poor are worried about whether they can stay with their mothers or sisters much longer. They have the longest climb to food security, their own space to live, and for many of them, a regular job. They are the least educated and the most desperate, and they are the ones I most want to help, even though I'm still trying to help myself get steady. I feel like I'm part of a shipwreck, clinging to a board while the lifeboats sail away, and still trying to dive back into the water to pull more people up, even though it may cost me the board and make rescue that much more difficult. Having lifeboats help would be better still, but lifeboats are organizations of people, and they're not all thrilled about the risk of tipping the boat - they may not save someone unless the water is shallow or rescue is already imminent.

In reality, poverty is not an extreme of laziness or repression. It's a sliding scale between personal choices and poor support systems, and it will take a combination of societal help and personal responsibility (there's that big bad R word again!) to dig most people out of abject poverty. I want to be part of that societal safety net. I try to help myself first (personal responsibility!), because saying "no" can be the difference between sinking under the combined weight of hangers-on, and keeping a few afloat. I make sure the rent is paid before I give to charities; I make sure we have enough to eat before I offer food to the neighbors. But I'm also trying to lead by example. I want people to see that even though I am barely keeping my head above water, I can still hold out my hand. I want others to think about doing the same. I think that selfishness is a terrible sin when so many people in the worst circumstances can find it in themselves to be selfless. I think that community safety nets in the form of shared gardens, resource centers, and mentoring can really improve quality of life, even if they don't improve income levels, and I think that connecting someone to the health of their community in such a vital way as growing food together, cleaning up the neighborhood, or running programs for the kids is a measure of security, a hedge against dropping out and letting go.

After a lot of thought on this issue, I think that I'd really love to spend more of my time working on the problems of poverty - getting people away from their friends' tiny apartments and into a place where they can afford to take a day off work, fix a car, buy furniture, take night classes... even if we can't "solve" the poverty problem, I think it's our duty as human beings to help each other find security: food security, housing security, safety in their own homes and the knowledge that their kids aren't going to turn to drugs as the "only way" to reach their dreams of wealth. Poverty may always need to exist to provide room for wealth, but it shouldn't have to mean starvation in one of the most prosperous countries in the world. Poverty should be stability. It should be the knowledge that you are still important in the system and the gratitude of those who rely on your labor. It should be a chance to improve yourself, but the security of knowing that even if you spend the rest of your life where you are, you'll never go hungry.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Femininity

Got an impromptu morning off today when my client ended up taking longer than expected at the doctor. While I waited for them to call and say they were home (didn't happen), I checked out my usual morning news and blog posts, and found this:

Dockers Ad '09
It's time to Wear the Pants, via Feelin' Feminine.

Let's first get this straight: I appreciate the efforts of anyone who is trying to make the world better. And I think Feelin' Feminine is a cool blog with a cool idea. I don't even mind the religious aspects, because they're respectfully submitted as part of a whole feminine process, not as the end of the argument on why women should wear skirts. But this ad struck a nerve, and I had to respond with more than a comment which may not be posted (all due respect to their moderation - if they decide my comment is inflammatory, it's their decision, and that's why I've got my own blog).

This ad is bad. It's a very good ad, as far as ads go. It's terribly effective in selling the Dockers brand of pants as Pants for MEN. I just happen to disagree with their definition of manhood, and think the ad is doing more harm to a population that is already struggling with gender identity. See, as I commented on Feelin' Feminine, I don't think gender roles are what's ruining society. And this society is absolutely not genderless. I challenge the guys who came up with this ad concept to prove me wrong.

First I'd like to address the difference between sex and gender, in case there is any confusion. Males = male sexual features (penis, lack of breasts, more body hair), Females = female sexual features (breasts, vagina, curves). No more (although if you want to indulge in a day's worth of reading, check Wikipedia's list of possible chromosomal anomalies and their results). The sex you're born with, unless you have surgery, is the sex you stay your whole life. Gender, which doesn't even come into play until after birth, is a LOT more fluid. This is why there's a difference between transsexuals (who have gender reassignment surgery) and transgenders, who fill the "opposite" gender role of their sex. Gender is the entire package - not only what bits you have in your pants (or skirt), but how you feel about those bits and how you fit into society's expectation of what people with your kind of bits are supposed to be doing. And that's where gender roles come in.

