Teaching Our Girls to Dance

1 09 2012
Something else from my old Culture Kitchen blog, original post from March 2006 and some additional comments and updates later, retrieved from the Wayback Machine:

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Talk about the dance of planned parenthood — I’ve known two families through their adoption of baby daughters from China.

Adopted in China, Seeking Identity in America
Most of the children are younger than 10, and an organized subculture has developed around them, complete with play groups, tours of China and online support groups.
Molly and Qiu Meng represent the leading edge of this coming-of-age population, adopted just after the laws changed and long before such placements became popular, even fashionable. . .

The first was an older couple, financially and professionally well-off in their second marriage and wanting to be a family with children. They went through a Catholic adoption process and asked us to write a formal recommendation for their application, assessing the qualities we believed would make them good parents.

Although my family left the immediate neighborhood while the daughter they’d named Amber was still a toddler, we see them out and about, at the grocery store, park or credit union. Today she is a gawky, grinning ‘tween, strikingly similar in age, culture, cadence and affinities — for Harry Potter and chess — to our Florida-born son. The two obvious differences between them, race and sex, seem irrelevant.

The second family was younger, a physician and his philanthropist wife who had four children the usual way but only one a girl, excited about adding another. Baby Lydia soon began dance classes with her doting big sister. It took her a long time to say much, but at six she’s a regular chatterbox.

In both cases, I got to see the whole “planned parenthood” process play out, from the initial exploration of the idea, the decision-making and then preparations for the arduous trip itself — halfway around the globe to a foreign land where the officials literally holding your family’s future in their hands don’t speak your language and are communist to boot (you think our bureaucrats are hard to deal with??) and home again wrung out emotionally and physically, trapped over the ocean on an airplane as brand-new mom to a disrupted infant you didn’t make, don’t know and can’t even nurse to comfort or feed, and then the ever-after of adjustments and growth within family relationships, including all the questions about how much or how little to emphasize the child’s country and culture of origin.

Such planned parents by choice generally impress me with their healthy, open attitudes and beliefs, a wish to balance, embrace, discover, celebrate, blend and include rather than to define, delimit, or (that disingenuous codeword) to “clarify” racial differences and identity.

The busy mom of five determinedly made time late at night to read Mao’s Last Dancer, a culturally shocking and saturated memoir she later loaned to me and shared with other dancer moms, in a sort of cultural ripple effect:

“Chosen on the basis of his physique alone, Li Cunxin was taken from his family and sent to the city for rigorous training. What follows is the story of how a small, terrified, lonely boy became one of the greatest ballet dancers in the world.”

In turn I’ve ripple-recommended the book to planning and thinking parents as a dance metaphor for lessons that have nothing to do with ballet . . .

I noticed that even the names these families chose were blended, able to honor more than one tradition at the same time rather than set them against one another in “forced choice” competition — the first names Amber and Lydia sound solidly American-English, but their middle names are not only Chinese but carefully refer to each girl’s particular regional heritage within that country.

Those are positives that make me feel like dancing.

But I’m also feeling helpless, thinking it’s ironic and especially wrong for tens of thousands of Chinese girls to be displaced by repressive culture and government policies just because they are girls instead of boys, and then after we adopt them as daughters of America and lovingly raise them to be beautiful, brilliant, accomplished young women ready for college admission — they will be systematically disadvantaged all over again in OUR system and culture, just because they are girls instead of boys.

. . . the standards for admission to today’s most selective colleges are stiffer for women than men.

. . .Beyond the availability of dance partners for the winter formal, gender balance matters in ways both large and small on a residential college campus. Once you become decidedly female in enrollment, fewer males and, as it turns out, fewer females find your campus attractive.

What are the consequences of young men discovering that even if they do less, they have more options? And what messages are we sending young women . . .

More culture of dance? — girls as a group are better dancers (students) than boys, like it more, but still must wait to be asked, held back by the less-willling and able boys? How many girls finally become frustrated enough to just dance alone or with each other, forget about waiting for the boys to catch up? Seems to me girls already adept at the dance of cultural change will not wait long and will be right not to, that they’ll tend instead to make over their identity once again and never mind those trying to engineer their differences into some standardized social configuration.

Will our nation’s cultures and creeds, our empowered parents and our world-renowned educational institutions, merely keep up our stylized minuet as we go right on fancying ourselves the belles of the cultural ball, uniquely superior to all those backward places where geography and demographics are destiny?

