Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Maybe you've seen Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs pyramid,

the basic theory of which is that the most fundamental needs (at the bottom of the pyramid) must be met before the higher-up needs can be addressed.

One would think that given this information, society would make it a point to ensure that the basic needs of its community were being met.  Which, by extension, would mean that society would prioritize the preservation of jobs that work to meet these needs.

And yet, not so much.  For the past five years, I've been teaching children of incarcerated parents--helping them to understand the prison system and how it works, facilitating circles in which they are encouraged to share their experiences with parental arrest, and working to help them feel less alone.  Not only do I believe that this is important because of the emotional impact it has on these young folks, but I like to believe that programs like mine help to break the cycle of incarceration that almost seems inevitable.

My program is one of dozens being cut by the city of San Francisco.  I can't point fingers because I'm not sure it's anyone's fault anymore.  Last year, when our program was cut (we received last-minute "addback" funding last year, but this year it doesn't look like there's any available), I went with some of my students and some fellow teachers to City Hall to speak to the budget committee about why it was crucial that our program get funded.  Walking in, I felt confident that I'd be able to persuade the budget committee members to give my program the money, because surely they'd see that it was doing more important work than many of the others in our position.

But then I heard all the other people speak, and my heart sank:  San Francisco's Department of Children, Youth, and their Families was cutting not only my program for kids impacted by the prison system, but a shelter for homeless teens; a community LGBTQ clinic for teens who were being bullied, harassed, and/or pushed away from their homes; a job-training organization for at-risk youth; the Filipino Community Center; a violence prevention program in the schools . . . the list goes on and on.  

I saw this political cartoon the other day:

It's more sad than it is funny, huh?  I have a terminal Masters degree, and in just a month and a half, I won't have a job.  I will, of course, begin applying like a madwoman for jobs in my field, but the grim reality is that my field is sinking right now.  When Schwarzenegger was governor*, he cut the funding for all arts education in the prisons (these very arts ed programs were proving to prevent recidivism, by the way, ultimately saving taxpayers money).  With that went my dream of becoming an Artist Facilitator at a California State Prison.

When I told a friend (who is a doctor) that I was feeling lost and considering going back to graduate school to get a degree in Social Work, her first reaction was:

"Are you sure you want to go to school for something that's not going to make you any money?"

It stopped me in my tracks, and I was overcome with sadness and frustration that those of us who have a "calling" to work in fields that help people whose basic needs aren't being met, with those most marginalized in society, hardly make enough money to survive.

The difference between an MFA and an MBA is incredible, isn't it?  

I hate complaining, I really do, but sometimes I'm appalled that I went to graduate school and have a legitimate "career" and yet I have to babysit at least four evenings a week to supplement my income.  And the prison job?  That's totally volunteer.

Thanks for bearing with me through this long and winding spiel that is ultimately a big downer.  And if you don't mind, keep your fingers crossed that something good comes my way soon . . . so that I don't end up living in one of the homeless shelters that's being defunded by the city anyway.

*Still can't believe that California elected that clown as governor.  What exactly did they think were the qualifications for the job?


April said...

Hugs! Hugs! Hugs!
I wish I could say more, but, really, I agree with you completely. Everything is so fucked up, but I don't have any more answers than anyone else.

Phoenix Peacock said...

oh honey. It is so frustrating. the reason my internship, a city funded youth resource center, is because of budget cuts. They are down to 2 (TWO!!!! for a whole freakin city) counselors. It is the only site that offers the gang intervention and prevention programs and the only site that offers free services to such a wide array of youth populations.
it is a site where basic needs were constantly being discussed since I had to provide food to my kids to make sure they had something to eat that day before we began any of our discussions. and it is just a matter of luck that the site hasnt completely closed. so frustrating. I hear you loud and clear, darlin.

this free bird said...

"Are you sure you want to go to school for something that's not going to make you any money?" ----that is just sad. I wish you had met my best friend Corey and his hubs Michael when they lived in SF. Michael was finishing med school, they were in process of adopting from the foster system, and Corey was getting ready to go to grad school for non other than what you are considering so he could work with inner city people with HIV/AIDS and at risk youth.

Do what you need to do and what you know is right in your heart.

