End It Don’t Trend It

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In an imperfect world, there is perfect opportunity for social good that stretches across borders and unites communities the world over. The best way to spreading a message, and creating social good, is to use the channels available from Facebook and Twitter to Instagram and Pinterest.

The platforms offer access to millions of potential supporters, and that’s the beauty of the social good movement. I feel that most campaigns have the best intentions, and I fully support the End It Movement which inspired this post.

For those of you that don’t know today, February 27, has been deemed Shine a Light on Slavery Day; an effort to put an end to a $32 billion industry that has trapped 27 million people. Of that number, two children a day are added to the statistic, and regardless of culture, background or lack of government concern, the continuation of sex trafficking and slavery is unacceptable.

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But here’s where the problem lies.

There has been an incredible outpouring of support, and the use of hashtags and keyword searches can prove it, but there’s a trick to social media, and I think social good falls victim to it everyday.

Again, I support the End It Movement, but I unfortunately feel that many of the red “X’s” appearing in social media streams around the world are being used for a different reason. Yes, each “X” is one more set of people potentially influenced, but with the way the hashtag works, each person that participates is seen “doing good.”

In my opinion, that’s not enough. Yes, in theory each “X” and each hashtag puts viewers one step closer to learning more about the movement, but at the same time the hashtag gets one step closer to trending, which burgeoning social media influencers constantly struggle to stay ahead of.

What I’m trying to say is this:

Please participate in the movement to end slavery around the world, but do it because you want to end it, not trend it

Social good is a beautiful thing, but saturating social media feeds runs the risk of creating indifference about topics, and we have to ensure that the conversation continues beyond the sharing of a picture.

Do good and do it with good intentions. For more information and to see how you can contribute to the End It Movement, I encourage you to look at their website and see how you can make a difference.

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Images and information found in the End It Now Digital Toolkit.

The Business of Edcuation

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My general disdain for the money made from higher education has been pretty evident, if it hasn’t, just browse through the education category over on the left. Typically my focus is on student loans, the impact that students are left to deal with in the pursuit of a decent education, but today I’m taking a slightly different route.

Thanks to the Western Carolinian, the student newspaper at Western Carolina University, today I’m focused on how the money is being spent by the institution. Before I get started though, I will clarify: the issue I’m addressing in this post is not that money is being spent, but how it is being spent.

Having established that, the inspiration for this post comes from a recent article published by the Western Carolinian in regard to the 2020 Vision Plan for WCU, and the impact that a potential parking garage would have on students, staff and faculty.

Parking garages are expensive, they must be managed and maintained, just like any other facility. I get that. Considering the growth that WCU has experienced over the last few years, I’m not one to disagree with the notion that a parking garage is probably a smart idea for the preservation of the campus and the community. In this case, I’d personally much rather see one structure a short distance from campus that could provide solid parking options for students without paving over the whole landscape.

There is one thing however that sticks out to me though, and an issue that I believe should be a more intricate part of the planning well beyond 2020, and should be considered as we head into 2014.

The faculty and staff of WCU have not received a raise in their salary since 2008, and some of them are upset that their parking fees will go up in order to compensate for the garage. Renee Corbin, director of assessment, even talked about parking further away from campus or making a deal with local business, for a fee. If the faculty and staff are to pay more per year for parking or other fees in order to accomplish the 2020 Vision plan, without a pay raise, they have every right to be frustrated.

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I can’t imagine that Western is the only school with this problem, not necessarily directly related to a parking garage, but the idea that faculty aren’t seeing pay raises for the work and dedication given to the institutions they serve, as money continues to be spent on expansion projects and useless campus “beautification”.

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Where my problem with the situation goes deeper, is the fact that all of this money is spent, but programs continue to be cut, class sizes increase as classes are cut from programs, and the blame is placed on money and budgeting despite expansion and beautification projects.

Yes, growth is good. I’m not saying that it isn’t, but should the quality of education, and the quality of programs offered be driven into the ground just so the students can have a new fountain or new campus directional signs?

The simple answer is no. At institutions of higher education, something inside me says that we should be focusing on maintaining a competitive level of education, not making things pretty. There are programs at WCU that have scaled back so much, that they hardly resemble the programs that students initially came to the school for.

