An Annotated & Illustrated Collection of Worldwide
Links to Mythologies,
Fairy Tales & Folklore, Sacred Arts & Sacred Traditions
by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.
COMMON THEMES, EAST & WEST:
Annotated Links and Excerpts
"Woman Contemplating the Increasing Speed of Her Biological Clock"
© Julie Newdoll -- used with permission
Note: click here for my Myth*ing Links Introductory
Essay to this series:
Why Women Can't Sleep
Women and Food Scarcity
© MorrisoN Gallery (no URL is currently available)
This is "Women Battle the Breadline," a 27 May 2008 report from the Asian Sentinel by Amrita Nandy-Joshi, reprinted by one of my favorite news sources, Truthout.org. It looks at how much more disastrously women are threatened by increasing food scarcity than men. Excerpts:* http://www.truthout.org/102308WA...It is a cruel paradox that women, despite their intimate relationship with food, are the worst affected. Millions of women cultivate, harvest, process and cook, leading Sisyphean lives that revolve around food. From the field to the kitchen and the plate, food has traditionally been an integral and constant part of women's roles. Statistics have long established that women produce between 60 and 80 percent of the food in most developing countries (Global Employment Trends Model, International Labour Organization, 2006). This quintessential reality has also been historically captured in literature and art - the picture of the woman feeding the child or the family is central to many cultures.
Food has carried a range of cultural meanings for women and their identities. Yet, it is women who suffer the most during any kind of food crisis, primarily because of poor women's limited access to financial and agricultural resources. Often, poor women workers even lack control over their own wages. A food crisis worsens their already vulnerable situation. Besides shouldering the double burden of a job and household responsibilities, they may be forced to work longer hours or seek another small job. Working hours in insecure and unhealthy working conditions of the informal sector, these women also have no steady wages or social benefits....
...A food crisis also impairs female-headed households, created by the exodus of males for better wage employment. Estimates by the United Nations World Food Program suggest that in one out of three households around the world, women are the sole breadwinners. In almost all countries, female-headed households are located among the poorer strata of society and often have lower income than male-headed households. Experts fear that the food crisis could lead to an increase in violence, especially against poor women heading households.
Last but not least, women suffer more during a food crisis because of androcentric traditions and cultures that have always placed women at the bottom of the family's pecking order. The mother, wife, sister and daughter eat last - and even least - in many families. Moreover, poor women are already at a disadvantage when food and nutrients are distributed within a household.
Studies show that during lean periods, the calorie intake of the family is weighed towards its male members. In a culture that privileges the male, women imbibe this deep-rooted misogynist bias too and feed their sons better than they do their daughters. This is of particular concern for a country such as India, which is struggling to improve its statistics on child malnutrition....
...Women and food security are closely interconnected. Yet, given their social, economic and cultural subordination, women are most susceptible to any food crisis. Therefore, the ideal and primary preventive measure needs to strike at the cultural roots of their marginalised position.
Concurrently and more immediately, short-term initiatives need to be designed and implemented to bulwark poor women against the food crisis. Crucially, women's key role in food production and security needs to be recognised and rewarded. It is ironic that cultures that project woman as a domestic goddess, almost as an embodiment of food itself, can be so blind when it comes to her own sustenance.
Women and National Security
Guns vs Butter: ABC News
This 23 October 2008 article, "National Security: Women Must Define the Priorities Debate," by Lorelei Kelly (reprinted by Truthout.org from The Women's Media Center) takes a common sense look at what used to be called a "Guns versus Butter" issue. Excerpts:The "guns versus butter" debate is on the way out. Even the US military has realized the importance of providing the latter. For this election and beyond, women leaders are learning how to recast the conversation and set new priorities to measure the nation's security....For example, in today's world, the safety of people across borders is as important as the safety of people within them. Threats like global warming, genocide, pandemic disease and economic calamity cannot be prevented by one country acting alone....
...What were once considered women's issues are now squarely in the middle of domestic and international debates on security. The old 'guns versus butter' line is obsolete. In fact, our own military finds itself providing both. The U.S. Army considers girls' education a vital link to achieving long-term stability. Military officers testifying in front of Congress have, for years, been pointing out the need for strong democratic institutions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Theirs is a broad concept of security. It includes courts, police, banks, hospitals, schools and other providers of positive social stability. Yet we fund the military at a level at least 30 times higher than our diplomatic, economic and other 'civilian' programs. Correcting this mismatch will be the most important silver-lining lesson of the Iraq war. Our top warfighters understand better than anyone that most security problems they have faced have no military solution.
A global legacy of women's priorities already informs policy debates about a new strategy for U.S. security. For decades, women the world over have championed the safety of people through positive social change. Women rally support for such community needs as health care, clean water, economic justice, safe streets and education. Yet in these tough economic times, our leaders running for office and those who are elected in November need to hear an ongoing public conversation to know that the American people have high expectations for change. Without it, there will be little incentive to make the difficult budgetary tradeoffs and to reformulate a long-term strategy. Because elected leaders have not realigned priorities, we're still spending billions of dollars for weapons programs built during the Cold War era to contain the Soviet Union - an enemy that disappeared 17 years ago. The recently released Unified Security Budget, developed by a nonpartisan task force, enumerates this problem....
...While putting forth new ideas, however, it remains important to acknowledge peoples' legitimate fears. The military will remain important. There are real threats. The problem is that we're not addressing them effectively. It's useful to avoid such obsolete binary language as 'hawks versus doves' or 'guns versus butter.'....
* http://www.truthout.org/122208R...When women fully enter this debate, such issues as community infrastructure and public health - including bioterrorism defense - are much more likely to rise up and become priorities. Whether the field of action is within our borders or abroad, national security today demands a broad understanding of what constitutes making and defending the peace.Truthout has a comment section after each article. Despite some typos, this one is very much to-the-point so I am including it in full:Fri, 10/24/2008 - 13:59 — fsm (not verified)
It is intersting to note that that "women's issues" is a derogatory term just as "women's films is a derogatory term. Yet most of the great films, "Like Shadow of a Doubt" or "Casablanca" are "women's film". they are great because they are dramatically and thematically coherent. Men's film tend ot go supernova... The same can be said about "Women's issues" as stated above: they are politically coherent. They work out a political system which understands the underlying interdependancy of policy. Though it would be foolish to think that simply being a woman would be a qualifier for more stable poliltics. I daresay that it's a shame that Margaret Thatcher wasn't more of a woman...
Women and Money
Paul Strand: Wall Street, 1915
See dark, troubling, fascinating data at John Bloom's blog, ReimagineMoney
[Added 26 December 2008]: This is a Truthout article by Dean Baker, "Sex and Money: Are Women Regulators Different?" Excerpts:* http://www.truthout.org/101308NIt is hard not to notice that two of the regulators who stand out for doing the right thing in this incredible financial mess are women. Brooksley Born, as chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission under President Clinton, wanted to regulate credit default swaps and other derivative instruments back in the late 90s. Her effort was torpedoed by Clinton's economic heavyweights: Alan Greenspan, Robert Rubin and Larry Summers.The entire article is eye-opening. The comments at the end are mixed and, not surprisingly, often depressing. This is still very much "a man's world," for good or for ill.
More recently, Sheila Bair, the chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Cooperation (FDIC), has been a pesky voice, arguing that the purpose of the financial bailouts is not to ensure that the Robert Rubins of the world get to keep their day jobs at the Wall Street banks. She has been arguing that the banks that received public money should be required to rewrite mortgage terms so that more homeowners are able to stay in their homes.
The role of these two women is surprising because finance, and its regulation, continues to be an area that is heavily dominated by men. Therefore, it is striking that just about the only regulators who stand out for trying to do the right thing in this tsunami of garbage finance are women.
