Friday, August 31, 2012

True Modern Republican and Christian?

For the last week I have watched the RNC, partially because I feel more than ever the need to be fully informed before I vote in November and partially because I assigned watching both conventions to my AP classes. And as I've watched the convention, and listened to the various commentary surrounding the convention, my personal struggle with American politics continues to grow.

I did not grow up in a particularly political household. My maternal grandmother was a diehard Kennedy Democrat, but my parents, who do regularly exercise their right to vote, raised us with values that most closely resemble those of the Republican party. I have assumed for years, based on occasional discussions at home, that my parents tend to vote Republican. I, however, have desired to consider myself an Independent, mostly because I don't want to be tied down to any particular political party. I agree with different ideas spouted off by members of both parties and try to vote for the individual who I believe will be best for the job at hand, whether it be president, governor, or state representative. I have friends and family members who belong to both parties who I believe ascribe to the ideals of their parties because they believe that those ideals are what will best move this country forward. I respect that, and I'm glad that I live in a country where that is allowed, although I increasingly feel that it is becoming less acceptable. Far too often the media appears to not believe in "agreeing to disagree." Instead, all sides of the media appear to revel in the shouting match that has become American politics while the American people continue to struggle: failing schools, unemployment, skyrocketing student loans, foreclosures, etc. Both sides say they have solutions, but neither side wants to compromise to find a solution, ANY solution.

But recently this hasn't been my biggest struggle. My biggest struggle has been the lack of concern and human compassion that I see plaguing the policies of the Republican party. And it is these policies that I see flying in the face of Biblical truths that I have known since I was a little girl. It is one thing to stand up for the unborn and be against abortion. It is another thing entirely to make seriously misguided and insensitive statements about what happens when a woman is raped and robbed of her power and dignity. Yes, Akin was publicly blasted from all sides by those in his party, but how many of those blasting him had secretly had those thoughts themselves, and might still have those thoughts? It is one thing to say that you believe in education and that a strong education is important to strengthening America. It is another thing entirely to take power away from public school teachers who are desperately trying to educate in a system that keeps getting budgets slashed. It is one thing to say you want to see a healthy nation. It is another thing entirely to refuse to work with the other side to come up with a health plan that will ensure that ALL Americans receive the best health care, saving lives and tax dollars. And most of all, it is one thing to say that you are concerned about the millions of Americans who are out of work. But it is another thing entirely to ignore the widening gap between the richest and the poorest in the United States.

I am no economist, and while I understand and love history, complex numbers are often over my head. I was a good math student, but as I tell my students, I haven't done calculus in 15 years, and they wouldn't want me to help them with it now. I believe in the free market. I believe that people should have the freedom to start their own businesses, build those businesses, and if they are blessed and become wealthy, good for them. They deserve it. I went into teaching because I love English and history and I wanted to do that for the rest of my life. I love my job and I love what I do. But I also knew that I would not become rich doing that. No, I would not teach without getting paid, primarily because it takes me away from my kids and that would be a lot of work with no extrinsic reward. If I'm being honest, yes, I believe that teaching professionals should be paid more money for what they do. But success has a lot of definitions, and for me success is a good marriage, healthy, happy kids who grow up into fine Christian adults, and students who find their own success once they leave my classroom because of what they have learned in my classroom. Success should not be about money but instead financial independence and satisfaction with where you are in your life. Unfortunately, this is not the impression I have gotten watching the many speeches coming out of Tampa this week.

