Abuse

I’m not sure where to start, here. I guess I’ll begin with the post that got me thinking about abuse several years ago. Skepchick, one of my favorite websites, has a regular feature called Ask Surly Amy. In this post, somebody asked her for advice about helping an abused woman he knows:

I finally got her to leave him. It was tough for her at first, but I did everything I could to help. Things paid off: she got a job and a house. She was proud of herself and had plans for the future. And then she gave up all that and came back with him. Because she wanted to. All this happened TWICE.

He went on to ask why she had done this, and explained that he was frustrated with the situation. I can completely understand how he must have felt: betrayed, helpless, hurt, and frustrated. I would feel the same way in a similar situation. People gave him very good advice, and he decided not to give up on her. The piece of information that resonated with me the most was in the very first comment:

One thing I’d like to add is that most women who leave abusive relationships leave a BUNCH of times and go back before they leave for good. I think the statistic I learned when I was training to work with women in crisis was that most women leave eight times.

Eight times? I looked it up.

That is staggering. I cannot imagine getting up the courage to leave an abusive situation once, let alone more than half a dozen times.

Later, a friend posted a story about young actress, Afshan Azad, who played Padma Patil in the Harry Potter movies. She was attacked and threatened by her father and brother for dating a non-Muslim man, and she did not testify against them in court.

I, of course, can only speculate as to why she didn’t show up to testify against them in court. Perhaps she felt guilty about turning them in. Maybe they threatened her. Maybe she thought it would make things worse for her if she testified. It makes me sad, in any case, that she has gone through this. It’s not the exact same thing as having an abusive partner, but the core situation is the same: somebody who is supposed to love you is causing you harm, on purpose, even if they think they are trying to protect you.

I have heard stories about battered women, from Patrick Stewart’s accounts of his mother’s abuse to a good friend who recently left her abuser. It’s a situation that happens to women and men who never think it will happen to them. There are photographic accounts such as this one and this one. People see and hear about it all the time but know very little about the nature of abuse.

The truth is that every case of domestic violence is different. To judge and assume is not only unhelpful, it can be harmful. Remember this if you are ever found in this situation or faced with a friend who is being abused: it is never the victim’s fault. Get help. Be the help that somebody else needs. Spread information about domestic violence that can give others the tools to offer the right kind of assistance. It is important to understand how to help without making the situation more dangerous for the victim or yourself.

If you or anyone you know is suffering from domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE(7233).

You’re all gonna die — SIKE!

When I first caught this story through MSNBC, I was taken aback.

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Staff members of an elementary school staged a fictitious gun attack on students during a class trip, telling them it was not a drill as the children cried and hid under tables.

Now, I remember doing fire drills and tornado drills in school… and even lock down drills in high school. We had bomb threats, and once we went into lock down because there was an armed suspect in a neighborhood adjacent to campus that the cops were after. Lock down lasted about an hour, until he was arrested, and then normalcy resumed. Even during that lock down experience, we were never told “there is a gunman on the loose – hide under your desks!” As a matter of fact, there was just some vague code announced, and all the teachers closed the blinds and closed and locked their doors. We weren’t allowed to leave the room without a teacher, and then only in emergencies (like going to the bathroom). Teachers continued teaching, even. Nobody said what had happened until after the guy was arrested, to prevent us from panicking.

We were never told we were in danger when we weren’t. And even when we were in possible danger, our teachers and administrators were sure to stay calm and keep us that way. Sure, we wanted to know what was going on, but we truly didn’t need to know until it was over. It only would have made the situation worse.

This situation is horrible for several reasons, not the least of which is that students were made to feel that they were in danger when they weren’t.

During the last night of the trip, staff members convinced the 69 students that there was a gunman on the loose. They were told to lie on the floor or hide underneath tables and stay quiet. A teacher, disguised in a hooded sweat shirt, even pulled on a locked door.

Now, of course the media sensationalized this a bit, but let’s think about this. These students are 11 or 12 years old… do they really need to know there’s a man with a gun on the loose, even if it’s true? In a real situation, should they have told these kids details that would just scare them and put them into panic, or could they have been more vague?

And the teacher pulling on the door? That’s going way too far.

I understand what they were trying to do – I’m a teacher, I can see the importance of being prepared for a situation like this – but they handled it horribly. Scaring students unnecissarily only erodes the trust they have in you, and doesn’t really prepare them for a similar situation in real life. And, truly, it’s not the students who need to be prepared for this, it’s the teachers.

I seriously doubt any of them would be laughing had this stunt been pulled on them in a staff meeting.

However, a lot of people are saying that these teachers should lose their jobs – I don’t agree with that. I do think they should be educated on how to handle emergency situations, particularly away from school, and possibly disciplined for their lapse in judgement, but I think losing their jobs is more than harsh.

