the kids are alright

I realize now what I’m doing here, on this planet, at this time, in the glorious and crushing moments, through uphill slogs and downhill slides, amid merciful solitude and exhuberant crowds …

It sounds so trite I hesitate, and yet it is true: I am a mother. But what is important is not my motherhood. It is the gift motherhood brings: my child.

This past month and a half have been among the saddest and most hopeful of my life. I have witnessed my father struggling to breathe from a hospital bed, then come through surgery with rousing success. I have watched another bloody massacre become a wave of youthful voices so passionate, so articulate, so tireless that my cynicism cracks a bit.

And I see my daughter, this human that my body grew, this person that our village raised, this glowing, compassionate being who cares about social justice, the environment, and the happiness of people around her. Her voice is one of a diverse, aware, and empowered generation, and, as Chloe and Halle sing to us, appropriating the words of the Who: “The kids are alright.” In an interview with Trevor Noah, these poised young women assured us that their generation is doing fine, that their parents didn’t fail them. I am struck by their words, and therein lies my truth.

Last weekend I marched behind a group of student protesters from the school where I teach, my daughter among them. As they led us down the tourist-lined streets, chanting their rage over the deaths of their peers, outlining gun policy demands that no sane person should oppose, my love and pride for these young people overwhelmed me. My body felt heavy with the poignant words of Briar Goldberg, a survivor of Columbine, who watched our country do nothing to protect us from what she went through. And I felt buoyed by the cadence and messaging of a middle-school girl, who far outshone any public speaker I’ve heard since the last presidential election. One by one, other teens spoke, with intelligence, with compassion, with the very present pain of what they experience daily because of guns in their communities. Their voices are clearer and louder than my feeble cries into the void have ever been. Now I can say that my fight was not in vain: it was an opening act, which is perhaps as it should be. The main stage is set for the real action, coming soon to a voting booth near you.

With renewed clarity, I see my life in a different way. My commitment to child-rearing takes on a greater meaning, as I envision the future that my child will help create. And I know that throughout the physical and mental exhaustion, the paycheck-to-paycheck existence, the struggles to hide despair and desperation from the gentle soul who kept me motivated, who shared my laughter, who makes me proud … she is why I’m here. She is my finest contribution to this time, to this planet, to these glorious moments and more yet to come.

[photo: afp 2018]



our voices

our voices
ringing clear
you can’t claim
you didn’t hear

see images from Women’s Marches around the world

and hear Ashley Judd

and America Ferrera

and Angela Davis

Listen to each other, my sisters, and resist!

and for some comic relief, check out Kate MacKinnon mocking Kellyanne Conway (we’re still listening, Ms. Conway, if you have anything factual to say…)

privatization of education: a cautionary tale

For some, the silver bullet to kill the beast of under-resourced and ineffective American public schools is the for-profit model, because we are a free market, and the free market makes everything better, right?

Not if you ask Kaplan teachers in New York, who for 21 months have been negotiating their first union contract with a company that has resorted to 19th-century models of worker intimidation and worse. To know more, read Josh Eidelson writing on for excerpts from ESL teacher Paul Hiava’s interview about Kaplan, a well-known, for-profit provider of education for a price.

Though I cannot relate to Mr. Hiava’s struggles with unionization (at my school, we are forbidden from unionizing as a condition of employment), I understand the fragility of faculty morale and the effect it can have on teaching. Having recently been told by my school director that if I got an offer for a job at another school I should take it, I know how difficult it is to give my days, nights, and weekends to a job where I feel undervalued. Yet I am well compensated, I know I do good work, and I get enormous personal satisfaction from working with the students I have in my classroom. While my director may be trying to encourage me to leave (for reasons I can only assume are economic: I’m on step 19 of a 22-step pay scale, so my experience costs the school dearly), he cannot fire me without fear of a lawsuit for wrongful dismissal. As long as I keep doing my job — and perhaps stop giving constructive criticism to try to make the place better — I should be able to stay there for at least a few more years. Not so for the Kaplan teachers, who risk termination based solely on student surveys, where a 0.1% decline in student satisfaction can be cause for a severe sit-down with higher ups.

Data and statistical measures are only one view of effective teaching: they do not tell the whole story. There are elements of education that are difficult to measure from test scores and student surveys alone: engagement, passion, depth of knowledge, varied activities, efforts to reach neuro-diverse learners … the list goes on. The students in the classroom are often unaware of the invisible work teachers do to make their learning experience the best it can be. Students’ self-reporting is highly subjective and could vary from day to day, depending on mood, what happened to them on the way to school, or negative feedback they may have just received from their instructor. Likewise, neither test scores nor the financial bottom line can prove effectiveness, and education cannot be squeezed into a business model for success.

