Amy DePaul

Why Is College So Expensive? The War on Public Universities

With 220,000 students, 10 campuses strung across America’s most populous state, five medical centers, three national science laboratories and groundbreaking academic research, the University of California (U.C.) has long symbolized excellence in public higher education. But all that may be changing as a result of budget cuts, reduced access and tuition hikes plaguing public colleges in California and across the country.

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The Expensive Failure of Abstinence Education

Last month's resignation of Wade Horn, former assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and point man for conservative social policy, came just as support was crumbling and mistrust mounting for a costly and, many would argue, unsuccessful initiative -- abstinence education.

"At this point we've spent more than a billion dollars on this program that was never proven in the first place," said Heather Boonstra, public policy analyst at the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization specializing in reproductive health issues.

Horn left government in early April for a private-sector position at Deloitte Consulting LLP after heading the Administration for Children andFamilies (ACF), a division of HHS. There, Horn shepherded a host of contentious initiatives, for example: marriage promotion for poor women as an anti-poverty strategy, reduced access to higher education for welfare recipients, standardized testing of low-income preschoolers, programs to strengthen fatherhood by pushing matrimony and relationship skills, and chastity for 19- to 29-year-olds.
Many of these policies had come under fire over the years from members of Congress, feminists and advocates of low-income families -- increasingly so in Horn's final months at HHS. But it was Horn's approach to sex education, with its prime emphasis on virtue, that drew the most opposition and suffered the most discrediting setbacks in the form of political defection and unfavorable research findings.

"Abstinence-only"

Under Horn's leadership, abstinence education became "abstinence until marriage" or "ab-only" education, meaning that the curricula went beyond discouraging teen sex and instead targeted all sex outside marriage without explaining the preventive role of contraception. ("Abstinence-plus" education also discourages teen sexual activity but offers information on contraception and STD prevention.)

Last fall, a congressional report said abstinence-only education fed students false information about pregnancy and birth control, and in the last six months of Horn's tenure, six states announced they would no longer accept federal abstinence funds.

Then a study released in April found no evidence that abstinence-only programs deter sexual activity. Perhaps as a result of these events -- and most certainly due in part to a Democrat-controlled House -- funding for abstinence-only education will run out this summer without assurance of renewal.

"There seems to be increasing concern about spending money on abstinence-only education programs. We don't have evidence that they are successful," said Bill Albert, deputy director of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. "Over the past four to six months, when a number of states decided not to take the abstinence-only money ... it felt like a sea change."

Albert added that surveys show Americans support teen abstinence but want teens to get information on contraception as well, which is not an option under the current ACF approach.

"The American public sees abstinence and contraception as complementary strategies. They do not see them as conflicting strategies," Albert said.

Nonetheless, abstinence-only education is not expected to die quietly, particularly when several years of federal largesse have nurtured and empowered a coterie of professional chastity activists.

"The legacy of Wade Horn has to do with building up an entire movement in abstinence-only education. There are associations, clearing houses and a medical institute" devoted to the cause, Boonstra from Guttmacher said. "It's not the end. They are fighting hard. It remains to be seen whether policymakers are going to listen to the evidence."

The growth of abstinence-only

Federal support for abstinence education -- and for that matter many of the policies administered by ACF under Wade Horn -- did not originate during the Bush presidency; in fact, many were created as part of the welfare reform package signed by President Clinton in 1996.

But since 2001, federal money allotted for abstinence education has risen from $73 million to $176 million currently.
These amounts fall short of the total money spent, however, since they don't factor in matching state funds.

HHS administers three large abstinence programs, with the majority of the money going to two funding streams at ACF, one of them to states and one directly to abstinence organizations. While funding for the states has remained at consistent levels (the median grant to states is estimated at $569,000), direct funding to community-based abstinence programs, which began under Horn's tenure, has risen dramatically. Initial funding was $20 million in 2001 and $104 million by 2005, with the median grant at $642,000. (A Washington Monthly article in 2002 referred to abstinence funding as "pork for prudes.")

The recent study that called these programs into question found that young people in abstinence-ed programs were no more likely to refrain from sex than their counterparts in a control group. The study was conducted by Mathematica Policy Research Inc., and it tracked the behavior of more than 2,000 youths in four different regions of the country over a four- to six-year period.

Expanding the reach of abstinence-only
From the start of the Bush administration, ACF sought to expand the reach as well as the coffers of its abstinence initiative, making it increasingly inflexible and prohibiting states from applying the money toward programs that discuss contraception alongside abstinence (except to highlight condom failure). But restrictions further tightened in 2006, when ACF required abstinence programs to embody all, rather than just a portion of, the fed's eight principles of abstinence education, including the belief that premarital sex is psychologically harmful and that marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity.

The eight points of an abstinence program served as the key criteria for review by ACF when awarding hundreds of millions of dollars in grants; meanwhile, the scientific validity of the information presented in the programs was not examined, according to a congressional report last fall. The report, "Abstinence Education: Efforts to Assess the Accuracy and Effectiveness of Federally Funded Programs,"was released in 2006 by the Government Accountability Office.

The report concluded that ACF made no effort to ensure the accuracy of claims by abstinence programs and that the programs spread false information as a result. For example, according to the report, one program taught that condoms are porous and allow the HIV virus to pass through them.

More setbacks

The GAO report, however, was only one of many setbacks to abstinence-only education. Another was the gaffe that occurred last year when ACF clarified that federal abstinence-education money should target people in their 20s and not just teens. Foes were quick to point to the futility of such an effort, citing government figures that more than 90 percent of adults ages 20-29 have had sexual intercourse.

