Posts filed under ‘news’

Leave Jillian Alone

The media is skewering Jillian Michael’s comments on adoption as “disturbing” but I say she gave an honest answer that other women are afraid to cop to. 

 I never thought I’d be taking sides with a TV exercise guru, let alone The Biggest Loser’s Jillian Michaels. First of all, I find the concept of fat people competing to lose weight totally objectionable. While we’re at it, in spite of all the rave reviews I’m terrified of trying 30 Day Shred. Some people get off on being yelled at but for me there is nothing that makes me want to quit sweating and flop on the couch in defeat more than some woman yelling at me from the TV like a tanned, spandex clad Trunchbull. 

 What’s she in the news for that’s got me in her corner? The ethics of her TV show haven’t come under fire. Nobody’s hating on her for announcing that she’d like to be the next Oprah, either. So what’s earned her criticism everywhere from Yahoo News to Jezebel? People are dissing on Michaels for one of the most personal decisions a woman can make, how she plans on becoming a mom. 

  Check out this passage from the May 2010 issue of Women’s Health:

 “She also hopes to have kids someday saying, “I’m going to adopt.” One of the reasons: Jillian admits to having an aversion to pregnancy, the result of being an overweight kid. “I can’t handle doing that to my body”, she explains. “Also, when you rescue someone it’s like rescuing a part of yourself.”

 Her life, her body, her choice? Right? Wrong. I’m not surprised by the mainstream media backlash against Michaels, what disturbs me is how she’s been slammed for her choices by so many feminist journalists. The Huffington Post obnoxiously sensationalized the article with the misquoted headline, “I won’t ruin my body with pregnancy.” While Jezebel’s Anna N opines, “It’s certainly disturbing that Michaels, who likely represents health to millions of Americans, seems to equate pregnancy with some sort of bodily injury.” OK, well fair enough, but doing “that” to her body is only one small reason in a larger rationale that involves “rescuing” another person. That’s certainly laudable, right? And even if “ruining her body” was her main concern, who cares? Is it really that big of a deal that Jillian Michaels might do a valuable service to society by adopting a child and manage to avoid stretch marks while she’s at it?

 Part of the reason why I hate this controversy so much is that it reeks of the old, “Adopted moms aren’t real moms.” bias. As if women who don’t have babies the old-fashioned way are somehow cheating because we all know that  the only way to become a true mother is to carry a baby for 9 months and then squeeze it out of your cha-cha because what makes a mom a mom isn’t your unconditional love for another human being but the morning sickness, the night sweats and the leaking titties. Puh-leeze. 

 And if this isn’t a glaring example of feminist, “UR DOIN IT WRONG” then I don’t know what is. Feminists are supposed to support the reproductive choices of other women, not slam them. Whether or not Jillian Michaels plans to use her own uterus in her quest to become a mom isn’t supposed to be anybody’s business but her own. 

 I say that women are disturbed by Michaels because she’s given voice to a fear that all of us have (I challenge  you to find a woman of childbearing age who hasn’t experienced a bit of anxiety regarding her body and pregnancy.)  and she’s found a way to circumvent that fear in a way that we find selfish.  She’s cheating. You can’t have your cake and eat it to. You can’t be a fitness guru, have a baby and avoid the physical trials of pregnancy. That’s not playing by the rules. Therefor, we must  censure her. 

 Our culture consistently treats female anxiety over the physical ramifications of pregnancy as mere vanity when in reality it is often so much more than that. The physical pitfalls of pregnancy are more than just stretch marks and excess flab. They can include incontinence, uterine prolapse, diabetes and sexual dysfunction. I think I speak for many women when I say that I can handle the extra flab, but the idea of my uterus falling into my vagina is what really scares me. Why are women’s very real physical concerns about pregnancy always played off by the media as shallow, immature and hysterical? For fuck’s sake, we live in a country where women can be treated as abusers for refusing a C-section and provisions for the criminalization of miscarriages have been discussed. To be pregnant is to completely give up control of your own body and put your faith into a heath and justice system that is often completely misogynistic. If that isn’t terrifying, I don’t know what is. Why can’t we say it? Why do we have to play it off as vanity and selfishness? 

