Armchair Quarterbacks

December 4, 2010

A recent Feministe thread on education has me irked, yet again, by the way education debates usually seem to go. Why is it that we defer to experts on so many other topics, and yet so many Americans seem to think their opinion on education trumps all merely by virtue of having once been educated themselves? Hey, I fly on lots of airplanes–how come Boeing hasn’t hired me as a consultant yet?

I understand that we all want to use our personal experience to make sense of the world. And I realize that I’m not yet a parent, so I don’t have a parental point of view on what it’s like to send a kid through school. But I’m tired of the opinions of educators–those of us who are actually in schools and communities, fighting for better resources for children and young adults–constantly being shouted down by amateur education reform scholars.

Education is underfunded. If you look at the amount we’re shelling out for national security and defense versus education, our priorities are severely out of whack. The US ranks second in GDP purchasing power parity in the world, but it currently ranks 46th in education spending as a portion of total GDP–behind some of the usual characters, like the UK and the Netherlands, but also behind such nations as Cuba and Lesotho.

Educational funding is also seriously inequitable. The same neighborhoods and communities who find themselves shorted on municipal services, police and fire support, and social services are often the very same ones fighting to keep their schools open and adequately funded. Look at the proposed school closures and mergers for an urban district like Boston Public Schools, then try overlaying with crime data (PDF) from those same areas. Hint: Dorchester is District C, just as one starting point.

But beyond that, education is undervalued and maligned as a profession. Whenever individual school unions make unpopular choices, all educational unions–often all teachers–are demonized. When individual public schools and districts fail to meet benchmarks, the successes of other schools–yes, even inner-city public schools–are dismissed. The perceived power of some metropolitan teachers’ unions lead outsiders to paint teachers (and organized labor) with broad strokes. We’re in it for the money. We don’t care about students. We’re making outrageous demands.

All of this demonization also ignores the very real struggles teachers face in the classroom (and wherever educators may work). Although the profession is still perceived as female-dominated, the narrative of female teachers and male administrators is still sadly alive and well–including in many of our graduate programs. Male teachers, meanwhile, particularly at the lower levels, still face social stigma thanks to the sensationalized threat of sexual predators in classrooms. All of us who work with so-called “troubled” youth have to wade through self-perpetuating narratives of underperformance, not to mention ignorance among parents, colleagues and community members about issues like learning disabilities and mental illness.

Those of you who don’t work in education might have the luxury of throwing up your hands and declaring the system broken. But those of us who are educators can’t, and don’t, do that. We go to work every day, and we bring our jobs home with us every afternoon (or night). Not because we’re getting glory, or money, or power, or fame–because we love what we do, and because we believe in a better world for our students. We are building it with our hearts and minds and hands every day.

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Quick Hit: Searching for…

October 27, 2010

In creating a bibliography to pull some books for a class that’s coming to the library later this week, I’ve been searching for a lot of contemporary issue-type books. So far I’ve been pretty pleased with our selection on most topics–I’ve been actively developing this area of the collection, but we already had some good (actually contemporary!) titles in many cases–but the most recent topic has me stumped (and adding book titles feverishly to order lists).

Hits returned on the following searches:

Contraception: 0
Contraceptives: 0
Birth control: 1
Condom: 1
Adoption: 0
Adopted: 0
Birth parents: 0

I’d keep going, but it’s just depressing me.


Silent Shame

October 24, 2010

Last week I was eating dinner with a bunch of friends when one of them said something that made me really uncomfortable. I don’t want to give the full context of the comment–mostly because I try to keep my friends and loved ones relatively anonymous when I write about them here–but the important background info is that I’m sure she thought the comment was harmless. She was being self-deprecating, referring to herself and our other friends, many of whom have the usual aches and pains that often come with getting older, many of whom have had minor or major injuries. She referred jokingly to “us cripples.”

Now, I’d like to think that the comment would have bothered me in any set of circumstances, coming from any friend or acquaintance or stranger. And I have reason to believe that’s true–the more I’ve read from amazing writers like the folks at FWD/Forward, and the more I’ve wrestled with the ways that things like mental illness and trauma intersect in my own life, the more I notice problematic language. I’ve been working really hard to erase “lame” and “crazy” from my own vocabulary, for instance.

But I can’t really know if the comment would’ve bothered me in another situation, because it happened in the situation I was in: sitting in a restaurant where, just moments earlier, our waitress had held the door open for someone using forearm crutches–who was seated at the table next to ours.
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Teens and Tattoos

September 30, 2010

I’m fortunate enough to work in a school environment that doesn’t frown upon my visible tattoos. I felt pretty prepared for the opposite to be true–that’s why all my tattoos are in locations easily concealed by professional attire–but I was pleasantly surprised to discover I didn’t have to worry about wearing polo shirts in warmer weather. (And thank goodness, because my library isn’t air conditioned!)

Having my tattoos visible invariably means my students will look at them, ask about them, and want to talk about them. Where did I get them? Did it hurt? How long did they take to heal?

I wasn’t at all surprised to get the questions, and I’m always happy to answer them, but I was a little thrown the first time a kid approached me asking about their own tattoo.

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Teaching While Tattooed

April 27, 2010

Jill’s recent Feministe post on dress codes for female attorneys has been rolling around in my brain for quite some time. I’m not a lawyer, but as a person with ladybits, some double standards about “professional” attire still impact me.

In some ways, I’m fortunate to have chosen this career path–from what I’ve read and heard from friends, courtrooms and the corporate world (just as two examples) can be extremely unforgiving for women who deviate from the rules, not to mention those of us who fall anywhere on the gender-variant spectrum (and tend to have kind of a hard time no matter where we work). A public school, on the other hand, is comparatively quite relaxed; some of my colleagues wear jeans on any given day of the week, and I’ve been known to wear flip-flops from time to time.

This relatively casual atmosphere, however, is never a given, and I walk into any interview or professional development event or major administrative meeting with considerably more formality than in my daily work life–which includes covering my tattoos.

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Out of the Mouths of Boys

January 20, 2010

[Mild trigger warning for language]

Since I started working schools, I feel like I’m constant Language Police duty. At my last school it was “no homo.” Here, it’s “That’s gay,” variations on the f-word (no, not the four letter one), and something I didn’t expect at all: rape analogies.

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Rethinking Safe Spaces

October 30, 2009

The concept of “safe spaces” is often the subject of debate in the blogosphere. Is it ever possible to create a completely safe space for everyone? Can we avoid triggers? Can we eliminate hate and ignorance?

I first became acquainted with the idea of safe spaces as physical spaces during my freshman year of college, when a letter published in our student paper endorsed a secret court from the 1920s that investigated and expelled several students suspected of homosexual behavior. (I can highly recommend William Wright’s Harvard’s Secret Court: The Savage 1920 Purge of Campus Homosexuals. It’s quite a read.)

Campus reaction to the letter was swift, and heated. The main queer organization on campus, then called the BGLTSA, responded by distributing Safe Space signs across campus, which are now a staple of materials distributed for occasions like National Coming Out Day.

But do they work?

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