Movie Review: The Ivory Tower

24 Jun


As a freelance writer I have often thought to myself “was the cost of my private liberal arts school education worth it?” This often occurs when I am checking my student loan statement, which I am still painfully paying off more than 10 years after I earned my bachelor’s degree.

It is all about perspective. I was the first one in my family to go to college right out of high school, my degree helped me get my first job at a newspaper, and the connections I made benefited me personally and professional. For many, this is not the case. They leave college thousands of dollars in debt, with no job prospects on the horizon.

The new documentary, Ivory Tower, by filmmaker Andrew Rossi examines this new hitch in the American Dream – is the cost of tuition to many of the elite universities too high?

Ironically I am sitting in a Starbucks writing this review, Starbucks announced earlier this month that they have teamed up with Arizona State University to offer free college courses for Starbucks employees. Helping them “finish college.”

According to The Project on Student Debt, the average debt for students who took out loans in graduating class of 2012 is $29,400. In June of 2008 the unemployment rate was 8.2 percent. You can do the math.

Ivory Tower looks directly at the pressure of attending college with the nitty gritty details of how the cost higher education has ballooned. Families are looking at college bills ranging from $20,000 annually to $60,000 annually.  The film provides great examples of where this tuition is going, mostly to new buildings and the salaries of executives (not professors). It also details the predatory practices of private student loans, leaving many graduates unable to pay their ever-growing debt. The film even explores alternatives to traditional college, like the Thiel Fellowship and open sourced online education like Coursera and edx.

Though all the charts and history are interesting, the film doesn’t even address it’s initial question: was it worth it? There were no balanced examples of graduates who had “average” debt and landed a good job or who’s life was improved by taking on the debt.

Sure, we all know by now that colleges are a business and they are in it to make money, but it ends leaving the viewer with more questions than answers. If universities and lenders are just looking to cash in on the ideal of higher education and online classes (a cheaper version) are not an effective learning tool then what should one do? Learn a trade, self-educate, settle for the non-brand name education? Can the government help?

Honestly, I found the whole documentary to be depressing (I do have kids after all and I have no idea how we are paying for college). But the worst part is I found myself second-guessing the degree I worked so hard for and am still paying off. Applying to colleges and selecting one is a family decision, it is also a very personal one. Just because you got in, doesn’t mean you can afford it. It is different for each person. Really, the question should be is college worth it for me?

While the film might shock some people and remove the rose-colored glasses, it is not helpful overall. On the other hand, the website for the film is. There are links to the FAFSA, a tutorial on how to read financial aid award letters, and options for those managing their student loan debt. Now  that is worth something!


Lego Screwed Up it’s Own Message with Movie Merchandise

25 Feb

Lego Screwed Up it’s Own Message with Movie Merchandise

I took the kids to see The Lego Movie the other day. And yes before you even go on asking, it was awesome!

The movie met all my criteria for a good kids movie. The comedy was funny for both parents and kids, there was one single song (this Mama don’t do musicals) that the kids could sing for a day without me wanting to poke my eyes out, and I didn’t feel like it was a waste of money. As a mom I left super happy at the overall message of the movie, that Legos are supposed to be played with not put upon a shelf to be admired. The storyline that children’s imagination is the key to the Lego universe and that order and going along with instructions defeats the purpose of Legos had me feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. I was beginning to feel like Lego was my kind of company and that I was willing to look past their insane price tags and give them a full pat on the back for being an upstanding toy company. I was even on the verge of overlooking their creation of “girl” Legos… well not really, but they were looking a bit better than Disney when I left the movie theater. 

It’s All About the Sales

My warm and fuzzy feeling quickly left my body when I got to Target the next day and walked into the toy aisle. What the hell happened? I found myself staring at a box of Legos, priced at some ungodly amount, that basically took a mix of a bunch of stuff I had at home and slapped The Lego Movie logo on it. Here kids rebuild this scene from the movie with this $69.99 kit featuring all your favorite characters! Did anyone at Lego see the part of the movie where the kid shows his father all the amazing things he created by taking apart all the picturesque worlds? You know the part where Lord Business transforms from tyrannical dictator to fun loving guy????? Or what about the part where all the Lego Minifigures from years past get together in one room? 

Leave it to marketing to miss the point! Or was it all just a ploy by the folks at Lego to get rid of all the loose pieces they had lying around the factory? Did someone say, “Hey I know how we can make a profit off all these unfinished kits. Let’s make a movie so we can box them all up and sell them at outrageous prices!”? 

If you visit the Lego website dedicated just to The Lego Movie merchandise you get even more mixed messages. 


Throughout these play sets, vehicles, characters and buildings from THE LEGO® MOVIE™ come to life. Whatever the high-speed action, your child can pick their own ending, time and time again
I am sorry? What did you just say??? Are you saying that my kid uses these kits to create alternative endings to the movie? So, in this choose your own adventure set Lego wants my kid to disregard the ending message of the movie and not have fun playing but follow the instructions then Super Glue it all together. Thanks!

