Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Special Link Appearance by Criss!

Did you see me???

And guess what? I also made it into the Fifth Carnival of Feminists, hosted by Chally at Zero at the Bone!

I feel all famous and stuff.

Watch out, soon I'll be asking for hand-picked monochrome M&Ms in my dressing room.

(Or blogging room.)


Did you see all the wonderful bloggers I'm among in both those lists?

It's like I'm Helen Hunt at the 1997 Oscars, nominated along with Dame Judi Dench and Julie Christie and Helena Bonham Carter and Kate Winslet... it's an honor to be nominated, and to be nominated alongside those iconic actresses kicks the honor up a notch or two. Or seven.

(Let me take this moment to point out the above statement is in no way intended to diminish Ms. Hunt's amazing body of work previous to As Good As It Gets. Let us not forget her unrivaled performance in Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, otherwise known as THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER PERIOD END OF STORY SO SHUT YOUR FACE.)

Monday, September 28, 2009

It's Banned Books Week! What are you reading?

Did you know it's Banned Books Week? Well, if you didn't now you do. (You're welcome.)

This morning I started Lois Lowry's THE GIVER. This is one of those YA classics that's always been at the bottom of the To-Read list, but for some reason it never drew me to it. The cover was not particularly fascinating (an old man's face), and if I did read the back-cover description it was vague enough that it didn't grab me. But as I was loading up my MP3 player with audio books, I saw this title, and added it to the list.

I have a nice 30-minute commute to work, which is good, but this morning it still wasn't long enough. I didn't want to get out of the car, even though I was already late for work (I had to drop Indy off at the vet again this morning. Yes, AGAIN. That cat will be the death bankruptcy of me).

(WARNING: potential spoilers ahead)

The story takes place in a world where people live in communities and if they do something bad, or get too old, or don't fit in, they are "released." (At first I took that literally, that they were banned from the community and had to fend for themselves out in the probably post-apocalyptic wild, but then the penny dropped and I realized "released" was a euphemism.)

Spouses and children are assigned; one male and one female child per family unit. Regardless of when you are born, you "graduate" to the next age in December, with everyone else born in your same year. The Rules dictate at what age you can learn to ride a bike (when you become "a nine"), and, when you become "a twelve," the Elders decide what your job will be.

One of these jobs is "nurturer." These are the people who take care of the children from birth until that December, when they are assigned to a family. Of course I wondered where the babies came from... Were they all conceived in vitro? Did they have slave women, trapped in a dungeon somewhere, who were constantly artificially inseminated to populate the community?

What made it so hard to get out of the car this morning was that just as I turned into the campus's parking lot, Jonas's little sister Lilly mentions that the baby Father has brought home from his nurturer job (the baby's having trouble sleeping through the night, and he wants to take care of the baby at home overnight to see if that helps -- otherwise the baby will have to be "released") has light eyes, just like Jonas. Jonas only knows one other person, besides this new baby, who has light-colored eyes like him; Lilly says, "Maybe he has your same birth mother."

Aha! So it's not in vitro grown in test tubes, like Brave New World babies were. Who are these birth mothers? Where are they? Do they live in the community, or are they hidden from view, because pregnancy is dirty (the result of Cardinal Sin)?

I have to wait until 5:00 to find out...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Emotional Intelligence FAIL: Victim-blaming 101

A few weeks ago I was at a conference. While waiting in line at the hotel's tiny coffee shop (I was carrying too much junk with me to walk the 1/2 a block to Starbucks), I heard the lady behind me complain, "They should have planned better for this."

It was a tiny hotel coffee shop. There were three employees working back there, and I honestly could not see where a fourth could possibly fit. The line was moving quite quickly.

It was 8:32. The conference's first session started at 8:30. I had meant to get downstairs earlier, but didn't, and was therefore not surprised by the line at the coffee shop. At least I got in line before 8:30, unlike the lady whining (who had cut in line, by the way).

"They should have planned better"? Really? How about YOU get your lazy arse out of bed early enough to order your double-pump white chocolate cappuccino before the meeting starts? How come THEY have to plan to accommodate YOU? Why can't YOU be held accountable for YOU?

This is one of the problems in our society, the blame is always on the other guy. Yesterday, I went to an all-day workshop on emotional intelligence. In a nutshell, emotional intelligence is about personal accountability and being self-aware; realizing that you cannot control the other guy, that you can only control what you do; therefore, focusing on what you need to do, not what the other guy needs to do.*

In the case presented above, the lady should have gotten herself down to the lobby earlier than 8:32. It is not the hotel's responsibility to get her coffee, it is her responsibility to find herself the coffee. She should have realized her role in the line-waiting incident: the hotel coffee shop was sure to be busy in the morning, she should have scheduled appropriately.

The workshop started bugging me early on, but I tried to keep quiet. Nobody wants to be the person who argues with the presenter. But then, the guy went off on a tangent that boiled my blood.

He was talking about the amygdala in the brain and how it works, and decided to tell us about his friend's book, about women ignoring their intuition.