This past week I saw Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, a horrific view into the excesses of a small group of the so-called 1%. The movie has been criticized (by the daughter of the main character, among others) for glorifying the lifestyle of Jordan Belfort, but I would argue that it does just the opposite. Any viewer with a smidgen of critical thinking (which we teach so well at my school) should see through the façade of high-jinks, misogyny, drug abuse, and ridiculous displays of wealth to see how lonely and lacking in value this life is. While I know that not everyone on Wall Street lives like Jordan Belfort, the film serves as a metaphor for the dark side of capitalism. I think Scorsese did his job brilliantly, and the excesses of the early 1990s have not disappeared with the dawning of a new century, as demonstrated by Mr. Belfort’s real-life rebound shown at the end of the film. The inherent critique is still and perhaps even more relevant today.

I bring up Wall Street only because I hear pundits and politicians point to the free market as the cure-all for the woes of public institutions (see the somewhat outdated article by economist Milton Friedman for an example of this argument). I would say that the free market is even more rife with problems than solutions for education (see a counter-argument to privatization by Michael Perelman in the socialist Monthly Review). In our current free-market model, extreme wealth begets dehumanization (epitomized by these rich ignoramuses), unethical practices abound (but shouldn’t have to, according to Devin T. Stewart), and mergers can result in monopolies where one-size-fits-all is perhaps an unintended consequence. (Read about a new generation of American monopolies here.)

Rethinking the free-market vs. government-run dichotomy would be an interesting first step toward brainstorming solutions for education. The “capitalism is good and socialism is bad” mindset is self-defeating, as is pointing fingers at the failed experiments in various forms of socialism of the past (“just look at Russia!”). Time to think beyond a two-option paradigm, just as we ask our students to do.

fire ignited!

Today is my lucky day: I get to write about something good… something really good that I see every day at my school, and that I can only hope is true elsewhere. And it confirms — not what I hope to see in this generation — what I know to be true: for better or for worse, this generation of cyber-natives knows how to take down the opponent and publicly humiliate their target.

And sometimes, that voice can speak an inexorable truth.

For your pleasure, let’s flush the douchebag (note the hashtag on the students’ Twitter feed) in what I’ll call: Christian Dating Expert Gets Owned, brought to you by Salon journalist, Kate McDonough, and the students at Richardson High School in a suburb of Dallas, Texas.

Just as Ms. McDonough so deftly did, I’ll let the students speak for themselves (click on the above link or cull through #lookadouche Twitter feed).

Also read a reluctant fire starter’s voice. She dispels my earlier (hopeful) assessment of the perpetrator of the offensive assembly. (See my * below, which I leave, in disbelief. He seems dead serious.)

for promoting crimes against half the population:
Justin Lookadoo, dangerous dating douchebag*


*I have to believe his persona is meant to be ironic,
because no one can be this asinine.

But then there’s always Ann Coulter, and I think she really believes what she says and her leggy blond “intellectual” image, so maybe this guy really is that dangerous. School officials apologized for bringing him to campus… you be the judge.

sexism in dissent

What a cringe-inducing act of dissent from performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky in Russia recently: see the story on the UK Guardian website. He protested his country’s downward spiral into a police state on the day that celebrates the organization he is criticizing. After being hospitalized (for obvious reasons), he will have his day in court (for public nudity, I’m guessing), and perhaps face up to 15 days in jail.

I’m reminded of the ongoing story of Pussy Riot (see my posts from 8/21/12 and 7/30/13 ), and the recent disappearance from a Russian jail of its ring leader Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (see related CNN news story). These women criticized the government’s increasing ties to the Russian Orthodox church by performing “lewd” acts in a church. Two of them are still incarcerated over a year after their act of dissent — still incarcerated if Tolokonnikova is still alive, that is.

I know, it’s Russia, not the good ol’ U.S. of A., and those Russians do things differently than we do. But to me — all national idiosyncrasies aside — the difference in potential punishment for a man and a group of women reflects global politics. Even in dissent there is inherent sexism. Outspoken women are more of a threat to public order than a man who nails his scrotum to a popular tourist destination. What the *bleep*?

Writing about lewd acts, I’m also reminded of a horrifyingly important article in Vanity Fair that every parent should read. It is about teenagers and online pornography, sex, and social media. It examines how teen and pre-teen girls are hooking up through mobile apps and having sexual encounters with boys who expect certain acts or move on to the next willing girl. These kids post nude photos of themselves and others, and publicly call each other out on their sexual behavior. You could say that it is child-on-child pornography.

