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Educational Elite

21 Mar
Graduate-bot says what?

I’ve been thinking a lot about school lately. In fact, I’ve been thinking about higher education, Ivy-league and otherwise, since before I finished undergrad. I’m not talking academics, here, because I’ve been thinking academics since forever. My official membership in the Nerd Herd was granted in high school, and I keep the flame burning in my adult life by making grammar jokes and geeking out about fonts on the regular.

No, I’m talking about something far more insidious, something which I’ll call “Schooling.” I started thinking about this before the end of high school, when I was applying to colleges. Even though I had a 4.0, high SAT scores and seven million extracurricular feathers in my hat, I knew my family couldn’t afford Wellesley or Harvard, so I didn’t bother applying. I picked the closest, cheapest public university. I held steadfastly to the idea that “good” schools don’t equal “smart” people. And I still believe that’s true with all my heart.

But a couple years out of college, I started reading a bunch of junk about class (Snobbery: The American Version, and Class: A Guide through the American Status System, among others) that adjusted my perspective. Sure, going to a “good” college doesn’t make you a “good” person. But having credentials from a “better” school WILL make people perceive you as “better” – better at your job, better at thinking/living/succeeding – and you will therefore be the recipient of preferential treatment, likely advancing farther and faster than your averagely-schooled countrymen. Thus, the perception that people who went to good schools are better/smarter/faster becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In true Baader-Meinhof style, my new perspective was reinforced wherever I went. My current workplace is above-average in its obsession with Schooling. My immediate supervisor not only gleefully puts down my alma mater, but includes my hometown(s), parental occupations and the part of Portland where I live as dry tinder for the fires of devaluation. Introductions to new people are prefaced with long strings of alma maters, followed by names as inessential afterthoughts.

Not me, I swear.

A recent article from The Cronicle of Higher Education took educational elitism to a whole new level, reinforcing my suspicions that it’s not what you accomplish or how smart you are, but where you’ve been and who you know that matters in certain (powerful, rich) circles.

“Why all this prognostication?” you may ask. Outside of discourse for discourse’s sake, some of you know that I’ve been mulling pursuing my masters for oh, say, ever. I applied to a few schools, and got into all of them. I’ve narrowed my choices down to two: One is close to home and dirt-cheap. The other is far away and Ivy league. So research into educational elitism is not only interesting, but personally a propos. If the coursework is the same – and I believe it is – which one do I choose? Do I follow the proletariat’s path and attend the former, or “sell out” and attend the latter? Dear readers, weigh in in the comments. Do it now, lest I royally screw up my future, my credibility, or both!

*By the by, linking to these books don’t equate to authorial laudability – both authors are a tad douchey, and exhibit little humanity in belittling those-of-lesser-means, which ought to be a cardinal sin in the writing world. If you can’t empathize, you shouldn’t storytell.

Money should be transparent, not invisible

1 Dec
… and other nice ideas.

How do you know that your employer is paying you fairly? Please, take a minute to ponder this question. Go on, think about it.

Maybe you’re in a trade union, and your union negotiates set payscales and annual raises for you during meetings that are held publicly. Or maybe you work for a very large public corporation that determines comporatios using a fancy algorhthym (making sure to adjust down by ~20 percent for females, people of color, and people with disabilities, naturally). But if you’re anything like the vast majority of workers in the United States, the amount you are paid for the work that you do is determined through a process that is both opaque and sinister.

Look! It’s a plane! It’s a bird!
It’s a bell curve!

This process is so opaque, in fact, that you may need to use a web site like to find out if you are even in the ballpark of what others in your field are paid. You don’t know what your colleagues are paid, and what’s more, you can be punished if you ask – professionally and socially. What’s worse, your colleague can be fired if he or she has the audacity to answer you truthfully.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: Your employers have a vested interested in keeping you as in-the-dark as possible as to what’s a fair rate for the work you do. A well-informed employee is difficult to manipulate, and certainly difficult to underpay. Fortune, in this case, favors those with the power to keep secrets. If Susan learns that Bob is paid $15,000 more per year than she is to do the same work, it suddenly becomes very difficult to motivate Susan to work hard without shelling out some cash. And so in most HR handbooks in the US, you’ll find a clause that prohibits discussing compensation packages with coworkers.

Are you being paid in salted legumes?

Meanwhile, corporations are blithely exercising their right to investigate employees’ (and even potential employees’) salary history. Many will ask for your compensation history as part of the job application process. Those that don’t can demand to see last year’s W-2s. But ask how much the last person in the position you’re applying for made, and suddenly you’re on thin ice. Ask your supervisor his or her salary, and you’re in hot water. Try it with a colleague, and you’re a pariah.

