Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Has a psychologist diagnosed this depression?

I need someone from the psychological community to validate my growing depression. Very rarely are things so clear in my view that I cannot comprehend another view. In fact, my best friend and partner has completely different views politically - so I'm well versed in debate (heated argument), and I benefit by always seeing the other side.

But this election is different for me. Though I've disagreed with policies of candidates in the past, and I've worried about losing personal liberties through Supreme Court appointments, I've never felt the despair about the possibilities of a single person being elected. Our government was designed to be stronger than one individual, no matter how close to demagogue he leans.

But this election is different for me.

I'm increasingly depressed by the embracing of bigotry, self-promotion, and rhetoric over reasoned argument. I can't stand that so many - including people in my circle - equate the awfulness of two candidates, and support one who stands for nothing but personal gain. 

There is no question which person is better prepared, who speaks Presidentially, who can lead our country as a good force on this Earth.

Why don't we, still the most influential nation in the world, want to be a force of good? Look at the preparation and the experience.

Why do we want to be a bully? Why do so many embrace this perspective? Look at the preparation and experience.

To be clear, I do not think ANYONE, public individual or private, lives a perfect life. I actually think most people don't take ownership of the mistakes we make.  Politicians in general have these two issues magnified in our social media world. So compare the mistakes. Compare the ability to take ownership. And then compare the ability to treat others as you would want to be treated. Who works for individual gain? Both. But who works predominantly for the greater good. Only one.

I have, for the most part, stopped trying to change opinions, because I've realized most people don't care about evidence.

But I continue to read, and each time I read the "other" view, I'm struck by the vitriol, rather than the reason, by the hate, rather than the help. I just don't understand, and  I'm growing more depressed.

I want to make my world smaller, shake my head while having a drink with those who commiserate. 

But I can't.  Because this is my life, and no matter what happens, I need to teach my children how to be kind, compassionate people who think beyond their personal gain - despite the "role models" we put before them. 

So I've continued to read, and I try with open mind and heart to understand those who support him. But I can't.

I'm with her.

Because her record shows she works for the common good.

Because she fights for her constituents (see her efforts for NYC after 9/11).

Because she has experience negotiating international waters with success and respect.

Because the non-demagogues of the world would vote for her as an ally.

Because she respects all humans.

Because she knows how to negotiate and compromise.

Because she has had to work more than twice as hard to get where she is, thus showing she has the stamina.

Because she prepares, and it shows.

Because she can accept feedback and change.

Because she speaks coherently.

Because she cares about the children of this country.

Because, quite frankly, she is smart.

These are the qualities I want in the leader of the FREE world because these are the qualities that fight for good. Is it always perfect? No. But it's so clear to me who doesn't fight for good in this election. It's clear that one candidate doesn't respect anyone but himself. 

I do not understand, and I'm struggling, as a teacher, a thinker...and most of all a mother.

PS-I don't think this would be an issue if a white man were running against him.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Growing up football

I love football. Not in the way people from Texas love football, but I love the atmosphere of Friday night lights. I grew up in a place where high school games were THE social event and midget football sucked us into the culture.

In fact, I was a cheerleader for many years until I hung up my poms for a basketball -- and then I joined the varsity football team as the statistician.

So I get it. I love the games, and I get the culture. 

For the last few years I've been watching youth football through the lens of a cheer parent. It's hard for this feminist to watch traditional gender roles develop. Yet this is what I do every week.

I listen as a football dad points out the segregation between the cheer parents, sitting at one end of the field, and the football parents, sitting at the other.

I watch my daughter performing, not learning the game or engaging in it as a member of the "boy" team.

I watch the boys grunting as they run, full force, through a banner held by the girls and cheer coaches discussing making the banner larger so the girls don't get hurt.

I wonder about the culture where boys are yelled at to "kill someone" in the same space where girls are admonished to have "smiles on lips and hands on hips."

I can't help but remember lifetime movies where cheerleaders are abused by football players.

And I hope, beyond hope, that our generation isn't perpetuating the gender roles that make this kind of behavior acceptable.

I grew up "football," and I love the game. And I wonder how we can do better beyond the game for both our boys and our girls. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

To My Non-White Friends, Can We Talk?

I have 478 Facebook friends that include individuals from my childhood and college, my high school and university teaching, my family, and my current community.

38 of them are not White.  Another 5 are raising children who are not White.

I just spent time going through my friends' profile pictures, making visual judgments about their race and ethnicity.  In many cases I easily categorized based on skin, last name, and my personal knowledge.  In some cases I was surprised.  I tagged individuals as non-White based on their skin tone and last name when I had never thought of them this way before.  This was an eye-opening exercise for me.

