I used to be a badass

I think I’m ready to start reclaiming my inner strength. Let’s do this.

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Just Around the Corner

While in Washington, D.C., for an annual meeting, I left the hotel a little early and went to my favorite coffee shop to pick up a chai latte (double dirty, baby) and some orange juice. Since I had the time to spare, and Peet’s was pretty much empty early Saturday in the D.C. business district, I sat in a comfy leather chair next to the door in the corner of the store and idly gazed out the window at the world. After a moment, I noticed movement in a tent I had observed over the past day or so on the sidewalk, and presently a tall, thin man stepped out of the tent. After shaking out his legs and striding up and down the walkway for a moment, he got onto a bicycle and pedaled quickly away. A short few moments later, an equally thin but not so tall woman stepped out as well.

This is when the story takes an unexpected turn.

The lady walked up and down in front of the tent, and then suddenly turned and quickly walked into the street between two parked cars and bent down as though to remove something from the road. She was behind the tent, and double parked behind the cars was a produce truck offloading boxes, so she was completely hemmed in on all four sides. After she continued to crouch down, I suddenly realized she was urinating.

Once she was done, she pulled up her pants – further confirming her action – and walked away. This entire act took place in daylight, within view of several business buildings, apartments, a church, and the coffee shop. This woman had no privacy in which to perform the most basic of life’s functions.

It occurred to me that we were one block over and four blocks up from the White House.

Let that sink in.

When topics turn to sheltering refugees, people say we need to take care of our own first.

When we discuss aid to foreign countries, people say we have our own people to aid.

When the topic of food insecurity around the world comes up, people say our own are starving, too.

When we ask for subsidized housing for our homeless and low-income individuals and families, people say “not in my neighborhood” and “stop the government handouts for those who are too lazy or bad at making choices; it’s their fault they are poor.”

When we ask for insurance for our children, the elderly, and the poor, people say “we don’t have money for that in the budget” while simultaneously spending more on the military industrial complex than any other developed nation. Who are we defending?

When we want increased support for our low-income and food insecure individuals and families, people say “they spend it on the wrong things” and “it’s too much money they are getting”. The next day they bemoan the inability of their friends on assistance to get what they need, because “it isn’t enough to live on”.

The most basic tenet of Christian ideology (and many other religions with which I am much less familiar) is “love one another”. That’s the distilled version of The Golden Rule. We purport to be a Christian nation: Why are we not living it?


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Clarion Call

This is not the post I intended to write.

For a variety of reasons, none of which have any need for exposure, I’m in an unusual headspace. My mind is completely filled with snatches of songs, lyrics and verses and rhymes that link like a paper chain garland to be strung on a Christmas tree. Even trying to drown them out with playlist after competing playlist has been ineffective. So I’ve turned to writing.

What I want to say is cribbed straight from the Wicked soundtrack, track 18, “For Good”, wherein Elphaba and Glinda express the sorrowful beauty of their situation, full of bittersweet nostalgia and the pure love of deep, mature friendship:

“I’ve heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason, bringing something we must learn, and we are led to those who help us most to grow if we let them, and we help them in return.”

The final line of the song is “I don’t know if I’ve been changed for the better but because I knew you I have been changed for good.”

Recently, I’ve felt the sadness of losing faith in those for whom my level of respect was high and virtually unwavering for a very long time. It’s a particularly unexpected emotion, yet there it is. Funny how much my worldview was changed by the revelations and actions that brought me here. I’ve discovered a whole new relationship with the above-quoted phrases; I’m not sure that I’ve been changed for the better, but I’m definitely changed for good. And I’m oddly grateful.

However, there is another segment to that, another point made that gets lost, and that I actually didn’t include the first time I wrote out the quote. “…and we help them in return” is a super vital part of that sentence, because it truly does tie up the symbiotic dynamic of the concept. People often say “karma’s a bitch” or “what goes around comes around” but while they’re chilling there on Mount Judge-a-lot karma is sneaking around the back to kick them in the ass. I assume. I’m not actually much of a karma person, so this is all sort of allegorical for me.


As recently and rapidly as hurt has descended, Newton’s Third Law decrees that something absolutely amazing must happen., and quickly. Karma. Whatever. Good old Isaac is still at work in the world. When my faith and strength were at their lowest, the most incredible folks appeared (figuratively) from the woodwork, with words and deeds of support and with kindness and with love, a level of love that has left me speechless, filled only with this huge heart. And these are the people who have changed me not only for good, but also for the better. It is my job to help those who have such faith in and love for me, either by paying it back or by paying it forward, and I take that duty quite seriously.

There is a lesson to be learned from virtually every experience, and the lesson I have chosen to take from my personal 2017 is that sometimes things just really truly deeply suck, and then, all of a sudden, the sunlight breaks through the clouds and illuminates exactly what needs to be seen. This post is both appreciative and cautionary. I’m not a fly, and I won’t be swatted. I am fiercely loyal and protective. Enjoy the calm; the storm isn’t far behind.

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Racism is cancer. It is cancer that impacts many people here in America. Lots of folks don’t even know they have it, but it’s there. Oh yes, it’s there.