Shay [one of the sixth graders involved] and her mother, Niki Morris, said they forgave the teachers and wanted to move on. It “went too far because it was too gruesome,” Shay said. “You’d think a teacher wouldn’t do it, but they did. But they’re great teachers. If (the assistant principal) loses his job, I will break into tears. He’s the best assistant principal I’ve ever had.” (source)

There’s a response on the school’s website, as well:

Clearly, there are many versions of this situation and the coverage has been sensationalized. Regardless of the versions, this prank crossed the line in what would be appropriate to tell young children, especially in light of recent incidents.

It goes on to say that the incident is being investigated and that proper action will be taken, I just hope they are balanced in their discipline. There are a lot of teachers who have no idea what to do if such a situation was to happen for real, and that’s the real tragedy, here.

Let’s use this as a sign that we need to educate our teachers, not just punish them.

All year long…

Lately, I’ve heard quite a bit about year-round school vs. traditional calendar school in the local news:

Superior Court Judge Howard E. Manning, Jr. ruled Thursday that the Wake County school system can not force students into year-round schedules.

Which leaves a lot of people wondering – where are these kids going to go? They can’t build schools fast enough, and the students keep coming. According the article, they’re trying to come up with all kinds of options, but the only other one that seems possible is splitting the day – having an “early shift” (approx. 7-12:30) and a “late shift” (approx. 1:30-7) for students.

Parents don’t want that, either.

So perhaps a little background is important. Year round school is generally nine weeks on, three weeks off. This means that students and teachers would be in school for nine weeks (already the typical grading period), with three-week breaks between. For a lot of families, it’s hard to find childcare every two months for a month. I can see the issue there, though don’t a lot of parents typically have to find childcare for three months once a year, anyway? Seems like that would work itself out (highschoolers looking for babysitting jobs, camps that would cater to year-round school schedules, etc). And, I would think that typical family vacations are three weeks or less, anyway.

There are always exceptions, but on the surface, year-round schooling doesn’t seem to be a problem. There are a lot of opinions as to the actual benefits regarding retention, but nobody seems to think academics are suffering due to year-round schedules.

However, Wake County and a lot of other overcrowded school districts are using the year-round scheduling on a track system to help maximize the number of students that can learn in a given building. It sounds like a good idea, but it becomes a clusterfuck when you realize that parents with multiple children will sometimes have kids on different tracks. Teachers have to share classrooms – moving out of their room every nine weeks and moving into a new room three weeks later.

As a future teacher, the notion of moving all my crap every grading period does not make me happy. I’d rather have it all there, organized, where I need it. Part of the appeal of teaching is having my own classroom… it just seems so temporary

But what are these school systems supposed to do? This is a lose-lose situation for everyone, and compromise isn’t coming easy. I know that Wake County is doing everything it can to accommodate these kids, but there are just too many.

Tempers are flaring on both sides of this issue, as parents fight for both sides, school systems struggle to come up with a good plan, teachers worry that they’ll be shuffled around…

The saddest part is, it’s the kids who are caught in the middle.

This is a pretty good resource for the pros/cons of year-round school… it appears to be fairly balanced.

Immigration and education

Immigration is a hot political topic, lately – specifically dealing with the Latino population, more specifically Mexican immigrants, and even more specifically undocumented Mexican immigrants.

So many people want to do away with immigrants – send them back to their home country to fix their own problems. What if we’re causing some of those problems? Yup, that’s right – the United States is selling our cheap corn to Mexico, and wondering why the 1.3 million Mexican farmers that have been priced out of work are coming up to the States for work.

Oh, and those dirty Mexicans don’t pay taxes, right? They come up here and make all that money, and then give it to their fat families in Mexico and don’t even have to pay taxes… wait, what? You mean that’s wrong, too? Most of them don’t even make minimum wage, but a good portion of them pay taxes, and even file federal returns. Also, most states have sales tax – every time they buy something, like food, they are paying taxes. Do they get tax refunds? Or the same benefits that legal US citizens get? Nope.

Alright, so perhaps I should get to the education connection before I get shoved down off of my soapbox. North Carolina has one of the fastest-growing Latino populations in the country – 393% over ten years from 1990 to 2000, according to the 2000 US Census. I’ll be teaching in North Carolina for at least four years, and have lived here my entire life.

As a teacher, it is illegal for me to ask the immigration status of my students or their families, according to Supreme Court Case Plyler v. Doe.

In the eyes of a school, there is no difference between legal or illegal immigrants. They are entitled to the same education as American citizens.
The 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause does not allow public schools to ask about immigration status. Source.

Personally, I agree with this decision – why should children suffer because of the disagreements of adults?

Also, the Supreme Court says that “sink or swim” education is unconstitutional, according the the case Lau v. Nichols – this means that if a student does not know English, schools and teachers are required to adapt their instruction and/or supplement the student’s learning to help them succeed.

