Monthly Archives: May 2011

My Life is Like a Pearl Necklace

bnm(of Itty Bitty Miracles All Strung Together.)    by Christina Ivazes

This story is dedicated to the parents of Joanna Newsom, who nurtured an angel!

 

Although it was obvious there wasn’t much living going on in our living room, I never thought of it as being empty until the morning after that magical night.

The temporary territories we called “home” only contained necessities and usually didn’t include things like couches or coffee tables, and definitely did not include anything decorative hanging on walls. Our family necessities were mattresses, cooking and eating utensils, a few pieces of clothing each and a kitchen table with chairs. As a child, I never questioned the need for more furniture to create the warmth of a home. Our view of what was normal was designed by what we saw and experienced, not by what we did not.

In between homes, my father must have scavenged assorted pieces of furniture quickly to provide us with the basics until we moved onto the next house or apartment. We only carried what we could fit into the trunk of our car and a few toys, though there were still the instinctive and repetitious fights with my siblings over who got the ‘baby spoon’ or ‘baby fork.’ It mattered that whatever it was stood out from the others because in a family of five children, standing out was the ultimate goal and a complete set of matching silverware and dishware was something only Grandmas were made of.

Or perhaps baby spoons and those other coveted objects disguised the fact that there were much deeper terrors in my life. This may also explain why I have guarded a few precious and seemingly insignificant memories, elevating them to the prodigious events of my otherwise tragic childhood recollections.

Something else I should mention is that even though we didn’t have living room furniture in that short-lived Mountain View home in California, we were blessed with two new sets of second-hand bunk beds while we were living there! It felt to me like we had hit the lottery when my parents carried them into our house. I don’t know how they did it. These beds were the first real bedroom furniture for us older kids. One set was made of wood and the other set was metal, which I distinctly remember being painted a pale green. They were each put in a separate bedroom. I remember the thin, green metal railings. I slept on the top bunk because I was the oldest. I must have been about six or seven years old.

Though the arrival of bunk-beds was monumental, it doesn’t compare to the unexpected event that highlights this home like a blazing light in my childhood. And forgive me while I explain a bit more about my father because he was the conductor of this particular event. Daddy was a house painter by trade in those days before he became a chimney sweep. But foremost, he was a musician.

Daddy played the horns. He played trombone, baritone horn, and the trumpet (which he played in the military service). He must have been quite good because when I was older Daddy told stories of two famous brothers who had big bands in the 40’s who were fighting over who would have him in their band. He decided against their offers. He also boasted that Martha Graham had offered him to be her lead musician when she went out on tour, but he turned her down too. Even back then, Daddy’s brilliance was overshadowed by his eccentricities that became the theme of my childhood. Eccentricities that made poverty pale in comparison. Like when Daddy eventually added giant gongs to his instrumentation, but those gongs are yet another story.

Yes, Daddy’s passions lied in his life as a musician. Ironically this same lifestyle, the lifestyle that attracted Mommy to him the night he played at Nepenthe in Big Sur (with Henry Miller in the audience), was where many of their marital problems erupted. As the eldest, I observed and experienced the tensions between Daddy and Mommy more directly than my siblings as Mommy spilled her anger and frustrations onto me in the form of yelling and beatings. All of this going on while Daddy dedicated his evenings to music after a hard day of work.

Though my story takes place in the late 1960’s, Daddy was known as one of the first people to perform during a ‘light show’ for the other counter-cultural Beatniks in San Francisco from the 1940’s. (A light show is a moving picture of swirling food coloring and oil on a projector that is displayed on a screen while spontaneous instrumentation is played in the background, most closely related to the ‘acid jazz’ of our modern era.) Daddy was way ahead of his time with the ‘in crowd,’ so he said, although I never understood any of this stuff until I became an adult. I was just a kid.  I didn’t really understand what he did late at night in the garage with other people that never came into our house, with the exception of this one night.

I recall Daddy asking Mommy for permission to store an item for one of his friends, only overnight. Like a dutiful wife, she complied. Later that afternoon I walked into our stark, white walled living room and saw it. The most beautiful thing I had ever seen illuminated in the far left corner of the room as if it had its own stage lighting. It was a giant, magnificent golden harp as exquisite and curvaceous as a mermaid, as golden as an award’s statue, and as finely strung as if by a hundred angels. I am quite sure I lost my breath. As I moved in to get a closer look, Daddy blurted out in his firm, no messing around manner, “Don’t you dare touch it Christie!” Daddy’s wrath was my biggest fear. He was always the bad guy in every nightmare I had about Mommy and him fighting. The last thing I wanted was for one of those nightmares to become real.

bnj   So, to state the obvious, there was no way I was getting anywhere near that gorgeous instrument; even though I wanted to so bad I could feel it resonating throughout my entire being. I just planted myself on the bare wooden floor in the opposite corner of the room and studied it.

