Preserving Privilege

According to the WaPo, several private schools in the D.C. area, including Sidwell Friends, are scrapping Advanced Placement (AP) classes.

The schools issued a statement explaining:

“Collectively, we believe a curriculum oriented toward collaborative, experiential and interdisciplinary learning will not only better prepare our students for college and their professional futures, but also result in more engaging programs for both students and faculty,” the schools said. “We expect this approach will appeal to students’ innate curiosity, increase their motivation and fuel their love of learning.”

There’s little educational value in the Advanced Placement program. It’s primary purpose is to give privileged kids a leg up on their peers.

The scrapping of AP classes is a smart move, but lets not kids ourselves, Sidwell Friends and company made this move not just to appeal to students’ innate curiosity, increase their motivation, and fuel their love of learning. No doubt they expect the new and improved curricula to do an even better job of preserving their students’ privilege. That’s the lifeblood of those schools.

There Should Be A Medal

The most extraordinary, ordinary thing happened to me recently.

A former student, a career changer, early fiftyish former draftsperson, wrapping up his third year teaching English/Language Arts at a local high school, contacted me.

After a long school day in the middle of May, he tucked his students’ essays under his arm, got in his car, and instead of driving home, headed to my university office. He wanted my help better preparing his students for college level writing. He admitted he wasn’t doing a good job teaching writing and didn’t really know how to improve.

He deserves a medal of some sort for a trifecta of positive attributes that are a powerful formula for self improvement writ large. Not just self improvement, a foundation for strengthening the common good.

1) Self-compassion. His starting point was the essence of this NYT essay:

‘I’m an imperfect human being living an imperfect life.’

2) Selflessness. He cares deeply about his students. So much so he wants to increase their odds of success in college, and in turn, life.

3) Initiative. 999 out of 1,000 high school English teachers are content not really knowing if they’re doing their best to prepare their students for college level writing. They have lots of other, more pressing things to do after work.

self-compassion + selflessness + initiative = personal growth

We had a great conversation despite my being distracted by two things. First, I was struck by the fact that college writing is a topic I know a lot about. That was a nice realization, because like most people I suspect, sometimes I wonder if I have any expertise.

Second, I was distracted by the realization that I don’t do what my fellow educator was modeling so powerfully. I have a lot of acquaintances and friends who are way more knowledgeable about and/or skilled in areas I’d like to learn more about and/or improve, yet I never ask them if they’d be up to teaching me.

Why is that? There are lots of possibilities. Maybe I’m not secure/vulnerable enough to embrace my imperfections. Or maybe I’m too lazy a sad sack (how’s that for self compassion). Or most likely, despite how much I enjoyed helping my former student, I just don’t want to impose on them.

I’m not alone. Most people pay experts for specialized knowledge and skills or watch “Do It Yourself” YouTube tutorials. The person who asks a friend or acquaintance to teach them something they don’t know is the wonderful exception to how most of us approach life.

 

Redefining Memorial Day

I thought Memorial Day was for remembering the sacrifices of male and female military killed in service to the country.

The President’s tweet this morning changes that:

“Happy Memorial Day! Those who died for our great country would be very happy and proud at how well our country is doing today. Best economy in decades, lowest unemployment numbers for Blacks and Hispanics EVER (& women in 18years), rebuilding our Military and so much more. Nice!”

Now, Memorial Day is for self promotion. Making my “no profanity” pledge difficult to keep.

By Age 35

Earlier this month, Marketwatch published an article stating that by 35 years old, a person should have twice their salary saved for retirement.

In my view, an imminently sensible goal, but the Millennial blowback on Twitter was fast, furious, and funny. You know what “they” say, goals should be achievable.

Cases in point:

  • By age 35 you should have at least one fork in your cutlery drawer that you just don’t like, and actively frown at if you accidentally grab it.
  • By age 35 you should have a huge box of cables but you can’t throw them out because you’re pretty sure you still need a couple of them but you’re not sure which ones.
  • By age 35 you should have a kitchen cabinet dedicated entirely to plastic bags that contain other, smaller plastic bags.
  • By age 35 you should have approximately 10 times the existential dread you had when you graduated high school.
  • Listen. Meghan Markle wasn’t a duchess til age 36 so stop telling me what I should have by age 35.
  • By age 35, you should have hoarded more books than any human could possibly read in three lifetimes.*
  • By age 35, you should have a big bag of socks that have no matches that you are afraid to throw even one of them away because as soon as you do, you’ll run into its match.
  • By age 35 you should stop paying attention to condescending life advice from strangers writing think pieces.
  • By age 35 you should have a shitload of books. Some of them you have read and are too sentimental to give away. Others (you know in your heart) you will never read and yet you will keep these as well. All of these books have followed you through multiple moves.*
  • By age 35 you should have one pair of jeans you like and a four shirt rotation.
  • By age 35 you should be able to re-watch Bridget Jones and think ‘You’re only 30 and you manage to afford to live alone?’
  • By age 35 you should have a list of documentaries you tell people you want to watch but you don’t watch them because you just never feel like you’re in the right mood.

Go ahead, give it a go, by age 35. . .

