Sunday, December 16, 2012

"Having your heart outside of your body"

Listening to President Obama's speech in Newtown:

"You know, someone once described the joy and anxiety of parenthood as the equivalent of having your heart outside of your body all the time, walking around.

"With their very first cry, this most precious, vital part of ourselves, our child, is suddenly exposed to the world, to possible mishap or malice, and every parent knows there’s nothing we will not do to shield our children from harm. And yet we also know that with that child’s very first step and each step after that, they are separating from us, that we won’t — that we can’t always be there for them.

"They will suffer sickness and setbacks and broken hearts and disappointments, and we learn that our most important job is to give them what they need to become self-reliant and capable and resilient, ready to face the world without fear."

Friday, December 7, 2012

Feeling out of humor

Reading this post made me feel incredibly sad. It reports on the apparent suicide of a nurse at the hospital where Kate Middleton, aka wife of Prince William, had been receiving care for severe morning sickness. The nurse had been pranked by two radio DJs posing as the Queen and Prince Charles, and transferred the call to another nurse directly involved in the Duchess' care.

As noted in one of the comments on the post, pranks like this  reveal what jerks the pranksters are and how accommodating the victims are. I think that is what makes me feel sad. We would expect and hope that a nurse would be helpful. So, why take that helpfulness and make it into an object of ridicule?

So, I am thinking about pranks and how they work and why audiences find them humorous. Pranksters and audiences know what the victims do not know - they are "in" on the joke. Could it be also that audiences laugh because they recognize that they could be the ones being pranked, and find relief, even superiority, in not being the victims? So that pranks can do quite a lot of harm because they cause us to identify - with and against. It encourages the opposite of empathy. Yet, it is all undertaken in the name of not only "entertainment," which is supposed to be too trivial to take seriously, but also more specifically of a good sense of humor, which is acceptable and even admirable.

BTW, I am wondering whether it makes a difference when the victims of pranks are otherwise not Just Like Us. Is it different to pull pranks on business or political leaders?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Shameless self-promotion

Glance to the left of this post and you will see what I am oh-so-proudly promoting! 'Tis my book, due to be published in July 2013.

I would like to recommend it to my professorial colleagues for teaching undergraduate students in anthropology, medical anthropology, anthropology of reproduction, and related fields of study, including pre-professional programs in nursing.

Ask your college or university library to purchase a copy so that you can take a look!

However, as a former newspaper reporter, what I really hope is that interested readers outside of academia will find it b/c I wrote it with them in mind also.

Suggest it to your book group! Then invite me to come and chat about it. Depending on where and when - I live in Oneonta, NY - I will be delighted to visit. P.S. I will bring cookies, too :)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Playing school

For the nerd family of four looking ahead to a three day weekend, the view from Saturday looks long.

Perhaps sensing this, Beanie and Bubbie, entirely on their own initiative, chose to undertake some learning.

Beanie has been teaching herself how to read and write Korean, with the aid of a series of video lessons on DVD that my father gave her, some old hangul workbooks from when I was sent to Saturday morning Korean school, and some Korean translations of favorite children's books that we received from my sister-in-law. Whenever I watch Beanie sit down with her Korean lessons, I always wish I had her persistence. When an eight-year-old is determined, she can be a small force of nature. I feel like all I can do is stand back and let her give it a go. So, that is the lesson I am learning from her.

As Bubbie was getting dressed, with me hovering around to make sure he actually got dressed, he said that he had a big question - are mammoths related to elephants? Even though they are extinct, he quickly added. This led to reading about mammoths online - they are more closely related to Asian elephants than African elephants, which I did not know - and then to Bubbie's decision to write a book about what he had learned. This became a way for me to sneak in a bit of handwriting exercise :) Bubbie typically resists explicit instruction from me. He likes to learn together with me, which I think in part is why he likes to ask big questions. Bubbie reminds me that treating a kid as a partner in learning is important.

It is pretty to think the rest of the weekend will be like this.

Monday, October 1, 2012

How is that being-a-woman thing working for us?

I feel like I have been hearing people say for years now that women were "winning" over men. I remember in particular hearing this from another aspiring journalist. A man. We were both recent graduates from college in 1992. However, I got a job and he did not. He seemed to think in part because newsrooms were interested in "diversity." Which I represented. As a woman and Asian, too!

However. What about the fact that I showed a bit of hustle? Which is what one ought to demonstrate as a would-be reporter. I had accumulated clips at my college newspaper, of which I became the editor-in-chief after I had worked most of my free time on it for three years; applied for (and won) competitive internships as an undergraduate; then mailed literally dozens of letters to newspapers and magazines across the country looking for a reporting assignment. (I remember receiving cordial rejection letters from newspapers in Providence, RI, and Anniston, AL)

Here is a reality check from sociologist Stephanie Coontz, who also wrote The Way We Never Were, which discussed the realities versus the stereotypes of 20th century American families.

"What we are seeing is a convergence in economic fortunes, not female ascendance."

What will keep me up half the night thinking about what he means

"Zero makes more sense when it's with another number"
-- Bubbie, explaining math to his mother this evening at our dinner table.

The example he gave is this: 5 + 0 = 5.

I think in math talk, this might be what he means?

Friday, September 28, 2012

A parent's worst nightmare

There was an incident - an attempted abduction - at my children's new school last week.

Thankfully no children were harmed - I believe because they seem to have learned the right lessons about being safe, and because the adults who were supervising them were paying attention. Still, StraightMan and I both cannot help feeling that our children and our community just barely escaped the threat - Beanie tells me that it happened during her recess.

Here is what the city police department posted on FB:

School officials reported that an employee noticed two students looking into the wooded area between I-Nn and the sports fields of the school and, when questioned, the students stated that a male was trying to offer them candy while standing along the wooded property line of the school and I-Nn. When the school employee began walking towards the children, the male ran towards I-Nn and got into a blue van or truck and drove away west bound.

