August 31, 2011

Talking about bullying makes me less reasoned and mellow than usual.

Posted in Schooling and unschooling, Uncategorized tagged , , , at 6:52 pm by chavisory

Under a recent law, the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, New Jersey now has the most stringent and extensive anti-bullying policies of any state.  The Times has an article today about the administrative and enforcement hardships that the law will impose on New Jersey schools (Bullying Law Puts New Jersey Schools On the Spot).

I’m pretty unsympathetic to the perspective expressed by one Richard G. Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators: “I think this has gone well overboard,” he says.  “Now we have to police the community 24 hours a day.  Where are the people and the resources to do this?”

School administrators…. Don’t think you need a law to force you to keep students safe in your schools?  Then you need to prove that you can do so without one.  But you haven’t.

When you create and preside over an environment that invites abuse of the vulnerable, then yes, you’re actually accountable for what happens to them in that environment.

When you claim to be acting in loco parentis, in the place of students’ parents while they’re in your power, then yes, you’re responsible for protecting them from abuse.

I don’t know how representative Bozza’s opinion is of other members of the Association of School Administrators, but he sounds downright flabbergasted and resentful than when you claim to be responsible for students’ learning and living environments (and I think it’s fair to call school a living environment, when students spend a third or more of their time there), you are actually responsible for students’ learning and living environments. 

You can’t have it both ways.  You can’t claim the ability to legally compel students to spend eight hours a day in your facilities, to legally be acting in place of their parents, and then abdicate actual responsibility for their well-being.

Where are you supposed to get the people and the resources to enact this?  That’s not the problem of the bullying victims in your districts.  Get it together.

Not up for actually protecting kids?  Then you’re in the wrong job.

Does the New Jersey law go overboard in its requirements?  Yeah, maybe, but then you should’ve proven that you can do your job without it.  If kids are still being abused in your schools while staff turn a blind eye or claim powerlessness, you haven’t.

August 30, 2011

After the storm

Posted in Explorations, Uncategorized tagged , , , at 12:02 pm by chavisory

The storm seemed to be over by late afternoon on Sunday, but power still hadn’t returned.  We’d had rehearsal as planned the day of Hurricane Irene despite the lack of a music source or coffee.  That evening, the company members were creatively assembling an elegant dinner for eight out of cold leftovers, in a dark farmhouse kitchen by candlelight, and I was out on the back porch snapping pictures of the sky after the hurricane.

A couple of us were chatting when I spotted the rainbow through the trees and we all dashed for our shoes and cameras to run out to the neighboring field for a better view.

The morning after the storm….

Believe it or not, this place is real.

August 25, 2011

Why nerds matter

Posted in Cool kids, Reflections, Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:10 am by chavisory

Last summer, I wrote a post rather emotionally detailing my issues with the thinking behind a new reality show, NERD GIRLS, which was then in the casting process.  That post (Real nerd girls; June 2, 2010) has by far and away generated the most page views to my blog of anything that I’ve written…though not always in the way I might’ve imagined or intended.

See, WordPress has this nifty feature whereby you can see which search engine terms are bringing readers to your blog.  The following are some of the actual phrases that internet surfers have entered into search engines which brought them to my post “Real nerd girls.”

“real nerd girls”  (Okay, fair enough.)
“actual nerdy girls”
“real pretty nerd ladies”
“hot nerd girl not real nerd” (Yeah, well, sorry to disappoint you.)
“sexy girl in renaissance dress fuck”  (I admit to being particularly impressed by this searcher’s ability to spell “renaissance” correctly.)
“hot actual nerd girls?”  (The tone of that question mark is just so forlorn….)
“nerd girls in short skirts”
“live nerd girls looking for me”  (Uh, no.)
“romantic girls girls hot sexy just engineers real”  (Dude… )
“fetish pics from women in waders”  (……. )

But then there was one that actually broke my heart.

“I don’t want to be a nerd anymore.”

I have no way of knowing who the searcher was who made this request, and I rather doubt that he or she is still reading, obviously having not found the solution here.  But, I don’t know, just in case…or in case anyone else comes looking…

***

Dear nerdling,

At risk of sounding patronizing, which is not my intention…I know how hard it is.  I really do.  I won’t try to minimize what you’re going through, because I’m sure you’ve got enough people trying to do that.  I remember only too well what it’s like to feel awkward, ugly, left out, and like no one gives a damn about you.

