Friday, November 29, 2013

What I'm grateful for on Black Friday

I'm grateful that my kids were the ones who said they didn't feel celebrating Chanukah with presents so soon after losing my father, their grandfather, so we're just doing the spiritual part and postponing all the present stuff for some later date.

I grateful that my parents brought me up to treasure family over stuff, so that the idea of going out to shop on Thanksgiving is anathema to me and my kids.

I'm grateful I don't work for Walmart, and I support the striking workers.

I agree with Adam Zopf, who wrote this:

and I wonder how and when we are going to do something about the growing inequality in our society, which has now reached Robber Baron era proportions.

I'm grateful that I had teachers who were given the freedom to teach in creative and thoughtful ways, and that testing was kept to a minimum so we were reading, thinking and analyzing instead of being tested.

I'm grateful my youngest child is a senior so that we are going to avoid the coming debacle of Common Core implementation, SBAC and even more testing. But that doesn't mean I'm giving up the fight for public education, because it has been the key to my family's success in this country and I will not see it destroyed.

I'm grateful for musicians, who create soundtrack for my life.

I'm grateful that adversity has brought me friendship, sometimes from people who would previously have considered me "that crazy liberal."

I'm grateful that I am able to earning a living doing what I love the most, so that working my butt off, while exhausting, isn't soul destroying the way it was when I worked in jobs that weren't really me.

I'm grateful that through my work as a both a writer for teens and a political writer, I have met smart, creative people who share my passion to make the world a better place.

What are you grateful for today?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Enabling isn't love - an important takeaway from the Newtown report

I am not a parenting expert, and make no claims to be one. The only "expertise" I have is that I have raised two extremely different young people to the ages of 17 and 20, and that "Q & A", an animated interview between my then 12 year-old son and me at StoryCorps has over a million views on YouTube, so it's obviously struck a chord with a few people.

When I read the Summary of the Final Report on the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting by Stephen J, Sendensky III, State Attorney for the Judicial District of Danbury, I was overwhelmingly struck by one thing - the degree to which Nancy Lanza enabled her son.

Parenting is hard work at the best of times. It's a constant balancing act between giving your kids the unconditional love and support they need while still providing consistent discipline so they know that there are limits and values by which they are expected to conduct themselves in the family and in wider society.

As the Talmud advises: "push away with the left hand while drawing closer with the right hand" (BT Sanhedrin 107b).

When you're parenting a child with special needs, that balancing act is even harder. You feel like one of the Wallendas every day, trying to figure out if you're making the right decisions for your child; fighting the school system for services, fighting insurance companies for services, being criticized and/or second guessed by family members, by people in the grocery store, by well-meaning friends, and worst of all by yourself.

I can't tell you how many times I've cried in the shower, cried to my therapist, cried to my son's therapist, cried on my doctor's desk, cried to friends, cried in the car while driving, cried to my Rabbi, cried to anyone who who might listen, because I'm worried that I'm doing the wrong thing by my son - sometimes by pushing him because I think he can do things that others say he can't, or because I feel like I've failed to give him the right supports, or for any of a million other reasons. (Same with my daughter, but for different reasons).

But one thing I have always worked very hard NOT to do is enable him. I've messed up sometimes - no one is perfect - but when I read the Newtown report I could not believe the degree to which Nancy Lanza enabled her son, presumably under the notion that she was doing it out of "love".

Example 1: Doing his laundry. If her son was 20 years old and had OCD and felt the need to change his clothes several times a day, why the hell was she still doing his laundry? Why didn't she teach him to do his own laundry - especially since he was unwilling to help himself in any way through medication or therapy. If "the shooter" was capable of learning to drive a car and shoot any number of types of gun, he was bloody well able to learn how to operate a washing machine and tumble dryer. This is enabling, people. It's not love.

Example 2: Allowing him to living in her house for a year only communicating by email? If your son is exhibiting that kind of disrespect and anti-social behavior toward you, why are you putting up with it? Tell him that he goes for inpatient treatment, or he talks to you with the respect any human being - and particularly his mother - deserves. Again, how is this love? Allowing your child to act in increasingly anti-social ways isn't love. It's enabling. And twenty-six innocent lives were lost because of such enabling.

Example 3. Don't even get me started on the guns. Your son is exhibiting all these clearly antisocial behaviors, including only communicating with you by email in your own home, and you are not just training him to use guns, but giving him money to buy a gun as a present?

It's entirely possible - indeed it's desirable - to give your children the room to express themselves and grow, loving and supporting and respecting them while still expecting respect from them.

It's like when my son told me he was now an atheist. I said, "Okay. But when I light the Shabbat candles, I expect you to put on a kippah and let me bless you. Not out of respect to G-d, if you don't believe in him, but out of respect to me, your mother, because it's important to me."

I see enabling all over the place in the town I live in. Like typing their kids' applications for Ivy League schools. What's going to happen if the kid gets in and Mommy isn't there to actually do the work?

Enabling isn't love. It hurts your child, rather than helping them. And sadly, in the case of Nancy and Adam Lanza, it resulted in the deaths of 26 innocent people.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Shared Awareness: Information + Technology = "Education Spring"

Matt DiRienzo, Group Editor for 21st Century Media in CT, recommended Clay Shirky's "Here Comes Everybody" for one of my MFA students (thanks Matt!) and I've been reading it, too. It's worth picking up if you want to understand the growing backlash against Corporate Education Reform, the Common Core and my focus here, recent events in Hartford, CT.

As anyone who has following the edreform debate will be aware, the push for the current brand of high stakes, test-based stacked ranking of students, teachers and schools has come from moneyed interests - hedge fund billionaires like Paul Tudor Jones, Steve Mandel & Whitney Tilson, and tech billionaires such as Mark Zuckerberg,

Add in the mega bucks of megaphilanthropies like Broad Education Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, the Donald and Doris Fisher Fund, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, and corporate interests like Pearson, and you get a pretty clear idea of how much money and power is behind the corporate education reform movement and the push to privatize our public schools.

It was difficult for the constituency of people who work with children and could see the many, valid problems with corporate edreform strategies to make themselves heard, because to put it bluntly, in this country, for all of our ideals of being a democracy and a meritocracy, money talks. This has only become more pronounced in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision.

It's not just that the wealthy have greater influence in the corridors of power because of their ability to make campaign donations. It's that the wealthy and powerful have a disproportionate influence on traditional means of communication - newspapers, television, radio. To get out a conflicting narrative means rocking the donor/advertising boat, and when media outlets are already struggling to survive in choppy economic waters, it's become abundantly clear that boat rocking is avoided at all costs.

But what's happened in Hartford - and is catching fire all across the country, much to Arne Duncan's chagrin - is that new technology is giving the rest of us (Shirky's "everybody")the tools for shared awareness and that awareness leads to action, which is resulting in consequences for those who have willfully ignored our voices for far too long.

Let's focus on an example from Hartford. The Hartford Board of Education, consists of 9 members, 5 appointed by Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra (including himself) and 4 elected members. Parents have complained about lack of transparency about process, lack of interest in the types of programs being pushed on them, and lack of resources before the decision to privatize the schools. But they haven't always had sufficient information and the ability to communicate and disperse that information in a timely way, in order to protest the Board's decisions.