There is nothing wrong with wealth, and I don't believe people should get something for nothing. But I do believe in ethical business practices. I do believe that the minimum wage in this country is NOT competitive and people cannot expect working single moms to get off of welfare if they cannot afford both school and daycare with what they are earning. I do believe that health care in this country costs too much (look at a recent bill from the doctor lately?). I do believe that we need regulation to keep businesses and financial institutions in check. And I do believe that the attitude "It's my money and I should be able to do with it what I want so keep your hands off" is not only unethical, but un-Christian. This is not about class warfare. This is about taking care of each other. This is about making sure that people have true equal opportunity. There are a lot of things that are broken in this country, and it is time for Christian Republicans to question the "keep your hands off my money" attitude that appears to be repeated by one Republican politician after another. Jesus said "give back to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's". Do you think that he agreed with Roman policies? Do you think he liked the way they were running the entire empire? Personally, I don't think he did. But he recognized the need to pay taxes to ensure that the empire ran semi-smoothly. And the early Jewish Christians understood the importance of taking care of each other, many sacrificing wealth because they were Christians and the political environment would not allow them to keep their wealth. No, Christian businessmen do not need to give away all their money, and no, they shouldn't insist on paying a lot more in taxes. But it is time for the Christians in the Republican party to start showing that they have compassion, not just in word, but in policy. It is time for Christians in the Republican party to start demanding that those policies take care of the struggling American people and help them obtain independence, not just force it on them. That is the way to gain the trust and respect of the American people, and possibly win an election.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

At Least the Mortgage is Paid, Right?

At least, this is what Jeff and I have been trying to say to ourselves for the last two years. We knew that a move to another city and attempts to sell our house in a market that was still dropping was going to be difficult. As difficult as it has been for several reasons, we don't regret our move to Fort Wayne. It has been good for both of us professionally, our family has more time together, and God shows us over and over that this is where we are supposed to be. But that doesn't change the fact that our second house still sits in Indianapolis, unsold and currently occupied by a second renter.

Seven years ago we bought what was supposed to be our second starter house when we moved to Indy. We couldn't afford to buy our "dream" house, and so the hope was that we would buy a cheaper house with little money down, avoid spending money on rent that we would never see back, and after five years or so, we would sell our house at a profit and take any other money that we had saved and buy a bigger, nicer house. We figured that by then we would be in great shape financially, we would probably have at least one kid, and we would most likely be quickly outgrowing our small one story, three bedroom, one and a half bath house. And five years later, we were in better shape financially, we did have one kid, and we felt like we were starting to outgrow our house. Then came a job transfer at the same time that the bottom was falling out of the housing market, and no one knew just deep the bottom was. We had to move to another city, so we had to do something with our house.

When we moved to the Fort in the middle of summer, our house was still on the market. We purchased our house here, moved, and left a nearly empty house in Indy. We bought our fixer-upper and continued to make payments in Indy, hoping and praying that the house would be out of our hands soon, but nothing was moving in our neighborhood. Our realtor started looking for renters and we waited for good news. Then we made our first month of double payments (which we would have been doing whether we purchased or rented a house here). Two more months went by and we were still making double payments when we finally found a renter. Finally our mortgage payments were covered, or at least they were covered for 12 months. Once that lease was up the house sat empty for two more months, and when we finally got a good phone call from our realtor with news that our new renters wanted a 15 month lease we were elated. Our mortgage would be covered for longer than a year, and maybe by the time the lease was up the market would have improved enough that we could finally get rid of our house and at the very least break even.

We never heard "boo" from our last renter, besides a couple minor household repairs. I wish I could say that same about the current renters. First the coil on the water heater needed to be replaced. Then a couple months later, the hard water (and the house has really hard water) finally made it clear that the water heater needed to be replaced. We knew that this would need to happen eventually, we were just hoping that the house would be sold before it needed to be done. Most recently we have had several problems with the two and a half year old air conditioner. We got a call last week telling us that it was out and someone from the office had been sent out to see what the problem was to fix it. A fix was apparently made and we got another phone call. It still wasn't working. We insisted on calling the people who installed the HVAC unit and after a series of phone calls and arrangements, they went out there, fixed a leak, and replaced all the coolant that had leaked out. We got another call. It still wasn't working, the tenant was raising a stink and insisted on someone coming out to look at the unit so, going over our head and the head of our realtor, someone was sent out to look at it again and gave the diagnosis of another leak. Angry that there was still a problem, I insisted that the original installers go back out there. After all, we had paid them already and if the problem wasn't fixed then they needed to fix it. Plus, we were seriously concerned that the more people that looked at the unit, the more likely we were to void the warranty. The final diagnosis today? Possible water in the line and a cheap filter that was being sucked into the motor.