I guess all of this hits a little too close to home because like Michaels, I dream of becoming an adopted mom. Maybe it was all those Anne of Green Gables books I read as a child but adoption has always been something I’ve been drawn to. For me it also serves a practical purpose. Like Michaels I’m no spring chicken, I’m already over 30 and not interested in having kids for another 5 years or so (And no I’m not willing to hurry that timetable up, thank you very much.). And OK while we’re at it, I’ll just go ahead and out myself here and tell y’all that I also have a rare hormonal disorder that would make getting pregnant difficult in the first place and pretty much guarantee a risky pregnancy if I finally was to get knocked up.  I simply can’t imagine going through roller coaster  of fertility treatments, miscarriages and complicated pregnancies into my late 30s. (Let alone the expense and exposure to cancer-causing hormones.) Going through all that just to have a little genetic copy of myself, especially when I know that there are kids out there (probably in my own zip code) who need loving families is what seems selfish to me. 

Time and again when I explain my interest in adoption I’m looked at as if I’m immature, unwomanly, unnatural. People just can’t fathom why I would choose adoption before every other avenue toward biological motherhood had been exhausted. I’ve even had people tell me that if I don’t want to get pregnant then I shouldn’t become a parent. Ouch. Overall, the message I’ve received from the pitying looks on the faces of acquaintances and the withering silence on the other side of the phone when I explain my hopes of adopting to my mother send a clear message: adoption is an inadequate substitute for biological motherhood and women who choose to adopt for reasons other than necessity are selfish. 

Why do we feel this way? Why is it that men who choose to raise somebody else’s children are lauded as heroes while women who do it are treated barren, pathetic and psychologically damaged? Why is the notion that biological motherhood is the ultimate fulfillment of femininity still so widely accepted and unquestioned?  Awfully sexist, not to mention heterosexist, when you think about it.

I feel that part of the problem comes that we have so few lenses through which to view motherhood. Society likes to pigeonhole females. We’re either the Madonna or the whore, the self-sacrificing martyr or the evil, avaricious, mommy dearest.  Snow White, or Wicked Queen. You need only look as far as any Disney move to see that our culture likes our mothers beautiful, innocuous, and preferably dead. The woman who adopts out of choice and dares to admit that she won’t mind keeping her waist line in the process doesn’t fit into this script. We’d rather censure her than learn from her how to expand our narrow notion of motherhood. 

In all the articles I read about Michaels, not one person stuck up for her. I’m here to say that I sympathize with and understand her reasons for making the choices she’s made and I support them. Beyond that, I hope to be a part of a generation of women that’s rewriting  the script on motherhood. We don’t need no stinkin’ Barbie Dream Family to be real moms.  Moms can be of all ages, backgrounds and persuasions. Moms are adopted, surrogate, single, partnered, whatever. Love makes a family and love makes a mom, no genetic material (or stretch marks) required.

April 27, 2010 at 12:40 am 6 comments

Patti Smith on PBS Tonight!

Ok, so I totally dropped the ball on the whole Louisa May Alcott live blogging thing. Liveblogs always seem better in theory than they are in real life. I always think they’ll be a great tool to record my impressions (i.e blog without really having to blog about something so my readers won’t lose interest in my writing and abandon me). In reality, there I am, halfway into a bottle of red wine trying to learn about someone I’m deeply interested in  while also trying to construct something witty and insightful to say about what I’m watching and doing a piss poor job of it. 

Really it would be better if I just shut my damn laptop and tried to appreciate something without having to deconstruct it, right? That and the formatting. Do I do it in one stream of consciousness post? Do I do it in lots of mini-posts that the reader has to go back and decipher? What do I do about it all going up in reverse chronological order? That has to be a pain in the ass to read, right? I have to figure out how to do this while I’m drinking and trying to watch something? Psssh! What do you take me for, a rocket scientist?

It is in this spirit that I am not even going to attempt to liveblog the PBS airing of Dreams of Life, the Patti Smith bio-documentary. But you can bet your sweet ass I’ll be watching. Smith is not only an incredible artist, but one of my personal heroes as well, somebody who really did (and I don’t care if this will sound corny) change my life when I saw her live in the summer of 2000. As all the calls in to her NPR interview today attest, countless other fans feel just the same way about her. Her  bravery, honesty and fearlessness has made her an inspiration to generations.

And it’s her birthday today! keep on rockin’ Patti!

