Transition

Today, my sister and I are moving our mother into assisted living. She flew up a few days ago to stay with me while we waited for her things to be moved from southern California. My brother and his three kids are visiting from Oregon (not staying with me).

When I told my mother that I’d cleared out my garage to make room to store her extra things, she said, “Oh, I’ve got to clean out my garage. I’ve got so many boxes in there.”

We sold her house. An estate agent is selling what was left behind. There was very little in the garage. Twelve years ago, she cleared out the boxes. I got a stack of my high school newspapers.

In packing her things, I found a notebook she kept for a master’s thesis on children’s literature.

As a first grader, I read The Cat in the Hat and moved on to Buffalo Boy, Sandy and the Balloons, The Little Mermaid Who Could Not Sing, “true” books about pioneers, oceans, animal babies, deserts, cowboys, and freedom and a lot more. The only one I remember is Cat in the Hat — and possibly Buffalo Boy.

My sister, a second grader, read Bambi, Little Women, The Secret Garden, The Jungle Book, Black Beauty, Stuart Little, The Rachel Field Story Book and more. I remember all those vividly.

Our mother read us Black Beauty when we were too young to read to ourselves. We loved it. She thought it was sentimental slop. When she finished, we begged her to read it again. She did. Years later, I reread Black Beauty. It is sentimental slop.

Bad memories, good stories

Raised by a bipolar, alcoholic father and a (probably) bipolar hoarder mother, Jeannette Walls learned to spin good stories out of bad memories, writes the New York Times in a profile. The Glass Castle, a very powerful book, became an “instant classic.” Walls now lives with her husband on a farm in Virginia. Her mother lives in a cottage on the grounds.

Walls’s childhood was peripatetic, to say the least — her parents had 27 addresses in the first five years of their marriage. They were not only running out on the rent, but her father was convinced that the F.B.I. was after them. They finally landed in Rex’s Appalachian hometown, Welch, W.Va., in a three-room house without plumbing or heat, infested with snakes and rats. Walls says she still has nightmares about the yellow bucket the six of them used each night as a toilet.

“The Glass Castle,” beautifully written in deceptively simple prose, gets its name from the dream house Rex promised to build his family. He drew up the blueprints; he just needed to discover gold so he could pay for it.

Here’s how the book begins: At 3, Walls is on a chair in front of the stove in the family’s trailer, boiling hot dogs, because her mother is painting and can’t be bothered to cook. Walls’s pink-tutu dress catches fire, and her stomach, ribs and chest are badly burned. She is hospitalized for six weeks, until her father, irritated with the uppity doctors, breaks her out and takes her home. When she returns to the chair to cook more hot dogs, her mother says to her approvingly: “Good for you. You’ve got to get right back in the saddle.” Then she continues painting.

Her father died in 1994 at 59. Though he stole her savings to buy liquor — and once tried to pimp her out to a stranger in a bar — Walls thinks he “gave her the confidence to succeed.”

Rose Mary is more of an opaque figure; laser-sharp one day, maddeningly obtuse the next. Not to mention stunningly selfish. Once, when her children went hungry, as they often did, she saved a Hershey bar for herself.

Walls has accepted that her mother couldn’t care for herself, much less for her children. But she thinks there’s a reason that she and her sister never had children.

We all have our baggage, and I think the trick is not resisting it but accepting it, understanding that the worst experience has a valuable gift wrapped inside if you’re willing to receive it.” She met my eye. “So, O.K., Mom kept the chocolate bar. But she gave me a lot of good material.”

Walls went on to write Half-Broke Horses, a “true-life novel” about her grandmother. Her new book is her first work of fiction, The Silver Star. Even then, it deals with familiar themes: Two girls, 12 and 15, are abandoned by their mother and move to their parents’ hometown in Virginia.

The Polish orphans of Pahiatua

Children from Eastern Poland who’d been deported by the Soviets, starved and orphaned were sent to a New Zealand refugee camp called Pahiatua in 1944, writes Anne Applebaum in Slate. Despite their childhood suffering and the loss of their families, the children of Pahiatua made good lives in their new country.

On Oct. 31, 1944, their ship pulled into Wellington harbor. More than 750 orphans, from toddlers to young teenagers, and 100 adult caretakers, teachers, and doctors disembarked. . . .  they stayed together, studied together, organized Polish scouting troops, and waited for the war to end so they could go home.

When the war was over, few had anyone to return to. Their former home, Eastern Poland, had been annexed by the Soviet Union. They made new homes in New Zealand. They started new families.

