Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Student reacts to the Poor Kids documentary from FRONTLINE

One of our assignments in the first few weeks of class was to watch an online documentary. The video was a Frontline documentary called, “Poor Kids”. The documentary has changed my outlook forever on how children are especially affected by poverty. This video was the second part of a documentary that follows children in poverty from a young age to young adulthood. The documentary was broken in two halves. The first half gives a recap from the 2012 documentary of when of Brittany, Kaylie, and Johnny were small children facing the struggles of poverty in America. The second half updates the audience on where the families of these three poor kids are in 2017. The ability to watch Brittany, Kaylie, and Johnny grow into young adults and to hear their stories of struggle, was fascinating to me. All of these families were the victims of unfortunate circumstance that lead them down the path of poverty.

Brittany is a young girl from Illinois whose family struggled to make ends meet. Her parents had another baby on the way in the first film and were worried about how they were going to support another child. Brittany was aware of the fact her family was poor and that her father had just lost his job. Necessities such as a hot water in the winter was not available to Brittany’s family. The hot water heater was shut off due to failure to pay the bill on time. Examples like this are so common for families living in poverty, they often go without one necessity to keep something else running. Brittany seemed to be aware at a very young age of the financial struggles her family faced. She knew that they had to move from their old house because her father lost his job. She knew that most of her belongings in storage were thrown away due to failure to pay the bill. She knew that the cable and internet would be next to shut off. A conversation between Brittany and the camera man stood out to me. She tells him, “you have money now but, in a few months, you could be poor, you never know”. It amazed me how this little girl’s comment put so much in perspective for me. What we have today is not promised tomorrow. Most of what Brittany says in the video is negative and its probably because she is constantly surrounded by a cloud of negativity looming over her every day. It is not shocking that as Brittany becomes a young adult, she battles depression and anxiety. When the film picks back up, Brittany is now fifteen-years-old. She says that middle school was a rough time for her because she got picked on for being poor. She was expelled and held back, she states that was the lowest point. Her highest point was completing middle school, something she was very proud of herself for. Graduating from middle-school is an accomplishment that many take for granted. Instead of seeing it as an accomplishment, other students see it as just the next phase in life. Brittany’s stress has remained a constant battle in her life because of poverty.

Kaylie Hegwood lives in Stockton, Iowa and in 2012 she was ten-years-old living with her mother and brother. She starts her segment of the video by complaining how hungry she is and how this hunger affects her throughout the day. Kaylie lives in poor town that has been run down with little job opportunities and little resources. Kaylie and her friends go “canning” to make money. Five cents for non-squished cans and two cents for squished cans. Her family moved to a motel room where their sink was filled with ice and used as a refrigerator. The one bed room was home to Kaylie, her brother Jordan, and their mother, Barbara. Fast-forward to 2017 and Kaylie’s family is still struggling. She is almost sixteen-years-old and has moved around a lot in the past several years. Her family has lived at their current house for two years with the help of their Grandmother who also provided Barbara with a car and a phone for Kaylie. Her Grandmother has battled cancer along with her mother who is currently battling ovarian cancer. Kaylie admits that she is not sad about things that happen to her and her family any longer, she has gotten so used to it. This realization is hard to swallow for a girl that thinks she only has a 50/50 shot of making something of herself in the future.