Over 90% of my friends enjoy white privilege, just as I do.  This does not surprise me as I grew up in and currently live in areas that are very homogenous in terms of race and ethnicity.  I've met the majority of my non-white friends in college and professional settings, but as I looked at each of them - REALLY looked at each of them - I had a realization.

I have only had one conversation with any of my non-white friends about prejudice and what it means to live in a world of white privilege.  Though I have thought about them in the context of race and inequality, I have not asked them about their personal experiences or struggles.

My social media feeds are filled this week with calls for change.  Somehow the recent violence has created a deeper divide - one that makes anyone (like me) who supports the notion that #BlackLivesMatter automatically anti-police and/or anti-White. Ultimately, at the heart of the violence - whether against unarmed black men or police who are protecting their citizens - is racism.

I have posted blogs, videos, and thoughts about this issue as my response to the violence, and I've collected some texts worthy of reading here.
How to Mess Up Your Kids' Understanding of Race - "Teaching colorblindness is racism’s friend, not it’s opposite." 
"It's Not Us Vs. Them" - A police chief in Minnesota has a solution to violence 
Why #AllLivesMatter is not a good response to #BlackLivesMatter - a nice analogy that may help you to understand the movement a bit better 
On Mothering White Sons to Know #BlackLivesMatter - an important read for my white friends, as we can make a change through our children 
Not just us? Using classrooms to get (White) people to talk about race - written by my colleague David Kirkland, who is brilliant and passionate and teaches me daily 
This American Life, Cops See it Differently, Part I and Part II - some great examples that will make you think about the current issues in a larger context - from both sides 
Trevor Noah breaks it down on The Daily Show - The first step is to admit there is a problem. An American problem. 
Operation Breaking Stereotypes - I did some work with this organization a few years ago, and it amazed me.  We need more projects like this one.

My reading over the last few days has convinced me that I need to do more.  As I posted on Facebook,
I am always amazed by the courage of the Freedom Riders and other civil rights protestors. I don't know if my generation has that courage. We've never seen a draft, and many have only see violence through their screens. Somehow we need to find the courage it takes to put our own lives, and the lives of our children, in danger. Action, not just posts on social media, needs to happen. What is the action that we need to finally realize that ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬?
Like many, I am at a loss for what I can do, but I think I need to start with conversations.

As a white girl from a rural area, I had little understanding of the complexities of race in society.  My college professor, Meenakshi Ponnuswami, changed my world.  In the first article she assigned to me my freshman year, she invited me to consider that "Christopher Columbus conquered America."  Her course asked me to view history and the world through the eyes of others, not the edited version of white privilege.  After that class, I enrolled in every course I could that would help me to understand the history of Blacks in America.  I became pretty book smart about the topic, but I never had the courage to talk to my black friends on campus about their experiences.

But I really got schooled in graduate school during a workshop where I was the only white person in the room.  As the black women surrounding me talked about issues of race, I couldn't contribute.  I had no experience and no perspective, and in that moment, I realized I needed to do more as a teacher for my own students.  I opened conversations in my predominantly white classrooms about other voices.  My students and I read literature written by minority writers alongside the required canonical texts written mostly by white men.  I tried to have the conversations, but I didn't have the courage to ask my few non-white students about their experiences as individuals.

I've learned that we, as a society, need to have more conversations about issues of racism and prejudice.  We cannot go "colorblind." As a teacher I have tried to open conversations, but I have not done so as a friend.  I am hoping to do that now.

So, to my non-white friends (and the parents raising non-white children), I would like to have these seemingly hard conversations.  I would like to know about your experiences with prejudice and what it means to be non-White, and I would like to share those stories with my own children so that I can have these important conversations with them.  If you are willing to share publicly, please do so that my white friends can learn from you.  Otherwise, help me to start this conversation between us, either through messages or over a drink the next time we see each other.

To my white friends, I encourage you to do the exercise that I just did, read the texts above, and start conversations with your non-white friends, as well as with your children.

Sunday, June 5, 2016


Yesterday I read the powerful letter of the Stanford victim written to her attacker.  It made me sick to my stomach.  It made me worry for myself and my daughter.  It made me angry.

Today I read this article, posted by one of my favorite bloggers and shared by several of my friends on my social network feed.  It made me sick to my stomach.  It made me worry for everyone.

The author calls for her audience to share the post, naming the attacker with his image prominently displayed, in hopes of shaming him.  She does this for all the right reasons - the judge, sympathetically to him and not his victim, gave him 6 months in prison for a crime that deserves a much harsher sentence.  I will be clear here - I sympathize with the victim entirely, and I agree with the sentiment of this post that calls for the man's shaming. I know that this white, privileged man was given a slap on the wrist when he deserved much more.