That idiot Schwarzenegger. I am just disgusted.


kimbirdy said...

oh claire, my heart aches for all those people who desperately need support and won't get it now, for you having lost your funding and therefore job, and for all of us who just want to help others but have to face the harsh reality of bills to pay. i totally empathize.

as an MFT (who received much of my training from MSW's by the way) i just want to encourage you to follow your passions. i've said it before, and i'll say it again, you have an amazing way with these kids. you are very likely the only adult in their lives to really listen, care, and respect them. that is invaluable and greatly missing in many people's lives. if you have a calling, answer it.

with that said, i totally understand the pain and constant frustration at being in a field which is so undervalued. not only do the helping professions get a kick to the balls from underfunding, but professionals in our very own field fail to acknowledge our worth. it is nearly impossible to find PAID work as an MFT/MSW intern (which is crazy for someone with a master's degree). if you do go into social work, know that your first year or two will be tough financially (i'm definitely having to find random retail/admin/cafe jobs to supplement whatever i'll be getting with that magical paid internship i'm holding out for), but after these first few years you'll be making a decent living (which i know is a totally subjective phrase, but by "decent" i mean, you won't have to worry).

i'm totally rooting for you, and if you ever want to vent or talk about getting your MSW/MFT i am totally here for you.

a life of color said...

It's awful so many cuts are being made in so mnany needed and highly benefical areas. I am sorry to hear your program has been cut as well. My thoughts and prayers will be with you during this time. I know how hard it is for teachers to find jobs right now. It really bothers me. Good luck and much love!

chels.e. said...

i am so sorry to hear that you, and the countless others you positively affect, are having to suffer from the idiotic 'cuts' our government is making. i have a good friend with a masters in social work who is suffering from the same harsh reality. i wish nothing but good things for you. your friends comment about going back to school for a degree that won't get you paid is valid, however, i hope that you don't forego your passion. some people search their whole lives to find what they are passionate about, you are fortunate to have found it so early, don't let the 'big man' take that away from you. :)
-best of luck!

nicoleciomek said...

Big hugs. This is truly crappy that this kind of stuff loses its funding. If I ever some how become rich, these are the types of programs I want to fund.

I worked at an indie book publisher for a few years right after college. We published gay & lesbian fiction, edgier fiction, alternative politics, vegan cookbooks, etc. We were basically a not-for-profit because we were highly funded by the Canadian government. We all made shitty money there, but we were there for the love of books, of publishing different types of thoughts and opinions, bringing different ideas to people. And thank god for government funding of the arts, otherwise we wouldn't have existed.

It is shame to me that the US doesn't do similar things. That we failing to help people get their basic needs met and not pushing along creative pursuits.

I am so sorry your job is losing its funding - it sounds like such a cool program. Best of luck with pursuing a new job. I think it is awesome that you have stuck with doing something you love and not just something that pays the bills. It is a worthy pursuit and people like you are so valuable to our society.

undomestic chica said...

It really sucks that you're doing something that actually makes a difference in the world and the program gets cut. I'm really sorry. I have faith that something will come along that will be the perfect calling for you, and I hope it comes soon.

miss katie said...

i've had this tab open all morning because i just don't even know what to say. i'm so sad for you and i'm so sad for your students and their families.

this is one of those times when you (i) think i'm just 1 person...what can i do? how can i help? so tell me/us. what can we do & how can we help?

Micaela said...

my heart hurts for you and how unfair it is-- every bit of it which is perfectly depicted in the cartoon. i know that you don't care about the money, but when it comes to living-- it's pretty important. bless your heart for being so real in the post. I don't think you're being a debbie downer (though what a horrible sad situation to be in so you have every right to be) but you're being REAL. and i love you for it!

i am praying for you... i believe in the power of prayer. So wait til i get there and we can drink wine and cry and laugh... i just know something grand will come your way!


heather said...

did you ever hear back from your dream job? :( it stinks that you are totally living the reality of the failings of this golden, breaking state.

sheba said...

i hear ya loud and clear. i love what i do, but hate that some months it's still harder to make ends meet.

you do such good and necessary work. the world needs more claires.

Erin {pughs' news} said...

I'm so sorry about all of this, Claire. How disheartening...

Pat said...

So sorry to hear all this, Claire! Everything you said was right on target.
Love you,

Leeann @ Join the Gossip said...

Let iy out girl! let.it.out.