While some of the luminaries of the economics profession might seek to explain the unusual role of women regulators by biological differences between the sexes, there is a more obvious explanation. Basically, the women who enter the financial world have not been fully integrated into the club. They are still outsiders. Therefore, they are more likely to blow the whistle on the sweet deals that can make hundreds of millions for the boys, while leaving the rest of us out in the cold....
Women and Foreclosures
Foreclosures as of May 2007
"Ohio Shooting Puts Face on Foreclosure Crisis," Sunday 12 October 2008 from The Associated Press. Here we move from food and "guns and butter" issues to simple housing. Here in the USA, we are bailing out banks with billions of dollars. But we are not helping people with mortgages who desperately need better terms in order to survive and keep their homes. Bailouts let the banks survive and many of their top employees keep hefty bonuses. But these same banks seem disinclined to help those they lured into this mess in the first place. How hard could it be to give millions of people better mortgage terms and let them keep their homes?! Who wins when banks foreclose? It makes no sense to me.
This is an appalling report about Addie Polk, a 90 year old Akron, Ohio widow who, faced with the foreclosure of her home of 38 years, shot herself rather than let herself be led away into homelessness by the city's deputies. She felt that death was her only alternative -- imagine what it must have taken to bring a 90 year old woman to the brink of such utter hopelessness. Trapped in a legal, financial maze, she saw no escape. No caring Ariadne appeared with a spool of thread to show her the way out. She was childless, alone, and she was 90 years old -- one can hardly start life over at that point and make up the financial difference.
Her bank had turned her into a thing. There's nothing worse -- there's violence in that, and, in this case, corporate terrorism. Why are we supposedly fighting terrorism a world away and yet ignoring its deadly tentacles right here at home? See my Kosovo page on what French philosopher Simone Weil wrote during WWII about the horror of being turned into a thing while still alive. If you don't have time to check out the full page, here is the crucial passage -- just replace male nouns and pronouns with female versions:... How much more varied in its processes, how much more surprising in its effects is the other force, the force that does not kill, i.e., that does not kill just yet. It will surely kill, it will possibly kill, or perhaps it merely hangs, poised and ready, over the head of the creature it can kill, at any moment, which is to say at every moment. In whatever aspect, its effect is the same: it turns a man into a stone. From its first property (the ability to turn a human being into a thing by the simple method of killing him) flows another, quite prodigious too in its own way, the ability to turn a human being into a thing while he is still alive. He is alive; he has a soul; and yet -- he is a thing. An extraordinary entity this -- a thing that has a soul. And as for the soul, what an extraordinary house it finds itself in! Who can say what it costs it, moment by moment, to accommodate itself to this residence, how much writhing and bending, folding and pleating are required of it? It was not made to live inside a thing; if it does so, under pressure of necessity, there is not a single element of its nature to which violence is not done....That violence is what was done to Addie Polk. Not being skilled with a gun, she survived her self-inflicted wounds, but she could just as easily have died. Even surviving, she would still have been evicted except that in hearing about her desperate plight, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich (serving as an 11th hour Ariadne-surrogate) took rapid action and got the wretchedly corrupt bank to back off. Excerpts:...the 90-year-old had taken out her life insurance policy and placed it next to her pocketbook and keys in the neatly kept house. She shot herself in the chest Oct. 1 before she could be taken away from the foreclosed house, which was worth less than its mortgage from the day she took out the loan.All our elderly are at risk, but women seem to fare especially badly since they are less likely to know how to find outside help. Being turned into a "thing" undercuts one's sense of confidence and makes it difficult to function rationally. A country that can protect its banks can surely find ways to protect vulnerable citizens in danger of falling between the cracks.
A congressman called her the face of a national tragedy, the housing crisis that has affected millions of Americans. Neighbors were stunned and said they had no idea the widow had been about to lose her two-story, white vinyl home....
...Polk's cause was taken up by U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich and fueled blogs on reckless lending practices rampant during the housing boom. Mortgage finance company Fannie Mae dropped the foreclosure, forgave her mortgage and said she could remain in the home.
"You have to shoot yourself to get help," lamented a neighbor, Hannah Garrett, 76....
...[A neighbor] Dillon heard the gunfire Oct. 1, climbed through Polk's upstairs bathroom window and found her lying in bed bleeding....Dillon hadn't been aware of Polk's financial situation but said she had indicated she couldn't afford roof or porch repairs.
Polk's blue-collar neighborhood, overlooking a duck pond and a noisy highway near Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.'s world headquarters, is a mix of renovated and worn-out houses. Unlike some hard-hit areas, there were no for-sale signs on the brick street on a recent day.
Polk's home gives no outward sign of financial turmoil. Rows of hosta plants line her front yard and a neighbor keeps the grass trimmed. Neighbors said Polk, who has no children, drives herself to church services and goes out to dinner with friends on Sundays.
"She didn't act like she was under stress," Garrett said. "It was really sad. I was shocked. When you saw her, she was happy-go-lucky...."
...In the midst of the House debate on the economic rescue package, Kucinich made some calls about Polk's plight and rushed to the House floor to denounce the foreclosure action against her....
...Garrett said Polk's story would make older people worry. "The same thing could happen to us," said her husband, Elisha Garrett, 74, a retired tractor factory worker.
Women as Artists and Scholars
This piece from c. 31 October 2008 by Anna Clark of Bitch Magazine is not about starving, the hopelessness of losing one's home, international economics, or guns vs butter. It is about women, creativity, scholarship and the toxic lack of success. It is about living in Ariadne's realm and trying to create threads to lead oneself and others through a potentially deadly maze. It is about creativity itself -- and how differently creative women are judged from creative men.
You may not think this is an important issue. You would be wrong. As some women are fulfilled by birthing children, others are just as truly and deeply fulfilled by birthing words, paintings, dance, music, and academic excellence. To deny us the right to these realms because of our gender does indeed turn us into the things about which Simone Weil writes (see above).
Further, it often condemns us to a lifetime of work as drudges, earning less than what we deserve, and oppressed by an androcentric societal system that often views us as freaks. It turns us into racehorses hitched to plows -- and I am not demeaning plows nor the sturdy, calm horses that once pulled them, but racehorses with their soaring spirits are truly wasted when hitched to plows. If denied the expression of the full scope of their powers, they may yearn for death, which would be a merciful release from an intolerable existence.
Like such racehorses hitched to plows, many women face a lifetime of chronic exhaustion and depression. We watch as our talents, our hearts, and our souls are wasted. It can make us desperate and angry. When I read this article, I wrote this as a note to myself: "Makes me think I should use a male name after all..."
Let me be very clear here: when I speak of writing, the issue isn't about female vs male writers. Most males struggle as much as females, and take as many drudge jobs as we do in order to survive. The issue is with a corporate publishing structure that greatly privileges males over females, which means the playing field is even more unequal than most of us suspect.
For nine years I taught a graduate-level course called "Folklore and Fairy Tales." In researching and writing my lectures for that course, I found "Trivial Pursuit? Women Deconstructing the Grimmian Model in the Kaffeterkreis," a fascinating, troubling essay by Shawn Jarvis (a professor of German at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota -- her essay is in The Reception of Grimms' Fairy Tales, ed. Donald Haase, Wayne State UP, 1993:102-126). Jarvis writes: "Between 1845 and 1900, women published over two hundred fairy-tale collections in the German-speaking countries" . Unfortunately, as she points out, today most of those collections are a "now-lost legacy" . The Grimms' tales, with their quiet, passive, hard-working heroines, survived but the women's tales, often with strong, defiant, vocal heroines, did not [106, 108]. Why? Although the women were published and well received, when their works went out of print, they weren't reprinted and kept in the "canon." The Grimms' works were, which is why most of us grew up with their fairy tales but have never heard of collections by their female counterparts. Nineteenth century publishers, not the public, determined the canon, and the publishers' chief agenda was to protect "basic male interests and conventions" . For the most part, that agenda still remains intact, along with a preference for male authors. In today's more politically-correct world, I suspect most publishing firms would not consciously choose to privilege males -- it's more an unconscious reflex. Editors tend to see male writers and scholars as more serious and committed. Against massive evidence to the contrary, women are still too often seen as, well, hobbyists, a bit flighty and too quirky, likely to drop out of sight to have a baby or to sell Avon products. Men are more reliable in the long run and therefore worth backing.