"This idea that you're going to promote abstinence for people age 20-29 is simply unrealistic," said Stephanie Coontz, director of research and publication education at the Council on Contemporary Families. "This was a total capitulation to the wing of the movement that believes that any sexual relationship outside of marriage is immoral and must not be allowed."

By March of this year, six states had declined HHS abstinence-only education altogether, citing the rigid restrictions and lack of evidence of success. Academic studies also drew attention to the nuances of chastity vows and their lack of effectiveness with older teens. In 2001, Columbia University professor Peter Bearman found that younger teens who took a pledge to remain chaste until marriage, presumably a highly committed cohort, delayed sex by a year to 18 months. However, a followup study in 2005 showed that 88 percent of these same youths eventually broke their vows.

Marriage as the new social policy

In addition to abstinence-only education, Horn likely will be most known for his advocacy of marriage and his success in introducing marriage as social policy. At ACF, Horn oversaw a lucrative funding stream to promote marriage and teach marriage skills, which have been funded for a five-year initiative to the tune of $100 million in grant money every year. First-year funding was awarded last year.

Marriage promotion originated as a faith-based policy to promote a moral lifestyle, but it also drew support from economic conservatives who argued that marriage could relieve poverty and curb social problems such as crime and educational underachievement.

Feminists and sociologists challenged this idea on a number of grounds, saying that repeatedly telling poor women that marriage is the answer to their problems could influence them to stay in abusive relationships. Economists have also pointed out that poor women often have few marriage prospects because the men in their communities are more likely to be in jail or in low-wage jobs.

"Lack of marriage is not so much the cause of poverty as it is a result of poverty," Coontz said, adding that in promoting traditional matrimony, Horn's policies failed to address the full spectrum of families that are increasingly the norm in America.

"I think it's important to help people have good marriages, but we need to recognize in the real world, where so many kids are born out of wedlock and almost half of all marriages end in divorce, that it's wishful thinking and dangerous to put all your eggs in one basket," she said. She added that some of the marriage grants have gone to self-proclaimed relationship experts who lack appropriate qualifications.

Follow the money

Jennifer Tucker, the vice president of the Center for Women Policy Studies, was especially blunt about the spending issues related to marriage policy. What is most objectionable about it, she said, is that it hijacks funds intended for poverty relief to programs that target the general public. Further, she added, marriage is becoming entrenched social policy, with four more years of funding ensured.

Tucker calls marriage programming, "the biggest social program we have," one that has grown more robust as welfare has diminished.

"Marriage is now just getting in there. I think it's now hitting its stride," Tucker said, citing six state legislatures that in the last year passed their own marriage programs, apparently inspired by the federal example. "It's hard for policymakers to speak out against marriage right now."

Meanwhile, she noted, a cottage industry of marriage experts and relationship skill experts has been created and nurtured by federal spending -- by the same people who claim to dislike fiscal profligacy.

"Welfare is big government. Well, this is big government, too," Tucker said.

Generous on virtue, stingy on welfare

Not surprisingly, the legislation that lavished money on many of the virtue-based programs that Wade Horn administered -- that is, welfare reform in 1996 -- has proven parsimonious when it comes to supporting welfare.

Last year, for example, single mothers receiving welfare who were pursuing four- or, more likely, two-year degrees, were largely ordered to abandon their studies. The change was a result of new ACF restrictions that increased the number of hours required at menial jobs in order to comply with a work-first mandate.

In the past, states had used a variety of measures to allow welfare recipients to continue their studies, but new federal rules put an end to state flexibility, thus postponing higher education for many women who were seeking a better life for their families. Without at least a two-year degree, low-income single mothers are much less likely to command a livable wage and health benefits upon leaving welfare, making economic self-sufficiency that much more elusive.

"This is just mean-spirited," Tucker said.

Father superior

While welfare reform, marriage promotion and abstinence-only education drew headlines, another Horn initiative went largely unnoticed. Horn's effort to improve fatherhood in America, which had just been funded at $50 million annually for five years, met criticism shortly before his resignation. The National Organization for Women filed a complaint with HHS in March, charging that some fatherhood grant recipients provided educational opportunities and employment services to men only and were thus discriminatory.

The fatherhood initiative also was criticized for favoring programs that focused on marriage -- Horn's true priority -- rather than responsible parenting. In addition, Horn's office awarded a $1 million fatherhood grant to the National Fatherhood Institute, which he founded and ran from 1993-2001 before joining the Bush administration, sparking complaints about cronyism.

Horn also met resistance in his requirement of standardized testing of low-income preschoolers enrolled in Head Start. The testing, which began in 2003, was widely criticized by researchers and teachers as unnecessary and inappropriate, according to Sarah Greene, president and CEO of the National Head Start Association. With so many varieties of children's backgrounds represented in Head Start, including non-English speakers, a single test was considered unworkable, Greene said.

Behind the testing dispute was a greater fear, however: that of reducing or eliminating Head Start. While that fear eventually subsided, and Horn recently restructured Head Start for the better, Greene said, his early years left many of the program's teachers and advocates feeling threatened, and with good reason.

"Initially the first announcement of the assessment was threatening. It said that, based on certain lack of outcomes, the actual contract of the grant could be terminated," Greene said. The test came to be perceived as a way to shut down a Head Start or fire a teacher. Currently, legislators in both the House and Senate have launched efforts to end standardized testing in Head Start.

Unlike with Head Start, it's not likely that recent changes in Congress or even a new administration could easily wash away Horn's footprint on the issue of marriage policy, which appears to be entrenched at the federal level and making its way into the states. Time and political wherewithal will answer the question of whether abstinence-until-marriage and abstinence-only remain federal policy.

New Fatherhood Initiative Leaves Some Dads in the Cold

"What's up, man?"