While I was traveling to a conference today, I read Monster, a wonderful book by Walter Dean Meyers.  The story of a black youth charged with felony murder, raises questions of how and why charges are levied on individuals suspected of a crime - particularly when they are Black.   Even more importantly, as I considered the punishment for the attacker in the Stanford rape, the book made me think about the punishments given to the perpetrators (or accused perpetrators) of various crimes.  While the main character in Monster faced 25 years in prison for a potentially tangential role (read the book to see where you fall in his guilt) in a robbery gone bad, the Stanford attacker was given 6 months because a longer sentence might have had a "severe impact" on him.  I do not wonder - I know - that race played a role in these stories.

I know there are racial differences in our judicial systems.  It makes me sick.

However, I also wonder whether shaming individuals is the way to attack these systematic issues.

We’ve got our torches and pitchforks ready. We know who you are. And we are watching you. Remembering your face. Remembering your name. Putting up invisible walls around you, boxing you in, shutting you out. Shunning you.

These are the words of one of my blogger heroes, yet they remind me of words that may be uttered by Klan members.  And though I agree with their sentiment in this blogger's context - this man deserves to suffer and the courts did not do justice in this case - I am not sure that public shaming is the answer.

I say this because I am in the midst of watching a 13 year old girl be publicly shamed in my town.  She made a mistake.  She deserves to both own it and learn from it.  But she does not deserve public humiliation.

And neither did Hester Prynne.

I turn back to literature (The Scarlett Letter) because I read Monster today.  We can learn a lot from great writers.  And from these two stories I learn that prejudices and mob mentality do nothing to  move us forward as a society.

The Internet holds the power to make change, and we can wield that power in effective ways.  We can also abuse it.

Shaming, on any accounts, is abuse.

So fight for women's rights.  Speak up for the injustices in our court system.  Educate your community (parents and others) about how children can do better.

But please, don't shame individuals as a representative of all of society's failing.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

I'm supposed to check what? Where?

Gone are the days when we could rely on finding a crumpled note at the bottom of our child's backpack --- two weeks after the event.  With the electronic backpack, we will never know what we miss!

Schools have shifted to digital communication, a more cost-effective and environmentally friendly choice.  However, not all systems are designed to push information to us.  Instead, we must remember to go online regularly to see the news that once came home via paper in our child's backpack.

Wait a minute...  we need to remember to do WHAT??  Among the tasks of homework, lunches, running the carpool, and trying to stay sane, how do we add one more thing to our memory list?

One of my friends suggested setting a reminder on your calendar to check the backpack once a week.  I like this idea, except for the fact that if I'm not sitting at my computer or in a location where I can check immediately on my phone (like when I'm driving to one of the many places on my to-do list), I won't remember the reminder later.

I've solved the problem of missed announcements since my children's school switched to an electronic backpack by setting up an RSS feed.  I use RSS to curate much of my digital reading (e.g. blogs, news), and it's been helpful in remembering to check the electronic backpack too.

There are many RSS feed readers, and I use two.  On my Chrome browser, I've installed RSS Feed Reader, found on the Google Chrome store.

I do an enormous amount of work sitting at my computer everyday, so it's helpful to me to see the notifications in my browser.  Right now, I have 5 unread updates from my children's district.  When I click on the orange "wifi" icon (RSS icon), I see that the lunch menus have been posted for all three schools, the school board has announced three vacancies for the next election, and a reminder that school will be closed for unused snow days.  Clicking on these titles takes me to the school website where the flyers/announcements have been posted.

The site itself needs some work, as it is organized in a way that isn't very intuitive for parents.  Sometimes the link goes directly to a PDF flyer or announcement.  Most of the time, it goes to a page called "Files and Documents."  If I get to this page, I've learned just to click on my child's specific school and then look in the "Parent Information" and/or "Community Activities" folders to find the PDF flyer (unless I want the lunch menu, which is in a folder with that title).  I'm hoping the school designs a better organization system for next year.

This setup has worked for me when I'm on my computer at home, but I also use Feedly to curate blogs, news sites, and the electronic backpack on my phone.  I receive tons of great reading material via Feedly!

Because I get many updates via Feedly, I elected to use RSS Feed Reader to separate out the electronic backpack notifications on my desktop.  Feedly has a Chrome extension that will give the same notifications.  Unfortunately, Feedly does not yet have push notifications on the phone to alert me when I have a new update, so I just keep the app right next to my Facebook on my phone so I remember to open it.  Since I check Facebook daily, it's easy to remember to check Feedly for the electronic backpack (and all that other great reading material that is waiting for me).