Most people by now are familiar with the analogy of Black Lives Matter and cancer, but just in case you’ve not heard it, allow me to briefly explain. Saying “all lives matter” as a response to “black lives matter” has been likened to saying “all cancer sucks” at a breast cancer awareness event. It’s the epitome of a DUH statement that completely devalues the intent of the other viewpoint. Unless you were an asshole, you wouldn’t go to a Toyotathon event and scream to the rafters about the superiority of a Kia.

Yeah, I went absurd. Using absurdity to point out the absurd is a thing.

So let’s extend the racism is cancer metaphor. How do we treat cancer? There are lots of ways. And by lots, I mean LOTS. The course of treatment is dependent on the cancer’s type, stage, spread, location, and impact on other body parts, in addition to the patient’s age, ethnicity, health, and other factors. Not all doctors agree on all aspects of treatment, which is why it’s important to not rely on any one health diagnosis, but to “get a second opinion”. While the patient absolutely has rights to approve or deny treatments, the patient lacks the expertise and authority – even with a lifetime subscription to WebMD – to self-diagnose and prescribe treatments.

Hopefully you’ve already figured out where I’m going with this. I’m not sure whether you have seen these images, but allow me to deconstruct them in accordance with the metaphor I have been using. Before I start, though, I need to say something. If you see these and agree, you are short-sighted. (Possibly intentionally.)



Seriously, are you an idiot? Really? This is important. Do you not understand that removing institutional racism from our society is going to require small excisions that are uncomfortable and maybe even outside your ability to understand at this current time? The lives of people of color have not been improved by removing symbols of racism from the public sphere. This is but one small step in a long, arduous journey, and it is unreasonable to believe that this one action will have an immediate, marked impact. In fact, for the time being, the lives of people of color may have actually been made worse, because now the racism is in the open as folks who probably had no reason to have any opinion whatsoever about a damn statue yesterday are flying their white privilege flag for all to see today. You want to talk about snowflakes? We didn’t even use HEAT and you’re having an epic meltdown.

Why would the Statue of Liberty even be afraid of anything – other than deportation, because, let’s face it, that lady is an immigrant. The SoL was given as a sign of friendship and has come to indicate welcome and freedom for people coming to America to seek a better way of life. That’s like removing the liver when the cancer is in the ovary.

Please, dear friends and everyone else reading this, if you are offended, genuinely outraged and impacted by the removal of Confederate memorabilia from public spaces, examine yourself and your mindset. This test is a handy way to examine your biases, but I will warn you the results are life-altering. When I took it, I found that I have some biases of which I was unaware, and that shame me, given who I am and what I stand for. However, it isn’t about the biases I have, it’s about how I handle them now that I’m aware I have them. Don’t be so tied to your sense of self as to allow fear and ignorance to fuel hatred towards and misunderstanding of others. Egos in check, friends.

Be the change.


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The Type of PD I’d Like to See

Friends and Countrymen, it’s back to school time in these United States, and you know what that means…. Yes, the irrepressible posting of memes by teachers on social media decrying the typical welcome back events, including – but not limited to – professional development, classroom setup, meeting new colleagues, and reviewing class lists.

I’ve taken issue with some of the statements made, because I come from (perhaps) a unique perspective of actually really, truly enjoying the majority of professional development opportunities and being energized and recharged by the return to the building of my friends and coworkers. Being one of those teachers – and there are many of us – who work throughout the summer, I’m kinda bored and lonely in the building during the quieter summer weeks, so having my people back is pretty awesome. Over the past week or so I’ve been thinking about exactly what it is that I find interesting, crazy, and useful about the way the first week back is managed, that delicate time where teachers are getting prepared to welcome back students. For what it’s worth, here are my thoughts. Enjoy, try not to take things too seriously, and feel free to comment!

Preparing the Classroom: It’s so great to have an entire day right at the start to pull everything out and put it back where it belongs after the summer storage spree. I don’t have to spend the entire week thinking about how much work I need to do in my classroom and wondering where I left that darn tape dispenser and mentally moving my tables into the most efficient arrangement possible. Even nicer is that I typically have lunch and some other free time, plus the hours after the regular work day ends, to get in there and keep going after that first big push. The one bad thing I’ve found with having that setup day right up front is there can be a lot of lost time in the morning while people are filtering through the building greeting one another and looking for misplaced items.

Basic Housekeeping: Everyone and their best friend’s pet alien from outer space wants to “say a few words of welcome” at every gathering. This means that the district-wide welcome back events and the first faculty meeting can feel more like a rousing game of BINGO wherein the words on the card are the names of different people who may feel compelled – or BE compelled – to get up on stage with the microphone. The best part? The non-stop Exorcist-style projectile vomit of super important words and phrases, so exuberant and visceral they almost knock you out of your seat. The worst part? See the previous sentence! But it’s all really important, because we need to know who folks are and what is in store for us, and it’s super nice to hear that we are all in this mess called education together, ready to mold some young minds into citizens of the world.

