Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Labor Class

I've been thinking about some of Brian's comments on economics and now that I'm working the night shift at a warehouse some questions have come up. The company I work for is a worldwide corporation that deals with office supplies. And like it or not I'm somewhat of an office supply dweeb. My thoughts from working this job and having just completed my student-teaching semester at a largely blue collar public high school have led me to wonder about the way economics have affected (or created) a class system in America.

The branch of the company I work for deals office supplies to businesses and our job as the night shift is to fill orders and get them in the trucks ready to deliver the next day. There are just under twenty of us and though I try not to play into stereo types, Nascar and country music are staples (there are probably about three meanings to that word being used here). Everyone is employed full time and many have families.

My problem is that though many of these folks work incredibly hard and long nights five days a week for an average of about $22,000 a year. I don't know that anyone besides the lone manager makes more than twelve dollars an hour. I thought a teacher's salary could be rough but how are people supposed to support families on this much money? Child care alone would consume more than half of that salary. Also because of this wage most of them will be forced to work until their bodies can no longer withstand it. Of course the turnover rate is astronomical. The company offers no shift differential pay like most companies do for employees that work odd hours. But there are those who really have no other options and so they stay and work harder and harder, hoping for a promotion which rarely comes along for those without any form of higher education, and skills are hard to obtain when you're nocturnal. Management likes to milk these folks for all they have, and why not, they have the control in the slim job market of this blue collar city. Frequently when someone decides they are not going to come to work anymore they will not replace that position for a long time in order to save money. Anyway, you get the picture. These people have been stamped with a label so they can be cheap labor.

In my student teaching semester I experienced insurmountable amounts of mediocrity. And when you think about it that is exactly what the name No Child Left Behind says it will do. I had students every few weeks would come into class and ask "Mr. Jones, am I getting a D-?" And if so they felt justified in sitting there and not particaping that day. Not only that but the school was so overrun with programs and prosals for getting test scores up that it seemed I rarely actually had an entire class period to do nothing but teach. The English teachers were so burned out that they did whatever they could to limit the amount of grading they had to do of student writing. Naturally then, the students practically refused to write much of anything at all. I've come to find out now that of the three high schools in the district, ten English teachers have resigned. After a particularly difficult day I thought to myself that the mission statement for the school should have a included something abobut "preparing students for mediocrity."

But then I thought, perhaps this is what America really wants or needs. These kids I taught will become construction workers and factory laborers. And because they didn't succeed all that well in the system they won't have much else a choice. But this perpetuates America's consumerism because with a cheap labor force we can products at a cheaper price. But is there a great price we pay? I wonder to what degree do we also cheapen the human soul.

I have already begun to find work so tedious that tonight I thought of memorizing poetry and reciting it while I worked to inject some degree of interest or soul into the hours we spend in silence performing these mindless tasks. I know this has sounded somewhat like a leftist rant but it is difficult not to get emotional when I'm dealing with people I care about. As little as I have in common with my coworkers I do care about them and wish them the best. As with my students because one reason I got into teaching is that I wanted to develop people and not material products. But these and other things lead me to believe that this capatilist nation purposely wants to create a labor force. When public education was expanding in the early twentieth century, leaders thought nothing of being quite obvious about this when modeling school administratin after successful business models for productivity. My problem with that is that we are dealing humans not lifeless material goods. I wonder are we simply more sublte about it now? Is there really an American dream or are those success stories the exceptions? Have we built America on success stories or on the backs of those striving to be that story?

Saturday, April 23, 2005


Tonight I went to a guest speaker, here at Knox College, speaking on the effects of chemical toxins on the body. She spoke specifically on how many of the thresholds established to protect humans from unsafe levels of toxins are established using the assumption the consumer is an average healthy adult. However obviously not every person drinking water, or using a PVC pipe is an average healthy adult. The most susceptible to such chemicals are then the young, the elderly, and the sick. Paying particularly close attention to infants the speaker noted that much of what keeps toxins out of the brain is a membrane called the brain blood barrier. This membrane is not fully developed in fetus and infants and thus trace amounts of a toxin that would not otherwise affect an adult because of the blood brain membrane, are able to penetrate infants brain and cause damage.

All to often it seems that we fail to take into account the affects of agents we are releasing into the environment and unfortunately the powerless have to pay for the sins of the perpetrators. This results in a human rights violation as noted above. Another such case would be global warming. The IPCC in its latest report (the IPCC is considered the expert organization on global warming and is fancied by several nations and is registered under the authority of the United Nations)noted that due to the increase of anthropogenic greenhouse gases into the atmosphere it is expected that the earth will warm an additional 1.6*C over the next 50 years causing sea levels to rise by as much as 10 meters. Now the main contributors to this are of course industrialized developed nations, they are often the ones doing the least to prevent it. Most notably the United States and Australia, both of whom abstained from the Kyoto Treaty. The IPCC report notes that such a change in the climate of the earth will be devastating to those living along the coasts in particular. Due to both the rise in sea levels and the increased frequency of extreme weather events. It also notes that developed nations will be the best equipped to adapt to such changes and that underdeveloped nations such as Bangladesh, the Maldives and other nations with significant portions of the population living along the coast will be most affected and possibly devastated--due to their lack of resources that would enable them the innovation necessary to adapt. In other words developed nations are changing the climate, gaining the benefits, refusing to fix it, and the developing world, which is already in a state of oppression from us will be forced to pay the greater debt. Again these things are not only environmental issues but human rights issues.

I will leave you with one final thought. What will cause us to change? All to often I confront an apathy regarding environmental issues in public that make me sick. We have erroneously separated ourselves from the natural world and fail to see the vital connection that still remains. Maybe we need an E-11, that is an environmental disaster of some scale to wake people up to this reality. It is unfortunate but may be true. Whether that is another unfortunate tsunami, or rising sea levels. An enviromental disaster would force people to deal with in a real way the ways in which we are corrupting this planet.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Truly American

Jazz embodies America. Our hope and the American dream can be found in its rolling cadence of beat and blues. The music provides a framework from which the artist aspires to acomplish thier own dreams and make a name. Much like the American dream which states that our own determination will yield us our potential. Jazz is a group effort, but when it the light shines on you--perform as an idividual or bust. Jazz promotes the individual because America does. It is a truly American art form reflective of our culture.