Young, Broke, and Uneducated in Texas

Texas is one of the fastest-growing states in the country, and it’s growing in ways that belie its national reputation: it’s both an incredibly youthful state and and incredibly non-white state.

In his (utterly fantastic) new book God Save Texas, Lawrence Wright points out that in the city of Houston, for example, almost 40 percent of the population is under 24 years old, and “more than half that youthful cohort are Latino, and nearly 20 percent are African Americans.” Similar demographics (though trending more Hispanic) can be found in San Antonio, where I live.

But Wright points out another fact of this youthful cohort: this group is “the most likely to be undereducated.” Also, they’re often poor: “One in four Texas children lives in poverty.”

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I find this state of affairs troubling to the point of terrifying. People talk a lot about how much Texas is booming — lots of good jobs, growing industries, open for business and all that. A couple weekends ago I drove from San Antonio to Dallas, passing through Austin and Waco, and in all four cities cranes dot the skylines. The growth narrative is real.

But our growth is uneven, which is to say inequitable — the increases we’re experiencing are not going to be good for very many people, relatively speaking. We’re investing in growth with tax incentives for developers and jobs creators, but we’re not also investing in our children by ensuring they are educated, well fed, and living in safe homes and neighborhoods. In these measures — how much we spend on education and attending to the needs of the most vulnerable — Texas ranks near the bottom.

We’re building roads and buildings and new neighborhoods; we’re remaking our urban cores. A lot of this work is good and necessary. But if we don’t change how we plan for a future Texas led by today’s young people, we’re also laying the groundwork for a future tragedy.

And as Wright puts it: “These failures will have national consequences, since one out of ten children in the United States is a Texan.”

 

A Quiet Place Is a Parable About Family

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A Quiet Place is a family movie. We’re hearing that it’s a post-apocalyptic horror movie, and it’s really effective at being that, but it’s real power–and its potential for staying power–is parabolic. It’s a taut depiction of the challenges families face, and even more so the unique journeys of individuals within families. Whether you’re a son or a daughter or a mother, father, brother or sister, A Quiet Place might have something to say to you.

Plot summaries and full reviews are plentiful elsewhere, so I just want to articulate a few (spoiler-filled!) reflections on what A Quiet Place has to say about families, especially about traditional family roles, the strength of mothers, and how we treat our most vulnerable children.

It’s surprising initially how much the husband and wife in the film, played by director John Krasinski and his real-life spouse Emily Blunt, fall into traditional male-female roles. From the very opening sequence, the film establishes that the father is a protector and provider, while the mother is a nurturer and caretaker. We don’t yet know a lot about what this family of five is going through, but we know they’re in a post-apocalyptic landscape, fending for themselves. They may be the only family on earth — or even a first family of a new earth, which reinforces the symbolic weight of each of their roles.

The husband/father, Lee, is almost a paragon of manliness. He reminded me of Michael Landon in Little House on the Prairie. Rugged, handsome. Tender toward wife and kids. He’s something of a scientist, but also something of a farmer. A skilled hunter-gatherer. A strategic thinker. It’s amazing how little of this comes off as corny or over-done — even his beard and broad shoulders are idealized types. But again, this is a parable, and parables work in types.

Meanwhile, the wife/mother, Evelyn (note the first three letters of her name), also falls into a traditional role. She cooks, she cleans. In a pivotal scene, when Lee goes off with his son to do some hunting-gathering, Evelyn stays behind with her daughter. (They are now a family of only four.) We see Lee teaching his son to trap and kill; we see Evelyn pinning shirts to the clothesline.

So the film had me thinking: Is it really embracing these old-school gender stereotypes?

But by the end of the film, much of this is upended. Not contradicted, but rather extended and complicated. The father remains heroic, even as he reaches the final limits of what he can do for his family. But the mother emerges much more fully by the final frame.

Indeed, a huge portion of the third act is devoted to Evelyn and to depicting her struggle and her strength. Again, she’s been left behind, and it becomes clear why the film arranged to leave her alone. It’s not only to ratchet up the tension when the monster inevitably terrorizes individual family members, one at a time. It’s also because it’s crucial for us to experience Evelyn in her solitude.

Things work differently for different families, of course, but for so many mothers, the experience of motherhood involves considerable loneliness. Much of the work of mothering happens alone. Perhaps there’s pleasure in this solitude; there’s also undoubtedly pain in it. At one point, we see Evelyn sitting alone in a room, reflecting on the loss of her son and weeping. We’ve not seen her mourn before now, when everyone else is around—her agony is private.

Later, Evelyn goes into labor, and she has to fend for herself and her new baby against the monster. (Emily Blunt is always good, but her performance in this sequence is  stunning.) Labor pangs start right as the monster is on the prowl. Because the one rule with this monster is that you can’t make a sound, she has to endure the suffering of childbirth in absolute quiet. She’s also injured her foot and is bleeding profusely. Evelyn has to suffer some of the worst pain a body can suffer–all without making a peep. And she does it, with an awesome display of determination and power.

Watching her wore me out.

Because so much screen time is invested in depicting her strength, the finale makes sense. In the last moment, she cocks her gun to take on the coming monsters, and we do not doubt that she has the power to protect her children and survive.

Finally, there is the daughter, who is deaf and who is the center of this story. (The wonderful actor who plays her, Millicent Simmonds, is deaf, too. Much of the dialogue in the film occurs through American Sign Language.) This movie has a lot to say about how we regard our disabled children — how we care for them, and how much we have to learn from them, and how ultimately, in the end, they might save us.

Go to see a well-made horror flick. That’s what I did. But unlike a lot of horror films, there’s not much sinister here. On the contrary, there’s a benevolent parable about people who find themselves in families, and what people in families can do for each other.