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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Did I Mention Liza’s Culture Kitchen Seems to Be Gone?

30 07 2012

. . .so gradually I am using the Wayback machine to bring up my old essays there, when the need arises to link them in some discussion or other; posting a version here gives me a link that can work without said magic machine. Today it was a conversation at Radical Unschooling about whether to “lie” to children by telling them about Santa . . .

Is this the way the world ends, not with a lie believed — but truth disbelieved?

January 2006

Submitted by JJ Ross, Ed.D.
Abuse of Belief Junior – the Home Game
Blogging with Lorraine about truth and lies, and whether we have the wisdom to know the difference, I commented that moms understand how children construct meaning that is both truth and lie, or to be more accurate, meaning for which the labels “truth” or “lie” have little or no meaning!

. . .just ask a child who ate the last cookie, or why his dog suddenly has a bald patch and where are the scissors?! The answers will depend (most passionately!) on what the child believes you may believe, and what he or she WANTS to believe, and not much on evidence, objectivity or looming jurisprudence.

Then this morning, I came across a book review of “Real Kids: Creating Meaning in Everyday Life” in which Susan L. Engel apparently pleads with us to be at least as interested in the ways that children think, their thought processing if you will, as we are in their outcomes or achievements.

(And JJ pleads with citizens everywhere to reject the lie that society’s Job One is to label the natural thinking processes of children as some unnatural problem or other, the better to impose years of professional intervention in the name of national security and all that is holy.)

Engel argues that children’s play
and storytelling provide clear evidence that children’s thinking is not a simplified version of adult thinking, but rather reflects a qualitatively different way of interacting with the world — a way of interacting in which the boundaries between fantasy and reality are highly permeable.

To which a liberally educated British dad now living here and homeschooling his own, added a snatch of T.S. Eliot — “humankind cannot bear very much reality” — and some pithy comments:

I think that anybody looking around after 9/11 has to agree that “the boundaries between fantasy and reality are highly permeable” for all of us. To give other examples, there’s the drive to impose Intelligent Design and the Strict Construction[ist] approach to the Constitution — two attempts to deny change and progress by imposing an arbitrary barrier.

So I’m beginning to think this could be the cultural conversation of our times.

Although speaking just for my own truth, before I could muster much scholarly attention for the Constitution today, I was as usual seduced by a powerful whiff of story, wafting my way from Eliot’s own “highly permeable boundaries between fantasy and reality.”

Was he American poet or British poet, I mused. Off to check.

Aha, both are factual but neither is true alone — these facts are dependent on each other for their truth, either is misleading stated as absolute and isolated fact. Was he a poet? Yes, BUT also schoolmaster and professor as much as brilliant artist — what does that inconvenient complexity do to the falsely dichotomous “truth” that

those who can, do;
those who can’t teach;
those who can’t teach, teach teachers?

[More snarling, never mind me – I come from a long line of professors, teachers and omnivorous intellectuals with extremely porous boundaries between fantasy and reality, not to mention between thinking and breathing.]

Summing up the power of story in today’s lesson, then, it seems likely to be true of Eliot that we don’t know much of what’s true about Eliot, not even supposedly simple facts of the type with which we love to fill reference books and test mental mechanics in schools everywhere.

“Never compromising either with the public or indeed with language itself, he has followed his belief that poetry should aim at a representation of the complexities of modern civilization in language and that such representation necessarily leads to difficult poetry.”

So like a child’s mental constructs, lots of what we’re unsure we understand about Eliot is because he didn’t plant it in neatly labeled little standard rows of true-false and multiple choice, controlled to the nth degree by social common denominators and heavy pesticide applications.

Time Magazine in 1988 said Eliot “produced a body of work — poetry, criticism, plays — that permanently rearranged the cultural landscapes of his native and adopted lands. Exactly how he created himself and his era remains something of a mystery, the topic of continuing debate.”

And it is certainly true (but will you believe me? You’ll have to take my word for all this, unless Smoking Gun is having a VERY slow day) that I laughed aloud upon reading this puzzled yet gamely authoritative declaration, explaining what we know about what we don’t know:

It is rather difficult to find much information on T. S. Eliot, which is quite hard to understand, considering the profound impact he had on American and English literature. However, it can be explained that since Eliot was a very private man and also forbade in his will an official biography, the dearth of information on Eliot is justifiable.