When I finished my doctoral dissertation in 1992, for example, I learned that two of my committee members (including the late Walter Capps) had nominated it as the most exceptional piece of work to emerge from the department in recent years. Nevertheless, I did not win the award for which my work was nominated. I was 52 at the time. I had completed a 700 page dissertation that encompassed a lifetime of thought and years of intense, detailed, multi-disciplinary, crosscultural research. A male scholar who was 20-25 years my junior was given the award. Why? Because Oxford University in the UK was considering his dissertation for publication and the department felt that giving him the award would increase his chances and further his career. He was male and had a young family to support. I was female, single, 52 years old, and had no chance of a tenure-track position anyway (which, honestly, I didn't know -- I thought my life experience would give me an edge in the job market), so why waste the award on me. Never mind that I probably had as many student loans as he, and fewer years in which to pay them off. My future did not enter the equation. Only his did.
One of my nominating commitee members explained the department's reasoning to me and I understood what she was saying and accepted it. I had no other option. I also happened to like the fellow who got the award -- he was gentle and shy and I knew the award would mean a great deal to him. But my own life would probably have been very different if such an award from a major university had come to me instead. Just for openers, publishers would have taken my work more seriously and my dissertation might now be in print. Further, universities seeking new faculty members might have found me more viable. That's just a personal reflection, of course, but perhaps it indicates how very differently female scholars are assessed in comparison with males.
Please do not assume that such androcentric decisions are but minor setbacks for determined women. For some, this may be true -- they "soldier on," they triumph, and I am pleased for them. For most of us, however, it is not true that these are minor setbacks -- such decisions can have lifelong repercussions and leave us vulnerable at crucial points in our lives.
Thus, at least for now, I have joined the ranks of countless educated women whose skills, except for fleeting moments, are mostly wasted. Well, you might say, those fleeting moments surely have their own value. Yes, they do, and 90 year old Addie Polk probably had fleeting moments too. But let me tell you: it's not enough. Women of all ages are being wasted, but this isn't just a gender issue. Our young are also being wasted, our soldiers of both genders are being wasted, the poor and unemployed of both genders are being wasted, the old and ill are being wasted. Too many of us are being wasted while the rich carry on, oblivious to anything except their own desires.
You see, once we start exploring gender issues, we discover that class issues are also involved. Since women usually make much less than men, gender and class inevitably get intertwined. Are rich men (and their privileged women) really that androcentic? Yes. Do they care about the rest of us? No. Will things change with Obama? I hope so. It's why I was spent a glorious autumn Election Day, helping to get out the vote in black areas of Benton Harbor. I hold out hope but I'm no fool. He too might wind up being spent and wasted by a system with no concern for humanity.
...("Tears in Rain" [negativized]: © Araqinta) Meanwhile, the issue of wasting creative women remains. Because of my own experience, the following article has a special resonance. Here are excerpts from "The Ambition Condition: Women, Writing, and the Problem of Success":
...It's not news that popular culture breeds the idea that women with ambitions of any type other than domestic are doomed to misery and cruelty. Bette Davis and Anne Baxter essayed the archetypal tale in All About Eve (1950), in which Baxter's title character is an ingénue with Broadway ambitions who manipulates her way into the life of Davis's Margo Channing, a revered and aging stage actress. Once Eve connives her way into taking Margo's leading role, betraying those who helped her, the film concludes with Eve admiring herself in the mirror, holding one of Margo's awards. What a bitch, we're left to think....
...There's no simple gender indicator for the weird fusion of insecurity and ambition, of the feigned nonchalance and quiet competitiveness that's common in writers of all sorts. But these traits are complicated by the cultural caricatures of ambitious women and the uneven historical patterns that have dictated whose talent is rewarded and whose isn't.
Whether they write novels or cover stories or op-eds, even the most talented women writers often aren't validated in the same way that their male counterparts are. While there are few Neanderthals who would publicly say that the byline gap in literary journals and periodicals is due to the fact that women can't write as well as men, the usual justifications include shrugging dismissals like, "We don't get enough quality submissions by women." When I pointed out the 5:29 byline ratio of the fall 2006 issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review on my website, for instance, the journal's editor, Ted Genoways, commented on the post that, "Unfortunately, the disparity in our issues is, I think, more reflective of a symptom than a root cause; there simply seem to be fewer women who are freelance journalists, travel writers, and political pundits - three areas that now largely compose our editorial content. As a result, the good ones are in high demand and often out of our price range."
The byline gap closes in the bookstore: Women publish fiction, poetry, and nonfiction at a rate that's representative of their actual numbers. But this is no meritocratic utopia - women's writing is often met with dismissive assumptions. This is why female authors often disguise themselves with pen names and ambiguous initials. From George Sand to George Eliot, Isak Dinesen to E. Nesbit, P. D. James to James Tiptree Jr., there's a long history of women writers who have used disguised names to realize their ambitions. Even J. K. Rowling - the best-selling author of all time - adopted a neutral moniker on her way to success: Before Harry Potter became a phenomenon, Bloomsbury, Rowling's publisher, asked her to use initials to reassure the target audience of young boys who might be reluctant to pick up a book by "Joanna Rowling," a female author....
...The narrative our culture creates about the writers it treasures and those whom it merely respects shapes who is and isn't admitted into the literary canon, to say nothing of who publishing houses deem marketable. Take a recent interview with novelist and essayist Gore Vidal in the U.K.'s Independent that called Vidal "the last surviving giant of American literature's golden age." Aside from implicitly brushing aside the still-flourishing likes of Joyce Carol Oates and Toni Morrison, the article only reifies how a writer's persona may be more crucial than his or her work. The headline summarizes it neatly. "Gore Vidal: Literary feuds, his 'vicious' mother and rumours of a secret love child. / He slept with Kerouac, hung out with Jackie O and feuded with Mailer." Whatever the value of Vidal's writing, it is, for the moment, beside the point. The details of his biography contribute to the value the culture puts on his work.
Oates and Morrison are respected, awarded, and published at a rate that is comparable to Vidal's, of course. But without his persona, will they ever be as embedded in the narrative of literary and cultural history? There's nothing inherently wrong with Vidal's colorful biography being entangled with his literary worth. What's problematic is that the individuals who are validated in this way are so frequently ones who fit into a hypermasculine "literary lion" caricature: Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Norman Mailer, Kurt Vonnegut, Harold Bloom, Langston Hughes, Jack Kerouac, Richard Wright, Hunter S. Thompson, John Gardner. Their contemporary digital counterparts might include Matt Drudge and Markos Moulitsas.
Historically, there's been little room for women in that public story. And for whatever their writing is worth - and some of it is fantastic; some of it is, well, not - these "lions" were told in a thousand ways (fawning reviews, profiles in leading magazines, awards) that their voice matters. Whether or not they always believed it themselves is beside the point.
...(Photo © Mac Tonnies, used by © Araqinta) Meanwhile, the tradition of women writers is full of ambitions hidden or thwarted. Emily Dickinson's younger sister was the first to discover her poems; the first collection was published four years after the poet's funeral. Zora Neale Hurston - who once wrote to her patron, Annie Nathan Meyer, "Oh, if you knew my dreams! My vaulting ambition ... I dream such wonderfully complete [dreams], so radiant in astral beauty. I have not the power yet to make them come true. They always die. But even as they fade, I have others" - died in poverty with all her books out of print. Even Dorothy Parker, who published copiously in her lifetime, was prone to disclaimers that convey the same tentativeness of so many writers who apologize for their work before they share it: She suggested "Excuse My Dust" as her tombstone epitaph, and her obituary in the New York Times featured this statement about her poetry: "I was following in the exquisite footsteps of Miss Edna St. Vincent Millay, unhappily in my own horrible sneakers"....