Historically, men and women have occupied a sort of dichotomy when it comes to gender roles - the expectation of what they should do in society. In a patriarchal group, males were providers for the family and ran the gov't (whether it was a tribal council or a feudal castle) while females kept the home and children clean, organized and well fed. Some societies were matriarchal, where women ran things and the men took a stronger provider role in the woods and gardens. Either way, western gender roles are historically seen as pretty rigid. Females didn't attend male-only wars and ceremonies, and men didn't act as midwives. The exceptions to this rule seem to have been select North American native groups who provided a third, "mixed" role for either men or women who were seen as embodying multiple genders (and in some cases, multiple spirits of multiple sexes in the same body). There is no single term for these groups' identifications of what we might call transgendered or "other-gendered" people, although anthropology likes the term "berdache". These people were usually seen as a natural part of a gender spectrum, rather than a bridge across a gender dichotomy, and in some cases were revered as closer to the creators because of their dual nature (Mother Earth/Father Sky).

Because gender roles have not had a single definition throughout history, but are dependent on culture, tradition, and values which have changed through the years, it's illogical to assume that the "normal" roles we assign (think 50's sitcom families) are the only appropriate gender roles, or even the ones best suited to us. People have a tendency to oversimplify the past. We would like to think that everyone during a certain time period fit the stereotype we have of that period - that most of the Victorians were prim and proper, for example. As a matter of fact the ideals of the times were rarely met, as is the case even today. Even in Victorian-era England, ladies farted in public, swore, and occasionally pinned their skirts up while doing chores. Their primary expected gender role might have been that of the prim and retiring young d├ębutante, but they filled other roles too - washerwoman, nursemaid, whore. Society can't thrive when it insists on filling one role too well, and the others not at all. And it would seem it falters equally when everyone insists on trying to fill every role.

Today there seems to be great fragmentation of gender roles, probably thanks in part to the feminist and suffragette movements. Women find themselves able to do work that was historically reserved for men as part of our armed forces, scientists, doctors, and lawyers, and are expected to fill the roles in those jobs just as well as men (or so the HR office insists). Still, we are being fed crap like this Dockers ad, which leaves us with the message that Men are somehow better at it all, and that women pushing into the traditional "world of men" is androgynizing (and therefore destroying) society. Logical failure: androgyny is not the right word for what's happened to our gender roles. Failure to balance is more like it. There are already plenty of people who hate these attitudes, so I won't go about systematically picking them apart here. Instead, let me point out a better source of blame for society's problems: responsibility.

Gender roles will always be fluid and one person will always fill many of them. Wife, sister, daughter, friend, co-worker, and teacher are just a few of my current roles. The important thing is that for every sister-role, the other sibling plays their role as well. What causes dysfunction is dropping the roles you said you'll play, and expecting someone else to fill a role regardless of their feelings toward said role. Relationships work best when roles are defined and filled, whether or not they are the stereotypical roles for the chosen sex. I am able to play the role of provider for my household just as well as my husband, and we are partners in paying the bills and cleaning the house. If one of us suddenly stopped showing up for work and asked the other one to take on the full burden of bill payment, just because it was the expected gender role to take, we'd be in trouble (not least because it's economically unfeasible to support a household on one paycheck these days). If my sister needs me for support after a hard break-up, I am expected to be responsible for my own 'sister' role and support her. When we fail to fill our roles, we are "bad" at them... so it's important to fill at least some of the roles expected of us (spouse, sibling, parent) - in any way we can.

But it's not important whether our fulfillment of that role is traditionally male, female, or something in between. What's important is that we do what we say we're going to. It's also important that we communicate our role expectations - to our friends, family and children. I'll admit there is a lot of gender confusion these days. The GLBTQ lobby has managed to open up discussion about gender roles. Feminists are doing the same thing from a different angle. Fundamental religious groups are growing ever louder in their demands for a return to "godly" ways and traditional roles. Kids are growing up in this wash of ideas, discussions and taboos, and lack the understanding or the guts to ask their parents "what roles am I expected to fill?". You can't simply tell children that they can be "anything they want" (read: fill any role they like), and then show them ads like this. It sends all kinds of mixed messages. So we need to make sure we answer that unspoken question.