In the last year or so, however, things have changed. First, there is the blogosphere - and blogs like Wait What? and Real Hartford have been providing a function that traditional media sources haven't - investigative reporting - thus giving parents information.

Social media is what has given this information power. By spreading the information far and wide, it's become harder for the traditional media to ignore, and thus for the Hartford politicians and the Board of Education to turn a blind eye to parent's concerns.

What's more, as Shirky observed in HERE COMES EVERYBODY regarding protests in Liepzig, (GDR) in 1989 prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, "each of the citizens...had some threshold at which they might join a protest. Each week the march happened without a crackdown offered additional eidence that the marches provided an outlet for their disaffection; each successful march diminished the fear felt by some additional part of the populace."

We saw this with the Steve Perry/Capital Prep story in Hartford. Jonathan Pelto started covering Perry's inappropriate tweets, his chronic absenteeism for speaking engagements, and his bullying behavior on Wait What?. Former and current teachers started approaching him behind the scenes, but because of Perry's threats to ruin their careers, they were concerned about going on the record. However a few things happened at once which changed the situation. A former Capital Prep teacher, Michael Fryar, 45, filed a complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities over his alleged treatment at Capital Prep.

According to a report in the Hartford Courant:
"Fryar said he was fired Nov. 8, only weeks after he formally complained to the district and state that he was denied professional development opportunities and given low evaluation scores "with no factual basis."

Fryar criticized Perry's leadership and described an environment of low teacher morale. He also questioned Capital Prep's disciplinary practices, including instances in which students ran up and down the school's stairs as an apparent form of punishment, Fryar said.

City schools spokesman David Medina said the district would not comment on Fryar's allegations because of "pending litigation." Perry, who declined to comment on much of Fryar's remarks, denied that morale is low."

This, coupled with Supt Christina Kishimoto's proposal to give Perry an additional school to run, (under structured as a private management company owned by Perry) which was scheduled for a hasty BOE vote, lit the spark. Having social media tools allowed parents to stay informed, to spread the word, and to make their feelings known publicly. As more parents and teachers started telling their stories, others became more forthright.

From Wait What?

Addendum: New parental complaint


At this point the issues became harder for both the BOE and the traditional media to ignore, although the establishment paper,(CT's Daily Mail) the Courant, appears to still be doing its best to do so. In its late, and obviously reluctant coverage of the Perry tweet affair (which it posted after the Washington Post had already taken up the story)the Courant headlines with "Teacher's Union Asks for Investigation into Principal's 'threatening' tweet." Let's put "threatening' in quotes because we're going to pretend that a student or a teacher making that tweet like wouldn't have been suspended, right HC? It's just that meddlesome old teacher's union making trouble again! it.

Multiply this effect with a network of concerned parents, educators, professors, writers and activists around the country and you can start to understand why the Opt Out Movement is growing, why opposition to the Common Core is growing, why districts are opting out of RTTT funding, and why Arne Duncan (and Democrats who support him) will regret that "white suburban mom" comment for a VERY VERY LONG TIME. Because it's not just white suburban moms. It's everybody. And we're here, armed with information, research and investigative reporting and the ability to spread it, even if the traditional media won't.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Model to Replicate?

One of the phrases we hear constantly in the debate about education reform, particularly with regard to privatizing public education, is "replicating successful models."

Those of us who went to business school recognize the lingo. And those of us who studied statistics (instead of the calculus that the edreformers want to foist on every single child today because STEM! STEM! STEM!) also recognize that the "success" of such models usually are the result of significantly lower percentage of ELL and SPED students served. In some cases the "successful" models are the subject of lawsuits because they are failing to follow the law regarding special education services.

But many others have written about that. My topic today is a different kind of modeling - modeling behavior.

When I was growing up, my parents had this poem on the wall in our bathroom:

Dorothy Law Nolte

If a child lives with criticism,
he learns to condemn.
If a child lives with hostility,
he learns to fight.
If a child lives with fear,
he learns to be apprehensive.
If a child lives with pity,
he learns to feel sorry for himself.
If a child lives with ridicule,
he learns to be shy.
If a child lives with jealousy,
he learns what envy is.
If a child lives with shame,
he learns to feel guilty.
If a child lives with encouragement,
he learns to be confident.
If a child lives with tolerance,
he learns to be patient.
If a child lives with praise,
he learns to be appreciative.
If a child lives with acceptance,
he learns to love.
If a child lives with approval,
he learns to like himself.
If a child lives with recognition,
he learns that it is good to have a goal.
If a child lives with sharing,
he learns about generosity.
If a child lives with honesty and fairness,
he learns what truth and justice are.
If a child lives with security,
he learns to have faith in himself and in those about him.
If a child lives with friendliness,
he learns that the world is a nice place in which to live.
If you live with serenity,
your child will live with peace of mind.

As you can imagine, when something is on the wall in the bathroom, you end up reading it a LOT. Growing up, I read that poem over and over from a child - and then a teenager's perspective. I guess some of it must have sunk in, because as a parent, I know that I can say something till I'm blue in the face, but my kids are watching how I behave. "Do as I say, not as I do" isn't an effective parenting strategy. We have to model the behavior we want to see from our kids.

Which is why I am completely and utterly gobsmacked that anyone on the Hartford Board of Education would even consider putting another educational institution in the hands of a man like Steven Perry. He has a long history of reprehensible behavior: comparing teachers to roaches , calling noted education historian Diane Ravitch a racist, and last night, after the Hartford Board of Education thankfully voted against taking the the Sand School away from the parents and students and giving it to Perry to manage under a private company he set up to profit from public funds, he resorted to issuing threats.

Really Mr. Perry? Is that healthy modeling for teenagers? If you don't get your way you resort to head injuries? I think you should be in anger management classes, rather than guiding teenagers at a school.

It's no wonder that the teacher turnover rate at Capital Prep is so abysmal.

Chart courtesy of: JerseyJazzman

I'm not sure why this man has the following he has. But he is certainly not an example of someone I would want my children to emulate.

UPDATED: According to a late, obviously reluctant piece in the Hartford Courant, Perry is now trying to claim that his tweet was a "metaphor"

Perry, a public speaker and author who has frequently lambasted teachers' unions, said that the statement was "a metaphor about hard struggle" and called the ensuing controversy "troubling."

"There's no one mentioned, inferred or discussed at any point in the entire stream," he said. "This is simply an attempt by some people to take the focus off the very important issue at hand, which is to make sure Hartford … gets access to greater quality education by any means necessary.

"It's very, very sad to me that amidst all of the very, very real issues in education … someone's talking about my tweets," he said. "A metaphor. I could've said, 'It's going to be a bumpy ride.' I was being irreverent. It was a joke."

Perry said that the message was a general statement.

"It is not related to the vote," he said. "It is related to an ongoing fight for kids' rights."