* http://www.truthout.org/120208R...Rather than replicate the established patterns of literary stardom of Vidal and company, we can create a new landscape. We can make new ways to have a public voice through writing, one that writers of all genders might welcome, and that, being mostly outside of it, women writers are in a unique position to create.What might this alternative literary landscape look like? Artificial hierarchies of genre and "seriousness" would not define it, and it wouldn't glamorize a writer's substance abuse, domestic abuse (as in Mailer's case), and prejudices as evidence of can't-be-contained artistic genius. Instead, writing from any medium, by any writer, would be welcomed and read with a generous mind. Online, in print, or out loud, its words would determine its value. To get there, though, we must consider the assumptions about our own ambitions, our own reading habits, and our expectations of literary value....So far, the author, Anna Clark, has made good points backed up by supportive data. Unfortunately, at this point, her work falls apart. Rather than offering new ideas, she abruptly shifts gears, praises the internet, and argues that anyone with the time to start a blog can now be considered a "writer." She even feels that this is an "enhancement" of what it means to be a writer.
Well, no, sorry, but it isn't.
She begins by citing Emily Gould, who insists that "blogging has democratized and devalued writing, which used to be the exclusive province of professional writers. Now that anyone with five free minutes can start a blog, it's unclear who gets to call himself a 'writer'." Disagreeing, Anna Clark responds:...While our alternative literary culture would be misguided to consider the Internet its sole saving grace, we might trust the vibrancy of the Internet to push our narrow definitions of who gets to call herself a "writer" in ways that influence print and spoken-word cultures as well....All this may be lovely for eager novices and enthusiastic "wanna-be's, and I am not putting them down -- blogging on the internet is indeed perhaps better than many other places for getting started -- but Clark's article starts out by appearing to be about serious women writers, women who have a right to expect to make at least a minimal living from their craft just as other professional artists do, or physicians, or teachers, for we too have invested decades in learning to do what we do. This is no part-time hobby for us -- it is a profession, a lifelong path.
...It would be a mistake to simplify the ambitions of writers, particularly female ones, as solely measurable by big-time accolades, fame, or presence in mainstream media. There are those, after all, who pursue writing after a career in another area. There are those who return to writing after decades away from it. Many who write simply want to express themselves or create something beautiful. Being uninitiated into the culture of "literary lions" and not winning public accolades doesn't denote a lack of ambition; it's simply writing to a different standard. It may be a part of the creation of our alternative to the traditional literary culture....
As one reader commented on this article:Sat, 11/01/2008 - 07:39 — Regina (not verified)...Related to this issue, and offering a pivotal corrective to views like those of Anna Clark's, is "Typing Without a Clue, a marvelous 6 December 2008 New York Times Op-Ed by guest columnist, Timothy Eagen, about the just-released book by "Joe the Plumber." Eagen writes:
Anne Clark's cri de coeur about women writers reflects the entire universe of talented women. To cite s few additional glaring examples, how many women gifted and trained in music are conducting symphony orchestras? The only reason women are now operatic divas is because operas need sopranos and we no longer tolerate the mutilation of boys as castrati. How many women scientists have won Nobel prizes? How many women artists have their work hanging in major museums? How many women with the requisite Ph.D. degrees occupy the tenured ranks of university faculties? And is Anne Clark aware of the fact that the academic discipline of Home Economics was established by women with graduate degrees in chemistry who couldn't get appointments as Professors of Chemistry? 'Nuf said....I have a question for Joe: Do you want me to fix your leaky toilet?That pretty much says it all.
I didn’t think so. And I don’t want you writing books. Not when too many good novelists remain unpublished. Not when too many extraordinary histories remain unread. Not when too many riveting memoirs are kicked back at authors after 10 years of toil. Not when voices in Iran, North Korea or China struggle to get past a censor’s gate....
...Next up may be Sarah Palin, who is said to be worth nearly $7 million if she can place her thoughts between covers. Publishers: with all the grim news of layoffs and staff cuts at the venerable houses of American letters, can we set some ground rules for these hard times? Anyone who abuses the English language on such a regular basis should not be paid to put words in print....
...Most of the writers I know work every day, in obscurity and close to poverty, trying to say one thing well and true. Day in, day out, they labor to find their voice, to learn their trade, to understand nuance and pace. And then, facing a sea of rejections, they hear about something like Barbara Bush’s dog getting a book deal....
...Barack Obama’s first book, the memoir of a mixed-race man, is terrific. Outside of a few speeches, he will probably not write anything memorable until he’s out of office, but I look forward to that presidential memoir.
For the others — you friends of celebrities penning cookbooks, you train wrecks just out of rehab, you politicians with an agent but no talent — stop soaking up precious advance money.
I know: publishers say they print garbage so that real literature, which seldom makes any money, can find its way into print. True, to a point. But some of them print garbage so they can buy more garbage....
Women and Education
University of Southern California (from an address given 31 March 2006)
And so we come to education itself. These excerpts come from a very long 2 December 2008 interview, "Rethinking the problem of critical education," between Professor Chronis Polychroniou at Mediterranean University College in Greece and Henry Giroux, a professor in English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Canada. Its special relevance to my own page lies in insights taken from Hannah Arendt.* http://www.truthout.org/121108WA
I'd like to begin by asking you to give us a brief account of your conceptualization and understanding of education.Henry Giroux:Chronis Polychroniou: Violence and social anomie are widespread problems in America's public school system and in many other public school systems in the Western world. In fact, these types of behavior seem in our own times to cross class lines and to form a distinctive display of aggressive behavior that is very much ingrained in the overall culture of Western society. Under these conditions, what can school administrators and teachers do to construct a learning environment that is geared to self-development, respect for others and responsibility for one's actions, and form social bonds around the values of democracy, freedom and civic virtue?
...I would like to conceptualize education as a form of provocation and challenge, a practice rooted in an ethical-political vision that attempts to take people beyond the world they already know in a way that does not insist on a fixed set of altered meanings, but instead provokes an expansion of the range of human possibilities and provides the conditions for the development of an informed, critical citizenry capable of actively participating and governing in a Democratic society. This suggests forms of knowledge and pedagogy that enable rather than subvert the potential of a Democratic culture.....
