Archives for posts with tag: National Education Association

Sequestering the Future?

On my way back from Colorado recently, my flight was delayed and I got stuck in Chicago overnight. Annoying? Yes. Life-damaging? Most certainly not.

On the other hand, losing access to Head Start (a national anti-poverty program that provides comprehensive child development services to disadvantaged three and four-year olds)? That could really have a damaging impact on a young person’s life. A California study cited by the National Head Start Association shows that society receives nearly $9 in benefits for every $1 invested in Head Start for a child. These benefits include increased future earnings, employment, and family stability for the child along with decreased dependance on welfare, crime, grade repetition, and special education needs.

So what would you suffer through to give these children back their Head Start program? I for one would gladly spend a night stranded in a strange city if that meant that a low-income child would continue to receive these benefits, even for a week.

But that’s ridiculous! You say. No one is making a choice between one or the other. Well, that’s not necessarily true.

Last Friday, Congress approved a bill to end sequestration-caused furloughs of air traffic controllers in hopes of getting flights back on track nationwide – and then they flew home for a week-long recess. This was a great move for people waiting in long lines at airports – but not so great for the millions of vulnerable people suffering deeply because of  sequestration cuts – all of whom Congress ignored on their way out of the office.

So who are these suffering people again? Along with those disadvantaged kids trying to get an education, they are the long-term unemployed, seniors trying to get home care and meal services, and low-income people on the verge of homelessness – just to name a few.
A few quick facts about how sequestration is affecting our most vulnerable in various places around the country:

  • In Florida, approximately 2,000 kids will be turned away from Head Start and Early Head Start next year.
  • 80,000 long-term unemployed in Illinois will see their unemployment benefits reduced by 16.8 percent as of May 27.
  • Wisconsin’s La Crosse County will start serving 6,000 fewer meals to home-bound seniors because of sequestration cuts. For some seniors, this meal is the only one they get in an entire day.
  • A $1 million sequestration cut to the Salt Lake County Housing Authority will deny rental assistance to about 112 homeless/housing endangered families.

So why is ending tiresome airport lines more pressing than helping a child get a good education or getting a poor family into a home that they can afford? Simply put: M-O-N-E-Y. Airlines are big money power players, and the travel sector was losing millions of dollars for each day of continued furloughs. Airline execs were chomping at the bit to get these pesky sequestration furloughs fixed before the summer travel season. “That’s a critical time for our industry,” says Erik Hansen, director of domestic policy for the U.S. Travel Association.  He fears that the delays may have kept some international travelers from booking trips to the US.

Of course, travel and tourism are good for the economy – and everyone wants to see the economy continue to improve. But keep one thing in mind: helping vulnerable people become active participants in the economy is crucial to recovery as well. Making sure that kids receive a good education and are put on the path to college early in life makes it much more likely that they will get well-paying jobs and contribute to the economy in a positive way. Keeping families off of the street enables parents to hold down jobs and kids to stay in school. Helping seniors stay healthy means less of an economic strain from emergency room visits. The list goes on and on.

Do I have the answer to fixing all of the problems presented by sequestration while working to reduce the deficit? No. But I know that continuing to ignore the devastating problems it is creating for low-income people nationwide is not okay. I hope that our elected officials in Congress get their priorities straight upon returning from recess.

To ask Congress to protect important programs for low-income populations, take action with the National Education Association’s Ed Flight Campaign or send this emailable letter from the Coalition on Human Needs.

rehtaeh

When I heard about the suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons, I was devastated. We’ve lost another young girl, who – after being allegedly raped by four boys who distributed photos of the attack online – was bullied mercilessly by her peers to the point where she decided to take her own life at 17 years of age.

A year-long investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was closed when it was decided that “there was insufficient evidence to lay charges.” Insufficient evidence– although many people saw the photos taken of the rape (which occurred when she was only 15), knew of the attack and witnessed Rehtaeh being bullied at school.

Her mother, Leah Parsons, told Canadian news source CBC “She was never left alone. She had to leave the community. Her friends turned against her. People harassed her. Boys she didn’t know started texting her and Facebooking her asking her to have sex with them. It just never stopped.” Things got so difficult that the Parsons moved to another city, but the bullying had taken its toll. Rehtaeh’s parents watched their once lively and high-spirited teenage daughter become increasingly depressed and withdrawn. After the move, Rehtaeh made some new, more supportive friends and heard from some of her old friends, who relented and decided to stand by her. But it wasn’t enough to undo the damage. Last March, she checked herself into the hospital for suicidal thoughts. And then on April 4, she hung herself in her parents’ bathroom.

Since her death, the police have reopened the investigation based on new evidence and a witness who is willing to verify the identity of the suspects and cooperate with investigators. Cyber-activist hacker group Anonymous has also claimed to have evidence that one of the attackers has admitted to raping Rehtaeh although he knew she was too intoxicated to defend herself.

Everything about this story is tragic and misguided – from the crime itself to the police’s handling of the case. But what also stands out to me is the bullying – the girls and boys that taunted Rehtaeh so cruelly that she ended her life. “People texted her all the time, saying ‘Will you have sex with me?’” says Leah Parsons. “Girls texting, saying ‘You’re such a slut.’” Teenagers aren’t exactly known for their maturity and this level of harassment is (sadly) not surprising. But why did so many of her peers turn on her? Why did so many other girls – some of whom may conceivably have endured similar experiences – call her a slut and disown her as a friend?

Undoubtedly, the blame for the crime rests on the shoulders of the alleged rapists. But if Rehtaeh hadn’t endured the bullying that she did, she might be alive today. The National Education Association estimates that 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students.  According to Yale University studies, bullying victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims. And technology such as cellphone cameras and social media have made bullying that much easier for teenagers. Snap a picture, and it can be distributed to the whole school with one click.

This type of cyber-bullying is not uncommon. A few weeks ago I wrote about the Steubenville case: the rape of a 16-year old girl; photos of the night gone viral on the internet; months of constant bullying from her peers; and the subsequent conviction of two star football players for the crime. Steubenville garnered a lot of attention. But what about Audrey Pott, a 15-year old Northern California girl who killed herself after allegedly being sexually abused by three young men who released explicit photos of the rape on the internet? She committed suicide just days after the photos went viral.

How does it feel to be that teenage girl who everyone is whispering about in the halls? To be called a slut/whore/skank by people who barely know you? To be judged for engaging in sexual activity, as most curious teens do? For some girls, it is utterly life-destroying.

Most people, whether they realize it or not, have slut-shamed before – shaming and/or attacking a woman or a girl for being sexual, having one or more sexual partners, acknowledging sexual feelings, and/or acting on sexual feelings outside of marriage. I’ve seen people do it countless times. Sadly, I’ve done it to others in the past, and even to myself. But I want to change that. The double standard remains: why is it that a girl who has sex is a whore/slut but a boy who has sex is a stud/player? In movies, on television, in magazines and in our communities, people throw around the term “slut” in reference to women willy-nilly. But how many of them think about what their words imply? That a girl or woman is a prostitute because she has sexual desire? That because she is female, she should save herself for marriage or she is a whore? That women should ignore/not act upon sexual desires even though men can/do? Why do we accept sexual exploration from our sons but not our daughters?

Next time you want to call a girl a slut, rethink your choice and start chipping away at the double standard. If we support one another – and remember that we are all human beings just living, learning and changing over time – we just might succeed in changing this societal mindfuck.

Sign this Change.org petition to get justice for Rehtaeh by launching an investigation into the RCMP’s handling of the case.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.