The person is described as a male with dark skin, short brown hair, wearing a dark t shirt, and carrying a fabric type draw string bag.
For whatever reasons, the details here - the van drove west bound, the man carried a fabric drawstring bag - made the story especially terrifying. All of a sudden, I could imagine that one of my children had been taken, screaming and thrashing in the bag while the truck sped across the state line. This has haunted me for the last two nights.

I hope that every chat I have had with my children about being safe stays with them. I hope that the adults who are supervising always pay attention. I hope whatever luck or blessing or grace that has carried them so far continues to do so.

I want to know what is being done to prevent this - and worse - from happening. We cannot feel relief that "nothing" happened because the fact is that something did.

School daze

Bubbie wants to be a Kindergarten teacher.

Tonight, he began accumulating prizes for the "treasure box" that he plans to use as a reward for his students' good behavior. The items included a Pokemon card from a McDonald's Happy Meal, a shiny sheriff's badge from a birthday party goody bag, and a pair of wings from Continental Airlines.

"Look at! Really cool stuff."

As StraightMan helps him into his footed, striped monkey pajamas, Bubbie tells us that his class will say about him: "Bubbie the Teacher rocks!"

A little while later he tells me: "Or they might call me Mister."

So, it seems like none of my fears about Bubbie starting school have been realized. We seem to have had a terrific start.

Here is Bubbie's handwriting exercise on the letter "H / h," with a drawing of his choice of "H / h" word. I think he might have a future in anthropology!


Thursday, September 6, 2012

What Bubbie told me

"Riding a bus is just... riding a bus. It isn't like gymnastics and climbing a ladder and then standing on a cloud."

-- Bubbie, reassuring his mother on the night before Kindergarten that there is no cause for concern

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Parenting a Jedi knight

Bubbie is heading to Kindergarten next week - and the plan right now is that he will be taking the bus. He is not necessarily thrilled. So, I am using a traditional Jedi parenting technique on him, which is to reward good behavior with a light saber. (Just one. He seems rather fixated on Darth Vader, but that is a subject for another post. Sigh.)

This will be hanging on our refrigerator for the next month (as I anticipate that it will take him that long to accumulate the points):

Of course, the thought has occurred to me that perhaps Bubbie has been playing a Jedi mind trick on me to convince me to bribe him with the lightsaber. What do you think?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Back on the blog

Why it feels good to be turning 42 tomorrow:
  • StraightMan.
  • Beanie and Bubbie.
  • All of my family, starting with my parents, brother, and sister, and everyone who has become family over the years; my friends; my colleagues; my teachers; and everyone who ever challenged me to do and become more than I thought I could do or be.
  • It is official: I have been tenured and promoted to Associate Professor.
  • Also official: After five years of writing and rewriting, my book manuscript is "in production" for 2013.
  • That nice little spree at the Banana Republic Factory Outlet that StraightMan gave me for my birthday :)

Resolutions for the coming year:
  • Back on the blog.
  • Back to running.
  • Blow off more, stress less :)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Service is not a verb...

... or at least I refuse to let it become a verb for me.

Recently, I have noticed the use of service as a transitive verb - in place of serve - in higher education administration, trickling to the level of academic deans and department chairs. As in: This division / department services X number of students.

Anyone else cringing or in want of a scalding shower?

As far as I know - and wiktionary confirms my hunch - there are three meanings of the verb service: To provide services for customers or clients; to have routine maintenance services performed one's car; and then yet another meaning to service that I find rather uncomfortable to let hang over the work of college and university professors.

I imagine that the use of service in higher ed is connected to its use in corporations, whose ideas and practices continue to be applied (not quite appropriately) in colleges and universities. In fact, I find the substitution of "service" for "serve" in itself to be rather telling of a shift in values. Leaving aside the third meaning of service, to service clients / students implies rather a different stance than to serve them, which itself is worth pondering.

The third meaning of service seems like it might be an application of the two other definitions, which also betrays a shift in values. What does it tell us about societal expectations (and experiences) of sexual activity that it is described now in terms of work, with the implication that work is lacking in satisfaction and enjoyment? In particular paid work, which of course, sometimes that is literally what sex is.

It is worth noting also that is not uncommon these days to hear individuals describe or complain about the conditions of their work in terms of prostitution. (The other metaphor that individuals have used, also all too casually, is enslavement, which of course can be connected to sexual activity as "work.") This is happening now in higher ed. Recently, amid the news media's sudden discovery of a looming student debt crisis, Harper's magazine quoted NYU media professor / blogger: "I used to say that in academia one at least did very little harm. Now I feel like a pimp for loan sharks." (BTW, click here, for that professor's own response to the response to his quote.)

Is it "just" that as a female and feminist professor, I am sensitized to the various connotations of words like service (which BTW as a noun and adjective seem to be associated with the activities of female academicians that also tend to be undervalued...) or might it be worth reflecting upon what we say when we mean and what we mean when we say?

How about we all do a service for ourselves and stop using service as a verb?

Monday, May 28, 2012

Occupy Wildlife

This is a warning to the 1%: Be afraid. Be very afraid. My children have been radicalized.

During the fight to keep her school open, Beanie, along with schoolmates, wrote letters to our governor and state senator, and stood in front the building with a hand-lettered sign to "Save the Purple Panda" (the name of her school mascot), shouting at cars to "Honk to Save Center Street." She asked why the kids could not vote to keep her school open, reasoning that after all, "the kids are the ones that go there."