Frustrated doesn't even begin to describe how I feel about the situation. Jeff reminds me that I would be upset if the roles were reversed, and possibly, but our tenant was so insistent and kept raising such a stink that there was one unnecessary fix, and with that many people looking at it, we have no way of knowing what the original problem was. And all this during the coolest two weeks of an unbearably hot summer. A period of time where air-conditioning was nice and helpful on a couple days, but not absolutely necessary. Not like when the unit was last replaced. It was January, the coldest week of the winter so far, and not only were we worried about freezing and cracking pipes, but we had a baby who needed a house that was warmer than 45 degrees. Ok, so maybe I'm not being very sympathetic, but I'm frustrated and tired. I'm tired of spending money that doesn't exist on a house that we do not live in and don't intend to live in again. I'm tired of having a second mortgage on our credit report. I'm tired of phone calls that are nothing but bad news. I'm tired of wondering if we bought the wrong house seven years ago or we were just victims of the crash. Jeff has never made much of a secret of the fact that he didn't love our house in Indy. It was much smaller than our first house and didn't have any of the "musts" that we had agreed on. But in five years I put a lot of myself into the house. I painted every room except the smallest bedroom and half bath. We tore out carpet in two rooms and laid down beautiful laminate flooring. We redid a cramped and outdated kitchen. And all those improvements will most likely not mean a thing when we finally sell. At this point I'm just hoping to not owe money when someone else gets to sign the next 30 years of their lives away to own our house. Yes, we have rental income that covers our monthly mortgage payments, but what is it costing us?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Creation of a Mancave: The Beginning

While I never liked the window in the shower of our bathroom, Jeff and I loved the basement in our first house. It really wasn't anything special, but it was the place the two of us and our young dog spent most of our time. In the three years that we lived near Gary, IN, two of which were in our first house, we lived in Indiana and every day I drove towards Chicago to teach on the far south side and Jeff drove the opposite direction to Michigan. We were young and childless and by the time we both crashed at home, we frequently cooked something easy, or probably more often got carry out, and took our food to the basement to eat dinner and relax before crashing in bed long before we do now. Our house had a living room and a dining room that were rarely used. Instead, the table upstairs became storage for my school work and bills and the basement became our dining and living room. We started to devise grand plans for the basement, but we moved away from the house long before we had the time and money to do anything significant with it. But those dreams stuck with Jeff and appeared to haunt him for the five years we lived in our basementless house in Indianapolis. We're from Michigan, and we had both grown up with basements. My parents have never lived in a house without a basement, at least not as far as I remember. And Jeff wanted his man cave, a place where he could put up all his sports memorabilia, have a bar, and just hang out and watch movies and sports and play video games. It would be his space, but to have that in Indy meant either risking flooding due to the high water table or spending considerably more on a house. When we moved to Fort Wayne, a basement was a must on our list. We wouldn't even look at a house if it didn't have a basement. Luckily for us, our 1950s tri-level also has a good-sized, usable basement.

And what a basement it is. Our first glance at the basement was dim. The house did not have electricity, so we had to use flashlights and the flash on our digital camera to get any idea of what the basement looked like. As we became familiar with the house, we used our eyes and anecdotal evidence to figure out what happened down there. At some point, most likely when the power was out, the basement flooded, causing a significant amount of damage to the paneling in the main room and the cabinets in the "utility" room. The carpeting on the stairs going into the basement was disgusting, only this time the damage was due to water instead of cats. The basement was an ugly, scary mess. But like the rest of the house, we saw potential, and Jeff saw the man cave that he so desperately desired.