Is this the way the world ends, not with a lie believed but truth disbelieved?

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That essay was called “Junior” because I’d written an adult version about truth and lies a few days before, as had fellow blogger Lorraine as referenced in the first paragraph. Here’s that adult essay, introduced by the fuller comment I’d made to Lorraine and quoted above, which I guess we can now consider all part and parcel:

As moms, we know children construct meaning from events as they go along, in ways that depend on who they are talking to – just ask a child who ate the last cookie, or why his dog suddenly has a bald patch and where are the scissors?! The answers will depend (most passionately!) on what the child believes you may believe, and what he or she WANTS to believe, and not much on evidence, objectivity or looming jurisprudence.

Men — well, husbands at least — are like this. They quite truly believe we’d rather have a lie we can believe, than a truth we (and they) would all prefer to downplay. (Ah, there’s a thread for more thought – downplaying and playing up truth.) Our girlfriends are like this too. They temper their truths and calibrate their lies with astonishing sensitivity and responsiveness to their surroundings and relationships. I have been told lies with far more true love and uplifting beauty in them than the clearest, most factual honesty for my own good — haven’t you?

Which gets me thinking: whenever some purist or literalist rejects the relevance of interdependent environments, circumstance, backstory and relationships, how much actual meaning can any “truth” they muster possibly claim, and where would it come from?

January 2006

Submitted by JJ Ross, Ed.D.
Abuse of Belief – Truth, Lies and Videoscape
Talk about Power of Story! Literally *and* figuratively.

This week the news includes a provocative book about true believers versus doubtful thinkers, confessions and confrontations, legalized academic cheating, even a new lawsuit about God-given truth as fraud. Who is manipulating innocent masses, and with what lies? Can cheating and conspiracy to defraud ever serve the larger cause of truth?

What do we really owe people we believe are getting conned?

With James Frey versus Oprah as only the latest public chapter in this powerful story, we’re being forced on every front to face our ambivalence about truth and lies and how we confuse them to our own detriment — is my blogging either, neither or both? I feel a headache coming on, and that’s both truth and lie — so maybe it’s not surprising that now the Bible itself is legally challenged as fraudulent memoir rather than historical fact and redemptive truth, thereby duping those desperate to believe.

A righteously indignant Maureen Dowd labels Oprah the saint, Frey the sinner, his bestselling book “bunk” and our President no better than Frey, that he too defrauded us and the wages of his sin are death, not redemption.

She does this with a straight, Pulitzer-Prize winning face, omitting equally true facts of her lying news colleague Jayson Blair, and her venerable publication’s contradictory roles in the Wilson-Plame-Miller circle of cynicism — fact-stacking for dramatic effect, self-interested stonewalling and hype, and general manipulation of its public powers — which together left us with no one to believe about any of it.

Note to the New York Times, and to public and private eyes and spies everywhere: whatever competitive lying that whole mess turns out to have been about, don’t expect us to “believe” that any of YOU believed in our right to the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth. (Sadly, even the guy on the white horse of truth, whom I liked and admired, apparently had rules and codes he believed in more than unexpurgated, unspun facts and truth.)

So our belief in academic and intellectual accountability is manipulated everywhere, in public and private acts big and small. Prominent historians such as Stephen Ambrose come under fire for fraud. Scientists defraud research journals. Teachers cheat with standardized testing, pandering to our need to believe they represent facts and truth and critical thinking. Charities cheat with money entrusted to them for making the world a better place, child protection employees falsify reports with tragic results, ad nauseum.

Thus we’re all too familiar with belief issues when it comes to public stories from textbooks to memoirs, politics and news. The new twist is religious issues as fraud.
Intelligent Design versus evolution. Catholic Church child abuse scandals, with institutional lying for generations to cover it all up.

(Isn’t Maureen Dowd a good Catholic girl? Hmm . . . she is right in the
middle of ALL of this, isn’t she? I may need to learn more about her,
connections keep popping up . . .didn’t she just publish her own somewhat dubious nonfiction memoirs?)