I agree with this, too – ignoring them doesn’t make the problem go away, and creating ignorant citizens makes it worse.

So, why all this ranting? Because I feel that our nation’s views on immigration – illegal or not – are generally founded out of ignorance and misunderstanding, and that most United States citizens cannot be bothered to learn the truth.

I intend to brush up on my weak Spanish over the summer, and hopefully I’ll be conversationally fluent by the time I’m teaching, in a year. And I wish people would stop trying to tell me that I’m wrong because I’m “catering to the illegals”. Would it really hurt to do some research and give some support to our neighbors? Really?

School refuses to award teaching certificate, hates pirates

So, despite the amusing title, this story has me pissed off. According to Lancaster Online, in an article dated 27 April:

A 27-year-old Millersville University graduate filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the college for denying her an education degree and teaching certificate after a controversial Internet photograph surfaced last year shortly before graduation.

The picture shows Stacy Snyder of Strasburg wearing a pirate hat while drinking from a plastic “Mr. Goodbar” cup. The photograph taken during a 2005 Halloween party was posted on Snyder’s MySpace Web page with the caption “Drunken Pirate.” […]

Stacy Snyder, drunken pirate

[…] “The day before graduation, the college confronted me about the picture,” Snyder said Thursday. “I was told I wouldn’t be receiving my education degree or teaching certificate because the photo was ‘unprofessional.’ ”

[…]

[Dean] Bray met with Snyder May 12. She accused Snyder of “promoting underage drinking through her ‘drunken pirate’ photo. Bray then stripped Snyder of her education degree and teaching certification, according to the lawsuit.

Snyder graduated the next day with an English degree.

This irritates me for several reasons. First of all, Snyder was 25 when the photograph was taken. Even in Pennsylvania, the legal drinking age is 21. How, then, does this photograph promote underage drinking? Why are educators often held to a higher “moral” standard? And, really, what the hell does that mean, anyway? Moral clauses are so very vague, because morals are different from person to person. Professionalism is the same way – ten different people will give you ten different definitions of professionalism.

If education programs and school districts want their students and teachers to hold themselves to some standard, then we need to know what that standard is.

However, I have the need to know everything about everything, so I dug deeper. While I don’t feel she should lose her degree or certification for this, I did wonder – did they ask her to remove it? Was she showing this to her students? Who found the picture and why?

My questions were quasi-answered in a second article, dated 2 May:

[…]Snyder was given a poor evaluation based on her performance while teaching at the high school and was warned not to direct students to her MySpace page, which contained the questionable photographs, [school district solicitor Howard L.] Kelin said.

Despite being warned to maintain a professional relationship with her students Kelin said, Snyder continued to direct students to her Web page.

“Snyder required ‘significant remediation’ as a teacher, and her evaluation reflected serious performance problems,” Kelin said.

[…]

Kelin also said the photograph released along with the lawsuit was not the same one Buffington and Reinking submitted to the university.

The photograph they submitted, Kelin said, shows Snyder holding a plastic cup and making a hand gesture while wearing the pirate hat.

Snyder mentioned on her Web site that she had been warned about posting online messages to students, Kelin said.[…]

Alrighty, so the picture is different, but that’s really not the issue. And, while I still think she should be awarded her degree, she also should have listened to her superiors. While I don’t feel that communicating with students through your MySpace is necessarily unprofessional, I do think she should have been smarter as to what she shared about herself with her students. If they gave her warning, it was poor judgment for her to continue to do it.

And, according to this second article, she kind of screwed herself over with the apology she wrote in response to finding out they were going to refuse her degree:

“This incident has caused me to open my eyes and realize that I am the only person to blame. I have to take full responsibility for my actions and live with the consequences determined by the administrative staff from Conestoga Valley High School and Millersville University.”

She’s suing for her degree and money, but given the fact that she pretty much said she would deal with what the university did to her, I’m not sure she’ll win.

“I dreamed about being a teacher for a long time,” Snyder said. “When I was growing up, I spent more time with my teachers than my own parents, and it inspired me to someday make a positive impact on children.”

Such a shame, I bet she would have been a really great teacher, too. Guess we’ll never know.

While I still think a majority of things like this are a result of holding teachers to a faulty system of professionalism for which we don’t know the rules, this case seems to be a result of a student teacher knowing the rules, disagreeing with and disregarding them, and being punished for it. It sucks, but she should have known better. So, future teachers, be smart about what you tell your kids about yourself. It might ruin your career.

“Squeezing the arts out of kids”

This is the title of an email I received, today, which contained a link to this article, about an experiment The Washington Post performed in a Metro station.

They had Joshua Bell, world famous virtuoso violinist, play his several-million-dollar 1713 Stradivarius violin in street clothes at L’Enfant Plaza, a Metro stop in Washington, DC. They wanted to see what would happen.