P to the D: Professional Development. One of the most revered and hated terms in all of education-dom. (Yeah, I made that word up. But it’s a cool word. Say it out loud. It’s cool, isn’t it!) There’s this really interesting cognitive dissonance between the PD need and the PD reality at the start of the school year, wherein towards the end of LAST school year we were all, “wow, this is great, wish they had done it at the START of the year,” and now that it’s the start of the year we’re all, “wow has it only been five minutes, when is break, I have so much to do in my classroom, I just met that new teacher in my department this morning and already can’t remember his name, and is the principal really going to enforce the dress code for staff this year because I just went on a loo-loo-la-rue shopping spree and I bought ALL THE LEGGINGS.” (Yes, I know that’s not the name of the company, but I really have a tough time remembering the actual name, and you knew what I meant anyway, didn’t you? I don’t mind leggings, I’m just not that kinda girl.)

We have truly important stuff that we need to know at the start of the year, such as what the schedule will look like (which probably sounds ridiculous if you aren’t a pre-k-12 teacher but trust me it changes yearly, or so it seems) and how to request field trips (not that we take those anymore but it was a handy reference). Everyone wants to give out info, from the principal to the secretary to the custodian to the tech coordinator to the librarian (wait, what?), and then you still have the counselor, educational diagnostician, nurse, and discipline deans to contend with. And the info is important! It really is!

….But it isn’t what we’re there for. It just isn’t. All of that stuff can literally – and I do mean literally – be distributed via email, referenced briefly in the first meeting, and then set aside with the expectation that the professionals we are will be well-versed in the specifics and know what to do. Novice educators, such as those new to the profession, the district, or the school, might benefit from a special meeting with the above-reference individuals for a deeper dive (don’t you just love that phrase?) into the info, but seriously, let’s think about the best possible use of our time. Newsflash: It isn’t sitting in a room listening to people essentially read their job description. And I say that with all due respect, as I dearly, truly love my colleagues and the amazing work they do.

For my money, the time is better spent doing a couple of really key things. First, team building. Don’t care that you’ve been teaching in the same classroom in the same building with the same books and the same everything for a hundred million years. Not all of us have, and you need us just like we need you to form a team to make the school work. So break out the index cards and build towers. Give us a balloon to inflate and a string to tie it to our ankles and make us run around and stomp each other’s balloons (no, don’t really do that, because I’ll likely have a heart attack HA). Have us come into the room with a prompt on the projector that gives us a unique way to get seated, like number the chairs and the person whose birthday is earliest in the calendar year sits at one, with the next person at two, and so on. Do Four Corners and post pictures of common breakfast foods, and have us stand near the item we last consumed and then talk. Play a song while we walk around and find a partner, and then give us something to talk about, like our favorite vacation spot or the best way to engage an emotionally-closed-off 7th grader. Have a few sets of chairs set up in circles and “randomly” assign staff to work together in a morning meeting, check-in/check-out, or peace circle.

With the rest of the time, rotate through some quick, meaningful trainings, even better if done by valued and respected members of the staff. We all have to be there, so why not take advantage of our assets and let us train each other? Here’s a workshop on how to use ESchool for the newbs. There’s a workshop on scaffolding instruction for students for whom English is not a primary language. That teacher is holding a workshop on how she manages data tracking during class time using an app we can all access. Those teachers are running a training on how to incorporate kinesthetic learning into the general classroom. The special education team is offering a session designed specially for elective/expressive teachers on how to effectively manage implementation of IEP-mandated accommodations without a push-in or support person in a general education classroom. The best part is it’s all useful and it’s all free.

So yes, I want to know how supportive the district office personnel is going to be this year, and I do need the union president’s phone number (coughMikeMatthewscough), and I do want to understand how the first day(s) are going to play out at the building level.

More importantly, though, I want to know who the person down the hall is, and how she can support me while I support her by being part of a team working towards the same goals. I want to know that I’m cared about by the people I choose to surround myself with every day. I want to know that we are on the same page when it comes to how we will engage and monitor and manage student learning. We’re in this together, and I’m looking forward to making this year the best year for all of us.

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Shining a Light

One of the things I find the most fascinating about attending the National Education Association’s Representative Assembly is how much knowledge the delegates gain while there that the average member “back home” doesn’t have, or even realize they are missing. From the stories – good and bad – from other states to the vast array of caucuses to the awards, political action, and parliamentary procedure, there is a lot about the inner workings of our parent organization about which we have virtually no awareness at the ground level. One of those procedures which gained national attention in 2015, and again in 2016, was the endorsement process for the office of President of the United States, in the primary and general election, respectively. This was a contentious topic at the representative assembly this year, sparking much debate and multiple attempts to move the NEA to action on a different, more transparent process for future elections.

To speak openly for a moment prior to delving into the process by which NEA endorses candidates, permit me a moment of personal privilege. While the Christina Education Association openly publishes our by-laws and policy manual, which are the documents that direct how our organization works, many organizations do not, including the Delaware State Education Association and the NEA. While I understand the hesitation to reveal the “playbook”, so to speak, it is incumbent upon the leadership of an organization to ensure that members have awareness of the component parts of the governing documents of the organization. For instance, how would a member be aware of a “whistle blower policy” and follow it as needed if the member is never given free access to the document containing said policy? In the case of a re-election of officers, how might a member evaluate the incumbent’s performance of duties without having the expected duties in hand? For that matter, how might someone seeking election to a leadership position be expected to know what the responsibilities would be prior to making the commitment?

