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Numbers game.

Cassandra based on Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys, 1904.
Cassandra based on Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys, 1904.

None of this is new news.

We are hurting.

Our economy, our growth, our creativity: we see it, we call it out, and we try, desperately, to avert the tsunami. And it feels as if the invisible force of money drowns us, like a force of nature, pressure systems, and earthquakes shaking us little humans and dumping us on our heads.

I constantly think about…

coal miners.

People who’ve worked in the ground for centuries and what they dig from the earth no longer matters. And everyone knew it. So they equate the people who dig as the ones who don’t matter.

I’ve thought this since I was in second grade: why don’t the big companies shift and switch and do research into energy and food that’s sustainable and gives people the jobs they need?

Why?

Don’t they want to stay in business?

Don’t they want to make a profit and have people buy their stuff?

Seemed to me the best way to prevent revolutions and bloodshed is to be real, mature, and functional about the realities of how the world works.

But now I don’t know how the world works anymore.

My childhood questions echo back.

I need to know where good is. Where growth and prosperity are.

I don’t need America to be #1. This is not a zero sum game. I want all of us to get what we need.

 

Things may get worse, again, before they get better. We can’t seem to move forward without burning it all down.

PBS produced a show about childhood poverty in the U.S. six years ago. Here are some of the highlights:

More than 16 million children, or roughly one in five, were living in poverty in 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s official poverty measure (pdf). That is higher than any other age group. Among 18– to 64-year-olds, the poverty rate was 13.7percent, while among seniors the rate was 8.7 percent. (Nov 20, 2012)

3

Only three other countries in the developed world have a higher child poverty rate (pdf) than the U.S., according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Mexico leads all nations with a rate of 25.79, followed by Chile (23.95), Turkey (23.46), and the U.S. (21.63).

Financial experts have been writing about education and income for years, too, along with research and data:

Eduardo Porter wrote an article for the New York Times, ‘A Simple Equation: More Education  = More Income.’

But in the American education system, inequality is winning, gumming up the mobility that broad-based prosperity requires. On Tuesday, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released its annual collection of education statistics from around the industrialized world showing that the United States trails nearly all other industrialized nations when it comes to educational equality.

a_simple_equation__more_education___more_income_-_the_new_york_times

Nate Silver, love or hate, is a statistician. Here are his latest numbers about education and voting trends:

Education, not income, predicted who would vote for Trump.

But since education and income are so closely connected, I’m not sure if his thesis is whole. Yet.

And now we have this horror show.

So money, education, and politics. Oh, my.

But: I have to keep hope alive.

Who gives me hope?

To be clear,  I never think one man or woman is a savior. Humans are all flawed. With those flaws, come some genius moves.

Who inspires me now?

Elon Musk

Ira Glass

Sarah Vowell

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Malala Yousafzai

Malcolm Gladwell

Steven Colbert

John Oliver

Jon Stewart

Samantha Bee

….still thinking.

And recently I described our nation has millions of tiny little needles. Guess I wasn’t the only one seeing it.

Postscript: Thanks, Kid.

 

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Strength to fall, strength to fail, and courage to rise

peanuts-tarot

I am not a Tarot card reader, though I’ve always appreciated the art, both the visual art and the reading art of it. The reading of people is an art form I lack, woefully. Sometimes human behavior mystifies me, and I fill in my lack of knowledge with pure lizard brain responses. Or maybe it is that I read people all too well, but haven’t developed the kind, soft tools to maneuver or add nuance to these interactions, especially when they go south. Unfortunately for my personal and professional relationships, this doesn’t always take the form of gentle, self-reflective musing, but bursts forth, unconfined, in a shower of detritus, flinging emotional responses. In other words: me and my big mouth.