But I can’t tell you how not to be a nerd, because I don’t know…and I’m not sure I’d tell you even if I knew.  Because here’s what I do know:

High school (or, god forbid, middle school?) is not the best time of your life.  Do not believe anyone who tells you it is, or that it should be.  Life gets far better for nerds after high school in most cases.  The adult world is much, much kinder to nerds than the adolescent world is.

Nerds are not superficial beings.  What makes you a nerd isn’t on the surface, so there’s nothing you can do to yourself cosmetically that will make you not a nerd.  Not makeup or prettier hair.  Not better clothes, cuter shoes, or any amount of waxing or plucking.  Not mani/pedicures, piercings or tattoos.  Some of the most sexy and attractive people I know are still nerds.  If you’re a nerd, you’re a nerd all the way through.

Nerds believe that knowledge matters, that information matters, and that truth matters.  You might manage to hide or suppress that belief for social convenience, for a limited amount of time, but I doubt you can make yourself unbelieve it.

Nerds are passionate.  Nerds are intensely interested in how the world works.  Nerds thrive in places where bottomless passion is valued rather than scorned.  Nerds care about the world around them.

Nerds tend to be very, very good at what they do, and doing something they love, because they do it for its own sake and not for what other people think.  (And we don’t just do science or technology, but also all the arts and humanities, teaching, politics…anything that takes passion and attention to detail.  Don’t let anyone try to push you into science or math just because you’re smart if that’s not what you want.  I know dancers and actors who are Ivy League grads with higher SAT scores than me.  You don’t owe anyone whatever use of your intelligence they happen to want from you.)

Nerds are in touch with their own inner lives.

Nerds never lose the ability to be amazed.

Nerds are genuine.  Nerds aren’t ashamed to be sincere.

Nerds aren’t embarrassed to take things seriously, but also know how not to take themselves too seriously.

Because nerds aren’t addicted to popularity or social approval, they’re better at standing up for what’s right, and standing up for other people, even when it’s unpopular.

And in my experience with people, because nerds remember how hard it was to be young, they make nicer adults.

***

So to not be a nerd anymore, you’d have to somehow smother your curiosity, your sense of wonder, your joy for whatever it is that you love, your empathy, sincerity, and inclination to think for yourself.  Now, you MIGHT be able to accomplish that–again, I wouldn’t know how–but my strong suspicion is that, much like the making of a Horcrux, it might seem like a cool idea from the outset, but the actual process would do such violence to the integrity of your soul that it would be soooo not worth it in the end.

Please reconsider?  At least just give it some time.  Because all the happiest people I know are the ones who have figured out how to accept themselves for who they truly are.  And most of the very most wonderful people I know are nerds.

***

August 19, 2011

Wondering

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:23 pm by chavisory

What would an educational system look like that nurtured creativity, bravery, compassion, diversity, and independence–instead of punishing those things?

I’m not totally sure that I know; I’m just wondering.

Share your thoughts…

August 13, 2011

Your recommended daily allowance of adorableness

Posted in City life tagged , , , at 4:30 pm by chavisory

Baby turtles.  That is all.

August 7, 2011

A hope for neurodiversity in education

Posted in Marginalization, Schooling and unschooling, Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 12:13 am by chavisory

Sometimes when I’m feeling frustrated and pessimistic, I get to wondering if humanity is irredeemably stupid.  Sometimes I look around at some of the things we do to each other and the immensity of the problems we’ve created for ourselves through greed and short-sightedness, and the state of politics in this country, and just can’t fathom how we’re ever going to find the unity, compassion, and concerted problem-solving to get ourselves out.

But I’ve been watching TED talks lately…and this conference has found a really astonishing number of people who have totally brilliant ideas and things to say.  You can really click randomly on just about any TED talk video, and people you’ve never heard of before in a hugely diverse range of disciplines are saying and doing incredible things.  Which makes me think, instead, that we actually have a nearly infinite number of wise and brilliant people on our side.

This talk by Sir Ken Robinson is actually about 5 years old, but for that I think what he says is actually more urgent now and not less.  He says that we’re actually educating kids out of their creativity and natural genius, to our own impoverishment…that we actually stigmatize many kinds of intelligence that simply don’t perform well in a confined classroom environment or on a standardized test.