On a larger scale, the problem with education across the country, high schools and colleges alike, is coming from how money is being spent. At some point, the focus needs to be on advancing what is best for students, or these institutions need to quit pretending to be focused on education.

Yes, I included high schools because North Carolina can’t seem to get anything right in terms of budgeting for education, which may or may not come from the fact that all the people making real decision have no idea what it’s like to work in the actual education system.

Teachers, professors, faculty and staff, they all deserve respect from the students they serve, but they deserve even more from the systems that they are working for.

If education were actually the focus of higher education, I’d be willing to bet money that many of the problems we’re facing would seemingly fix themselves. But when you’re more concerned with the way something looks than how it operates, then no, none of these problems are ever going to be solved.

Education is a business. It’s time the employees were shown that they are appreciated, not just being used to bring in more money under the facade of helping develop the future.

As always, that’s just my two cents and I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but where I do think we can come together is in the idea that a change needs to be made to the system as a whole; something is broke, it’s time we fixed it.

Pell Grant Reform?

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I’ll probably make some people mad with my opinion about Pell Grants, but as the program is looking at a well that is quickly running dry, I believe that there is some level of accuracy in my concern.

First, let’s start with the problem I’ve stated before. The government is a business, they make money, they spend money, they do it from behind a veil of concern for you. As education is concerned the government does not deviate, hence the $41.3 billion profit posted for the 2013 fiscal year. According to the Detroit Free Press, that’s the third highest profit level in the world, behind Exxon Mobil and Apple.

Second, Pell Grants, though useful to good students that deserve the opportunity to pursue a higher education, do not need to be given to anyone over 30.

That probably sounds harsh, but when there are 18 year olds that want to pursue an education but can’t because of affordability, then no, I don’t think that a person who chose to work instead should be receiving grant money. Again, I empathize with those people that have personal or family issues that prohibit them from going to school, but having three family members that are well over the age of 30, just now pursuing their education, it upsets me to hear how much grant money they receive for an online education.

When I graduated from Western, I had never been eligible for a grant. Even in the year that my father was out of a job, a year with zero income, which FAFSA is supposed to take into account, my student loan amounts were reduced so that I was forced into taking out parent loans too if I wanted to continue my education.

Yes that was right, parent loans was the government’s answer to my family having zero income.

So if you want Pell Grant Reform, the government needs to do the same thing they should do with Social Security. Allocate money to the people that deserve it, stop handing out pity money, and at some point hold people accountable for the life choices that they make.

The older you are, the more opportunity you’ve had to pursue a career, which could be paying for the education that you suddenly realized you needed. A high school grad shouldn’t be penalized for your decision to work.

As far as money for education is concerned, this isn’t about reform, it’s about common sense.

Investing In The Future: The Greatest Paradox

If you went to college, thought about college, or encouraged your own child to go to college, then you’re probably guilty of saying that you were making an investment in the future. Considering that any investment is an investment in the future, the statement alone seems silly, but that’s beside the point.

What has me thinking about the phrase though, and more so the paradox that accompanies it, is spurred from a comment that I heard over the weekend, when an “Economic Analyst” said that the problem with windmills is that they are:

eyesores.

Really?!

You’re an economic analyst, that speaks on national television, and the worst thing about wind energy is that the structure producing the energy isn’t aesthetically pleasing?

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Image: Siemens UK

That brings me to the main issue: in an age when we are more than comfortable telling students to pursue academic careers and higher education, to make investments in their futures; why, as a society, can’t we muster the confidence to invest in energy technology for a more stable future?

According to the American Wind Energy Association, the market supports 80,000 full-time jobs, and considering that number is projected to have a potential to reach 500,000 jobs by 2030, then we should be doing everything we can to encourage the growth of wind energy.

Do I understand every little issue? No.

But I do understand that the change won’t happen over night. I do understand that in a country that isn’t too focused on the manufacturing jobs that have been lost, we turn old factories into turbine producing factories. Hell, power those factories with wind power and it’s a double-whammy.

I also understand, however, that the reason we aren’t pushing harder for wind power is because we’re comfortable. Yeah, I get it, when it comes to where you get your power from, there aren’t a whole lot of choices, like here in the city we’re stuck with ConEd and if we lived in North Carolina we’d be stuck with Duke Power. But that’s the real problem. When there aren’t options we don’t have to make decisions, and let’s face it, American’s aren’t decision making people.

Decisions confuse us, we shake and stutter, and ultimately end up with nothing because we don’t know how to choose. Henry Ford knew it when he said that customers could have any color Model T they wanted as long as it was black.

Ultimately, that is our barrier with alternative energy. We like to talk about making investments, all of which are meant to enhance the future, but none of us want to make the decision that makes it all possible. We have a system, it isn’t great but it works, and even if we’re slowly poisoning ourselves, our grandparents started it so we’re more than ok with it too.

In 2030, I’ll be 40 years old. Like I said, the projection is that wind power will produce 500,000 jobs by then. I think it’s time we stopped investing in the generic future, and start investing in the creation of a better future. Why? Because if nothing else we deserve it.

The Weekly Wrap

Since it’s getting closer to the holidays, and your life is getting busy, I figured I would start wrapping our weeks up in one post for your convenience.

Though I’d encourage you to visit every time a story goes out, this should at least help condense it for you in a crunch.

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Of all the federal holidays, Veteran’s Day might be the most important. Without the men and women that we show appreciation for, it’s quite possible that none of the other holidays would exist as we know them. Featuring two phenomenal charities, Thank You: A Post For Our Veterans, was an appropriate start to the week.

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Thanks to a TechCrunch story that came through my reader, we learned that a Russian sports network, R-Sports, was threatening that it would revoke credentials for journalists found to be using smart phones and apps like Instagram during the Sochi Olympics. Though it seems focused toward maintaining a level of “classic journalism,” it looks more like the network needs to find it’s way out of the Dark Ages.

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I’m becoming a Certified Personal Trainer, and Chris Powell inspired me to do it. From the Extreme Weight Loss guru, to a very supportive wife, I’m on a journey to get certified, and help others understand that if I lost my weight, then they can too.

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Finally, Affordable Healthcare cracked me. After avoiding the topic for months, the president’s recent apology for the botched job that is the Affordable Care Act caused me to laugh. After finding a CBS story about three 20-year-olds that created a functioning healthcare website overnight, it’s evident that nobody in Washington has any clue what they’re doing.

That was the week for the Freelance Rider, and I can’t wait to see what we get from this weekend.

Joke of the Day: Affordable Healthcare

I’ve avoided any commentary on the Affordable Care Act mainly because I don’t quite understand the nuances that are supposed to be the keys to the whole system.

What I do understand though is this: Nobody knows what they’re doing.

Again, I’m not totally sure of how to make the system work, but there are people that do. Unfortunately, I don’t think those folks have the connections to Washington that seem to be garnering the employment of every failed level of building affordable health care.

It would be easy to say that I’m just Obama bashing, but I empathize with the fact that he isn’t the one writing code, nor is he really the person making the hiring decisions, but he did accept his role as figurehead and therefore should be held accountable for the decisions being made under him. If nothing else, flex a little bit of that influence that he seemed to have in the last two elections.

What brings me to the state I’m in at this point, is the fact that, to me, instead of addressing the problem swiftly, the government is too concerned with saying sorry and trying not to look like the bad guy. Personally I’d rather them say nothing until the site is up, and functional, before we have any more statements like the one above about fumbling when it comes to the roll out.

At a certain point, words don’t count for anything and action is all that matters. I really wish that everyone had recognized that a little sooner, but there’s no need to live in the past.

Now, as far as a solution.


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Gee, that’s weird, programmers, that write code, that were able to create a functional healthcare website on less than a shoestring budget…

I don’t know about you, but that leads me to believe that there is some serious gap between Washington and reality, if we live in a time when no money can be spent on a system that works, while the government hemorrhages money on a site that has been nothing but bad.

For the most part, we all know that there is a ton of tech talent in California, but it’s also in New York and Philly, so why don’t we start asking those guys and girls for help? I’m baffled by the fact that we have all of these brilliant minds, but Washington can’t seem to wrap their heads around the concept that there are people that do this for a living.

Like I said when I started, I don’t understand the nuances and the processes that go into making the Affordable Care Act an actual functioning thing, but I seriously doubt that Washington understands it either, and for that, I feel every American is entitled to a little bit of disappointment.