Venezuelan HIV Activists Defeat Libertador University in Court (September 2000)
Henry Giroux: Learning environments cannot be removed from the larger political, economic and social forces that shape them. If education is going to be responsive to the larger problems that erupt in its classrooms, it has to become a force for addressing the deepest conflicts of our time, and this not only means reclaiming the university as a Democratic public sphere, but also putting in place those pedagogical conditions that make knowledge meaningful in order for it to become critical and transformative.......This kind of education also suggests making visible the values, ideologies and practices that enable violence towards others, promote an indifference to social justice and intensify the disdain for democracy through ongoing attack on civil liberties, the widening forces of economic inequality and increasing incarceration of young people of color. Such values and practices have to be engaged as part of a language of critique, while a discourse of educated hope has to be appropriated as part of a broader effort to reclaim those modes of agency that expand and deepen the values and practices of a substantive democracy. Hope in this instance attempts to show "how the space of the possible is larger than the one assigned - that something else is possible, but not that everything is possible."We live at a time when Democratic values are subordinated to market values; public life collapses into private concerns; and a rabid social Darwinism militates against any notion of social responsibility.... At the very least, educators have to be attentive to the ways in which corporate and right-wing ideologies and pedagogical practices deny the Democratic purposes of education and undermine the possibility of a critical citizenry. Such a critique on its own, while important, is not enough. Academics also have a responsibility to make clear higher education's association with other memories, brought back to life in the 1960s when the academy was remembered for its public role in developing citizenship and social awareness - a role that shaped and overrode its economic function. Such memories, however uncomfortable to the new corporate managers of higher education, must be nurtured and developed in defense of higher education as an important site of both critical thought and democratization.......Critical education should instill in students both what Zygmunt Bauman calls "a disgust for all forms of socially produced injustice" and the desire to make the world different from what it is. In part, this means educating students to believe that democracy mandates not only a responsibility to the plight of others and a critical awareness of the ethical demands of our own sense of agency, but also a heightened recognition of the obligations of citizenship and the need to keep Democratic politics alive through an ongoing and active individual and collective intervention in public life.While Hannah Arendt did not address directly the importance of critical pedagogy, she understood that in its absence monstrous deeds, often committed on a gigantic scale, had less to do with some grand notion of evil than with a "quite authentic inability to think." For Arendt, the absence of a capacity for thinking, making judgments and assuming responsibility constituted the conditions not merely for stupidity, but for a type of evil that could produce monstrous crimes and a politics exemplified in old and new forms of totalitarianism. The current corporate and right-wing assault on higher education is in reality an attack on the most rudimentary conditions of Democratic politics. Democracy cannot work if citizens are not autonomous, self-judging, curious, reflective and independent - qualities that are indispensable for students if they are going to make vital judgments and choices about participating in and shaping decisions that affect everyday life, institutional reform and governmental policy in their own country and around the globe. This means educators both in and outside of the university need to reassert pedagogy as the cornerstone of democracy by demonstrating in our classrooms and to the broader public that it provides the very foundation for students to learn not merely how to be governed, but also how to be capable of governing.Of course, there are also structural issues that must be addressed. Governments must be willing to fund education as a central responsibility of the Democratic state. Educators must work under conditions marked by Democratic modes of governance, which needs to include adequate resources, decent salaries and full-time positions protected by the principles of academic freedom. In addition, students must be given access to education as a right, not merely as an entitlement. In other words, the ability to pursue education should be limited neither by class position nor social status.Chronis Polychroniou: While problems differ from country to country, there is a general consensus that higher education is in a crisis. Declining quality, rising costs, loss of academic community, gradual retreat from the mission of educating students to think critically, creatively and responsibly about their role as citizens in a Democratic polity represent only a few of the pieces of the higher education puzzle today. Educators worldwide are putting the blame squarely on the adoption of market-based understandings of education, the commercialization of research and the corporatization of the university. Would you comment on the above?...Henry Giroux:...Note: this entire interview is well worth reading in its entirety. Readers' comments, many from educators, are also most interesting. Here, for example, are two of them:
I don't think there is any question that the neoliberal reconstruction of higher education has reached alarming heights in many countries, but we would be remiss not to recognize that there are other dangerous forces attempting to shape the university in ways that undermine its promise as a Democratic public sphere. For instance, while there has been an increasing concern among academics and progressives over the growing corporatization of the university, the transformation of academia into a militarized knowledge factory has been largely ignored as a subject of major concern and critical debate. Such silence has nothing to do with a lack of visibility regarding the shift toward militarization taking place in higher education....
...Underlying recent attacks on the university is an attempt not merely to counter dissenting points of view, but to destroy them, and in doing so to annihilate all of those remaining public spaces, spheres and institutions that nourish and sustain a culture of questioning so vital to a Democratic civil society. Within the conservative rhetoric, dissent is often equated with treason, and the university is portrayed as the weak link in the war on terror by powerful educational agencies. Professors who advocate a culture of questioning and critical engagement run the risk of having their names posted on Internet web sites - such as DiscovertheNetworks.org and CampusWatch.org - and being labeled as un-American, while various right-wing individuals and politicians increasingly attempt to pass legislation that renders critical analysis a professional and personal liability and to reinforce a rabid anti-intellectualism under the call, with no irony intended, for balance and intellectual diversity. Genuine politics begins to disappear as people methodically lose those freedoms and rights that enable them to speak and act in public spaces, to exercise their individual right to dissent and to advocate a shared sense of collective responsibility.
While higher education is only one site under attack, it is one of the most crucial institutional and political spaces where Democratic subjects can be shaped, Democratic relations can be experienced and anti-Democratic forms of power can be identified and critically engaged. It is also one of the few spaces left where young people can think critically about the knowledge they gain, learn values that refuse to reduce the obligations of citizenship to either consumerism or the dictates of the national security state and develop the language and skills necessary to defend those institutions and social relations that are vital to a substantive democracy. As the philosopher Hannah Arendt insisted, a meaningful conception of politics appears only when concrete spaces exist for people to come together to talk, think critically and act on their capacities for empathy, judgment and social responsibility. What all this points to is a dire need for educators and others to recognize and take measures against the current attack on higher education that is now threatening to erase the ideas and the practices that enable the academy to fulfill its role as a crucial Democratic public sphere, offering a space both to resist the dark times in which we now live and to embrace the possibility of a future forged in the civic struggles requisite for a viable democracy....Comments:
Thu, 12/04/2008 - 13:09 — Anonymous (not verified): Standardized testing is the smoke screen that is being used to dummy us down. There is no time for dialogue, discourse, discussion, necessary for making sense of what we think we know. This lack of time prevents us from hearing and honoring views different from our own. Why is there no time?? We are given an unsurmountable list of "benchmarks" to teach before the State tests. I am sure that all of my students' future will be fine without knowing the names of all the planets in the proper order, but, that's one of the factoids they MUST know to be "successful". There are no questions/benchmarks on understanding nuclear power or how solar eneregy produces electrcity or the risk/benefits of nuclear. There are no essay responses, only multiple guess. I have been repimanded for having discussions and not "teaching"!Wed, 12/03/2008 - 16:30 — jessepoverseas (not verified):
... it is worth wading through this [interview], since the man is on the money. (Or you might check out that (relatively) plain spoken American, John Dewey.) I know. I spent 32 years watching a pretty good institution that prided itself on excellent undergraduate education transform itself into a third rate self styled "research university." The perps used the usual means: doubling and doubling again the number of managers, (slowly) cutting the number of courses, (slowly) increasing the size of classes, politically and economically harassing tenured faculty who taught students to think, refusing tenure to junior faculty who looked like they might follow suit, flattening evaluations of teaching while heightening the value of numbers of publications, using "fields" chosen when faculty were in their 20s to quash curiosity and breadth of knowledge, skewing budgets towards the go alongs, and so on. The process was ugly and nasty though cloaked in high-sounding idealistic language. The results are terribly sad for students (and their families) paying big money and taking on huge debt for nothing but another bait and switch. Students inured to thinking by such abominations as No Child Left Behind are not opened to critical thought and they end up moving back in with Mom and Dad because corporate America makes sure there are fewer jobs than applicants to keep "labor costs" down. And the jobs are open only to those who conform and don't, or can't, think critically. There is much hand wringing about the “dumbing down” of the American people, but there is little hope of improvement when the right and its powerful allies have such a great stake in keeping folks that way.
Women and "Illegals"
Land long held by their ancestors is now forbidden to "illegal aliens."
This seering account of injustice is "Anti-Immigrant Fervor Translates to Terror for Women" by Chicago-based human-rights activist, Melissa Nalani Ross, for On the Issues Magazine. This December 12, 2008 report tragically substantiates exactly what Henry Giroux is arguing in the above interview -- people are not being taught to do the critical thinking necessary to see and stop these horrors; we are not allowing our educational systems to offer, in Giroux's words, "a space both to resist the dark times in which we now live and to embrace the possibility of a future forged in the civic struggles requisite for a viable democracy." Too many citizens are not connecting the dots -- they fixate on the word illegal in the term, "llegal alien," and then respond in kneejerk, dismayingly moronic ways (see "Comments" section at the end of Ross' article). Even worse, racist and woman-hating leanings are unleashed, as in the rapes Ross reveals below and the appalling treatment of a woman nine months pregnant who went into labor and was handcuffed to a prison bed while giving birth. Who can fathom the depravity of doing that to a captive animal, let alone a woman?* http://www.truthout.org/121608WA
Here are just a few passages from Ross' article:In my work on civil and human rights, especially with immigrant populations, I was contacted recently about a woman without documentation who worked at a fruit stand in the northeast. A male customer approached her and asked if she had any waitressing experience, as he needed servers at his restaurant. Seeing this as an opportunity to make a little more money to support herself and her family, the woman agreed to stop by the establishment for an interview. When she arrived, instead of sitting down and discussing a job opportunity, the woman was met by a group of men who took turns raping her. They then told her that if she went to the authorities, they would have her deported.Ross then begins a new section of her report in which she discusses complex, maddening legal issues run amuck. Further, destructive racist groups are leading the charge "without," she writes, "care for the human and civil rights violations that follow." About the recent Postville raids:
Too afraid to go to the police out of fear of being separated from her family and livelihood, she will be left in isolation, with no recourse, no justice and no security. Her tale will not be covered by the mainstream media. The men who raped her will never be brought to justice.