. . .  they had witnessed the deaths of parents and siblings, experienced terrible deprivation, and lost years of education before finding themselves in an alien country on the far side of the world. And yet they learned the language, they assimilated, they became doctors, lawyers, farmers, factory workers, teachers, and businessmen.

We believe children need “excellent schools, carefully organized leisure and . . .  high-concentration, high-focus parenting,” writes Applebaum. The Pahiatua orphans made do with a lot less.

Making motherhood a career

Girls outperform boys in school; women are more likely to go to college and earn a degree. Men have been hit much harder by the recession and the changing economy. But a growing number of career women are choosing to make child-raising and home-making into a career, according to Emily Matchar’s Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity,

Disillusioned workers are “opting into a slower, more sustainable, and more self-sufficient lifestyle,”  writes Ann Friedman in a New Republic review.

The woman who leaves the public workplace is “the Brooklyn hipster who quit her PR job to sell hand-knitted scarves at craft fairs,” Matchar writes. “She’s the dreadlocked ‘radical homemaker’ who raises her own chickens to reduce her carbon footprint. She’s the thirty-one-year-old new mom who starts an artisan cupcake company from her home kitchen rather than return to her law firm. He’s the hard-driven Ivy Leaguer fleeing corporate life for a Vermont farm.”

Thanks to technology, the new homemaker can sell her crafts online and chronicle her quilting, baking and homeschooling projects online.

 “This lifestyle wouldn’t work if women were raising their perfect, happy, locavore children in the middle of the woods with no internet connection,” one professor tells Matchar.

From my point of view, the new homemakers are making their jobs a lot harder than they need to be. They grow their own vegetables, raise chickens and goats  (and slaughter their own meat!), weave, knit, quilt and sew and practice attachment parenting. Letting babies go diaperless is the latest fad. “Elimination communication” requires a a hyper-alert caregiver.

It’s hard to balance child-raising with a career in the U.S. But, women work less, earn less and are less likely to hold managerial and professional jobs in countries with family-friendly policies, writes Christina Hoff Sommers.

Sweden offers 16 months of paid parental leave, special protections for part-time workers, and state-subsidized preschools. Gender equality is government policy.

In a 2012 report, the World Economic Forum found that when it comes to closing the gender gap in “economic participation and opportunity,” the United States is ahead of not only Sweden but also Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Iceland, Germany, and the United Kingdom. . . .  Though the United States has fewer women in the workforce (68 percent compared to Sweden’s 77 percent), American women who choose to be employed are far more likely to work full-time and to hold high-level jobs as managers or professionals. They also own more businesses, launch more start start-ups, and more often work in traditionally male fields. As for breaking the glass ceiling in business, American women are well in the lead . . .

Mothers are much more likely than fathers to take long parental leaves and work part-time, according to a study by Cornell economists Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn.

. . . most seem to enjoy the flex-time arrangement (once known as the “mommy track”) and never find their way back to full-time or high-level employment.

Employers prefer to hire man, knowing they are less likely to take a long leave and then work part-time, add Blau and Kahn.

Harris-Perry: Our kids aren’t just ours

Under attack for her MSNBC promo, which said “we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families and recognize that kids belong to whole communities,”  commentator Melissa Harris-Perry has issued a statement. She meant that “our children, all of our children, are part of more than our households, they are part of our communities and deserve to have the care, attention, resources, respect and opportunities of those communities.”

I get it. Children are our future.

When the promo hit the fan, she was grading papers and thought “since these children were not my responsibility, I could simply mail the students’ papers to their moms and dads to grade!”

But of course, that is a ridiculous notion. As a teacher, I have unique responsibilities to the students in my classroom at Tulane University, and I embrace those responsibilities.

It’s ridiculous because Harris-Perry, a political science professor, is paid by Tulane, an elite private university, to grade papers. Her students — surely very few are children — and their parents pay a great deal of money to have those papers graded. If she volunteered to tutor kids whose parents couldn’t help them with schoolwork, she could congratulate herself on her service to the collective.

Instead, she mentions various people in her life who’ve taught her about “our collective responsibility to children,” starting with her parents, who did volunteer to help others.

Then there’s this bizarro logic paragraph:

I’ll even admit that despite being an unwavering advocate for women’s reproductive rights, I have learned this lesson from some of my most sincere, ethically motivated, pro-life colleagues. Those people who truly believe that the potential life inherent in a fetus is equivalent to the actualized life of an infant have argued that the community has a distinct interest in children no matter what the mother’s and father’s interests or needs. So while we come down on different sides of the choice issue, we agree that kids are not the property of their parents. Their lives matter to all of us.