It's rush hour on Beverly Boulevard in East Los Angeles. Cars whiz past noisily as a man strolls into a Latino community center and extends a warm greeting to his companeros. A few more guys soon wander in and plunk themselves on chairs and couches that form a circle, helping themselves to iced tea and pretzels on a tray.

Nestled in a row of storefront shops and offices, the Calmecac Youth Center offers an array of services to the surrounding community, among them educating young Latinos on STDs and birth control. At this moment, however, the talk is not about preventing pregnancy but rather being a good father. The center is the site of a class on fatherhood for Mexican-American men of a variety of ages, and it offers a window into recent efforts to improve fathering in America.

New to the group, Bill shares a story about his ex-girlfriend not allowing him to see his newborn baby, even when his son was ill for two weeks. Bill is a huge bear of a man who tears up soon into recounting his struggles, prompting another man in the group to hurry over with a box of tissues. Once, Bill says, he was in his car when the mother of his son pulled up next to him and announced with gleeful vengeance that she would never let him see his child. "I miss him. I miss his cry, even when he wakes up in the middle of the night," Bill says, an ache in his voice.

It's hard for young men and women fighting over the children of a short-lived relationship to maintain respect for each other, for the sake of their kids, but respect is the key value that teacher Armando Lawrence tries to hammer home. Lawrence's group is called Con Los Padres, and its goal is to make life better for children by getting their fathers involved in their lives in an ongoing, reliable way. His class takes 16 weeks to complete, and most of the men come voluntarily to improve their standing in custody disputes, although some attend under court order.

In his classes, Lawrence focuses on personal dignity and encourages men to embrace the wisdom of their ancient forefathers, the pre-Columbian Toltecs in Mexico. Lawrence talks a lot about love and trust, but he doesn't talk as much about marriage and nuclear family. In this way, Con Los Padres may be increasingly out of step with the new wave of fatherhood programs recently funded by the Bush Administration.

No fathers left behind?
This fall, the Bush Administration awarded $42 million in grants to nearly 100 fatherhood initiatives around the nation, the first in a five-year funding effort. While the fatherhood funding is injecting new life into a long-neglected yet promising area of social policy, it could potentially leave many fathers, such as those in Con Los Padres, in the cold. That's because many of the men in Con Los Padres never married or have long since broken up with the mother(s) of their children; some have children from new relationships. Meanwhile, socially conservative policymakers in Congress and the White House are fixated on promoting marriage and traditional family life. (The parent organization of Con Los Padres, Bienvenidos Family Services, did not apply for Bush grant money, and Lawrence declined to explain why.)

The Administration's fatherhood initiative will test a variety of programs over the next five years, with grant recipients offering services in marriage education, parenting skills and, to a lesser degree, job training. But marriage education is a popular approach, leaving many family and policy experts concerned.

Vicki Turetsky, a senior staff attorney with the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), has long argued against fatherhood initiatives that mainly promote marriage. Instead, she believes, programs need to reach out to men who are no longer romantically involved with the mother(s) of their children, and thus for whom matrimony is not a solution

Turetsky also wants fatherhood programs to address economic challenges -- helping to get men into long-term employment so they can take greater financial responsibility for their kids. She calls family stability and economic security "two sides of the same coin," acknowledging the importance of marriage but favoring programs that include fathers with non-traditional family lives.

The marrying kind
In the heart of suburban Orange County, California, licensed therapist and relationship expert M.P. Wylie counsels married couples; she also advises mature single women seeking a compatible partner through her program Journey to Love. Wylie is busy putting her new $250,000 fatherhood grant to use.

The fatherhood grant is "my dream come true," says the soft-spoken mother of five and grandmother of 10. Wylie formed the non-profit Relationship Research Foundation in 2000 through which she has trained more than 100 community and church leaders how to teach marriage preparation and relationship skills to couples. Using her grant, Wylie plans to maintain her focus on marriage education. The goal is to keep fathers in their homes with their children, says Wylie, who believes that, "The best way to do that is through happy marriages."

But Vivian Gadsden, the director of the National Center on Fathers and Families in Philadelphia, is wary of fatherhood programs that exclusively focus on marriage, saying they put the cart before the horse. Instead, she says, marriage promotion needs to be part of a larger effort that also helps fathers find work and raise their children successfully -- whatever their matrimonial status.

"Fathers need to be involved with their children in a positive way and should get married only if it's the right situation," she says, citing research that shows that fathers often marry after gaining steady employment and stabilizing their lives, and not before. "We need to figure out all different configurations of families without judgment."

Pressuring fathers into matrimony could lead to short-lived marriages that destabilize children's lives, according to Barbara Risman, executive director of the Council on Contemporary Families. She adds that American living arrangements continue to deviate from tradition, a development recently highlighted in a New York Times article about the increase in women living without a spouse.

"The notion that getting people married creates a long term way to support women and children is downright foolish," Risman says. "Women may or may not stay married. Better to make sure each parent is competent."

For richer or for poorer?
There's another issue raised by Wylie's program, based in largely affluent Orange County, and it strikes at the heart of the fatherhood initiative: Is the effort meant to be a poverty program to improve the lives of children by encouraging more responsible parenting (in the context of a stable marriage, when possible)? Or is the goal really to get and keep more people -- of all economic levels -- hitched?

The answer may depend on whom you talk to. In Wylie's case, marriage is the overriding goal. Her organization's services are available to participants of varying income brackets throughout Orange County, she explains: "We serve lower income, as well as upper-middle class communities and churches."

Wylie has hired Spanish-speaking trainers and developed Spanish-language materials to assist diverse constituents. She also developed a curriculum that addresses the challenges facing low-income couples with children; still, her emphasis will remain on the parents' relationship.

"Our main objective is to lower the divorce rate in Orange County, which affects all income groups," Wylie says.

