Tag Archives: workingpoor

Learning to Read

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On my first day of kindergarten, I came home from school crying because I didn’t how to read. When I had asked my parents when I would be able to read like my older sister, they had said ‘kindergarten’ and I thought that meant immediately, on the first day. I was so disappointed to know that there was no magical trick that enabled me to read by virtue of being in Kindergarten. But by Christmas of that school year, I knew how to read books. By 4th grade, I was reading at a 9th grade reading level and I still like to read novels when I have time. However, so many children never reach full proficiency in reading by 4th grade, and will never enjoy school because of this disadvantage.

On a recent Facebook post about adult illiteracy, a friend asked me why I think it is that so many children do no learn to read in school and need remedial tutoring. I told her that I think it’s because of the lack of resources to so many single mothers who are working so hard to support their families. In fact, when I was living in Central America, I had a friend who fit this exact mold. Her son Jared was in Standard 1 (about 3rd grade) and he had never mastered basic phonics. His mother managed a hotel, owned her own business, and had two other children to care for. Jared was lost in the chaos of her life, as are most middle children. His grandmother watched him after school, and the group tutoring sessions he went to simply weren’t enough.

I started tutoring Jared 3 times a week after work, because he had fallen so far behind that he might be held back. Some thought that he might be disabled, because he would just stare at his tests. But really, I’m pretty sure that it was because he just couldn’t read them. Word problems in math were impossible for him too, because he couldn’t read. Taking notes from the blackboard was a jumble of confusion. And reading comprehension was simply out of his league. We began working together using hooked on phonics. After taking time to go back to the basics, Jared eventually began to pass his spelling tests. We were reading small books together by the time I left in December, and it was so hard to leave knowing that his mother would not have time to continue his tutoring.

There are so many Jareds in the school system in the United States, with single mothers who struggle to keep their families housed. They may not receive child support, might be working three jobs, and have zero spare time. It seems impossible to prioritize reading with their kids,when they are struggling so hard to survive. And their children will most likely never excel in school, if they don’t have a basic understanding of phonics before they reach that decisive age. It’s literally sink or swim. As one teacher in Orlando puts it: “Lack of access to quality education – you might as well be drowning in a pool.” Now that is something to cry about.

Happy Labor Day

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Today is May Day or International Workers’ Day in most other countries except for the United States, where “Labor Day” is celebrated on the first Monday of September. This is ironic because International Workers’ Day actually began in the United States on May 1, 1886 when 300,000 workers from 13,000 businesses across the United States walked out on their jobs to demand an eight hour work day without a cut in pay. This led to violence and retribution from industrialists and the ruling class, and Labor Day was eventually established in September as a day “to celebrate labor.” But in reality, it is a day to separate labor because nothing scares governments more than the thought that one holiday could be the unifying impetus that brings together International Workers of the World to Unite. And the Red Scare’s legacy, in its elimination of this story from our history books, continues to weigh heavily on the backs of soldiers, workers, and the poor.

At present, things have changed greatly since 1886. People still work over eight hours each day, but they are asked to sign contracts that sell their personal lives in exchange for a salary instead. The federal government is still dominated by lobbying groups connected to large industrial concerns including the oil industry, defense contracting, and especially international finance. The recent financial crisis in 2007 and the ensuing Arab Spring, M15, and Occupy Movements across the world are the closest that international workers have ever come to uniting. But because of the lack of leadership and real understanding by the common man about what exactly needed to be changed and how, these movements lost their voice by not coming together to make a common demand.

This brings into question a statement by Diego Rivera on this mural (pictured) that was chipped out of Rockefeller Center: “The liberation of the workers may only be the work of the laborers themselves.” But are the workers educated enough to liberate themselves? Do future workers graduate from high school with an education that equips them to understand the complexities of our interdependent world? Are they enabled to make good decisions when electing our future leaders, let alone make their own financial decisions? For me, and in light of the soundbites that I accidentally hear from the current Presidential debates, the answer is no. They are not. And as a believer in the potential for art and culture to produce real social change, I would go so far as to state that Diego Rivera actually did us a disservice by not producing the fresco that he was originally contracted to paint in Rockefeller Center. He missed an opportunity to unite  international workers of the world with the people who want to help them most, the industrialists, financiers, and business class.