The only work that we have done in the basement is destruction. The first weekend we moved in Jeff and a friend tore out the cabinets and started on the paneling, trying to get rid of anything with water damage. My dad continued the work on the paneling during a visit to work on the floors in the guest room and what would become the nursery. By the time we moved in, the ceiling tiles, weighed down by the trapped moisture in the basement, covered the floor and were picked up and taken to the trash. In a matter of weeks, most of the damage was out of the basement, a new water softener was installed, and we had a dehumidifier working overtime. Eventually Jeff rigged the dehumidifier to drain directly into the sump pump which meant we never had to worry about emptying it.

For the most part, we have left the basement alone for the last two years, but with the bathroom done, Jeff needs a new project and so he is moving on to the basement while I put the finishing touches on the bathroom and move on to the living room. In the last two weeks he has torn apart the last section of yuckiness that needed to go. The previous owners had put a wall around the water heater and a separate basement furnace. Since we had never seen this before, we weren't sure what to make of it, but I did know that the moldy drywall made me wary enough that I usually didn't encourage people to check out the basement. And while the carpet had come off of the stairs, the tack strips remained, making the stairs not only dangerous, but incredibly dirty. Now Jeff has removed those problem areas, and now the dreaming grows.

Current discussion surrounds what to do about the cedar closet in the corner of the room that will be the entertainment room. I want to rip the closet out and save the cedar for a future bathroom remodel. Jeff wants to turn the closet in the bar, reasoning that with the door we will be able to lock the kids out. I think that it's an awkward placement and I was looking forward to a strip of cabinets, a fridge, a microwave, and countertop that would serve as great entertainment space as well. The picture below shows you what we are working with.








Of course, that is a decision that needs to be made before the more expensive decisions like entertainment system and seating, which is a little further off than Jeff would like (of course, he would like the whole project done tomorrow).  Also to be decided is the fate of the fireplace, which became the master work of some previous occupant, and the now tack-free stairs, which I either want rebuilt or at the very least I would like to see new stair tread.

 

But this work in progress will hopefully see some progress in the next year, and I will blog it all along the way. In the meantime, here is a picture of the pile from the wall surrounding the water heater and basement furnace.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Coming to Terms With Using Daycare: A Working Mother Reflects

It is important to understand my background. I am the oldest of four girls and my mom stayed home with all of us. Growing up I played on my own, with my occasionally willing and available mother, and with neighbor kids when they were available. At least this was my life until I was I was in preschool, where I excitedly got to play with kids my own age. I was one of the only girls in my preschool class, and while I have a few very close girlfriends, I honestly get along better with boys, which I blame on that first year of school when I spent an entire year of preschool playing He-Man and playing He-Man's girl friend, although I don't remember her name. Please notice that "girl" and "friend" are separated by a space. With that upbringing I spent my entire life believing that I would also be a SAHM, gladly doing my duty to raise my large family (at the time I was thinking 4-5 kids) with my husband.

Fast forward nearly 30 years after this initial fantasy started and you will find me a 33-year-old working mother of two, and (dare I say it?) only two. This is not the time and place to discuss the so-called "mommy wars". I'll save that for a particularly irritating day when I can't take the discussion anymore. This is about coming to terms with using childcare, and about getting to where we are now. When I got pregnant with our daughter the discussion was short. I asked my husband whether he wanted me to stay home, he said that it was up me to me and our finances, and after a quick glance at finances, increase in health care, and some self-reflection, I quickly made the decision to keep teaching. Ok, decision made. But now we had to find the right child care for our baby, our precious, desperately desired, baby. It was not a decision I took lightly, and one that left me with a head spinning constantly trying to figure out if I had made the right decision.

Last year when I was discussing plans for babysitters for both of our children, my aunt asked why I would consider taking the kids to a babysitter on days that I was not working, but she was really questioning my decision to work at all. The implication was "you don't want someone else raising your kids." No, no I don't want someone else raising our kids, so let's clear up one misconception about working moms. WE raise our kids. WE get up with them in the middle of the night and, when they are really young, nurse or feed them bottles until they hopefully fall contentedly back asleep. WE lay in bed with them to scare away the monsters. WE clean up their vomit and obsessively check temperatures when they are sick. WE read them the bedtime stories and make sure they brush their teeth. WE make the all important decisions about taking them to church, having them baptized (the most important decision I've made for both of my children in the last three years), and teaching them how to pray. And the list goes on and on. No, for most of us working moms out there we are not there with our kids during the day, but no matter how much we love our jobs (or hate our jobs but do so out of necessity), they are with us all day, every day. I have two pictures of each of my kids and one picture of the two of them together on my desk. And they come up in the strangest discussions in my classes. My son and daughter know that I'm mom and when I pick them up, they are thrilled to see me (or my husband if he is the one who gets to pick them up).