If you’ve ever been curious about her music, you owe it to yourself to watch tonight or at least TiVo it. As I saw her almost 10 years ago when I was a much different person than I am today, it is a fitting thing to do to close out the year, and the oughties.

December 30, 2009 at 9:29 pm 2 comments

Well, Duh!

Plunking your kid in front of the TV won’t make her a genius.

File this under I can’t believe this is news but an article published on Yahoo Shine today claims that the revelation that the Baby Einstein videos are nothing more than, “a mind numbing way to occupy infants”, is apparently, “rocking the parent world.”

All I can say is…really? The idea that TV isn’t good for kids under two is “rocking” the parenting world?

I don’t have children of my own which in some necks of the woods qualifies me for nothing but withering looks when I issue an opinion on child rearing, but I do have multiple degrees in education and once upon a time I used to work for the largest toy retailer in the city of Boston. The Baby Einstein videos were on a constant loop on a small beat up TV in the infant’s department. Being within ten feet of them while I scraped gum off the floor, scooped candy into tiny cellophane bags or gift wrapped a $300 mohair teddy bear as a present for a toddler who would undoubtably gnaw the ear off of it was enough to give me, a grown woman, a migraine. People, have you ever seen these videos? They’re like bad acid flashbacks. Seriously, my mind hasn’t been bent so severely since the light show at that Phish concert I got dragged to back in college. Baby Einstein videos aren’t educational, in fact I’d argue that they have more potential to damage a kid’s attention span than make them smarter. They’re the equivalent of video catnip. In short, they are a shitty, stupid and ridiculous product that just happens to have a marketing scheme that plays into the vanity, insecurity and laziness of modern parents. My kid can have a head start over all the other kids and all I have to do is plop him in front of these videos!

As a sales associate I would constantly try to steer potential gift givers away from the Baby Einstein videos,”How about a monogrammed baby blanket? A set of handmade wooden blocks? A hardcover heirloom-quality edition of Make Way for Ducklings?”

Like an evil parent from a Roald Dahl novel the parent would reply,”Oh he already has enough books, let’s get him some videos.” Enough books? I grew up in a family where one could never have enough books. The idea that a parent would choose a video that was obviously garbage over a book was mind-boggling to me. Who are you? The Wormwoods?

“A child can’t have too many books!” I’d opine cheerfully. The Beacon Hill mom would dismiss me with a wave of a perfectly manicured hand decked with a diamond that was probably worth more than the house I grew up in and say in a tone that barely masked her contempt that a complete philistine who wore a name-tag and a polo shirt to work would dare to give her parenting advice, “The Baby Einstein videos were designed to be educational. It’s brain science. I’ll take two.”

Time and again people would ask me my opinion on the Baby Einstein videos and I’d tell them I didn’t think they were developmentally sound. Time and again people would tell me I was wrong, just because the packaging and the advertising told them it would make their kid smarter. Never mind that anybody with two eyes can look at the videos and see they are junk. Never mind that the parental wisdom that children under two shouldn’t be watching TV has been around forever. Why are we so quick to trust what advertising and packaging tell us are true instead of our own guts? Are we that insecure with our own judgement? Are parents that lazy?

I’m laughing to myself today thinking about all those condescending bitches who used to send their drivers around to the store to fill the family Cadillac Escalade with birthday gifts for their toddlers (I saw a lot of that, it was downtown Boston before the stock market crash) instructing their maids to purge all the Baby Einstein merch from the nursery. “Get that garbage out of here, I read on the internet that it isn’t educational! Now Blake  Jr. will never get into Harvard! “

Ha fucking ha, bitch.

It warrants a mention that parents have been looking for a way to occupy small children since the beginning of time. And no, women in the work force or feminism is not to blame for this particular form (or I’d argue, any form) of crap parenting. Yes, parents of both genders are busier than ever so an excuse to plop your kids in front of the TV while you fix dinner is more seductive as it ever has been. But let’s be straight here people, my grandmother and her  mother and just about every other mother who went before them were stay at home moms. Did they spend their days playing mentally stimulating, developmentally appropriate educational games with their kids? Hell no, they smoked, played bridge and got their hair done while the kids ran around and played outside. And out of those generations of children, plenty of them still were top in their class, got into ivy league schools and landed good jobs, no cracked out kiddie videos required.

