The SRC & Your Soul

In case you hadn’t heard, Philly’s public schools are kind of a mess right now. Around town, empty school buildings sit marked with “for sale” signs as if it’s normal. Children have literally died due to inadequate staffing. The latest plot point in the government-failing-a-generation saga unraveled on Monday morning when the School Reform Commission (the district’s governing body) unanimously – and secretly – voted to cancel the contracts of the 15,000 district employees.

The most significant implication of this move is that PSD faculty and staff will soon need to start contributing toward their healthcare. Of course, this isn’t at all unusual: almost all of PA’s teachers pay for part of their healthcare. But as many have counter-argued, Philly teachers make significantly less money (by 19%!) than their suburban counterparts, all while working in a much more stressful environment. Regardless of where anyone stands on the issue, this move is expected to save the cash-starved district around $44 million.

After reading a lot about this, here’s what I find most interesting: shortly after ending Monday’s secret meeting, SRC chair Bill Green pointed out that “Every single stakeholder has stepped up to help the district close its structural deficit — the principals, our blue-collar workers…It is time for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers to share in the sacrifice.” Continue reading →

Eastern, I’m Sorry

Eastern University, my alma mater, has found itself in some hot water. For those of you who don’t follow Eastern’s affairs, the current scandal is the result of the president, Dr. Bob Duffett, signing a letter to the other president, Barack Obama, asking for Eastern and other religious institutions to be exempt from a piece of legislation that bans hiring discrimination against LGBT people. Put simply: Eastern has never hired gay people who are sexually active, and they would like to keep it that way.

You can see why, in Pennsylvania, in 2014, this has a whole bunch of people pretty pissed off.

But I’m not really going to comment on Dr. Duffett’s move, or whether or not I think it’s right or wrong. A lot of alum have taken to the internet to voice their thoughts on the matter, and I don’t have much to contribute to this conversation. Here, I’m mostly interested in talking about why I feel bad for Eastern.

One of my favorite things about my time at Eastern was that, for the first (and maybe last) time in my life, I got to share a classroom, dining hall, and residence with a whole bunch of people who came together from pretty different paradigms. Different parts of the country. Different socioeconomic backgrounds. Different political affiliations. Different theological positions. Sometimes, different races or sexual orientations. Some of these different people were my professors. Some were my friends. And we all peacefully shared classrooms and dinner tables, together raising big questions and entertaining answers. I think my favorite thing about Eastern University is that it attracts so many different kinds of Christians, and I’m a better person because of this.

But, practically speaking, this can be pretty problematic for an institution that runs almost exclusively on student tuition and private donations. The target audience that Eastern needs to reach falls all over the political and theological spectrum. In some parts of the country, there are parents and pastors that would never let their kids consider Eastern, because it teaches evolution and cares about “social justice.” Meanwhile, in other parts of the country, there are prospective students who would never consider Eastern because it is far too conservative – they won’t even hire LGBT people!

Should there ever be a day when Eastern begins to hire LGBT faculty, the university will have a lot of support from many alum and faculty. But, it will also alienate a lot of donors and prospective students, which would be a huge financial blow.

This is not to suggest that Dr. Duffett’s letter signing was the right thing to do. Honestly, I think because Eastern attracts so many different kinds of people, it’s screwed either way. Whoops.

Also – I’m sure a lot of the alum that are so riled up about this have been LGBT allies for a long time, even before coming to Eastern. However, I can’t help but suspect that some of them are allies largely because of their Eastern education. As in, they wouldn’t be so upset with Eastern right now if they hadn’t gone to Eastern. Whoops again.

In addition to expressing pity for my alma mater, I’d also like to ask my fellow alum to keep in mind that, despite its best intentions and our strong desires, Eastern University is not just a pure academic bastion where people come together to read, write, and discuss. It is also a business, at least insofar those classrooms need to keep standing and those professors need to get paid. In this fallen, broken world, money often beats out ideology. I doubt that Dr. Duffett is merely a fundamentalist bigot. Instead, I suspect that he’s simply trying to financially preserve a struggling institution – perhaps in vain, perhaps all the wrong ways, and certainly, at no small cost.

What I Will Never Ask My Future Children

When I was about six years old, I decided that when I grew up, I wanted to have all of the jobs, expect whatever it was that my mom did, because her job seemed boring and sometimes she didn’t come home until after dinner. This career ambition was, of course, ridiculous and childish (I was six), but I remember feeling pressure (I was six) from teachers, books, Sesame Street, etc., to settle on a plan for my distant future, so I decided to go with something that covered all my bases.

Looking back on this, I’ve decided to make one of those funny declarations that people without children make so easily: I will never ask my future children what they want to be when they grow up.

To be sure, I certainly want my unborn children to have dreams and ambitions. I just don’t think we have any business expecting someone who was recently potty trained to articulate how they wish to spend their adult life.

I will never ask my children what they want to be when they grow up because we live in a culture where discontentment is the norm. Boredom comes easily to us and we need constant change and stimulation. One of the ways that this manifests itself is in the prevalent need to have something to look forward to – an event, milestone, accomplishment, whatever. In constantly looking toward the future, sometimes we lose interest in the present. Children might be the exception to this: they’re not really thinking long term, and they shouldn’t be. I want to form my children in such a way that they are comfortable being content with the present.

I will never ask my children what they want to be when they grow up because their teachers, books, and Sesame Street will already have already nagged them about this, and I know that they will continue to get that question a lot once they’re teenagers and young adults. We spend our entire youth dreaming about adulthood and when we finally get there we discover that it’s not a dream come true – it’s real life, and it’s actually kind of mundane. In our twenties and thirties, we probably won’t be working at our dream jobs or making a huge difference in the world. Objectively, that’s totally fine, but it’s hard to avoid disappointment – this is what I’ve been looking forward to since I was six?

I will never ask my children what they want to be when they grow up because I want them to know that there is so much more to life that one’s career. If they never get their dream job, or never even figure out what their dream job is, I don’t want them to feel that existential anxiety that millennials are so prone to. While I won’t ask them what they want to be when they grow up, I might ask them what kind of house they want to live in, or what kind of pets they want to own, or where they might go on vacation, or what kind of Christmas traditions they’d like to have with their future families. Because all of these things are important too, and in a culture where jobs often dictate lives, we rarely encourage kids to dream about domesticity.

I will never ask my children what they want to be when they grow up because while I don’t care very much about which college they go to (if any) or which career path they follow, I am extremely interested in what kind of people they turn out to be. I want them to be the kind of people who invest in their communities, love well, and do everything – at work, at home, at the grocery store, everywhere – with excellence, because these things are far more important than what is listed on their resumes.

I will never ask my children what they want to be when they grow up because I am not working at my dream job, I’m totally okay with that, and it’s way more fun to think about what kind of crazy ambitions I have for my future family than it is to think about the next step in my career.