Happy World Read Aloud Day!

Happy World Read Aloud Day to you!

From the LitWorld website:

World Read Aloud Day is about taking action to show the world that the right to read and write belongs to all people. World Read Aloud Day motivates children, teens, and adults worldwide to celebrate the power of words, especially those words that are shared from one person to another, and creates a community of readers advocating for every child’s right to a safe education and access to books and technology.

In celebration of worldwide literacy, we are going to share one of our new favorite picture books, Max’s Words by Kate Banks, illustrated by Boris Kulikov.

Is anyone else addicted to Pinterest, or is it just me?  A few weeks ago I pinned this really amazing craft from Mommy Labs, creating a self-portrait with magazine clippings and mixed media, and someone repinned it with the comment that it would work well with a reading of Max’s Words.  Which, of course, it totally would!  (I wish I could figure out who it was so I could give credit where credit is due – but thanks for introducing us to this book, whoever you are!)

max's words by kate banks pictures by boris kultkovPoor Max – his brother Benjamin collects stamps and everyone admires them, but he won’t share with Max.  His brother Karl collects coins and everyone admires them, but he won’t share with Max.  So Max decides that he is going to collect words, and he finds that his collection is way cooler than his brothers’ because while their collections don’t really do anything, his can tell stories!

As a writer, reader, and word nerd I love how Max comes to appreciate the beauty and versatility of words.  Some are small but necessary, some make you feel good, some you say to other people.  Just one word has the power to completely change a sentence or a story!  And when you share your words with others, you can build whole worlds together.

Enjoy a book with your kids today (and every day, of course)!  Here are some resources for finding your next great read-aloud:

I’m a big lover of public libraries, but if you come across a book that you simply must own or would like to give as a gift, I encourage you to purchase from Better World Books.  It’s an amazing company that saves books from landfills, sells them, and donates the proceeds to literacy projects worldwide including Books for Africa, Invisible Children, The National Center for Family Literacy, Room to Read, Worldfund, and more!

What does breastfeeding have to do with feminism?

exclusively breastfed on demand

One of my (exclusively breastfed) babies

I recently found a new (new to me, not new new) blog, Mom, JD, where I read about an article by Elisabeth Badinter called “The Tyranny of Breast-Feeding: New mothers vs. La Leche League”.  It is not available online unless you want to spend $17 for a year’s subscription to Harper’s, so don’t bother looking.  I got it at the library.

Given that the article contains the words “despotism of an insatiable child”, it is no surprise that I agree with very little in it.  Mostly it is a history of La Leche League from the perspective of someone who believes that LLL’s real motive is to repress women and that it has co-opted the authority of organizations such as WHO and UNICEF in a global conspiracy to promote their women-repressing agenda.  Using quotes from extreme militant breastfeeding supporters, Badinter argues that LLL is full of uncompromising lunatics who support an “ideological shift toward…dedicated motherhood”.

Badinter’s indictment of breastfeeding culture does not jive with my experience.  I spent five days in the hospital with my first, and there was no lactation consultant available.  The nurses strongly encouraged me to bottle-feed when I found nursing difficult.  I have been chastised for nursing in museums and doctor’s offices.  I have been relegated to a bedroom to feed my babies during family gatherings.  When I spent a week in the hospital for a heart issue, I could not get a breast pump from the maternity floor to relieve my engorgement.  An “orthodoxy of nursing”?  Hardly.

I loved nursing because it made early motherhood so very much easier.  Sterilizing nipples, mixing formula, adding another thing to my grocery list, packing bottles every time I left the house…not my cup of tea.  With Harry, I got way more sleep than I would have otherwise because when he was hungry, all I had to do was roll over, lift my shirt, and go back to sleep.  (With Bess it wasn’t so easy, but that’s a long story.)  I had an ace-in-the-hole when my babies were sick or crabby.

But every situation is different.  I worked from home so it was easy to nurse on demand.  I could take a break whenever I needed to, and I never had to deal with pumping or low supply.  I recognize that I had a pretty sweet arrangement.  While I am an ardent supporter of breastfeeding, I know that it doesn’t work for everyone.