Know what is developmentally appropriate? Building a fort with the couch cushions, coloring with those big fat crayons and playing in the sandbox. In fact, I’d argue that almost anything is more appropriate for toddlers than watching Baby Einstein videos. But how would I know? I’m not a parent, I’m just a person with common sense.

Sometimes I’m not so sure I want to have children, but articles like this make me want to breed just to make sure that another generation of children will grow up knowing what it is like to play in the mud, put on their own puppet shows and live with a life that’s not over-scheduled and inundated with pre-packaged crap before they’re even old enough to tie their own shoes.

 

 

 

October 27, 2009 at 3:05 pm 5 comments

I Have Boobs, Deal With It.

Sing it, Meghan McCain!

So by now most of us are already over the non-controversy regarding Meghan McCain and a certain chesty twit pic. However it is her response today in the Daily Beast that really intrigues me as it seems to encapsulate the struggles that all well-endowed women face. So McCain posted a picture of herself on twitter sporting vaguely porny looking cleavage. She claimed it was in preparation for her big night in that involved a good book and some takeout. Now I don’t know a 20 something female who would post and unflattering or dowdy picture of herself on the internet and as Broadsheet pointed out, “What do they think young Republican women wear to bed? Lanz of Salzburg?” OK, so posting a megaboobs shot of yourself online might be vaguely tacky (however again, I challenge you to find me a 20-something female who doesn’t have at least one vaguely saucy pic of herself on Facebook) but to be called a slut over it? What century are we in?

 McCain says she has, “struggled to accept the fact that the way I look in a tank top comes off more “sexual” than a flat-chested woman.”  I can totally relate here, there are some styles smaller chested women can wear without stares that I just can’t pass off without looking like Marilyn Monroe. Although it can be a nuisance at time, I’ve always ultimately thought of it as a nice problem to have. I do my best to dress appropriately for the situation I’m in, try to keep it all “tucked in” and not flash people in public, but in the end… I have boobs. They’re big, sometimes people are going to notice them. I’m not going to go around wearing turtlenecks every day or uncomfortable chest minimizing bras just because some people can’t handle the sight of a fully grown woman. 

What’s up with people behaving as if having large or noticeable breasts is a sign of promiscuity? Last time I checked, there was no correlation between cup size and number of sexual partners and if there is… boy did I miss out when I was single. It doesn’t work the opposite way, people don’t look at women with small breasts and think, “Oh, she must be such a prude.”  Why do we look at a woman who has larger breasts, breasts that are often more visible than the breasts of a smaller woman and automatically think that she’s a slut just because her body’s doing what it does naturally? 

Although breasts are highly fetishized in our culture, the fact is that they serve a very practical evolutionary purpose; feeding human babies. Unless you have a lactation fetish, that’s just about the least sexual thing I can think of. Having large breasts is not an invitation for people to stare, comment or think ill of my character any more than having a large nose or ears would be. Living with the body I was born with and feeling comfortable in it, comfortable enough to not want to hide behind boxy clothing doesn’t make me, or Meghan McCain a slut. And while we’re at it, I’m so done with slut shaming. What’s a slut? Anyone who’s had more sex than you have? I’m tired of the word slut. I’m a slut, you’re a slut, we’re all sluts. Why in this day and age do we really think it is our business to comment on who or how many people anybody else is sleeping with anyway? 

Meghan McCain says she’s proud  of her curves, but like so much of her other writing, I feel that she gets close to making a great point and then backs off it in the end. She says she’s not perfect and that she’s still “making mistakes” and that she says she’s, “learned a valuable lesson about the internet and boundaries” and hopes, “other girls can learn from this episode.” Learning to draw the line between the internet and real life is a valuable lesson for sure, but in the end is this a lesson about being who you are, critics be damned, or covering up and shutting up when a few assholes pull out the S word? After all, McCain did threaten to take down her twitter page after the whole incident, something she has never done when the media has repeatedly called her fat. Why is it that a tiny four lettered word like slut has the power to make a confident woman like McCain consider silencing herself? Why is it that we use the word slut so often to defame, discredit and shut down young women? 

It’s something to think about. In the mean time, don’t you even think about calling me and my C cups slutty. Unless, of course, you mean it in a good way.

October 17, 2009 at 1:55 am 1 comment

Health Care Reform, Fever Style

You knew I was gonna go here eventually.

