KITCHEN TABLE CHATS

Pull up a chair in my domestic church and let's chat!

I have worn many labels (Not in any particular order): Catholic, Wife, Mom,Gramma, Doctor, Major, Soccer Mom, Military Wife, Professor, Fellow.

All of these filter my views of the world. I hope that like St. Monica, I can through prayer, words and example, lead my children and others to Faith.
"The important thing is that we do not let a single day go by in vain without putting it to good use for eternity"--Blessed Franz J├Ągerst├Ątter

Monday, July 26, 2010

Another example of agenda driven school reading assignments

A recurring theme on this blog is the need for parents to be vigilant in monitoring the ideas and principles put forth as truth by school teachers. While there are many very good teachers, there seems to be a culture of indoctrination rather than education pervading many schools. When my daughter was in high school, her AP literature course consisted of politically correct ethnically diverse books with absolutely no discussion as to how these books met the criteria of classic literature. Now my youngest is in high school and he is faced with an agenda driven AP English curriculum.

Most AP courses in our school district require a summer project that is due on the first day of school. For eleventh grade AP English, students must read Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich. The purpose of this assignment is to evaluate a work of nonfiction. In the analysis of nonfiction, it is important to first judge the credibility of the author. The good news is that the AP assignment addresses this. The bad news is the AP assignment does not allow for the opinion that the the authority of the author on this topic is questionable. The first question is:

Describe at least three ways in which she [the author] shows herself to be a credible person--someone the reader can trust to present the material in a fair and honest manner.

A less biased and more relevant question would have been:

Describe at least three ways in which she [the author] attempts to show herself to be a credible person--someone the reader can trust to present the material in a fair and honest manner. Was she successful?


The book Nickel and Dimed is an ideologically driven narrative. Barbara Ehrenreich travels to three different locations during the late 1990's and attempts to survive on a minimum wage job. Her goal is to illuminate the plight of the working poor. That is a noble purpose. However, she goes in with the established bias that corporations are evil and the government is not doing enough. Her husband is an organizer for the Teamsters union. She is very quick to paint management/labor relations in strongly adversarial terms. She proposes greater unionization of workers and more government intervention as the solution. She proudly proclaims her atheism and speaks derisively and crudely of religion, especially Christianity. She claims to be a scientist (she has a PhD in biology) but her "study design" for this experiment is very flawed. She sets conditions that make her very likely to fail and thus "prove" her predetermined conclusions.

For example, she plops herself down in a strange town with no friends or family to support her. She complains that she cannot take advantage of the financial advantage of home cooking because she cannot afford thirty dollars worth of new cookware. In the real world, most people can acquire hand-me-down kitchen supplies from family and friends. Local thrift shops can offer kitchen essentials for far less than thirty dollars. And those religious entities that she sneers at are great resources for those in a financial crisis. Ehrenreich also only gives herself a month to establish the financial viability of her life in a new location. There are always start-up costs to setting up a new household. It is not surprising that she is in the red after one month. It will take more than one month to recoup this investment.

When she works for a maid service she is appalled that the company charges clients twenty-five dollars per man-hour but only pays the cleaners $6.50 per hour. How dare they make such a profit! Of course she never openly considers that out of that remaining $18.50 must come the money for income taxes, social security taxes, insurance premiums, cleaning supplies, company fleet vehicles, the company office building, office supplies, phone service, marketing costs, and the wages for administrative personnel. It is surprising that a PhD level scientist would ignore such data.

Her final position is at a Minneapolis area Wal-Mart. Here she continually rants about the oppression of the workers by management. Her account focuses on the lack of a union for Wal-Mart employees. To further emphasize the need for a union she highlights the fact that that Wal-Mart has been sued in four states for not paying overtime wages. She makes no mention of the many union scandals that have occurred across the United States. The first few years I lived here in Northern Virginia the news was full of the ever growing corruption scandal in the Washington D.C. teachers union. Ehrenreich's beloved Teamsters union is hardly a paragon of virtue. To be fair, her final analysis in the final chapter does admit that unionization is not a panacea. She advocates for government support to subsidize what collective bargaining cannot provide.