I do, however, believe that it is the height of hubris to believe that humans could manufacture a formula that is equal to breastmilk, which was shaped by millennia upon millennia of natural selection.  I believe that males and females serve different functions, and that even as 2,000 years of civilization has expanded our choices and our expectations, it has not changed our essential natures.  My feminism is primarily about choice, and that includes the choice to stay home with one’s children in lieu of working for pay.  If that makes me a “maternalist feminist”, then I will wear the label proudly.

In the end, LLL and its supposed anti-feminist agenda is a red herring.  Badinter’s readers catch a glimpse of the real issue in a quote from the International Pediatric Association: “this right [to breastfeed] is associated with another, the right to benefit from adequate maternity leave and a re-adaptation to the world of work.”  BINGO!

Badinter’s claim that “thanks to bottle-feeding, couples can share roles” is, frankly, absurd.  It is women who endure the discomfort and indignities of gestating and producing new human beings.  It is women’s bodies who expand, contract, and pulse with hormones.  A few midnight feedings can hardly be considered sharing.  It’s not about breast vs. bottle, people.  It’s about people who give birth (women) vs. people who don’t (men).  Instead of insisting that women fit into the patriarchal system that was designed by and for the benefit of men, maybe it’s time we start restructuring the system so it works for all women regardless of how they want to feed their babies should they choose to have them.

Is homeschooling illiberal? Part 2

homeschool child outdoors learning

image courtesy of flickr user spree2010

(My continued rant about Dana Goldstein’s Slate article, “Liberals, Don’t Homeschool Your Kids: Why Teaching Children at Home Violates Progressive Values”)

No one thinks that teachers or administrators are out to oppress parents or children.  It is the system that is, inherently and fundamentally, oppressive.  Public school staff are placed in an impossible situation.  They are given large groups of children who vary from each other in every imaginable way (except for chronological age) and are expected to teach these children the information they need to perform well on standardized tests created by people who know nothing of their particular students or situation.  Their schools’ funding, not to mention their jobs, depend on their ability to achieve this task.  No matter how hard they work, how much they sacrifice, they are told they are not doing enough.  Curriculum becomes increasingly standardized, laws become increasingly strict, and ultimately schools become little more than child management facilities.  No amount of vociferous debate will change this central fact.

How could it be any different?

If “government is the only institution with the power and scale to intervene in the massive undertaking of better educating American children” – the government that allows children to starve while bazillionaires drive around in private jets, that is more concerned with playing party politics than enacting legislation that will benefit its people – then we are doomed.  Perhaps other Western democracies enjoy a greater investment in public education because in other Western democracies the public enjoys greater government support.  Other countries provide guaranteed health care and paid family leave to citizens.  Other countries take food and environmental safety seriously.  Perhaps other Western democracies have earned their citizens’ trust.

As a counterpoint to Betsy Blanchette, I proffer the story of my friend F. whose son has Down syndrome.  At the time he was required to enter school in order to continue to receive special services, he was non-verbal.  He did, however, have an extensive sign language vocabulary; unfortunately, that did not do him any good.  You see, his school district refused to hire an aide who was fluent in sign language, saying that it was not necessary for this three-year-old boy who could not chew or reliably use the toilet to have the ability to efficiently communicate with a responsible adult.  Despite his parents’ retaining counsel and entering into litigation with the district, exercising their legal recourse, the school would not budge.  I have heard similar stories from other parents of special-needs children.

Are you f*&%ing kidding me?

Luckily, his parents had the means to move to a different school district, one more in touch with its “expertise, resources, and legal responsibility” with respect to this child.  But what if they hadn’t?

Broad scale buy in followed by kicking and screaming at school board meetings is unlikely to cause any meaningful shift in the behemoth that is American public education, at least not any time soon.  On the other hand, is it possible that the best way for education reformers to be heard is to homeschool – boycott if you will?  Gandhi, King, Chavez…need I go on?

Frankly Ms. Goldstein, your judgement regarding social values practiced versus preached is offensive.  Your accusation that I either enroll my children in public school or practice piecemeal philanthropy is disrespectful.  I want my children to grow up to be kind, compassionate, honest, generous, courageous, self-disciplined, wise and principled individuals who are motivated and passionate about making this world a better place.  After my daughter’s short time in our public school (in one of the top-rated districts in our state) it is clear to me that although lip service is paid to these qualities, they are not really valued.  Obedience, academic performance, and conformity are most highly prized.  In order to be taught, they must first be subdued.