Creativity isn’t just about making art; it’s that misunderestimation that makes it easy to marginalize as impractical or financially untenable.  We have environmental problems, health problems, food problems, and budget problems, and they’re all going to require creativity to solve.  Balancing our budget will take creativity.  Making alternatives to fossil fuels safe and affordable will take creativity.  Finding ways to teach kids from the most difficult of life circumstances takes creativity (like setting up a pirate supply store as a front for a free tutoring center, as Dave Eggers explains here).

“It’s education that’s meant to take us into this future that we can’t grasp,” Robinson says, noting that we’re trying to educate kids for the next 50 years of their lives, but we have no idea what the world will be like in 5 years.  We have absolutely no basis on which to say that one kind of thinking, one curriculum or set of skills or knowledge, will be the most important one in the future and therefore to stigmatize all the others.

It’s here that I’d like the educational establishment to consider borrowing an idea from the autism community:  neurodiversity, or the conviction that there is very broad natural variation in human neurological wiring, in which even difficult differences should be valued on their own terms.  It’s become a somewhat contentious term and there are plenty of legitimate criticisms of it, but I don’t believe that it’s a denial of the reality of the disabling aspects of this condition, or a denial that people need and deserve help with things that really impede their quality of life.  I see neurodiversity as asking us to understand and accept a way of thought and a way of being on its own terms before we devalue it or decide it should be eradicated from the human experience, to see people first for their gifts and the ways in which humanity needs them.

As Temple Grandin says, “the world needs all kinds of minds.”

To me, neurodiversity’s not just about how we value autistic people, but how we value everyone who thinks differently, anyone who’s out of step with what the culture has decided it values and doesn’t value, and whatever is distinctive about every person.

Very much echoing what I interpret to be at the heart of the neurodiversity movement’s goals, Robinson says “Human communities depend upon a diversity of talent, not a singular conception of ability.  At the heart of the challenge is to reconstitute our sense of ability and of intelligence.”

Robinson talks specifically about how dance and performance arts are devalued in the educational system, and I think of the League of Extraordinary Dancers, as well as all the dancers I’ve worked with, who never stop amazing me with how their brains work in ways that mine doesn’t.  Skills like these are probably not measurable by standardized test, but, I mean, they only have the potential to revolutionize assumptions about what the human body is capable of and the artistic potential of technology and the internet.

No one gets better or stronger or smarter by being defined and valued according to their weaknesses, but that’s exactly how we educate kids.  We sort students out by what’s wrong with them instead of allowing them the resources and freedom to nurture what’s right with themselves.

I think of Hogwarts, by contrast, which begins the process of formal education by sorting students according to their most basic strengths: Gryffindor students are courageous, Ravenclaws clever, Hufflepuffs hardworking and fair, and Slytherins cunning and ambitious.  Notice how the Sorting Hat doesn’t sort anyone out by their deficiencies.  And how it required the gifts of every single House to save the world from Voldemort.  (Even Slytherin, reviled by all the other houses…Snape’s cunning obviously being what allowed him to act as a double agent for the Order, and it was Narcissa Malfoy’s loyalty to her own family first and foremost that led her to betray Voldemort.)

We all need each other.  We all need each other’s brilliance.

{I couldn’t exactly weave this in to my thesis, but it’s just beautiful and I wanted to share it: spoken word poet Sarah Kay talks about how she found out what she wanted to do, using poetry to solve problems, and teaching self-expression through performance poetry.}

August 5, 2011

All you have to do

Posted in Reality, Reflections, Uncategorized tagged , , , at 11:42 pm by chavisory

I am in love with this passage I came across from Sugar, who is consequently my new favorite advice columnist.  She writes in The Rumpus.

“You don’t have to get a job that makes others feel comfortable about what they perceive as your success. You don’t have to explain what you plan to do with your life. You don’t have to justify your education by demonstrating its financial rewards. You don’t have to maintain an impeccable credit score. Anyone who expects you to do any of those things has no sense of history or economics or science or the arts.

You have to pay your own electric bill. You have to be kind. You have to give it all you got. You have to find people who love you truly and love them back with the same truth.

But that’s all.”