One such big mouth moment happened recently. When these moments happen, I think, analyze, reflect and seek to gain understanding so I can avoid it in the future, handle it differently, and get to the root of the issue. I will always respond to a student in tears with a protective momma bear instinct, but in this case, I question my biases that have been brewing for months now. I am angry at how children have been left out of this conversation, intentionally and egregiously by a certain politician and his followers. Let me restate: not left out, but further abandoned and marginalized with exacting motives.

These motives are embedded with so many historical precedents it boggles the mind. Do we ever learn?! No outcome for this amount of hatred is going to have faithful, hopeful, or loving landing spot. We crashed the towers fifteen years ago, and we’re still falling hard to the ground.

There are many Muslim students at my school who are anxious, even slightly terrified, of current political events. When I saw a child in full Muslim dress, of whom we have many, and this child is distraught, did I overreact because not only are students of this faith currently being targeted by a certain ‘politician’ and his minions? Did I grossly project my concerns, or what I’ve been witnessing, absorbing that level of anxiety? And if that is even a tiny possibility–what do I do now?

He is also seditiously targeting Hispanic and Latino students as well. And the white kids are most likely confused, and the Black children have been hearing the angry, ignorant banter against them for generations. Please do not misunderstand: reflection is painful — if this bias in any way informed my response then I need to get myself in check. It was just a girl crying because of all the emotions that come with being a 7th grader, and trying to follow the rules. And when she didn’t follow the rules and was chastised by another person, she was upset and came to me. Nothing more. Right?

Today is the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11. As it gets further away, the children are younger and have no living memory, but their families do. And we’ve gone further away as a nation from the place we were on September 12. Or at least I feel this way–that may not be true. I honestly don’t know anymore. I do know I am feeling more protective, more vigilant, and less tolerant of deceit and bigotry. Especially when it comes from family, whom I have no control over, or friends, which I do. I cannot imagine being a teacher and considering voting for one of the candidates. He has told us exactly who he is. We need to believe him.

As for our students from all walks of life, experiences, creed, color, faith and nationhood, I am asking my colleagues to consider one thing — we are living in a new situation and context that we have not faced before as a nation or as teachers. If you had told me fifteen years ago that we would be in this place now with normalized lying and hate mongering I wouldn’t have believed you. We flew flags, we prayed, we cried, and we held the hearts of heroes in our hands. We wanted them and their families to be helped, supported, and nurtured. Now Congress won’t pass funding to help the first responders who have many long-term health issues. I am not sure where the money that was raised went. Did it make it to the families? And why is a politician allowed to make the same false arguments and conclusions that were done to Japanese Americans during WWII? How can his followers be so hypocritical, and forget painfully learned lessons?

The tower tarot, when upright, is a sign of upheaval, disaster, and chaos.

Just like a wall.

When upside down, it’s avoidance of chaos. Just like when the walls come tumbling down.

I am self-reflective, but let this be known: I will always stand up for a crying child, and never apologize for this. Sometimes my big mouth is right, and I hope we all have better ears to listen. I have faith in this, and faith in myself to get this right.

 

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Didgeridoo not.

IMG_0634

Or didgerimostdefinitelydo.*

I wish I had it in me to write that “top ten things to do by the end of the year” or “keep middle school students engaged” post. I’m not burnt out or even remotely sad or irritated by my students this year — they’ve been consistently awesome, and renewed my love of teaching. With them, I felt capable. And at one point I was called the ‘rock star teacher,’ and though that moniker has gone to younger, more agile teachers I wasn’t no slouch. But this year: they truly bolstered me.

What’s getting to me is a few things, things I can’t express on social media outlets, and am not even sure I can or should here.

Two big things are happening this week, completely unrelated, and the way my brain works is I can’t keep them in their corners. This happened last time, too, when my older son was graduating, so I know it’s only a response to launching children. I am not sure what the concern or secondary worry was three years ago, but for the life of me, I just can’t seem to be NORMAL and feel normal mom things and go on Pinterest and look up fruit plate ideas, or stop by the party store and pick up graduation decorations. I need that occupational therapy now. The busy-ness.