Are there things that I could do better than our caregivers? Maybe, but are there things that our caregivers can do better than me? I personally believe the answer is yes. Years ago Hillary Clinton got a lot of criticism for her statement that "it takes a village to raise a child". People were upset that she appeared to be indicating that parents didn't know best. That parents couldn't raise their children on their own, and maybe that assessment of people's perceptions is wrong. But I don't think that's what she was trying to say. I believe that what she was trying to say is that during the course of the 18 years that our children are with us until they leave for college, or for other adventures, more than parents should take responsibility for developing the whole person that our kids grow up to be. That includes extended family, teachers, pastors, youth workers, counselors, and anyone else who has a significant role in our kids' lives. Some SAHMs are phenomenal. They have found their calling. Not only have they figured out how to make a single income household work in the 21st century, but they do it with an ease and grace that allows their children to flourish. They are the moms that make me feel incredibly guilty every fall when I gladly return to my classroom, eager for adult conversation and the rigors of teaching literature and composition. You see, I'm great at loving my kids. I can snuggle and read Dr. Seuss with the best of them. But at some point during my two month break I know that I need my classroom and my kids need to play with other kids and adults who really appreciate the world of make-believe and 20 questions. Not that I don't enjoy it, but I've learned that there is only so much I can take. Does it take a village? Maybe. Our first babysitter guided this new mom through the first year of our daughter's life, as I worked through my inability to nurse, identified pink eye, and she helped me answer a variety of questions that she, as the mother of three and the caregiver to dozens of kids over the years, could answer immediately instead of me waiting for my mom to answer the phone or an email. When we moved to Fort Wayne, our next caregiver offered a home and playmates for my daughter, as well as friendship during my lonely first year in a new place. When she moved, our next caregiver gave our son the love and attention he needed as we dealt with early teething and what seemed like constantly shifting sleep patterns and worked with our daughter on numbers, colors, and letters in creative ways which sometimes left me astounded. She also struggled with us through a difficult year of potty training our incredibly stubborn little girl. Each of these women have been a huge part of our lives, and I am thankful for everything they have given our family and the love they have given our children.

Now our kids are in a full time daycare, and while I was hesitant to get them out of in-home daycare, this appears to be the best place for our kids until they are both in school. And the last two days I have picked up two very happy, yet very tired, little kids. Our social little girl is surrounded by kids her own age and in a Christian learning environment that will allow her to grow socially and intellectually in ways that I never could. Our little boy is surrounded by kids his own age and in a loving room where he appears to be happy as can be, although he has been exhausted by the time he gets home. One of my biggest parenting decisions has been deciding who will watch and love our kids during the day while my husband and I are working, and we've been blessed with people who love our kids while we are working during the day. And while I'm always working on finding balance, when we get home Jeff and I are raising our kids. We know our kids. We know what they need. And we will always be Mom and Dad. No daytime caregiver can take that away, and none have tried.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Painted Wallpaper Disaster: Our Little Girl's Bedroom

When you are blinded by possibility, sometimes you fail to notice the little things that will make all the difference in your house renovations. Such appears to be my story with the wallpaper in our house. I will get to the wallpaper in the master bedroom, which was actually finished first, later. Today I will discuss the painted wallpaper disaster.