Finally, the grossest deficiency in her analysis is that she makes no evaluation of the minimum wage workers themselves. I have been in the position of living paycheck to paycheck on a minimum wage job. I lived in a two bedroom apartment with four roommates. I didn't have a car. I took the bus all over Houston. I was an economic vegetarian--I had no qualms about eating meat but I couldn't afford it. However, this was always done with an eye towards continuing my education and making choices that would enable me to eventually achieve financial security. What choices or life circumstances put Ehrenreich's fellow minimum wage workers in their situations? Do they see this as a transient position? How many are using these positions to supplement the family income rather than being the sole support of the family? Her position is that those who are working at minimum wage jobs will always be in minimum wage jobs so there must be some way to sustain them in these positions. The question she does not ask is what must be done to support these workers in a move out of such dire financial straits. Do they need education? Do they need housing support? Do they need training in money management? It is interesting that she makes no comment on the fact that so many of her coworkers struggle with food and housing expenses but by her own account have no trouble affording cigarettes and alcohol. Shouldn't some choices have consequences? I personally see no moral obligation to subsidize the food expenses of a smoker so that he can continue to smoke.

The bottom line is I have no problem with my son reading this book as an example of non-fiction. I do have a problem with it being presented as an unquestioningly fair and credible account of a social economic issue.

Friday, July 16, 2010

I felt the earth move....

We spent several years living in the northern desert of Los Angeles County and we felt our share of earthquakes including the Northridge Earthquake. However, we left California in 1995 so I haven't really thought much about earthquakes since then. That is until this morning. Here in our Northern Virginia Washington D.C. suburb we were awakened just after 5:00 AM by that familiar trembling. It only lasted about ten seconds. It was a fine vibration as if a train was passing near the house. All the little knick knacks and bottles on my vanity created a high pitched hum as they rattled against the glass top. Soon after my husband and I exclaimed, "Earthquake!" in unison, the shaking stopped. The kids slept through it.

The US Geological Survey says it was a 3.6 earthquake. Nothing really damaged except for a few nerves. Still, I hate earthquakes. During our nearly thirty years of traveling about the country with the Air Force, we have experienced hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, floods, wildfires, and earthquakes. Earthquakes are definitely my least favorite natural disaster. They strike without warning and there is something very surreal about feeling what you thought was terra firma move like an ocean wave. There is no time to brace, run, or hide.

But then again, maybe an earthquake is a good metaphor for life. We plod along day to day until some event shakes us from our complacency. In any case, I am grateful this quake was just a small ripple with no major consequences. I might include St. Agatha in my litany of saints today. And I have a feeling this song will be stuck in my head for a while:

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Pass this on for life

Of the twenty mysteries of the Rosary, my favorite is the Annunciation. There are so many facets to this mystery. God calls Mary out of her comfort zone to do something that by human analysis seems impossible. Not only does it seem impossible, but it involves suffering. Mary is betrothed to a good man, Joseph. Who is going to believe that she was visited by an angel? Who is going to believe that her child was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit? Why should she risk this stable, happy life for the uncertainties of God's outlandish proposal? Because she was blessed with abundant grace, Mary responded "Fiat! Let it be done according to thy word."

When God puts a path before me that is outside my comfort zone, involves suffering, and seems contrary to my expectations, it is very challenging to embrace this path and say "Fiat! I will do it your way, God." That is why the mystery of the Annunciation is so important to me. Mary models perfect trust and perfect obedience to God. When I tremble thinking about the road ahead, I remember the reassurances the Archangel Gabriel gave to Mary: "Be not afraid!"

Wisconsin Right to Life is offering uplifting contemporary examples of living according to God's plan for life through a series of videos. Their hope is that the positive pro-life messages conveyed by these videos will inspire viewers to pass them on and spread the Gospel of Life. Perhaps the most poignant is the following video:



Watch this video and pass it on. It may be exactly what someone needs to see and hear in order to say, "Fiat! Let it be done according to thy word."

Thursday, July 08, 2010

More words of wisdom

It seems the Good Lord is providing just the right words when I need them. This morning I ran across this quote when I was checking the diocesan young adult ministry page:

"Persevere in the exact fulfillment of the obligations of the moment. That work - humble, monotonous, small - is prayer..."--St. Josemaria Escriva

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Unexpected words of wisdom


Sometimes words of wisdom are found in unexpected places. Today's mail brought a new Signals catalog. This framed print was a good reminder that faith does not remove our crosses. Faith enables us to successfully carry our crosses.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

18 Weeks and It's a Girl!!!!

My oldest son and his wife are expecting their first child. She is 18 weeks along and had an ultrasound this week. Baby looks healthy and now we know it's a girl! I have always called my own daughter my island of civilization amidst her three brothers. I am sure Baby Girl Hunnell will be a joy and blessing for her own parents. (and grandparents too!) I am so excited there are just not enough exclamation points to express it!!!!!