So let wrap myself in a big, soft blanket of enlightened, silver-lining downy soft bullet-points and try to keep safe from the storm.

Here’s what I learned about school from my younger son:

  • Schools will ignore most or all 504 plans, and some IEPs.
    • Teachers don’t know how to successfully navigate ‘extra time,’ and will fail a student even if they have these protections in place.
    • Teachers are sometimes unimaginative. If there are too many unimaginative teachers in place, it’s potentially catastrophic for those who don’t color in the lines.
  • Schools will not provide any or much actual real world experience — the field trip, the excursion, the trying on roles or identities. There are no possibilities touted except “college.”
  • Schools are a business. They produce products. Their products are graduates.
  • The best teachers will always be beloved by their students, and will always be the ones who do everything different from the rest.
  • Students who have other supports will survive. And kids grow up anyway.

So to take my mind off of the onslaught of mixed emotions: one arm around hugging while the other one pushes him out the door, I do the stupid thing and follow politics. I just can’t go vacuum something or cut melon balls? What the heck is wrong with me?!

447e9eb250e1f82a25fcf7a78f311bdb

Here’s what I’ve learned about politics from the current election:

  • My beloved news agencies will report with bias. I never noticed bias before when I felt they were on ‘my side’ but now that they’re not, it’s so clear. Painfully and emotionally clear. Now I know what others feel–that self-righteous indignation, that ‘take my ball and go home’ feeling, rusting empathy and decaying social justice. Loss of hope. Cynical lenses of others humanity, or lack thereof.
  • People follow their fears. Including me. They follow authority, wealth, justice, revenge, redemption, identities and allegiances. We may not be aware of our deep-seated fears. That those fears to someone else are laughable, weak or misguided.
  • I really want Bill Clinton to shut up.

My mom’s philosophy is to never apologize, never explain. I can’t say I’m sorry, and I can’t explain what’s going on with, save to say it’s a chemical imbalance, stress, and apparently too much Pinterest and NPR. There will be happy posts about the graduate later this week when all is pomped and circumstanced. I am incredibly proud of that kid, and all I can do is be a better teacher for the students I have. As far as politics go, well, I’ve done all I can do for now.

But seriously Bill Clinton should just shut up.

 

 

*My son went out and bought a lengthy plastic pipe and makes himself didgeridoos. And plays them pretty damn well, I might add.

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To be fair.

Caution: This is going to get political.

My question: is this all wishful thinking? Should I roll over for Hillary and her status-quo, dynasty style politics? Are African American voters seeing something I’m not? (Or again, is that too much of a sweeping generality?) I’ve been indirectly taken to task for being “privileged” (though I never thought I wouldn’t vote for one candidate if the other didn’t win, I learned some would). And there’s the other side, where those who take a stand make their voices heard.

So in the past week, I’ve been labeled as ‘demonizing, privileged, unrealistic, and lacking diligence.’ Were any of these said to me directly? Of course not. Then why do I hear it? Where does this guilt/conflict/defensiveness dwell? What dog whistles are these that are tuned to my inner ear? (Yes, not only did I just use the passive voice, but the passive-aggressive voice. RIMSHOT!) Probably the same tuning that I hear when a comedian equates a fat person or food with diabetes, or someone makes an ageist comment, as in the NCCE program one exhibitor had a session titled something to the effect “Not Your Parents…..(fill in the blank).” “Not Your Parents” is code for “your parents are old and don’t know how to work with technology, and you’re young and hip and get frustrated when you need to explain things to them.” We hear what speaks to us in that moment: I can safely tune out Pampers ads because those are not on my shopping list any longer. Or like when you get a coupon at the grocery store for cat litter because the past purchasing data shows you once had Mr. Muffins and he’s gone to the great litter box in the sky.

I can’t take on all the misconceptions or confirmation bias when it comes to diabetes or ageism. Not today. I haven’t even made it through a single cup of coffee. But I can report out some things I’ve learned about politics.