Well hats off to you Lego for your sneaky way of getting us parents to dole out more cash all in the name of fostering our children’s creativity. I would rather pull out the box of random Legos we already have and let my kids build and create without a visual aide or instruction booklet. 


Must Watch Documentary

23 Feb

This movie will change the way you think about private education and it’s relationship with boys.


Administrators Get it Right With SnowDay Announcements

14 Feb

Since I live in San Francisco I never got to experience a snow day. We got earthquakes and fires, but I imagine waiting to hear that you got the day off from school and you have to stay home can only be made better by your Principal doing his best Freddie Mercury impression.

Use the Dictionary: When Mommy Mispeaks

19 Jan
Thanks a lot Oxford!!!!

Thanks a lot Oxford!!!!

Growing up a bad speller will spark a love a words if pushed in the right direction. My dad (I thank him daily for this) would NEVER help me spell out a word no matter how nicely I asked. “Look it up in the dictionary” was his response. A horrible speller himself he would watch me spend hours trying to figure out how to spell “notice” or “Arkansas”. My mother on the other-hand was a champion speller and would yell at me for selecting a less complicated word out of pure “lazy spelling.”  The end result was that I fell in love with dictionaries.

I became that teenager, like Ione Skye in Say Anything, who would check off words I have looked up in my massive dictionary. Ironically most of those braincells that were used to absorb that information were wiped away later in my Junior year. The greatest college graduation present I received was a massive hardbound Oxford Dictionary. So, of course when my children were born I aimed to pass on this little obsession to my kids.

I set up rules about making up words, looking up words you can’t spell and the use of a Junior Scrabble board. Well thanks to Oxford Dictionaries and my own mistakes along the way my kid has started to use the term “Selfie” and jumps up when ever anyone is taking a photo and shouts “photo bomb”. The two words have made it into the dictionary along with “fauxhawk”, “digital detox” and “phablet”. I know that they are used everyday, but it is just hard when your 5-year-old asks to have your phablet to take a selfie to not place judgement on society, or myself for that manner since I have now begun saying selfie out loud (I am ashamed of my behavior) – the photo bomb I can blame on my nephew.

It all reminds me of an episode of the late 1990s Disney cartoon Recess. In one episode T.J. and the kids get busted by the adults for saying “that whomps”. The parents and teachers get all up in arms over the use of the word and accuse the kids of swearing, the kids argue that it is just a way to explain something negative without swearing. I remember making up words as a kid. It was fun. But I also remember discovering a new word in the dictionary that perfect described something and adding it into my everyday conversations.

I guess it is time to purchase a new dictionary and start discovering more words that will have my kids’ approval.

Goodbye 2013: An Open Letter to My Children

1 Jan

Dear Kiddos, 

The beginning of the new year means a lot to adults. Each year adults get a kick out of sitting around and talking about their resolutions (things they hope to do) for the coming year. Most of these resolutions or wishes are lame and feature notions like saving money, loosing weight (no one says they hope to learn to love themselves for who they are), quitting a horrible job, etc. But since you guys are not bogged down by adult worries I decided to put a new spin on the resolutions and write down all the amazing things you have done and how being your mother is one of the greatest experiences I have ever had. So since I am fond of lists, here is a list of the rad things and funny things that happened this year. 

1. You both learned how to ride a bike in a day and proved that I have what it takes to be a kick ass mom. 

2. This year’s tantrum highlights: “I just want to meditate!” “I don’t want to get out of the car!” “I just can’t do it!” “You are always picking on me!” “He/she started it.”

3. Someone started kindergarten and begin to read, while someone discovered that the word “balls” is possibly the funniest thing ever heard by a third grader. Both very proud moments for me. 

4. I have learned to be careful what I wish for. I am now the mother of a child with a lightning bolt scar on his forehead…. 

5. You both have learned to love Harry Potter and Dr. Who, which proves that I have good taste and you are going to push me in a wheelchair around Comic-Con when I am 83; and you will love every second of it. 

6. Kisses. There will be a moment when you both decide that kissing your mother is lame, but until then I am taking all the kisses you can give. 

7. While I couldn’t afford to take you to Europe, I did manage to take you to Las Vegas – and to Paris to boot!

8. This was the year that I let my daughter cut her hair short and didn’t cry. This was also the year that I let my son fall in love with three girls and didn’t cry. 

9. Table manners! Tone of voice! Tattle Telling! All things I hope to curb in 2014. 

10 and the most important: You played with each other. I am not sure how much longer this will last but it was the sweetest thing to hear you two play with each other, read stories to each other and put on shows for your dad and I. 



Finally A Diaper Ad that Gets Parenthood

6 Nov

I pay close attention to the ads that target moms. I often blame them for the pressure that parents feel to be perfect, well they don’t get all the blame. I heard about Luvs new ad campaign today and had to check it out. Boy did they do a great job (and no I didn’t get paid for this post)!

Cheers to the creative team Saatchi & Saatchi for creating an ad that for once does not push the product by watching babies crawl across the screen, but shows the realities of motherhood and how much of this whole process is all about learning what works and what doesn’t without the pressure of making it perfect.