Example 1: Woman forgot her briefcase or purse at the office. She goes back to get it. In the dark street, her intuition is telling her something's wrong. In the parking lot, her intuition is telling her something's wrong. As she hits the button on the elevator, her intuition tells her something's wrong -- but she ignored it. Elevator doors open, large rapist grabs her, rapes her, and stabs her 60 times. SHE SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER. If she had listened to her intuition, she would not have been raped.

Example 2: Woman meets guy at bar. He seems nice, they exchange phone numbers. Next day, he calls her in the morning and at night. Next day, he calls her morning, noon, and night. Next day, gives her a cell phone, so he can call her at all hours of the day and night. Next day, he calls, she doesn't answer, he goes to her house and beats her up. SHE SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER. She should have done something to stop the guy.

Excuse me, but I'm at a workshop to learn that I cannot control other people's actions, I can only control my own, and this guy tells me the victims are to blame?



How can these situations be the victim's fault? There is nothing the women could have done to keep the attackers from hurting them.

"Oh, if the woman hadn't been in the building late at night, the rapist wouldn't have gotten her."

True. If a woman never leaves her house, she will not be raped on the street.

The problem here is not the woman, so let's stop focusing on her. She's innocent. The problem is the rapist.

"Oh, the girl should have known the guy was a psycho when he kept calling her."

I'm sure she had a pretty good idea that he was not your average "nice guy." But if he didn't snap on day 5, he would have snapped on day 1, when she decided to not answer the phone the second time he called. The problem is not the girl -- it's not like the psycho was sitting there, thinking, "If she continues the relationship for X days I'll beat the living cr@p out of her, but if she breaks up with me after one or two days, I'll leave her alone." You cannot control someone who's crazy/imbalanced.

Again, she is not the one with the power to avoid the act of violence. The only one who can prevent that act of violence is the one committing it.

So stop focusing the attention on what women need to do. Try some of these tips instead.

*This is Criss's Vague Notion of Emotional Intelligence. If you know better than she does, which would not be hard, please feel free to share your knowledge and expertise in the comments. Criss went to the workshop to learn more about EI, but, as you can tell from reading the post, the presented didn't spend a whole lot of time talking about EI. It was more about him.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Some thoughts on race, ethnicity and what I am: The Epilogue

I realized why the whole race/ethnicity and "Am I really 'Latina'?" thing was bugging me so much.

Too often we talk about "race" when we mean "class." We say "African-American/black" and "Hispanic/Latino" when we mean "low-income," "first-generation college students," or "limited English proficiency/English language learners."

I am Latina, but I'm not low-income. I'm not first-generation college. I'm not LEP/ELL.

When we talk about "minorities" and the "minority experience," we're talking about growing up poor, with limited resources. Parents who never went to college, and either don't value education or don't know how to show they value education, encourage you and give you the tools you need to succeed. Who don't have the resources needed to make education a priority.

That's not me. That's what made me feel like a poser. I never had to overcome those obstacles, so I feel uncomfortable claiming "minority" status because I don't deserve the credit.

Both my parents went to college. They read to me (in two languages) since birth. We bought books ALL THE TIME. My parents instilled in me a love of books and reading. We never went without. I grew up with two parents at home; even after my parents divorced (when I was on high school) they were both present in our lives.

I never had a language gap/issue in school. (I had a hard time understanding the nasaly, thick Texas accent of one of my teachers when I very first arrived in the US, but I think I was over that by the second day.)

This is why the race- and sex-based affirmative action that granted me admittance into UT-Austin offended me so much: I did not need the help. I had had all the advantages one could ask for; race- and sex-based affirmative action sends the message that you are genetically inferior, because of your race or sex, and cannot compete on a level playing field. Regardless of your background, the mere fact that you are a Hispanic female means you are not as "good" as a white male (or a white female) and therefore deserve special treatment.

Which is why we need class-based affirmative action.

I'm not saying racism and sexism no longer exist, sadly they are still alive and well, but race- and sex-based affirmative action are not an effective way to fight that beast, and they are also not addressing the problems they were created to solve (at least in education).

We need class-based affirmative action. We need to recognize the need to level the playing field based on class, socio-economic status, not race. Unfortunately, a disproportionate amount of low-SES people are racial minorities, but when we focus on race we're focusing on the wrong thing and ignoring the root of the problem, which prevents us from ever solving (or aleviating) the problem.

We don't like talking about class. And the worst part is those who have the discussions, those who make the decisions, are the priviledged, the members of the high classes. This causes two problems: A) they don't want to admit they are the priviledged (and there's always someone who's better off than you, so how can you say you are priviledged, when they guy over there had MORE advantages than you???), and B) they don't understand the problems that afflict the not-priviledged. They don't get it because they haven't been there. They don't know what it means to not have. They don't know what they don't know about how the other half lives.