If Harris-Perry listened more carefully, she’d discover her pro-life colleagues believe a fetus, which they would call an unborn child, has individual rights as a human being. They don’t think the community’s interests are relevant any more than they think the parents’ interests are relevant. And few parents see their children — born or unborn — as “property.”

Harris-Perry concludes:

I believe wholeheartedly, and without apology, that we have a collective responsibility to the children of our communities even if we did not conceive and bear them. Of course, parents can and should raise their children with their own values. But they should be able to do so in a community that provides safe places to play, quality food to eat, terrific schools to attend, and economic opportunities to support them. No individual household can do that alone. We have to build that world together.

It takes a village to raise a child!

I was an op-ed columnist for many years. If I wrote a column and one or two people read it wrong, I blamed them. If lots of people read it in a way that I hadn’t intended, I figured it was my fault.

I’m sure Harris-Perry intended to say that we should spend more money on schools, parks, day care, health care and other social programs because children are our future, it takes a village to raise a child, as the twig is bent so grows the tree, etc. But she said “kids belong to whole communities” rather than to their parents or families. Nobody at MSNBC caught it. And she still doesn’t get that this one’s on her.

AllahPundit includes a tweet by Sarah Palin, which I thought was funny:  ”Dear MSNBC, if our kids belong to you, do your kids belong to us too? If so, can we take them hunting after church in our big pickup truck?”

‘Restorative justice’ vs. suspension

Instead of suspending misbehaving students, schools are trying “restorative justice” programs, reports the New York Times. At Oakland’s Ralph Bunche High School, an alternative school for students who’ve been in trouble,  coordinator Eric Butler tries to teach students to defuse conflict, “come up with meaningful reparations for their wrongdoing” and develop empathy with others.

Even before her father’s arrest on a charge of shooting at a car, Mercedes was prone to anger. “When I get angry, I blank out,” she said. She listed some reasons on a white board — the names of friends and classmates who lost their lives to Oakland’s escalating violence. Among them was Kiante Campbell, a senior shot and killed during a downtown arts festival in February. His photocopied image was plastered around Mr. Butler’s room, along with white roses left from a restorative “grief circle.”

. . . “A lot of these young people don’t have adults to cry to,” said Be-Naiah Williams, an after-school coordinator at Bunche whose 21-year-old brother was gunned down two years ago in a nightclub. “So whatever emotion they feel, they go do.”

The U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights office is investigating Oakland’s high suspension and expulsion rates. African-American boys make up 17 percent of the district’s enrollment but 42 percent of all suspensions. (It would be more useful to look at their percentage of male enrollment vs. male suspensions.) Many disciplinary actions were for “defiance,” such as cursing at a teacher, rather than violence, notes the Times.

Even advocates of restorative justice admit it doesn’t work for all students. Programs vary across the country. Some schools are reducing suspensions by putting students on “administrative leave,” reports the Times. ”
Restorative justice can mean formal mediation and reparation or more spontaneous discussions.

A recent circle at Bunche for Jeffrey, who was on the verge of expulsion for habitual vandalism, included an Oakland police officer, and the conversation turned to the probability that Jeffrey would wind up incarcerated or on the streets. The student had told Mr. Butler that he was being pressured to join a gang.

“Cat, you got five people right now invested in your well-being,” Mr. Butler told him. “This is a matter of life or death.” Jeffrey agreed to go to Mr. Butler’s classroom every day at third period to do his schoolwork.

Butler’s sister was murdered by her boyfriend, he told Bunche students. When the boyfriend’s mother knocked on his door to ask forgiveness, “The want for revenge in my stomach lifted.”

Sending disruptive, defiant and violent students to an alternative school that focuses on teaching them to get along with others and build self-control sounds like a good idea to me. I’m sure it helps their former teachers and classmates. I hope it helps them.

In New York City, schools are sending students to the emergency room for behavioral outbursts, charges public advocate Bill de Blasio, who’s suing the city for data on 911 calls.

Secrets of a Princeton marriage

Princeton women should look for a husband on campus, advised Susan Patton, a Princeton alum and mother (of two sons), in the student newspaper.

For most of you, the cornerstone of your future and happiness will be inextricably linked to the man you marry, and you will never again have this concentration of men who are worthy of you.

The advice aroused and annoyed pundits), writes Walter Russell Meade on The American Interest. “For both women and men—even the over-achievers among them—happiness is about more than professional fulfillment,” he writes.

Too many elite collegians are marrying each other, writes Mead, citing a New York Times column by Ross Douthat.

