Wednesday, September 26, 2012

An Unrepentant 47%er

I am an unrepentant 47%er, one of those leeches on society that Mitt Romney disdains. And of course I'm also a 99%er. Here's how I got to be a 47%er:

In college, I needed financial help, even though my undergraduate years were at a state college. Oh, wait. A state college is subsidized by tax dollars. Check #1. I qualified for federally-funded student loans. Check #2. I paid them back with interest on time.

In grad school, I qualified for more federally-funded fellowships. Check #3. Private university; no state funds required.

When I went to work, I paid taxes on my income. I paid faithfully into Social Security and Medicare, never believing that either would be around when I retired. Paying my fair share was my responsibility, rather like paying for the privilege of being a US citizen. I hoped there would be enough Social Security and Medicare for my mother and mother-in-law when they retired and needed the promise to be fulfilled. Both drew leech-y entitlement checks. Check #4.

On April 1, 1984, a day that would be fraught with irony were it not so important in my life, the federal government initiated a tax-deferred saving program called 401(k). Designed to become the primary source of retirement funding for individuals, it was a government godsend. Check #5. I opened my first 401(k) account that very day and paid in until I retired on December 30, 2012. Now, as I draw from my own funds, I pay those deferred taxes. Check #6. Again, a privilege that allowed me to retire on my own terms.

I'm eligible for Medicare. Check #7. I applied for and received coverage, means-tested, to be sure, from another government program. I have private supplemental insurance, but Medicare is part of the package. Sucking off the government teat once again.

And in three months I will begin drawing Social Security. Check #8. I paid into it for 40 years. But, it's a government handout to those of us too lazy to work, those 47%ers who want a free ride. There's nothing free about Social Security. It's an entitlement I paid for, not a handout.

With all those government programs, I was able to get a great education, find well-paying jobs, work for 40 years with only two layoffs and retire when I was ready. I never had to draw unemployment insurance, food stamps or any other aid to the needy. Still, in Romney's eyes, I'm a parasite on society and on the government dole.

Ain't it great being an unrepentant leech on society???

Monday, September 17, 2012

Am I Better Off?

That loaded question is making the rounds on all the talk and news shows. I've been thinking about it since the primaries began last century (or so it seems).

Am I better off? Absolutely. I have my health and health insurance. I am retired, although not drawing Social Security yet. With government intervention back in 1984, I started building IRAs and 401(k)s. I kept building until I retired last December. Even with three huge financial busts that smooshed my investments, I'm better off financially than I was four years ago. Or eight years before that. Why? Because I can pay my bills and not fuss too much about future payouts from Social Security. Still a 99er, but safe for now.

I looked at the stock market, because our IRAs and 401(k)s are invested in various financial instruments. Four years ago on November 20, 2008 the market was staggering 7,550. Today, it is over 13,500. Will it stay there? If I knew that, I'd buy a lottery ticket and pocket the winnings. So, yes, in this one marker, I'm better off that I was four years ago.

Are my friends better off? One with a child who has cystic fibrosis has health insurance for the first time. She's better off. One friend keeps his 21-year-old son on his health insurance. If he couldn't, he'd be paying over $1000 a month in meds our of pocket. Not sustainable. Another is working after being unemployed for two years. He changed careers and his attitude on working. Is he making less than before? Certainly, but he has more time with his family and is a healthier person. Have some of my friends lost money? Of course, but some of their investments were in the high risk category.

Over all, my friends and I are in a better place that we were four years ago. But that doesn't hold true for many others. We still need to put people back to work. We need to keep health insurance coverage for those with pre-existing conditions and for young people who find it hard, if not impossible, to find work. We need to realize some jobs are not coming back. We need to think outside the box and find other ways to feed the chilluns and keep a roof overhead. Just like we did with the bust when high earners lost everything and still found ways to move forward. It's a challenge, but they did it. Isn't it time for a different group to try new things, new ways of making a living?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Teaching Today

I taught for seven years back when dirt was young and students had already learned to think by the time they were in one of my classes. I taught at both USC and UCLA. Comparative lit, English composition, Japanese literature. All electives but for English comp. Comp lit and Japanese lit were lecture courses. Never more than 35 students in a class--except for the multi-discipline introduction to Japanese culture taught by a religion prof, an art historian, a historian and me for lit. That was lecture only to about 125 students.

I always had a curriculum published before classes began. I also had lectures prepared, pithy remarks noted for use if a class went silent. Other than keeping to the curriculum, 90% of my lecture material went unused. Why? Because I wanted my students to engage in thoughtful, informed discussions on what they read. I'd ask questions, call on students (yes, the dreaded "what do you think about what Mary just said, Johnny?"), guide a discussion.

I told students that while I expected some answers to the books we read, if a student had a different interpretation I would listen. If the interpretation was "wrong" but if the student proved his thesis, I'd grade accordingly. I had one student who was completely visual for themes and tests. Drew his test answers. Produced great projects. I kept his material for years. Creative, but was most likely lost on more rigid teachers.

I was so lucky when I was in the classroom. Sometimes half a class was men on the G.I. Bill. Yes, that G.I. Bill for Vietnam vets. These students had come out of a traditional education, where they learned the three Rs as well as deductive thinking. They didn't struggle with SOLs, but had to pass PSATs and SATs to get into college, G.I. Bill or not. I had students older than I, who had seen things I would never see, who brought different experiences into a classroom.

I got to thinking about some of these students the other day. I wonder what happened to them. No matter what they decided to do in life, they knew how to think and how to present their arguments based on their interpretation of what they read.

I couldn't step into a classroom today. I spend a lot of time with teachers and some students. I read student writing contest entries. I see so little deductive reasoning, so little free thinking. Even when we had a fiction writing contest, I didn't see creativity like the student who drew his exams.  I worry that today's youth can't think outside the box, can't look for patterns that aren't presented in the form of an exam answer, can't engage in civilized debate.

No, my teaching methods wouldn't work today. So, I post a question: what would Socrates do today were he in a classroom?