In a commentary of the correlation between female power (feminism) and pornography, Princeton professor April Alliston states, as cited by Vanity Fair: “I believe that porn has gone mainstream now because women have been gaining power. The feminist movement was somewhat successful. Rather than being about sexual liberation, porn is a form of control over sex and sexuality.” She points to a similar sea change with the advent of the printing press and simultaneous increase in women’s rights and outspoken activities. Alliston summarizes it bluntly: “I see the spread of porn in part as a backlash to women’s increased independence.”

Camille Paglia may cringe, but pornography is not about women’s liberation. I do not criticize its mere existence, nor judge those who enjoy it. It has its place in human sexuality, and I’m fine with that. But one must admit that the porn industry is controlled by men and largely targeted toward men, and, in many if not most cases of heterosexual porn, the product denigrates women. And yet, women are increasingly complicit in blurring the lines between mainstream entertainment and pornography. See the well-publicized sexual antics of certain young women in Hollywood to understand my point (Britney, Paris, Lindsay, Miley).

Today, with porn easily available on the Internet, the stats regarding viewers under 18 who have seen pornography online should terrify parents everywhere.

“Ninety-three percent of boys and 62 percent of girls have seen Internet porn before they turn 18, according to a 2008 study in CyberPsychology & Behavior. Seventy percent of boys have spent more than 30 minutes looking at porn, as have 23 percent of girls. Eighty-three percent of boys and 57 percent of girls have seen group sex online. Eighteen percent of boys and 10 percent of girls have seen rape or sexual violence.” [as cited in Vanity Fair]

These are children, who do not have the context and maturity of consenting adults, and who glamorize the “role models” in the media (including porn), and construct their identities and behaviors based on what they see on YouTube, in cinemas, via music videos, and through advertising. And, as in the porn industry, it is the boys who are controlling the behavior of girls, due largely to the strong female adolescent motivation to be liked and part of a community. Slut-shaming is just the tip of the iceberg: few girls want to be labeled as prudish, either. Read the article and tell me if your stomach doesn’t turn as mine did. These are the girls in my high school classrooms, and I shudder to think what they are doing in the free time, perhaps even between classes on their mobile phones.

At my school, we have experienced a backlash from girls against a dress code policy instituted this year, that expands on the “must have shoes” liberal policy of the past. Until recently, we didn’t feel the need for a more explicit dress code. But the increase in students’ (especially girls’) inappropriate school attire was making members of the community uncomfortable and distracting from teaching and learning. I’m talking about skintight, leopard-print dresses that leave nothing to the imagination. I’m talking about skirts so short that butt cheeks are visible when a student leans over, midriffs that expose belly piercings, and tiny camisoles that barely (or don’t) cover bras. The policy also addresses boys whose pants reveal underwear or who use the hallway as a locker room, stripping to their six-pack abs to prepare for sports practice.

The girls say the dress code is inhibiting their right to self-expression. I say express your sexual self on your own time, but keep the learning environment to the same kind of professional standards that your future employers will expect of you. I wonder where their parents are? Perhaps students leave the house in jeans and a t-shirt, and roll a tube top and mini-shorts into their backpack to don in the “safety” of campus. The problem is that as soon as they leave campus to walk to public transportation, they are no longer under our protection. And though I do not believe that a woman deserves any kind of sexual advances because of the way she is dressed (I cheered for Jodie Foster’s character in the landmark 1988 film, The Accused), there is such a thing as social messaging. As adults, we must be prepared for the potential consequences (unjustified as they may be) of our public behavior. I’m a grown woman, and I know how to push back on unwanted attention because of a short skirt, which I have every right to wear if I choose (but not to work). It is a fine line, yet where kids are concerned, it is up to the adults to set the boundaries. We must draw the line.

Some may say I have digressed from the original topic of this post, but in my mind it is all interrelated. Sexism is a world politic. Media sexualizes women to sell to men (and women, who are too spellbound to see how they are being used). Pornography disempowers women for the enjoyment of men. And girls today need to become media savvy consumers to navigate this Devil’s Triangle of lust, power, and money.

To borrow from Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, we need to teach our children well.

from a article on an extra-marital affair app, Oct 2013

from a article, Oct 2013

boys can only be boys

An interesting article by Soraya Chemaly on (click here) caught my eye this morning, examining how we disempower females and doom boys by labeling certain activities, clothing, and attitudes as too “girly” for boys to share. Thus they miss out on certain creative or nurturing fields, expressive attire, and — greatest loss of all — empathetic interpersonal skills.