If you can convince me that children who are trained to obey, conform, and be people-pleasers are well situated to bring about broad social change, then I am willing to reconsider the whole public school thing.

Good luck with that.

Is homeschooling illiberal?


is public school or homeschool more liberal, progressive

image courtesy of flickr user Pink Sherbet Photography

Dana Goldstein’s Slate article contending that homeschooling is antithetical to progressive social values has hit a nerve.  Homeschooling supporters Astra Taylor, Conor Friedersdorf, and Stephanie Baselice have offered rebuttals.  Since we are leaning toward homeschooling Bess and Harry, I am eyeing the debate with interest.

Goldstein’s thesis is this: Truly community-minded, liberal, progressive parents enroll their children in public school, become involved in the PTO and/or school board, and work to make things better.  I used to see her point.  I have come to understand that no amount of money or parent involvement is going to make public education anything other than what it is: too big and dysfunctional to be fixed.  I believe with every fiber of my being that each human being on this planet deserves an education.  American schools contain children but, unfortunately, fail to educate them in fundamental ways.

For what it’s worth, here are my two cents:

  • The number of homeschooling families who fail to support public education with their children’s presence (an estimated 1 – 2 million children) represents only a fraction of the children not enrolled in public school.  There are 5.5 million children enrolled in private schools, yet the focus of Goldstein’s argument is on homeschoolers.  Why should this be? Is there some fundamental difference between withdrawing from the public school system and placing your resources in a privately funded school as opposed to no school at all?  Is her gripe really about taking resources (i.e., children) out of public school, or out of school altogether?
  • Homeschooling parents will be the first to tell you that it is hard work and it isn’t for everyone, but that even single parents and families who struggle financially can make it work.  This does not stop Goldstein from accusing  homeschoolers of exercising class privilege “rooted…in the dated presumption that children hail from two-parent families, in which at least one parent can afford (and wants) to take significant time away from paid work in order to manage a process—education—that most parents entrust to the community at-large”.  Does having money make it easier?  Of course it does.  But wealth or unemployment are not requisite.
  • Molesters in schools are bad for PR, but they aren’t driving people to homeschool.  Parents are afraid of school violence and bullying.  These things are not rare.
  • Homeschooling is about teaching children to respect and trust themselves.  If that means having a distrust of public institutions, maybe that lack of trust is justified.  When children starve and go without medical care in the richest country in the world, when lies are used to justify sending people to war to kill other people, such trust is hard to defend.
  • Low income children attending middle-class schools may earn higher test scores, but correlation does not imply causation (Statistics 101).  Is this a peer effect as Goldstein argues?  Or is it that middle-class schools have more money, resources, and good teachers?  If you created a school with identical conditions and filled it with disadvantaged children, would they perform just as well?  And what of those low-income kids, anyway?  Their test scores may be higher if they go to school with middle-class kids – but what does that mean for them in real life?  Anything?  Nothing?  Just because school is capable of addressing poverty doesn’t mean it actually does.
  • Goldstein declares that public school makes children better people.  As evidence, she cites research suggesting that “adult graduates of integrated high schools shared a commitment to diversity, to understanding and bridging cultural differences, and to appreciating ‘the humanness of individuals across racial lines.’”  Though I did not read the research, I think it is safe to assume that the comparison is between individuals who attended integrated high schools and those who attended homogeneous high schools. I wonder what such research would find if they compared either (or both) of these groups to homeschooled children.

To be continued…

(This post has been featured on the front page of BlogHer Family, and is part of the Seasonal Celebration Sunday Linky Party at Natural Mothers Network.  If you’re visiting from one of those places, WELCOME to Ahimsa Mama!)

Talking to kids about race

photo courtesy of flickr user voxefx

I have a guest post running today over at Humane Connection on talking to kids about race.  Head on over and check it out:

What I said was: “Shoshana is one of the girls who has very dark skin. She played ‘The Two Grenadiers.’”

“Oh, yes!” Bess said. “I didn’t tell her, but I will the next time I see her.”