I. The Caucus

Yesterday I went to our local caucus, and I am so glad. It was transformative. The area we live in seems to be predominately conservative/red. I joked how our little enclave was keeping things a bit more ‘purple,’ and am still mad that someone stole our Obama yard during his first election. At the caucus yesterday were hundreds of voters –in my little town!! Our particular cohort comprised of about 15 people, and two independent voters began our session with seeking why we were supporting who we were. Both Bernie and Hillary supporters spoke, it was civil, engaged, and thoughtful. There was a range of ages and incomes, but race diversity was not represented. Some of the speakers were more or less educated or articulate, but all were impassioned. One speaker, an older gentlemen, said he worried about Bernie’s age, (74) but was not worried about Hillary (68). He also said he was tired of ‘old white guys’ being president, to which a young woman said gender was not a factor for her.

These were a rough draft of the cohort's resolutions.
These were a rough draft of the cohort’s resolutions. We met in the Spanish teacher’s room at a local school. Note: no one in the room discussed gun issues. Found that interesting.

One thing we all could agree on was no matter what, we would do what it took to defeat He Who Has Tiny Fingers. The delegates from our room were 1 Hillary: 3 Bernie. On the way to our car, a man in a big, white pickup truck asked us how it went and gleefully shared his cohort was 100% for Bernie.

Fascinating.

I think this may be how Hillary’s side is feeling, and to be honest, I get it:

Ohman_berniedriverCLR+copy

II. What is Happening

If I laid bare all my thoughts on a spectrum, to pure lizard-brain to perceived clear, rational thought, I would realize how utterly unqualified I am to think clearly, to move away from the lizard side. I feel stuck. Is it decision fatigue? http://www.npr.org/2015/11/17/455674528/aziz-ansari-talking-modern-love-with-the-master-of-noneParadox of choice? Probably. Everything just feels too damn important not to get this one right. With the last election, we had no idea, at least, I didn’t, the levels of obstructionism and racism that would override all potential progress. A complicated mix of Obama’s “nuanced” negotiating skills (some would say terrible skills) and a Republican side majority in the House and Senate, with a clear directive from Mitch McConnell that nothing the President did would ever go forward, we all feel like there’s an old man with his blinker on in the fast lane. No matter how many distractor issues a politician can muster, it always comes back to money. Do we have a job? Can we get to our job? Can we feed our families? Can we live the American Dream?

My biggest issues: corporations are not people, our infrastructure is a disaster, and college loans or educational fees are part of the greater good for the strength of our nation and must be subsidized.

This is a photograph my husband took of a hole in the I-90 bridge that's been there for years.
This is a photograph my husband took of a hole in the I-90 bridge that’s been there for years.

 

She said it all.
She said it all.

In my previous post, Status, I am going to admit writer’s cowardice. Though the post focused on teacher and student status, what I was feeling behind the scenes talking about how I miss my friendship, how it’s changed over the years. And while I would like to have believed that friendships run parallel tracks, alas they run on varying degrees of negative and positive plot points that tend to veer away from one another, sometimes intersecting again.

And do we ever let go of who we think we know the person is, or who they have become?

But this is a very, very good thing: because we have different experiences and paths, we gain understanding from one another that is based on mutual histories, knowledge, and dare I say, love? This is the heart of love: learning and listening to one another. And I love my friend and know she loves me. And I do listen to her, and if she is leaning toward a politician, I listen.

In the post, The Inflationary Defeat of Skittles, I showed a boring little graph, in an antiquated font, looking like something from some 1960s mimeographed page, a chart from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics about how incomes have not only stagnated, but fallen behind.

