Month: March 2009

Hurray for Dr. Holland!

I just found out today that my mentor and friend Dr. Matt Holland had exciting news- he was named as President of Utah Valley University in Orem Utah! This is a large college nearby my Alma Mater Brigham Young University. The school has 23,750 students and was recently upgraded from a college to a university.

I can’t think of anyone who deserves this more.  I met Dr. Holland as a student in political philosophy in 2001.  I had taken classical political theory previously, but I hated the teacher.  He was one of those teachers everyone said was “easy” but I found it boring.  I actually stopped attending after a while and just turned in my tests. I thought the class was so obvious and boring.  Despite being absent I still passed the class and gained an appreciation for philosophy.  For some reason I decided I wanted to be a teaching assistant for a political philosophy class (which is odd considering my experience with the class).

To improve my grade I took the class again for summer term and was lucky enough to have a brand new teacher named Matt Holland.  I loved all my philosophy classes, but Dr. Holland’s was special.  He just made me want to be a better person, to look at these theories and see how they could improve my life and the lives of those I love.  All of my philosophy classes helped me understand the world, helped me understand myself- and helped me know how to express my soul.  I remember in high school feeling like I could never convey what was inside my heart- the thoughts were there but the words would always disappoint.  It such a cliche to say but it was in college I found my voice.  Dr. Holland inspired this journey.

Just before his class was ending I approached Dr. Holland about being his TA (and when I say approached I mean I called him about 15 times in 2 weeks).  I knew that I needed to be persistent because I didn’t have the greatest GPA. Let’s put it this way- there were definitely students with higher GPA’s he could have hired. Something inside me knew I needed this experience. To my delight a week or so before class started Dr.  Holland called me and said “So, you want to be my TA hah?”.  After that, I was hired along with two of my best friends in the major Raelene Kochel (now Bradley)  and Bob Floyd.

See if you can feel my enthusiasium from a journal entry dated 09/01/01 (just after getting the job)?:

Oh, that’s right I am going to be a TA. I haven’t told you about that yet! I ended up getting an A- in my 201 class and I asked Dr. Holland if I could be a TA and he said sure! I am so excited. The best part of it is that I am going to be TA’ing with my friend Raelene who is super nice. She is honestly probably my best friend in the political science major. I really want to become more involved in the major this semester because this is my last chance. This TA will be a start….I am kind of scared to be a TA but I think it will be a super good experience and Dr. Holland is super nice. So, I am excited (If you couldn’t tell!).(09-01-01)

Now listen to a letter I wrote (don’t know if I sent) to my parents  just after my job is finished:


I think out of everything I am the most proud of my work with Dr. Holland. I have been thinking so much lately and I know that I am a better person for all that I have been experiencing. It’s intimidating to get up there and teach other students or grade papers, but he makes me want to try harder. My hope is that maybe when I see you again at Christmas, that you will be shocked at how much I have grown and changed.(12-09-01)

It’s hard to explain how a simple college job could be so important to me.  I cry whenever I think about it.  As part of this job I graded papers and tests, tutored students, created multimedia presentations, and even instructed the class on grammar once!  I’ve always respected that Dr. Holland never  questioned our grades, never second guessed us.  He had faith in us.  There were times when he gave correction but it was in a way that motivated, not discouraged.  Dr. Holland was without a doubt the best boss I have ever had. I wanted to be great because I knew he believed in me.

It was also a great experience to work and instruct students.  I remember the first time I connected with one.  It was an older Latino woman who was struggling to understand Plato’s cave. I could not figure out how to explain this concept in a way that an ESL student would understand.  After several attempts it finally occurred to me to ask if she had seen the movie the Truman Show?  She said she had.  I then showed how the set Truman is stuck in is similar to the cave.  Everything surrounding Truman is like the shadows in the cave- they aren’t real.  They have been placed there by the director, just like the shadows are placed in the cave by the philosopher kings.  She got it!  It was so exciting to see the light bulb moment in this student.  It made me feel smart, made me feel confident, in a new way.  I owe that moment to Dr. Holland and his faith in me.