Was that the right thing to say? I don’t know. It felt right at the time. Or at least it felt less inappropriate than the alternative. What I said is absolutely accurate. Shoshana’s skin is darker than my daughter’s Mediterranean complexion, just as my daughter’s skin, inherited from her father, is darker than my northern European shade of pale. In one sense, it is as simple as that.

And yet…in another sense, it couldn’t be more complicated. It isn’t accurate to pretend that the difference between Shoshana and Bess is melanin-related in the same way skin color differentiates Bess from me. To imply otherwise is insincere, and unfair, and disrespectful. It is easy for me to describe Shoshana that way, given that I am speaking from a place of relative privilege. I cannot even begin to imagine all the ways in which people of color do not experience the world in the way that I do.

I’d love your feedback, either here or there.  How do you talk to your kids about race?  How do you teach them about diversity, especially if you don’t live in a particularly diverse community?  What kinds of words do you use?

Disney Corporation: Yoo hoo!

Not Harry's finest smile...

Today I have a guest post over at Humane Connection describing some of my observations from a recent trip to Walt Disney World:

I know, I know.  Disney, the the embodiment of what ails us as a society and a species.  It’s not my favorite place, but it holds fond memories for my husband, my kids enjoy it, and their grandmother lives in Orlando.  And so we go.

As a student of humane education, I found abundant opportunities for considering all sorts of issues and for practicing critical thinking with my kids; an entire book could be (and has been, many times over) written about the company.  For the purposes of creating a blog post of reasonable length, I’ve decided to focus on four popular rides that could use some tweaks – minor ones, really – in order to truly “weave the importance of diversity and inclusiveness” into guests’ experiences.

Go check it out (please), and add your own ideas!

Mother lit – what I’m reading these days

It's a beautiful thing, isn't it? image courtesy of flickr user nSeika

One organization that is near and dear to my heart is MOTHERS (Mothers Ought to Have Equal Rights), an organization which works for policy changes that will increase the economic security for care workers, especially mothers, and especially especially mothers who take time out of the paid workforce to care for their children.  I occasionally guest post on their blog (see here and here), and I do book reviews for their MOTHERS Book Bag group on GoodReads.  I hope that you’ll visit, leave some feedback or suggestions for future reads, or maybe even join the group.  Some of my latest reads include:

Blue Nights by Joan Didion

Fans of Joan Didion’s previous works will find something entirely different between the covers of Blue Nights, but then how could one possibly turn an objective, journalistic eye towards the topic of the death of one’s child? In this effort to understand, to come to terms with the loss of her daughter, Quintana Roo, Didion does what she does best – she tells stories.  Read More…

 

Between Interruptions: Thirty Women Tell the Truth About Motherhood by Cori Howard

Cori Howard’s collection of essays, Between Interruptions: 30 Women Tell the Truth About Motherhood (now available for Kindle and Nook), falls squarely and beautifully into the category of Non-Fluffy. In each essay, Canadian writers offer honest explorations of the agony and the ecstasy of motherhood in a way that is easy an interesting to read. In sections exploring the topics of ambition, anxiety, guilt, devotion and redemption, writers explore each of these experiences that is shared by all mothers, everywhere. Marina Jimenez leaves her toddler son to travel to Baghdad as a foreign correspondent for the Globe and Mail. Joanna Streetly gives up her beloved house boat for the love (and safety) of her daughter. Randi Chapnik Myers has a complicated relationship with her nanny. Susan Olding is an adoptive mother; Lisa Bendall, the mother of just one. Rachel Rose attends cocktail parties looking for the sperm donor who will make her and her partner, Isabelle, mothers. Cristina Sampang leaves her children in the Philippines to find a job caring for someone else’s children in an effort to give her own a better life. Every mother will find herself between the covers of this book.  Read More…

Making It Up As I Go Along: A Novel by Maria Lennon

For a woman whose previous identity hinged on bearing witness to the atrocities of war as a reporter for the London Times, attending pool parties and lunching with ladies for whom only Catherine Zeta-Jones’ favorite diaper cream will do represents a bit of culture shock. Heaven was a self-made woman who had taken over her husband’s real estate company and earned millions with it, but she raised her daughter to value ambition over comfort. Even as Saffron settled into live in Malibu, more or less, she continued to long for Africa even with its danger and hardships.  Read More…

Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed My Life by Stephanie Staal

In an effort to understand where she had gone wrong, or perhaps where feminism had gone wrong, Staal decided to return to her alma mater, Barnard, to re-take the course Fem Texts to see if the words and ideas of her foremothers were able to shed any light on her situation. First commuting from Annapolis to Manhattan once a week (pretty sweet, right?) and continuing after her family moved back to New York, Staal re-studied the works of such thinkers as Mary Wollstonecraft, Virginia Woolf, Betty Friedan and Kate Millett. From a different vantage point than the other students in the class, as well as from the person she was when she first read these texts as a young and idealistic college student, she begins to understand herself as a wife, mother and person in a different way. Throughout the story, we watch as the author comes to peace with her marriage and motherhood as she studies patriarchy, society, and feminism again.  Read More…

Child care as unskilled labor (?)

My kids with their "other mother"

I have a guest post running over at Your (Wo)man in Washington on the topic of child care, and whether it truly qualifies as unskilled labor.  I hope that you will check it out and leave your comments!

In Morristown, New Jersey, near where I live, you can go to the train station on any given day and find an immigrant man who is willing to do just about any unskilled work you are willing to pay him to do, like painting your house or moving furniture.  Yes, you don’t need an advanced degree or specialized training in order to diaper a baby’s bottom or bandage a skinned knee any more than you need one to slap on a coat of primer or carry a couch up two flights of stairs.  Even so, you aren’t going to find me at the train station picking up a woman to watch my young children anytime soon.  So maybe it isn’t quite as easy as Guest seems to think it is.
Finding the kind of childcare that we need – consistent, reliable, high-quality and affordable – is often simply a matter of luck and is by no means a given.  Luckily, it seems that someone is Washington is finally figuring out what we have known all along.  According to a recent Washington Post article, Nancy Pelosi recognizes that the child care issue is key to allowing women to fully assert their presence in the workforce, and has vowed to put quality affordable child care on the national agenda if she regains her position as the Speaker of the House.  Even if she isn’t successful in her bid, at least she is finally bringing the issue to the fore: for women to be able to work for pay while maintaining a good quality of life, not to mention their sanity, we need someone to take care of our children.

The “Boy Crisis”…and why it doesn’t exactly work out to be such a crisis after all

Check out my guest post at Your (Wo)Man in Washington today:

If you read books like The Wonder of Boys and Raising Cain, you will learn that today’s American boys are in crisis.  As schools become more heavily focused on academic achievement and test scores, children are expected to spend more time seated quietly at their desks while physical education and recess are being squeezed out of their schedules.  The crunch is on after school as well, when time is spent going to organized activities and completing homework instead of running around outside, playing stickball and manhunt and generally letting off steam.

Boys, who on average are less inclined to sit quietly at desks and have more of a need to move their bodies, are suffering disproportionately under the current state of affairs.  Some even argue that the bias against girls in academic settings is a relic of the past.  With teachers under ever-increasing pressure, they tend to favor girls who (again on average) are more able to sit and focus for long periods of time.  This is borne out by the fact that young women are currently earning more post-secondary degrees than young men.

If women are doing better in school, and are earning more advanced degrees, then logic would dictate that the number of women in positions of power and prestige should be at least equal to, if not exceeding, the number of men.  And yet…women continue to be underrepresented in business, science, academia, medicine, and government.  The reason seems obvious:  biology is destiny, and motherhood makes the difference.

A Few of My Least Favorite Things

So, I have spent the summer concentrating on actually living a MOGO life rather than spending so much time reading and writing about it, which is why I haven’t been posting much.

Over the last few weeks, though, a few things have been knocking around in my head of things to write about – things that bother me.  Here are a few:

1.  Corn fields with Genuity signs posted next to them ~ what is that?

2.  Hotels that say that if you hang up your towel they won’t take it and wash it after just one use to conserve water and energy, but take them and wash them anyway

3.  Teacher appreciation events at our new school that are sponsored by Nestle

4.  Hotel glasses that are individually wrapped in plastic.  Really?

5.  The fact that everyone at our new school is addressed as “Mr.” or “Mrs.” or “Ms.” or “Dr.” ~ except the custodian.  He’s “Jose”.

So many problems, so little time!