David Brooks has me believing we just might:

Bush hit all the high notes of the American creed, while not dwelling much on the intricacies and stubbornness of foreign cultures.
. . . many Republicans have lost patience with Bush’s high-minded creedal statements. . . (and) efforts to transform patterns of behavior, and come to believe that we shouldn’t exaggerate how much we can change. . .

Republican sentiment seems to be shifting away from the idea that the United States is a universal nation, where immigrants come from across the world to work, rise and join in the pursuit of happiness. Now Republican rhetoric emphasizes how alien immigrant culture is . . .how much disorder and strain their presence creates. . . from believing that culture is nothing, to believing that culture is everything — from idealism to fatalism in the blink of an eye.

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More reason not be dancing in the streets about our cultural superiority in “From classroom to tar pits?” by Marion Brady:

James McGregor, an American businessman who has lived in China for 15 years, says Chinese leaders monitor the United States. It has led them, he says, to “admire, fear and pity” us, the “pity” coming from their belief that America is a country in decline. . .

Why, they wonder, when we’re digging ever deeper the hole they think we’re in, are we so caught up in what they see as trivia — arguing about where to hang the Ten Commandments, preoccupied by homosexuality, fixating on news about murdered or missing pretty white females, legislating steroid use in sports, punishing flag burners — getting all emotional about issues they see as only marginally or not at all related to what they believe is America’s long-term well-being and continued power?

We may not agree with the Chinese leaders, or may think they should be putting their own house in order rather than inspecting ours, but they raise some important questions for Americans in general and educators in particular.

I doubt we’ll meet those challenges. However, if there’s hope, it probably lies with the kids. . .

And more with how they think than how they test.

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Then in June 2009 I followed up on Snook with:  Teaching Our Girls (Boys Too) to Dance With Democracy

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Coffee Pots, Cameras and Other Words That Start With “C” Like Capital and Capitol

10 01 2012

Washing up the coffee pot this morning, I mused about a good friend complimenting a couple of pots we shared over the holidays.

She returned to a grueling work schedule last week as most folks no doubt did, and had stopped in at a Starbucks for fortification during the latest cold snap. Expecting a little bit of holiday magic I suppose, she ordered up the same brand I’d served her — Cafe Verona. It disappointed her.

She later called to complain it had “tasted like ass!”

Why?

Same beans, same label, bigger and better equipment although I do have a built-in grinder that sounds like a jet engine revving for takeoff, plus Starbucks bean baristas are pros unlike moi, with training at making coffee that I’ve never sought or even thought about trying to match. I don’t take any particular pride of identity in my coffee — to me it’s a caffeine delivery medium, period. I take it hot and black and serve it that way too, unless lobbied by a special guest for special frills.

Aha! It hit me as I carefully washed out not just the pot but all the coffeemaker’s disassembled parts . . .

Could it be a question of “clean optics?”

Like camera lenses! Scrupulously clean optics are the secret to photography, or so I was taught by several fine photographers who tried to help me get the most from some fancy lenses I enthusiastically swapped out on my Nikkormat back in the 70s.

Good light and a good eye count, too. But even the best of both can’t compensate for the lack of squeaky-clean optics so that good light can pour through pure and true, where a good eye can make the most of it.

Coffeemaker cleaning is the same deal, I’ve learned (the hard way.) When oils from the coffee beans smear across even a little part of the mechanism and carry over into future production, the end product may indeed taste like ass.

Oh, it’s all very well to tout the beans and the roasting, the cost and the care with which the mechanism was created and is manipulated in the creative process. But clean optics are the key even though no one can see the difference. You can taste it.

I finished washing the pot and all the little parts, probably with even more care than usual.

Then I sat down with the last cup of coffee I’d saved from the pot before washing up, to watch the oiliest and most rancid governor in my personal half-century of Florida experience, giving his “state of the state” address to the oiliest and most rancid Legislative congregation of rich and selfish Capitol Capitalists assembled in my painfully experienced memory.

This is a fine state with good light and good mechanisms full of hardworking, vigorous and creative people.

That tastes more and more like ass.





Beep Won’t Like This: Iraq War Vet Critical After Police Violence at Oakland Occupy Protest

26 10 2011

The Oakland Police Department fired tear gas on Occupy Oakland demonstrators Tuesday night as they marched through downtown, determined to reclaim the camp that officers destroyed that morning. As the marchers zigged and zagged in search of safe ground, authorities bombarded and barricaded the activists into a drawn-out stalemate that resulted in further arrests.