Once I finished being his TA, I had Dr. Holland as my professor for my senior capstone class.  It was possibly the best class ever.  There were only 7 of us in the class- and Raelene and I were the only girls.  Last year I asked Dr. Holland if he’d seen anything like us again and he said “No, you two are legends”! He also said Raelene and I were two of his favorites! (That meant a lot to me!).

I started this class determined to get an A.  Despite learning a great deal in my classes, I often felt frustrated by my inability to get A’s.  I wanted to show Dr. Holland I could get an A in the most important class- the senior capstone.  I also wanted to prove to myself I could do it.  The class was on the philosophy of Thomas Jefferson and the main assignment for the class was to write a 20 page paper on his political philosophies.  I chose to focus on Jefferson’s theories of education. Here is the link to the paper if anyone is interested in taking a look:  Senior Capstone Paper.

Anyway, I worked for hours on the paper.  My friend Marcus and I met in the law library and poured over them again and again.  It only ended up being 20 pages, but I felt like I had written a book. It was one of the few moments in my life where I can genuinely say I did the best I could. I put in every ounce of effort I could.  I felt that way when leaving my mission.  I felt that way when leaving my job last year, and I felt that way then.  I always try to do my best work but this was something different.  This was my heart and soul.  Dr. Holland recognized that and was very encouraging.  In fact, when others in the class wanted to extend the date of the paper he called me to discuss it.  I felt that an extension would be one more example of how I worked the hardest but then ended up the same as everyone else.  Perhaps this comparison was beneath me but I just felt like I had earned the highest grade in the class for once in my life.  I wanted to prove to Dr. Holland and to myself that I could do it without any extension or help.

Finally I turned in the paper and low and behold an A! It still holds up as one of the best moments of my life. To end the class Dr. Holland gave me a book called Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.  It has since become one of my favorite books (anyone who has been in a book club with me can attest to that).  The inscription on the book reads:

Rachel,

I hope you enjoy this stirring narrative of a female slave.  I believe it embodies many ideals you seem to cherish and represent yourself!  Courage, discipline, and freedom for all– especially those who lacked it in previous societies.  It’s been a great delight having you in class.  Both as a student and  teaching assistant.  Good luck, Prof.  Holland.

This meant so much to me.   It’s hard to describe.  It just did. Still to this day, I feel motivated to do my best because of Dr. Holland’s faith in me. I don’t want it to have been for naught. I want to mean something to the world.  I know I can accomplish great things.  That is the power of a great teacher.  Dr.  Holland isn’t perfect.  He was just the influence I needed at that moment, at that time, and he rose to the challenge.

Everyone has key figures in his or her life- people who if they made a biographic film  would have to be in it.   My parents, my siblings, my grandparents, Dr.  Holland and a few key friends would have to be there. I am not a believer in total fate, but I do believe that each person has key people who we are supposed to meet along the way- both people we need to help, and that improve our lives.  Dr.  Holland was such a key person for me. I am grateful that he took the time to nurture my intellect and encourage me to do my best. He saw a potential in me that I didn’t even see in myself and once again- that’s a great teacher.  I am so excited for his future as the President of UVU, and I wish him all the best.  Good luck!

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Why I think the stimulus package is a bad idea

Ok so I normally don’t get into politics in this blog, but I can’t go on without stating my peace about this stimulus package.  This is just my opinion, so take it for what it is worth.  (You’all know I love politics- so it can’t come as much of a surprise!).

Recently President Obama has put forth a $800 billion stimulus package and that’s only a small portion of his $3.5 trillion budget.  Even left-to-center media outlets such as the Los Angeles Times has called Obama’s plan and resulting projections “optimistic, even quixotic”.  I agree.  Do you know this package, inflation aside, is the “largest single spending bill in human history”?

Personally I have always been a believer in low to no debt- purchasing only what I need first and then what I want second.  Call me old fashioned but I have lived to 28, gotten myself educated (earned my MBA last year), rent a nice apartment, and live a nice life without scraping up an ounce of debt- not for a car, credit card, nothing.   Yes, I have been given some advantages to help me stay out of debt; however, there were certainly moments when I could have gotten credit card and other types of debt if I had let my guard down. For example, I went to an affordable graduate program,  and I have always driven cheap cars. The truth is I”m not even that thrifty but on the other hand I have never allowed my spending to get out of control- to build into debt.  If I can do it than the federal government can. It just has to be a priority and there has to be sacrifices.