Get a job, be a dad
Children and not marriage are the focus at the Children's Institute in Los Angeles, which won $1,500,000 from the Bush Administration to expand its work helping fathers in troubled families. The fathers in the group meet weekly for an hour and a half for about a year, led by the program's co-founder, Hershel Swinger, a professor and licensed clinical psychologist. It is the group's responsibility to make sure each member is employed, Swinger explains.

"I want the children to see their father as the one that's taking care of them, so the money is coming from their father, not welfare or any other entitlement," says Swinger, who counsels fathers on non-physical ways of disciplining children and leads discussions on child development, abuse, neglect and healthy relationships. Group members also talk about the hardships of living in poverty and what they have learned -- good and bad -- from the men in their own lives. They consult Swinger on strategies for child-rearing, such as how to help children with intimidating homework assignments.

"A typical scenario might be that my child is not doing well in school, and I don't understand his school work," Swinger says. His group is a mix of divorced, never-married and married men, including a contingent of single fathers with sole custody.

What all of the men have in common is that their children have been deemed by social services to be at risk of abuse or neglect. A father, grandfather and great-grandfather, Swinger would like to see more stable marriages among the men in his group, but his curriculum "really is about the children," he says. He proudly cites a low recidivism rate: Less than two percent of kids whose fathers complete the program end up back in the care of social services.

"The atmosphere of the group is friendly, warm and supportive," Swinger says. "The men get it."

Gadsden, of the National Center on Fathers and Families, has found in her research that fathers loom large in their children's lives, no less so when they are distant.

"Whether the men were physically present or absent, they were emotionally present in these kids' heads," Gadsden says. "Much of what they did was in response to interactions with their fathers. Kids should be at the center of the discussion. There is an incredible yearning for male companionship."

Although advocates of fatherhood programs may disagree on what methods work best, they all recognize that men’s importance and obligations to their children need to be factored into policymaking. With more resources and attention being focused on fatherhood, answers to the question of how to strengthen fathers' bonds with their children may well emerge in the next few years.

Daughters of the Iranian Revolution

Asal Mirzahossein was born and raised in the United States, but her stomach remains ever faithful to her parents' native Iran, where, like the Eskimos with their varied words for snow, Persians revel in rice in its myriad forms. Basmati rice with lentils is Asal's home-cooked Persian meal of choice. Another favorite is baklava cake, a moist pillow of a dessert made fragrant by an Iranian baking staple: rose water.

"We put rose water in every Iranian pastry I can think of. It's the aroma," says the 22-year-old aspiring English teacher from San Diego. Asal believes rose water is soothing for digestion.

Along with pastries, savory khoresh (stews) and kebabs are one way Asal keeps her Persian heritage alive, but it's not the only way. She also grew up learning to speak and write Farsi (correctly, she emphasizes), taking note of her father's vigilant attention to developments in his home country. Several times a day, the 55-year-old businessman checks the BBC for the latest political news on Iran, printing out numerous articles that he adds to his stacks of papers on the subject.

Asal vividly remembers her visit to Iran at the age of 7. There, she watched friends and family stirring waist-high vats of rice in preparation for a neighborhood feast. She also scampered about her grandfather's fruit orchard outside Tehran, climbing trees, picking berries and dipping her fingers in an icy stream. And she wandered the ancient city of Esfahan, for several centuries the capital of Persia. It was dusk when her family strolled under the illuminated archways of the Sio-Seh Pol Bridge, admiring the mosques and other architectural landmarks stretched out before them. For Asal, Esfahan was a little like Rome -- a tribute to a proud heritage. Also a tribute to a lost world.

No going back

The atmosphere of political uncertainty in Iran, where the current government could well tighten already rigid restrictions on dress and free expression, has proven less than enticing to U.S.-raised Persian women like Asal. She says she has no interest in going back to Iran, not right now anyway.

Growing up in the shadow of exile, Asal is one of as many as 600,000 residents of Persian descent in southern California -- most are refugees of the 1979 Iranian revolution and their children. An estimated one million Iranians now live in the United States, with the largest population residing in Los Angeles. By reputation, Iranians in the United States have proven wildly successful -- as profitable in Beverly Hills real estate as they are proficient in medical school admission. They have struck gold as entrepreneurs as well, operating grocery store chains and restaurants (an estimated 60 in L.A. and Orange counties). They have kept their culture alive in the diaspora through bookstores, newspapers, radio stations, websites and Farsi-language TV satellite stations that broadcast anti-government messages to Iran. It's no wonder, then, that Los Angeles has been nicknamed Irangeles.

Still, many Iranian expatriates openly pine for a return to the country of their birth. Asal's parents fall into this category, and lately, they have been talking about retiring in Iran. The subject came up -- again -- at a recent family reunion with Asal's aunts, uncles and cousins of her parents' generation.

"It's a perennial discussion that goes in stages. They reminisce, argue, reason with each other, convince each other and at the end they're telling funny stories about when they were little. It makes them feel like they're still Iranians," she says. In fact, one of Asal's relatives moved back to Iran and is happy there, but Asal questions whether her parents would thrive. Her father left at 15 and her mother at 18.

"Some people in my family are telling them you can't go back. They keep telling them it's not the Iran of the '60s," Asal notes.

Her parents' desire to live in today's Iran may not prove realistic, Asal readily concedes. But their longing for the Iran of yesterday -- that is nothing if not real.

Second generation

The daughters of Iranian immigrants find themselves in a unique position -- bilingual, able to blend their Persian identity with their U.S. citizenship without apparent struggle and quick to adopt attributes of both cultures while discarding those they find undesirable. Unlike their Iranian-born parents, they don't long for a lost homeland, and they don't grow up marginalized, as some children of immigrants do, by difference and poverty. They are part of a large and affluent community that proudly promotes its language and culture. But the blessing of being bicultural often carries a price.