I really recommend you read the article, but I’ll give the ending away. Nothing happened. A few people stopped or glanced in his direction. But, around 98% of the people that passed by this amazing musician, playing some of the most beautiful music ever written on one of the most rare and coveted instruments ever made, didn’t even acknowledge his presence. One-thousand seventy (1,070) people simply passed him by. One-thousand seventy. In less than an hour.

Because they were too busy. Or didn’t notice him at all.

And, let me just add, Joshua Bell is a good looking man. Put a violin in his hands and I melt like an ice cube under a blowtorch.

Joshua Bell

The point is, even in street clothes with a violin case full of change, he didn’t look or sound like a bum asking for handouts. The problem is, few people listened. And even fewer people looked. The ones that did seemed to have some experience with music – only one woman recognized him, but others had played the violin or at least recognized that this guy was good.

My post isn’t about why people didn’t stop to listen to a man that many of them couldn’t afford to see in concert. The article covers that pretty well. There was one part that was particularly interesting to me, as a teacher, and that’s the part pointed out to me in the email.

“A couple of minutes into it, something revealing happens. A woman and her preschooler emerge from the escalator. The woman is walking briskly and, therefore, so is the child. She’s got his hand.

“”There was a musician,” Parker says, “and my son was intrigued. He wanted to pull over and listen, but I was rushed for time.”

“So Parker does what she has to do. She deftly moves her body between Evan’s and Bell’s, cutting off her son’s line of sight. As they exit the arcade, Evan can still be seen craning to look.

“There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell… But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.”

Kids love art. Music, dance, painting, drawing, poetry, drama, storytelling… they eat up, they let it soak in, and they often create it with the kind of fearless abandon most adults can’t even fathom.

They also learn from it. They learn to feel, to think, and to express themselves through various artforms, oftentimes better than with “traditional” methods.

As teachers, parents, and adults in general, let’s not scoot our children away from some of the most empowering, enriching, and enjoyable experiences of their lives. Let’s not wait for these experiences to come to them, either – take them to museums, concerts, plays, poetry readings, and dance performances. Give them paints and instruments and let them explore expression through the arts.

Let’s create a group of people who would find time to stop to acknowledge the presence of such beauty in such an unlikely setting. The arts speak to all people, adults have just forgotten how to listen.

Don’t teach your kids to tune it out.

Nudity is not the problem

So, an article in People Magazine was brought to my attention, yesterday. Before I describe it, I have to ask – do you find Michelangelo’s “David” offensive?
David

What about Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus”?
Birth of Venus
Would you shield your children’s eyes from these and other, similar works of art?

In Dallas, Texas, a teacher was let go for taking her children to an art museum. (NY Times article, as I can’t find an online version from People.) Sydney McGee has taught for 28 years – she teaches art – and she was fired for taking fifth graders to an art museum.

Raise your hand if you went to an art museum in the fifth grade (or anytime in school). *raises own hand* Were you traumatized, shocked, or otherwise harmed by what you saw? Apparently, one of the students in this class was, and his or her parents complained to the principal, who then fired the teacher. What piece of artwork is responsible for the no doubt lasting damage on this poor, innocent soul? It wasn’t mentioned – at least not in this article. Why? Perhaps it’s because People Magazine isn’t the best source for meaningful news and they neglected to research that far into it.

But, perhaps it was because it could have been any number of pieces of art – because art sometimes contains – gasp – nudity.

As a future teacher I am well aware that there are fine lines between appropriate and inappropriate, but I firmly believe that we have become entirely too prudish about nudity.

There, I said it. Nudity is not the problem, we are.

I could go on and on about the sexualization of our culture – the abundance of sex in television and movies, clothes marketed for children that are modeled after adult lingerie, toys popular among little girls that look like they belong in an adult-only shop, etc. And those things are problems, I agree. But we are extending our censorship too far when we start banning works of art that expose the human form.

Last I checked, children have bodies. And as far as I know, they are at least aware of what their own bodies look like. And, of course, fifth graders are starting to get interested in what the other half has – all the more reason to show them.

What? Show kids nudity? Has she gone crazy??

Possibly, but think about the last time you were curious about something… if you went looking for the information you wanted and one source adamantly refused to give it to you, would you give up? No! You would keep searching until you found satisfaction. Would you rather these kids see nudity in an art museum, or in their friend’s brother’s stash of magazines?

And that’s not even what this teacher was trying to do – she was just trying to teach art. It’s not even stated that the art she was pointing out contained any nudity, just that the museum (The Dallas Museum of Art, by the way) had artwork on display that contained nudity that some of the children might have seen.

This is ridiculous. Right now, I can only imagine that field trips are being cancelled all over the country, art museums are being asked to cover certain questionable pieces of art, and permission forms are being amended to cover the school in the event a student sees something controversial.

What is happening to us?