We need to provide good role models through ourselves and our friends (if this is not possible, send your kids into responsible care and put your damn life in order already) so that they can see what we value and what roles we enjoy filling. We need to explain, if necessary, that playing with girl toys doesn't make you a girl (or even guarantee that you'll be familiar with your feminine side - how many boys "play" with Barbies by sending them to war and ripping off their heads?) and that mommy is perfectly capable of changing the oil in her car, even if someone else expects differently. We need to address traditional roles with our kids through discussion of media, play, and peer interaction, and then teach them skills to fill and accept a wide range of nontraditional roles as well. We need to tell our children that being "bad" has little to do with fitting into someone else's pigeonhole, and everything to do with avoiding responsibility for their own actions. I would care very little if my son wanted to wear bows in his hair. I would care a lot more if he lied to blame someone else for putting them there.

In some respects I agree with the ad. It is time to drop the complacency and DO SOMETHING. But why does it have to be men (and only the stereotypical, non-salad-eating, manly men at that?) who get to save the world?

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Oh, and Happy New Year

Hope all is well with everyone who reads this. While I am still rather shaky in the belief that every day is a new day and the first day new year doesn't necessarily mean the rest of the year will follow suit, I did have a bad first day, and it didn't make me hopeful for the rest of the month.

I'm trying to start school again this semester, and we'll see how that goes. I'm also trying to keep my sanity in the face of the student loan companies... my forbearance is up in February, and if I don't get into 6 credits of classes by then, I'll have to start paying them back, something I'm not a in financial position to do.

I'm also stuck in the mid-December mindset of finishing presents and waiting for Christmas. We haven't had Christmas with my family yet due to work, weather and my little sister's inconvenient bout with the flu. My mom's presents are sitting in a bag next to the computer, wrapped and neatly labeled. The year hasn't had closure not only in the sense that I haven't done Christmas the way I expected to, but in a lot of other unfinished projects and goals yet unreached. Maybe this year will be better than the last...

I'm So Sick of...

...people blaming the schools for every problem the educational system has.

Michigan Teaching School Tries Something New". Great article from NPR. I will not dispute that most teaching programs SUCK. Even my program at a highly-recommended teaching college (which used to be a Normal School where girls were educated to become teachers) wasn't that great. There was too much focus on writing the perfect lesson plan (in perfect arbitrary formatting) and too little focus on working out problems. We were encouraged to "reflect" on our lessons but often those reflections were unguided "I think I did this wrong, this theory might have helped" statements; they were something a third-grader could have written and we never had the opportunity to teach the same lesson more than once, to see if our reflection and problem-solving would have actually helped. The result, at least for me, was a sense that it didn't actually matter whether or not you could learn from your mistakes and grow as an educator - it mattered that you got it "mostly right" the first time around, and the reflection on your lesson's success was a very small percentage of your grade, even during student teaching (we got 3 student teaching experiences, starting with simple observation and teaching of one lesson and moving up to a full-on teaching experience under a mentor teacher).

Still, it irks me that the comments on the article shove so much blame onto the teaching schools and the teachers for the failure of our education system (which I blame for the failure of half a dozen other systems, but that's a different rant). I don't think I've ever seen a front-page mainstream media article about a school board screwup, and superintendents taking huge pay raises gets regional coverage at best. I'm pretty sure if I told you the name of the previous principal at my high school, who was removed from his job for being skeevy (the details were kept -very- quiet, but there were allegations of sexual harassment), and then applied for (and GOT) the superintendent position for the district, you'd probably never recognize it. It barely merited an announcement in the tiny local paper. But of course, we don't blame the people in charge.

Never mind that the policies set by school boards and superintendents, by state boards of education and federal laws like No Child Left Behind are what inform every teaching school in the United States and are the standard by which teachers are told they will be judged. Never mind that Race To the Top, the latest in a series of ill-fitting educational reforms put forth by our legislators, looks more like a cutthroat, backstabbing, brown-nosing contest for recognition of "great" school leadership than a measure intended to improve the education of our children. Never mind that the White House is actually taking measures to educate a few groups of schoolchildren on the wonders of gardening (and it seems pretty successful)... the media isn't covering THAT. (NPR did, and I think Mother Earth News ran a blurb. Hardly the kind of coverage that inner-city kids successfully being introduced to healthy diets deserves!).

