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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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.





Maybe If We Had Known That We Didn’t Know. . .

28 10 2011

This is headlined as “The Boomer Parent’s Lament”:

“Maybe if I knew that our children would be coming of age in an economy that would crush even the best and brightest among them, I would have cared a little less about their score on an advanced placement history test, and a little more about helping them find happiness in moments at the margin.”

UNSCHOOLING boomer parents though, knew this all along and we aren’t lamenting any such thing. Finding happiness in the moment and the margin AND smack-dab in the middle of the morning too, while everyone else was sweating yet another test — that was the whole program, the whole point, the whole power of our story.

Didn’t JJ just finish saying something like that? 😉

There was a book excerpt in the NYT Sunday magazine so stunning that I ordered the book online. I was waiting to read it before blogging anything about it but it’s been on my mind in every current conversation, now including this one. The book is “Thinking, Fast and Slow” and its professor author Daniel Kahneman was a 2002 Nobel laureate in economics.

The big point is that we humans tend to hold fast to (often false) confidence that we’re doing the right thing and that we can “know” what that is, even when we’re smart enough to SEE that we aren’t, and don’t, and can’t.

The Hazards of Confidence:

We rarely experienced doubt or conflicting impressions. . . [but] as it turned out, despite our certainty about the potential of individual candidates, our forecasts were largely useless.

The evidence was overwhelming. . . our ability to predict performance at the school was negligible. Our forecasts were better than blind guesses, but not by much.

What do you think about the right way to school kids and prepare them for quantifiable success? How confident are you that you’re right about that? 😉





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





What’s in the Word “Education”? Not a Single Consonant From J-O-B or G-O-P

12 10 2011

“You know, we don’t need a lot more anthropologists in the state. It’s a great degree if people want to get it, but we don’t need them here. I want to spend our dollars giving people science, technology, engineering, math degrees.

That’s what our kids need to focus all their time and attention on.”

Think of it as electoral politics, not education policy or even jobs policy. Have you learned to translate rhetoric for reality yet? Mother Jones is getting the hang of it. This is no different than voter suppression laws masterminded by R-think tanks and pushed through R-dominated states all over what’s left of this once-great union. (“union”=ironic term in itself, these days.)

Rick Scott to Liberal Arts Majors: Drop Dead | Mother Jones

Florida’s unpopular tea party governor, Rick Scott, wants more of the state’s youths to pick up college degrees… but only if the degrees are useful to corporations and don’t teach students to question social norms.

. . .As opposed to conservative-friendly disciplines like economics and business management, liberal arts produce more culturally aware and progressive citizens, inclined to challenge ossified social conventions and injustices.

Eliminate cultural and social sciences from public colleges, and you’ll ultimately produce fewer community organizers, poets, and critics; you’ll probably churn out more Rotarians, Junior Leaguers, and Republican donors.

Then those “conservative-friendly disciplines” can be sold off piecemeal to the Koch brothers and other corporate titans, which has already started to happen here at FSU:

The debate is only starting over FSU (is it Florida State University or For Sale University?) and its decision to embrace a $1.5 million pledge from . . . one of the conservative billionaire brothers at Koch Industries, to be used for hiring in the economics department. In exchange, Koch’s representatives get to “screen and sign off on” the hires, essentially winning the right to interfere in faculty hiring at a publicly funded university.

Not just here and not just the Koch brothers, of course. No, that would be something the rest of you could blow off. But this isn’t:
Read the rest of this entry »





What’s in the Words “Red Meat”?

21 09 2011

Today we bring you Fightin’ Mad White Women in a Meat Locker. Like Rocky Balboa . . .

Remember tough GOP campaigner Sarah Palin chirping on about family holidays in front of turkey slaughter in what looked like a wood chipper, body still twitching and blood flying? The joke then was “pro-life, huh?”

But the image fit and she didn’t seem as bothered by it as even her own team was, much less the rest of us. It vividly showed her to be one tough force to be reckoned with, a warrior not merely of culture but blood and guts, bullets and guns, spoiling for a fight, a warrior unconstrained by truth and unable to tolerate (much less create and sustain) peace, according to (most recently) the Palin portrait painted in the new Joe McGinniss book aptly titled The Rogue.

I haven’t read the book, only heard several interviews with the author. What I heard in his storyline about HER storyline, is that that she’s ruthlessly competitive, so much so that she (and her father and her husband) are insidiously, intentionally menacing for effect, to demoralize and destroy not just enemies but opponents, folks across the country and the guy next door — even those few individuals close to her who dare to feel friendly to her much less try to work with her. (No wonder her own high school basketball teammates called her Sarah Barracuda.)

This all once upon a more innocent time, made me think of her as a somewhat sympathetic Scarlett O’Hara but now it seems more like Lou Gossett Jr. except unfortunately she’s in my real life whether I buy a ticket to keep watching or not, and her competitive power of story is only about winners and losers, just to beat everyone else down and step over their bodies, not to teach and raise them up, not to make us all better for the greater good:

I’ll use any means FAIR or UNFAIR to trip you up!

Now presidential candidate Michele Bachmann is manhandling some red meat for the Red Vote. To prove what a tough competitor she is? — but it seems to me what’s really tough in ways both fair and unfair, is believing she can be so tenderly concerned about our “little girls” when she opposes American society working effectively together to help them stay healthy! — she very publicly opposed a cancer-preventing vaccine last week, and this week stands in a meat locker calling for an end to food inspection, unconcerned about e.coli (which disproportionately threatens young children) . . .

Like Gene Hackman in another movie, I “feel like I’m going insane.” Or from the same power of story:

Not-so-bright performer: “Chewing gum helps me think.”
Older, wiser performer: “Sweetie, you’re wasting your gum.”

Finally, it put me in mind of this, remember?

Oh shoot! (pun intended.)
Federal control with licenses and training and stuff?? Can’t we just open it up for free market sport, this constitutional freedom to pursue happiness by killing, Read the rest of this entry »





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.