The documentary shows a boy named Johnny and his family. In 2012 Johnny was thirteen-years-old with high hopes of becoming a football star. His family went from living in a 3-bedroom house to living in the Salvation Army Shelter after his father, who repaired houses, couldn’t find work while in the recession. Johnny is a bright young boy and blew me away with his mature thoughts. He says that he is a realist and knows that if he doesn’t make good grades, he won’t go to college and have a career to provide for himself and future family. He also wants to play professional football and knows that playing his favorite sport will be over in four years if he doesn’t try hard to achieve his goals. Johnny has both optimistic and realistic plans for his life and its admirable. His mother and father try to work hard but can barely provide for Johnny and his siblings.  As the years go on however, Johnny does find himself hanging out with the wrong crowd and eventually ending up in jail. He chooses to move in with his Grandmother in Chicago and is now trying to get back into playing football in college. The second half of the documentary focuses on his sister, Jasmine and his mother and father who are currently living in a hotel until her mom and dad can find somewhere to live. Jasmine is wise and grateful for the family she has. I couldn’t help but shed a few tears at her statement, “I wouldn’t choose this life but it’s kind of showing me what can happen. I will take this experience and use it to make myself a better person by learning from it and knowing what not to do. My hope for the future would be to have a house with my own room and my own space but you can’t really have everything you want.” This tore my heart that the simple pleasure of having your own room was something I took for granted growing up.

I grew up in a single mother household. We struggled and sometimes did not have enough to eat, or my siblings and I had to wear clothing that was too small for us. My mother held a steady job and she kept the same roof over our heads for 18 years. My experiences are nothing compared to these three children and the overwhelming number of poverty-stricken families in America. I struggle to fathom the number of kids that I went to school with that were living a life of poverty. From elementary school through high school I don’t think I ever took the time and noticed my fellow students who may be struggling at home. Kids I rode the bus with, kids I was partnered with in a group, kids that I sat by in the auditorium or lunch table, could have been homeless. I believe that this documentary and more like it should be shown in middle schools around the United States. This will allow other students to relate more to other students and to show compassion and understanding to those who have different home lives.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Student recommends that the Illinois House pass the Inclusive Education Act

The Senate Bill 3249 is also known as the Inclusion Bill. This bill makes it mandatory to teach LGBTQ history curriculum for public schools. State Senator Heather Steans sponsored this bill. It passed the Illinois Senate in March of 2018. Now the bill has to pass the Illinois House, where it is House Bill 5596. This curriculum will be limited to the public schools; it will not apply to private or religious schools. The superintendent of the school district will be required to monitor and enforce compliance with this new curriculum. The program requires all kindergarten-12th grades to include this curriculum in their unit studying. 

Schools can still control the school environment and curriculum, but this law will require that there be some specific coverage of the contributions of LGBTQ persons. Learning about the history of LGBTQ persons teaches the importance of not discriminating against others. If this bill passes Illinois will be the second state to swap out textbooks for LGBTQ inclusive texts. California adopted similar measures in 2011; however, California just approved the LGBTQ textbooks for elementary schools in November. California was the first state to approve this bill. This idea was mainly brought on by suicides among LGBTQ youth. In the upcoming year, California students will gain an understanding of the past and present of LGBTQ community. 

This bill will have no fiscal impact. Textbooks would be purchased through the textbook block grant program whether or not the selections are restricted to textbooks that have LGBTQ content. This textbook block grant program gives annual funding to school districts. School districts can look into online textbooks, which are cheaper. California approved 10 textbooks for elementary and middle school students, so the same ten would presumably be approved for use in Illinois if the Inclusion Bill is passed into law here in Illinois

Change needs to happen. The LGBTQ community is not going to go away. Their history is just as import for students to learn about as is the African Americans, war history, the Holocaust, etc. It is time to stop erasing LGBTQ identities. It is time to acknowledge LGBTQ roles in history. It is time to acknowledge that someone like James Baldwin was an openly gay writer. LGBTQ students need to feel the support from their peers and teachers. It is important for our students to learn about role models of the LGBTQ communities. Of course changing the textbooks will be a slow process, but it something that needs to be done. It is time for Illinois to follow California and approve the Inclusive Curriculum Bill. Our youth need to know about the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community. This community is a now a part of history. 

