Rock Solid?

Springfield, Ma, USA skyline

Springfield, Ma, USA skyline (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve sat on this one for a few days; trying hard both to gather my thoughts and to reconcile them into making some sort of sense; while trying even harder not to sound like a complete idiot. Here goes:

The other day I was privileged to attend a Human Services Forum awards breakfast wherein my co-worker was honored for her longevity, dedication and service to our employer (Way to Go Lu!) The keynote speaker was Dr Tim Black, sociology professor at the University of Hartford and author of the book ‘When a Heart Turns Rock Solid’, a true glimpse into the lives of 4 Puerto Rican brothers from Springfield MA over an 18 year period of time. I was quite interested to hear what he had to say (as a former soc major myself) and settled in to listen. He spoke about the double economic upheaval/recessions resulting in displacement within the same generational span of time. Made perfect sense, and offered a basic framework for understanding some of the factors influencing the Puerto Rican population in this part of the state. Dr Black made it clear this had turned into a double decade research project for him. He spent a great deal of time with the subjects, developed close relationships with them, and is clearly passionately involved in advocating for and working with Latinos; which is highly laudable.

Then he started to lose me. And I’ll tell you why…. First and most importantly – just by developing relationships with the subjects of his research he biased the conclusions he arrives at. Big mistake – huge…. Dispassionate observation is crucial in achieving factual unbiased results. “Observe and record, but do not interfere” is the first rule of research. The Prime Directive – if you will. Admittedly this is tremendously difficult when the subjects you are studying are human beings. How can you not interact with, influence, and be influenced by them? This difficulty is probably one of the reasons I did not pursue a career in sociological research…. well that – and the fact that I hate writing research papers. I’m much better at op-ed pieces. 😉 Anyway, by developing those relationships, and even providing assistance to one or more of the brothers at times (in the form of job references and the like) he skewed his results. I’m not saying he shouldn’t have done that as a moral, responsible, and caring individual; I’m merely saying that he’s influenced his outcome making any conclusions suspect at best.

He also lost me when it seemed that he was “blaming” circumstances for bad outcomes (jail time for instance) rather than personal choice and personal responsibility. If you don’t already know, this is a really hot button issue for me so I was hard pressed to keep my mouth shut and my lower lip bit. But I did well – contenting myself with an eye roll or two to my table mates (many of whom are Hispanic – and agreed with me – as I later discovered). Dr Black used the example of one of the brothers getting into a car accident on the way home from work, and turning back to selling drugs in order to support his family because he had no transportation to get back and forth to work. I find it highly improbable this was the only choice available to him at that time – although Dr Black would have us think otherwise and why not? He clearly cares a great deal about the young man and so is willing to make allowances for him – which brings me right back to the whole bias thing again, doesn’t it?

During the question and answer period Dr. Black also stated he felt that anyone living in the North End of Springfield should be able to go to college for free. That was that – Elvis left the building at that point and I started seeing red. I’m 100% for government assistance and low-interest loans to pay for a college education – particularly when the student comes from an impoverished background. There are many programs and grants already in place for students in need. But FREE? Come on! A college education is not a right – it’s a privilege. One that my husband, myself and our oldest daughter are struggling to provide to her at this very moment. Nobody’s handing us a free ride – and we live paycheck to paycheck just like the rest of blue-collar America. The federal government (FAFSA) would like to believe that her father and I magically should’ve had thousands of dollars available to pay for this year’s bill – I want to know where that money is – cuz it ain’t in MY bank account – jussayin. Oh wait, I bet our car mechanic has it….. But I digress. College is a privilege that should be paid for so that it will be valued and not tossed aside. (Remember the old adage of ” its worth what you paid for it”?) If you pay nothing for your education then how invested will you be in it? And, if you’re not invested you’ve now robbed a “paying customer” of the opportunity to attend. I say this because I have first hand experience with valuing my higher education so much more when I had to pay for it myself.

I’ll descend from the soapbox now. If nothing else, Dr Black gave me a lot to disagree with him about. Why is it difficult for people to accept responsibility for their choices? What about giving people a hand up rather than a hand out? I stand by my opinion that hard work and perseverance make a successful person. Anyone can rise above their circumstances if they want to badly enough. I was not able to purchase his book that morning – the blue, bleeding heart liberal (ie Massachusetts) audience descended upon the book table like the proverbial pack of ravening wolves – but I will be looking for it online. I have no doubt its an accurate story of life in Springfield over the past two decades – but “rock solid” from a research standpoint? Not a chance.


23 thoughts on “Rock Solid?

  1. Well I have a science background, and anyone knows that research should be totally unbiased, it’s not worth a second glance if it’s not. I’m in agreement with you. Also, excuses are what have weakened this country. And it’s an epidemic! Not a minute goes by where someone is not making an excuse for something. No one knows how to stand up and take ownership anymore. When we were at the Polynesian Cultural Center, one of the comedic things the Somoan guy said was, “I love American. If I fall out of a tree in Somoa, people call me a dummy. If I fall out of a tree in American, it’s not my fault.” That pretty much sums it up.

