2 IL winners among NYT letter writers

Two Illinois high school students were among the winners of the New York Times letter-writing contest, which was published at the end of May.

Bianca Stelian, an 11th grader at the Latin School of Chicago, questioned a writer’s stance on stay-at-home moms with considerable insight:

The article implies that a woman like my mother, who currently mentors underprivileged college applicants and writes a blog about successful middle-age women who have reinvented themselves, all without receiving pay, is a waste of potential. …

Success is not only measured by the number on one’s paycheck. Any woman or man fortunate enough to pursue his or her own path without financial burden is not a lost cause. By shaming such women, the writer furthers the gender divides that she apparently seeks to break down.

Yes, Bianca, although many people look through narrow lenses and see staying at home as a mother as nothing more than a loss of income for a couple, I and many other people see it quite differently. And even though the savings a stay-at-home mom brings to a couple and their children can be substantial, that’s not even the best part, I think.

Here’s why: Bad daycare services can actually make life worse for kids. They can impair a child’s social and emotional development, which will make school more difficult, which will make postsecondary education more unlikely, which will make finding a good job more difficult, and we’re right back to poking holes in the loss-of-income argument against stay-at-home moms. Now, if a mom isn’t happy staying home, she won’t be much good for her kids, either, but calling someone who stays at home a “waste of potential” is shortsighted. Thanks for your letter.

And Alia Abiad, a freshman at St Ignatius College Prep in Western Springs, wrote about the magic of a train:

I love trains. I live in the suburbs of Chicago, and I ride the commuter train to and from my high school in the city every day. It’s been a year since I began taking the train; the charm hasn’t worn off yet. …

I adore this microcosm of etiquette and patience, and I feel that if more people experienced the satisfaction of a good train ride, they would be more willing to invest in passenger trains. Fixing our railroad system does not require us to suddenly leap to the level of the high-speed, luxurious trains in Europe and Japan; it could start with small improvements to the commuter trains that people take every day.

I know exactly what he means. I now live in Baltimore, and the light rail system is part of what is certainly one of the worst public transportation systems in this country. Its condition makes it difficult for people on very limited incomes and with very limited resources to make ends meet. The complete lack of reliability of public transit here means many will be late for work often and run the risk of losing jobs that aren’t that good to begin with. And then, after being fired, they have a reduced ability to get another job and their family goes hungry.

If we could just do what Alia said and fix the trains we already have, rather than worrying about whether we can get a high-speed train in the suburbs, we might actually make mass transit work for the people it was designed to serve. It was more eye-opening to read your letter, Alia, than it was to read the original article, which was too removed from the lives of real people.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.