Newsha Mostafavi, 21, was raised in Orange County, California, though she spent a year in Iran when she was 9. She went to live with her mother, who returned to Iran, while her father remained in the United States as the publisher of a Persian magazine in Laguna Hills, Calif. While in Iran, Newsha didn't respond well to dress restrictions; she had a habit of letting her shawl slide nearly to the back of her head. At one point she even wore a large crucifix to school over her compulsory overcoat and got suspended as a result (she's not Christian, just rebellious). She soon began to long for home -- that is, the United States -- but the cost of her return was to prove exceptionally steep: life apart from her mother. Still, she doesn't regret her decision.

"As hard as it is to admit and as hard as it is for my family to understand, I am infinitely more American than I am Persian," she recently wrote in an essay for the website of her father's magazine. Yet she prides herself on her command of English and Farsi, and on being "perfectly fluent" in Persian and U.S. settings. She also admits to feeling torn between cultures on occasion. One example was the soccer game she attended between the U.S. and Iranian teams in 1998. The contest took place in Pasadena as part of the World Cup tournament; more significantly, it was the first meeting of the teams since the Iranian hostage taking. Against this highly charged setting, Newsha found the game confusing at best.

"I couldn't decide whom to root for," she wrote. "So there I sat for two and a half hours cheering for both as they scored. It felt like a betrayal to choose one over the other, almost like having to choose a favorite among my animals."

Competing loyalties

It's not unusual for Newsha and other children of immigrants to feel competing loyalties, of course. But the tension facing young Iranian-American women is particularly acute because of the pronounced gender dynamic involved in traveling between the two countries. For example, the female dress code can be unnerving for U.S.-raised Persian-American women who visit Iran.

Mahsa Khalilifar, a college student from Irvine, Calif., hated the shawl and overcoat she was required to wear in sweltering heat during her visit. She remembers feeling "like a caged animal" in her required clothing. "I wanted to scream, 'Why do I have to wear this?'" she remembers. Once she almost broke a rule by nearly sitting on the front of the bus, reserved for men only.

"There are a lot of rules and restrictions," she says. "And yet I didn't feel safe there."

She and other Persian-Americans commonly report the feeling of risk associated with travel to Iran. Foremost is the fear of hostilities escalating between Iran and the United States during a visit. In case of serious conflict, would visiting Persian-Americans be considered enemies? Would American authorities see them as Iranians? Another concern harbored by Persian-Americans is being unfairly associated with the "axis of evil" in a fearful post-9/11 United States.

It was only after Sept. 11 that Newsha Mostafavi felt singled out in America, she says. She felt more conscious of her Middle Eastern appearance and the suspicion it might arouse in her fellow citizens. Similarly, many Persian-Americans now worry that being Iranian will subject them to questioning or detention upon leaving or re-entering the United States. The irony of the terrorist taint, of course, is that U.S.-based Persians left Iran in opposition to the fundamentalist government.

There is something undeniably déjà vu about Iranians' concern over their status as Americans in a post-9/11 world. In 1979, when Iranian revolutionaries stormed the U.S. embassy and took American hostages, Persians living here were equally if not more worried.

Memoirs and memory

Memoirist Firoozeh Dumas recalls the hostage-taking in her account of Iranian-American life during that era, "Overnight, Iranians living in America became, to say the least, very unpopular," she writes, following up in characteristic deadpan. "We were asked our opinion of the hostages so often that I started reminding people that they weren't in our garage."

Dumas' book, "Funny in Farsi," puts a human face on the struggle of first-generation Iranians to fit in as immigrants. She and a number of Iranian and Iranian-American women have penned their accounts of life in and outside Iran, writing in the language of their adoptive countries to widespread readership and acclaim. "Reading Lolita in Tehran" is a New York Times bestseller about a female Iranian professor's attempt to teach western literature in revolutionary Iran. And "Persepolis" 1 and 2 are graphical accounts of a young Iranian girl coming of age during the revolution, her exile in Europe and her return.

"I loved 'Persepolis,'" Newsha says, for its painfully honest portrayal of a young woman who falls prey to drugs and homelessness during her exile, before being reunited with her family and finally leaving Iran for good. "I think it's cool that all these Persian girls are telling their stories."

Day Care Workers Flex Their Muscle

When her infant daughter's chronic ear infections made her miss too many days at work, Angenita Tanner of Chicago decided in 1996 to quit her job and work from home as a full-time babysitter.

Experienced in the field and equipped with an associate degree in early childhood education, she launched Grandma's House Child Care. Her first clients were low-income working mothers whose daycare expenses were paid by the state. Six months after Tanner's career change, she found herself on the brink of financial ruin. She had received no payment from the state for the eight children in her daily care.

"I was in business six months and not getting a paycheck. I was at the kitchen table with my assistant, a retired nurse, going over the bills. I'm feeding the kids, trying to pay my mortgage, trying to provide materials like books and toys, plus I haven't paid my assistant," she remembers. "Being in business for yourself in your own home, you have no one to go to. I'm sitting there, I'm stressed and the doorbell rings."

At the door, as if on cue, was a representative of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Tanner attended an SEIU organizing meeting that night, found herself giving an impassioned speech and joining the union. "At that point I realized I wasn't alone anymore," she recalls. Thus began her commitment to improve the working conditions of Illinois child-care providers who contract with the state.

This week, Tanner is expecting her paycheck to reflect the first rate increase she's gotten in nearly seven years, thanks to a new contract negotiated by child-care workers in SEIU. The contract will provide opportunities for professional training in year two and, by the third year, access to health care. It's the first time a union has successfully represented the home-based daycare work force.