The NEA has published, through state leadership to RA delegates, the process involved with presidential candidate endorsements. In brief, the NEA PAC Council – the political action team – is given comparative information and data on the candidates, their policy views, a screening questionnaire by any candidate who completes one, and videotaped interviews with the NEA President. According to the information sent via email, “national, state, and local organization channels and resources are used to provide members with information related to the recommendation process, presidential candidates and issues, as well as to assess member attitudes and opinions”. Once this has occurred, the PAC Council may recommend endorsement of a primary candidate to the NEA Board of Directors, which group is comprised of individuals from each state elected within the state to represent the members, as well as various other key individuals from NEA committees. The endorsement recommendation must be approved by 58% of those voting. For a recommended endorsement of a general election presidential candidate, the PAC Council “may put before the RA delegates” the recommendation, which has also been approved by the Board of Directors, and said recommendation must be approved by 58% of those voting (if a yes/no option is given on the ballot) or a simple majority of those voting (if the ballot indicates specific candidates to be selected).

Here is where the heart of the contention lies: Nationwide, many members, as evidenced by the national outcry and subsequent RA actions in 2016 and 2017, felt disenfranchised, left out of the process, and unheard by their parent organization(s). In 2016, the RA delegates voted to endorse the recommended presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, by a margin of about 85% to 15%. Keeping in mind that Clinton was already the endorsed primary candidate, about which many members felt strongly, Clinton was also the guest speaker on the day of the balloting for the endorsement recommendation. There was a demonstration against Clinton on the RA floor during her speech, and the convention center was packed with delegates, guests, and staff for the speech. In listening to debate at the 2017 RA around this topic, roughly half the delegates in attendance in 2017 felt that a lot of the 2015 (primary) and 2016 (general) endorsement process was straddling the gray area between unbiased and heavily managed. Regardless of the facts, delegates felt disenfranchised, ignored, left in the dark, and deliberately sidetracked from participating in the process.

As a result of the mixed feelings around the presidential candidate endorsement process (spurred largely by lack of knowledge, which I would argue is due directly to state and national leadership not informing the members, since the issued policy directly states that is how the information would be passed along; as a local leader I can say without hesitation the information was not issued by state or national leadership to the local, although as a GLBT Caucus member I did receive a survey from the caucus chair asking for my input), delegates introduced two new business items for consideration as well as a constitutional amendment, which will be considered, debated, and voted upon in 2018. Both of the new business items, numbers 22 and 159, sought to make the process more intentionally solicitous of the general membership at large, and both were referred to committee. The final text of each is as follows:

NEW BUSINESS ITEM 22: The 2017 RA directs the NEA PAC Council to make a plan for surveying the general membership regarding their preference for president of the United States on a quadrennial basis and to include the publication of the results using existing resources starting with the recommendation by the PAC Council for president of the United States in 2020.

NEW BUSINESS ITEM 159: NEA shall hold an advisory vote at the RA during regular voting for NEA officers to indicate member choices for preferred presidential candidates in presidential primaries. Ballots would list candidates from all parties and members would have the option of choosing one candidate or choosing one preferred candidate from each party. (During the RA 16 months previous to the upcoming presidential elections.)

The purpose of the constitutional amendment is described as, “To establish the Representative Assembly as the only body to recommend or endorse presidential candidates for both the primary and general election.”

The clear theme here is that the members want more power and control over the endorsement process for presidential candidates. What was interesting about the debate was how close the actual votes were. On NBI 22, there was a nearly split vote, with several standing votes taken to assist the chair in determining the outcome. After that NBI failed, there was a request for a roll call vote, which would require the chair to seal off the convention hall and have each state delegation count up the individual votes of all delegates present at the time of voting to provide a delegate-by-delegate count of the actual votes cast. This request narrowly failed, as well, with some delegates feeling that the scheduled state voting times for officers and other balloted items removed entire states from the RA floor while this particular vote was taking place. Subsequent calls to reconsider the vote resulted in the NBI being referred to the PAC Committee as well as the introduction of NBI 159, which also was referred to the PAC Committee. This led to the introduction of the afore-mentioned constitutional amendment.

The key takeaway from all this, in my opinion, is that there is dissatisfaction among members related to the methodology for endorsing candidates for the nation’s highest office. Keep in mind that the delegates to the NEA RA are elected by their state and local members at a ratio of 1 delegate for every 150 members. In Christina, we earned 8 delegates from the local level and had an additional CEA member in the state delegation. That’s a total of 9 Christina folks voting on behalf of our 1200 or so members. Our votes should echo the votes of our membership, but without a process (such as what NBI 22 was calling for) there is no good way to ensure that all member voices are heard. With it being a vote of delegates, it is essential that leadership at all levels provide a clear process by which direct member voices are solicited and represented. Similar to the US electoral college, which members in theory are casting votes in accordance with the actual votes cast by the voters in their home districts and states, there should be an expectation that the RA delegates are casting votes that represent the members they were elected to represent.