And especially, never mind that most of America, coast to coast, will tell you that education doesn't really matter that much. Who are our heroes? Sports stars who got through college with a 2.5 GPA and scholarships paying them to entertain us. Entertainers, picked by television contests and record execs without regard to their attendance at an educational institution. (Juilliard will get you into a symphony orchestra, if you're lucky. It won't get you onto American Idol). Talk show hosts (see: Oprah) who tell us how to make perfect cookies using Pillsbury cut-outs and offer heart-rending abuse stories for us to gawk at, but rarely mention that we should spend time reading with our kids. When was the last time Oprah's Book Club read a children's book? They don't bother with telling us about the importance of education until they're washed-up and the only paying job they can get is speaking on NBC's "The More You Know" commercials.

No, of course our society doesn't have problems that contribute to the failure of education. Of course, if we simply force the schools to adapt to the needs of our kids with free breakfast for all, free lunch, lots of teaching to the test and finding that magic way of picking good teachers (I mentioned in a previous post (see "Most Likely to Succeed") that picking good teacher candidates is being done all wrong anyway), we'll magically improve test scores and all will be well. Of course if we cut extracurriculars in order to devote more time to Everyday Math (I can't tell you how much I hate that curriculum) and continue to allow school boards to build multi-million dollar football fields instead of funding new textbooks, we'll teach our children that we really value their education.

Honestly, at this rate I don't think the educational system deserves a penny, but I don't think it's entirely the system's fault. With all the other problems in the world, how exactly is our failure to teach our kids the right things (whatever you believe those to be) the fault of the schools? Parents can't figure out how involved to be (see: Refrigerator Mothers (often blamed for autism) and Helicopter Parents (which I'd almost call a backlash after the Fridge Mom reports)), teachers aren't getting paid enough to deal with the bullshit kids bring from home and the bullshit administrators dump on them, and our teacher education programs aren't exactly admitting the best and brightest (Google "Teacher candidate SAT scores"). But even with "better" teacher candidates, perfect parenting and better teacher pay, kids would still be hearing from all sides that school isn't worth it.*

What do we do in the face of this horrible opposition? Make school worth it. Don't expect the people most important in a child's life to lie about the value of their education. Getting somewhere in life, as any well-educated, highly-paid executive will tell you, is less about what you know and more about who you know. That's not to say that education is useless - it's certainly possible to become a Somebody if you study hard enough and solve a problem in a novel way which gets you the attention of other Somebodies. And education can improve quality of life in myriad ways, too - some of which have nothing to do with the supposed end result of school: getting a job and being a productive member of society. Education can improve health and diet, provide for better social interactions, contribute to global consciousness and encourage informed political activity (and not just in the "protests and sit-ins" kind of way). With a good education comes a better understanding of the world around us, and a better set of tools to tackle daily problems. We can tell our children this, and we can prove it to them despite our "failing" schools.

So yes, our curriculum needs to be changed, both in teacher prep and in primary schools. But at the same time our attitudes need to change. We need to help our children apply skills to the real world, instead of assuming they'll go on field trips to learn those things. We need to show them that learning about electricity can be useful when a light bulb burns out in their night light. That knowing how to round and multiply is useful when getting party supplies for 12 guests, or figuring out how many valentines they need for the class party. That division, fractions and percentages can make sales tax less of a surprise when they get to the register with those valentines, and can tell them how many cookies their classmates will get if they follow a recipe. That reading signs and directions can be the difference between embarrassment at calling for help and pride in doing it yourself. And that it doesn't matter whether you can shoot a basketball as well as Kobe Bryant if you can't read the contract they want you to sign. Maybe when our children realize what education can do for them, a better teacher will make a big difference. Until then, why do we expect the schools to enforce life skills lessons that the kids can't practice inside the classroom?

*Hell, I'd even tell them that. Learn all you like, but don't expect school to teach you everything you want to learn.