It’s tough not to hear those inner voices as being personal, and this is why — all of this doesn’t feel objective any longer. I made clear-eyed choices with the information I had at the time, based on what I could see forward on the path. I can’t go back and tell my past self not to marry my husband, nor would I want to. If I had a crystal ball and it said, ‘your husband will have chronic medical conditions, and his career path will be fraught with unscrupulous characters and mismanaged equity funds,’ what would I have done? And if he had come to understand he married an art major with a deep work ethic and creative class shackles, and not uncanny business instincts, would he have opted out? Hard to say. We both hated Reagan’s policies in that moment, and we’re both black sheep when it comes to “I told you so” warnings. My husband is usually right about stuff. My husband is quite frankly, a genius. But geniuses don’t necessarily make over $300k a year. In our country, we often equate money with intelligence. Just look at the frontrunner for the other side.

Here is what my friend researched:

Our conversation prompted me to look a bit more as well, because I have these very intense mixed feelings about the whole issue of income in our country. I feel very strongly that things shifted in a very bad way for our generation, and wages did not rise relative to the cost of a home, healthcare or college. And I think this is very dangerous and wrong. But I also see that the reaction among some is to demonize people who acquire wealth through smart, patient “investments” in terms of post-college education, diligently saving for kid’s college from the day they are born and for retirement the day they start working in their 20s, etc. The “Top 1 percent” starts roughly around $400,000/yr for a household income. The top .01 percent makes $12 million per year. I don’t think we can lump those two households into one group called the Top 1 percent–it’s just not even close to the same experience. An income tax increase impacts people who are receiving income from working, but many of the very wealthiest get their money not from working income but from dividends–wealth investment, and it is taxed at a much lower rate. That’s why it’s possible for someone to make more money than me but pay less in overall taxes. That is a bit odd. But in reality, even the very richest can’t be taxed enough to change life for the bottom 50 percent of earners–the top 50 percent accounts for 97 percent of federal taxes already from what I read. To me, we have to get wages up for the lowest paid workers and we have to figure out ways to make things like housing, college and healthcare more affordable. But not free, in my view. Affordable. And a CEO making 300 times what their employees makes is not good. Those extreme ends need to shift inward. So I guess I am saying there are 3 factors that rise to my mind: some more modification of taxes among the extreme top wealth (not solely income) earners, policies that address housing, college and continued tweaks on heathcare though Obama’s health care plan is a start in the right direction. And then policies that impact the wage disparity and improving basic wages–raising the minimum wage helps but there is probably more in terms of business incentives for addressing wage disparity though I am not sure how that would work. Those are my thoughts {smile emoticon} Let me know what you find.

Okay. Next steps: research!

III. Information and Judgment

So here is the curated collection from me and my husband:

Bernie is unrealistic: http://money.cnn.com/2015/10/16/news/economy/sanders-taxes-spending/

Start Making Sense: Bernie is Bringing the Reagan Era to an End

PDF of Economists who signed a statement of support:
Robert Reich (former Labor Secretary under President Clinton and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies):
Robert Reich: “I’ve known Hillary since she was 19…Bernie Sanders is the most qualified candidate for the government we should have.”
Senate Budget Committee (Sanders is Chairman):
Bernie’s numbers are actually Friedman’s numbers but Bernie’s being blamed and austerity should not be the new normal:
Closing the Racial Wealth Gap:
Here’s the thing: Hillary has not provided any evidence in her political career she would actually do something to change the economic structures in our nation. She has as much told us all she’s a “realist.”

 

IV. Oh, it’s happening.

In any case–when you find yourself in a political discussion with someone you love who sees things from another side, or articulates clearly and logically, and you’re left mumbling and confused–time for honesty and reflection. I still don’t know what to think. But my take-away is this: after listening to multiple points of view, change is coming, and change is here. To witness the de-evolution of one political party to a freak show, to the standard bearers of the other political party being questioned/challenged by everyone who’s newly voting age to their penultimate election, we all recognize much work needs to be done, and it’s going to be a fight. Not pretty, and not polite. I haven’t had a good, deep political conversation with my friend in years. We’ve been in touch with mostly superficial but loving, exchanges, full of good intentions. If it took two candidates to draw out more substantive reflection, at least on my end, then good. Really good. We live in a time where our confirmation biases go unchecked, and movements take root and suck up energy from wellsprings (looking at you, Anti-Vaxxers), but these movements act as powerful catalysts to get us to think. (And in my case, overthink.) So here’s to change, to thinking, and the grand conversation.