If I were on the NEA leadership team, I would be taking a long, hard look at the communication methods and the process of getting information from top to bottom of the organization. Seeing the contention on the floor and reading about it virtually daily over the past two years, I would be assuring my members that yes, their concerns are being attended to with utmost concern. While ultimately the process itself might not change, it is clear that the breakdown of communication is inexcusable and must be addressed moving forward. The members cannot make informed decisions about leadership when they don’t know the processes and procedures in place for running the organization. It is time to stop being afraid of the light and start showing the nation that we are not afraid to let them see how we UNION.

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The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Grow Old

Although I like to consider myself well-versed in budgetary and funding topics (well-versed for a lay person), there are definitely still some areas where I am learning the ins and outs. The Delaware estate tax is one of those areas, and as I have been reading about this I’ve become more and more dissatisfied with the decision that was made to cut the tax, as per House Bill 16.

I read Rep Pete Schwartzkopf’s explanation, how this tax was a trade-off for another vote. I understand the concept and importance of compromise, and that we sometimes trade what is good for something we conceive of as better. Right now I’m moderately addicted to this game called Egg, Inc., and as I build my egg farm I have to make choices that impact my farm valuation, which helps me advance in the game. Sometimes I have to determine whether doing a “prestige” is worth it, because to “prestige” I have to completely scrap the entire operation, start over from step one, and rebuild my whole farm. However, in doing so I earn a significantly larger amount of money per egg, so I can move through the levels more quickly, and it certainly makes the upper levels more attainable due to the increased output.

What does raising chickens to lay eggs in a phone game have anything to do with Delaware budgets? Nothing at all, in this particular instance, but I needed a handy way to show I get the concept of compromise and trade-offs for benefits.

The real question that must be asked is: “Is the trade-off worth it?”

Who decides the worth or value of a trade-off? If my 9 year old has 2 Pikachu Pokémon cards and wants a Charizard Mega EX super badly, he will happily trade his 2 cards to his 11 year old sister for that 1 card. For him, the benefit is greater than the loss.

Again, not the same, but you see where I’m going with this (I hope).

From here on out, I’m going to be a purist, so if you can’t handle that, remember I owned it and don’t get upset with what I’m going to say.

If a piece of legislation is best for the state and its citizens, it should be passed. Period.

Why should the Delaware estate tax not have been eliminated? Here are some basic facts of which you should be aware:

  • The Estate Tax impacts only the wealthiest among us, the heirs to large estates.
  • The first $5.49 million (per person) of an estate is exempt from the tax. The exemption for a married couple is $10.98 million. Only amounts over these thresholds are subject to the tax.
  • Nationally, about 2 estates out of 1,000 are impacted and the heirs owe on average 17% of the estate’s value.

The U.S. and Delaware have a huge wealth gap in large part because taxation policy preferences benefit the wealthy throughout their lifetime. The estate tax is literally a last chance to recoup and redistribute excess wealth from over a lifetime of tax preferences. Over time, the amount of earnings is compounded, so without a higher-bracket income tax or capital gains tax there is an exponential loss of revenue.

You cannot cut your way to prosperity.

In 2016, the estate tax yielded $9.3 million in revenue. Every year the amount collected for the Estate Tax fluctuates greatly because it depends on the death of a very wealthy individual, and no one can predict when a large estate will be left for heirs. Compare that to the $22 million project cuts to public education, and although the amounts aren’t guaranteed there is a clear problem with cutting revenue streams (ANY revenue streams) while constitutionally-guaranteed and socially-responsible public goods are being reduced. Delaware should be focused on creating revenue rather than reducing it. Since 2008 the state budget has been subject to severe cuts and subsequent budgets were kept low. In effect, we never climbed out of the hole created by the recession.

Perhaps someone could define “shared sacrifice” for me, because I’m not clear on why the wealthy are exempted, even partially, from the sacrifice. Why must the rich be appeased in a deal when the poor are not? How can the legislature seriously entertain throwing away $5 million in revenue when facing a deficit of more than $300 million? Why are the kids, who aren’t even taxpayers, subject to more harm than the wealthy, with as few of these estate tax scenarios exist?

A person much wiser than I once said, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results” (it wasn’t Einstein, but it’s frequently attributed to him). With that in mind, why are we still cutting budgets without increasing revenues? If you need more money to pay the rent, you don’t just pay less rent; you find another way to make money. It’s a no-brainer. And I know folks in the GA have brains, so clearly something else is going on here.

From the cheap seats, this “trade-off” was not worth it.

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a
factory out there, good for you. But, I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory and hire someone to protect against this because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea. God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”
~Elizabeth Warren, 2011, PhD, Harvard Professor, Led the establishment of
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, US Senator

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On “Thirteen Reasons Why”

Recently, Netflix began to air an original series called Thirteen Reasons Why, based on the novel/novella of the same name by author Jay Asher. Having read the book years ago, I pulled it back up on my Kindle iPhone app and read it again tonight, to refresh my memory. It took about 2 hours. I cried. Again.

The purpose of reading the book again, although I do intend to watch the series and include my 11 year old daughter in the viewing, was to write this blog entry. It is in direct response to all the comments I’ve seen from many, many people, and also because, like Clay, I’ve sat and done nothing until I finally was no longer able to. Now I am the person who does something, even if that something makes me unpopular or look foolish. Being wrong out loud is better than silently being right.

The first thing I’d like to say is that many, many adults do not know anything about school except what they learned from having attended school. Which is not an admonition or reproach; it’s simply a fact. Having taught grades 9-12 for 11 years and grades 6-8 for an additional 5 now, I’ve had an opportunity to get to know more details about school in a more intimate way than I could possibly have as a student. I’m also raising 4 children of my own, the eldest 3 of whom are in elementary school at the time of this entry. What I’m going to write here will not be comforting, so if that’s why you are reading, well, far be it from me to tell you what to do…

Yes, school is pretty similar to what was described in the book. Having not yet seen the series, I have to assume it is accurate to the book, and once I have seen the entire series I will hopefully be able to verify that. Kids are mean, especially when they are hurt. Many kids can’t regulate emotions and are inherently self-centric, by which I mean their world view is limited to themselves and what things they interact with as opposed to being socially conscious. They make lists and include names to hurt others. They take advantage of situations and cover up for friends who have done truly awful things. They sneak out of the house, they take inappropriate pictures of themselves and each other, they spread rumors and gossip around without finding out the truth (and without really caring about the truth, if you want that level of detail), and they speak to one another in ways that are borderline abusive but increasingly accepted (even normal) in today’s society. Phrases like “snitches get stitches” and “bros before hoes” or even “chicks before dicks” are definitely common, and even upper elementary students use language that would make a sailor’s momma blush.

Actions do have a snowball effect in some cases, and I’m absolutely certain you have immediate memories that pop up of times a seemingly-innocuous event turned into something much, much larger. That time I saw the little plastic “flameless” tea candle lying on the floor and thought “I should pick that up before someone gets hurt” and then got distracted, only to end up in the urgent care unit with my 2 year old bearing a deep puncture wound because he ran through the foyer and his tiny foot landed directly on top of that same damned candle….

And we can never, NEVER, know the full and total impact of an action ahead of time. Especially not in the life of another person.

So what do you do? How do you protect, prepare, prevent, etc.? The long and the short of it is you have to accept responsibility yourself and take action. You cannot place all the hope or all the blame on the schools. First and foremost, your child is in school a sum total of 180 days a year. And of those days, only ⅓ of them are spent in school, and much of that time is spent in various classroom settings with a variety of students. At elementary the transitions are minimal, but after grade 5, or 6? Depending on the school, you’re looking at 4-8 different classrooms a day. Plus hallways, restrooms, locker rooms, athletic fields, the cafeteria…. School staff can do a lot – and believe me, we do. There are times and places where student interactions are not, and CAN not, be monitored. Furthermore, different schools have different types of issues. While you might be concerned about fights at one school, the next school over has an issue with pharming parties, and the one up the street has an online group of female students proudly dubbing themselves “sluts”. None of that is available in the online demographic page from the Department of Education, and much of it will never be disclosed by staff, students, families, or anyone else who has awareness. While you can typically find reported statistics on school violence and the like through a direct inquiry or even on a district website, that’s hardly the only (or even worst) thing your child is likely to face in school. In ANY school. Traditional public, charter, private, or parochial. They all have their own issues. I promise you this.

Again, what do you do? How do you protect, prepare, prevent, etc.?

Raise your child with compassion, empathy, awareness, understanding, and kindness. That is the first thing. Seriously. It sounds trite, and most parents would probably say they are already doing this. But are you? Are you, really? Are you talking with your white child about being a witness or an upstander when they see a person of color being addressed by authority? Are you teaching your daughter that it is never okay to call another student names or cut her out of the group because of the influence of the “popular” girl? Are you teaching your son that he is to never put his hands on another person ever, not even pulling pigtails to show he likes her? Do you use the phrases “boys will be boys” and “little girls are mean” with a “just saying” attitude? Do you write negative reviews after seeing gay characters featured in Disney movies? More importantly, because more is caught than taught as my mother in law says, how are you modeling this behavior at home? Do you share jokes that are “off color”? Do you say condescending, mean, or hurtful things to people in your household, even “just joking”? Have you erased the phrase “that’s retarded” from your own vocabulary? These observed behaviors have an impact on the little people around you. Your behavior becomes theirs. It truly does.

Talk with your children. Talk with them about everything. By the time they are receiving “the talk” in school, it’s way too late and they do NOT want to hear it that way. No one wants their first exposure to the words “penis” and “vagina” to be in a classroom full of pre-pubescent 11 year olds who can’t stop giggling and are grossed out by the thought of tongues in each other’s mouths. Tell your kids! Tell them about how they are similar to and different from other kids. Tell them about love, and how regardless of whether you agree with it or not, sometimes love doesn’t look like a man and a woman. Read books that tackle difficult subjects like racism and xenophobia and sexism, read them together, and discuss them! Ask probing questions to make sure your kids understand and aren’t embarrassed by what they don’t know. And for heaven’s sake, be real about it. Share with them your thoughts and teach them to make decisions on their own.

