Friday, August 26, 2011

Quote, unquote

Today, two on technology, both quoted in Janelle S. Taylor, The Public Life of the Fetal Sonogram (2008):

[Technology] seems "thinglike" when we point to specific objects or techniques as its most visible manifestations, but the discursive power of technology as a term is in large measure attributable to its vague, intangible, indeterminate character - the fact that it does not refer to anything as specific or tangible as a tool or a machine.

-- Leo Marx, "Technology: The Emergence of a Hazardous Concept" (1997)

Those who advocate a new technique are liable to suffer from a strange condition called certainty.

-- Ann Oakley, Essays on Women, Medicine and Health (1993)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Keeping up with the Times

With the college semester starting this Wednesday, and Beanie starting the 2nd grade in two weeks, I found these two op / ed pieces worth a gander:

"The Hidden Costs of Higher Education"
notes that payment plans intended to help middle-class families afford tuition - paying by the month instead of by the semester, and by credit card instead of by check - end up costing them more:

Struggling families often face rough patches during which they don’t have enough cash on hand to make such payments, and so have to go to their credit cards — and pay the fees. Meanwhile, wealthy families that can afford to simply write a check upfront each month avoid both credit card fees and interest payments.

To be fair, monthly payment plans intend to help lower-income families afford college. But they have also had the unintentional consequence of creating bonuses for the wealthy and added impediments to the less well-off.

"The Kids Are not All Right" describes childhood in crisis today. Being the jaundiced parenthropologist that I am, I admit to approaching claims of "crisis" a bit wearily and warily, esp. when the usual suspects of Big Bad Business become paraded. Not that I am an apologist for BBB. What I found most interesting in the piece is this little bit of legal history:

By the middle of the century, childhood was a robustly protected legal category. In 1959, the United Nations issued its Declaration of the Rights of the Child. Children were now legal persons; the “best interests of the child” became a touchstone for legal reform.

But the 20th century also witnessed another momentous shift, one that would ultimately threaten the welfare of children: the rise of the for-profit corporation. Lawyers, policy makers and business lobbied successfully for various rights and entitlements traditionally connected, legally, with personhood. New laws recognized corporations as legal — albeit artificial — “persons,” granting them many of the same legal rights and privileges as human beings. In an eerie parallel with the child-protective efforts, “the best interests of the corporation” was soon introduced as a legal precept.

Children and corporations both being ascribed personhood at around the same time, using similar metaphors and images? It seems like not small coincidence - and that, I think, is far more fascinating and frightening.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Summer slacking

Logging back on after a few weeks off during a summer when I tried better to balance fun with work. As a friend posted on FB a few weeks back, I wish I had done both more and less of everything! However, as my semester starts on Wednesday, I feel like I will not be entirely play-acting when I smile and give that Tony-the-Tiger "just grrreat!" whenever anyone asks about my summer.

Obviously, I will be play-acting that I am a 1970s cartoon cereal monger.

I am thinking about summer slacking b/c this am, as I slipped back into my running clothes and took a nano-run around my parents' block, I passed a shiny black Honda CRV, which seems to be the favorite drive of well-heeled suburban mothers, bearing the following bumper sticker:

"Proud parent of an accelerated reader."

I am looking now for the sticker that reads: "My child poops in the potty."

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Nipping ethnocentrism in the bud

As I drop off Beanie at her day camp, a girl she knows from school detaches herself from a small group of kids playing with Legos, walks up, and asks, "Where were you born?"

"In Michigan," Beanie says proudly. She loves the stories that I tell her about "when she was a baby," and being born in Michigan is significant.

"Oh," the girl says. "We thought you were born in China."

Beanie seems either not to know what to say or just plain not to care. Her attention has been diverted to the table where a group of girls is drawing "Stay Out" signs. (She has been making them for her bedroom door.) I, however, feel mildly provoked. What does it mean that they thought she was born in China? There is a child in the group who had been adopted from abroad. Is this an attempt to make a connection? At least one other child in the group is biracial / bicultural. Is this just the kids trying to make sense of seeing Beanie with her Asian mother?

So, as casually as I can, I laugh and say, "Well, my parents were born in Korea. So, it would have been unlikely for Beanie to be born in China."


When I pick up Beanie from her day camp, another little girl - not the one from this morning - asks me, "Are you Chinese?"

What is with the questions about China today? Still, I manage a smile and look at her. "No," I say. "Are you?"

She looks surprised. "No. I'm not Chinese. I'm normal."

"Well, I'm not Chinese, but being Chinese is normal, too."


For the most part, Beanie has been sheltered from questions about what she is. Until now. I think that is what has me feeling a bit discouraged and to be honest, sad for her. I spent a good deal of my childhood having to explain what I was to other kids. It gets tiring and discouraging.

Nipping ethnocentrism in the bud is a job that is just too big for me or for Beanie or for the only non-white kid in a classroom, family in the neighborhood, or colleague in the workplace.

I want to remind the parents who might be reading this that we need to be mindful ourselves about the way that we talk about difference.

I am not against noticing difference, but I am against noting it in a way that casts difference as not normal. That little girl's question might be rooted in curiosity, but her response about being "normal" speaks volumes to me about a curiosity that is shaped by a particular cultural, social, political, and economic context. It is a curiosity that divides her from Beanie and me.

In contrast, I think about the power to connect that questions about who or what you are also can have. This is what manners help us do. We can forgive children for their imperfect attempts at politeness, and show them how to do better next time: This is what it means to be a civil society.

Monday, August 1, 2011

My summer of state parks

In future, I will look back upon 2011 as the year that I became enamored of the State Park - and if I am not quite a convert from ocean beaches to lakes, then at least I have learned to appreciate the gentler joys of freshwater swimming.

On weekends, we have been taking the kids to Gilbert Lake State Park for swimming and playing in the dirt.

Last week, my sister and I spent a few days in Saratoga Springs on our inaugural sisters-only vacation :) We spent time walking and bathing in Saratoga Spa State Park, aka "The Public's Resort."

This past weekend, we all went to Glimmerglass State Park.

Our family's enjoyment of the parks has reminded me not only how much good it does us to enjoy water, sun, air, and earth, but also how much good We the People can do for ourselves. While walking the Hall of Springs at Saratoga Spa State Park, my sister and I noted that the buildings were constructed in 1934. If it was possible to build and even more significant to see the point of building "the public's resort" during the Great Depression, then surely we can summon the hope and imagination to build even better now - or at least not tear down what we already have.

The state parks brought to mind what my parents, who immigrated from South Korea, had said about Americans as being grandly generous.

For a $7 vehicle entry fee, you can have the run of a freshwater lake surrounded by wooded hills, with picnic tables and playgrounds (not to mention clean restrooms and a place to shower and change).

Rest and play and enjoyment ought not be reserved for individuals who can pay a premium or fly off-shore to find them. Places of rest and play and enjoyment in nature exist all around us. I am thinking that In These Economic Times, we need to fight for our right to swim and make mud pies.