  2. If Dr. Black wants to represent his work as a study on a family and what resulted, in part from his interactions, fine. If he is proposing that this is a statistical analysis of his subject, then he is a fraud. Plain and simple. Not only for his personal involvement and influence on their lives, but his study “population” is too small to have anything other than anecdotal significance.

    Free education for anyone from a section of the city? BS!!! And SkyDDrake, you are incorrect. I’ve known too many heartbreaking cases where someone wanted out of a situation bad enough that they found a way. Many very bright people didn’t make it, …sad to say, they didn’t pursue all avenues. There are all kinds of grants, work study programs, even the Military which provides a paid amount for each year of service. The cases I’ve seen of failure are people flatly unwilling to make the extra sacrifices required. Its not easy, but it can be done.

    I’m no special guy, but I put myself through school by working an afternoon and an evening job, and then in gas stations on weekends. I was often down to peanut butter and crackers a few days before my next payday, and some days had minimal sleep to do my studying. I didn’t graduate cum laude, but I did graduate.

    Selling drugs to survive? Again, BS. There are always alternatives, not necessarily easy, not pretty, but there are alternatives.

    And yes, I appreciated it when someone gave me a $5 bill. It was a huge gift. But by having the work ethic I did, I also really appreciated that $5 bucks. I knew where it came from.

    Momma, your first instincts were correct. Don’t let anyone change your compass.



    • I think it’s important for all to be heard. But I still strongly believe if you want it, you’ll find a way to do it. Hard work, perseverance and not taking no for an answer…

    • I just have to look at my husband for a great example of what can be done when the mind is applied. He was on his own on and off from the ages of 14-17 (lots of BAD family issues) and completely on his own from 17 up. Got his GED after getting laid off in the late 80’s, through the OWL (onward with learning) program. He didn’t just collect unemployment but actually researched programs that the state had to offer, and took advantage of them. He’s worked his way up the ladder in quality/nondestructive testing for the machining industry. He took advantage of programs within the industry to get college credits at no cost to us. Works at least 55-60 hours every week. Great work ethic-will show up to work half dead. He’s a stellar example of someone who had a ton of disadvantages and worked his way out of them.
      My father was (and still is) another wonderful example of someone who started out LITERALLY dirt poor in the backwoods of New Hampshire in the midst of the Great Depression. He never finished high school but enlisted in the Navy in ’46, and he retired from GE’s aircraft engine quality control division with an honorary degree from Northeastern in engineering. His mother left school in the 3rd grade in 1895 to help support her family. I am the first person on either side of my family to graduate from a 4 year college. I know from the examples in my family that anything can be accomplished when it’s wanted badly enough. Love and Hugs to all!!

    • The Viking and your dad are examples of my point. It ‘taint easy, but it can be done. No excuses. By the way, if your dad worked at GE jet engines, he may have run across a cousin, Billy Blakeslee who also worked there.

      • Dad was a quality control inspector back when GE outsourced its engine parts. Dad would travel throughout New England every week to audit different machine shops that GE contracted with. He worked for them from ’66-’86. Before that, he worked at Hamilton Standard on the 11pm-7am shift. (before my folks got married and when I was little) He also drove a school bus part time then. Never afraid of work, no job “beneath” him. The main office for GE was in West Lynn MA just north of Boston. He’d go in a few times a month. It was always fun if my sister and I could talk him into taking one or both of us to work with him. His bosses and the secretaries loved us – and we got to have lunch in some of the best restaurants in the city. Depending on when Billy worked there, Dad probably knew him. Dad knew everybody…. And he loved to be busy. In fact, he passed away while working -at his summer landscaping job – at 79 yrs old. Just writing this makes me miss him more… :’)

        • I understand about missing him. Billy was there during the dates you mentioned, in Lynn. he got the job right out of the service, and stayed thru retirement. I was not especially close, so couldn’t tell you what he did, but likely he did know your dad. He was a very friendly, outgoing sort.

          Again, with the super small world!!

          • Email me your contact info ( my address is on my contact me page) we should chat! Please and thank you! And now, I’ve got that Disney song running through my head….. -_-

  3. There are some schools of thought out there, now, that state objectivity and dispassionate observation are human impossibilities. That being said, so long as the circumstances (such as building relationships beyond researcher/subject) have been put out there and acknowledged, it IS possible to run a qualitative and even a quantitative study that has its uses. Then again, I wasn’t at the speech, so it could have been way over-the-top and I just didn’t get the right jive from a quick summary of it. (The job reference thing does have me re-thinking this to some extent…that’s overkill. =/ )

    I do agree with your thoughts on personal responsibility for the most part, but I can’t guarantee I wouldn’t understand someone selling drugs to support their family. Was it ideal? Of course not. But in a pinch? Living week to week, day to day? I’ve known people to do bad things to put food on the table. I couldn’t applaud them for it, but I know I’d do anything for my family. Might there have been some other choices? Well. I’ve been in a place where I could not see any other options, so I’d feel like a hypocrite not taking that into consideration.