 Flipboard is another app that functions like a personal magazine.  I get distracted from doing my work by it easily, so I've moved back to Feedly, which isn't quite as pretty and lets me get to the backpack quickly without getting sucked in by other articles. Feedly is free, which is another reason I like it.  This article has some other apps that might be worth checking out, and you could also search the Chrome Store or App Store for "RSS Readers."

Finally, in order to have the website send your RSS reader an update, you'll need to capture the feed.  Sometimes a site will have an RSS button that you can simply click and add to your browser feed. This button is how I subscribed to the school feed. In other cases, you'll need to cut and paste the site address into your reader.  Youtube is a great resource for finding how-to videos.  Here is one for getting started with Feedly.

As a working mom, I need to find ways to manage all the information the comes to my family.  When the school switched to an electronic backpack, I simply did not remember to check, and I missed things - a lot.  By setting up an RSS feed and using apps that remind me, I'm missing less than when my kids lost notices at the bottom of their packs!


Sunday, April 10, 2016

Refusing the Test

For more than a decade I have publicly voiced my concerns about high stakes standardized testing.  I’ve spoken at educational events.  I’ve published my feelings in books and articles.  I’ve written on this blog and others that these tests – and the teaching to tests that results from high stakes punishments – are bad for our kids.

I had hoped that educators, bolstered by parental involvement in the last two years, would be able to right the wrongs imposed by the federal and state governments since the introduction of No Child Left Behind.

I had hoped that by now we would be using standardized tests for diagnostic purposes and to help funnel resources to schools that need them.

I had hoped I would not have to have write a letter to my children’s principal telling her that they would be refusing to take the test.

Unfortunately, none of these hopes have been realized.

In the past month I’ve seen posts in my social networks from my colleagues in Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New York who have made the decision to “opt-out.”  I add my voice from New Jersey to this list.

Christopher Lehman, founder of the Educator Collaborative, and parent of a third grader in NY, has written a wonderful post that articulates why we, as parents, need to take a stand.

Like Chris, I do not think that standardized tests, particularly those that punish students, teachers, and schools through high stakes, allow us to “demonstrate effectiveness.” 

My most salient reasons for standing against high stakes testing are described in this post, and I’ll repost excerpts from it here:
The test provides one snapshot of my child.In order to get into my home office, I walk by a wall of photos that I have carefully selected to display. I see my son and daughter over their years in various stages of joy.  There is not a bad photo among them - all of the bad ones are filed away in photo boxes or discarded in the trash.  We share the best. But what if I did not have the option to choose?  What if I were limited to one snapshot per year? Would I want to put so many on the wall to display to my friends and family (and for me to look at each day)?  And what if that one snapshot of my daughter catches her with her eyes closed, yet my son has a handsome smile?  When I display them both, how will my daughter feel, knowing that shot is not really representative of her?

Children grow over time and at different rates.  They have good days and bad days.  It is not appropriate to judge a child’s proficiency in any task by their performance on one test, taken in a sterile setting, on a day arbitrarily assigned by the state. 
Tests limit curriculum.My colleague Troy Hicks and I articulated some of the ways that testing limits curriculum (specifically writing) in this post on Writers Who Care.  There are other examples that I could share, but essentially, what gets tested, gets taught. Though this might seem like a strength of tests, in actuality, high stakes exams measure very little of what we want children to learn.  For example, this report from the Carnegie corporation explains that most standardized assessments of reading focus on comprehension strategies for identifying main idea and making inferences, but not on critical analysis or synthesis. It would not be possible to test children on all of the knowledge and skills that they learn - they would spend more time in testing than they do in learning.  As of now in NJ, ELA and math are privileged.  Science and social studies may gain status.  But how about all of the other areas?  And if tests only measure part of what we want kids to be able to know and do within a discipline, like the reading tests do, are they a true assessment of learning? What gets tested, gets taught.

Teachers and schools are evaluated based on scores that are one snapshot of my child.The authors of the Carnegie report cited above state that though the tests may be able to tell educators “who struggles with reading, they cannot provide insight into why these students struggle” (p. 2).  Thus, these tests have little place in a quality assessment-instruction cycle.  If teachers do not get data that helps them to alter instruction for a student, how can they be held accountable for that student’s performance on a future test? I have been bothered for a decade by classifications of schools as “failing” because they do not hit benchmarks, including test scores, that do not take the school’s context into account.  We punish children and families when we punish schools, and a better approach would be to invest in professional development - real PD that extends over time and provides teachers with support - rather than sanctioning schools and requiring inhuman feats to achieve excellence without appropriate time and resources.  

Testing takes time.Testing, divorced from assessment-instruction cycle as it currently is, does not equal instructional time.  In fact, it takes away from it.  It takes away on the test days themselves, and it takes away from the stuff of real learning in the classroom when schools and teachers adjust their curricula to focus on tested items.   

Today I post the fourth post on my personal blog related to standardized testing.  (You can read the others here, here, and here.)  I had really hoped I wouldn’t be writing about this issue again.  I had really hoped that I would never have to make the decision as a parent to refuse the test on behalf of my children.

As Chris says, there is hope.  If parents speak out about the harm that high stakes tests do to all children, we can be change agents.  For me this argument is not about PARCC, Common Core, and big data – though I recognize the perspective of those who feel strongly about these issues.  For me this argument is about the fundamental value of public education for all.  This value is destroyed when we limit possibilities.  High stakes tests are not the answer; they contribute to the problem, and we must take a stand against them. 

For those parents in NJ who want to learn more about this issue, please visit Save Our Schools NJ.  In NJ students must “refuse” to take the test (not opt out), and policies across the state vary about how parents can refuse on behalf of their children.  Policies also vary on how students who refuse (either on their own accord or by parent refusal) will be treated.

Here is a template for the letter I will be sending to my children’s school.  Please feel free to download and adapt for your purposes.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Thinking about privilege and equitable education for all children

Every so often a post on our local community page riles everyone up.  It's happened again, and I need to say something about it.  My thoughts on this issue are definitely influenced by two books in my life right now - one that I read and one that I am writing.

My children are privileged.  They go to a school that offers them many opportunities to grow and learn - both cognitively and social-emotionally.  Through amazing support of parents in the community through the PTO and Ed Foundation, the district also provides many extracurricular options.

One of these programs allows fifth grade students to become entrepreneurs.  By participating, children learn to plan and execute a business.  They create, price, advertise, and sell products.  They pitch ideas to a panel of adults and get feedback.  They develop skills in math, language arts, and public speaking in an interdisciplinary fashion.  They grow as people, developing teamwork skills and self-efficacy.  It is an amazing program.

But it is not part of the regular curriculum.  Which means that not every child gets to participate.

This issue sparked the post on the local page, and the conversation became heated when parents, defending the program, shared how great it was.  Somewhat lost in the long thread were the voices of equity, which is the cause that I want to champion.

First, the fact that our district offers this program shows our privilege.  A quick look at the list of districts who are hosting these entrepreneurial markets reveals that children from wealthier and less diverse communities have the opportunity while others do not.  And even within the schools that offer this program as an extracurricular, there are children who can participate, and children who cannot.

Why aren't fabulous programs like this one, where inquiry is at the heart of the project and important skills are learned within the work, the core of every school's curriculum?  Why doesn't every child have the opportunity to participate, to be inspired as an entrepreneur at such a young age?

Debby Irving openly addresses the issue of privilege in her book Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race, which is a book that I recently read for a discussion at work.  Both the book and the conversation with my colleagues reinforced the importance of talking about privilege with those who enjoy it.  I wanted to invite some of my community to read the book and discuss it with me.  I hoped to think together about what we need to do in our small community in order to contribute to change everywhere.  I hadn't quite figured out how to make this happen - or who to invite to participate - when the conversation exploded on Facebook.  In that conversation, however, issues of equity were dismissed, and it's made me sad.

The way we participate on social media affects how we live our lives every day.  We often respond emotionally without reading critically, thoughtfully countering, and respectfully offering evidence that supports our view.  We are also loathe, it seems, to accept that other views may help us to expand our own.  I'm writing a book that focuses on how we make claims and provide evidence for them in digital spaces - and how we can teach children to be critical readers and writers of arguments online.  I've been entrenched in analyzing how people "talk" to each other, and I know we need to do better.

The most recent posts on this Facebook thread indicated that the "debate" was not clear, and I agree.  In fact, I don't think it was a debate at all though I believe people perceived their position (or perhaps privilege) as under attack and responded emotionally.

It's important however, to have conversations about privilege and not dismiss them.  To recognize that by the nature of where we live, the history of our families, or the color of our skin we may have a leg up is so important.  We must value that our country will flourish if all children have access to education that inspires them and helps them learn real skills (not just passing tests) - and not just limit these opportunities to the select few.  We need to do better in listening to others' voices and working to build equity.  (A nice image about equity that has found its way across social media.  It's not licensed for reuse, so I won't embed it, but please take a look.)