Firstly, I think Mr. Perry should go back and take some remedial literature courses, so he actually understands how to properly use metaphor.

But even if we give him the benefit of the doubt here, which anyone who read his tweets in context would have an extremely hard time doing - it still begs the question - would this be an appropriate "metaphor" for the Principal of a school to use?

That the Hartford BOE, and State BOE don't appear to realize this, and have been sitting on their hands during Perry's previous incidents of inappropriate behavior is really astonishing. It makes one wonder what is going on behind the scenes and why they are so invested in such a troubled man.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

SORROW FLOATS: Eulogy for my father – STANLEY P. DARER

delivered at Temple Beth El, Wednesday November 6th, 2013

I wouldn’t be the woman I am today if not for the influence of our father, Stanley Paul Darer – Schmaria Pesach ben Aaron v Malka

A critical part becoming a good writer is learning to be good reader. My father was a voracious reader who modeled to us, his children, that not moment of time that could be devoted to reading should be wasted - not even when sitting on the throne doing one’s business.

We always had a wide range of reading material available everywhere in our house, including the bathroom, which is where I got my start reading Foreign Affairs. Dad’s taste’s ran heavily towards spy novels, for obvious reasons, as well as autobiographies, and historical non-fiction.

Dad taught us the importance of learning from history – something I wish more politicians would learn. As kids, we’d snuggle up in our PJ’s watching the amazing BBC documentary series The World at War with him. He was way before his time with “reality TV” – except there was nothing lighthearted or prurient about this variety.

But Dad wasn’t always serious. He loved the absurd, too and we’d laugh together watching Monty Python and Benny Hill.

Dad was like that – quick to anger, but equally quick to laughter.
He taught us we should observe, and more importantly that we should care about what was going on in the world around us.

He also taught us, by his example, to be good citizens who engaged in public service. But as we got older and started developing our own points of view, we didn’t always agree on the direction of that public service. When my political views started to diverge from Dad’s, the arguments at family get togethers could get loud and quite spectacular, as my children Josh and Amie can attest.

Losing Dad to Alzheimer’s has been a slow, painful grieving process – I compare it to having your heart cut out with a butter knife. I hate the disease for robbing me of conversations I wanted to have with Dad, for robbing Josh and Amie of more time with their beloved Grandpoo, and for stealing the chance for Dylan, Daniel and Hank to get to know Papa and Dad as he really was. But as painful as it’s been for all of us, there have been moments of grace and humor, and even some lessons that living with this for the last ten years has taught me.

I learned that being open and giving to others eases your pain, too. I’d bring our dog Benny to visit Dad, with whom he had a very special relationship. If Dad was having a bad day and I felt sad, taking Benny to visit the other residents and seeing the smiles he brought to their faces made me feel better. Benny and I have made so many friends at Waveny that we’re planning to go for official therapy dog training so we can continue our visits.

Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned from Dad’s condition is to live more in the present. I’m Jewish, and a Mother, which (funnily enough) makes me a Jewish Mother, and if that weren’t enough qualification for being a total worry wort, I’ve fought depression and anxiety since I was a teenager. When I went to visit Dad I had to learn to go with the flow - to meet him wherever he happened to be that day. Sometimes it was the past, but mostly it was the present. We’d hold hands, listen to music, enjoy walking Benny, and just being together. The last time my father said coherent words to me, he smiled, kissed my hand and said, “You’re wonderful.” He might not have remembered my name, or even that I was specifically his daughter, but he remembered his love all of us up to the very end.

And that’s the other really important thing I’ve learned from this long and painful journey. I’ve been to weddings of Christian friends, and always loved Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. I’ve thought of it often these last few years: “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Dad didn’t remember my name, but his face still lit up when he saw me. Love is the greatest of these, and it’s what has supported us all and helped us get through this difficult time.

One vacation when I was home from college, Dad was reading The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving. He drove me crazy because he’d start cracking up while he was reading and then he’d insist on reading the passage that made him laugh aloud. They were mainly about Sorrow, the Labrador, “a fetcher and farter”. I think Sorrow tickled his funny bone because we also had a Labrador – (Winnie, named after Winston Churchill) who could be rather flatulent himself.

I finally begged Dad to stop because I wanted to read the book myself. Like I said, Dad was great at modeling reading – and, pretty good at book talking, too.

But when he finally handed me the book, my father didn’t warn me about the sad bit - the part that made me cry so much when I got to it that I had to put the book down for the rest of the day to recover before I could continue reading.

Dad taught us how to drive, he taught us really inappropriate jokes, he taught us patriotism and the importance of casting our vote, he taught us to respect the office of the President even if you don’t agree with the man in that office. He taught me that I should always drink alcohol more slowly than any guy who took me out on a date. When I was going through my divorce, he came to Chabad every Shabbat to sit next to my son and help him prepare for his Bar Mitzvah.

But here’s the thing - Dad knew that we had to discover for ourselves that Sorrow Floats.

And even though we’ve had so long to prepare for this, even though we thought we were prepared, the shock of turning the page and learning that lesson, that Sorrow Floats, is just as devastating now as it was when I read the Hotel New Hampshire, all those years ago. But this time, I can’t go and talk to Dad about it, which only makes it more so.


This is one of our favorite family pictures of Dad because it is so him - how many people would go for a camel ride in the desert in a coat and tie? But it was so very, very Dad.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Rereading Orwell's 1984 in a Post-Snowden world

The first (and until recently, last) time I read George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984 was during the most influential unit of study I experienced in high school, in Mrs.Price's 10th grade Honors English class; a unit on Utopia/Dystopia. We read books like Thomas More's Utopia, Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World & William Golding's Lord of the Flies, to name but a few. At the time, of Orwell's two, Animal Farm made the greater impact. The last line has stuck with me to this day: "The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

But after the revelations about the NSA's widespread spying on Americans, I decided it was time to reread 1984. I graduated from Duke the year by which all the dire prophecies in the novel were supposed to have transpired. We used to joke about it. But we graduated without Big Brother and the Thought Police - at least to the best of our knowledge.

Next year is my 30 year reunion, and in light of what we know thanks to whistleblower Edward Snowden (and yes, I do consider him a whistleblower, not a traitor, because without him we would never be having these very necessary conversations) it is a very different story. Re-reading 1984 again thirty-five years after I read it in high school is uncanny, because the world has drifted so much closer to the dystopia Orwell imagined.

Emmanuel Goldstein, 1984's "Enemy of the People" and the subject of the 2 minute Daily Hate, writes in his manifesto about how in the past, science and technology were leading to an all-round increase in wealth which "threatened the destruction of a hierarchical society.

"Once it became general, wealth would confer no distinction. It was possible, no doubt, to imagine a society in which wealth, in the sense of personal possessions and luxuries, should be evenly distributed, while power remained in the hands of a small privileged caste. But in practice such a society could not long remain stable. For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves; and when once they had done theys they would sooner or later realize that the privileged minority had no function and they would sweep it away. In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance.

The problem was "how to keep the wheels of industry turning without increasing the real wealth of the world. Goods must be produced, but they need not be distributed...In practice the only way of achieving this was by continuous warfare."

Is any of this starting to sound familiar? Think, "Global War on Terror", which has been grinding on since 2001 and is the basis and justification for not just the surveillance state we now find ourselves living under, but also for the untold billions (not even your Congressman can tell you accurately exactly how much has been spent) that could have been spent on any number of things to improve the lives of Americans like education, universal pre-k, infrastructure repairs, healthcare or even paying down the deficit. You know, the deficit that was partially accumulated paying for the War In Iraq. ("We'll fight them over there so we don't have to fight them over here.")

Now cast your mind back to candidate Barack Obama, Constitutional Law Professor, promising to restore the rule of law in February 2008:

"And we will lead by having the highest standards, by setting an example of human rights and civil rights, due process and rule of law, which is why I will close Guantanamo. I will restore habeas corpus. And we will end torture and rendition because you will have elected a president who has taught the Constitution and believes in the Constitution and will obey the Constitution of the United States of America."

I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry when I read these words now. What I can tell you is that my disillusionment with politics and government are at an all time high - and I've been a political writer for the last ten years.

Did Candidate Obama take a trip to the Ministry of Love? Emmanuel Goldstein's manifesto breaks it down for us:

"War...not only accomplishes the necessary destruction, but it accomplishes it in a psychologically acceptable way...It is precisely in the Inner Party that war hysteria and hatred of the enemy are strongest. In his capacity of administrator, it is often necessary for a member of the Inner Party to know that this or that item of war news is untruthful, and he may often be aware that the entire war is spurious and is either not happening or is being waged for purposes quite other than the declared ones, but such knowledge is easily neutralized by the technique of doublethink. Meanwhile, no Inner Party member wavers for an instant in his mystical belief that the war is real."

When I read this, I recognized what I regarded as the unfathomable vitriol poured on Edward Snowden by some people on the left. He desparaged and called a traitor by folks that I knew damned well would be praising him as a hero had this happened on Bush's watch. And call me Winston (or Julia if you want) but that made me sick beyond measure - and even more disillusioned with politics and political people. It's one of the many reasons I'm now unaffiliated instead of a "party member." If doublethink is what it takes to be a good party member, then being in a party isn't for me.

Think I'm wrong about this? Let's review: Thanks to Snowden, we know Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied to Congress DNI Clapper lied to Congress (why hasn't he been prosecuted?), that the NSA has been collecting metadata on American citizens phone calls, social connections, collecting email address books and buddy lists. Yesterday we found out that the NSA hacked into Mexican President Felipe Calderon's emails. Can't wait to hear the Newspeak contortionist justifications for that. This morning, Le Monde reports that the NSA spied on 70 million phone calls in France in just 30 days and captured millions of text messages.

Le Monde issued an editorial today entitled: FIGHTING BIG BROTHER.

But let's also look at the wealth aspect of this.

Thanks to the trickle down Voodoo economics that didn't trickle down and the continuous warfare, we've now got the widest wealth gap since the Roaring 20's. Look at this interesting chart of real income growth particularly coming out of the recovery from the 2008 financial debacle. You know, the one where our taxpayer dollars went to bail out Wall Street for their lack of due diligence? That crisis?

"The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others, we are interested solely in power."

I won't go so far as to say both parties are as bad as each other, because, quite frankly, what the Tea Party wing of the GOP almost pushing us to default would have given my staunchly Republican father pause,and the whole creationism, anti-intellectual War on Women thing is just...well, as those awesome old Crazy Eddie ad say, "IN-SAAAANE".

But enough has happened in the Democratic party on the local level and certainly on the national level with their full throated embrace of corporate education reform, and as I stated above, the doublethink condemnation of Snowden, that earlier this year, with that final line of Animal Farm echoing in my head, I went to Town Hall and changed my registration to Unaffliated.

Where I do blame both parties is their choice to make teachers and labor unions the Emmanuel Goldstein's of the US's internal war in an attempt to decimate the middle class.

Here's Emmanuel Goldstein to explain it for us again:

"There are only four ways in which a ruling group can fall from power. Either it is conquered from without, or it governs so inefficiently that the masses are stirred to revolt or it allows a strong and discontented Middle Group to come into being, or it loses its own self-confidence and willingness to govern.

Continuous warfare eliminates the first problem. The masses never revolt, Goldstein says, "because they are oppressed...From the point of view of our present rules, therefore, the only genuine dangers are the splitting off of able, underemployed, power-hungry people, and the growth of liberalism and skepticism in their own ranks. The problem, that is to say, is educational. It is a problem of continuously molding the consciousness both of the directing group and of the larger executive group that lies immediately below it. The consciousness of the masses needs only to be influenced in a negative way.

So we have those with power and wealth - in BOTH PARTIES - creating "No excuses" edreform doublethink in an attempt to distract us from the real problem - wealth inequality and inequality of resources which propagates educational inequality, which only propagates more wealth inequality.

It's more than a little ironic to me that a widely lauded graduate of my alma mater, Melinda Gates, funded InBloom,
whose aim is to create a Big Brother like database of our children's information without parental consent. InBloom was developed in conjunction with Wireless Generation, a Rupert Murdoch company. You remember Rupert Murdoch. The guy who respects privacy and basic decency so much his reporters hacked into a murdered girl's cell phone?

In May 1944, George Orwell wrote a letter which presages many of the themes that show up in 1984.

"Intellectuals are more totalitarian in outlook than the common people. On the whole the English intelligentsia have opposed Hitler, but only at the price of accepting Stalin. Most of them are perfectly ready for dictatorial methods, secret police, systematic falsification of history etc. so long as they feel that it is on ‘our’ side..You also ask, if I think the world tendency is towards Fascism, why do I support the war. It is a choice of evils—I fancy nearly every war is that...I think, and have thought ever since the war began, in 1936 or thereabouts, that our cause is the better, but we have to keep on making it the better, which involves constant criticism.

That's why I need to be unaffliated for now. Because it appears that "toeing the Party line" means having to employ doublethink - to be willing to justify things you would excoriate when the other party is in power in order to keep your party in power. Like Winston, I still believe that there is truth. That 2 + 2 doesn't equal 5, no matter how much Newspeak and Doublethink is employed to tell me otherwise. I'm grateful to my parents and to my teachers for teaching me the critical thinking skills, and to my parents and extended family for leading by example that we should stay true to our values. I just hope the kids in today's K-12 Orwellian test crazy edreform world are able to emerge with similar skills.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Learning Styles - Fact or Fiction?

This fall, I started as an adjunct professor in the MFA program at WCSU, a new field of teaching for me (grownups!!) which I'm really enjoying, because as always, I find I'm learning from my students. Two weeks ago, I attended a training session for new adjuncts, and one of the speakers was the Director for the Center of Excellence in Learning and Teaching on the topic of "Enhancing Student Learning." I learned some very interesting things about studying and learning - apparently I got through college (graduating magna cum laude) and grad school by using ALL THE WRONG STUDYING TECHNIQUES!! According to my adjunct training , the research shows that everything I did to study has little or no efficacy and , one thing - highlighting and underlining - "may reduce performance on "higher-level tasts that require inference-making." Mes amis, au secors! Do you think I go back for a do-over?

To those of you who are students of the Brave New World of EdReform, guess what IS supposed to be highly effective:

I bet there's a purely altruistic tech company out there just waiting to sell us a tablet and a "personalized education program" with ready-made practice tests. Because it's all for the kids!!

As a new adjunct, I kept my mouth shut for most of this. It's my first time teaching adults, rather than young people, so I am open to learning as much as I possibly can about how I can be effective. But this is where I couldn't keep quiet any more.

I raised my hand and said, "I beg to differ. Just in my own home I have two very different kinds of learners. In the small writing workshops I teach, I have to alter my approach to reach kids effectively."

The speaker directed me to this video by a Professor at UVA, Dan Willingham:

I watched this, and his last sentence encapsulates what is wrong with edreform in general because it's what happens when we take the art out of teaching and try to reduce it to science.

"Good teaching is good teaching and teachers don't need to adjust their teaching for individual students."

I've been brooding on this ever since that training, but felt compelled to write this blog post after teaching a new group of students for Writopia Lab yesterday. The wonderful Lena Roy our fearless leader in Westchester/Fairfield, coordinated with a group of homeschooling parents - we will be working with the students weekly at the Greenwich YMCA. Christine Pakkala and I were working with the younger group (7-8 year olds). In our group, we have a wonderful mix of kids. We played some writing games and then sat them down to write. Some of the kids wrote diligently. Some needed more assistance - issues with word formation, spelling. But what was really interesting was that two of the kids - boys - drew instead. One of the boys first drew a grid, then proceeded to draw a series of images in the grid, like a graphic novel. I told both boys they would have to tell us story about their images when it was time to share.

Now you could say - these kids should should be writing! They are there to WRITE!! And I will tell you - they will write. But first I want to get them to tell a story, and understand what telling a story is all about.

And here's the most fascinating part, and the reason why I say the Dan Willingham's of this world don't get it when they say "teachers don't need to adjust their teaching for individual students."

Because when I asked the kid who'd drawn the images in a grid to share, his story was by FAR the most well thought out, richly-imagined, and complex of any of the ones we'd heard. It blew me away - and this was the kid who was fidgety and taking his name tag apart and hiding it under the carpet at the beginning of the session. I asked him if he'd like it if I brought my scanner in next week and scanned his pictures into my computer, and then he could dictate what he'd told me into the computer, and then we could have his story with the pictures. His eyes lit up - he was thrilled by the idea, and said "And I can draw the rest of the pictures for my homework!"

Now Christine and I could have just said to that kid - "Stop drawing and use words! You're here to write!" But a) we would have totally lost him if we'd done that and b) that isn't the Writopia way. Writopia is the anti-edreform way of teaching kids writing. It's about making kids better writers by making writing fun - not through drill and kill. It's the antithesis of David Coleman's "as you grow up in this world you realize people really don't give a shit about what you feel or what you think." At Writopia, we're telling kids - "You have a unique story inside you and we're here to help you find your voice and tell it well."

So the "effective teaching strategies" of the Center for "Excellence" are duly noted - but I'm going to continue to use what works for me with REAL KIDS. Because frankly, I do give a shit about what they think and feel. That's part of my job as their teacher.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

On bullying - in memory of Bart Palosz

About a month before the end of my son’s eighth grade year*, I took him out of school for a doctor’s appointment. When the doctor asked my son to lift his shirt so he could listen to his heartbeat with a stethoscope, I was horrified to see words half written, half carved into his stomach with a ball point pen: I AM HATED.

Even as someone who spends every day expressing myself through words, it’s hard to find the right ones to describe how I felt seeing that carved into my son’s skin that morning. As a mother, you want to protect your children, from danger, from physical pain, and from emotional pain dealt out by the kind of insensitive kids who hurt you when you were their age. Seeing “I AM HATED” carved into my son’s skin, made me realize the depth of my failure.

It was no great secret that my son was having a difficult time in middle school. He has Asperger’s Syndrome, and while that means he got into Mensa at nine and his brain works in ways that never cease to fascinate me, it also results in the fact that he’s not your “typical” kid.

He is now in college, and fortunately his peers have matured enough to recognize that differences are what make our society and the world such an interesting place. Indeed, many of our greatest scientific discoveries and cultural achievements we made by people who didn’t fit our definition of “normal.” Albert Einstein, Andy Warhol, Vincent Van Gough, Satoshi Tajiri (inventor of Pokemon), Alan Turing, Thomas Jefferson, Sir Isaac Newton, are all thought to have had Aspergers. My son’s fascination with, and almost encyclopedic knowledge of international affairs makes him a great person to know if you’re interested in politics. He also has remarkable sense of humor.

But middle school, as I know from my own difficult experiences back in the Stone Age when it was called Junior High, is about fitting in. For those who don’t, it can be a tortuous, unforgiving place.

I’d been to my son’s school too many times to count to talk about the problems he’d had with bullying. There were phone calls. E-mails. Meetings with administrators. At one point we tried to set up a meeting the parents of a child with whom there were continuing issues. As a single mom, I asked to bring someone with me for support. The other parents refused to meet unless I came alone. The vice-principal shrugged and said, “What can I do?” The meeting never happened.

That pretty much summed up the school’s attitude. With the exception of one person in the building, the school psychologist, without whose genuine compassion and caring I’m not sure my son would have made it through middle school intact, the rest of the administration threw up their hands in helplessness and said, “What can we do?”

Perhaps if I hadn’t been engaged in a protracted divorce from my son’s dad I would have been able to devote more energy to fighting the school. In my “I’m a bad Mom” moments, I punish myself for not doing more. But that day in the doctor’s office, I was filled with an anger so fierce I wasn’t going to take any more excuses.

Shaking with rage, I drove back to school, had my son to wait in the car, and told the administration what I’d seen. I said my son wouldn’t be setting foot back in the building until they could guarantee him a safe environment.

For the next few days, I home schooled my son, while the administration tried to figure out what to do. Their solution? He would finish out his eight-grade year doing independent study in the guidance office. In other words, rather than dealing with the actual bullies, they would just hide him away, out of sight, so they could get the year over with and be done with the “problem.”

And sadly, that’s how it happened. The good news is that my son wasn’t being tormented for that last month and a half of eighth grade. But the tragedy is that once again, it was the victim who was punished.

As I contemplated with dread the thought of my son having to navigate the local high school with its student population of 2,700 students, Winston Preparatory School, a New York-based school for kids with learning differences announced it was opening a Connecticut campus. When headmistress, Beth Sugerman told me that my son was accepted, I burst into tears of relief.

You’d think it would be a happily ever after story from here on, but it wasn’t. My son was so used to being bullied, so reactive against everything and everyone, that it took him almost a year to realize that the world wasn’t his enemy. That’s one of the many reasons bullying sucks. The pain is deep, insidious and lasting, and that’s why we find that sometimes the bullied end up becoming bullies themselves.

I’m eternally grateful that there were resources within the family to send my son to a school where, once he realized that life was no longer going to be a day-to-day struggle for survival, he thrived. But as I am all too well aware, not everyone is as fortunate, and the Greenwich school district fights such placements tooth-and-nail, despite the fact that it’s clear they do not have the will power to deal with the problem of bullying themselves.

As research for my upcoming book with Scholastic, BAITED**, I read Barbara Coloroso's book, THE BULLY, THE BULLIED, AND THE BYSTANDER: From Preschool to High School How Parents and Teachers can help break the cycle of violence. I think this should be a town wide read, and basis for discussion. We have to stop the denial, stop pretending that this doesn't happen here in perfect Greenwich with our high SAT scores and our manicured lawns. It DOES. And Greenwich Public Schools is complicit in the denial and the enabling.

I learned something important when I was a docent at the Anne Frank exhibition at our high school back in 2003– Don’t be a bystander. As Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Okay, Burke’s one of those old dead guys who wrote a long time ago when women didn’t have the rights they have now, so I’m changing “men” to “people”. But here’s the thing. If you watch someone being bullied -in person or online - and you do nothing, you’re an accomplice. We all need to stand up to bullies – each and every one of us. It’s the only way to end the pain and prevent more tragic deaths.

*My son attended Western Middle School, the same middle school at which Bart Palosz allegedly experienced bullying. What makes me so furious is that so much time has passed and nothing has been done. GPS continues to protect the bullies over the bullied.

** Edited later:  The title of BAITED has been changed to BACKLASH

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What does College Ready really MEAN?

The phrase "college ready" is being bandied about in education circles ad nauseum (another thing for which we can thank Mr and Mrs Bill Gates) and after a conversation with my daughter last night I've been doing a lot of thinking about what this really means for our kids. My daughter started her senior year today, and we were having another discussion last night about what classes she was taking and for various reasons got onto the subject of Calculus vs. Statistics. She told me that the colleges she wants to go to wouldn't look at her if she doesn't take Calculus.

This is my second child, and I've sat through enough of these admissions talks now to know what college admissions officers are saying. And I have to question some of the values that I see being beaten into our kids' heads in these college admissions sessions. For example, if I have to sit in another admissions session saying that they want kids who have held leadership positions, I might well stand up and scream, "HOW THE HELL ARE ALL OF THESE KIDS SUPPOSED TO HOLD LEADERSHIP POSITIONS? THERE AREN'T ENOUGH CLUBS IN ALL THE SCHOOLS FOR EVERY SINGLE KID TO BE A LEADER?" And what message is that giving kids? That NOT being the CEO is failure? Really? There are plenty of CEOS whose tenure could be viewed as a failure (*cough* Steve Ballmer *cough*). One can be a leader in so many different ways, without holding an official title.

But it's this prescribed view of what kids need to take in order to be college ready that makes me the most crazy. I understand the focus on a rigorous curriculum. I understand that they should be challenging themselves. But calculus vs statistics? Really?

I didn't take calculus in HS or college. It's not that I'm not good with numbers. I got an A+ in Accounting in college, and in my work life created and analyzed budgets for a multimillion pound business.

Financial numbers like balance sheets and income statements make sense to me. They're like putting together pieces of a puzzle. I've told both my kids that no matter what they want to do in life, they should take a basic accounting class, because they need to be able to understand how to read financial statements.

When I got to business school, I had to take calculus as a pass/fail prerequisite. It's the only class I've almost failed in my entire life. I don't know if it was the professor or my brain, but I couldn't wrap my head around the concepts. I tried so hard to understand. I tried to do it by understanding the concepts. I tried to do it by rote memorization of formulas. I passed, but barely. It traumatized me so much that for almost a decade after I got my MBA in Finance, I would wake up in a cold sweat, having dreamed that I'd failed calculus, and I'd actually have to go down to the study and look at my framed diploma to make sure it was still there.

It traumatized me so much I was worried about taking statistics, assuming that I was total dunce. But I did fine in statistics. Statistics made total sense to me.

In my working life since taking calculus, I have never once had to use it. Not when I worked in finance, not as the financial director of a business, not in my current fields of endeavor.In my life since taking statistics, I use that knowledge all the time. Having a working knowledge of statistics enables me to understand how they are being used or misused in political discourse. I can't help wondering - why do colleges value that less than calculus for an educated person?

Again, I wonder what does "college ready" really mean? Who is defining it? And what is the end game? What kind of life is this "college readiness" making kids ready FOR?

As parents we need to ask these questions of our schools, our elected representatives, our government - and we must do it loudly. It matters, for our children, and for the future of this country.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

I'm Walking for Alzheimers - in honor of Dad

I've written about my father and how painful it is losing him to Alzheimer's in previous posts here. I describe it to people has having my heart cut out with a butter knife. It's slow. It's painful.

But it's not without moments of beauty and love. My father has always been a dog person. We were rarely without a dog growing up, and although he could be very strict with us, my dad was a complete marshmallow when it came to dogs. Dogs know these things. By the time I got Benny in early 2008, Dad was already fading. But they established a very strong bond.

Fortunately, the Waveney Care Center ,where Dad lives now, is brilliant about allowing family members to bring in pets. Benny,despite having been turned down as an official therapy dog as a puppy because he couldn't maintain a sit/stay for long enough, is a regular visitor and has developed quite the fan club. What's even more amazing to me is that he's learned which residents are real dog people and makes a beeline for them as soon as we walk in the door.

But it's my father he's most excited to see. We have to go up in the elevator, and Benny knows exactly where to go:

As you can see from the pictures below, when he gets there, the love is mutual. Even if Dad is sleeping or agitated, Benny brings a smile to his face.

But Alzheimer's is a one way street, unfortunately, and Dad's condition has deteriorated since last year at this time. He is even more confused, and once when I went to visit him he'd forgotten how to pet Benny - I had to take Dad's hand and remind him how to stroke Benny's soft coat with his palm. It was heartbreaking.

And then there are what I call the tragicomic moments - the ones I am saving up for the adult novel I plan to write some day when I have some distance from all of this. Like when I went to visit Dad and I think he thought I was my mother (because I look like my mom) and told me he just wanted me to kiss him all day.

I was like, "Um, Dad, I'm your daughter. Folks tend to frown on that kind of thing."

Figuring I better get him to a more populated area, I walked him to the elevator. I'd just thrown on a sundress, and I guess it showed a little more cleavage than I usual. And we're in the elevator and I see that's where Dad is staring. And one part of my brain, the teenage part is like, "OMFG, my DAD IS STARING AT MY BOOBS!! I AM TOTALLY FREAKING OUT!!!!" and another part of my brain, the writer part, is thinking "This is going to make a hilarious scene in a book someday" and the third part of my brain, the rational part, is like, "This isn't going to end well" and sure enough, Dad lunges at me and I'm like "DAD! You can't DO THAT! I'm YOUR DAUGHTER!" at which point he looks all sheepish and gives me a cute grin and I can't be mad at him because it's Alzheimer's Dad, not Dad Dad and really, this IS going to make a great scene in my novel some day but OMG, teenage me is still freaking out because her dad just made a pass at her in the elevator.

Or the times when he gets agitated and reverts back to his time working in the intelligence service. "Did you see the men with the guns?" He'll ask me. I've learned to just meet him where he is. "I've scanned the area, Dad, and it's all secure now. But it's safe because of you. Great job of being on the look out."

I try to find the humor in it, but that's because I have to in order to stay sane. There is nothing funny about this disease. I hate it with a passion. It is evil and heartbreaking, and it has robbed me of conversations I want to have with my father, ones I kick myself for not having before.

That is why I'm once again participating in the Walk for Alzheimer's. If you are able to support our team at any level, I will be extremely grateful.

Here's where to donate:

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Gates Foundation - spending billions to make my creative writing students' dystopia a reality

This evening during my creative writing workshop we talked about setting and world building. I had the kids do one of my favorite brainstorming exercises for this topic: EXTRAPOLATING INTO THE FUTURE.

I ask the students to make two columns. In column one, they write a current law, issues or technology. In the second column, I ask them to extrapolate what they have written in column one, imagining it in a future society. Is it being taken to an extreme? Is it being used for good or not so good purposes?

The example I gave them is scientists currently using brain imaging for various forms of research (ie/Alzheimers, Autism, MS, etc.) What if in the future they used that technology see how a subject reacted to images of murder or other forms of crime and isolated those who reacted positively to those images because they were likely criminals?

My younger kids (rising 6-7 graders) were more lighthearted, yet I'm amazed by the cynicism and distrust of government I see in all of my students. (Heckuva job, Washington!)

One student had some wonderfully innovative ideas - I told her I want to be her business manager and pitch them to Shark Tank.

One of my guys wrote an interesting, humorous piece about how the government, in an attempt to ensure everyone's safety, created bubbles around everyone's houses for protection. But eventually the citizens started getting upset because they couldn't get out to go do things like go on vacation. The Commander in Chief was President Imafraud. Like I said, cynical!

The same kid, in his brainstorming list, wrote about the iPhone 3D. "They're coming out with the 4D with a few months but it's hard to see the difference." (LOL!)

His piece led to an interesting discussion about the impact the government's protective bubbles would have on community and citizenship. This is an example of why the setting and world building workshop is always one of the most lively and fun.

My older kids (rising 8-9 graders) are all working on dystopian novels, so this exercise was particularly useful.

What was really interesting to me as a political writer was one student's projection that schools would be abolished and kids would be educated via computer - because it sounds very much like vision promoted by the Gates Foundation.

I asked the student how he would feel if that really happened.

"I wouldn't like it," he said. "We're required to have iPads next year. I'm not happy. I like to write things down."

We had another lively discussion about a certain class all my kids had shared last year in school, in which computer instruction was used.

Verbatim comments from my students:

"Our teacher sits us in front of the computer for the entire class. He doesn't actually teach us anything."

"Half the time the keyboard doesn't work and then you can't finish the assignment."

"If you don't get it right you just have to keep on practicing until you do. It's really frustrating."

And then the student who wrote that school would be reduced to a computer said to me, "I like this kind of class, like we're having here."

Here's the thing, Mr. Gates: I am not anti-technology. I love technology. I use it every day. I couldn't even consider writing the two books I have with an October 1st deadline if it weren't for my Macbook Pro (Yeah, gave up PCs years ago) and my Scrivener.

But the difference between you and me is that I see technology as a tool - one among many that can be used to reach students.

You are spending billions of dollars to influence policy to make it THE SOLUTION, thus forcing it on my kids - because I view all of the students I work with as my kids. And that, Mr. Gates, is wrong. Maybe you should get out of your Billionaire Bubble, stop listening to the yes men and the Wall Street folks and hear from some actual young people - the ones who are being affected by your misguided policies.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Music, Memory and Alzheimers

One of the many things I love about my MidLifeCrisisMobile is Sirius Radio, because sometimes when I'm listening to Deep Tracks, Classic Vinyl or Classic Rewind, a song will come on and boom, I'm taken to another time and place. It happened yesterday when I was on the way back from visiting my dad at his assisted living facility - "Fat Man in the Bathtub" by Little Feat came on and I was suddenly back at Duke, sitting on the little balcony above the doorway at Wilson House, the one you had to climb out of the bathroom window of my suite to access, drinking beers and watching people hang out and play frisbee on the East Campus quad.

(Note, this is not a song where you have to ask for "More Cowbell". It is freaking Cowbelltastic.)

A month or so ago, I heard this song, which I had on vinyl but hadn't listened to since 1989 when I moved to England and last owned a turntable:

Even though I hadn't heard it over twenty years, I still remembered all the words. I asked my social network friends the question: Why do I remember the lyrics to a song I haven't heard in over twenty years, but I can't remember what I ate for breakfast?

I was thinking about this yesterday when I went to visit Dad. He was pretty out of it when I arrived. His circadian rhythms are reversed, so he spends a lot of the night walking the floors, and then is sleepy during the day. When Benny and I arrived for our visit, it took Benny a lot of face and hand licking to wake him up, and when he did wake up, he was very groggy. Downstairs, they were having the weekly singalong, so I encouraged Dad to get up and come for a walk with us so we could go join in. He held his head when he stood up, and because he can't articulate what he is feeling, we (his family and the staff) have to work together to figure it out from his past medical history and the clues he gives us). Are his medications affecting his blood pressure, causing him dizziness? Does he have a headache? It's like a giant guessing game, where the patient can't tell you if you have the right answer. All you can do is watch and observe and see if he looks happier and more comfortable.

We went to join the singing, and Dad sat quite happily with Benny on his lap, and was even happier after my brother John joined us.

The songs they sing are mostly from the 40's and 50's. "Smoke gets in Your Eyes." "As Time Goes Bye" "The Tennessee Waltz" "I love you truly, dear" (which always makes me verkempt, because my Grandma Mollie, Dad's mom, who also ended up with Alzheimer's, used to sing it to us).

Yesterday, I witnessed one of the ladies, who usually smiles at me but never speaks, get totally excited and talkative when her favorite song came up. She sang, loudly and not particularly tunefully, but it didn't matter. She was responding, and it was beautiful to see her face light up and to witness how it was the music that had touched some memory deep within her and turned on the switch.

I turned to my brother and asked, "What songs do you think they'll play when it's our turn?"

And I had this vision of myself, my wrinkled face lighting up, shouting "BISMILLAH, NO! WE WILL NOT LET HIM GO! LET HIM GO!!" as my middle aged children cringe. Or maybe, by then, they'll just be happy that Mom remembers, and sing along with me.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A firearm is not an appropriate gift for a five year old - EVER

There was another horrifying story of an accidental gun death today. A five year-old boy in Kentucky shot and killed his 2 year-old sister. The mother was home, but had stepped outside for a moment.

But what struck me about this story, was that this five year-old boy accidentally killed his sister with "the .22-caliber rifle he got for his birthday," according to state officials.

Say WHAT?!

