Things to Read - 6 Interesting Articles From Around the Web (on video games, day care, $40,000, American Girl dolls, creativity tests, and gun control)

1. The Huff Post rejected this personal piece on troubled teams and video games. It's depressing and somewhat scary, yet worth a read.

" As a teacher, I’ve spent a lot of time this past week [December 27, 2012] thinking about the Newtown shooting, school shootings in general, their causes and possible preventions.
It’s scary now to think that I ever had anything in common with school shooters. I don’t enjoy admitting that. But I did have a lot in common with them. I was angry, had access to guns, felt ostracized, and didn’t make friends easily. I engaged in violence and wrote about killing people in my notes to peers. But there is one significant difference between me at 16 and 17 years of age and most high school shooters: I didn’t play violent video games.

. . . .

Now I am not anti-video game crusader Jack Thompson. I’m not suggesting that everyone who plays a video game will act out that video game in reality. But I am saying that it is very dangerous to allow troubled, angry, teenage boys access to killing practice, even if that access is only virtual killing practice. The military uses video games to train soldiers to kill, yet we don’t consider “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3″ training for addicted teenage players? A high school boy who plays that game 30 hours per week isn’t training to kill somebody?
I am not surprised that school shooters love violent video games. As an angry, troubled teen, I would’ve probably loved to shoot hundreds of people on-screen. That might’ve felt nice.
But now, as a teacher, I worry about my most troubled male students playing games like “Halo 4″ and “Assassin’s Creed 3,” bragging about violent actions that they’ve never done in the real world. A scrawny, angry boy’s who’s failing socially is a scary video game addict.

2. The New Republic published a horrifying piece on low income daycare in America.

"By national standards, Texas child care regulations are typical—better than average in some respects, worse in others. That is to say, they are painfully minimal. “You know, when we walk into some of these places, they’re meeting the letter of the standards,” Lahmeyer says. “But it’s like a warehouse for children. You know it when, as the inspector, you are the most interesting thing the kids have seen all day. They attach themselves to you and are trying to engage because there’s nothing else going on for them.”

Like most states, Texas inspects child care centers at least once a year, but only has the manpower to visit home day cares every two. Even egregious violations don’t always lead to shutdowns. Sometimes, that’s because parents, lacking alternatives, fight to keep notorious places open. An inspector named Carol McGinnis told me she’d recently visited a center in “total disarray,” with “feces smeared on the walls.” Nevertheless, if the agency closed it, McGinnis expected some parents would resist, because it was one of the few places offering care on weekends.

On other occasions, the process of closing a day care can be torturous. Lahmeyer recalled one place that racked up repeated violations over two years before a judge would shut it down. “I can tell you there’s a fair number [of cases] that we lost because the judge decided, No child’s died yet, so they stay open,” Lahmeyer says.

All too often, it takes an incident to force a closure. Last November, for instance, DFPS closed a center after a caregiver left a nine-month-old infant alone on a changing table without a belt. The baby fell onto a concrete floor, sustaining a serious skull injury. In addition to the caregiver, DFPS cited the director for failing to “contact the parents the next day when a ‘mushy’ bump was observed on the infant’s head.” I asked McGinnis how many of the area’s providers she’d trust with her own child. She answered promptly: “Twenty percent.”

3. I don't know what to say about A Conversation with a Single Mom Living on $40,000 a Year other than it needs to be read.

"I definitely live paycheck-to-paycheck and that’s not an exaggeration. My bank balance by payday is often $0. I have no savings at all. My priorities as far as bills go are rent and childcare. I am lucky that I don’t have a lot of credit card debt, but even without that I can’t always pay all my bills. I have a very strict budget that I stick to. I can’t always pay utility bills in full, but I have figured out how much I have to pay to keep the utility companies from shutting off my service. My gas usage is higher in the winter, but goes way down in the summer so I am able to catch up on that bill by the next winter. I rent a very rundown house in a good school system and pay below market rent. Even then I have negotiated that rent to keep it low—not asking for a lot of work to be done, doing work on the house myself, etc.

