Archives for June 2011

A Pulitzer Prize winner comes out as undocumented

This is a really powerful video.  There are millions of stories similar to this one, only attached to less prominent names.

You can read the rest of Vargas’s story at Define American.

Sesame Street and radical acceptance

Cross-posted at The Multicultural Toybox

I grew up with Sesame Street. As a child, I loved the colorful sketches and songs, and pretty much any scene that had a Muppet in it, but especially if it featured my then-favorite, lovable, furry old Grover. (Today I’m more of a Cookie Monster fan.)

These days, when I watch Sesame Street with my 5-year-old, I enjoy it for a completely different reason: its gospel of radical acceptance. Long before Lady Gaga had her hit “Born This Way,” Sesame Street preached both self-acceptance and acceptance of others, no matter what their attributes or quirks.

I think this is, at heart, what troubles conservative critics of the show. Here’s the latest attack on Sesame Street; it’s expressed during a panel moderated by Sean Hannity, and it aired on FOX on June 1:

Ben Shapiro comments on Sesame Street

I was especially interested in these bits of the conversation:

Ben Shapiro, author of Primetime Propaganda: I talked to one of the guys who was originally at Children’s Television Workshop originally, and he said that the whole purpose of Sesame Street was to cater to black and Hispanic youths who don’t have reading literature in the house. There’s kind of this soft bigotry of low expectations that’s automatically associated with Sesame Street. If you go on the Sesame Street website, it talked about ‘when you’re bringing up your child, make sure that you use gender neutral language. Make sure that you give your boys dolls and make sure that you give your girls firetrucks.

Ah, there’s so much to unpack here, isn’t there? First, it’s too easy to dismiss a desire to cater to underprivileged children of color as a “soft bigotry of low expectations.” If we look at the actual history of Sesame Street‘s founding, we find the show was the first to be structured entirely on sound educational research.

Sesame Street was (and is) driven by data, not sentiment

For anyone interested in the history of television, in children’s informal learning, or just in the story of how the first children’s educational television developed, I highly recommend G is for Growing: Thirty Years of Research on Children and Sesame Street.* In the first essay in the book, Edward Palmer (an early member of the Children’s Television Workshop staff) and Shalom Fisch tell the story of how CTW and Sesame Street came to be, and they emphasize how thoroughly the show relied on research rather than on some liberal agenda or sentiment:

What distinguished Sesame Street (and, to a lesser degree, the contemporaneous Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood) was the combination of narrowly focused and expertly planned educational curriculum, its attempt to forge the most effective possible methods of televised teaching, and its accountability to bring about rigorously measured educational results.

That isn’t to say that Sesame Street isn’t a product of a particular historical era; it very much is, and Palmer and Fisch explain how the confluence of the Civil Rights movement, greater government interest in and funding of education, and the rapid growth of public broadcasting led to the development of the first show of its kind. Specifically, they write,

CTW’s sole initial mandate was to create, broadcast, promote, and evaluate an experimental educational television series of 130 hour-long programs that would seek to advance the school readiness of 3- to 5-year-old children, with special emphasis on the needs of youngsters from low-income and minority backgrounds.

Palmer and Fisch cite research studies of the era, including those by Benjamin Bloom (1964), Carl Bereiter (1966), and Martin Deutch (1965), which taken together showed that:

  • greater than fifty percent of “a child’s lifetime intellectual capacity” is formed by age 5;
  • beginning in first grade, low-income children of color tested substantially lower than their white, middle-class peers;
  • this education deficit continued to grow after first grade; and
  • upon achievement of a basic level of literacy, children’s and adults’ opportunities for employment, as well as other opportunities, are vastly expanded.

CTW, Palmer and Fisch explain, “could not determine which group of children would cross that line [of literacy achievement] first, [but] it could—and did—aim to ensure that the maximum number possible would do so.” With 97 percent of households in the U.S. owning a TV, and most of them within the broadcast range of a public television station, CTW had the opportunity to improve the educational levels of millions of preschool children.