So a couple of Wednesdays ago I attended the big town meeting in the beautiful “All American City of Somerville MA” on the arm of the gallant GeekUSA. What can I say, the couple that is politically active together, erm… blogs together?

Anyway, we stood outside Somerville High School for over an hour waiting to get in. At least four thousand people from Somerville and the surrounding towns waited with us, many holding signs and engaging in political discussion. On the news later that night the town meeting was described as “mostly peaceful” without all the derisive shouting matches that have characterized other town meetings across the nation. This makes me proud even though I am ashamed to say that I was one of the people who contributed to the non-peaceful segment of the evening when I lost my shit on this snot nosed LaRouche supporter holding a giant sign picturing Obama with a Hitler mustache when he tried to engage these nice Cambridge ladies behind us about “Obama’s Nazi healthcare plan.” To the credit of the Cambridge ladies, they listened politely to him until I butted in. I might have told him that he, “should be ashamed of himself comparing healthcare to the Holocaust”, that he needed to “pick up a history book before he talked again” and that he was, “willfully ignorant”. Although I’m sure it didn’t sound half as rational and intelligent as that because I was sputtering with anger.

What can I say, I fucking hate those LaRouche guys. Yes, I’m familiar with Godwin’s Law, I still fucking hate them. The reason why those people make me so angry is not just because they carelessly misrepresent and distort history to their own ends in a way that is incredibly disrespectful to those who actually lived through the Nazi era, it is that I feel like they have to know on some level that what they are peddling is complete garbage, yet they continue to proselytize about it anyway. I just don’t understand why you would do that unless you were a crappy human being.

Moving on… healthcare. Unlike some people, I don’t like to blindly follow my leaders, even if they are leaders I helped elect. I went in there open minded but attempting to have a critical eye. I honestly wanted to cut through the bizarre three ring circus that has been the health care debate and find out what’s actually on the table here, so I could like, form an opinion on my own. There has been so much hoopla over death panels and socialism that it is hard to cut through the noise to the real problem… there are 46 million un-insured Americans out there and those of us lucky enough to have health insurance in the first place are watching helplessly as our premiums go up and our benefits shrink.

I sat in the hot, cramped Somerville High School gym for hours listening to John Kerry answer for the health care reform proposal. It was John Kerry more passionate, personal and down to earth than I have ever seen him . Here’s what I learned… and yes, Joe Wilson, I believe it.

  • The new reforms will end discrimination against people who have pre-existing conditions. In a country where somebody who has had pediatric cancer can have trouble getting insurance for the rest of their lives you’d think that this would be a good thing.
  • For the last time, nobody is trying to take away your health insurance, or take away your doctor, or force you into a nationalized health plan. There has never, ever been an option on the table that would end private insurance, I don’t know why the hell people are so confused about that. The comparisons between the proposed public option and nationalized health care in countries like Britain and Canada are erroneous because they are not the same thing. The public option is just that, an option. If you are unemployed, or your employer won’t insure you or you just don’t like the insurance your employer provides for you, it’s there. If you like what you have, you can keep it. Why do I believe John Kerry when he said that? Because for one thing, he said it himself, it would be too damn expensive to nationalize U.S health care.
  • Don’t want to pay for everybody else? Tough shit, we’re already paying for the uninsured anyway. Apparently my insurance premiums (and yours too, if you are lucky enough to have it) have hidden costs in them meant to cover the overhead when uninsured people end up in the emergency room (that’s what happens when you can’t afford a regular doctor). If uninsured people had insurance, it would bring down the cost for all of us. Oh, and BTW, the plan is not going to cover illegal aliens. I believe that too. Think about it, trying to sneak a provision like that into a bill would be career suicide for the Dems.
  • But it will destroy the free market economy! Um, isn’t competition a good thing? You’d think people who are so into the free market economy wouldn’t be so terrified for those poor little insurance companies having to um, beef up their product or actually give a shit about their customers in order to compete. If a public option forces private carriers to provide a better rate or better services to their clients it is going to directly benefit us, the consumers.
  • But it’s socialism! Um, we already have medicare and medicade. Is that socialism? While we’re at it, the health insurance that government employees enjoy is (gasp!) government run! Maybe all the senators who plan to vote against health care reform should put their money where there mouth is and give up their socialist government run health care and jump into the private insurance carrier pool with the rest of us shmucks. No takers? Didn’t think so.
  • But I don’t want the government in control of my health care! First of all, see bullet point #1. The government won’t be in control of your health care if you don’t want it to be. Second of all, somebody else is already in control of your health care, a large corporation that doesn’t give a rat’s ass about you and will probably slash your coverage just when you need it most. I look at it this way, at least the government has to answer to the people, big insurance companies don’t have to answer to anybody. If I don’t like the job my elected officials are doing with health care reform I can vote them out in the next election cycle. If I don’t like what my insurance company is doing with my health care (hey there Blue Cross Blue Shield, raising my co-pays and taking away my physical therapy just when I needed it the most, I’m talking about you! BTW, it’s been fun trying to recuperate from a foot injury on my own!) if it’s all my employer provides, I’m stuck with it.
  • Come on people, get real. We’re paying over 2.5 trillion dollars to fight foreign wars but we can’t insure our own citizens? Dick Cheney had ties to Halliburton, one of the biggest contractors in the reconstruction of Iraq and nobody bitched and moaned about how it was fascist (OK, well I did), nobody saber rattled about how it was undermining the American way. While we’re at it, I find it rich that so many people are trying to say that Obama’s health plan is “unconstitutional” when the last administration fabricated a war, justified torture, and reinterpreted laws on illegal search and seizure to justify their own ends. Wasn’t that unconstitutional? Or is it only OK to take a piss on the Bill of Rights when you are doing it to justify blowing up foreigners? Is this who we are, a nation of people who would prefer their tax dollars fund destruction overseas instead of making sure that the most vulnerable of our own are taken care of?