The .22 was a Crickett, advertised on their website as "My First Rifle."

I'm not going to get into a discussion of 2nd Amendment Rights here. I'm not even going to get into a discussion of what constitutes sensible
gun laws. But Auntie Sarah is about to rant on the subject of age appropriate toys and parenting.

A firearm is not, in any rational world, an age appropriate gift for a FIVE YEAR OLD. EVER. I don't care if you live in the country. I don't care if you live in a "gun culture." This isn't anything about me wanting to deny you your 2nd Amendment Rights. I'm talking about using COMMON SENSE here, people. If "guns don't kill people, people kill people," why on earth would you be stupid enough to give one to a five year old? Would you let a five year old have access to bleach or paint thinner? Would you let a five year old drive your car? Would you let a five year old play with matches and fireworks? Would you give a five year old a sharp knife as a toy?

If you are a responsible parent with half a brain, the answer to all of these things would be a resounding NO. It's nothing to do with "rights". It's everything to do with being a responsible parent with a brain, who understands the socio-emotional and physical capabilities of your child at a particular age.

What "gift" have these parents given this poor kid? A lifetime of guilt, knowing that he killed his baby sister, when he was too young to even bear the responsibility for doing it. But it's not him who should bear that guilt. It's his grossly negligent parents. And it's the gun manufacturer that is sick enough to purposely market firearms to children. We don't allow tobacco companies to market cigarettes to children. Why do we allow gun manufacturers to market guns?

Friday, April 26, 2013

Dear CT State Dept of Education: "That's just disrespectful."

Yesterday, I was trying to tune out the world and get some serious writing done, when during one of my email/Twitter breaks THIS arrived in my inbox:

At which point I had a parental head explosion. I didn't even begin to talk to my 11th grader, who already has enough on her plate, about it last night. But I had to wonder what idiot with no comprehension of teenagers and their emotional lives had the GENIUS to decide that NOW would be a great time to add MORE TESTING - particularly testing thats stated aim is merely to give additional data to the district and the State Board of Education - to our teenagers lives.

For that particular rocket scientist - and Governor Dannel Malloy, and State Board of Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, and everyone who is pushing this particular sick brand of corporate "education reform", all the way up to Arne Duncan and President Barack Obama, I'd like to give you a little insight about teenagers. I base my insights on the fact that I was a teenager, I parent two, in the course of my work as a YA author I spend a great deal of time with many others, and I happen to love this age group big time.

!. Teenagers are human beings. They are not data points. Please read this sentence over and over until you understand this concept before moving on to the next paragraph.

2. They are going through massive hormonal changes, which can be difficult to live with as a parent, but just as difficult to cope with as the teenager experiencing them, because you have these FEELINGS and they HAPPEN and you can't always control how and why.

3. Teenagers need more sleep than most age groups and get less of it, which has major implications for mood, stress, concentration, study ability.

4. Coming in between now and June, my particular 11th grader already has to take the SATS, AP exams and finals. When I finally discussed the proposed state testing with her this afternoon, she told me "that's just disrespectful." I agreed with her, 100%. She said, "It's one thing taking CAPT, when our teachers reduce our homework in our other classes. But to schedule those tests NOW?"

I'd like CT Governor Malloy, State Department of Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, Bill McKersie, Arne Duncan, and President Obama to reread those words: "That's just disrespectful."

We adults expect respect from our teenagers. But to earn their respect, we must show them the respect they, too, deserve. Expecting them take an assessment test for data purposes when they are already facing so much pressure is not only disrespectful, it is unhealthy.

As adults, we should be modeling balance for our kids, not cruelty and insanity. The rate of suicide for the 15-24 age group has nearly tripled since 1960. Is it any wonder when the State Board of Ed treats our already stressed out teens like lab rats instead of human beings?

Last year, when the Education Reform Bill was before the CT State Legislature, I tried to get the Greenwich High School PTA to speak out against it, as PTA's in other towns were doing, because of the implications for increased testing. There was absolutely zero interest in getting involved. But lo and behold,now that the precious darlings in Greenwich are going to be affected, guess what arrived in my inbox today:

Yes, now that it's affecting OUR KIDS the Greenwich parents must have raised holy hell because that was one heck of a quick backdown by both our Greenwich Superintendent and our State BOE. You see, when parents from an extremely wealthy suburb start making a fuss, the State BOE is suddenly all ears.

But I challenge my fellow Greenwich parents - and indeed, the parents in all the other wealthy suburbs across the nation - to wake up and smell the coffee. They need to realize our reprieve was only temporary, not permanent. What the kids in Bridgeport, Windham, Hartford and New London are being forced to do this year while we got a pass, our kids are going to be doing in the years to come - while they are struggling with the same SATS, APs and finals. Oh, and maybe looking forward to going to Prom and all the other social and extra curricular activities that we want them to have as well-balanced, well-rounded kids.

There's a piece in the Atlantic, The Coming Revolution in Public Education that's a must read for every parent, grandparent and person who cares about having a healthy system of public education in this country. I also encourage you to join the Network for Public Education, and if you're in CT, like the PAA-CT Facebook page. Please join the fight now, before this insanity train moves even further down the track.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Why are all our Heroes so imperfect?* My thoughts on Lance

In the summer of 2000, we'd rented a cottage in the French village of St. Nicolas Courbefy (now famous for because the entire village was put up for sale early last year) At first the locals were standoffish. We later found out it was because they thought we were German - the occupation still loomed large in memory in this part of the Limousin - but once they realized we were English and American and spoke French we were welcomed. We went to a dance at the village hall where I was twirled energetically by elderly Frenchmen, and a couple invited us to dinner in their home.

Inevitably, the conversation turned to the Tour de France, which was passing through the region. My ex is a keen cyclist, so I'd started watching the Tour and developed appreciation and knowledge of the teams, the strategies, not to mention a bit of a crush on the British commentator, Phil Liggett.

Our French host was adamant that Lance Armstrong, who had come back from cancer the year before to win his first Tour de France title and was doing well that year, had taken some kind of miracle drug to enhance his performance. I was shocked. SHOCKED, I tell you. "The man had CANCER! He had chemotherapy...toxic chemicals pumped through his veins to kill tumors." Lance hadn't started LiveStrong yet, but I'd already drunk the Kool-Aid and leaped to his defense. To me, he was an inspiration - someone who had faced great challenges and overcome them to win.

I stopped admiring him when he dumped his wife Kristin, who had stood with him through his cancer battle and raised his kids while he trained all over Europe, for Sheryl Crow.

And now we find that my dinner host back in 2000 was right all along - that Lance was doping. We all wanted to believe, and he played us, but good.

Right now, I'm hearing Jill Sobule's Heroes on a loop in my head:

*CREDIT: "Why are all our heroes so imperfect? Why do they always bring me down?"

The answer I give myself is this: stick to everyday heroes. Make heroes out of the people you know and admire, the people who quietly, and without expectation of glory, do good for others, trying to make the world a better place.

P.S. I got to meet Phil Liggett that summer, after one of the stages of the Tour. And he kissed me. Twice. Once on each cheek. : ))).