Sesame Street was not founded, as Ben Shapiro claims in his book and in his interview with Hannity, on low expectations and bigotry. It was founded, rather, on sound research into children’s learning, and its charge was to improve the educational readiness of all children (since children of all backgrounds would be in the broadcast area of the show), but with a special interest in providing additional support to children whose parents were unable, for whatever reason, to provide them with a first-class preschool education. The long-term goal was to help people rise out of poverty by giving children the early start they needed to develop as much intellectual capacity as they could by age 5.

But wait. . . there’s more

From the Hannity interview:

Sean Hannity: The values of young people today scare me. Cause we’re robbing them at easrlier and earlier ages of their childhood. They know more, they do more.

Kirsten Haglund: It’s very concerning. They have an access to more media at a younger age than at any other time of our nation’s history. And what you’re also seeing is more parents at work, away from their children, not monitoring what they look at. . .

Hannity: I grew up watching Green Acres and Andy Griffith.

Shapiro: Yeah, before the shift. That was before the shift.

“The shift”? The shift from portrayals of an era that existed only in white American nostalgia to. . . what? Television diversified its content and practices so quickly during the four decades following the first broadcast of Sesame Street that I’m not really sure what “the shift” signifies, other than “not rural or suburban whiteness.”

The interview continued with comments about how artists (including those involved in television production) are more liberal than the rest of a society. (I don’t buy that, but I’ll let it stand.) I immediately thought of how totalitarian regimes try to purge intellectuals and artists from their states. Ken Blackwell, however, identified a different target of such governments.

Ken Blackwell: If you look at any big government regime, any authoritarian, totalitarian regime, they attack two basic intermediary institutions–the family and the church. And that’s what’s happening in our culture right now. And it sets up an appetite for governmental largesse, government becomes the family. . .

Yes, because helping 3- to 5-year-old children establish greater intellectual capacity, with the long-term goal of ending cycles of urban poverty, is clearly an attempt to replace the child’s actual family with Big Brother.

The next couple of excerpts, however, deliver the coup de grâce:

Hannity: Liberals. . .feel like they can circumvent the values of parents when they go to school, teaching ’em things that they themselves are teaching the opposite of. They don’t do the basics, reading, writing, and math. . .

If liberals don’t like the basics–reading, writing, and math–why has the Obama administration embraced so much of No Child Left Behind, which focuses on reading and math? Why is the administration, along with conservative congresspeople, trying to defund programs like the Teaching American History grants that strengthen the teaching of history in K-12? Apparently Hannity thinks teachers are having kids watch video productions of the Communist Manifesto and whatever Judith Butler has written lately.

Haglund: But it’s a basic difference in worldview, in that usually liberals and people on the left, secular humanists, believe that human nature is ultimately good. Whereas conservatives believe it’s not. . .

Did you catch that last bit? Let me quote Haglund again: It’s a basic difference in worldview, in that usually liberals and people on the left, secular humanists, believe that human nature is ultimately good. Whereas conservatives believe it’s not. . .

I would go further and say that, in my observations of television pundits, bloggers, newspaper columnists, conservatives believe that humans who are unlike themselves are especially possessed of a nature that is ultimately not good. These pundits are not going to accept as moral or worthy of a broadcast platform anyone whose vision of the U.S. differs from their own. These unacceptable people clearly are the ones who are responsible for “the shift” in television, for the move away from Andy Griffith and toward Sesame Street. (Never mind all the corporations that conservatives court are the ones putting the real crap on TV.)

These folks could benefit from a good dose of radical acceptance, and particularly acceptance of the people whose lives have been made better by Sesame Street, who relied on the program to give them a crucial intellectual start in life. It’s time to sit Shapiro, Hannity, Haglund, Blackwell, and others of their ilk down in front of a season of Sesame Street. They need to learn to listen, to trust, and to have empathy. And I suspect Elmo, Abby Cadaby, Grover, Cookie Monster, Ernie, Bert, Big Bird, Telly, Rosita, Snuffie, Baby Bear, Oscar, Zoe, Alan, Chris, Maria, Luis, Leela, Bob, and all the other cast and crew of Sesame Street could help them learn the kind of empathy and radical acceptance of others that might make for a more productive civil discourse.

Fang’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Era

Fang has had a hard week.  And month.  And year.

But this last week was a bitch.

First, there was my pneumonia, which required him to step up to do all the parenting.