The more I see these fucking teabag Circuses on TV every night and see impeach Obama stickers popping up, the easier it is to get cynical about the whole thing. In the end though, I gotta be hopeful. In the end I still live in a country where one of the most powerful people in the land has to come to my stuffy, un-airconditioned high school gym and answer my questions for three hours. Deep down in my heart, I know that just like other unpopular things that have been fought for in the past; civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, that eventually what is just and compassionate will win out. I just hope I live long enough to see it…

September 15, 2009 at 2:19 pm Leave a comment

I Can Stop At Any Time…

I know this is old news to anyone with a vague interest in fashion but…

Anna Sui is coming out with a new line of clothes for Target!

And they are Gossip Girl inspired!

They hit stores on the 13th!

Squeee!!!!!!!!!

I know, I know. I was supposed to be keeping my fashion dollars out of the big box stores.

I have a big birthday coming up next week and I was supposed to start dressing with a little more dignity, i.e not like a wanna be teenage socialite.

I can’t help it.

f3da8392c99cbcd8_annasui_target2.preview

I totally want the one on the far left. The black number is a little too Sophomore semi-formal ’98 for me but the silver one… that totally would have worked for a New Year’s Eve On The Moon theme party I had a few years ago. I don’t know how I feel about the jacket over the cute little wrap dress but whatevs.

In general, I’m feeling it.

I think I may have a problem.

September 10, 2009 at 1:51 pm 2 comments

Wake Up America

The following is my final paper for my graduate class in Urban Education. The assignment was to define problems and solutions in urban education. I decided to write it blog style, cuz that’s how I roll.

Our schools are racist. America’s educational system is not a meritocracy where success is open to all who work hard, it is a factory attempting to crank out one size fits all education that ignores the individual talents, needs and backgrounds of our students. Our students are not mechanical cogs, they’re people and when we deem them deficient, or “failing” we’re leaving them behind, doing the exact opposite of what all this educational reform is supposed to do. Think I’m just some ranty liberal bringing in the Bush administration on trumped up charges? Think again. Test fraud, creative number crunching and ignoring the children who need help the most (as well as allowing our most talented children to languish) in favor of pushing the “bubble” kids to pass the test is well documented. No Child Left Behind is not working. Even Fox News agrees with me on this one.

96% of our nation’s teachers are white. The overwhelming majority of us went into our profession with the desire to do good and educate children from all walks of life. We’re not white supremacists who enter the classroom with a desire to subjugate those who are different from us in fact, many of us take offense to the idea that our schools and our teaching styles are based on racist assumptions. 