Recruiting new union members

Around the country, unions are reaching out to America's daycare staffs, preschool teachers and full-time babysitters, using innovative approaches to recruit members of the poorly paid and largely female child-care work force, estimated at two million. Care of children is among the lowest-paid professions, averaging $8.68 hourly. Preschool teachers earn $11.81 hourly, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (Both professions bring in less than a rock splitter at $13.66 an hour.)

Meanwhile, the ranks of union-represented child-care workers are growing. More than 350,000 child-care workers are affiliated with SEIU, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the United Child Care Union and its sponsor, AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

"This is definitely a strong labor movement," says Melanie Rincon, a home-daycare provider for 21 years. Based in Santa Rosa, Calif., Rincon now works-full time as a campaign organizer for AFSCME.

"The majority of home providers don't have sick time or health insurance," she says, pointing out the easily overlooked -- yet entirely crucial -- relationship of child-care to economic productivity. "They enable California to keep working. Without child care, California would stop. The wheels would not turn if we did not provide the care."

Worthy wages

The nation's second-largest teachers' union, the AFT has focused largely on organizing among preschool teachers and the staffs of daycare centers. Earlier this month, the AFT petitioned members of Congress to support better pay on May 1, which they designated "Worthy Wage Day."

Low wages are widely believed to be the prime reason the child-care field is so unstable.

"There's approximately a 30 percent annual turnover in child-care settings," says Leslie Getzinger, spokesperson for the American Federation of Teachers, which counts 10,000 child-care workers among its 1.3 million membership. "You're dealing with a revolving-door staff. … The people who leave are often the best teachers."

The AFT is reaching out not only to preschool teachers but to directors and owners of private and not-for-profit centers. In many cases, employers simply don't have the resources to pay workers more, but would support AFT initiatives to secure state funds for advanced training and subsidies for worker raises that reward longevity on the job.

"There needs to be a public funding source, not just the parents paying tuition who are footing the bill," Getzinger says.

The cost of care

Depending on the age of a child and region of the country, full-time child care can cost anywhere from $4,000 to more than double that amount per child annually, which is a strain for many working parents. (Home-based care -- when the parents leave a child at the home of a regular full-time babysitter -- tends to be less expensive than tuition at an accredited preschool, and infant care is more expensive than care of a three- or four-year-old.) Child care is often the second-highest expense in a household, following rent or mortgage.

"Providers can't afford to stay, and parents can't afford to pay" is an expression in the child-care industry to describe the flight of workers from the field in search of more livable wages even as parents struggle to pay the cost of care. Despite the high rates, home-based providers in particular struggle, union organizers say, because they often can't count on parents signing on for full-time care. In addition, they periodically run short of clients when families move, kids get older or parents change jobs. Meanwhile, sick leave and benefits are out of reach, state reimbursements can run weeks behind, and hours can be quite long, accommodating early-morning drop-offs and evening pickups in some cases.

The unions

SEIU represents 200,000 child-care workers, including 49,000 home-daycare providers in Illinois and 10,000 in Washington who joined last year. In reaching out to home-daycare providers, SEIU is arguably unionizing a self-employed work force -- an obvious departure from the traditional negotiating model that pits employees against management.

"This is new ground because our members are small businesses in many cases," says Gretchen Donart, communications organizer for the SEIU Local 925, based in Washington.

In addition to raising the rates for state-subsidized care, SEIU also advocates for members on licensing and enforcement issues. In Illinois, SEIU gained a state commitment of $27 million toward affordable health care in year three of the current contract. Echoing other union organizers, Donart stresses SEIU's intention not to pass the cost of new benefits on to parents; rather, she and other organizers hope to win the support of parents, who presumably would welcome a reduction in turnover among the people who care for their kids.

The union associated with public servants, AFSCME, already represents 150,000 child-care workers in child-care centers, Head Start programs and nonprofit centers around the country, according to union officials. In 1998, AFSCME helped establish the United Child Care Union, which started in Pennsylvania and is now organizing in California. AFSCME, meanwhile, continues to organize child-care workers around the country.

In California, where the United Child Care Union has 3,000 members so far, organizers are also dealing with special issues that the rest of the country might soon face: a multicultural and sometimes linguistically isolated work force, as well as a proposal for universal preschool. The United Child Care Union has taken great pains in California to include non-English-speaking child-care providers, says Melanie Rincon, a former home-based provider who is now a union organizer. Her efforts include outreach to Latino, Russian and Hmong child-care workers, but she wonders how non-English speakers will fare if California's Proposition 82 passes.

In California: Proposition 82

On the ballot June 6, the measure would establish voluntary preschool education for all four-year-olds. Providers who want to be part of it, however, would have to earn a bachelor's degree during a gradual phasing-in period. The average age of a home-based child-care provider is 45, according to AFSCME, which begs the question: Will Proposition 82 leave behind many middle-aged child-care providers and non-English speakers? What about the small home-based babysitters who are providing good service at affordable rates to working families? These are issues that organized labor will find itself confronting as more states roll out universal preschool.

The answer might be in allowing people who take care of children in their homes to arrange for credentialed preschool teachers to spend part of the day there, or to arrange for resources in bilingual training in some cases, union officials say. In the meantime, unions are scrambling to build their ranks as quickly as possible.

"We're reaching out to providers around the country, and they're joining in high numbers," says Marie Monrad, association director, Organizing and Field Services at AFSCME. "This has steamrolled."

Over-Achievers With Low Self-Esteem

If you read the most-emailed article in the New York Times at the end of last week ("To All the Girls I've Rejected"), then you know that some college admission offices are holding female applicants to a higher standard than their male counterparts in hopes of achieving a greater gender balance on campus.