Of course, Ivy League schools double as dating services,” wrote Douthat. It’s just considered gauche to say it in public.

That this “assortative mating,” in which the best-educated Americans increasingly marry one another, also ends up perpetuating existing inequalities seems blindingly obvious, which is no doubt why it’s considered embarrassing and reactionary to talk about it too overtly. We all know what we’re supposed to do — our mothers don’t have to come out and say it!

We need a national baccalaureate to recognize students’ knowledge rather than their ability to impress an admissions officer at age 17, Meade argues.

Today’s blue meritocracy, the degenerate descendant of the upper middle class Progressives of the early 20th century, has a problem: it is formally committed to ideas like equality, social justice and an open society, but what it really wants to do is to protect its own power and privilege. The Ivy League system of elite colleges is a key element in the system of exclusion and privilege that helps perpetuate both the power of the American elite and its comforting delusion that because elite status is based on ‘merit’ it is therefore legitimate.

America “needs to become a more open society”  that can recognize the Princeton kid who’s “an empty polo shirt” and the hard-working Ohio State kid who’s “a serious person,” he concludes.

All your children belong to us

Is This the Creepiest Show Promo MSNBC Has Ever Run? asks Mike Riggs on Reason’s Hit & Run. Host Melissa Harris-Perry said:

We have never invested as much in public education as we should have because we’ve always had a private notion of children, your kid is yours and totally your responsibility. We haven’t had a very collective notion of these are our children.

So part of it is we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.

Once it’s everybody’s responsibility and not just the household’s we start making better investments.

Hillary Clinton “made this same point more digestible for the public by ladling on warm-fuzzy sauce about a “village” raising a child,” writes Riggs.

Here’s your counterpoint, from 2011, on whether the U.S. is “investing” enough in education. Another half-trillion or so ought to turn things around, I think. No wonder Ron Paul’s getting into home-schooling.

Harris-Perry, a political science professor at Tulane, has a daughter. Or, I guess you could say that a female child with some of Harris-Perry’s genes belongs to the New Orleans collective.

Superintendent suspended for poverty quotes

Oklahoma’s new A-F report card for schools closely tracks the poverty rate, reports the Daily Oklahoman. However, the one-school Ryal district — all low-income, mostly Native American, 40 percent in special ed — earned a B.

Now Superintendent Scott Trower, who turned around a school ranked in the bottom 5 percent in the state, has been suspended by the school board. He talked too vividly about Ryal families’ multi-generational poverty in an Oklahoman story on how Ryal is teaching very disadvantaged students.

“Sometimes students climb onto the school bus wearing socks but no shoes, even in the wintertime,” the story starts.

(Trower) drives down into the Ryal Bottoms, a floodplain of the North Canadian River where many students live.

A maze of dirt roads is lined by tangled barbed wire and gnarly scrub oaks.

“Meth and alcoholism rule down here,” Trower said.

Some students live in prefabricated sheds without electricity, plumbing or heat, said Trower, who was hired in May, 2011. Many parents don’t work. Some parents don’t see the need for their children to go to high school.

“They’re going to go home tonight and it’s going to be freezing cold,” Trower said. “They won’t eat until they come back to school the next day. And we expect them to score proficient or higher on state tests? It’s survival. It’s just basic survival.”

At the K-8 school, which serves about 70 students, each student has a personal learning plan. Students feel cared for, Trower told the newspaper.

Teachers pick students up in the mornings and take them home at night. They feed the kids, buy them clothes.

Trower got grants to buy iPads for each student, which has helped teachers personalize learning.

In the kindergarten class, students sat with headphones on, listening to phonics sounds and picking out letters and words on a screen.

Last year, the average student was two grade levels behind in reading. Now, most have caught up, reports the Oklahoman.  “Kids will rise to the expectations,” Trower said.

Locals say students have shoes and most live in homes with electricity, writes John Thompson on This Week in Education. The Principal Chief of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation has called on Trower to resign.

Without books at home, few read well

Children raised in low-income families have few age-appropriate books in their homes, according to First Book, which gives books to disadvantaged children to encourage reading.  The infographic is based on research by Susan Neuman, co-author of Giving Our Children a Fighting Chance.

[INFOGRAPHIC] The Haves and the Have-Nots

Education reform starts with reading, writes Michael Mazenko in the Denver Post. He supports Common Core standards’ recommendation that 70 percent of all high school reading be non-fiction. Students can analyze literature in English class and think critically about informational text in social studies, science, math and arts classes, he writes. That will help the 44 percent of high school students who can’t truly comprehend what they read, according to NAEP.