Diego Rivera’s mural was chipped out of the wall at Rockefeller Center, due to its strongly communist overtones because he succumbed to peer pressure by his contemporaries who called him a sellout for painting for the Rockefellers. The fresco he painted, with a portrait of Lenin and an unflattering depiction of Rockefeller Sr., is much different from the painting that he originally proposed. And Rivera expert Linda Downs explains the unifying message of the original sketches: “He had this vision of the importance of technology in the future and the hope that there would be a coming together of workers and industrialists and businessmen to further mankind in general … It was a very hopeful mural.” The proposed fresco, as depicted in his sketches, remains a missing piece of history that could have depicted hope, and possibly instigated collaboration amongst these disparate classes that are hardly ever brought together by any networking group or chamber of commerce.

But the frequent inability of revolutionaries and politicians to collaborate with their contemporaries continues to weigh heavily on the working man’s back. Their lofty goals and ideals are incapable of translating into real change that will further the best interests of everyone, not just either the workers or the ruling class. When international workers of the world do unite, whether behind a protest like the Arab Spring, the Occupy Movement in 2011, or behind a bigoted billionaire running for the U.S. Presidency; the results tend to be detrimental to societies at large. Just look at Lybia, Egypt or Germany after World War II. A lack of access to quality education continues to oppress so many in the United States who are not given an equal opportunity to succeed. But beyond quality education, the real problem is that our true history is not taught to children at all. Like the celebration of Labor Day, so many other holidays and story tales obfuscate the truth behind our history. And this makes us doomed to repeat it.

 

 

Small Homes for Families

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Small Homes for Families

Last year there was a tiny house exhibit at Central Florida Earth Day 2015. Since I had just visited Dignity Village in Portland, Oregon, I naturally wanted to visit. And I took my grandmother with me for a day of quality time strolling around Lake Eola. My preconceived notions led me to believe that the tiny homes would be ideal for chronically homeless individuals; but my grandmother’s stories changed my perspective. They led me to believe that small homes would be perfect for housing homeless families, victims of domestic abuse, single mothers with children, and especially to provide affordable housing for the working poor in general.

While we were looking at one tiny houses that looked like a doll house, Mamita surprised me by explaining that she had raised four children in a room half as small. She would swing two babies in hammocks, while two children slept in bed with her. Some of her children were already grown, and occasionally her drunken husband would come home to rape and impregnate her again. So, sometimes there would be as many as six people in this tiny shack. She would cook on a fire hearth stove in the corner of the room.

Mamita told me about the struggle that was her life – including some stories that I already knew, but still I always listen. She worked as a nanny for a little girl with Down’s syndrome during the day, and sold bus and boledo (lottery) tickets at the depot in the mornings and evenings. Then she would stay up until 12 am hand scrubbing sheets and laundry for a shilling ($0.25) a piece. She stayed up even later to cook food for her children to eat the next day, then woke up at 5:00 am to fold laundry and do it all again. I don’t think she even had days off.

Being the type of person who loves to sleep, I didn’t understand how she could even function on such little sleep. But this is how she raised ten children – in a tiny house, with an abusive alcoholic husband, who was only there some of the time and never helped. My perspective on small homes for the homeless was forever changed that day, as I realized that these structures needed to be so much more than just “better than being homeless.” They needed to be built so well that I would be happy for my grandmother to raise my mother there, and for other working mothers to be able to raise their children out of poverty. They should set a standard of excellence that people will want to see and replicate.

I’m really looking forward to my grandmother visiting again next month. I can’t wait to spend time with her and just listen to her stories. She is such a strong little lady. She will be 86 this year, and she continues to inspire me to be the woman I am today.  I am so blessed to have her in my life, and I can’t wait to show her the New Dignity Small Home that my team is building as an affordable housing model.