Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Race and the College Graduate

In a recent issue of USA Today there was a statistic indicating that more black Americans were getting degrees than every before.  In 2012 the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 21% of blacks 25 years or older had 4 years of college or more.  My immediate question was how does this compare to other ethnic groups.  By reporting only the numbers for one group, the newspaper paints an incomplete picture.  Is that a low number?  Don't all kids go to college after high school at this point?

Looking deeper into the same census shows that only 33.5% of all Americans aged 25 to 29 have earned at least a bachelor's degree. The college graduation rates across all racial groups have increased.  Socioeconomic status is the biggest indicator of whether or not someone will be successful in college.  If someone comes from a low income family they are less likely to graduate from high school, attend college and graduate from college.  More affluent states have significantly higher graduation rates than poorer states.  

The fact that only about a third of the population has a college degree is something we should care about as a country.  We are constantly hearing reports about how American children are not as smart those in other countries.  What is being done to bridge this gap?  That is the article I wanted to read.  I'm sick of hearing skewed statistics about minorities that reinforce the assumption that we are less educated than whites.  

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

I am halfway through reading Wild by Chery Strayed.  I have been trying to fight the urge to read this book for months.  Lately it seems like the more hype a book gets, the less that it deserves.  I have yet to read a single Oprah's book club selection that I have enjoyed.   Entertainment Weekly, Time Magazine, Oprah, Amazon, etc  were all telling me that I had to read this book.  So I finally broke down and bought it. 

This book is a memoir. Cheryl's mother dies from cancer and, as a result, her barely stable hold on life completely falls appart.  She sabotages her marriage.  She becomes promiscuous.  She has an abortion.  She starts using heroin.  She hits her low point and decides to hike the Pacific Coast trail alone.  She doesn't know anything about hiking before starting this journey.  She is not a fitness buff.  She doesn't appropriately prepare for the journey and starts the hike overwhelmed with heavy equipment and emotional baggage.

Initially I felt like Cheryl had an overreaction to fairly normal life events.  Many of us has lost a parent too young or lost a friend to cancer.  We didn't self destruct.  I'll admit it took me several chapters to stop judging Cheryl and start rooting for her.  Everyone has their own reaction to life's tragedies.  It isn't my place to decide what those reactions are or how dramatic a reaction is permitted for each circumstance. 

I know that this is one of my personality flaws.  I judge people based on what they do vs. what I think I would do in the same situation.  When people do this to me it drives me crazy.  Telling me how much I will love children because they love children.  How my fear of heights will go away once I enjoy the beauty that surrounds me on the top of a bungee cord or zip line.  How they never wanted to run a marathon either until one day they just did.  It is exactly the same thing and I have to stop doing it to other people.

Cheryl has been on the trail for a little over 2 weeks when she realizes that she hasn't cried at all during the trip.  She says to herself "This is the hardest thing I have ever been through and I haven't cried".  Then she quickly corrects herself.  Of course the death of her mother and all of the other things she went through prior to her journey were much harder.  But maybe they were harder in a different way.  She takes pride in the physical and mental strength that she has developed during the trip.  She gains confidence in realizing that she must be a strong to overcome so much and not feel sorry for herself or give up.  She finds that by working through the rigors of the trail, she doesn't have time to wallow in the disspointments from her past.  What a brilliant epiphany.

It is also around this time that you find out that Strayed is not her original last time.   She picked a new last name coming out of her divorce.  She couldn't go back to the girl that she was before marriage but couldn't continue to keep her married name either.  Cheryl looked in the dictionary and selected strayed.  The dictionary definition suited her perfectly.  Because Cheryl had strayed and now she was determined to find herself.  I love that. 

It made me think of what my last name would be if I looked over my life.  Was there one unifying theme that played across all the major tragedies in my life?  My father's illness and death.  My mother's neglect.  My brother's mental illness.  My self destructive behavior.  My hyper sensitivity to what people say/think.  My inability to relax or let things go.  Control freak.  Ball of nervous energy.  Insecurity.  All of these things have been eased by running, martial arts and zumba but it is safe to say that I am still working through my shit. 

What is it that I do?  I explode.  I accuse. I internalize.  I confront.  I justify.  I react.  Sometimes these actions scare people away (which is what I think I want them to do).  Other times they prevent me from accepting/trying/doing something that I am uncomfortable with.  Or, worse yet, I don't do anything to change my circumstances and just tolerate a likely preventable situation that I should walk away from.  I am somewhere between repel and withstand.  I would say Denise Suffers but she doesn't have to. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Still Not Getting It

I was excited when I saw an article about running in last week's Sports Illustrated.  Mud, Sweat and Beers by Austin Murphy started with promise but quickly fizzled.  It is further proof that this author and many others just don't get it. 

The article indicates that there is a big running boom going on right now.  The gimmicky races like the Mud Runs and Color Runs have encouraged a lot of people who never thought about running to come out and party.  Not to mention runs that benefit specific charities.  I don't disagree with any of this.  A lot of my friends and co-workers were lured to running by these races that promise a unique experience.  Personally, these races don't appeal to me because of all the hoopla.  But anything that gets people off their asses is a good thing. 

Throughout the article the author differentiates between serious runners or competitors and the rest of the pack.  He considers serious runners to be people who are fast and thin.  Anyone who isn't in competition for a medal isn't a serious runner.  The author also makes several references to the rest of the pack being overweight, out of shape, just there for a t-shirt, not serious. 

Murphy implies that the standards of the running community have been lowered to encourage non-serious runners to compete; road races generate a lot of money and more people equals more money.  Yes, there are more people running now than before but there have always been people of all shapes, sizes and paces participating in road races.  The change is in the attitude of the running community at large.  

In the past when I went to be fitted for running shoes, the running shoe specialist immediately assumed I was a walker.  When I went out to participate in training runs with the local running club they had pace groups up to 8 or 9 minute miles and the rest of us had to fend for ourselves.  My self esteem was already low and this sort of snobbery only made me feel worse about myself.  

During the past couple of years, running community has become more inclusive.  When I go to a training run no one is left behind.  I don't know why this has changed.  Maybe reality shows like Made, Extreme Weight Loss and The Biggest Loser have pumped us up to root for the underdog and to not judge people based on their appearance if they are trying to be better.  

I have been a serious runner for 25 years.  I run 2-4 days a week and compete in several road races every year.  I have never been fast or thin but I don't waddle or have my gut hanging over my shorts as Murphy would have you believe.  A lot of thin people finish after me and lot of heavy people finish before me.  The average race awards the top three people in each age group.  That's maybe 60 people at a large race.  So outside of those 60 people no one else is a serious runner?   Maybe 5% of the field is in competition for a medal.  The other 95% is comprised of people going for personal records, running for the love of it, running for their health, and yes, maybe for a t-shirt and a stale bagel afterward.  

It is always disappointing when a large publication like Sports Illustrated takes a fringe athletic event and completely misses the opportunity to properly represent it.  This article will validate what running snobs think and make average runners feel invisible and judged.  Way to go SI.