On Saturday, Beanie and her friend, Pants, along with Bubbie, launched a campaign to "Save the Walruses," which Beanie and Pants explained to me is about raising awareness about climate change. They learned about the threat to walruses in one of the many endangered species calendars that we seem to amass in our house, along with multiple copies of the Heifer International "gift" catalog... Then they created this flyer on google docs (with a little advice from me on how to find photos of "cute" walruses):
Then they took their fight to the street. Or rather, to the sidewalk in front of our house, engaging in a bit of street theater to attract the attention of passersby to the plight of the walrus:
Even the most jaded among us can find sympathy for dolphins or pandas, but who speaks for the walruses? These three:

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Yesterday, this tree was planted in front of our house. Not by us, but by the city. I cannot tell you where the funds for this come from - like whether it was public or private - but I will tell you this: I think it is money well spent. This tree will grow and it will brighten your drive past my house, even when you hardly take notice of it, and add to your enjoyment of your walk along my street, especially when the sun is strong and the tree tall enough to offer shade. It is a connection to the natural world and a reminder of our place in (and responsibility to) it. I am talking not from "mere" sentiment, but the deep boned understanding that is equal parts feeling and knowing: These things matter. I would suggest especially now, when too many people talk about what "we" can or cannot afford. Like our neighborhood school, which will be closed when this academic year ends. Our family (Beanie included!) and so many other families here joined together to fight the good fight. I hope we all continue to practice understanding, especially in times that challenge, even discourage, our ability to do so. I want to teach my kids: Hold the line. Be right. These days, I find comfort in what anthropologists, historians, and others describe: People have been making, unmaking, and remaking themselves and their best efforts for a long time. In the meantime, I am enjoying my tree and looking forward to seeing it grow.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A child's eye view of academia

You know your child is a fac brat when you find this in her room after a play date with her best friend (also a fac brat):
Or maybe Beanie and Pants were reading Straight Man when I thought they were looking at Harry Potter?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Support Oneonta Schools - Report on March 21 Workshop

By Sallie Han

The decision to close an elementary school and consolidate K-6 into three buildings starting this September is being made too quickly and without enough information about the consequences for the community and the local economy or enough involvement from the public. That is the message the Board of Education received last night at a workshop on the Oneonta city schools budget held at Center Street School.

About 80 parents and concerned community members participated in the special session, which was announced in response to concerns raised during district superintendent Mike Shea’s budget presentation on Wednesday, March 14, when he formally introduced school closure and consolidation as part of the district’s plan to bridge a $1.4 million “gap” in the district’s budget that has resulted from reductions in New York State aid to public schools. School board president Grace Larkin had invited community members to present their ideas to the district.

Shea, district business manager Lisa Weeks, and all of the board members attended last night’s workshop. During the special session, parents who have been involved in Support Oneonta Schools – a grassroots effort to inform and involve community members on the budgetary concerns facing the district – presented a number of alternative scenarios.

Jeff House, one of the parents who presented, emphasized that the scenarios were devised with the goals of both bridging the$1.4 million gap and keeping Center Street School open for 2012-2013 so that the school board could gather more data on the impacts that a closure and consolidation would have, especially in terms of community development.

He said that closing Center Street School will be an “irreversible” decision. Because it is an older building, it would not meet current standards, so if K-6 is removed from the building this coming year, then it will not be possible to use it as a school again.

House raised questions about what happens as other smaller districts, also facing budgetary problems, might be forced to consolidate with a larger neighboring district like Oneonta, which then will need additional classrooms to accommodate the inflow of students. However, concerns about flood zones in the city of Oneonta raise questions about whether or not it would be possible to build an addition onto Riverside School.

Karl Seeley, a parent and an economist at Hartwick College, said that closing the school itself will generate far less in savings than the district hopes to achieve – only $245,000. He said most of the savings come from consolidating students into larger class sizes and allowing the district to lay off teachers and staff. (See graphic above, provided by Dr. Seeley.)

Carli Ficano, also an economist at Hartwick, called for a formal study that considers a range of impacts, including a comparison of cost savings from school closure with possible property value reductions, not only within the Center City neighborhood, but also in the larger city and town of Oneonta because the public school system is a critical factor in real estate.

Ficano said that it is necessary for long range planning to undertake such a study to make a prudent decision about school closure and consolidation.

The issue of the tax levy received particular attention from community and school board members. Board member Rosalie Higgins expressed her concern that a levy above New York State’s “cap” at 1.8 percent will not be approved. Voters can approve a levy above 1.8 percent with a 60% super-majority. However, Mark Parmerter, a parent and Center Street teacher, called attention to the high rates of voter approval on school budgets. In 2011, a 2.89% increase in the levy passed with 74% “yes” votes.

The alternative scenarios that House and Parmerter presented to board members relied on a combination of modest increases in the levy; drawing from the district’s fund balance, or money not spent this year, which is projected to be $1.2 million; and the “sharing” of resources and staff between schools in order to minimize layoffs.

House and Parmerter noted that none of the scenarios is endorsed by parents or community members in Support Oneonta Schools, and were being presented as examples of short-term solutions that could be pursued for 2012-2013 while formal study and long-term planning could be undertaken for the following year.

All of the community members who spoke during the meeting urged further public discussion and engagement.

At the end of the meeting, board members said they would give serious consideration to the suggestions made during the workshop.