That's because women's enrollment in college is dramatically outpacing men's. By the 2009-2010 school year, according to the Business Roundtable, women will earn 142 bachelor's degrees and 173 associate degrees for every 100 awarded to men in these categories.

American girls, meanwhile, are not only advancing in the classroom but on playing fields as well. One in three high school girls now plays a sport, compared to one in 27 before Title IX (an act that called for more college scholarships for women to ensure parity with male athletes in 1972). The cultural landscape has shifted accordingly, offering up highly empowered female heroines both real and fictional, including Mia Hamm, Lisa Leslie and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

But for all the undisputed advances made by young women, evidence suggests there is more to this story, a dark side that has long been acknowledged but seems all the more baffling in this era of increasingly accomplished girls.

Foremost, a young woman's body is still a battleground -- the relentless focus of the porn industry, the celebrity and the weight-loss industries. Advocates in the field of eating disorders remind us that these illnesses have doubled their reach in the last 30 years, that they are fatal in 10 percent of cases, and that they are affecting younger and more ethnically diverse girls. And it's not just about food and other forms of bodily self-abuse such as cutting. In a 2001 Harvard study, one in five teen girls reported being hit or being forced into sex by their partners. Depression is another pervasive affliction among college women, despite their groundbreaking achievements and presumably bright economic prospects.

The hazards that young women face on the way to adulthood are real -- as real as ever. The problem is how to understand them in light of girl power, Buffy and the WNBA.

Going public in Ohio

One window into the conflicted inner lives of young women who appear by every measure to kick ass -- in school, on the soccer field -- while secretly struggling with self-worth, was made available to me as an instructor at Miami University of Ohio. Founded in 1809, Miami is a mostly residential college of old brick buildings with ivy tendrils, majestic trees and verdant lawns. The social life is Greek-dominated, and the college is famous for its "Miami Mergers," that is, couples who meet in their undergraduate years and go on to marry.

But even a traditional campus in southwest rural Ohio -- deep in the red zone -- shows signs of change. Miami is one of the state's most competitive universities, drawing a select group of highly motivated, achievement-oriented young women among its students. These largely middle- and upper-class women are as vulnerable as anyone to the afflictions of modern American girlhood. Four years ago, a group of female students at Miami formed an organization to go public with their struggles.

The group was called Achieving You, and it was modeled on an organization at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The goal of its members was to provide support to one another and to younger peers. Many members of the group had faced down self-esteem-related disorders, and now they wanted to talk about their experiences and their recoveries. Eventually, the Miami students hoped to speak frankly about their lives to high school girls in the area.

Sharing stories

In late 2003, a group of about 20 Miami women came together at a large meeting room in the school's student union to share their stories of struggle. Pulling their chairs into a circle, many discussed depression, others eating disorders and still others abusive boyfriends or compulsive promiscuity. They described their lives in college and high school, where they had played a variety of sports, such as lacrosse, swimming and soccer. Most if not all said that in high school they took advanced placement classes and held leadership positions such as class officer. Now in college, many had joined sororities and relished the female camaraderie offered by Greek life.

Unlike the starving ballerina types so often depicted in journalistic accounts of female self-esteem disorders, all the speakers were wryly funny, self-aware and fully confident young women, or so it seemed:

"I was the captain of my water polo team in high school, in the honor society "

"I was a perfectionist in every sense of the word. I came home from school and would rewrite my notes from class. I had to be the president of every organization. You can guess my grades "

"I was tomboy central ..."

"I was an A student in AP classes ..."

"I was a valedictorian ..."

"I was on two championship teams ..."

Foiled expectations

Given these introductions, the stories that inevitably followed -- clogging the shower drain with vomit or being kicked and taunted publicly by a boyfriend, or fantasizing about the best method of suicide -- seemed all the more unlikely. As the group's founder, Brie Henry, put it, "You wouldn't expect these problems from these girls."

The improbable combination of strength and frailty on display that night raises tough questions. Shouldn't the educated, physically empowered and ambitious young women of today be less susceptible to disorders of self-esteem than the girls before them? And how do you maintain a balance between potent self-confidence, on one hand, and crushing self-doubt, on the other, without eventually losing your grounding?

As it turns out, you don't. I learned that most of the women in Achieving You who had struggled in their teens had ultimately broken down, either late in high school or soon after starting college. Some simply stopped going to class, focusing instead on grueling exercises for hours at a time every day. Or they played with razors, or their parents finally caught them with their hands down their throats. In the more dramatic cases, some reported relief when the balancing act was over, and they could begin rebuilding more authentic identities through therapy, honest communication and introspection.

Finding strength, serving others

The women I interviewed said they needed the connection provided by Achieving You, which allowed them to share their stories and to celebrate triumph in their recovery. What made Achieving You more than a typical peer-support group were two important factors: The women had organized themselves rather than being led by well-meaning adults such as health teachers and therapists. In addition, the young women in the group had taken it upon themselves to contact local high schools to arrange to tell their stories -- with emphasis on recovery -- directly to adolescent girls, and in so doing, offer positive models of leadership.

And so the Miami students began arranging visits in Cincinnati-area schools, contacting health teachers and setting up meetings with girls only. The Miami students would walk into a class of 30-40 girls, usually starting at 8:30 a.m., breaking for lunch and continuing to meet with successive classes until the end of the school day. After every session, audience members were asked to write comments and questions on index cards. The high school girls' comments were a mix of relief and admiration:

"Your stories inspired me. I know I'm not alone now."

"The girl who talked about the guy who raped her, and who said she was ugly and not worth it -- I can relate!"

"Hey, I'm really sorry that this happened to you all, and I'm glad that people like you are helping make a difference with young women's lives."

"I love the girls. You're amazing girls. Girls rock!"