There are several historical figures whose sexuality and sexual orientation are ambiguous, and I hope the presentation of these figures will be nuanced, and help students understand that in historical work, we cannot always be sure of our conclusions.  Also, the ideas we now have about sexual identity and orientation, and the words we use, were not prevalent in the past, so there is an interesting debate about whether our modern terms and ideas about LGBTQ apply in past times and other cultures.  All that sort of information will help students move away from the faith in categories and labels that so many of us rely upon these days.  And I think it's very healthy for children and students in our public schools to learn about different critiques of how gender and sexuality have been expressed or understood at different times and places.  Give the many disappointing aspects of mainstream heterosexuality in 21st Century North American culture (such as the high rates of domestic violence and the high incidence of rape and sexual abuse of children), I think our schools will be doing a great benefit to our society if they open up children to some critical ideas about assumptions and values prevalent in our culture.  It is especially good to know that there have always been eccentrics, misfits, and persons who rebelled against conformity, and among these people were some of the great geniuses and heroes of history, and also some of the villains. 

Student opposes drug testing of SNAP beneficiaries

SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), also called food stamps, is for low income people and families who cannot afford their food. Without this program, millions of people in the United States would go hungry. The United States Department of Agriculture provides SNAP, and it works by giving people a certain amount of money each month that can only use on food. It is put onto a card similar to a debit card. People get a certain amount depending on how many people are in their household, how much money they make, and how much their rent and utilities are. It is a great program for helping end hunger in the United States. 

One problem we face with SNAP is that Republicans and the Trump Administration are trying to make it so certain states are allowed to drug test food stamp recipients. The wrong-headed ideal of this policy proposal is that people receiving food stamps must be forced to go through drug testing, and without drug testing they will not be able to receive food stamp benefits. This is wrong in many ways. At the surface level, it may seem like a good idea that drug addicts cannot get food stamps, but what about their children? Should children of parents who have used drugs starve and suffer because of their parents’ illicit drug use? It really is not fair at all. I don’t, and I hope most people do not want children going hungry because their parents struggle with addiction, and even if someone does not have any children and they are addicts, do they deserve to starve? I have a very strong opinion that no one should starve, no matter what. Murderers and rapists in prison don’t starve, but they are trying to make someone with a drug addiction starve when they are not harming others, just themselves. 

Another reason why it is a bad idea to drug test food stamp recipients is because of how costly it is. Seven states have already tried this, but on TANF instead of food stamps (TANF is a different welfare program that gives cash grants to some poor families) and they have already spent one million dollars on these drug tests, and they will have to spend millions more as the years go by, but it has been shown that applicants who have been drug tested have tested positive at a lower rate than the general population. Drug testing does not work to help people get treatment for their addictions. Instead of spending this much money on drug testing applicants of welfare programs, we ought to be implementing better programs to help the poor move out of poverty, and help persons with substance use issues move toward sobriety. 

Hunger in the United States is a real problem, and forcing applicants to be drug tested will not help solve the problem. More people will starve. More people will steal, so they will be able to survive. Instead of spending millions of dollars to drug test food stamp recipients, we could increase the amount of benefits hungry persons receive because a majority of people who get food stamps do not get enough to last them the whole month. They do okay for the first couple weeks, but then they end up having to go to the food pantry because they run out of food. 

The SNAP program does need to be changed, but forcing people to be drug tested has more negative consequences than positive ones. People will also be losing a sense of self determination and autonomy over their own lives, because they already have to jump through many hoops just to get help from the government, but adding drug tests as something they have to do will just make them more dependent and less self-sufficient. 

I think the most important thing is that everyone gets to have the food that they need. Family members should not hurt because they have a parent or sibling who cannot stay clean. It is not fair to either of them, and there are other programs that we should have to help people who struggle with addiction. Not giving people food is not going to magically make them stay off drugs. 

I'd like to mention a few facts here to help support your editorial. 
In the first part of 2018, the maximum SNAP benefits for families in Illinois who live with no income are as follows:
single individuals: $192 per month;
single parents with one child or two-adult households: $352;
household with three persons: $504;
household with four persons: $640;
household with five persons: $760.
According to the USDA’s March 2018 food plans:
For a thrifty food budget, a family of two adults aged 19-50 years old need $382 per month; and for a family of four with two adults and two children aged 
6-8 and 9-11 years old, the monthly food budget needed is $639.  
For the low cost plan, the amount needed for the two-adult household is $490, and for the family of four with two children and two adults, the amount needed for a month is $841.
For the moderate-cost plan, the amount for the two-adult household: $583.  For the four-person household: $1048.