The first time we walked through our house we had our eyes on the big things, such as the disaster of the kitchen, three bathrooms, the future family room, the basement, you get the picture. And as I get caught up on writing about the improvements made on the house in the last two years, and the improvements that we continue to make, this picture will become even clearer. What we didn't pay attention to were the "little" things. Like the fact that the master bedroom and living room had wallpaper and that someone had painted over the wallpaper in the bedroom that would become our daughter's. As offers and negotiations were made we started taking a closer look at the house that we were fighting so hard to get. During one of these walkthroughs, quite late in the game, I discovered that what we originally believed were simply ugly, orange colored walls were much more than that. Underneath the ugly, dirty, orange paint sat wallpaper. This wallpaper had not been primed or prepped in any way for painting. Instead, the previous resident of the room had painted one coat of paint, leaving many places where the tiny late 80s, early 90s flowers poked through. Suddenly, painting our daughter's room did not appear to be as easy as we thought it would be.

The carpet remnant came out of the room with the rest of the carpet in the house, revealing the plywood floor you see in the next picture.

For the record, I HATE wallpaper. Our first home had wallpaper in the kitchen and bathroom, and after spending time on wallpaper removal when we first moved into the house, I swore I would never put wallpaper on walls. And I never have. I have used a border, but I firmly believe that is not the same thing. Of course, I have also not removed the border I have used and will have to cross that bridge when it is time to once again redo our son's bedroom, but until that time I will reserve judgement for wallpaper borders. So I found the discovery of wallpaper in two large rooms and painted wallpaper in a third room a little daunting, terrifying even. The decision I made (and I am still questioning to this day) was the use of texture paint over the painted wallpaper and then painting over that. This would allow the walls to be an even texture, take away the lines that so clearly showed through the current paint, and hopefully give us a bedroom paint job that we could be happy with. With the guest room complete and carpet ordered for the master bedroom and our daughter's bedroom I got started on the texture paint. I really wanted to have the room complete before the carpet was installed. After all, then I wouldn't have to worry about covering the floor. Two hours into my work I had one wall painted. Another two hours of work and I had a second wall painted. My parents and little sister were visiting that weekend so there were many projects going on at the same time. With tired arms and a racing mind trying to figure out how to get the next two walls to go more smoothly, I quit. And the walls sat there, and sat there. Carpet was installed, furniture put into place, blinds placed in the windows, and the room continued to just sit.



Then I found out I was pregnant. More on that funny story later. Suddenly we were in a time crunch. Yes, we needed complete bedrooms that would make our house feel more like home. Yes, our little girl deserved a room that was hers and not just a room that her mom had started working on but never finished. But I had gotten distracted. I do that. After all, right now I'm writing a blog while the kids nap instead of lesson planning or sealing the grout in the nearly finished bathroom. It's an unfortunate family trait that I have inherited from my father's side. We moved, pushed hard right away, and then I started grad classes two days after we moved in. And then fall classes started and I was trying to figure out how to work part time, go to school, and still enjoy the two days a week I stayed at home with my daughter. All excuses I know, but with a baby room to complete now, it was actually a good thing we had procrastinated. Now our daughter's room was going to be a big girl room, the birthday present for the new big sister. Carpet was covered, I finished the texture paint and then moved on to the purple paint. Yes, I chose purple, mostly because I have an aversion to pink after years of having pink in my own rooms. I want my little girl to maintain her girliness, but there is only so much girly I can take.

It did not go smoothly. My pregnant body lost balance on a night when I was so close to finishing the walls and I twisted my ankle falling off of a step ladder. Jeff banned me from the room for the rest of the night. So even though I was motivated, there was still plenty of stop and go on the work I did in the room, but finally the paint was done, the big girl bed (Jeff's old bed, which is actually his father's old bunk bed) was put together and ready for sleep, the curtains installed, and our daughter's room was done. As with all kid's rooms, it will continue to evolve as she gets older, but for now it works for our little princess. And we're happy with that.




Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Should I Really Post That? The Current Rhetoric of Social Media

While I have strong political feelings that I willingly share with my husband, close friends, and certain family members, I typically try to stay out of the social media political frenzy. This is for several reasons. First and probably foremost, I am an avoider and people pleaser. I want to keep people happy and more often than not I keep my mouth shut to do so, even if not telling it like it is makes me miserable. I say this as more of a confession than a revelation of a positive personality trait. Quite frankly, while this trait has helped me in the area of self-preservation for years, I consider it one of my main personality flaws. However, this particular personality trait has allowed me to maintain friends of different political affiliations without conflict. Second, I get tired of the virtual shouting match that occurs between the far left and the far right and I have no desire to be a part of it. Third, I believe that it is my duty as a high school teacher to teach my students how to think and research for themselves and come to their own conclusions, and participation in the far left/right debates would make me a hypocrite. I realize that there are fellow teachers out there who disagree, but here it is: I want my students to feel free to make the connections to what they read for class without feeling like I am going to blast them for seeing something that I don't necessarily agree with. I want them to write well-researched, well written argumentative papers on topics that are important to them and take the position they want without worrying about my personal views on legalization of marijuana, doctor assisted suicide, or global climate change. I don't tell them who I vote for and while my personal views may come out in readings I assign for class, I try to avoid verbalizing them. I always tell them that my personal views will not determine their grades, and I work very hard to make sure that happens. However, a very poorly written paper about a topic that I do not agree with does occasionally meet my grading wrath, which is unfortunate for all, especially when it is a topic about which I am well versed. Case in point, the unfortunate college student who wrote a paper praising the success of No Child Left Behind. My entire teaching career has been under NCLB or the aftermath of it and I know way too much about the topic to take a paper with blatant misinformation lightly. But that is all beside the point.

The real point finally came to a head yesterday when I finally commented on a FB friend's post which pictured all previous presidents and the total debt and next to it our current president and the debt he has supposedly accrued in the last three years. We are in the midst of a hotly contested election season, and I am already tired of it. And while posts of these sort were plenty available four years ago, it feels like I see them more and more from FB friends on both sides of the aisle. And people are posting these pictures or cartoons about everything: gun control, gay rights, gay marriage, sanctity of marriage, sanctity of life, taxes, health care, war, the list goes on and on. And I get it. People have strong feelings about topics that affect them. Heck, people have strong feelings about issues that have absolutely no apparent impact on them. But does anyone that passes these things along ever sit down for a couple minutes to consider the rhetoric in some of these posts and the political impact that it is having in our increasingly politically divided climate? Take the above mentioned post. All it really had was pictures and numbers. No explanations about whether that was actual debt or projected debt from programs currently in place. No discussion about the previous two term president and the economic policies, tax code, and wars that Obama inherited (just as there was no discussion from the far left about the role that Clinton played in deregulation that helped lead to the financial collapse that happened under Bush's watch). They were just numbers meant to shock and scare anyone who read that particular post. And thanks to our top notch educational system (of which I am admittedly a part), most people would just look at that and not feel the need to check further. They wouldn't read about the claims to see if they were true. They wouldn't use this as a starting point for intelligent conversation about what needs to be done about the national debt. They would just take the information at face value and pass it along. And this happens every day.

I know that I may be an exception. I have taught Freshman Composition to college students for the last two years and I will be teaching AP Language and Composition for the first time starting in two weeks. Therefore, I teach rhetoric and composition, and the more I teach it, the more I see it. I can't help it. It's everywhere I look. And I feel that I have the duty to share this with my students. To help them see the rhetoric in the writing of others so they can see it in their own writing. But I would also like to see the American public wake up and see it for themselves. I want them to understand that when we pass along half-truths, misinformation, and seriously biased political rhetoric as fact we are participating in the madness that is our current political climate. It's not going to stop unless we stop. I tell my students that a solid argument gives concessions to the other side. A solid argument knows that the other side has a point and perspective worthy of consideration. A solid argument also needs research to back it up. Don't post something unless you are ready to back it up, even if that just means posting articles (but not from The Onion, which is fantastically entertaining but a terrible place to get real information of any kind) instead of pictures and cartoons. Washington won't change until we do. Maybe it's time we started.