Men are taught to be leaders, to be decisive, to stick to their guns (arrogance, impulsivity, and stubbornness are the flip sides to those qualities). We leave consensus-building and relationship maintenance to the girls, but then we devalue them by representing these attitudes as weak and irrational. If it has to do with feelings, it’s chick territory … as if boys aren’t capable of that level of empathy, as if compassion has no place in government or community.

The empirical reigns over the murkier emotional realm. Math and science best art and poetry as academic pursuits. Participating in the system of commercial exchange (“making a living”) trumps everything: as an ambition, as an undertaking, as an excuse for falling short in other aspects of life — “Sorry I had to miss your game; I was working.”

It is no wonder that the prevailing governmental (male-dominated) role becomes paternalistic, even from those touting “hands-off” government. Another story that caught my eye today is the last-ditch effort by the GOP to attach women’s health limits to the budget bill (the one that defunds Obamacare). Heavy sigh. We all need House Republicains to limit our health choices by giving veto power to our bosses (note sarcasm, lest I be misunderstood). Thanks, Men — and Michele Bachmann, who seems to be a female-gendered puppet of male discourse.

When will we see multi-dimensional, multiple perspectives as a good thing? I guess it’s too girly to see more than one point of view.


screen time: mind crack?

My friend’s son is obsessed with video games, including Minecraft, which she jokingly calls Mind Crack. She may be laughing about it, but the addictive nature of screen time for kids may have serious effects on their ability to tolerate the pace of the real world.

Read more in this recent article from (Read also a related article about ADHD drugs and student performance in the Wall Street Journal online.)

As a technophile and computer user since 1979, I love new tools and learning how to use them. The greater the creative capacity of the technology, the better. Yet I also am wary of anything that might dominate my attention, consume hours of  “free” time, and — most importantly — suck in our children, taking them away from more active or freeform creative pastimes.

I do not deny that there are educational benefits to using technology. The caveat is that there is not always consideration for balance. For example, I have a new iPod so that I can have my music, photos, calendar, and address book with me when I want them, yet I do not want an iPhone. I would constantly check it in hopes of seeing the little red number on the email icon that indicates someone wants to talk to me. My friends would expect an instant response, knowing that I always have access to their communication. Because of my choice, I have to organize and save any online resources before going out in the world. In other words: I have to plan ahead. Or I decide to explore wherever my path leads me, sometimes encountering a few dead ends (insert cliché about the value of the journey). Waste of time, one might say? Perhaps, yet instant gratification also has its downside.

One educational downside to the omnipresence of technology is that today’s high school students no longer need to seek out resources, alphabetize, or do mental math. They don’t have to look things up in books. They have Google, online dictionaries, calculators … everything they want at their fingertips. Why does this matter, one might ask? Why not use the tools that save time and achieve greater efficiency? Efficiency may be great for profit margins, but not necessarily great for learning. One reason is the importance of maintaining neural pathways that get snipped in adolescence if not used. Cognitive functions like planning, alphabetizing, and calculating exercise the brain, whereas passive reception of information does not have the same benefits. A famous 1970s Stanford University “marshmallow” study and follow up studies show that delayed gratification in children correlates with greater success in life. In addition, I’ve observed that children who are accustomed to instant gratification become impatient, fidgety, or demanding. The slower pace of the real world is — as Margaret Rock describes in the Time article — “underwhelming.”

I wonder about the as-yet-unknown, unintended, long-term effects of relying on technology as a primary learning tool. I resist allowing laptops in my classroom, where face-to-face interaction is vital to learning, and where the kinesthetic benefits of getting out of one’s chair, moving around the room, and manipulating pieces of paper outweigh the efficiencies of computer technology. I have designed lessons around technology when the classroom objectives are best served by computers. Yet I do not want my students’ heads hiding behind a screen. I want their eyes on me, on each other, on the words they have written on the whiteboard, on the images I ask them to describe to the class.

In families, I notice greater numbers of children using iPads or other e-devices for entertainment in airports, restaurants, and other public spaces. I see no problem, unless this is the only way those children can pass the time. What about reading, drawing, storytelling, and observing the world around them? What happens when the tech tool is no longer available? Do children whine for more and become inconsolable? If so, then there is a problem. Screen time should be a privilege, not an expectation. Continual enforcement of limits to screen time solves the problem by allowing children to develop 21st-century skills using technology (and give their parents a break), as well as creating space for them to practice an age-old skill that never goes out of style: entertaining themselves within their surroundings.

Bottom line: The mind is a terrible thing to relinquish to technology.


one creative use of technology (art by Mira)