I'm at the Council for Opportunity in Education's National Conference, finding out how much I didn't know. And how to fix it, for me and for you.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Health care, explained via World's Largest Hog analogy

Wouldn't the "right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," granted unalienably in the Declaration of Independence, by definition grant us a right to health care? Or am I just being silly and making sense? Can I pursue happiness if I'm suffering from preventable ailments? Can I exercise my right to life if I die from, say, an abscessed tooth due to lack of basic health care?

EDIT [because, apparently, my best inspiration always has to come in the shower]: This is the price we pay for living in a society. I will gladly pay for the idiots who eat the chocolate-covered bacon, if it means I'm also paying for the mother dying of breast cancer, or if it means a husband doesn't have to divorce his wife so his medical bills don't repossess their house and demolish their kids' college funds.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Bad dreams, high hopes, one minor(ity) teacher

I had a strange dream last night. I was back in the classroom, but don't ask me why.

You know how people (usually during their college years) have the dream where they show up for class and it turns out that day is exam day, and they haven't studied for the test at all? Well, in my dream (I guess since I am the teacher), I show up for class and it turns out it's exam day, and I don't have a final exam for the students.

(Don't worry, it all worked out. I remembered I had a flash drive in my purse with the exam I used last year, so I ran to a computer and printed that document up, even though that exam didn't necessarily align with whatever I may or may not have taught those students this year/semester.)

When I went into teaching, I had high expectations. I wanted to be better than the teachers I'd had (the reason I went in to teaching in the first place was because of my sixth-grade math teacher, who -- when I dared suggest there were two answers to the problem, hers and the one EVERY SINGLE STUDENT IN THE CLASS had gotten -- glared at me and seethed, "The teacher is ALWAYS right"; I had to show her that's not how teachers are supposed to act). I also wanted to be the kind of teacher you see in the movies, the Freedom Writers kind of teacher. The one person who was able to reach out to that student that no one else could... be that kind soul who speaks to that wayward student no one else could understand... all that crap.

Instead, I more often resembled that seething, "I AM ALWAYS RIGHT" teacher. When I have teaching dreams, I'm usually screaming at the students, out of control. That's when I'm not hurling desks and other items across the classroom.

Suffice it to say, I fell far short of my initial expectations.

From the beginning I was disappointed in myself, before I even started. My first job was at a high school in a very, very well-off neighborhood. I was teaching the uber-rich kids... a far cry from the cast of Dangerous Minds.

I felt like a sell-out. If I wanted to be a REAL teacher, shouldn't I have been working at an inner-city school (like the other girls who student-taught with me)?

When I took my last teaching job, at the over-50%-minority high school, I was hoping to be redeemed. Don't know why, since my meager classroom management skills barely cut it with the rich kids (two-[college-educated]-parent household, three-squares-meals-a-day, were read two since they were in the womb), how was I going to manage the lower-SES kids?

I guess I was hoping that my being "one of them", my being Hispanic, would be enough of a bond to make up for my lack of classroom management (or patience).

Obviously, I didn't cut it there, either. We won't get into all the gory details right now, since that's not the point of this post.

With this new job, I'm not in the classroom, but I'm still working with mostly minorities, lower-income students. The Dangerous Minds/Freedom Writers kids.

And I'm wondering if I'm going to be able to cut it this time. I don't think I can count on my "Hispanic" status to be an automatic bridge-builder.

I want to make it. I want to be Hillary Swank. I mean, if blonde little Michelle Pfeiffer could do it, can't I? At least on a part-time, after school?

I'm even going to end my boycott on inspirational-teacher entertainment and read The Freedom Writers Diary, as much salt as it will rub on my wounded pride. See if maybe I can learn a thing or two, before I start teaching these kids.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

A Verry Merry "Un"-Birthday: Give water!

My sister's having a birthday this month, and she decided to do something cool with it. This is the email she sent out:

Hi everyone,

Today I came across this great nonprofit called charity: water that works to help provide clean drinking water to those who don't yet have access to it. Turns out there's a billion people worldwide who don't have clean drinking water, and may even have to walk miles to access the bit of polluted water they are able to drink. Nearly 50,000 people will die just this week as a result of this poor water quality. This organization raises money to be able to go to these communities and build water wells, so they are able to get the water they need-- something so essential to life, yet that we take for granted every day as we turn on the tap in our kitchens and bathrooms.

Charity: water started 3 years ago, when one of its future founding members decided to "give up" his birthday (which was in September) and instead of asking for gifts ask everyone to donate $20, with the goal of helping with this water problem. He raised $1,400 and was able to build 6 water wells with it. The project has taken off since then, and has now provided something like 700,000 people with clean drinking water.

One of the ways they raise money is by asking other September birthdays to "give up" their birthdays in the same way. And that's what I'm doing this year-- instead of birthday gifts, I'm asking any of you who were planning on buying me something (or who simply want to help out) to donate to this cause. You can do this at the fundraising page I have set up here:

I've set my goal amount to $400. Will you help me meet it?

Thank you! =)

(Wish I'd heard about this in July! Maybe next year...)