Here are some of the alternative scenarios that were presented at the school board’s workshop on Wednesday, March 21 in order to offset the $875,000 in savings that the district hopes to generate with a school closure and consolidation:

5% tax levy increase
Use $400,000 from fund balance
RESULT: no need for Center St School closure or extensive teacher/staff cuts; formation of committee to develop 5-year plan for district fiscal management despite declining state aid

2.85% tax levy increase (less than 2010 increase of 2.89%, which passed by 72%)
Use 600,000 from fund balance
RESULT: no need for Center St School closure or extensive teacher/staff cuts; formation of committee to develop 5-year plan for district fiscal management despite declining state aid

2.85% tax levy increase (less than 2010 increase of 2.89%, which passed by 72%)
Use $300,000 from fund balance
* In the event the BOE allows Center St School to remain open, one strategy for cost savings & enrollment equity throughout the four elementary buildings is to revisit the ‘redistricting’ models that helped with similar issues in the 1980’s.
RESULT: no need for Center St School closure; \if ‘redistricting’ models implemented, shared services would be required & amount of teacher/staff cuts could be reduced from $875,000 to $400,000

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Closing a school is a problem - not a solution

In politics, the time to deliver bad news is on Friday afternoon.

On Friday afternoon, our school district’s superintendent delivered bad news to the staff at my daughter’s elementary school.

While the NYS budget is being debated still – with the Board of Education’s initial public presentation of its budget proposal scheduled for Wednesday – he told the teachers assembled after school in no uncertain that Center Street Elementary School will be closed.

There was no notice given to the families – and of course, parents and kids quickly learned about the closing, but with no information about what happens next.

Indeed, the local newspaper’s account reveals that, indeed, there is no plan in place. Only unanswered questions about what happens to our students and our teachers and school staff, not to mention what happens to the building itself.

I think the proposed closure is a mistake and that parents from all over the district, regardless of which school their child or children currently attend, ought to see this as their issue also.

The superintendent has presented closing Center Street School as the solution to a $1 million problem. Last year, the Board of Education undertook a preliminary analysis of the costs and benefits of school “consolidation” – that is, closing one of the four elementary schools and reorganizing them as three. In fact, the BOE’s analysis from last year found that closing a school and consolidating as three elementary schools (allowing for layoffs of “redundant” staff) will generate $920,000 in savings ONLY WHEN CLASS SIZES REACH THE MAXIMUM ALLOWABLE UNDER TEACHERS’ CONTRACTS.

I hope that anyone reading this post understands that “contract maximum” is not the same as what has been proven pedagogically sound.

I am not a “numbers” person, but right now, I want to see numbers to convince me that closing the school is a good idea.

About 200 children attend Center Street, which boasts a proud history as a neighborhood school. Most of the students live within walking distance – I see only about a dozen “bus students” when I get my daughter at the end of the day, along with a crowd of other parents.

To me, it makes no sense now to add the cost of busing 200 children to other schools that already are full and functioning.

Closing Center Street School will not end the budgetary problems in our school district - and it will only deepen the economic crisis for our entire community as qualified and dedicated workers lose their jobs and move from the area. Other businesses will suffer the loss of customers and clients.

This is no solution. We need to stand against it.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Cultivating leaps of faith

Just read this piece, America's Youth Uprising, in the March 5 / 12 issue of The Nation, which reminds me that it does matter that people stand up.

It has made a difference to me: I am willing to stand up, too.

Also, the piece reminded me that anthropology matters in all this:

I could not help recalling on that remarkable night the response of Claude Lévi-Strauss to requests that he identify the “golden age” of human civilization. The father of modern anthropology rejected the question as absurd on its face, and absurdly disempowering in its implications. In Tristes Tropiques, Lévi-Strauss explained that “if men have always been concerned with only one task—how to create a society fit to live in—the forces which inspired our distant ancestors are also present in us. Nothing is settled; everything can still be altered. What was done but turned out wrong, can be done again. ‘The Golden Age,’ which blind superstition had placed behind [or ahead of] us, is in us.” Those are not blandly optimistic words. They are demanding. They suggest that we have fewer excuses than we thought, that this is the place, that now is the time and that there is truth in the maxim that we are the people we’ve been waiting for.

That Levi-Strauss. He is good to think (and act!) with.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Why we need our neighborhood schools

Last Thursday, the superintendent of our city's school district told parents that the district would consider “drastic measures” that could include ending non-mandatory programs (which include Kindergarten and AP courses) as well as the closing of a school.

I wish to defend the importance and necessity of both the programs that now face elimination and all four of our neighborhood elementary schools.

Across the district, at the elementary schools and at the middle school and the high school, we all have withstood cuts in programs and staff already. I worry about the consequences that further "compromises" will have for our children. What opportunities are they being (and will they be) denied?

Although closing a school is discussed as though it were a solution, it is not. Our community-centered elementary schools are critical in terms of the quality educational experiences that they provide to our children in grades K-6, and the present and future sustainability and growth of Oneonta as a community where families live and work.

A school closure by itself would neither close a financial gap nor prevent further cuts, as reported when the Board of Education undertook its district-wide Space Utilization Study last summer. The budget subcommittee found instead that it would erode the quality of our children’s educational experiences as class sizes increased throughout the district.

In addition, the consequences of closing any one of our four neighborhood elementary schools also would reach well beyond the classroom as neighbors lose their jobs, families sell their homes and move from the area, businesses lose their clients and customers, and we lose the talent and energies of people we need in Oneonta. We also will have even more difficulty attracting new blood to build their businesses here (or work at our two colleges, where I know from experience that search committees can have a hard time "selling" qualified candidates on our small upstate city).

When people start to ask how can we afford to keep what we have, there is only one answer: How can we afford not to keep them?

Yet, these are times when our understanding of what is practical, possible, and necessary have become increasingly constrained - I might even venture to say confused.

Why are we selling out to austerity even the things that matter to us?

We should be fighting it, especially when, in fact, the resources do exist:

Mail your hand-written letters to Albany and demand that they release the $250 million from competitive grants and distribute it to the small city and rural schools that have been most severely affected in these times.

Make your voice heard at Board of Education meetings, letting them know that we need and want for our community a long range vision that both provides support for and draws support from strong neighborhood schools.

We should be fighting it b/c in the end, the things that we sell out now will not come back to us later.