A child’s active imagination is an amazing pool of creative wealth and mine was extremely active in those days. My school report cards were speckled with comments about too much ‘daydreaming in class.’ In this particular moment, my eyes glued to the harp, I was liberated to daydream without teacher retribution. Familiar cartoon images of angels playing harps started racing through my mind. I envisioned full-sized and feather light angels dressed in gossamer fabric playing sweet melodies that drifted off in never ending sonorous threads. The imagined sounds and physical dimensions of this instrument seemed larger than life and much grander than I had ever realized the influence of a harp could be. It sounded luscious. It glowed profusely, filling the entire room with its beauty. It became my refuge, offering me a perfect and tiny, yet infinitesimal moment of peace through my eyes and imagination.

Today, I can only speculate that that was one night where I truly had sweet dreams, instead of the ritual nightmares of Mommy and Daddy fighting. Nightmares that always left me in a urine soaked sweat by morning. But on that following morning I wasn’t wet. Without hesitation, I jumped up and raced into the living room to greet my wonderful new friend.

My heart sank.  It was gone, taking my dreams away with it; taking its golden light from my otherwise dark reality. The living room was no longer a stage. It was just a barren, cold living room again, like the dozens of other barren, cold living rooms throughout my childhood. How I wished I had secretly snuck up to touch and strum those magical strings just once, to leave the room with its real, everlasting echoes of angels. Why didn’t I? I knew why.

But the feeling of its soothing sound and its golden glow beaming from the corner of our gallery stark living room will always sit inside me, illuminating a corner of my mind with magic and surprise. I had been very lucky and I knew it. I had been graced with the potential of the ever appearing surprises life offers when you least expect them. To this day, whenever I see a golden harp, I am transported. That warm glow becomes the present and I thank the harp for offering refuge to the little girl in me and for the proof in the miracles of possibility.

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Education Reform and the Over-Inflated, Over-Rated 4-year College Degree

by Christina Ivazes  

 The current state of the US economy, our unskilled labor force, the need for educational reform, and the skyrocketing costs of a college education demand we be smart and efficient about solutions that affect and connect all of the above. Perhaps a better strategy is to back away from the ideal that every American should go to college. Yes, we can all agree that every American should have the opportunity to go to college if they choose. However, to give our students and our nation the best educated and skilled workforce, we should not focus on every American going to college, but first, on every American graduating from high school with two years of career training. This pragmatic strategy offers numerous benefits to our country. 

vh   By becoming more efficient and effective in preparing students for the real world and college, the US will save money and jobs. In 2010, The Fiscal Times reports, “just 56 percent of those who enroll in a four-year college earn a bachelor’s degree…Some students drop out because of the trouble paying the cost—the average college debt upon graduation is a whopping $24,000” (Reynolds Lewis). According to the U.S. Dept. of Education Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the cost of a four-year college education is from $18,900 to $35,500 and rising. We also know that these quotes are a low-average and not really what a four-year is typically costing our college graduates, where $50-$100,000 is a more common estimate today in 2011. And graduation does not necessarily equate employment as we see with a glut of unemployed college graduates today weighed down with inflated student loan and credit card debt. There are jobs however, that are immune to outsourcing and which do not warrant an expensive four-year degree.

Secondary and post-secondary vocational and technical training programs are historically lower in cost with competitive salaries to those earned from four-year college degrees. Matthew B. Crawford advocates for the many benefits of trade-based training in his bookShop Class as Soulcraft, “You’re likely to be less damaged, and quite possibly better paid, as an independent tradesman than as a cubicle-dwelling tender of information system or low-level “creative” (53). The Houston Chronicle published an article supporting Crawford’s concept stating, “Mechanics of all types are in high demand and can command a high hourly wage… Many blue collar jobs require training through apprenticeships or vocational training programs and others may require on-the-job training or passing an aptitude test prior to employment” (Nielson). This is not a proposal to eliminate the college track for high school students in America.

Shouldn’t we beg the questions: Why are we so single tracked about how to create a productive & competitive job force? And, shouldn’t we think about downsizing the cost of education along with our lifestyles? The IES reports that in 2008, earnings for an employed four-year college graduate are on average of $55,000/males, $45,000/females per year. Compare the costly four-year college degree with training and apprenticeship (which can begin as a junior in high school) for an electrician who can earn from $34,000 and upwards with no student loan debt with just two more years of post-secondary training for $400-$1000/yr. “Semi-truck drivers…start out making $50,000 annually…and only requires about four weeks of training to obtain a license” (Nielson). Debt free high school training in the trades or technology/health careers can yield from $34,000-$50,000+ per year. Another pragmatic idea Crawford suggests is “even if you do go to college, learn a trade in the summers” (53).    By increasing high school career training programs, we can create a stronger buy-in for students, reducing training costs while also reducing the costs of high school dropouts for our society.