In 2014, when there were about 120 million American households, total spending per month on food in and outside of home was about $1.15 billion, or approximately $960 per month per household (and the average American household has about 2.5 persons).  
Clearly, the SNAP benefits are not allowing poor persons to receive such lavish benefits that they can live with food consumption that matches typical American diets.  In fact, the SNAP benefits provide less than 40% of the resources that would allow a poor household without income to consume food at a level that matches the American average.  
SNAP benefits aren’t generous.  SNAP benefits do, however, combat hunger.  SNAP benefits reduce the number of Americans living in extreme poverty (looking at consumption levels to define poverty) by about half. 

Thursday, May 3, 2018

National School Lunch Programs

Without the National School Lunch Program so many children would go hungry at school. The program was established in 1946 and signed into law by President Harry Truman. The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) helps plan balanced meals in public and private schools. The NSLP helps develop healthy and educational outcomes for students coming from low-income families. Students from low-income families are eligible for the National School Lunch Program. These students receive price reduced lunches or free meals at school. Families with incomes below 130% of the poverty line and receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Temporary Assistance of Needy Families (TANF) is eligible for free lunches. Families with incomes between 130-185% of the poverty line are eligible for price reduced lunches. Most of these students are also eligible for snack, breakfast, and summer lunch programs. Schools cannot charge reduced price lunch families more than 40 cents per reduced lunch. Some students are still going hungry, because their family doesn’t know about the NSLP or they don’t qualify.

The NSLP provided price reduced lunches to over 30.4 million daily in 2016 at a cost of $13.6 billion. Behind SNAP in the nation the National School Lunch Program is the second largest food and nutrition assistance program. In 2015-2016 school years, over 98,000 schools participated in NSLP. The meals must meet federal nutrition standards. The program is administered on a state and federal level. On a federal level it is through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. On a state level it is through the State Department of Education or Agriculture. 

The program enhances children’s learning ability by contributing to their physical and mental well-being. It has always been said that students who don’t eat proper meals have a harder time concentrating and learning in the classroom.

Documents are kept to prove the lunch program follows the state and federal guidelines. For example, applications submitted by families for free or reduced meals, by site and description of the follow-up actions to verify eligibility. They must keep record of income, expenditures, along with contributions received. Record the numbers of free, price reduced, and full price lunches in categories served each day. The other record that is kept is meal production and inventory records that show the amounts and types of food used. 

Schools get paid on a reimbursement basis. Agencies get paid by the number of meals served. Schools have to submit a monthly reimbursement claim to the Child Nutrition Information Payment System. The department has to then review and approve the reimbursement claim. The claim then goes to the State Controller’s office. After this the check will be issued. It takes about four to six weeks after submitting the reimbursement claim before receiving the check. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Youth aging out of foster care to get tuition waivers

Most foster kids have had a rough start in life. Most of them have been abused or neglected in some way, which is why they are placed in the foster care system. This means that they usually do not have any family members who are able to take care of them or support them either, since this is the first thing looked for when removing children from homes. The kids are forced to pack their bags and leave everything they know behind in order to go live with strangers. This can be very scary for most children, especially those who already have trust issues with adults because of the abuse they experienced as kids. Also, since they have to go through this process many times, they often develop unstable relationships with adults. This is because they are constantly being placed into homes and then being pulled out and placed into new homes over and over again. This process does not allow for the formation of stable relationships, as the kids never get to have reliable people in their lives to bond with.