We need to stand now for what we value – like programs that clearly are critical to our children’s learning and community-centered schools, which are among our small city’s attractions and assets.

This is not a matter of either / or. We need them both.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

What do we want? An agenda

On Thursday evening, I attended a forum (or rally) in support of a neighboring district’s schools – along with more than 600 parents, teachers, students and community members from around the region coming together to stand up and speak up for our schools. For me, a few themes emerged from the event: The first was that it was not just about that district's schools. It was about all of our schools. The second was that the problem facing school districts in upstate New York (like ours) is rooted in the way that state aid is distributed, and that as a consequence, kids in upstate districts are being systematically disadvantaged.

The third was that ordinary people like myself not only are aware (or becoming aware) of the inequities, but we also are willing to stand up and speak up against them.

I have been thinking a lot the last few days about what it means – what it actually means – to “stand up” and “speak up” for our schools. It is one thing to say that we want the unfairness to be addressed, but how does that happen? What do we do? Also, how do we find a way to stand together when there is already division among community members on what the problems are and how to solve them – as I wrote about in my previous post, there are parents and other residents in my district who believe that closing the elementary school that my daughter attends will close the budget gap without any other consequences (which in fact is not true).

Not to mention that there is also a lot of disillusionment about whether or not we can make a difference at all.

What is an agenda that we can all back together?

Here is mine:

1. The goal: Work together are parents, teachers, community members, and citizens to demand that our state legislators take the immediate, short-term action of releasing $250 million from competitive grants, and direct them to districts in need. This will make the difference for districts like ours and our neighbors in Unatego, which have been forced to consider cuts to important programs – Unatego is discussing the elimination of kindergarten, which is not state-mandated – and even school closures for the 2012-2013 academic year. What we can do: Get involved with efforts like Unatego United and Support Oneonta Schools or organize with groups like Parent Teacher Organizations or even just get together neighbors and friends. Get informed by reading and / or asking your neighbors and friends, then with others. Attend meetings of concerned citizens groups and of the Board of Education and Common Council, and ask questions and / or contribute your comments as a parent and community member. Write and send letters and / or sign Web-based petitions. (See my previous posts. Also, see the Facebook pages for Unatego United and Support Oneonta Schools.) One voice along might not be heard, but all of us speaking together will be.

2. The goal: Work together to put pressure our state legislators to reconsider the formula that determines how state aid is distributed to school districts in the first place. The formula disadvantages lower-wealth districts, such as ours in upstate New York. This is not about “saving” any particular school, but about saving all of our schools – that is, defending the right of every child in our state to a sound, basic education. It is a right that is being infringed upon – and, I am afraid, long has been. Our kids ought to be able to have opportunities that we ourselves had in our schools and that even our parents had – like programs in athletics, art and music, Advanced Placement courses, and kindergarten – and that kids in higher wealth districts take for granted. What we can do: Not only get involved and informed, but stay involved and informed. Vote.

3. The goal: Work together within our district and across our neighboring districts to develop a long-range plan to support strong schools and strong communities. I am a transplant to upstate New York, but I know that the schools and communities here have been in a near-chronic state of crisis. We need to take charge of what we can. On the one hand, in a place like where I live, I think it would be smart to recognize the significance of neighborhood schools in building and maintaining community, in the dollars and cents sense and in other senses, too. A school closure and / or layoffs might “save” a school district money, but think about what it will cost the entire community as families move, houses stand vacant, property values diminish, local businesses start to fade, and so on. It seems to me that efforts need to be coordinated to strengthen both the schools and the community. On the other hand, unless there is a sudden, but long-lasting change in demographic trends, schools will be closing: It might be a school within our district (and the criteria for which school is not as clear as some might think). Or it might be an entire central school in a smaller district, which puts pressure on the school or schools that begin receiving the displaced students. So, I think it might be smart to have conversations within districts and across districts. What we can do: Resolve to stay involved and informed for the years to come. Let my local school board and city aldermen and county executives, et al., know that I expect them not to back off, but to develop and act upon an intelligent plan for the next 1, 2, 5, 7, 10 years and so on. B/c I believe better governance comes from a strong opposition (and I believe temperamentally that is where I personally am better suited to be…), be strong in both my support for and criticism of the plans.

So, that is my agenda. What is yours?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Why this is not a foregone conclusion

A friend just forwarded me this link to the report in today's local paper on our city school district's budget gap:

With the state looking to close its budget deficit, the district is facing a $2.4 million cut in state aid for the 2012-13 school year under Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget plan, business manager Lisa Weeks said.

This decreases state aid to levels below six years ago, she said. The legislature still has to weigh in on the issue before a final state budget is approved. The deadline is April 1.

With this loss of federal funds and other revenue, the district is taking several initiatives. These includes offering retirement incentives to reduce staffing, working as a team to come up with possibilities, writing legislators to help them understand the impact if the cuts are made, and communicating with staff and community.

Interestingly enough, the newspaper did not report a school closure as a possibility. Of course, the rest of us are aware that it probably is.

When I started this blog post, there were only three comments online, but they make clear that there are a number of community members who seem convinced that a school closure is inevitable - and that the school that ought to close is the one that my daughter and her friends currently attend.

What bothers me about the comments are the suggestions that operating four community-centered schools is a "waste" of taxpayer money; that concerning which building, if any, should be closed, "the cut is clear"; and that "even with the school closing doesn't mean children have to be affected. All you are doing is essentially closing down a building and all the costs it incurs."

I understand as well as the commenters that we very well might be forced to close a school, but I think it also ought to be understood that the "savings" themselves come at such a cost that we as a community need to approach a school closure as a careful, deliberate process.