Next: hours of lesson planning for the week.

*sigh*

The work goes on.

 

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Stop and eat a Pop-tart. (revised)

My brother-in-law said it best this morning on Facebook: “Sometimes I hate us. This is one of those times.” The ‘us’ he referred to is us humans. I get you, bro, I really do. Yesterday I had a belly-full of contentious social media postings: the general screaming from my conservative friends and National Enquirer-esque mode of salacious, taunting headlines such as  “THINGS DEMOCRATS DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW” just became so tired and trite. Were these otherwise kind, intelligent people seriously believing the garbage? And this is not a one-sided observation: any comments about how politicians on both sides play the cards they are dealt when they get a winning hand became lost in the din. Rationality drowned out by roars. My personal fatigue with trying to have an interesting conversation about things political felt combative and harassing. Folks were getting a little too aggro, if you know what I mean.

My burning question is–what role do,  or should teachers and educators play in terms of debate and opinion? How much value do our personal biases possess in a classroom or meeting? In my utopia, not much, but admittedly, I am flawed. There are some beliefs I cannot reconcile: teaching creationism as science, not as a religious belief, teaching the 6,000-year-old earth idea, flat earth, or discussing religious or political views with students.

This morning was chatting with a friend who lives on the east coast and heard some worrisome tales. Her granddaughter came home with quotes from the teacher saying she was going to vote for Trump because he ‘cares about jobs.’ Also, this teacher asked the kids who had been spanked, and ‘she could tell because those were the good ones.’ Now let me flip this: the teacher said Obama cares about jobs, and kids should never be spanked. (It wasn’t Obama, but I’ve heard some kids speak their parents’ political views about him, too.) In a country as polarized as ours, the students are now divided. And those that fall away from the teacher’s point of view now feel this unease, this sense of ‘the teacher doesn’t like me.’ And they’re right. Often if we don’t feel liked or respected, we go into a defensive stance, and if our family’s values don’t align with the teachers, we end up not liking that person who made us feel bad. And as Rita Pierson says so wisely, “Kids don’t learn from teachers they don’t like.”

This fourth-grade granddaughter also gets 3.5 hours of homework a night, too. I see the love of learning going straight down the tubes.

Now, what should parents do when their child is told something that doesn’t align with their values? There is nothing wrong with seeking to understand from the teacher, and the principal, with the mindset that this is information gathering and clarification, not a witch-hunt. All of us have said something that out of context can be taken the wrong way in our classrooms. That’s the human piece, and where we truly put our critical thinking skills to the test. Instead of assumptions, seeking context and clarity helps us all. Questioning. Seeking. If we don’t know that we offended someone, we never get the opportunity to mend the rift.

The takeaway is to keep religious and political views out of the classroom. Wait–that’s not quite right. How about make sure the conversation is always three-sided. Use the critical questions skills to challenge ideas, defend ideas, and construct new ones, teachers and students alike. But –with caution –be clear of intent. We are not trying to make students feel that we don’t like them if their views and conclusions are not ours. That’s when we need to check our biases and privilege. (The privilege comes from years of life experience, education, and safe places to come to our own points of view. Students haven’t had this luxury yet.)  Consider age-appropriate discussions. Teach facts, opinions, and truth. Encourage creative, critical thinking with questioning skills and reflection

Caveat: once all modes of diplomacy and peace offerings have been…err..offered, and there still exists tension, I’m not sure what to do with that. Go all “Taylor Swift At The Grammys” speech I suppose.