Second, he found a new dentist–one he really likes.  However, after years of well-meaning dentists who used a Pickett’s Charge strategy in the battle to save his teeth, Dr. W leveled with him: it would be waste to throw any more reinforcements onto that slippery slope.  She said that sooner, rather than later, he’ll need to get all his upper teeth pulled and replaced with dentures.  We had been hoping to go the implant route, but at around $3,000 per tooth, and with Fang’s bones likely weakened by the same thing that ruined his teeth, it’s more than we can afford and the implants might eventually be rejected by his body.

Third, he learned that the mole he had removed and biopsied is cancerous.

Fourth, he’s having that “two ships passing in the night” communications problem with a new freelance client.  He speaks web, and she speaks academic journal, and neither of them seems to know a single word in the other’s language.

Fifth, he did some volunteer work for Really Cool Activist Nonprofit, and they seemed enthusiastic about having him take some photos at Boise’s Pride event on Saturday, but then–even though they’re really good about contacting volunteers–they didn’t follow up with him to get him a photographer’s lanyard so that he move around more freely at the event.  He didn’t want to be Persistent and Slightly Creepy Guy Who Seems To Have A Predilection for Photographing Underdressed Drag Queens.  I’m thinking that in all the event planning, RCAN just forgot to contact Fang; Fang thinks he didn’t pass their political litmus test, and since he’s been a supporter of the national RCAN for years, he was pretty depressed.

Sixth, when he finally did feel the tiniest bit of contentment on Saturday and was messing around with my phone, texting a mutual friend of ours, I was snapped at him, and that took the bloom off the evening, even though it was super awesome roller derby night with family friends.

Seventh, his best friend for life had some really crappy stuff happen, and Fang’s absorbing some of that sadness.

Eighth, he took out an ad in Craigslist for other beginning guitarists to play with, and he didn’t get any responses.

Ninth, he’s far from family and friends, and he’s feeling that distance especially acutely right now.  He works from home, so it’s not as if he’s running into a bunch of potential new friends.

Tenth, another doctor told him he needs to stop eating just about everything he likes.

I’m sure there’s stuff I’m leaving out.

But throughout it all, Fang has been an awesome father to Lucas.  He listens.  He translates the world for the boy.  He’s teaching him to ride a bike.  He’s encouraging him to be adventurous, to try new things.  He’s taking him to movies, buying him comic books, and ensuring his fluency in the Marvel superhero canon.  He applies sunblock liberally.

This from a man who spent the first 14 months of his life in an old-school Catholic orphanage, who was abused physically and emotionally as a child and teen, who had to endure an adolescence in working-class Tucson, who dropped out of college after a semester, who became addicted in his teens, 20s, and the first half of his 30s to just about everything.  On paper, this is not the profile of an ideal candidate for Father of The Decade.

And yet he is.  Despite all the inner demons he wrestles with day in and day out, he’s an amazing dad.  Lucas has no idea, really, that Fang is depressed and frustrated.  Quite the opposite–Lucas calls him “silly.”

So while Fang may feel as if he’s fallen into yet another unlucky streak of gloom and doom, I’m feeling exceptionally fortunate to have found such an awesome dad for our son.

Thanks, Sweetie.  It’ll get better.

Psssst. . . I’d really appreciate some yaying and cheerleading for Fang in the comments, as I know he checks The Clutter Museum regularly.  The guy could use some cheering up.

A little gift from Google

Check it out–if you type the word gay, followed by a space, into Google’s search box, Google gives you a splash of color to the far right:

It reminded me a bit of the tilt search term Easter egg.

New moan ya

I save all my best illnesses for the late spring and early summer, apparently.

There was the time I caught the flu–a really bad flu that almost killed me–in July.  (Now I get flu shots every year.)

Whooping cough hit me in late May.  (I recently had the vaccine for that, too.)

Yet apparently I have not been vaccinated for the bacteria flourishing in my right lung this week.

That’s right, friends–I’ve managed to get pneumonia.  This is a new low, even for my lungs, which like to throw out the welcome mat for any passing bacteria or virus.