Simply closing a school will not solve the problem by itself. If only it were that simple, then the many communities that already have had to close their schools should be better off, expanding the opportunities for students and restoring the programs that were cut, but this is not necessarily the case. I am afraid that the research that I have been reading about school closures contradicts the comment about children not being affected and closing a building being simple.

This is why I think we cannot treat school closure as the foregone conclusion.

I will be upfront about it being my particular wish to see my neighborhood school open b/c it is unquestionably a vibrant place, where I see my daughter and her friends thriving, and its continued existence is so vital to the place that we call home. I know that other parents must feel the same about their neighborhood schools, and I will not support closing any one of their schools for the sake of saving my own. If any one of our schools closes, then we all will feel it. So, for the moment, can we all just agree not to turn this into a fight among ourselves - and if / when a school closes, can we also agree to try to handle it as sensitively and patiently as such a loss deserves?

I want to reserve my anger for the unfairness with which our entire school district - and our neighboring school districts in NYS - have been treated.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Please print this post, sign it, and send it (See addresses in comments)

Thursday, February 9th, 2012, Unatego High School, Otego NY (13825-2193)

As a tax-paying citizen in a school district in upstate New York, the following issues concern me:

•The state’s “Gap Elimination Adjustment”. It created a gap in our school district budget, which cannot be offset by raising taxes or firing teachers.

•The governor’s proposed budget. Not all of the $805 million increase for 2012-13 is available for equitable distribution. $250 million is allotted for competitive grants, which poorer rural districts will likely not receive.

•The upcoming loss of federal aid. Federal aid over the last two years has saved us from program cuts. That aid will not be renewed.

•The possibility of cutting non-mandated programs including kindergarten, sports, occupational education, AP courses, and cafeteria services. The gap created by the Gap Elimination Adjustment will force Unatego and other districts to cut any or all of these.

•THE POSSIBILITY OF CLOSING A SCHOOL BUILDING OR A SCHOOL DISTRICT. The loss of a school building will undermine communities, and if school districts have to shut their doors, that will affect quality of life of ALL CITIZENS OF NEW YORK STATE.

I, __________________________________ state that the above
(print name, town, and zip code)
issues deeply concern me, and that I plea to your action and leadership to advocate for a more equitable funding formula for state aid to my school district and the removal of the Gap Elimination Adjustment.

Respectfully submitted, __________________________
(sign name)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

We are ALL Center Street / Valleyview / Riverside / Greater Plains

Here is a comment that was posted on my previous post here at parenthropology:

I like the idea of rallying the other schools, parents, citizens, etc. together to protect them all. Unfortunately, some of the opinions of parents of the other schools is very disappointing. They are under the assumption that if a school closes it will be Center Street, therefore won't affect them. Closing of any school will be devastating to the whole community, but people aren't seeing it that way!

I think this shows that we need a little (or a lot) of good, old-fashioned organizing.

I have embraced social media, but I also think we just need to talk to each other as parents and neighbors, and do our best to keep each other informed.

In fact, based on what I have heard the superintendent and others working with the board of education say previously, my understanding is that it is not obvious that Center Street would be the school to be closed. That impression holds from a previous move to close the school during the 1980s. However, at least three of the four elementary schools (not just Center Street) have had their ups and downs in enrollment also.

So, none of us is necessarily “safe.”

There is, unfortunately, a growing body of research on the impact of school closures. A recent report from the Pew Charitable Trusts shows that closing a school does not on its own close a budget gap. There are both the immediate costs of busing students, and the long-term effects on the local economy if / when community members lose their jobs, families move from the area, homes stand vacant, and properties lose their value. Nor will it prevent further cuts in school programs, much less restore cuts that already have been made in the past.

(Please see the links to research on my previous post, and share them with others. Also, please forward additional sources to me, so I can include them here.)

I think it is more than fair to ask: What actually will we gain from closing a school?

This is why I think it is important for parents at all four schools in our district not to see treat this as "Center Street's problem" – or let it become a contest to see some other school that is not their own fall. I am a Center Street parent, but I want just as much not to see a closure at Valleyview or Riverside or Greater Plains.

Or in the Unatego school district, for that matter. Which brings me to this:

Please consider attending to stand up for our neighbors and for our own city's schools.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Occupy Our Schools

I am writing this for my friends and neighbors in our city's school district - and for friends and neighbors elsewhere who are facing the same kinds of challenges. (If you have experience or advice to share, please do!)

Tonight, I went to the PTO meeting at my daughter's elementary school and heard the tough news from our principal that the city school district, like so many others in the U.S. today, is facing a gap (about $2 million) and that there is talk now about possibly having to close one of the four elementary schools.

We live about four blocks from our elementary school. In fact, this is one of the reasons that we chose to make our home in the "Center City" area - and I know that a number of our neighbors and friends make the same choice for the same reason. My daughter has walked to / from school almost every day since the day she started kindergarten, and my son looks forward to that day coming this September when he will be walking along with her. Or so I hope.

We love our school. To be honest, the playgrounds are small, the parking is non-existent (or so I hear, as I have brought the car around only two or three times en route to a doctor's appointment...), and it is not the fanciest or most modern building. What can I say? The school is like our family. We accept the quirks. They are our quirks. My sense is that other parents and teachers feel like this about our school.

So, the prospect of our school closing is, of course, painful to consider. However, I find the prospect of any of the four schools closing to be painful. Because the schools each are more than buildings where teaching and learning happen. They are the centers of neighborhoods and communities.

Also, the more I think about it, I become less and less convinced that closing a school must be inevitable. (Or not properly resourcing a library or art and music programs or physical education, for that matter.) Just like poverty is not so much about a lack of wealth, but its inequitable distribution, so it is with the funding of public education.