The local police’s use of force seriously injured an Occupy activist and Iraq War veteran.

Scott Olsen, 24, remains sedated on a respirator, in stable but critical condition at Oakland’s Highland Hospital after being hit in the head with a police projectile.

. . .New video posted to YouTube suggests that Olsen was hit [in the face] at close range with a tear-gas canister. After demonstrators rush to Olsen’s aid, an Oakland cop waits a few beats before lobbing a second tear-gas canister at the crowd. They are attending to Olsen when the canister explodes, sending smoke everywhere.

No, Beep won’t like it.
I don’t like it.
No one should like it.
WTF America . . .





Some “Very Good Advice” About Parenting Advice

24 10 2011

The Guilted Age:
Making Your Own Rules

This week’s guest post is from the fabulous JJ Ross, who has worn many hats including academic, secular humanist, and unschooler. She shares her thoughts about parenting beyond the advice of others.

This is the first in the series “Good Advice / Bad Advice,” with a new post every week from now until the end of November. –LN





Judy Blume for Banned Books Week: “Children are the real losers”

23 09 2011

. . .when anyone tries to control what they can read, and know, and ask and talk about. Are you ready to read a banned book tomorrow to help kick off the 30th anniversary of the ALA’s Banned Books Week? We sure are!

See other author and book-champion videos on the dedicated Banned Books Week youtube channel. Play with the interactive “censorship” map of the US here. (Show your kids it’s not just YOUR backward town or state! It’s everywhere!)

Snook posts for Banned Books Week every year — this makes six because the blog started just in time for the 2006 celebration, which was the silver anniversary. Last year’s posts are here: Think for Yourself and Let Others Do the Same and If I Had a Robot, Would I Hammer in the Morning?

And there are lots of book-burning related posts through the years, most notoriously this and maybe this from 9/11 last year:

On this notorious day as Americans remember, reconstruct and reject both the best and worst of our national identity all at once — because whatever else we the people may be, we’re never easy! — the images of hate in my mind aren’t of burning towers but burning books, burning flags, burning bigotry and yes, burning flesh.

See a more comprehensive collection of links to explore here: Ideas Are Incombustible! (that means you can’t burn ’em up no matter how big your bonfire.)

But I think the most fun we had discussing Banned Books Week probably was in 2007:

. . . a Maine woman and an Alabama granny-girl combo using the eerily similar publicity stunt of kidnapping a book that shocks them and holding it hostage, supposedly so no one else can ever read it.

LOL – Southern ladies used to be so much more clever with their public manners, to solve such problems with devastating yet impeccably polite little social gambits.

If I were the shocked Granny, I might’ve Read the rest of this entry »





Time for School Again, Even for Real Unschoolers Like Favorite Daughter

29 08 2011

I saw always-unschooled Favorite Daughter’s FB status update this morning:

First day of graduate school! Still chasing the “when you get to [your next degree program] other students will take things seriously and the professors aren’t largely apathetic” unicorn. Here’s hoping I catch it today!

When I say she was always unschooled, I mean she never suffered K-12 compulsory attendance schooling or its curriculum/credits/testing, at home or anywhere else.

So to date I’ve been her guide to All Things School and the teller of inspiring if fanciful tales, the elusive unicorn evoker at each stage of her thrilling headfirst plunge into Education as Schooling By Choice starting at age 15: Read the rest of this entry »





Asking Candidates About Their Faith (and Extraterrestrial) Beliefs

26 08 2011

“God chose me for that moment!” she thrills . . .

Following up after the GOP debate controversy around asking Rep. Bachmann about the implications of her bible-based wifely submission beliefs should she become President:

This year’s Republican primary season offers us an important opportunity to confront our scruples about the privacy of faith in public life — and to get over them. We have an unusually large number of candidates, including putative front-runners, who belong to churches that are mysterious or suspect to many Americans.

Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are Mormons, a faith that many conservative Christians have been taught is a “cult” and that many others think is just weird. (Huntsman says he is not “overly religious.”) Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann are both affiliated with fervid subsets of evangelical Christianity — and Rick Santorum comes out of the most conservative wing of Catholicism — which has raised concerns about their respect for the separation of church and state, not to mention the separation of fact and fiction.

And let’s not skip too quickly over Read the rest of this entry »