A sort of schizophrenia

The striking thing about Achieving You is how clearly its members represented the very combination of empowerment and victimization that is so perplexing among American young women today. These and other young women embody a sort of schizophrenia in which they surge ahead in academics and athletics while at the same time adopt behaviors that compromise them. The obvious question is why.

My interviews and observation suggest one possible explanation: That the girls' self-destructive anxieties and compulsions arose, at least in part, to meet a powerful need. That need was to maintain a check on their own forcefulness, that is, to dilute their otherwise formidable strength.

"A girl worries about being too smart, too successful, too intimidating, too blond, too promiscuous," says Erin Lenger, 23, an original member of Achieving You, which is still active at Miami.

Not surprisingly, the members of Achieving You never arrived at a single answer to the question, 'Why did this happen to me and so many other girls?' But they were able to establish at least one thing: In their struggles they had found the strength to heal themselves and now stood in a position to help others to do the same. Unbowed, emboldened even by their own battles for self-worth, they had emerged stronger, more connected to other women and more aware of the complexity of being female.

"I turn to other girls and stories that make me feel a little more normal," Lenger says. "Achieving You did that for me, most definitely. I realized that my abusive relationship was just one of a million things that girls struggle with daily. I turn to my mother, my sister, and my girlfriends to understand their lives, and then align their experiences with my own. Open communication with other females, especially ones that you can confide in, is imperative."

The Fatherhood Demotion

One of the lesser-reported provisions of a set of conservative welfare reforms in Congress includes an attempt to encourage fathers who do not live with their children to participate more fully in raising them.

The fatherhood programs that House Republicans are proposing would receive little federal funding — $20 million, compared to the $200 million in marriage-promotion programs included in the same legislation. But these fatherhood programs, however meager, spotlight a neglected aspect of welfare policy. The problem is that the programs emphasize fatherhood in the context of marriage at the expense of economic issues.

With a focus on parenting classes, relationship skill-building and household budgets, the House fatherhood legislation instead needs to do more to address poverty and unemployment, according to Vicki Turetsky, senior staff attorney at the Center for Law and Social Policy.

"Stable families and economic stability are two sides of the same coin," says Turetsky, who favors the Senate version of the legislation, which would give states more flexibility to include job training services in the mix of initiatives. "It's our view that if low-income fathers are to carry out their responsibilities, both financial and emotional, they need some support in obtaining and retaining a toe-hold in the formal economy."

The Senate welfare reforms, which would spend $75 million on fatherhood programs to the House's $20 million, have inched along without gaining much momentum. Meanwhile, the House twice passed welfare legislation, which the Administration backs, since 2002. (Welfare authorizations for the system's overhaul in 1996 expired in 2002, prompting numerous extensions, the latest of which is expected this month.)

The '96 reforms focused largely on mothers -- getting them off welfare rolls and into jobs, which were more plentiful during the boom years. Welfare caseloads have decreased dramatically, though advocates for newly independent families say that low-wage work has not brought prosperity, but rather poverty, to single mothers and their children. Fatherhood issues, in contrast, have received relatively scant attention, until recently.

Teaching fathers to be involved with their children and steering them towards marriage are worthwhile goals, and might be achievable in some cases, Turetsky says. For example, a four-year study on "fragile families" conducted by Princeton University showed that half of unmarried mothers are living with the father of their children -- and the partners are committed to each other -- at the time their child is born.

Many experts believe that marriage promotion in these cases, early on, could prove effective. Once a couple has separated and the partners have moved into other relationships, however, the marriage approach has limited value, Turetsky says. In these cases, responsible fatherhood, rather than marriage, needs to be emphasized.

In addition to urging that fatherhood programs go beyond marriage alone, many welfare policy experts are refining their thinking on the issue of child support. Aggressive child support enforcement is effective when fathers have the means to make payments, but it's proving ineffective for low-income fathers who do not remain reliably employed. In fact, unrealistically high amounts owed for child support can actually deter low-income fathers' involvement in supporting their kids.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, half of all fathers who owe child support are paying it. Of the fathers who do not pay, half lack the resources to pay support, and enforcement authorities don't distinguish between which fathers have resources and which do not.

As a result, a low-wage worker who owes thousands in child support debt will, upon taking a job, see his paycheck diminished to negligible amounts. Many fathers simply choose to stay in the informal economy, whether legal or illegal, and give diapers or cash to the mother of their children as they can and wish to.

"Poor fathers are routinely required to pay much higher proportions of their income than middle- and upper-income fathers, and many are required to pay unreasonable amounts of arrearages (past due child support)," argues a briefing from the Brookings Institute. "These unrealistic arrearages arise because child support agencies and court base these payments not on fathers' actual earnings, but on their 'presumptive' earnings, e.g., earned at some point in the past."

In other words, fathers can be held responsible for an amount based on their salary, even after they lose the job.

According to Brookings, child support payments should be calculated as a percentage of the father's income, so that obligations would decline if the father is in jail or unemployed and would go up when his earnings rise.

Another child support-related issue is what to do when a father makes support payments to a mother who receives welfare. Typically, child support paid to a woman on welfare is collected by the state as reimbursement, but this arrangement gives fathers little incentive to pay support.

"Research demonstrations that when money goes to kids, fathers pay more and work underground less. Children do better," Turetsky says.

Fatherhood programs exist in small numbers around the country. But Turetsky worries they are floundering in the lackluster economy, or that they might not survive the federal budget crunch.

"I think the budget is the elephant in the room right now," Turetsky says. "The bigger problem is it's hard to get traction for these provisions. There are not a lot of groups advocating for these changes. If you look at lobbying around child care, there is a cast of many. Most members of Congress have heard from a constituent. Low-income fathers don't have an organized network."

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