When I arrived at home, I went upstairs and kissed both my children, then came straight back down and browsed the Web for reading on the impacts of school closures - economic, social and academic. Admittedly, this is just a quick perusal of what I found online, but I am underwhelmed by the "savings." (However, it seems that the academic performance of kids affected when a school is close is neither negatively nor positively impacted.)

The theme that emerged in my reading is that closing a school costs a lot.

Another theme is that closing a school takes a lot of planning in public for it to go at all well. Here is a summary of a report on Closing Public Schools in Philadelphia: Lessons from Six Urban Districts from the Pew Charitable Trusts. The link to the report itself is in the summary.

I am sharing the links I browsed below - in particular, I am finding esp. interesting the resources at National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities, which is a non-profit, non-governmental agency that receives support from Congress, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, whose resources on community-centered schools apply (I think) to all four schools in our city's school district:

Resource lists: School closure, consolidation, and co-location (National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities)

The fiscal impacts of school consolidation: Research based conclusions (The Rural School and Community Trust, June 1, 2003)

National Trust for Historic Preservation – Resources for Advocates and Policy Makers

National Trust for Historic Preservation – Report: “Helping Johnny Walk to School: Sustaining Community through Smart Policy”

National Trust for Historic Preservation – Position on Community-Centered Schools

In addition, you can download PDFs of the following - just google the titles:

A Community Guide to Saving Older Schools by Kerri Rubman (National Trust for Historic Preservation)

“How to Save Your Historic School” by Rob Nieweg, Coordinator of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Historic Neighborhood Schools Initiative.

Here are a couple of articles in local media elsewhere reporting on the impacts that school closures have had on communities:

The implications of closing Holly Elementary (The Rail, Holly, Michigan, February 8, 2011)

How school closure impacted a community (Atlanta Constitution-Journal, April 11, 2010)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A feminist's work is never done

I took a brief hiatus from blogging to start the spring semester and turn in my tenure file. Hooray, hooray.

However, I also have been on a bit of a FB rampage for the last few days b/c it seems like every time I check in, there is a post about yet another example of how a feminist's work is never done:

In case you had decided to drop off FB for a while, the matter currently raging is the decision made by the board of Susan Komen for the Cure - an organization that has done such praiseworthy work raising awareness and funds for breast cancer research - to withdraws its support of cancer screening and prevention activities from Planned Parenthood.

See this pie chart from the Washington Post, which illustrates what services Planned Parenthood actually provides.

I think it is important to note that abortion services account for only 3 percent of PP's activities. However, I personally do not think that is worth crowing over. There are any number of PP clinics that offer no abortion services, period. Which means that there are too many women who do not have abortion services accessible and available to them. I get that it is likely smart in today's political climate to spin PP as 97 percent not abortion, but I also feel like we who are taking a stand with Planned Parenthood need to get away from being oh so apologetic about abortion. Its accessibility and availability are concerns of dignity and justice.

Here is a petition being made to the Komen foundation, and here is one in support of Planned Parenthood.

In other news:

* The New York Times published an opinion piece, "Pregnant, and Pushed out of a Job,".

* Kate Clancy posted this story on sexual harassment in academia.

* The Huffington Post reposted this from Denene Milner over at My Brown Baby - a painful piece on "Birthing While Black."

What a week. So, we all should get some rest b/c we clearly have a lot to do.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Shit we say?

A friend just posted on FB a clip called "Shit Korean Girls Say," which made me laugh b/c I responded to it as more or less good natured fun. So much of it is familiar and recognizable, but more particularly, it is performed by a phenotypically white male with facial hair who pronounces his Korean so convincingly well!

Yet, I also had an uncomfortable moment wondering about what the point of the "fun" might be. B/c apparently, this is just one of the many iterations of the YouTube phenom that is "Shit Girls Say." I did not click on the other versions that popped up. I am afraid of what happens when you arm groups of young men with video production capabilities and then they produce something that they call "parody" concerning women.

However, what alerted me to the phenom in the first place was a video called "Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls". I have been thinking about this video, which illustrates what we can think about as the everyday-racism-not-recognized-as-racism - in other words, privilege.

Privilege is what allows white girls to say shit like that depicted in the video without themselves intending or meaning harm to black girls with whom they actually might be trying to make a connection. Case in point: The comment about being dark enough to be black ("Twinsies!")

More particularly, I have been thinking about the comment in the video about the best friend who used to be black. ("She is black... but we're not really friends anymore.")

For me, this is a reminder of how segregated our supposedly post-racial society remains - and why white and black (and Korean) girls remain such mysteries to each other. (The same might be said about women and men in this so-called post-feminist - I would say anti-feminist - society.) So that we mistake our superficial observations about the shit we say as some kind of insight.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

State of The Nation

Just catching up on issues of The Nation that went neglected at the end of the semester, and this caught my eye - from a November 21, 2011 review of Melissa Benn's School Wars: The Battle for Britain's Education, which seems instructive for us on this side of the pond:

Benn quotes a commentator who observed that, for all the vehemence of disagreements on the matter, "everyone wants the same thing: a good, free, local school for all." But it may be, alas, that not everyone wants that; what many people want is for their children to have more educational advantages than others, and they are prepared to do anything legal to get that. One of the most striking features of middle-class norms of ethical propriety is that a degree of self-interest that would be condemned as unacceptably selfish if attached to one's own wants becomes irreproachably "normal," even altruistic, when attached to the education of one's children.

This leads to people reading Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers as a parenting manual.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Beanie's New Year

Last week, I checked Beanie's backpack and found this in her purple take-home folder.

At first, I marveled over it as evidence of her reflexivity and determination. I know math is not her favorite subject. So, I was impressed that she had expressed a wish to "get better" at math.