One other thing you can do is educate yourself and your child about bullying. Teasing, name-calling, picking on each other, that isn’t necessarily bullying. Please please please look into it and help yourself and your child differentiate between what true bullying is and what it isn’t. None of that behavior is okay, and we should not be encouraging our children to call each other names “affectionately” or in jest, but the system gets so slowed down when the initial complaint alleges bullying, and that means less time to look into and monitor what’s going on in other places as well as reduced resources for students who truly need help. Students like Hannah.

Finally, and I cannot stress this enough, build your community. If your kids aren’t going to school where they live, which is quite common in a “choice” state like Delaware, help them to be connected to both their school AND their home communities. Attend events in both. Know the neighbors and other key players. To the greatest extent possible, provide your children with the safety net of an extended group of people who care and will look out for them. Remind them who they can trust and talk to when they need to. Let them know it’s ok if that person isn’t always you. Be their parent, not just their friend. Tell them you are proud of them, and that you love them, and that they are good people even when they sometimes make bad choices. Let them move on from those bad choices. Move on from them yourself.

The world is big for these tiny souls. So big, and so very full of dark. Give them a light that will never burn out; give them the ability to BE the light themselves.

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Yes I’m a Natural Blue

Donald Trump is my President. He is, incidentally, your President as well. It doesn’t actually matter what you think about that, because the fact is that Donald Trump was sworn in as the President of the United States of America on January 20, 2017, and unless you are not a citizen of the U.S.A., President Trump is your President. Regardless of what your protest sign or hat or t-shirt says.

Back in mid-summer, the process of acceptance began for me. As the Democratic National Convention drew to a close with concession speeches and cries of unification, it became clear that the Democratic Socialist who could almost certainly beat the tidal wave that is The Donald was the one the Democrats refused to allow leadership over the party. I knew then that President Trump was as inevitable as the sunset. Still I tried, because that is the objective of my activism, but I was not as shocked, appalled, disgusted, sad, and horrified as many of my liberal friends on November 9.

The hardest part of the election for me was refraining from saying “I told you so” during the subsequent two months, even though those mourning around me were not so gracious when my preferred candidate didn’t garner the necessary votes for the party candidacy.

This extended period of prescience and relative calm amidst chaos has allowed me a singular opportunity to remain clear-headed and deliberate with my actions and advocacy. Knowing that a VERY large portion of my extended family supported Trump with a fervor and system of belief that goes directly against most of what I hold dear has made it even easier for me to hold my tongue. Just as dearly as I hold my convictions, the 25.5% of Americans who voted for Trump hold theirs (presumably – it is entirely possible that, as my mother told me, many just didn’t want another 4-8 of Obama and like-minded Dems in the White House).

Wait, what? Around one-quarter of the nation elected President Trump? Yes, and 25.6% elected non-President Clinton. Which means around 49% of Americans voted for Harambe, someone else, or no one at all. So you can stop claiming that this is what America wants. The vending machine wants $1.00 for a Butterfinger, and no matter how many times I press D3 after putting in my $0.25, it still ain’t spitting one out.

The end game here, in my mind, is that we liberals and progressives will be lucky to not lose gains we made that are super important to our way of life. The conservatives and Tea Partiers are well-positioned to close the gaps that have opened between their values and our national direction. The folks in the middle of the road probably aren’t going to care one way or another except about the small, individual battles that directly impact them in their lives.

My therapists over the past 20 years have pretty universally stated that my ability to see both sides of an issue is developed to the point of being a flaw. I’m using it as a strength right now, however, to see the possibility of a path forward. Let’s be real; sometimes logic and facts are not enough to make an impact, and it becomes insanely frustrating to work with individuals who refuse to see things plainly, instead turning to conjecture, speculation, presumption, and flat-out stubbornness to avoid rational discourse, let alone being open to change their minds about dearly-held beliefs. (Note: I’m well aware that some of you see me in this exact way. I’m okay with that, although you are incorrect. If you aren’t open to seeing and hearing me as a whole, as someone who is willing to listen and learn, you aren’t worth the emotional investment it would cost me to dislike you or attempt to convince you otherwise.)

The start to the path forward is to respect all opinions and beliefs, no matter how contrary they are to your own. “Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.” (JFK) That means you don’t get to tell me that I have to suck it up and unify for the betterment of America (that’s condescending and inaccurate) and I don’t get to call you names like sexist, racist, misogynist, and village idiot (that’s just rude, and also probably inaccurate). I don’t have to respect President Trump, and I sure as hell don’t have to like him. To me, he is an embarrassment and a very specific form of danger to America, one we have yet to begin to realize. However, I do not see him as the epitome of all things unholy and the ultimate downfall of our great nation. That type of belief imbues him with a power he truly does not have, and it makes our cause more difficult to move forward with his supporters.

We stand a better chance of achieving harmony with others if we work to find common ground, no matter how slender, and build the positive relationships that will make us more amenable to seeing other points of view. Some of you may not appreciate that particular character trait, but it is important to who I am as a person. I will not publicly – or pseudo-privately – call people names or say mean or untrue things about them because that is also counterproductive to my ultimate goal, which is progress. By tearing one another down we only serve to regress.