In July, The New York Times published an article about Juana Villegas, a woman stopped for a routine traffic violation by a police officer. Villegas was jailed for six days for violating U.S. immigration laws. An undocumented immigrant, she was nine months pregnant, and, while imprisoned, went into labor. She was handcuffed to the bed during the birthing process, then was separated from her newborn baby and sent back to jail. Authorities would not allow Villegas to bring a breast pump into her cell, leading to a breast infection.
The experiences of these women are frighteningly emblematic of the challenges immigrant women face across the country from immigration enforcement policies gone awry. Villegas and countless other women experience fear, anxiety, degradation and harm on a daily basis. Few of their stories reach the public, but as someone who works with the immigrant community, I hear them regularly.
Anti-immigrant fervor in the United States makes injustice for immigrant women tolerated - even encouraged. As a result, immigrant women are living in situations of sheer terror.......Family members were separated from each other and children were left to fend for themselves. The Postville raid did not just negatively affect those without documentation, described in eyewitness accounts, it also disrupted and devastated the lives of the U.S.-born residents in the community....Ross' final section goes straight to the point. She calls it:
...This type of enforcement serves no public good. It does not deter immigration, nor does it solve - or even address - the reasons behind increased migration to the United States [i.e., the North and Central American trade agreements, NAFTA and CAFTA]. The only real purpose it serves is to create an environment so toxic that immigrant women are forced into the shadows and live in a constant state of fear and anxiety....
Immigration Is a Women's IssueThe violence and abuse immigrant women face on a daily basis in the United States are challenged, mostly in solitude, by the immigrant rights movement. By and large, the women's movement has failed to stand in solidarity with the women who suffer under anti-immigrant activity. Why haven't more women leaders and women's organizations added their voices to the national dialogue and opposed the push for stricter immigration enforcement practices and the dehumanization they portend?Readers' comments about this article are mostly embarrassing. They fit within what I call "kneejerk, dismayingly moronic" reactions. One, however, from a Native American respondent, shines out:
Part of the problem is that the gender aspects of harmful immigration policies go unrecognized and unacknowledged. The women's rights movement over the last several decades has largely been about equal rights and equal treatment But women, always on the frontline, are the most deeply and intimately impacted by systems and institutions wrought with injustice. The tragedies suffered by Juana Villegas and other immigrant women are intolerable in a just society, yet without women of conscience taking a stand, these violent practices will undoubtedly continue... It will take the efforts of women throughout the country to ensure that all women, whatever their "status," live in a safe and just environment.Fri, 12/12/2008 - 18:30 — Anonymous (not verified)[Note: also see my page on why Myth*ing Links doesn't have a Thanksgiving Day page.]
When Christopher Colon, Columbus, first came and landed on my grandmother's land, Boriken, we shared with him our maize, yuca, cacao, and so much more to feed him, his crew, and his people. That is a value I carry today with my Indigenous brothers and sister's in the north. Non-Indigenous people need to look at the ways of my grandmothers and grandfathers to understand that when immigrants run from their beloved homeland, like guatemala, mexico, russia, somalia, they do so in fear of their lives, human dignity to eat and not be persecuted. You need to be compassionate like my Taino grandmothers were to Columbus. She never asked for his green card and called him an Illegal alien. The intrinsic value of all human beings is equal- no human being is illegal. Please, look to how the Iroquis, Oneida, Taino, Seminole, Lakota, Dakota, Anishinabe have treated new immigrant populations, and learn from how we treated others. May you be blessed with comprehension and the exercise of compassion. Bo Matum. Mitakuye Oyasin.
Women and Prison
© Sandra Stanton -- used with permission
This 13 December 2008 report, "Black Women Struggle in Criminal Justice System" by James Wright (for The Afro-American Newspapers) also concerns education, not of the general populace or others whose hatred of women leads to senseless tragedy, but of those intelligent, gifted black women whose ranks are increasingly swelling the population of this nation's prisons. The statistics are shocking. Here too, a grotesque hatred of women in the black community as well as in the American legal system prevails. Our educational system tries to stem the tide, but classes are too large, money is too limited, teachers are stretched too thin, and somehow young black women are falling between the cracks, abused first by black men and then by white prosecutors.
I often work as a substitute teacher in predominantly black highschools here in Michigan. I have discovered that many young black women deliberately plan to get pregnant before graduation so they can start getting welfare checks. Twelve years of public education and nothing has inspired them to dream anything bigger?! I am not demeaning pregnancy, per se, but the idea that these young women see it as a "career move" comes as a shock.
"It's a cultural thing," a fulltime teacher told me. "You don't understand," she added, "it's what they know -- it's what their mothers did."
Yes, I get that, but that's not a good enough reason. My maternal grandmother dreamed of being a storyteller but married instead and happily raised three children. My mother wanted to be a writer but married instead and not so happily raised four children. I knew by the time I was ten that I was happiest when I was writing short stories and puppet plays. I couldn't imagine a better way to spend my life (still can't, although the chosen genres have changed). In my teens, I realized that I'd make a very poor parent (I need my own space too much), so I simply changed a family-pattern in which I had no interest and gladly stepped onto the writing-path instead. I've never regretted my choice. A caring, loving husband would have been nice along the way, but not children. I wound up with neither and although it hasn't been among the happiest of my many lives, at least it's been a useful one and I continue to follow its trajectory. If my mother had been a welfare mother, I would still have followed this path (perhaps being a Capricorn helps -- we're a determined bunch <smile>). So I don't think it's "a cultural thing," although that may play a role in some circumstances.
The point here is that Michigan's public school system in the 1940s and 1950s taught content, not test-passing. Our teachers inspired us. For example, I remember the exotic, olive-skinned Nina Osborne, our 4th grade teacher, who always wore elegantly tailored clothing and a dozen or more expensive silver bracelets on each arm. She was aloof, known for being "different," and some students were actually afraid of her. None of us had ever heard of anyone named Nina, except for one of Columbus' ships, so we privately called her "Nina-the-Pinta-the-Santa-Maria." One morning when we arrived in her classroom, we found that she had covered the entire blackboard with bizarre drawings and complex scribbles. When she took role as usual and made no reference to what none of us could stop staring at, some thought she'd gone completely crazy. Finally, apparently having just noticed our confusion, she sternly asked what was bothering us. Several students pointed to the blackboard. She looked at it and then looked back at us as if everything were perfectly normal. There was a moment of complete silence during which I suspect quite a few of us wondered who was crazy -- her or us. Then she turned back to the board and said very matter-of-factly, "These are ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. We use an alphabet when we want to write something. They used these pictures, these hieroglyphs." She now had our full attention (we hadn't been studying Egypt, by the way -- this came completely out of the blue). Pointing to each one, her bracelets making rich, musical sounds, she told us what each one stood for. Most of the class was too fascinated to do anything but listen but I had never dreamed such writing existed and I excitedly copied each "letter" into my notebook (which I still have somewhere); for years afterwards I would stare at that page full of ancient "letters" and feel that I had captured something exceedingly precious from her blackboard, something no one else possessed (except for a few classmates who begged to make copies from my copy). If I were upset, hurt, or confused, I'd turn to that page and, somehow, my world-order would slip back into place again. I had copied something utterly real -- chalk drawings made by a gifted teacher on an old-fashioned school blackboard, c. 1949-50. No one could doubt its reality. But it was also magic. It was a bridge connecting two worlds, the real and the magical, that normally didn't meet. It was my talisman. That was over half a century ago but I've never forgotten Nina Osborne's blackboard covered with those Egyptian hieroglyphs.