We lie to our friends and lovers, and whether we get caught or not, maybe personal lies aren’t different when it comes to the larger harm — Excalibur’s Merlin darkly warns his brash and ethically challenged warrior-disciple that “when a man lies, he murders some part of the world.”

Oscar Wilde said our supposedly harmless lie about telling the truth, the one we teach our kids about George Washington chopping down the cherry tree, reflects how truth-worshipping our lying culture is, a point reiterated this week by Jerry Stahl:

” . . .The anecdote, Wilde noted, perfectly exemplifies the American psyche: all about honesty, and completely contrived.
Now, as then, we are a people grown fat on fabrication. The truth is just another artificial flavor . . .”

We scream for a little (head)chopping in the name of truth now and again, ho-hum, makes great fiction for the news and publishing industries, but all we can come up with
as society-wide solution — seriously?? — is re-labeling the other guy’s truth? And alternately defending and confessing our own lies while continuing to teach them to our kids? What good is that?

No wonder public schools are dysfunctional and public education an oxymoron. There IS no truth we can
agree on objectively, to teach kids. And the truth is we know it and won’t fix it.

Wilde again:

. . . tired of the intelligent person whose reminiscences are always based upon memory, whose statements are invariably limited by probability . . . Society sooner or later must return to its lost leader, the cultured and fascinating liar.


Catholic leaders claim The Da Vinci Code is
manipulation of belief
, fraud for profit, harmful lies we must warn the world to reject.
Now comes the titillating and, one supposes, quite predictable reverse play, the
crowning glory of the news and belief cycle (whoops, not to be redundant!) — historical Christianity itself challenged as fraud, with the courts as the objective Standard of Truth.

It’s being called “abuse of popular belief” by the plaintiff.
Can we even call these stories about the stories actual news — or is it closer to sensationalized fiction in service of larger redemptive “truth?” Words seldom fail me, let’s see, where’s the connected Power of Story in all this . . . yeah, “ abuse of popular belief” is a keeper.

I think it’s time we add it to our mandatory graduation standards — if we can find anyone qualified to teach the course.





Pregnant Woman Maced by Riot Police and Miscarries — Serve and Protect?

23 11 2011

UPDATE July 2013: a small measure of justice?

In some places the police were unbelievably violent in their quest to silence the Occupiers. Oakland, California was one of those places. . .This week the U.S. district court in San Francisco awarded a group of 12 protesters one million dollars after they sued the department for police brutality. The dollar amounts vary, with some protesters getting $20,000 and another getting as much as $500,000. . .

The settlement was a step in the right direction for the police department and it was a victory for the movement. The actions of law enforcement officials towards the Occupy protesters across the country were atrocious. Last year the University of California Davis offered each of the students who were pepper sprayed at close range by campus police $30,000…The monetary awards are small but at least they are an acknowledgement. The way the Occupy movement was silenced was a disgrace.

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What does it mean for armed authoritarian police in riot gear to “serve and protect” — and who is being protected from whom, for what, under what Authority? Are Thinking Citizens ready for this debate, finally?

Pregnant woman miscarries after being sprayed with pepper spray

What follows are comments JJ is making in an effort to marshal moral principle that might transcend a conservative man’s flinging his own authoritarian feces about, all while claiming to be a multicultural minority himself and more compassionate as proven by charitable donations than “liberals.”

About miscarriage following pepper spray, he said without a trace of self-mocking:

unlike many leftists, we believe in law and order and contesting within the system and established norms, and put our lives on the line fighting for it, and unlike anarchists and their fellow travelers, we dont worship killers of cops, judges and soldiers and dont automatically blame everything on police brutality.

That’s what got me trawled/trolled into the conversation, starting with a quote intended to describe the Authority Personality he seemed to fit and drawing a retort from him that he agreed with Fromm but “it goes both ways” (??):

“. . .the individual’s goal must be to become his own authority; i.e. to have a consciousness in moral issues, conviction in questions of intellect, and fidelity in emotional matters. However, the individual can only have such an inner authority if he has matured enough to understand the world with reason and love.