Whether or not our schools and teachers purposely support educational policies that are harmful to students of color, we are a part of a complex, invisible web that tells us “white is right” and that an individual’s ticket to success in life is dependent on her ability to acclimate to the white middle class world. The widespread misconception that white middle class culture is the ideal to aspire to is not isolated to the school system. This invisible web is all around us, in our school systems, our political systems, our job market, entertainment, the arts, everywhere imaginable. Yet for those of us who grew up white and middle class, it goes largely unnoticed and undiscussed. It is accepted that the end goal of all who are not like us is to be more like us. We may even feel passionately that it is our job as educators to help our students to gain access to this world so that they may live in prosperity. There are so few examples of successful people who have retained their  non-white cultural identity that we assume that a non-white cultural identity is a hinderance to success that must be shed. Very few people living in this invisible web of privilege see the fact that it isn’t the individual that’s the problem, it’s the system. Even if educators can see the problem, we feel very little power to be a part of the solution. How are we supposed to be effective teachers of minority children in a political climate where we can be sent to jail for speaking a child’s native language to them?

The biggest hinderance to today’s educational system is that educators are not in control of our educational system, politicians are and they rely on knee jerk reactionist rhetoric to rally their bases and get re-elected. Think racism isn’t an implicit norm in our culture? Check out the new these days. Consider the following clip of Pat Buchanan on Rachel Maddow blasting Sotomayor for “learning English by reading children’s books” as if it disqualifies her from her supreme court nomination and talking about how America was “built by white men” so therefor white men deserve a larger slice of the power and privilege pie (check out Maddow’s eloquent response to his douchebaggery here):

Um, Pat? Did you forget the millions of African slaves who helped build this country? (including the white house!) Or how about the Chinese who aided western expansion by building America’s railroad? Or the leigons of Eastern European immigrants who became the workforce of the Industrial Revolution? What about the farm workers from South and Central America who keep our plates full today? Their work is feeding the people of our country, keeping our factories humming, building our roads and our bridges. I would say that counts as “building America”. According to Pat, they don’t deserve a slice of the pie. Because people of color and those who speak English as a second language aren’t “real” Americans, “real” Americans are white guys in suits with corporate jobs. Yeah, just like Bernie Madoff or those guys from Enron. They were doing a service for the American people, right? In a world where these types of racist assumptions often go unquestioned how can we build an equitable education system? 

What’s the solution to this problem? Number one: Put educators in charge of education, not politicians. This is not an easy task. For the best of our nation’s teachers, the classroom is where the heart is. They’d rather be in the trenches with their students every day despite this broken system, than battling it out on Beacon Hill.  Well my fellow teachers, we’re just going to have to go outside our comfort zone. It is unacceptable that a businessman like Ron K. Unz, could help get a law against bilingual education passed that was not based on any research about how the human brain aquires language and develops fluency. This law has seriously impacted the job that we teachers do in the classroom every day and we were powerless to stop it or give input on how we believe bilingual students should be taught in the first place. This has to change. 

 More teachers need to run for school committees, city council and local and state government. We need to be there when the decisions are being made. As teachers, we need to see ourselves as vital in the shaping of policy, not simply as civil servants or people who are not in the place to decide what’s best for “other people’s children”. We need to view our profession with pride. Teaching is an art and a science and we must approach it at as such. Our level of training and education qualifies us to call the shots, not special interest groups. Until we feel entitled to shape policy and take steps to do so very little will change. 

I would like to see a grassroots organization that uses technology to help activate a base of teachers, students and concerned citizens to take action on issues that are relevant to our schools. Sort of like a moveon.org for education reform. With this as a tool it would be simple to attend meetings of like minded people, circulate petitions, start letter writing campaigns to our elected officials and attend rallies. Teachers and their allies need to be empowered to take action together on matters of importance and we need a structure to do this in. Web based technology moves fast, is cheap to set up and maintain, and makes it easy to get a message out to a large group of people instantaneously. In addition, teachers need to network with other teachers of like mind. We need to set up an online resource that helps us disseminate best practices in urban education, share lesson plans, and visit each other’s classrooms. We should take inspiration in this from the Obama campaign, the first political campaign that motivated it’s base primarily through online tools such as facebook, twitter, text messaging, email, etc. 

Additionally, in order to make school systems more equitable for children of color, we need to change the face of teaching. It is unacceptable that 96% of our nation’s teachers are white. Universities with established education programs need to do a better job of recruiting and retaining teachers of color. If a traditional four years of college plus a master’s degree and an unpaid student teaching internship is not financially realistic for a future teacher of color we need to develop alternative paths to degrees and certification that do not bar people who need to work for a living from higher education. 