I have really learned to negotiate a lot. For the summer, I simply could not afford the cost of full-time care for all three kids—it was more than I earn! So I contacted the child care provider and was very frank about my situation and was able to work out an arrangement for payment that allows me to keep them in child care. Then there are bills that I just can’t pay. I was saddled with a large debt in my divorce and I have just no money to pay that with—I know it will catch up with me eventually but for right now my priority is keeping my kids sheltered, fed and cared for.
I can’t always pay utility bills in full, but I have figured out how much I have to pay to keep the utility companies from shutting off my service.

I stick to a strict budget as far as groceries. I make menus, never shop without a list and rarely have “treats” for the kids. Our big night is when I order pizza and watch a movie on Netflix. My kids are growing so fast and I really can’t keep up with buying clothes for three of them so I have learned to swallow my pride and ask for donations. I belong to a listserv of single mothers and just put it out there that I needed clothes and received a lot of donations which got us through the winter.

I don’t take vacations—alone or with the kids. We rarely go out and when the kids are with their dad, I don’t go out. It’s very isolating because not having any “extra” money means I can’t go out and socialize."

4. Have American Girl dolls become too bland and materialistic? (Truthfully, before reading this article I had no idea that they ever weren't bland).

"With a greater focus on appearance, increasingly mild character development, and innocuous political topics, a former character-building toy has become more like a stylish accessory. Radford says, "I was really focused on the historical and fictional stories of the dolls. My [younger] cousins seem to view their dolls as one more item they need to be cool. They seem focused on having more outfits than their friends as opposed to connecting to the stories." American Girl once provided a point of entry for girls who have matured into thoughtful, critical, empowered citizens. Now the company's identity feels as smooth, unthreatening and empty as the dolls on their shelves."

5. NPR asks us to consider whether creativity be tested. After reading this article, I copied the experiment and drew large colored-in eggs on blank white pieces of paper. Then I asked the girls to "create." They both made the eggs into huge eyes, perhaps we've been reading too much Lemony Snicket?

"In the late 1950s, a man named E. Paul Torrance was . . . interested in children's creativity.

. . . .

"They were high-energy kids with ideas," she says, "and those don't always fit into a very structured school situation. And so [Torrance] did a lot of research in how, for example, teachers much prefer highly intelligent kids and often don't like highly creative kids because they are harder to control and they're misunderstood."

Torrance set out to change that, or at least to prove that creativity was as important as intelligence, not just in the arts, but in every field. As part of that mission, he devised a number of ways to test for creativity. Today, the system he created is called the Torrance Test."

6. Obviously, for those who read my post on gun control, I am EXTREMELY upset that the background checks bill didn't pass. Gabby Giffords wrote a fantastic article about "A Senate in the Gun Lobby's Grip", which I (of course) highly suggest reading. Further, Huff Post published a summary of how certain senators stuck their necks out in attempting to legislate against the NRA (go Harry Reid!!).

Regardless of whether or not you agree with me, call your senator. This is the time to show them who they work for. Even if you love the NRA, don't let them speak for you. Call yourself. It's time that people mattered more than lobbies.

" . . . Reid, who is up for reelection in 2016 and shows no signs of retiring . . . spoke out on behalf of an assault weapons ban on the Senate floor Wednesday in terms that'll certainly draw the ire of the pro-gun crowd back home.

. . . .

"Today I choose to vote my conscience," said Reid in an emotional speech. "Not only is Harry Reid a United States senator, but also a husband, a father, a grandfather and, I hope, friend of lots and lots of people. I choose to vote my conscience because if tragedy strikes again, I'm sorry to say, Mr. President, it will, if innocents are gunned down in a classroom, theater or restaurant -- I would have trouble living with myself."

He went on to blast opponents as conspiracy nuts. "I'll vote for the ban because maintaining the law and order is more important than satisfying conspiracy theorists who believe in black helicopters and false flags," Reid said. "I'll vote for the ban because saving the lives of police officers, young and old, and innocent civilians, young and old, is more important than preventing imagined tyranny."

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