 Furthermore, the kids switch schools frequently since they are constantly moving. This not only hurts their ability to make friends, but can also severely interfere with their education. When foster kids age out of the system, they are often left with nothing and no one. This is why I am in favor of foster kids receiving free education up to a bachelor’s degree. This would allow them to get on their feet and be able to support themselves more effectively. In the system we have now, they can get up to three years of schooling through the foster care system. While this provides them with a pretty good start, it would be more efficient in the long run to keep them in the system one more year, so they can at least get a bachelor’s degree. This would give them more options and more financial stability than they would have with only an associate degree or certification. 

Supporting these young adults one more year until they receive their bachelor’s degree would reduce the chance of them becoming homeless since they would be more likely to qualify for higher paying jobs. Also, if they do an internship during their schooling, they would gain experience in that field which would help pave the way to gainful employment. They would also be less likely to end up in jail since their lives would have a more positive outlook and clear direction. Currently, by ages 23-24 years old, foster kids are more likely than non-foster kids to be uneducated, unemployed, homeless, pregnant, and criminal. 
The new bills, Senate Bill 2846 and House Bill 5122, would provide tuition fee waivers to those who DCFS has legal responsibility of, current foster kids, those who have recently aged out of foster care, and those who have been adopted out of foster care. This allows young adults who would otherwise be unable to afford higher education a chance to go to college and have a better chance of succeeding in life. To be able to receive the fee waivers, the young adult must have attained a high school degree or a GED, which is equivalent to a high school degree. The new age limit to receive the fee waivers would be 26 years old and would cover the student’s first five years of school. These tuition and fee waivers would cover the full tuition cost for foster kids to go to any community college, university, or college maintained by the state of Illinois. These bills are seeking to provide foster care children with the same opportunities as children who grew up in families and are more able to afford college. By adding these bills, Illinois could help foster children live more productive, healthy lives. Incorporating these bills would also cut costs in areas such as law enforcement because foster kids would less likely be criminal if they had more support and equal opportunities to education.

Cannabis Legalization for Recreational Use in Illinois

On the ballot this November, Illinois voters may see a new question: Do you support the legalizing of recreational marijuana? This is a controversial topic people love and love to hate. With economics, morals, and legality coming into play, this is a problem with strong views on both sides of the aisle.


Revenue Boost. Taxes coming from marijuana sales will increase dramatically. We have seen this in all states that have legalized pot. Colorado, for example, earned over $247 million in revenue from marijuana licensing, fees, and sales. That money going back in to the Illinois economy would be extremely useful and beneficial, especially considering this state has the second worse debt in the country. Also, Illinois would likely be the only state in the Midwest that would have the votes to pass recreational marijuana, so travelers would come from near and far, further helping our economy.

Wider Access for Medicinal Use. Marijuana has shown to be effective at helping people cope with their pain and illnesses, from epilepsy to PTSD to depression. Those who do not have a medical marijuana dispensary nearby, or do not have the appropriate means to have a doctor sign off on their need for it, have the opportunity for easier access to the health benefits marijuana offers.

Safety Control. Legalizing recreational marijuana would allow for laws and regulations to be enforced on the type and quality of the product, ensuring consumers would know it is safe.

Criminal Justice Reform. If marijuana were legal, many say law enforcement officers would have more time to reduce more significant crimes such as those involving violence. If marijuana use was legal, prisons would have more room for serious, violent criminals.

Liberty. It is better to allow people to do what they want to do, and only regulate their behavior with rules and laws when doing so gives us significant gains in protection, justice, or prosperity; banning recreational use of cannabis does not give us benefits to justify the limitations of personal liberty we suffer.


Drug. Marijuana is a drug, no matter how you frame it. Drugs alter a person’s mental state, and many fear we do not know all the consequences to long term marijuana use.

Health Issues. Studies have shown that marijuana has caused brain, lung, and heart issues. Studies have claimed that it restricts blood flow in the brain, raises your heart rate, and higher levels of carcinogens than cigarettes are pumped into the lungs because of larger inhales by the smoker.

Morals. Many are against drugs of any kind, whether it be alcohol or prescription pills. This is a mind-altering substance, and that just does not fly with some people.