Clearly I understand that debt is a necessary tool for our economy and that balancing the budget at this point with two expensive wars and other problems is an impossibility.  However, that does not mean that we need to add to the debt by billions and trillions of dollars. Such a spending spree would be like me maxing out on my credit card when I am low on funds just to boost my confidence.   Everyone would think I was crazy.  Millions of people like myself feel the same way about the stimulus plan- a giant spending spree when we need to cutback! Why do you think Wall Street has failed to respond to the supposed promise of the stimulus package? It’s because economists know or  at least are uncertain of the possible side effects of  the plan’s high price tag.

Some will counter my argument by saying that the spending will increase consumer confidence, build public works and provide new jobs.  I am not convinced we need to spend this much- if the concept is true to begin with.  Obama’s stimulus package is often compared to 1940’s legislation such as the GI bill, which paid millions to educate our troops.  Such legislation shows a clear investment benefit that I do not see from the stimulus package- nor do I believe such an investment would cost trillions of dollars.  To me it feels like anything whether it is of value or not is being tagged as something that will stimulate the economy.  It’s like a giant stimulus parade that keeps growing and growing- right along with our debt. Take a look at this interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about this over-spending.  In it the author argues that such reckless spending actually hurts our economy and will force us into “a longer period of recession”:

“But after five weeks in office, it’s become clear that Mr. Obama’s policies are slowing, if not stopping, what would otherwise be the normal process of economic recovery. From punishing business to squandering scarce national public resources, Team Obama is creating more uncertainty and less confidence — and thus a longer period of recession or subpar growth.”

Others will argue that the New Deal of  the 30’s and 40’s was an example of government stimulated growth.  I used to think this to but in recent reading I have done there appears to be much debate on this topic.   Economist’s Christina and David Romer (who incidentally actually work for Obama on his Council of Economic Advisers) said “a simple calculation indicated that nearly all of the observed recovery of the US economy prior to 1942 was due to monetary expansion.  Huge gold inflows in the mid- and late- 1930’s  swelled the US money stock and appear to have stimulated the economy by lowering real interest rates and encouraging investment spending and purchases of durable goods.”

Isn’t that interesting?  My whole life I have been taught that the Roosevelt spending and the war got us out of the Great Depression.  (Despite my mother arguing the opposite!) In fact, the National Bureau of Economic Research did a a study on the effect of the economy from military spending during World War II.  They found that “military spending had virtually no effect”.  Even if you do not accept such an argument, the stimulus presented in the 30’s and 40’s paled to what is being offered now- and my fear is that we’ve only just begun.

I do think that some of the New Deal programs had a positive economic impact merely for the motivation it gave  melancholy unemployed workers.  Massive groups of unhappy citizens are bad for democracy and create shaky policy, even revolutions; therefore, some government spending in this regard is appropriate- just not trillions of dollars.

There are clearly items such as stabilizing the credit market that need to be addressed- but wasn’t that what the $700 billion was for that we already spent? $700 billion we did not have?  Now we are adding to it!  To me it is outrageous.  Do you all realize that with just this $700 billion you could give every American $3500 to spend how they wish?  Doesn’t that put it in perspective!

Again, I recognize the need for some intervention and spending but I just think the stimulus plan and the budget are out of control. The fact is that before this our government was already in debt to China and other countries.  Now we could end up as a pawn in their international games.  I want a fiscally independent America.  One that can look at this crisis and actually plan for a productive economy in the future- instead of building mountains of debt for future generations.  Let’s have a little bit of perspective here and be willing to sacrifice pork programs (and even good but non-essential programs) for the plans that will truly build up the confidence and strength of Americans and our economy.   I love this country and I want to see it succeed not flounder in wasteful debt!

Take a look at this video.  It is admittedly right-wing but I think the statistics make some good points.  To Senator Shumer- I am one of the chattering class, and I care: