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Monthly Archives: December 2010

New Year’s Resolution: End Oppression— of anyone!

Part of my title at work is Director of an aspect of diversity. At one point in my life I had great hopes that diversity work would change the way that Americans treated each other. I have always thought that social justice was a simple thing, that surely everyone believed in it and all that we needed were ways to help foster understanding of each other, appreciation of our differences and respect for our disagreements.

As I have gotten to be what the French call ” a woman of a certain age” I have come to understand that my vision is hardly shared by the majority of people in America. Social justice is not even mentioned very often anymore and quite frankly belief in Social Darwinism, a theory once scorned by most intelligent people, now seems to be on the rise.

“Diversity” is a word that was until  fairly recently mostly associated with biological communities. Biological diversity is essential for the perpetuation of species. If you lose it and have too much inbreeding your population will eventually become extinct. At least that is what Dr. Howe taught me in Biology all those years ago. In human societies however, while we still need bio-diversity it seems that many of us think we can live quite nicely by not having anything approaching social diversity or intellectual diversity.

Diversity has come to mean many things to many people. To some it means different races, to some it means different economic classes, to some it means different sexual orientations. It is very difficult to come up with a shared definition of diversity. Far too often we end up engaged in what I call the Oppression Olympics. This is when one tries to convince someone from another group that their own group has had at least as hard a time as the other group, if not a harder time.

My question is simple. Why can’t everyone just decide that nobody should be oppressed, disrespected, called names, discriminated against?

Of course, that gives us another problem. What constitutes oppression? Is being called a racist name oppression? It depends on which side of the racial divide you fall on. If you have had white privilege all your life then you might find being outraged at being called a nigger, petty, silly, and overly sensitive. If you were born in this country and have the privilege of citizenship by native birth you might find being offended by being called a “wetback” or having your child dubbed an ” anchor baby” overly sensitive. If you have the privilege of being a part of the  heterosexual,  majority, you might not understand why being called a fag is more than just hurtful. If you are a male, and we do still live in a male dominated society, you might not understand why words like bitch and whore and ho have power.

But that is the problem with social justice. It requires that you are able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. You have to listen to the people in the respective group when they tell you things and not pooh pooh their point of view or their reactions. I have never been poor–although I have felt poor sometimes since that beach house or BMW has been out of my reach–so I cannot say what poor people should find offensive, or what one should do not to be poor.

I was born to people who made enough money to put food on the table, clothes on my back and a roof over my head. They did not do it lavishly, but I did not want for much. I was able with the help of my husband, in-laws, mother and a bunch of other folks to complete my education early in life, at least to get a BS and a teacher’s certificate.

I know, however, that I cannot look at poor people and tell them they too should have been born in circumstances that would permit them the luxury of not one but three degrees, of not ever having been hungry or cold or homeless.  I am pretty sure they did not choose their lot. I am also certain it is not my superior morality or decision making or intellect that spared me their lot, a lot of it is plain luck.

But, there are those among us, and too many in my opinion who mistake their own luck and privilege for merit that should be rewarded. They think they have financial stability, social standing, education, respect, etc. because they deserve it. And, in most if not all cases, perhaps they do deserve it. What I am certain of, however, is that there are other people who deserve it who will never achieve it because we are embracing Social Darwinism and declaring like Cotton Mather and his minions that if they are poor it is their fault, if they are uneducated it is their fault, if they are oppressed it is their fault.Nothing for us to do about it, after all , it is not our fault, even if we are part of the society that supports the institutions and processes and habits that helps keep them poor and powerless.

As we close in on a new year I want to invite all of you to stop and think about how you are treating other people. And I am further challenging you to realize that simply not being the purposeful perpetrator of oppression is not good enough. You have to fight oppression whenever you see it. Speak up, demand justice for people who may be powerless to demand it for themselves and never, ever, forget that there but for the grace of God you could be in their same situation.

Horace Mann, first president of Antioch College said it best “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for mankind.”

There is no better time than the dawning of a New Year to determine that you will be one of the people who helps put me out of a job. That you will help hasten the day when the idea that we need offices to deal with diversity will be an anachronism in the future. That people will laugh at the very idea that racism, homophobia, sexism, elitism and other forms of oppression ever existed.

Instead of resolutions to lose weight, save money, exercise more or other self-improvement pseudo goals, let’s all make a resolution to listen to other people, try to hone our empathetic skills and see if we can win some victory for mankind.

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Tales of Xenia: The OS&SO Home

Growing up in Xenia, I remember being fascinated by the Ohio Soldier and Sailors Orphan Home. The “ Home” as it was commonly referred to sat on several beautiful, and beautifully maintained, acres on US 68 South near the outskirts of Xenia.  It was a seemingly placid and pastoral place.  The orphans did not attend Xenia Schools for some reason, they had their own schools including Woodrow Wilson High. Woodrow Wilson would play the black high school—East in basketball, but I do not think they were big enough to play Central, the white high school.  The children seemed almost preternaturally polite, orderly and reserved. Since I was not really particularly any of those things I put it down to them being grateful to have somewhere to live since they were orphans.

One of my sister’s boyfriends, Paul B., and his brothers were all residents of the Home. They were quiet fellows who came, often in a pack, to sit on our front porch on East Market Street on warm summer evenings and “court” my sister.  I do not know if they all wanted her for a girlfriend, or just all wanted to get out of an evening.  They did not have much, if any money, of course, so they did not take her anywhere—no movies or restaurants, but sat quietly and chatted occasionally, very occasionally, they were not the talkative types. They did show up with a few tributes from time to time, flowers or candy, but that seemed to be about the extent of the relationship.

We used to go out to the Home on Memorial Day, which they made a big deal of, having a parade of their own and marching to the cemetery on the grounds. At first I presumed that their parents were all buried there, ergo, that is why they were orphans. I was about 12 when I found out, via a classmate, that a lot of the “orphans” were not without parents. It seems that if you fell on hard times you could kind of check your kids into the Home until you felt you could care for them again. The reasons a lot of the children there were there were quite varied. Some of them were there because there was some mental breakdown, usually of the maternal stripe, some were there because the family was destitute and could not feed them, some of them were actually there because their parents, or one of their parents, had died. But, it appears that some of them were there because their parents simply did not want them.

As a child the idea that my parents might die and I might end up in the Home was terrifying. It was even more terrifying to find out that they did not necessarily have to die for me to end up there! I do not know if you truly did have to be the son or daughter of a veteran to live at the Home, I imagine you did, at least at one time. It seemed to me later that they would take virtually anyone.

At the Home they  lived in “cottages”, the name they used for their different dormitories which were arranged according to age. My favorite was the Peter Pan Cottage where the small children lived. It allowed me to romanticize being an orphan to some extent. They might not have parents but they had a communal living arrangement based on a fairy tale. I used to imagine Tinkerbell watching over them and Peter Pan dropping by to take them on excursions to Never-Never-Land periodically. It still did not make me want to be an orphan.

 

I began to think about the OS&SO recently during a conversation with my oldest son who works in Social Services for Montgomery County. He was describing some horror stories from the Social Workers whose offices share a building with his department. Since I do quite a bit of work with the Social Work School at my university, and since I teach classes on diversity for the Wake County Guardian Ad Litem Program and do workshops for the Victim’s Advocate Workers in NC, his stories were all to familiar.

 

I greatly admire people who are sociologists and social workers. It is not in my make-up to do that kind of hands-on interactive work with such oppressed populations. I do my service at a distance, trying to help those who actually interact with the poor, the abused, the neglected, the abandoned, so that they can do their jobs, and maintain their own self-care.

 

During my work with these populations I have become an advocate for the idea of reinstituting government run orphanages. I know all of the arguments against them, but I know that we have populations of children who need respite from parents who cannot or will not parent. Foster homes can be great or can be dicey and they are hard to monitor and regulate. A well run orphanage would be a much better place for abused children than letting them get lost in a system that has too many cases  with too many problems and not enough workers and not enough answers.

If a social worker is called to a home where the parents are dysfunctional, that is filthy and lacks basic utilities, where food is missing or inadequate, if they had a place to send the children I am confident that many, if not most, Americans would say, “ Let the parents figure out their own problems.” In our society people who are not even attempting to do the right thing can get support if they have children. Americans, rightly, do not want children raised in deprived or depraved circumstances. We do not however, have resources, or at least do not know how to allocate and manage our resources, to ameliorate the problems of a lot of these homes which are complex and varied.

If there is drug abuse in the home, for example, any money given to the parent is likely to go to a drug dealer rather than to feed, house and clothe their children. If there is spousal abuse, the money is likely to go to temporary solutions like motel rooms or other attempts to flee and be safe rather than to feed, clothe and house the children in more traditional, stable ways. If there is simply immaturity and lack of understanding of how the world works, the money is likely to go to buy $100 sneakers as a status symbol instead of paying the light bill or buying nutritious food.

We cannot make people be good parents. I have tried to explain this to my friends in public education and academe who insist parents have to participate effectively in their children’s education. No they don’t, and many of them cannot or will not.

So, if we have to save the children and we cannot save the parents, then orphanages—we may need a new name, seem to me to be the solution. I am not a social worker, could not be one, do not intend to be one, so perhaps I am simply offering a solution that seems reasonable because I do not know any better.

All I know is, if I saw a child who was being abused and/or neglected I would want to have a safe, clean, functional place to take that child. That does not mean we would have to abandon the parents, if they wanted help. It does, however, mean that we might be able to save some kids whose parents are lost and who have no idea how to get back on the path, and in some cases at least, no desire to do so.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (a German pastor and Nazi opponent who died in a concentration camp) said “ The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.”

I am afraid Americans are going to find ourselves wanting on the scales that determine morality if we are judged by what we do for our children.

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2010 in Xenia

 

Xenia Tales: Christmas past, Christmas present, Christmas future

Growing up in the East End of Xenia while we still had segregated schools the two main  venues  for Christmas activities were East High and the churches. We, of course, went to Zion Baptist Church on East Main Street. I have already written about how my father and I were, for years, responsible—or more accurately he was responsible and I was his aide—decorating the basement of the church for the Sunday School kids. He served as Superintendent of the Sunday School for years. (I wonder why they call it superintendent when there is no principal? Alliteration I suppose). Anyway, when I was about 12 and firmly ensconced in the junior choir despite not being able to sing a lick, our ambitious choir director Zelda Booth, decided that we were going to perform Handel’s Messiah at the Christmas Concert.

I had never heard the Messiah sung before and was singularly unimpressed, despite her build-up of how the wonderful piece the piece is, including its history, during our rehearsal. We learned it in parts and I did not think it was all that. As we got closer to the day, however, and the parts came together I began to see what all of the hubbub was about. It still stirs me to this day to hear it sung and I am annoyed when people do not know the history of the fabulous composition enough to stand up when they hear it.  But then, ignorance of any kind annoys me.  Although I am not one of those academic dinosaurs who insist that anything worth knowing was in existence in the 19th century and, therefore, the university canon should not include anything more modern, and certainly should not include anything that is not western in origin, I do think there is a certain basic knowledge base that all people should have.  Standing up during the Messiah, actually RSVPing when requested to do so and understanding the difference between the contraction you’re and the possessive your, should be at least the beginning of cultural literacy. But I digress; I will write a post on cultural literacy later.

Besides singing in the choir and the Sunday School Christmas Party and the classroom parties and pageants at school as we got older some of my friends and peers began to have Christmas parties. Christmas parties make great sense in my opinion,  the house is clean and decorated and you are going to be cooking anyway. My mother did not share my view and I was not allowed to have but one Christmas party.

That took place when I was 14 and featured, besides Christmas cookies, a newfangled dish called pizza. My parents were not about to buy pizza from IT Pizza for my friends, nope we were to make our own with a kit, I believe it was Chef Boyardee. The kit contained a flour mix you had to add water to in order to make dough and then roll it out into the basic shape of a pizza. There was a small can of sauce for you to slather on and some Parmesan cheese in a packet to sprinkle on that. If you wanted anything else, pepperoni, sausage, onions, you had to provide those yourself. My parents sprung for pepperoni—which was not sliced, but a little log looking thing, for the pizzas.

Food was only part of the negotiation. I wanted them to stay upstairs while I had my party and they were not too fond of that idea. We finally negotiated a deal in which they would have the right to make frequent, unannounced trips down the stairs to “check” on us.  I was not too unhappy with this compromise since I knew the stair creaks by heart and knew I would have some warning before they appeared to separate the smooching couples and turn a few lights back on.

Our teenage parties consisted of three things, eating, dancing and kissing. One of my friends, Carl W. was an only child and had frequent parties since his parents basically let him do anything he wanted to do. He had a large closet in his family room and it became the best make-out spot in the East End. Frequently teenagers were so crammed into that closet that you could not get out if you wanted to. One of the unfortunate consequences was that it got quite hot in there and my friends who straightened  their hair often found it had “gone home” or gotten nappy due to the heat and sweating in the closet. Most of us were willing to risk it for the fun of illicit  kissing and my hair, being good, did not do that anyway. But I digress.

I did not have a closet, but I was able to turn down a lot of the lights while my parents were upstairs and the pizzas turned out well, so my first, and only Christmas party as a teenager was a howling success.

When we were a young married couple we ran into the dilemma of wanting to spend time at Christmas with our friends, but having a child that we needed to get to bed at a decent hour on Christmas Eve. That meant we either had to follow tradition and drag him along to Christmas parties and throw him on the bed with all of the other toddlers sleeping while their parents partied, or entertain folks ourselves.

We opted for the latter and began a tradition when my son Michael was 4 ( that would be 39 years ago) that continues to this day—the Christmas Eve Open House.

It is great fun, over the years we have gone from couples with small children who would find their own fun while we played board games, gossiped, went down memory lane about Christmas’s past, to couples, or sometimes now singles due to divorce or death, whose grandchildren get together at the Christmas Eve function too and exchange memories and play games and gossip.

Our first parties were at 883 Tremont Rd, our first house which we bought from my mother for the grand sum of what she owed which was $8,000. A charming small cottage we outgrew when Nikki came along.  We lived for a few years out by the  high school at 267 Helen Ave, a nice, but boring house and then moved here on Wilberforce, Switch in 1982. When Nikki got to be about 16 I tried to stop the Christmas Eve Open House figuring it was begun because we had a kid and wanted him home on Christmas Eve, but now with Mike grown and on his own and Chris home from college but running around to see friends, we only had Nikki at home and she was certainly old enough to go out on Christmas Eve if she liked.

The children acted like I had suggested killing the family pet and roasting him for Christmas dinner when I suggested that perhaps it was time to discontinue the Christmas Eve festivities.  So, the tradition continues. I have also tried to alter the menu from time to time, no go there either. If there is so much as one type of cookie missing there is grumbling.  On Christmas Eve we never know who will show up and always hope two things; 1) that someone does show up and 2) that we have enough food for whoever does show up. Some of our friends who no longer live here show up unannounced. Frequently friends bring other friends or family members some of whom we know some of whom we do not. It is always fun and always interesting and we have never run out of food yet, although we have come close.

One year my nephew who was a student at MIT brought a classmate home with him, the young man was from Bulgaria. So, you never know who might be here. You can generally count on certain folks, who have never missed bless them. One year we had 15 inches of snow and I was sure we would be eating the meatballs, bbqed small sausages, veggies and dip, salsa and dip, Christmas cookie assortment and Wayne’s famous rum cake all on our own. Not to mention the egg nog and adult beverages. But, as the moon rose and the snow began to glitter from the cold, bless their souls ,they came trooping up between the high banks of snow on the path and the Christmas Eve tradition was once again observed. Some years we have maybe twelve people, some years it is closer to thirty, you never know.

This year I have pulled out some old pictures for us to look at and laugh about. The men in afros, the women in mini dresses, we were to coin a phrase, a hot mess!

How long will the Christmas Eve party go on? I am pretty confident that when we get too old, or too feeble or too dead to continue it one of the kids will pick it up.

To borrow a phrase from Dr. Seuss, “Christmas Eve Open House will always be, just as long as we have we.”

Merry Christmas to everyone! Hope yours is safe, fun, full of food, family, friends and frolic.

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2010 in Childhood, Xenia

 

Tales of Xenia:Dating and afterhours dating in the 1960s

In an earlier blog I mentioned that there were certain bathrooms at XHS that were designated for the rougher crowd. Those of us who did not identify ourselves in that genre avoided them like the plague. But, there were other methods of sorting oneself that did not have anything to do with whether or not you smoked or drank or cursed. This one was the big one, sex.

I could probably have told you with great accuracy when I was in high school which girls “did it” and which girls did not. I do not ever remember being asked about my willingness to have sex, nor do I remember making a conscious decision not to have sex. It was more a matter, I suppose of which type of girls you identified with.

I do not know that we ” don’t do its” were more chaste or virtuous than the ones who did do it. We were probably just scared. Remember, this is before birth control pills were readily available, as a matter of fact any kind of birth control was not readily available. If you wanted to use condoms ( ewww) you had to either know someone who knew someone who had access or go to one of the local drugstores and ask the clerk, who probably knew your parents, for condoms, which were kept below the counter.

In addition, if there had been easily accessible birth control we would still have needed our parents’ permission and I cannot imagine myself or any of the females I socialized with asking our parents to help up have safe sex. Fear is a great motivator and considering we were woefully ignorant about anatomy and sex and reproduction it is not wonder we did not have sex. Too chancy. To have a baby out of wedlock  would be disastrous for you and your family.

There were, however, girls who did. They not only did they bragged about doing and the males in our midst did not miss a chance to let you know who did. I was always fascinated by the girls who did. They were not the ones who got taken to the movies, to ball games, to dances, to the prom or the Snow Ball. They were the ones the  boys went to visit after they took those of us who did home. This phenomenon was not race specific. There were after hours girls of both races, black and white.

These girls talked openly about entertaining our boyfriends after we had been dropped off, making sure we heard them talking about what a good time they had playing cards, drinking and fooling around–sometimes to the point of actually “doing it.”

To my knowledge none of us who did not do it were ever jealous of the girls that our boyfriends did it with. We thought doing it was dangerous and slutty. And, they did not even get the privileges of having a real relationship. They were not the ones who got flowers sent on Valentine’s Day or presents at Christmas. All they got was the opportunity to put out because we would not.

I never understood why they did not resent the hell out of us, or why they did not refuse to have sex with a male who tried very hard at school and in public to pretend he did not know them, or at least only knew they very casually. What made them willing to settle for so little in return for such a huge risk?

I cannot answer that question today any more than I could then.

Mores have changed. I imagine having sex in high school is now standard operating procedure. I can perhaps understand why a more informed and more sexually casual group would be more sexually active than we were, but I still think some of the old patterns hold true.

I taught my last high school class almost two decades ago now, going on to college teaching and administration, but back then I still had heart broken girls come to see me who had believed that since the boy said he loved her, while he was trying to convince her to have sex with him, that he actually did love her. When they  found out his professions of love were being dictated by the wrong head, they were crushed.

I do sometimes wonder if there are still girls who do and girls who don’t and if everyone at each high school knows what category each girl belongs to. Have we reached enough sexual savvy and gender balance that there are also boys who do and boys who don’t and who are comfortable enough to declare their status?  It is perhaps not hip today to be openly one who does not. Although I do not necessarily appreciate getting old I am glad I do not have to go to high school in this era. It was easier to be one who did not when I was coming along. But then, it was easier in a lot of ways. I did not have to wonder about whether or not to take drugs, drink or smoke. Folks like me did not do that. The peer pressure was seemingly opposite to what it is today.

I was not particularly virtuous, but I was scared and happily caved to peer pressure. Thank goodness for fear and a society that demanded certain things. Perhaps what we need today is a slight infusion of both.

 

 

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2010 in Education, Xenia

 

Xenia Tales: Cameos of the Greene County Library Experience

While I am in Ohio I am doing most of my internet stuff from the Greene County Library in beautiful downtown Xenia. It is not only a place where one can get free wi-fi ( we have no service at the Ohio house, lacking even a land line telephone) without calories. The only other places are those like McDonald’s and even with the best of intentions something will call one’s name and invite you into culinary areas it would be better to eschew. But I digress.

The library is not only a great place to cop free internet connection, it is also a great place to do some casual ethnographic studies. Unlike the library of my youth it is not particularly quiet, conversations are carried on everywhere, and not in whispers. Also there is great activity around the computers that are available for public use. This feature, while no doubt a great public service, makes me sad.  The people clustered around the computers are almost all either very young or relatively seedy. Considering the way that computers have become a staple requirement for communication in our society the idea that some people do not have one is sobering.

I am certainly old enough to remember when having a computer at home put you in an elite category, if not an exclusive category, but now when every ad on television and every government agency information post includes a url, how isolated and deprived must one feel if you have to trek to the library, sometimes having to get in line to wait for access to a computer? Not to mention the library hours are now much truncated, sometimes they do not open until noon. When does access to the internet become a basic need?  I think back to telephones. My family always had one, and we never had a party line that I can remember but I had friends as a child who did not have a phone. Now it is de rigeur to have a cell phone. Wonder how long it will be before having a computer is considered as vital to normalcy?

I have a Blackberry phone, so even when I am not at the library or McDonald’s I am in contact with the internet. I am going to admit to being an internet junkie. I even take mine to the beach with me when we are on vacation. I need to know what is going on out there!

The second thing that struck me at the library was the number of people who want to talk to someone, to carry on an intelligent conversation, to share what they are thinking, to be heard. It seems that a lot of people who frequent the library in the day time are either folks who live alone or folks who feel that they do not have anyone who wants to listen to them. True, some of them are a bit odd, no question about that, but a lot of them seem to be very thoughtful people who do not have an opportunity to engage in intellectual discussions often enough. The poor library workers are the prime targets of these folks since they are captive audiences behind their desks or counters, but if you are there for more than a few minutes and do not seem to be otherwise engaged you too will be enlisted to listen.

This makes me wonder– having spent most of my life in education, either in public schools or colleges and universities–where do people not in education find intelligent conversation, interactive discourse with logical, reasonable people?

I think almost all human beings know things that they want to share with others. Sometimes those things might not seem important to other folks. I mean when I am trying to explain the joys of education to colleagues and give as an example that one of my doctoral classes once spent two hours debating whether the universe is clock-like ( organized, logical, sequential) or cloud-like ( always re-forming, mercurial, subject to chance) a lot of them do not seem to find that appealing. Nevertheless, if I wanted to have such a discussion and was burning to give my opinion ( I am a chaos theorist so obviously I came down on the cloud-like side) where else could I do that?

I doubt if I announced that I was having a symposium on the topic of ‘The Universe: Cloud versus Clock’ and the Universe at the Greene County Library that folks would be beating down the door.

But the topic that one feels required to expound on might not be anything nearly that esoteric. Suppose you wanted to discuss politics, or education or cooking or the virtues of having a real Christmas tree versus an artificial one, or why, if we have global warming it is so damn cold, where would you go? Who would you talk to? If you were not fortunate enough to have family or friends who loved to dip and dive amongst the vagaries of your intellect what could you do?

I guess you would go to the library and lay in wait of prey to engage. Or, you would write a blog.

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Xenia Stories: Christmas in my childhood

I do not remember visiting Santa Claus in my hometown. Our annual Christmas memories were generally made at Rike’s Department Store in Dayton. Rike’s had the best window display in Ohio as far as I was concerned. When I was very small there were just scenes, kids playing in the snow, people caroling, reindeer amongst fake forest branches. As I got older, however, the folks at Rike’s upped the ante. The figures began to be animated. Now the singers actually moved, the kids actually pretended to throw snowballs or jump up and down on a sled.

Rike’s at Christmas was magical besides the glorious multi-window displays the entire store was transformed into a winter wonderland. The best thing was going to visit Santa in Toyland, which is what the 7th floor became during the Christmas season.  Since both of my siblings were so much older than me I was the recipient of some rather expensive toys, considering they both had jobs by the time I was ten or 12.  I remember getting to go to Toyland one Christmas and pick out whatever I wanted.

What I wanted was a doll that came in her own wicker suitcase and had all kinds of clothes. A bridal gown and veil and shoes, traveling clothes, including a coat, and all kinds of other accessories. I believe the doll cost the huge amount of $40.00 which would have been scandalous at the time. I remember loving her dearly.

When I got older Christmas activities were primarily organized around church, school and friends. I sang in the junior choir at Zion Baptist Church and we always did a Christmas concert and other activities. My father, who was the Superintendent of the Sunday School, and I had to decorate, including buying the Christmas tree and decorating it for the Sunday School area, which was in the basement.  At school we had concerts as well and generally parties in our classrooms that involved some form of gift exchange. I can remember getting a very sophisticated gift from one of my male classmates–it was either Arlin or Thomas, I cannot remember which,  when I was in the 6th grade, some perfume in a fancy gold dispenser. I thought it was dreadfully glamorous.

Besides the organized things there were, of course, house parties and as we got to be teenagers there were other activities like sledding. We would go up to the top of Third Street where my friend Sylvia lived and there was a good hill. There was not much traffic in the evening on Third Street so we could sled on the street.

The best part was that the sledding would be double decker. Girls would lie down on the sled and the boys would provide the muscle and push the sled, as it started to go the boy would then flop on top of the girl and the sled would carry them both down the hill. That way you got double pleasure, sledding and semi-erotic partnering on the sled. All good clean fun of course. Who could find fault with such a wholesome activity?

The sledding was usually followed by adjourning to someone’s house for hot chocolate and cookies. When my own children became teenagers I was amazed at their reports of the presence of alcohol at their parties, starting in around the 8th grade. We must have been real squares, nobody drank that I knew of and they certainly never offered me anything to drink.

Some of the white kids would ice skate in the winter around Christmas at Shawnee Park. I do not think any of the black kids in my era ever did. I thought of ice skating as something done by people in New England, it never occurred to me to think about strapping blades on my feet and sliding across ice. We did some sliding across ice, but with shoes on and the ice in question was usually more like a puddle or small pond.

Christmas in Xenia was picturesque and homey and fun. In most cases it still is!

 

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Public Education: The Saga Continues

Yesterday morning while reading the Dayton Daily News—I am in Ohio for the holidays and to support my mother who is having some minor surgery, I ran across an article that reported that in a recent survey 68% of the respondents indicated that they thought the major problem with public education and the achievement gap is some deficiency on the part of the parents. In other words almost 70% of the people polled in a poll sponsored by Stanford and the Associated press, children who are not doing well are not doing well because of their parents, it is their fault.

 

Can you say Social Darwinism? Those who do well do well because they are superior. Those who do poorly do poorly because they are inferior. There is nothing that society or educators or politicians or anyone can do about it folks, it is just the way it is. We can feel sorry for those children unfortunate enough to be born to inferior parents, but really what can we expect to do about it? The kids are doomed, true and we can feel sorry for them, but it is the luck of the draw, the way of the world, the circle of life. Besides we need someone to do the menial jobs, right??