Yet, I also felt it was necessary to remind Beanie that in fact, she is already good at math. At school, she has been moving through her addition worksheets at a fine clip. At home, she and StraightMan have been exploring multiplication and division based on her own discovery of what it means to say "times two." Having suffered my own hang ups about math, I have tried hard to encourage Beanie to think about herself as good at math and to think about math as interesting, even enjoyable. I got her an electronic Minute Math game b/c she likes to have StraightMan set a timer when she does a math worksheet or flash cards (which again were her idea to get in the first place).

Then, walking home from school, she told me in her matter of fact manner that she was so happy that she had finished the W page / would start the X page of math even though she had been "shaking so badly" and her hands had "sweated so much that the paper stuck" during her math exercise at school.

I have been thinking about this b/c I saw on Facebook a link to this post on "The Trouble with Bright Girls" from last spring.

In particular, this observation made me think not only about why and how it is important for me to rethink how I might help Beanie, which psychologists Heidi Grant Halvorson and Carol Dweck would emphasize would be not through praise, but encouragement of her efforts:

[Dweck] found that Bright Girls, when given something to learn that was particularly foreign or complex, were quick to give up; the higher the girls' IQ, the more likely they were to throw in the towel. In fact, the straight-A girls showed the most helpless responses. Bright boys, on the other hand, saw the difficult material as a challenge, and found it energizing. They were more likely to redouble their efforts rather than give up.

Why does this happen? What makes smart girls more vulnerable and less confident when they should be the most confident kids in the room? At the 5th grade level, girls routinely outperform boys in every subject, including math and science. So there were no differences between these boys and girls in ability, nor in past history of success. The only difference was how bright boys and girls interpreted difficulty -- what it meant to them when material seemed hard to learn. Bright Girls were much quicker to doubt their ability, to lose confidence and to become less effective learners as a result.

The difference, the author suggests, is based on what Bright Girls internalize:

More often than not, Bright Girls believe that their abilities are innate and unchangeable, while bright boys believe that they can develop ability through effort and practice.

How do girls and boys develop these different views? Most likely, it has to do with the kinds of feedback we get from parents and teachers as young children. Girls, who develop self-control earlier and are better able to follow instructions, are often praised for their "goodness." When we do well in school, we are told that we are "so smart," "so clever, " or "such a good student." This kind of praise implies that traits like smartness, cleverness and goodness are qualities you either have or you don't.

This recalled to me a profile of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg that was published in The New Yorker last year:

At her Phi Beta Kappa induction, there were separate ceremonies for men and women. At hers, a woman gave a speech called “Feeling Like a Fraud.” During the talk, Sandberg looked around the room and saw people nodding. “I thought it was the best speech I’d ever heard,” she recalls. “I felt like that my whole life.” At every stage of her time in school, Sandberg thought, I really fooled them. There was “zero chance,” she concluded, that the men in the other room felt the same.

Sandberg says she eventually realized that women, unlike men, encountered tradeoffs between success and likability. The women had internalized self-doubt as a form of self-defense: people don’t like women who boast about their achievements. The solution, she began to think, lay with the women. She blamed them more for their insecurities than she blamed men for their insensitivity or their sexism.

I remember feeling more than a bit irritated when I read this, and I am not the only reader who took umbrage with the emphasis on psychologies as opposed to the institutions and structures that keep women "in place." Then again, I think it is important and necessary to recognize that what the institutions and structures do is they create psychologies.

So, it matters a lot how parents talk to their daughters about math.

Driving home from piano lesson, I said as casually as I could: "Beanie, things like piano and math take a lot of practice, and I can tell from hearing you play and from your math worksheets that you practice a lot." To which Beanie replied: "I also practice a lot at reading."

To which I might respond that it takes a lot of practice to be a parent.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


No year's end reflections or new year's resolutions here. Working on my tenure file, which I will be submitting in a few weeks. 'Nuff said.


Being an anthropologist who has published on fetal ultrasound imaging and having just uploaded about 20 photographs from Christmas, it seems fitting to ponder this, from Jana Prikryl's review of Errol Morris' new book, Believing Is Seeing: Observations in the Mysteries of Photography, published in the December 12th issue of The Nation:

On Facebook, intimate, life-altering information is often delivered in the form of a pictogram rather than a written "status update" - the ur-example being the dim, grainy sonogram news flash, which gestate as the mother's profile picture and then bursts forth into religious iconography with the posting of the Madonna-and-child snapshot. Births, bar mitzvahs, vacations, graduations, weddings and car accidents tend to be announced by way of their visual documentation. Compared with whatever we choose to write about ourselves, these snapshots seem to offer incontrovertible proof that how we wish to be seen is, in fact, precisely how we look.


StraightMan posted a tribute to archaeologist Elizabeth Brumfiel, who died on New Year's Day. I wanted to make mention of this here because without her willingness to take a chance on hiring an inexperienced instructor, it is likely that StraightMan would have quit academia. So, he and I both owe her something for both being working anthropologists today.

As a parenthropologist, who I particularly appreciate is that Professor Brumfiel's research as a specialist in Aztec archaeology turned attention to women and ordinary people. When she visited StraightMan's college to give an invited lecture in 2008, I became convinced that there could be almost nothing more fascinating to study than spindle whorls! I think that this is because she was interested in gaining insight into what life and work and family must have been like.


In college, a friend, observing the aggressive scribbles in the margins of my books, remarked that I needed to be a more "relaxed" reader.

I do not like to relax with books. I like books to make me change my mind.

YA author Walter Dean Myers speaks against a romanticized notion of reading in favor of a radical one:

“People still try to sell books that way — as ‘books can take you to foreign lands,’ ” Myers tells The New York Times in an interview published on January 3, 2012. “We’ve given children this idea that reading and books are a nice option, if you want that kind of thing. I hope we can get over that idea.”

“I think that what we need to do is say reading is going to really affect your life."