cgh  The costs of high school dropouts are far-reaching beyond the costs of college dropouts. According to the 2007 report The Economic Losses from High School Drop-outs in California, the significant impact from high school dropouts come from lost tax revenue, Medical and Medicare expenditures, fiscal costs to fight crime, prosecute and incarcerate felons, and increased assistance for both felons and their families. “The economic magnitudes are substantial” (2 Belfield, Levin). After deducting the cost of education, the average total lifetime social gains for a high school graduate is $391,910 per graduate in the State of California, with the savings for black males being the highest at $681,130 (Table 18, Belfield and Levin). My point is not to stereotype but to acknowledge that we need to do everything in our capacity to invest in our high school students to become ready employable adults and/or ready for college, not inmates and/or recruits for drug cartels.

Career and technical training can be a ray of hope for all high school students, not just the disenchanted. Crawford makes a strong case in favor of the trades in Shop Class as Soulcraft, including his highlight on their little recognized intellectual merit, “I quickly realized there was more thinking going on in the bike shop than in my previous job at the think tank” (27). With a PhD. he describes a collegiate fall from grace as a blessing because it led him back to his original high school training as a motorcycle mechanic.  Crawford describes his own cognitive journey as well as those of other tradesmen he interviewed. The conclusion is worth a new focal point in our education reform. In Crawford’s view “Given the intrinsic richness of manual work— cognitively, socially, and in its broader psychic appeal—the question becomes why it has suffered such a devaluation as a component of education” (27). Some may view this idea as undermining a college education, but what Crawford is really pointing out is that “Practical know-how… is always tied to the experience of a particular person. It can’t be downloaded, it can only be lived” (162). Children and teenagers have always responded positively to the value of hands-on learning, especially when it has a practical application in their lives.

At the age of 16, a teenager’s cognitive maturity starts him or her on the path towards the reality of the adult world and all that entails. You may wonder what cognitive maturity has to do with a broad-based high school career and technical training program, but if students are struggling in school, have no money or family support for college, many see no future in the value of their junior and senior years. Challenged students need full engagement to prevent them from becoming avoidable statistics. By focusing on Math and English proficiency by the end of sophomore year, juniors and seniors can take core subjects and science classes with their half day of training courses to ensure they are ‘college ready’ at graduation. This schedule does not limit a student’s education, it enhances it by making it relevant; it prepares the student both for life and for college should they choose to attend.

 cvb  Though career and technical training in high school is not the solution for every student, it can serve a healthy percentage of our labor force. Some model programs in the US illustrate the potential of every high school, such as the Howard High School of Technology in Delaware.  The 2010 report by the Delaware Department of Education declares, “Howard has a high graduation rate (97 percent) and daily attendance rate (95 percent) and a low serious infraction rate….In addition to an academic program, Howard students choose one of the following career pathways: finance and business; carpentry; computer network administration; cosmetology; culinary arts; dental assisting; electrical trades; engine technology; legal administrative assisting; medical assisting; nursing technology; public service; or structural steel detailing.”  This richly diverse program serves a variety of student and community needs. It is a model that deserves replication.

There are still many questions to address in more detail before programs like Howard can be implemented effectively across America.  Questions like: How will we pay for this?  How can we make a solid case for the benefits of high school career training that will not be sabotaged by budget cuts every time state and federal revenues fluctuate? How can we refocus dollars from punitive institutions to education so we can create a higher skilled work force, reduce high school dropouts and prison populations while also reducing student loan and credit card debt? The answers to these questions and are necessary for the design of lasting and effective education reform that will strengthen our economy and society.  Of course, to change the current system, we may also have to challenge for profit college and prison industries that have benefitted by the shrinking of high school career education in the U.S., but it’s a challenge worth taking up.

Work cited

Belfield, Clive R. and Henry M. Levin. “The Economic Losses From High School Dropouts in California.” University of California, Santa Barbara: California Dropout Research Project Report #1, August 2007. PDF.(Table 18) Web. 7 April 2011.

Crawford, Matthew B. Shop Class as Soulcraft. New York: The Penguin Press. 2009. Print.

Delaware Department of Education. “Delaware Partnership Zone: Howard High School of Technology.” PDF. 2010. 21 April 2011.

Nielson, Lisa. “Highest Demand Blue Collar Careers.” The Houston Chronicle. 2011. Web. 7 April 2011.

Reynolds Lewis, Katherine. “High College Dropout Rate Threatens US Growth.” The Fiscal Times. October 28, 2010. Web. 22 April 2011.

 Wei, Christina Chang. “What is the Price of College?” U.S. Department of Education. December, 2010. PDF. (Table 1). Web. 7 April 2011.

 

 

 

 

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