Let us build not a wall but a web, a flexible, living connection to one another that will truly make America great again.

(If you have yet to make a connection between my post title and its content, click here.)

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Black. Lives. Matter.

Recently I came across the following epistle, and I thought I might give it the old “John Young red line” treatment.

Subject: Fwd: Black lives Do Matter! sobering facts

Well, I’m glad we agree on that!

Black Lives Do Matter  (one of the most racist groups ever!)
noun: racism

  1. the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.
  2. prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.

The Black Lives Matter movement is attempting to spread the message that people are equal and should be treated as such. It is the very opposite of the definition of racism.


First off, the entire population of the world could be boiled down to more Africans than people from the Americas (keeping in mind that not all Africans are Black, not all Blacks are African, not all people from the Americas are from the US, and not all US Americans are White). 

Additionally, the percentage of Black or African American people in the US is 13.3% as of July of 2015.

The prison population would go down by 48%,

37.7% of US prisoners are Black as of June 25, 2016.

There would be 53% fewer gang members,

As of 2011, only 35.3% of gang members are Black or African American.

Average IQ would go up 7.4 points, putting us 3rd in the world, tied with Japan,

Japan is 3rd at 105. The US is tied for 9th with 8 other countries with an average IQ of 98. This is based on data gathered from research conducted between 2002 and 2006, and the researchers themselves drew a correlation between IQ and income inequality more than race. When looking for data on racial impacts on IQ, I was not able to validate any claim of a point value anywhere remotely resembling 7.4 points difference between Black and White Americans.

Average SAT scores would go up almost 110 points,

The average SAT score overall is 1488.457, with the average score for Black or African American participants being 1277. In looking at this data, I used a spreadsheet  (SAT_ACT_Comparisons) my husband set up for me and discovered that the average score would be 1522.053, a rise of only 33.596 points.

Average ACT scores would go up 5.9 points.

ACT scores have a very wide range of categories to review. Using strictly the composite score, which is a national average of 20.7478, I calculated the difference using a spreadsheet my husband set up for me (see above link) I see that the average score without Black or African American participants would rise to 21.53336, a difference of 0.78556 points.

AIDS & HIV would go down by 65%,

By the end of 2014, 42% (504,354) of those ever diagnosed with AIDS were African Americans.

Chlamydia cases would go down 59%,

I’m not seeing an actual number for this statistic; however, my computations based on the CDC table here yields about 34.79%.

Gonorrhea would go down 69%,

Based on 2010 data – the CDC reports that the level has decreased.

Syphilis would go down 58%.

Wrong: 47.4%

The average income for Americans would go UP over $20,000 a year,

The Real Median Household Income in 2014 was reported by the US Bureau of the Census as $53,657. For Black Americans, it was $35,398. Removing the Black American data, the average rises to $59,014.67. Less than a $6,000 increase. (Editor’s note: This is based on a straight average. I’m aware that it is not based on comparative percentages of different populations among the four represented ethnic groups. Frankly, I’ve done a metric crap tonne of work on this and you can look it up yourself if you want that level of detail. Suffice it to say the statistic is incorrect regardless.)

Amount of people in poverty would drop 54%,

Again, wrong. The data pretty clearly shows that, based on 2007-2011  averages, 14% of Americans live below the poverty level. When Blacks and African Americans are removed, the number drops to 12.69%, which is definitely not 54% of 14%. (Scroll to page 13 of the linked site.)

Homelessness would go down 65%,

40.6% of the “sheltered homeless population” in 2014 was reported as Black or African American.

Welfare recipients would go down by 52%,

41.6% in 2012. Bam.

DEMOCRATS WOULD LOSE 76% OF THEIR VOTING BASE!!! (they’ll never let that happen!)

76%? Sounds like some hinky Fox News crap to me. Try this out. Also, did you know global climate change is a hoax? If you’ll buy that, I’ll throw the Golden Gate in free.

And, many criminal defense attorneys would have to find another line of work!

There’s no real statistic for me to compare here. I suppose I could look up the total number of defendants in criminal cases and then calculate the proportional representation of Blacks and then redo all the math and Common Core that shit but….I had that brainpower half a bottle of wine ago.

Yes, Black lives do matter

Again, totes glad we agree!

I want to add one more editorial note, and since I’m the bloggess I have that liberty. Every single item here is repulsive when linked to Black Americans. I want you to realize that what this message says is Black people have diseases, they are criminals, they contribute nothing to society and live off the government dime, they are stupid gang members who belong in prison, and they are racist.

Those total and utter asshats! (/sarcasm)

Would our country be better off without Black people? NO. HELL NO. FUCK NO. Not only was our country built on the backs and with the blood of Africans (and please for the love of all that’s holy do NOT give me that shit about Africans enslaving each other), we are better than to tear down one another based on melanin production. In fact, if you really think hard about it, the darker one’s skin, the more likely one is to survive in the parts of the world we will ALL need to inhabit once the global climate change shifts us to the long-overdue ice age and everything where most people live freezes right the heck over.

Also, in case I haven’t said it yet, don’t be racist. Black. Lives. Matter.

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