Gateway Drug. Some fear that marijuana use will lead to the use of harder drugs such as heroin or cocaine. It could be an introduction to the larger world of drugs, and studies have shown that marijuana use could lead to a higher risk of prescription drug use.

Who Will Profit?  If Cannabis is legalized for recreational use, perhaps the very violent and wicked persons (Mexican Drug Cartels, for example) who now make so much profit from the sale of illicit marijuana will have their businesses legitimized and normalized.

Social Decline and Quality of Life. People who smoke lots of marijuana tend to be annoying.  They stink (marijuana has an unpleasant odor), and when they are stoned they often act immaturely or congregate to loiter and play obnoxious music. If recreational marijuana use is allowed, we will have more of these nuisance users in our public parks and at public events, where they will diminish everyone else's enjoyment of public spaces and events.

Now that you have seen arguments on both sides, how do you think you will vote in November?

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Ban on Transgender Soldiers

 Donald Trump recommended a new policy saying that people who are transgender and have had gender reassignment surgery be disqualified from military service. In July of 2017, court rulings halted the ban because it could have been potentially unconstitutional. The Defense Secretary Jim Mattis recommended this to President Trump. He thought that by banning transgender people from the military, this would enhance the military’s ability to protect Americans and win wars. The thought was that the exclusion of transgender persons would help military people to survive better. In July President Trump posted on Twitter that the government will not accept or allow in any capacity for transgender people to be in the military. In August, he guided the Pentagon to reverse a policy made my President Obama to allow transgender people and people with gender dysphoria to serve in the military.

President Trump also tweeted that the military cannot be burdened with the disruption and medical costs that transgender people would bring to the military. Republicans are for this policy and say it is for saving money for the military, but Democrats and LGBT advocates are against the policy. The Human Rights Campaign suspects the Trump Administration of being prejudice against transgender people. Nancy Pelosi tweeted that no one should be turned away from serving in the military, and the ban is trying to humiliate transgender people in the military. Advocates say the ban is worse than the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy which banned gays from serving in the military. They could not talk about being openly gay. Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights said the policy has zero medical credibility and that it is anti-transgender propaganda made by Republicans. 

I’m curious about how many transgender persons serve in the military.  Does anyone have a guess?   I found a source at the BBC and at Snopes that review the research:

There are interesting historical examples of women who disguised themselves as men to serve in the military.  That history might be an interesting note to consider in a contemplation of the issue of transgendered soldiers.  I recommend you do a search for The Drummer Maid or the Female Drummer.
You might have informed your audience about the political reasons why the Commander in Chief might want to ban transgendered persons from serving.

There are the claims for direct reasons, which were covered fairly well in your paper:

1) It is detrimental to the fighting effectiveness of the military
2) The costs of helping those soldiers transition to their new gender through surgery and hormone treatments is too expensive a burden for the military to bear
3) Allowing the transgendered persons to serve makes it difficult to recruit persons who would otherwise be good soldiers.  Allowing transgendered soldiers harms the reputation of the military.
There are also indirect reasons.  I assume these are likely to be the real reasons for the attempt to ban transgendered soldiers, but I didn't pay much attention to the issue, and perhaps no one has published an analysis of the likely reasons for this policy.
  1. Trump and General Mattis are uncomfortable with transgendered persons, and want to exclude them from the military, and will do so because that is what they want to do and they have the power to do it.
  2. Trump wants to increase the intensity of the political support he has from those who approve of his presidency, because in some critical areas he is failing to deliver policies that will please those supporters, so he uses a ban on transgendered persons serving in the military as a way to appease his supporters.
  3. There are very few transgendered persons in the general population, and many people do not accept transgendered persons as normal or good (some people hate any challenges to their ideals about binary gender and sex). Since this is a small group with little political power, it’s easy to scapegoat them and direct attention and hostile emotions toward them, as this will help Trump get political support from people who don’t know about his other policies or their (harmful) effects, and who will ignore those policies because they are so delighted with the attack on the (politically weak) transgender interest groups.