The development of these characteristics is the basis for one’s own authority and therefore the basis for political democracy.” — Erich Fromm, 1957, “The Authoritarian Personality”

If the “it” that goes both ways, is maturing in reason and love (so that we can transcend animal authority and become Real Boys and Girls) then certainly I agree.

Pregnant women are a very specialized “minority” btw. Even those of us who have been one know primarily how to live as NOT one, because it can’t last long. It might be interesting for us to think about that.

First, no one is born that way or stays that way, although Mrs. Duggar comes close.. 😉

And second, the whole community has a stake in pregnant women, both literally and emotionally: she biologically holds the power within her own body (corpor-al personhood?) to bring forth life and continue the human race, yet to do it, she becomes at her most vulnerable, and is often mistreated for it both by authoritarian individuals and authoritarian society’s rules, laws and cultural hierarchies.

Pregnant women — would it help to rebrand them as citizen creators? — tend to be stunned/shocked/struck (all violent weaponized police control concepts, think about THAT!) by just how dramatically their status change brings out the “authoritarian” in personalities! People get proprietary, want to touch us and tell us what to do and not do, where to be or not be, what to ingest or not, etc etc etc. They call it protection the same way cities and campuses are claiming police violence against peaceful citizens is protection. The same way America’s war-waging is called the defense department . . .

We could have our own reasonable and loving mature debate on, say,

RESOLVED: This culture is more authoritarian toward citizen creators and their corpor-al personhood than toward job creators and corporate personhood.





What’s in the Word “Cult” Used By “Christians”?

8 10 2011

UPDATE – is the whole Christian Right itself, behaving like “an apocalyptic cult” dragging America toward civil war and if so, wouldn’t that make the Romney-Huntsman cult troublesome not because it’s radical but because it’s not radical enough?

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Prominent Pastor Calls Romney’s Church a Cult:

“I’m going to instruct, I’m going to advise people that it is much better to vote for a non-Christian [Mormon Willard “Mitt” Romney] who embraces biblical values than to vote for a professing Christian like Barack Obama who embraces un-biblical values.”

OTOH, Jeff Sharlet’s work to expose a more secretive and cultish “prayer” cell in the nation’s capital, known only as The Family, calling themselves Christians and using that bible to justify their personal and global dominionist politics, isn’t something this man calls a cult or calls out politicians for practicing? Hmmm . . .

It’s time to take political faith seriously. And if doing so strikes you as invasive, unseemly, and irrelevant to the job the candidates are seeking -– well, then, it’s really time to take faith seriously, including its uses and abuses in a democracy where piety and cynicism have long been comfortable companions.

See also:

More on C Street: Is It a Shadowy Multi-National Government?

Asking Candidates About Their Faith and Extraterrestrial Beliefs

Look Lynn! Bobby Jindal Has a Brother in Exorcism!





Wanna Help Think About “The Help”?

31 08 2011

I was up past 3 am reading in bed and couldn’t quite finish, but I’m ready to talk and it seems worth its own post if not several posts.

Already I’ve been swamped by outrage from my African-American female friends, particularly those who didn’t grow up in the Jim Crow South themselves, and I’ve heard (and felt myself) some reverse-outrage from “white women” in response, particularly those who DID grow up in the South and resent being lumped together and set apart by people insisting that the lumping and setting apart by race is wrong, especially after a half-century when we really believed the woman part of that phrase had taken precedence over the white part — but there’s plenty more power of story to this story than race and region to think and talk about, too.

So consider this an open thread for all our friends, to discuss The Help.

The Upside of THE HELP Controversy:
I thought about my own power and class privilege. Seeing The Help has made me even more committed to challenging racial disparities in Hollywood. And it has reminded me to keep encouraging people of color to write, produce, and direct films—to keep fighting for our stories to be told through our own eyes, not through others’ fantasies.

Mostly, seeing The Help made me want to hear my own grandma’s experiences. I have a plan for the next time I visit her in North Carolina. I’m bringing my Flip Cam, sitting next to her, listening to her story, and recording it—on my own terms.





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 »