I also remember a day when Nina Osborne dropped her mask of aloofness and told us the story of a beautiful, rare blue heron she had seen years earlier near a lake -- and of her grief when her older brother shot and killed the bird. She created such a vivid sense of that bird's life, and such a terrible sense of the loss of that bird's life, that my whole view of nature changed forever.
Other teachers inspired us in different ways. I remember Emmy-Lou Carlson in 3rd grade. She was young, pretty, and a new bride -- her handsome husband often waited for her after class and most of the other girls and I thought it was sooo romantic and sweet and we could hardly wait until we grew up and had a husband like that too. In teaching world geography, Mrs. Carlson had us do art projects connected with the countries we were studying. The one I still remember is Scandinavia, not only because I have Norwegian ancestors on both sides of my family and was interested in their background, but also because we made paper dollhouse furniture decorated with Scandinavian designs, created costumes for ourelves, and Mrs. Carlson made Scandinavian foods for a special school party that year. It was great fun. Our 5th or 6th grade teacher, whose name I've forgotten, was Swedish. She won my heart by reading fairytales to us during the lunch hour (in those days, we each brought our own lunchbox and ate in our classrooms; the school provided small glass bottles of white milk with a straw for drinking -- we had no such thing as a cafeteria). She also had a large loom in her classroom with shuttles and levers and all sorts of interesting possibilities for creating different designs. During lunch, we could sign up to weave cloth of varying sizes. I was fascinated by the loom and loved to touch and stare at it. I can't remember why I never wove anything on it. I may have thought I was too clumsy to manipulate the intricate machinery (and, in all honesty, I probably was -- non-sensate types like me are a menace around mechanical things -- we do "magical thinking," not nitty-gritty stuff). The only time I did sign up, an error was made and someone else claimed my time. So I never got to use the loom but the sense of "enchantment" connected with it never left me. Weaving remains a core concept (see my Weaving page).
I could go on about being inspired by teachers, even two -- Miss Boyd in 6th grade (?) and Mrs. Redmond in 8th -- who criticized me, and they were correct to do so because their comments forced me to take a deeper look at myself. But I believe I've made my point.
The past few seasons, as a substitute teacher who subs in a wide variety of middle and high schools, I have come across a handful of current teachers who also know how to inspire their students and fill their rooms with wonder (I don't always meet the teachers but I hear about them from wide-eyed students). There's a science teacher, for example, with a room full of minerals and ores. One little boy, who hung out with me one lunch hour, is so excited by those minerals that he plans to be a geologist. He kept asking me what kind of classes he'd have to take to do this and I said he should ask his teacher. Later, I tracked down his teacher and told him what had happened -- he was astonished and said he had had no idea that he had made such an impact on the boy and was deeply touched to hear about it.
A biology teacher for whom I subbed last spring has several large aquaria filled with gorgeous fish and plant life -- he breeds many of the rare ones and sells them to support the collection; his students are trained to care for the fish and keep their tanks clean; many students just love watching the aquaria's hypnotic beauty (as did I) -- one plans to be a vet; others plan science careers, inspired by this one teacher.
A Latin teacher for whom I subbed last winter organizes a Roman feast each year, which her few but dedicated students, in sandals and togas, greatly enjoy and will surely remember all their lives.
An art teacher has marvelous student art hanging everywhere, encouraging each new class. When she learns of a student's interest in a particular style, period, or artist, she spends a great deal of time helping the student research online sources and then guiding whatever project emerges from this process.
A woodworking instructor for whom I subbed one afternoon in late 2007 demands and gets such excellence from his students of both genders that they consistently win top statewide prizes. I saw photos of gorgeous furniture and other work all over his woodshop. Not to worry, by the way -- my mechanical ineptitude put no one at risk that afternoon -- we had a video running in the background -- the students had seen it a million times so we mostly just talked. (FYI: state law prohibits the use of any shop machinery unless the regular teacher is present.)
All but one of these examples come from mixed white/Latino schools. Only the geology teacher with ores and minerals teaches in a mostly black school. This isn't to imply that further examples don't exist in his and other black schools. I'm sure they do -- I just didn't happen to connect with them. But there are also deeper issues here. Tragically, predominately black schools in poorer school districts get lower funding because the tax base fluctuates more. This leads to lower test scores, which in turn further lowers funding as the government's way of punishing the school. The teachers I've met in these schools are really great -- smart, creative, warm, caring, nurturing -- but such qualities only stretch so far when these teachers are placed under unrelenting stress in trying to figure out ways to improve next year's test scores. And the tests are so dull! Teachers are bored with them and students even more so. Few people can do creative, genuine teaching -- OR learning -- under such constant, draining stress. Everything requires a teaching module to meet certain pedagogical expectations, with sections, and sub-sections, and sub-sub sections. These vary state by state. How could one teach Shakespeare, for example, in such a strait jacket? It's a Catch-22. We're losing a whole generation of students to these pernicious tests and standards of expectation. Currently, the intense pressure seems to be hitting black schools harder than elsewhere (they're the canaries in the mine). But it'll soon hit many of the rest of the nation's schools too. After all, if I remember correctly, Columbine and other infamous school shootings have taken place in predominantly white schools, not black.
I often think we should go back to separating the genders in our schools, especially the mostly black ones where frustration and anger are currently higher than elsewhere. As noted above, however, the others will catch up faster than we'd like -- this year's 6th graders, for example, in at least two mostly white schools where I've had a chance to speak with teachers and janitors this autumn 2008, are suddenly and for no known reason, dramatically more destructive, abusive, and out of control than last year's 6th graders. One school in a middle to upper class neighborhood had to close down all its bathrooms, except for one private bathroom for boys and another for girls. Why? Because in group bathrooms some students were ignoring the toilets and urinating and defecating on the floor instead. In other group bathrooms, toilets were being plugged with toilet paper, creating floods. Teachers were upset and bewildered, the elderly janitor was distressed, and most students were completely "grossed out." With only two available bathrooms, of course there was a constant backlog of students needing to use one, but each could now be immediately checked by an adult, one by one. That had nipped the problem in the bud, but having only two available bathrooms for an entire middle school is not a longterm solution. I asked the janitor what he thought was causing all this. He's worked there for decades and looked at me sadly. "Parents," he said. "They're not raising their kids to respect anything anymore. Some of our boys were really embarrassed and tried to clean up after the others. But it was happening too much. It's the parents -- they don't care."
As mentioned, that is a mostly white school -- it's in a very desirable neighborhood, lovely homes, fine old maples, sprawling gardens -- nothing at all like the run-down ghettos full of condemned or foreclosed houses in which the mostly black schools are located.
To return to my suggestion of single-gender schools in mostly black areas: above all, such a girls' school would be far less distracting for its students. Young black women would be encouraged to develop their creativity, intellectual, and other gifts. When there are boys in the room, many of the girls want to show off, or protest the boys' crude bathroom humor, or else pay the boys back in kind by using their own considerable verbal skills to mock the boys. The mood can change in a moment. In one large (close to 30 students) special ed classroom where I was subbing last spring, a table of five or six girls went from angrily mocking the boys at the next table to abruptly inviting them over so the girls could braid the guys' hair. I was astounded. I looked over at the middle-aged paraprofessional (required in all special ed classes). He and I had been trying to get the students under control all day without success and I was tired of shouting. He shrugged, as if to say, "Why not?"