    Free college? Well. I’m of the bleeding-heart liberal sort. In fact, I’m a socialist. I have a really hard time dealing with the “no pain, no gain” and “if you didn’t suffer for it, you won’t appreciate it” mentality. Perhaps that’s true for some because that’s what they are brought up to believe. My first car was gifted to me. I waxed and washed it every weekend, was diligent regarding maintenance, and took impeccable care of it. I know a car isn’t a college education, but I was raised to appreciate everything I have, regardless of how it became mine.

    Lastly, I disagree that anyone can go and get what they want if they work hard enough for it. I think that for individuals that have to work harder just to survive probably won’t be able to attain a college education. Are there programs? Sure. Are those programs accessible to everyone that needs them? No. I’ve worked with brilliant students who will never be able to attend college because they are too busy raising their brothers and sisters, driving their drunk parents home at all hours of the day and night, and working full-time jobs. Do I think more people could attain a college education than do with just a little more effort? Yes. I think saying anyone could do it is too sweeping of a statement.

    Congrats to your co-worker!

    (Also, I really need to stop writing novels in your comments. It’s just that what you write can be so provocative! >.< )

    • Thats perfectly OK! Keep writing those novels cuz I love hearing from you! Thank you for your thoughts! I think we need to make whats out there program and grant wise more accessible to those in need. We also need to more broadly define that need because the working middle class is getting buried having to support just about everybody else while the rich just get richer….. And yep I made some sweeping statements on purpose, in part so that some other people can chime in and other viewpoints can be shown. We are dealing with individuals each with unique circumstances, I get that. I know brilliant people who didn’t go to college right out of high school but who did so eventually. People are amazing and if they want something badly enough they’ll find a way to do it. legally or not… I guess its up to us (society) to provide viable options. I just don’t like freebies. That’s how I was raised – if I wanted something I had to work for it – my stereo with the 8 track when I was 13 case in point. I worked tobacco all summer that year to buy that. And I still have the working speakers. I see way too much selfishness and wastefulness in this state. Also, since you are an educator I would be interested in your thoughts about this that I didn’t write about: At least one of these brothers was in the 10th grade when Dr Black met him and he couldn’t read or write…. I find that horrifying and unconscionable… how could someone get into the 10th grade and not know this???.
      But then again I’m in MA…. the state that supports tax payer funded yearly trips back to the motherland so that our “religious refugees” can “maintain their cultural identity” ….. MA doesn’t ever make sense….

      • Accessibility is the key. When there are so many parents who simply don’t care, and so many educators overwhelmed with the number of students they have to serve, for some students it’s really just a matter of not knowing where to start. Could they figure it out? Perhaps. I did, but I’m not everyone. And for students who are told (particularly by their families) that there’s just no way they can go to college, for any number of different reasons, that can be pretty hard to get past mentally.

        Freebies? No. It’s not that I wouldn’t expect people to work for their degree. My thoughts would be for the current system working. In my mind it should be fully expected that any student attending school on scholarships and grants would have to maintain a certain level of performance in order to keep attending. I would expect letters of reference, and evidence of leadership and good citizenship. While I know several people who have worked their way through college, I wonder what might have happened if they had been free to fully explore their education rather than working a couple of full-time jobs while they were at it. Does it teach them something about perseverance? Absolutely. But what might they have contributed to society if they had been able to put in the extra hours of study? Frankly, my idea of what secondary education will never come to be in this country, so I should really stop pining after it.

        And I my have been somewhat misleading. I’m not an educator. I’ve worked in and with schools as a mental health practitioner. I’ve tried my hand at teaching a few classes and teaching is something I’m seriously considering doing, but that’s not an honor I can claim as of yet. To answer your question, though? Because not all teachers are created equal. Some are burned out, some only took the job to get summers off, and some are flat-out racist, homophobic, or possessing of some other -ism that keeps them from caring about their students actually achieving. Once a student gains a reputation as a “problem child,” it’s a rare soul who tries to help them out. There’s also the matter of overcrowding and whatnot… And, it’s really not just an issue in MA. I’ve seen and heard tell of it many places across the US.

    • and Kudos to those of your kids who are stepping up and being responsible. Those kids are learning the toughest lessons now, way earlier than they should have to. Heres hoping they go on to do great things!

  4. You are sooooo right on…and excuse my lack of grammar in my post. The more I read, the more I realized that Dr Black lost all credibility when he crossed the line from researcher to social worker. While that in itself is not bad, if all researchers did that we would have a completely skewed view of society ( sorry I digress because it is skewed.) It was when he stepped into role of enabler, he became another perpetuator of the victim mentality. Great insight.

    • Thanks Leigh! I was a sociology major in school with a concentration in social work, and I’m the last person to “blame the victim” but c’mon….At some point we have to stop pointing fingers at everyone else and pick ourselves up. People find legal ways to advance themselves all the time – the ones who aren’t afraid of hard work are the ones who succeed. Being a “gangsta” is certainly lucrative, but there are better ways to make money – definitely more legal ones anyway. Ones that will keep people out of jail and connected to their families. We’re not doing anybody any favors with the freebies. Free=worthless. Uh oh I’m up on that soapbox again….. 😉

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