I knew what I wanted to do when I was in grade school. I found out in college that my chosen profession makes very little money. To be safe, I added a second major (two degrees) but still have a hard time finding a job :(

Remember to keep looking in LA and I'll do the same for SF ;)

La Boheme said...

I'm so glad you wrote it all here...so much needs to be done and instead it's being removed from the surfaces as if it means nothing. Glad you spoke up and wish you the best in the next few weeks. Fingers crossed and big hugs!

Amanda said...

Unfair doesn't even begin to state how this situation is for you and your fellow teachers. I am a teacher to be and I can't believe that people want me to change my job just because I won't make enough money (according to their standards).

You have such a passion and light for teaching--I will hope that this doesn't change that! Let us know any further developments!

drollgirl said...

oh girl. i am so sorry. this post really said it all. there is nothing i can add to it. but it is a relief that people like you exist. it really is. and i hope a great job comes along for you soon...one that you love, one where you can keep on making a difference, one where you can help others, and one that pays you a fair salary. wouldn't that be great? i will keep my fingers crossed for you.

Gracie said...

Ohh no this is terrible. And you have every right to vent out your feelings. I can't believe what they are cutting funding for. Plus the type of work you do is so fulfulling and we need people like you. I hope that you are able to get another job.

bananas. said...

for the record, i read this entire post and i never read long posts. but this really touched me and i'm saddened by this. i really am. i have always said teachers and educators, social workers, etc. deserve more. they give so much and yet the corporate bullcaca folks and wall street men (cuz they're always men) make the shit ton money. for what? who friggen knows. it sucks and i'm sorry.

hang in there lady. sending you lots of hugs and hoping the best will come for you.

Faiza said...

also sending you love and hugs and hoping that even though you keep getting these messages that your work is not valued and that the people you care about are not important enough...trust in your passion, trust in your goodness...

H. Gillham said...

Oh sweetie, I feel your pain.

Mind what you love. Do what you love.

BTW: I come to this blog to see what the young people are thinking. I love it that you are... thinking and young.


Kara said...

This made me so incredibly sad. I can't believe that so many states are cutting funding that is HUGELY important - in Arizona, it's mental health lately. They're cutting funding for single SMI (seriously mentally ill) adults without children here, which is a huge population of people in need. I'm not out of a job because of it (yet), but that doesn't mean it's not appalling. I hope you find something rewarding asap.

Jax said...

I am so sorry, friend. That is absolute shit. That cartoon says it perfectly...which is sad. I don't understand what is so very flawed in our society that people can't wake up and realize the necessity in services like what you're doing, other teachers, other arts professionals, etc. *sigh* I am so so sorry..

Kimberly Seibel said...

It is sad how little we value the labor of those whose work is the most meaningful. The truth is that we all pay for the consequences of that mis-evaluation. It's just too bad that people don't connect the dots, from teacher's salary to outcome.

But I would say that your work with incarcerated youth IS about those needs at the bottom of the pyramid because that is how must children meet those needs - through their parents. The state is obviously horrible at managing the affairs of children under their care. So there is definitely an argument to be made that you are keeping people out of prison and helping children not end up needing the state to provide their most basic needs.

Kimberly Seibel said...

Oh and I forgot to mention that I'm also now the victim of budget cuts, too. Title IV education funds were cut 40% which means that the Fulbright-Hays fellowship was CANCELLED this year. Not next fiscal year - THIS year. So nobody is going this year. The Fulbright IIE (the one that most undergrads do) is still on but reduced.

To quote someone from an online grad forum: I think it's pretty clear: our priorities involve blowing up people in other countries, not trying to understand and get along with them."

Dee Stephens said...

Found you through Summer. I'm your newest follower. I hear SF and have several good friends there.
This post is incredible. What a great service you do with the children. That is something truly needed.
I too am disappointed in the State of CA. They need someone who can truly fix things.
Not just act they will for power and publicity.

Kristin W said...

Even reading through your comments, I wish there were more people with this mentality. I went from being a social worker (Masters degree too) working for the state of Georgia to a teacher. It is so disheartening to me. That cartoon really says it all.
Not only do careers like ours get little credit, but we're still expected to get the same amount of education as many other higher paying jobs. Between my school loan payments and other bills, I barely scrape by every month. While I'm lucky to still be employed, it's frustrating.
I just don't know what can change the system...it's sickening what people in politics say about teachers and education here in NC.