*Alison

 

Mea Culpa

When I started the humble blog, Kevin Durant was a Seattle SuperSonic. In fitting with my life’s work as an educator, I had one overarching goal, to create community by engaging people in meaningful dialogues.

That’s proven difficult due to the internet’s vastness and our high speed, mostly anonymous and passive flitting around it. I’m still not sure how to get a lot of people to press pause. Nor do I know much about how to get people to press the “like” button, forward posts to others, or comment.

I get it because I’m a passive speed reader of blogs and social media. Plus, face-to-face interactions should always take priority.

Given the internet’s one-two-three punch of speed, passivity, and anonymity, I cherish every individual reaction, whether written or face-to-face, whether positive or negative.

This week two loyal readers gently chided me for my last, profanity-laced post. My first thought was not that they are too prudish for their own good, it was that they cared enough to let me know what they thought. Thank you two for caring enough to respond. Your critiques inspire me to continue blogging and be more respectful.

With respect to swearing, I have some sensitivities too. Specifically, I don’t like it when the “f word” becomes an ordinary, regular, routine part of anyone’s speech; however, having taught high school for five years, I’m relatively immune to run-of-the-mill swearing, and when swear words are used sporadically, I don’t think of it as a moral failing. But for anyone who has not taught high school, served in the military, or watched Chris Rock perform, I completely understand any swearing being offensive.

Knowing my two critics well, I’m sure their disappointment wasn’t a debilitating personal affront, just more of a sense that it was over-the-top and unnecessary. That the profanity detracted from a meaningful message.

I grant both of you that and apologize. That decision was not in keeping with the spirit of this project. I will resist the impulse to use profanity in the future in the hope that any reader, if so moved, can forward any post in good conscience to anyone they know.

 

What’s A Young Woman To Do?

Imagine you’re a heterosexual, twenty or thirty-something female, wanting a romantic partner, even a husband, maybe even children, but you spend more time looking at screens than interacting with male friends. Realizing the folly of your ways, you unplug a bit, stop taking your phone everywhere, start changing your daily routine so that you’re Instagramming less and talking to people your age more.

Then you read this essay titled “How Abusive Relationships Take Root” and learn:

“Roughly a third of women in developed countries report having been in at least one abusive relationship, defined by a partner or ex-partner who ’causes physical, sexual or psychological harm, including physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviors,’ according to the World Health Organization.”

What do you do? Throw in the towel? Benedict Carey, the author of the essay, has an answer. Pay really close attention to warning signs.*

“The hallmark signs of the male abuser are well known to experts. He’s jealous. He exhibits a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality. He can be cruel with animals, to children. But often there are subtler, more incremental steps in the development of an abusive relationship, among men and women of all orientations.

‘It often starts in a very insidious way,’ said Patricia Pape, a psychologist in private practice in New York. ‘He says, ‘Don’t put Sweet-and-Low in your coffee, it’s poisonous.’ ‘Then, ‘When you wear that nail polish, it makes you look like a fallen woman,’ and ‘That skirt is too short, it’s too revealing.’ Or, ‘I don’t think you should see her, she’s not good for you.’ ‘You wind up in a situation where he’s telling you what to wear, what to eat, who you can see, how to behave.’ Each small adjustment made by the victim reinforces this control, Dr. Pape said. One of her patients had a husband who, when the couple was out at a public event, would insist she not look around at the crowd, as he felt it could be seen as flirtatious. ‘It came to point that when she walked around, she would look down,” Dr. Pape said. “It changed how she walked.’

In this case, as in so many others, no single request was offensive on its own — at least, not early on. Each person in a relationship makes room for the other’s quirks, to some extent, male or female: that’s what couples do. It’s the incremental ceding of control on one side that can prime someone for abuse, therapists said.”

The incremental ceding of control. The incremental ceding of control. The incremental ceding of control.

When he says, “Don’t put Sweet-and-Low in your coffee, it’s poisonous,” your inner voice has to say, “F*ck you.” Get up from the cafe table, walk out, and don’t turn back. When he says, “I don’t think you should see her, she’s not good for you.” “F*ck you, I will always choose my friends.” Nail polish makes you look like a fallen woman, f*ck you. Skirt too short, f*ck you. Swear too much, f*ck you.

At the same exact time you have to remind yourself that most men are not prone to dictating what you put in your coffee, that they don’t care who your friends are, what color your fingernails are, or how short your skirt is. Most men are not jealous, do not have Jekyll-and-Hyde personalities, and are not cruel to animals or children.

In fact, #MeToo headlines and popular culture depictions aside, a lot of men are secure, psychologically healthy, even kind and considerate, and they dig whatever friends, color of fingernail polish, and clothing make you happy. They willingly cede control to all-important things like what you put in your coffee. And they listen, consider your feelings, and seek to make most decisions together. They conceive of romantic love as a partnershp. Lots and lots of men.

So you overcome your understandable uncertainty and take chances with male friends, sharing more and more of your deepest thoughts, assuming that they are of the kind and considerate variety until they prove differently. At which point you promptly drop kick them and start all over again.

*I will be using this passage in future writing seminars. Brilliant illustration of specific details.