When it comes to salaries, corporations and society in general are ignoring a golden rule: Open and honest discourse, along with the free flow of information, is good. Sure, the purging process can get ugly (WikiLeaks. Watergate. Whatever.), but secrecy solves nothing.

It’s time for us to admit that it’s not always hard work or talent or creativity that lands employees raises and promotions. Often, it can be completely random, or informed by nepotism, or malice. On the whole, employers simply pay people as little as they think they can get away with – rewarding cocky employees or savvy negotiators while punishing more quietly effective ones. 

I’m not advocating the violent overthrow of the government here, but I am advocating something that will probably shock people around you. Just try following these simple steps next time you’re at a cocktail party:

“OMG, ferserious you guys,
that crazy chick so totally just asked
 me how much I make a year.”

1. Ask someone point-blank how much money they make.
2. Watch them sputter in shock.
3. Observe as other guests within earshot shoot you nasty looks.
4. Ask again.
5. Wait for someone to try to take your keys away, because clearly you are too drunk to drive home.

It’s funny, kind of. But mostly it’s just sick and twisted. We can easily find ourselves in deep conversation about the things that surround money – the type of cars people drive, the neighborhoods our houses are in, the schools we send our bratlings to. But the minute you ask someone to put a concrete figure on exactly what it is that enables their lifestyle, bit it Bimmer or Wheelbarrow, you’re an antisocial little freak.

So join me in my awkwardly-talking-about-money-revolution. Follow the five steps above, and please, let me know how it goes.

Top ten reasons to work in journalism

19 Aug

10. The Swearing

Only in a newsroom does one get congratulated by one’s boss for using the word “fuck” during a meeting.

9. The Drinking

Newsies can drink average humans under a mesa, and newsrooms have lots of good places to nurse a hangover: Decommissioned darkrooms, for one, are cool, dark and private, and often have couches for reasons that will remain unexplored here.

8. The Sarcasm

The Fake AP Stylebook. Overheard in the Newsroom. This stuff doesn’t write itself, people. We started the whole sarcasm/irony trend before those hipsters co-opted it, and journalists remain sarcastic, lovable assholes to this day.

7. The Liberals

There’s something sweetly safe in knowing that most of your coworkers are, like you, bleeding-heart liberals.*

6. The Misanthropy

Newsroom humor, like emergency room humor, is dark. It comes from a place of finely tuned cynicism, and grants its practitioners the permission to wield dry, cutting wit at the expense of the rabble with nary a thought to the politically correct.

5. Sportswriting

I don’t like sports (except boxing, ‘course), but I love sportswriting. Oh, the action verbs! The wordplay! The ability to experiment with nigh-obscenity due to the sports’ section placement deeep inside the paper!

4. Sportswriters

For some inexplicable reason, I get along famously with sportswriters. I don’t understand their interests, but you have to love a person who can conduct an interview with a high school softball star, hammer out a lead story, and design a front page all while drinking a 40 of 211 out of a MegaGulp cup and keeping an eye on “Striptease,” streaming on the laptop brought from home.

3.The camaraderie

There’s nothing like being on a sinking ship to bring on that tingly “sense of brotherhood” feeling.

2. Schadenfreude

As a journalist, you get to be secretly, or not-so-secretly pleased when disaster strikes other people’s lives. All the better if it strikes on your news cycle. You get to say things like, “Way to die on deadline, Reagan,” or “I need to see the carnage! Find me a shot of the carnage.”

1. Grammar jokes

If this isn’t good enough reason for you, you’re probably a business analyst anyway.

* Yep, it’s true, we media types really are damn dirty pinko Jesus-hating fags. Or rather, journalists tend to have more education than the general population, and therefore wind up more liberal than the majority. Take unsubstantiated theory any way you want.

EVERBODY PANIC: Some women make more money than their husbands

19 Jan

I was punched in the face during my morning commute by Morning Edition’s oh-so-fresh take on that age-old problem, women making more money than men. ‘Cuz as we all know, the womenfolk TOTALLY have all the money and all the power.


See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here for incontrovertible evidence. If you can look me in the face (or the blog, for that matter) and tell me there is no gender pay gap (not to mention racial pay gap), then I don’t want to be your friend anymore.