Sunday afternoon was bad.  Yesterday was worse.  Fang took me to the urgent care clinic in the morning, and when a breathing treatment didn’t raise my blood oxygen, the PA ordered a chest x-ray. And thus I added a new word to my (thankfully slim) personal medical vocabulary: infiltrates!*

Today the antibiotics appear to have kicked in a bit, and I can sit up in a chair.  I decided to water our little garden, and that about exhausted my energy.

Tomorrow I hope to be able to stand up for five minutes–in a row!  Wish me luck. . .

*Other terms I wish I didn’t know: triiodothyronine, thyroxine, thyroid-stimulating hormone, propylthiouracil, iodine-131, propranolol (see iodine-131), levothyroxine. Share your own “faves” in the comments. . .

Pop song o’ the week

Lucas and I have been singing this one together on the way into preschool:

Some sample lyrics:

I dreamed Bob Dylan was a friend of mine. . .
He was the owner of the house in which together we all lived–
Slept between me and my wife in bed.
Oh, the roof leaked in the kitchen.
Never mentioned my collection of his albums.
I never bothered him with intrusive questions. . .

Seriously–it’s a great listen. I find myself suddenly breaking out with ardently articulated lines from the song:

Go thrift store shopping for vintage electronics!

Shiva Nata in the Pink

I’ve mentioned Shiva Nata on this blog a few times, and I’m finding it to be an excellent tool to help me rethink whatever it is that has me feeling stuck in my writing.  I also used it with my senior students in their capstone writing course to help them push through one day when they all seemed especially stuck.

I want to share with you, then, this bit of Shiva Nata as taught by Havi Brooks, the world’s #2 expert on the dance of Shiva.  In this video, she’s demonstrating level 2 transquarters, only she’s added an additional challenge.

With every passing week, there are more Shiva Nata resources online, so if you’d like to try the big flail on your own, you can seek them out.  I do, however, recommend Andrey Lappa’s Dance of Shiva DVD, which will take you through level 3.  I’ve been doing Shiva Nata on and off for about a year and a half now, and I’m still not all the way through the DVD, though I did get to sample some of the higher levels when I went to one of Havi’s Rallies in Portland.


University teaching centers and the bureaucratic imperative

The Slithergadee has crawled out of the sea.
He may catch all the others, but he won’t catch me.
No you won’t catch me, old Slithergadee,
You may catch all the others, but you wo–

Shel Silverstein

During my 2006-2010 stint on the staff side of academia, I became quite familiar with the bureaucratic beast.  In fact, during my last couple years at in a teaching center, I felt its bite quite acutely; it’s kind of like the bite of a Komodo dragon–you die from the venomous saliva, not the ferocity of the bite.

I recall there has been some venom toward centers of teaching and learning from the academic blogosphere over the past couple of years, and I was kind of surprised to hear it, as it seemed the faculty at UC Davis who used the teaching center were quite fond of it.

One of the reasons for this affection, I think, was the fact that (aside from TA orientations), we didn’t mandate participation in any of our workshops or events.  Nor did we allow ourselves to be used as a tool in others’ requirements of faculty.  We insisted that our workshops be optional–that we were there to help, not to compel, for example, when a vice provost needed all 100+ departments to articulate undergraduate learning objectives for the reaccreditation process.  And while we kept up with the research on teaching and learning, most of our advice came from our own time spent teaching students and from the ideas shared by other campus faculty.

Still, despite our attempts to hold our ground against bureaucratic intrusion, the teaching center’s corner of the university became increasingly bureaucratic, with administrators putting ridiculous new requirements in place.  So, for example, they required that administrative staff members’ relatively new Macs be lobotomized so that they only functioned as Windows PCs.  It doesn’t help when all the Ph.D.-holding employees and the non-degree-holding employees are divided into camps, especially when we’d worked very hard as a center to break down those silos.  Yet the bureaucrats, barely feinting at consulting with front-line staff, decided that half the teaching center staff should report to an administrative middle manager and half to the center’s faculty director.  That slowed some work and decreased our motivation significantly, as middle management is about efficiency, while center directors focus on vision and mission.  There were other decisions, too, that were made without consulting those of us who actually worked with faculty and graduate students to improve teaching.

For teaching centers to do their work well, they need to be free of bureaucratic restraints, and their staff certainly can’t be see as enforcers of administrative dicta or as professionals offering one-size-fits-all (Blackboard!) “solutions” to teaching challenges.