 

If it is the parent’s fault that children do poorly in school I wonder why we are bothering to fund public education. After all, if the smart kids are smart because they have superior parents then let these paragons of virtue home school them. The rest of the kids, having inferior parents cannot learn anyway so why bother? Sounds like a waste of taxpayer money to me, and heaven knows we do not want to pay any more money for taxes than we have to. (See Teaparty supporters for the logic behind this one).

 

Alternately we can just send the ones with good parents to pubic schools. Give a test to the parents before enrolling the kids and see if they pass, if they do not, no school for their kid. That way we can make sure the underclass grows and grows. After all, there is money in poverty. All those good folks, government and private that work with the poor generally get paid to do so.  At least someone is making money out of our poor school systems. God bless the child that’s got his own.

 

I was at a reception recently, given by one of my campus groups. Since I am the chair of the Festivities Committee ( you have to love that name!) I had to be there the entire time, having planned it along with my committee, of course. Late in the evening about time for it to be over an older white woman came in and was introduced to me as a professor in a School of Education at a local college, she was also a former assistant superintendent in a local district. I told her my discipline was educational leadership and my dissertation was on the achievement gap. She waxed mournful over the fact that the rather wealthy local district was having trouble “with the black kids achievement level.” She went on to report that she had been talking with some of the teachers and they had decided that since the white kids in the district were generally wealthy and very good at standardized tests the black kids simply got discouraged and gave up.  (These teachers evidently decided to ignore the fact that some of the black kids in the district come from the same economic class as their white peers.)

 

I was nearly speechless. Here is a woman charged with teaching principals and superintendents to be educational leaders who was suggesting that black kids lag in scores on standardized tests because those superior white kids’ achievements are so far above what they can do, they figure why try? Being the de facto hostess of the event I did not want to filet her verbally as I was longing to do. I asked her if she was familiar with the research that suggests that teacher expectation has a very large impact on student success. Perhaps, I said, it is possible if the teachers have decided the black kids have simply admitted their inferiority  ( I did not put it like that) and given up, the teachers have likewise lowered their expectations.

 

“Oh”, she told me with a sigh, “we have been working on teacher expectations and understanding of racial differences for 25 years.” I resisted asking her what I wanted to, “ How’s that working for you? Any change in scores? Ever consider you are doing it wrong by continuing to concentrate on what is wrong with the students and/or their parents instead of what is wrong with the school and its methodology?”

 

I am going to say this one more time—no doubt not the last time either—unless and until American adopts a Critical Race Theory approach to education research and looks at what is going on in those classrooms that put black and other minority children (including in many cases poor white kids btw), at a disadvantage the achievement gap will continue. It is not the parents nor is it the students who are at fault. Neither of those groups gets paid to teach, or support teachers, and neither of those groups is supposedly schooled in pedagogy. If the parent sends the kid to school they have done their job.  Should they send polite, clean, well fed, already prepared children who love learning? Oh yeah, but then I should probably stop eating sweets too, not going to happen!

 

Giving up on children because their parents are not skilled at preparing them for school or at helping them succeed is like participating in their misfortune. Their parents let them down so now it is your turn?

 

Make all the excuses you want educators. I do not care if you are a superintendent, a principal, a teacher or a teacher’s aide. If your students are failing the person responsible and the only person who can change it is the one you are looking at when you are brushing your teeth in the morning. If you continue to spend more time affixing blame and dodging responsibility than you do seeking ways to ameliorate problems and actually accomplish what you are getting paid to do (Do not whine about your pay, if it is not enough find another job. And, if you are implying you could do better for the kids if they paid you more then you are a morally bankrupt individual. ), then you will continue to get what you have always gotten, failure.

 

When I was teaching high school or college I considered every failing grade I had to record a failure on MY part. I was the teacher, the expert, the sage. If I could not engage and inspire my students I was none of those, I was a ward of the state, collecting money for getting dressed and showing up.

 

The great educator Horace Mann, first president of Antioch College, said “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for mankind.” There are a lot of educators walking around who should be very ashamed indeed if they start feeling poorly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2010 in Education, Race