The stern Capricorn in me thought to herself: this is a classroom! I can't allow such behavior. But another voice in me replied: well, you already know that the first young lady at that table dreams of being a beautician with her own salon, and maybe the others do too. They're not willing to learn anything academic right now anyway. What harm can it do?
I looked back and saw that the young ladies were happily braiding hair, the guys looked pleased, even blissed-out, students at the room's other tables were watching, enjoying the scene. And the room was quiet. For the first time all day, the room was quiet.
So I surrendered and let what had been a demented, tortured classroom be transformed into a calm, pleasant beauty parlor for the last hour of that day. And I've asked myself ever since, if that had been a girls' school, how differently might that day have been. These young ladies are very special humans. They sparkle with humor and "attitude." I can't help but like them. The idea that any of them could wind up in some prison devastates me. But I've seen the statistics, which are neither hopeful nor kind.
Excerpts from the report........Adult women are the fastest growing group in regards to incarceration. The number of female prisoners rose at a faster rate (4.8 percent) than the number of male prisoners (2.7 percent), according to a study, "Prison and Jail Inmates" conducted by the Department of Justice, Bureau of Statistics (BJS) in 2006. In that report, the BJS said that there were 111,400 female prisoners in federal and state prisons....
...Black women make up a larger share of their gender incarcerated than in any other group. One in every 279 Black women is incarcerated compared with 1 in every 1,064 white women and one in every 658 Latinos. For ages 35 to 39, 1 in every 100 black women are in jail or prison-the highest proportionally of any female group....
...Black women offenders face a number of hurdles when they want to leave a life of crime. Brenda Smith, professor at the American University Washington College of Law and a consultant with the National Women's Center Women in Prison project, said that Black women offenders face systemic challenges that their White counterparts don't deal with. "Black women in prison generally have a lack of family and community support," Smith, who authored a pamphlet, "An End to Silence: A Prisoner's Handbook on Identifying and Addressing Sexual Misconduct", for women offenders, said. "There are issues of poverty because they are less able to afford mental health and substance abuse treatment to divert them from jail or prison. They then end up committing crimes to support a habit."Nkechi Taifa, a senior policy associate at the Open Society Institute, said that crack cocaine laws have increased the number of Black women in prison-unfairly. "Black women are caught in the net," Taifa said. "Black women disproportionately are caught up in the criminal justice system because of these bad crack cocaine laws. They are caught up with what I call the 'girlfriend problem'." Many of these women date or have relationships with these men and they get charged along with them to harsh sentences. Basically, they are the wrong person at the wrong time...."I said this report was about education (my focus here is on young women but much also applies to young men). Education is one of those tricky words, like freedom, democracy, "the people." It comes from the Latin verb ducere: "to lead, bring, draw." A related noun is dux: a leader, chief, commander, general, duke. Note that a dux is not a teacher -- it's a military or chieftan-type person, useful in war, not necessarily useful in peace (although his strong arm might indeed keep the peace). The "leading" aspect of ducere usually involves leading an army or tribe, not a classroom. The verb's prefix e- means "out" or "forth." Thus, educere, literally, means to "lead out" or "draw forth." Applied to education, this can imply drawing forth a child's innate knowledge or curiosity, leading the child out into a world of new ideas, or enabling her/him to discover the excitement of such a process. From this, we get additional meanings having to do with training, rearing, developing, or teaching the mind of a child, and nurturing her/his skills and character.
...Smith said that women would like to break free from these men but don't find it so easy to do. "The man may be the actor but the woman is prosecuted as well," Smith said. "Often women have little information to bargain for a better plea and end up serving long sentences. Also, women are afraid the men will hurt them, their children or their families if they 'snitch' on them."
Taifa and Smith said that women have additional problems if they have a family. "When women are incarcerated, they have very little contact with the family and especially the children," Smith said. "They are often single parents and when they go to prison, they may lose custody of their children to family members who are angry with them and therefore may face a legal termination of parental rights."
Taifa said that when a woman gets through serving a prison term, she will have problems finding a job or getting basic social services because of her record. "It no secret that a woman, especially a Black woman, will have a harder time getting a job and established than a White woman," she said.
The main hurdle that women offenders face in and out of prison is psychological. Dr. Wilma Butler acknowledges that and has formed a group in D.C., WINCA (Women in Control Again) that focuses on female offenders and putting them on the right track. "Women who are in the criminal justice system have to deal with issues of low self-esteem, anger and, in some cases, mental illness," Butler said. "We try to deal with it in a holistic way, trying to keep the body and the mind sound. If the body is out of sync, the mind also can be out of sync, too."
Smith said that many women offenders take on the role of victim. "The history of sexual and physical victimization puts them at risk for criminal involvement and poor decision-making," she said. In an April 1999 BJS report, "Prior Abuse Reported by Inmates and Probationers", nearly 6 in 10 women in state prisons had experienced physical or sexual abuse in the past. The report said that 69 percent of the affected group said an assault occurred before the age of 18. In contrast, only 16 percent of the male inmates surveyed confirmed physical or sexual abuse before incarceration....
-------New American Media Editor's Note: James Wright's profile of black women in and out of prison won best investigative/in-depth article in New America Media's D.C. Ethnic Media Awards.
If we really wanted an educated citizenry, we would have one. Obviously, the powers-that-be do not want one. I hope things change under President Obama but this corrupt educational system might be too entrenched for him to succeed. Today, except for the wealthy, American education unfortuately evokes more of the militaristic dux aspect than the nurturing teacher aspect. This nation has allowed many high paying, high tech jobs to be outsourced elsewhere. In the late 2008 Big Three auto bailout, the Republican lameduck government was blatantly trying to union-bust among middle class manufacturing workers. As many economy experts have often pointed out, the massive shift of our nation's wealth to the richest few percent of its population is nearly complete. Thus, current employment requirements are mostly for vast numbers of poorly-trained, dumbed-down citizens suited either to working in low-paying jobs or to being child-soldiers/cannon fodder. Why else would we have stopped trying to inspire or excite our students? There is no need to teach them critical thinking skills either because our leaders fear that a truly educated citizenry would vote most of them out of office. Nor do we need to draw our students out into new portals of insight and adventure. Instead, we must teach them to walk in endless circles, pass irrelevant tests, and go nowhere. We lure them into dead ends because that is what our politicians, who still hold the public school system's pursestrings, demand of us. They want obedient citizens, not creative ones.
Children will resist, of course. They will try drugs, sex, and sometimes violence just to feel alive. No one has e-ducere-d them into more creative, satisfying ways of feeling alive. We just try to teach them to pass dead end tests -- and then watch silently as these discouraged youth turtle into their threadbare hoodies and slip into an exhausted sleep during government-mandated test times (see one of the first entries in my subbing/grubbing blog).
Without a highschool diploma, or often even with one, but with no way to afford college because of the unacknowledged class war in this country, these young women and men may make destructive choices and wind up in prisons. Yes, we can argue that they had free will and chose foolishly. But the so-called "education" we gave them seems to have been deliberately designed to lead them to a dead end. Once there, not too many choices remained. We didn't teach them to be subtle or creative. So why are we surprised when they choose the most obvious escape routes from their dead ends and turn into prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers, and gang members?
We are wasting a whole, precious generation of young people who actually need to be among the best educated generation we've ever produced. Many in my generation and the boomers behind us have made terrible mistakes by turning over our country to cunning, cold-blooded politicians addicted to greed and power. Today's youngsters are the ones who desperately need the skills, the drawing-forth, the leading-out-into-new-ideas, to turn things around. If not them, who? If not now, when? Truly, we need to wake up, change our priorities, and do right by these youngsters, both female and male, of all colors. We need to protect them. They don't belong in our prisons. They belong to all of us as humane leaders, teachers, artists, parents, scientists, musicians, and writers. They belong to all of us.
© Lisa Hunt
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Norse celebration of Modresnach ("Mother Night") / Winter Solstice Eve.
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