I’ve been impressed by many of the offerings of the teaching center at my current university, and I’ve participated in several programs coordinated through that office, most notably a semester-long pilot on using mobile devices in the classroom.

The university is revising its core courses (which is très trendy, I know), and one of the requirements is that departments submitting courses–new or existing–to be included in the core send representatives to workshops on designing core courses.  (Surprise! Many, if not most, of the reps sent to these workshops are adjuncts, though I will say the history department appears to be sending only tenure-line faculty.) I offered to attend as a representative of the relatively new History 100 course, Themes in World History.  (N.B.: The last time I took a world history course was in the eighth grade. Wheeeeeeeee! Course design without content knowledge–playing to my strengths!)

The workshop basically exists to help me fill out a form that includes me to write the course title; a table listing learning objectives, assessment plans, and learning activities; a plug-in-your-course-name-and-description required syllabus statement; and a disabilities statement?

That kind of work should take me 60-90 minutes.

Have I mentioned that the workshop is scheduled to run from 8:30 to 4:30 for three days(cue terrifying music)

To be continued. . .

After a full day of outcomes-ing, I’m tuckered out, but I’ll share more thoughts on this soon,* as there’s a lot of the usual error going on.

* Previews!

From a faculty member: “Blind students can’t do electrical engineering.”

Bureaucratic fiat: “Yes, all faculty teaching sections of the course must use the same assessment plan.”


Found in my inbox:

I admire the work done by the folks at this historic site, but the message from Twitter is a bit too evocative, yes?

Random snapshots of summer life

I had an awesome birthday (#36, for those keeping track) on Thursday.  Fang wrote me a very sweet blog post.  Lots of thoughtful gifts came my way.  A colleague was kind enough to bring me flowers and a fancy cake:

I received my first evaluation as a faculty member here. The chair was very kind in his review, and he (very thoughtfully!) took the time to point out that although I’ll likely meet the traditional requirements for tenure, the work I’ll do will look quite different from that of other department members, and that I shouldn’t be adversely affected by that difference in future reviews. After five years of job-market beat-downs, I’m glad to see I’m fitting in, even though it means there has to be a recognition that I’m on a slightly different path from my (exceptionally supportive) colleagues.

I took the boy to the local nature center today because he said he wanted to go to “that place with the dead animals.”  He was way into the taxidermy today:

I’m (still) wondering how the boy managed to get ringworm on his butt.

The boy can sing most of Tom Jones’s “Did Trouble Me”:

Tom Jones – Did Trouble Me

(Clearly the video owes a huge debt to Johnny Cash’s video for Hurt.) This latest earworm is a big improvement over the boy’s perpetual singing of phrases from Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” and Queen’s “Radio Gaga.”

The boy has taken to drawing everyone–even his dear mother–with a penis.

Because it took until, oh, today for the weather to get nice, I’ve been getting my craft on during the evenings. This week has featured watercolor sketches and miniature landscape dioramas.

I’m having middle-of-the-night panic attacks over a grant deadline.  I can only work on it for so many hours a day before the quality of my research and writing begins to decline.  (The crafts are currently more a therapeutic outlet than a creative one.)

I sent off an article to a publication I really admire. Only once I sent it off did I realize I cited 75% of the authors appearing in the first issue of its relaunch. I’m hoping that means it’s a good venue for my work, and not that I’m a huge kiss-up.

Last weekend we went to see Shoshone Falls. They’re going full-force. The photos I took don’t really do them justice, but here’s one:

I found some lovely white nectarines at our local produce stand.  Yes, they came here on a truck from California, but their sweetness was a much-needed reminder that summer should be here any minute.  (We seemed to have skipped spring.)

I walked through a shadow cast by a tree yesterday and was startled and delighted, both because the trees have taken forever to leaf out and because it was sunny.

Many of the seeds I started committed suicide. Or, rather, that’s what I’m telling myself–it certainly wasn’t my fault. :\ I don’t think they had sufficient sunlight, which is certainly not something I could control this spring. Anyway, they grew all lanky and never put out true leaves, then they fell over from the weight and shriveled up. Grrrrrrrr.

What are you up to this summer?