So, in light of any reasonable human being’s assessment of the facts, why the big story? NPR should have access to all the same statistics that a schmo like me has, right? But instead, they staidly teased the story thusly: “We’ll hear how marriages have changed since the 1970s, and how the fact that the growth of women in the workplace is TURNING MARRIAGE ON ITS HEAD!!!” The smarminess in the announcer’s voice was actually palpable.

The entire segment was built on anecdotal stories, not facts, figures or scientific studies. They interviewed a few whiny dudes who were all, “Man, it sucks not being able to tell my wife how to spend her money, since she makes so much more than I do. But it’s awesome having a sugar mama!”

They paid lip service to the ACTUAL, DOCUMENTED FACT that women make less than men on average by dedicating an entire fragment sentence to that. At the end, right before the “commercial” break where they name off all the call letters for every single NPR station in the entire Pacific Northwest.

Color me idealistic, but when a news organization starts covering “stories” I see teased in all caps on the covers of checkout-line magazines like Cosmo (when it’s not covered up to protect our young’uns fragile eyeballs from the corrupting POWER OF BOOBIES), I lose pretty much all my respect for them. Sure, some women make more money than their husbands. This is not news, nor something we can draw reasonable conclusions from without a great deal more study. To top it off, the way the story was presented it was grossly misleading: Interviewing a bunch of whiny assholes does not a news story make.

If you feel like having your mind polluted, read the full story here.

UPDATE: The New York Times covers this “story,” too, going so far as to call those unfortunates who’ve wound up making more money than their menfolk “victims.” Victims! Seriously! They close with this carefully chosen quote intended to scare ladies who might try to set their sights on a high-paying job:

“Ms. Zielinski … said her best friend, a man, told her once: “ ‘You are confident, have good credit, own your own business, travel around the world and are self-sufficient. What man is going to want you?’ “

Complex Guilt

3 Jun

As my friend Colin always likes to say, I suffer from a serious case of balloon-hand: Need someone to volunteer for something? Up goes my hand! Nothing can keep it down, not previously made obligations, lack of sleep, expense (time or monetary) or even exhaustion.

My eyes are bigger than my proverbial stomach when it comes to the amount of stuff I think I’m capable of doing without collapsing into a sobbing heap of overwhelmed Sarah. As such, I am constantly overbooked and occassionally volunteer to do two or more things — be they favors, social engagements or boring assignments — at the same time on the same day. Such was the case this Sunday, when I was simultaneously expected to attend a wedding with my Mom, celebrate a first birthday, study for an important test, make complicated and expensive vacation plans, and drive a friend to the airport.

All this basically caused me to a) freak out; b) reschedule said test, c) miss out on the cake-and-punch fun, and d) flatly and mostly unapologetically refuse to drive said friend to the airport.

The last two I felt terribly guilty about and thought about a great deal afterward. The airport thing wasn’t so bad since it was a last-minute request that was asked without much finesse or politeness, and was solved with the help of said friend’s roommate. I’ve become much better at refusing to give rides lately. Years of being used for my wheels have really jaded me to helping out my pedestrian acquaintances. (It’s one thing to rail against the evils of automobiles; it’s quite another entirely to do so while mooching off your be-wheeled pals. Particulary if an unwelcome critique of my driving ability is going to be involved. (ahem).).

The birthday party was something I’d rather not have skipped, but it was simply a matter of being physically unable to be in two places at once. This doesn’t, however, stop me from feeling terrible about it. I’d feel just as terrible if I’d gone to the party and skipped the wedding. It’s my nature, and I suspect it’s more prevalent in the female variety of human. Ridiculous, yes, but we’ve been bred to feel excessive guilt since birth.

But it’s when things like this come up that I find myself really having to do battle with my overactive sense of obligation to other people. I have this rather inefficient tendency to put everyone elses’ needs ahead of my own — delaying that test will set me back a great deal and probably cause some stress in the future I’ll have to deal with then. But I wasn’t ready to take it because I’ve been busy caring for everyone around me instead of taking time out from life to study and take care of myself.

The solution seems so simple — take some time for me, relax, study, get organized, and voila! Everything’s better. But what that attitude overlooks is that every time I take space for me, some other obligation suffers. When I take a weekend off to devote to myself, that’s one more weekend I’m not spending with the people I care about; or one other obligation I’m putting off until tomorrow.

It’s not just hard due to my overactive sense of obligation and guilt, either. I genuinely LIKE baking cakes for friends, I really enjoy spending time with my family and my friends, but there simply isn’t enough time to do everything, every day.

The only solution? Sleep less.

What do you guys do when you feel overwhelmed?




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