 Teacher certification programs should be set up in colleges that are close to high need areas so that aspiring teachers do not have to relocate from their communities to get certified. Teacher colleges should develop courses, concentrations and certification tracks that specifically address the unique challenges of urban education. Every student majoring in education should have to take at least an introductory course in multicultural education. 

In my Master’s of Education program the needs of urban students and the realities of working in urban classrooms that are often overcrowded, saturated with high need students and bereft of what most teachers consider basic resources (even things like books, paper and pencils), was not discussed. We were taught to teach under the ideal circumstances, not real circumstances. As a result, my first year teaching ended up to be a crash course in urban education. Receiving little support or training, I often felt frustrated and discouraged. Half of urban teachers quit within 5 years. After my own experiences I believe this is because we do not feel empowered to be the best teachers we can be in this crumbling and defunct system that turns schools into holding pens for society’s “undesireables”. When there is no heat in your classroom, the principal keeps ignoring your counseling referral for the troubled student who spends class repeatedly running full force into a brick wall and you are trying to protect that child from bodily harm while simultaneously teaching 22 other students with no books, no papers and no pencils (true story!), the outlook can seem pretty bleak. How are we supposed to attract the most talented, driven and intelligent people to teaching when we throw them into these situations to sink or swim on their own? 

 In The Dreamkeepers, Sucessful Teachers of African American ChildrenGloria Ladson-Billings asserts the need for special support for urban educators in the form of team teaching, longer internships and mentoring connections that actually help new teachers develop effective skills. Knowing that I wasn’t alone would have done measures to make my first year teaching more productive. Instead, I decided that I couldn’t in good conscience be part of a system that was allowing students in need to languish, so I left hoping to find another school system that was actively helping their neediest students, not just detaining them. In my leap between my first job in the poorest city in our state and my next job in a large, well funded urban district I saw a big difference. The kids weren’t all that different, I was still working with a large proportion of immigrants and students of color but just about everything else was different. What did my new school district have have that my first school district lacked? In a word, money. This brings me to my final point of education reform.

Money. It’s an ugly word. People don’t go into teaching for the money. Maybe that’s part of the problem, as teachers we are uncomfortable in the money-getting world so we don’t know how to  best advocate for more resources being allocated to us. There is that tired old adage that it will be a great day when schools have all the money they need and the government needs to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber. Call me airy-fairy, but I agree. The city I teach in was bashed by my old pal Mitt Romney (affectionately known as Mitler) for spending more per student than any other district but still having low to middling MCAS scores. Despite this fact, we’ve still been lauded as having one of the best public high schools in the state. Part of this is because we spend money on our schools and our students. Teachers here have more money available for professional development than any other school district I’ve ever heard of. Our classroom sizes are small and I know if I had a student as emotionally disturbed as my wall-thrower at my first job he would be able to access services immediately. Because of the resources and environment here, I am more than just a warden keeping my students in line, I am an educator. People can talk about test scores all they want but educators know that what makes a real difference is smaller classroom sizes so that teachers can get to know their students individually and more access to better teacher training and support, not just a “teacher proof” curriculum. If we want to hire more (and better trained) teachers to keep our classroom size down and move to a “small school” model where every student matters, we need money, plain and simple. 

If we had more teachers out there on the front lines of the decision making, we could get our voices heard and have money and resources allocated to educational approaches that have the best interests of our students at heart. If we had a grassroots network of activists, teachers, parents and concerned citizens we could vote with our feet on political issues and make our voices heard. We don’t have to accept this broken system as reality. We can mobilize. The changes can be small ones we make in our classrooms, and large ones that are made on a national agenda. The push has got to come from both directions, in the little things we do each day, and the big things such as how we vote and where we spend our money. The road is long and frustrating but we can do it. In the immortal words of Clash frontman Joe Strummer calling youth to rally against the status quo in the song, “Working for the Clampdown“, “Anger can be power d’y know that you can use it?” 

 Let’s mobilize. 

 

For Further Reading:

The Real Ebonics Debate, Power, Language and the Education of African American Children 

The Dreamkeepers, Successful Teaching of African American Children

English Only Doesn’t Work

 What Is Bilingual Education?

 

 

July 22, 2009 at 3:33 pm 7 comments

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