School/work

The pandemic has heightened awareness of a number of social problems in the United States.

One revolves around the care and education of children. Political and business leadership often spout platitudes about how important children are and how much they care about them, but they seldom back up their words with meaningful policies that help children and the people who love, care for, and educate them.

Before the pandemic, American families often cobbled together child care with parent(s), school, relatives, neighbors, and paid caregivers, who often had to charge more than the family could afford to pay even though their own salaries were so low it was hard for them to get by. When schools and most day-care centers closed due to the pandemic, parents were suddenly trying to do paid work themselves from home while simultaneously trying to care for and educate their children or were forced to quit a job outside the home to be at home for their children.

It’s not a sustainable situation for many families.

There is a big push by the president and some state and national leaders to re-open schools full-time and full-capacity in the fall, even though that is against the recommendations of public health experts, in order for adults to return to jobs outside the home or so they can work from home without interruptions, but, besides being a huge health risk for children and adults, it fails to address the root of the issue.

Somehow, caring for children in exchange for a salary is considered “work” but caring for children without a salary is not considered work. Hazel Henderson calls this non-monetized part of our system the “love economy.”

The United States lags far behind other countries with advanced economies in acknowledging the love economy. We don’t offer mandatory paid sick leave, parental leave, or caregiving leave. People who do get paid as caregivers, whether for children, elders, or other vulnerable people, often earn shockingly low wages. For that matter, many people working in other kinds of jobs also don’t make a living wage, making it impossible to fully care for their family. Other countries also have a must more robust system of social services, so that people have access to adequate clothes, shelter, food, medical care, and education regardless of their income level.

As part of our efforts to #BuildBackBetter, the United States should reform our economic, health, educational, and social systems so that every person has adequate resources to lead a life of dignity. Some components of such a system that have proven successful in other countries have been single-payer universal health care, required living wages for workers, a graduated tax system that raises enough revenue from the top of the income spectrum that those in the lower end can afford their tax bill without compromising the needs of their household, free public education, paid leave for sickness, caregiving, and vacation, and a robust social safety net so that no one goes without food, housing, and other basic necessities. I would also like to see more social recognition and financial support for caretaking that is currently part of the “love economy.” A possible way to address this would be through a program of universal basic income or a stipend for those caring for a child, elder, or person with a long-term illness or disabling condition.

Obviously, crafting systemic change will take time and new national leadership. For the moment, I think it is foolish to implement a national school opening policy. Historically, education has been the province of local districts within the framework of state policy, allowing the system to adapt to local conditions. The wisdom of that flexibility is even more evident during the pandemic. Areas with low rates of illness may plan to implement hybrid systems where students attend in person part-time and online part-time so that physical distancing can be used to keep the virus in check. Areas with very high infection rates may need to keep students at home learning virtually until their infection rate is under control, when they could begin to phase in in-person attendance. All schools will need plans for dealing with changing circumstances; as there have been school closing plans to deal with severe flu outbreaks or natural disasters, there will need to be COVID plans to try to keep the school community and the general public as protected as possible.

Everyone wants students to be back to in-person classrooms, but only if it is safe for them, the school staff, their families, and the community. Pretending we can go back to the pre-pandemic system without grave public health consequences is foolhardy. Instead of wishful thinking, we need to use data, science, expertise, care, and intelligence to adapt to our changed and changing circumstances.

It’s what our children and youth need and deserve.

#BuildBackBetter

I know that I am privileged. I’m white and well-educated. I grew up in rural New England with great parents and was sheltered from a lot of the temptations that get young people into trouble. My spouse B and I have been happily married for almost 38 years. We live in an area in the northeastern US that is affordable enough to live comfortably on one salary, so I could raise our family, help care for elders, volunteer, and pursue artistic work without the added pressure of needing to earn income. I have never lived in a big city with a high crime rate, so I can move about without worry, other than the usual caution that all women employ. I can speak freely and follow my religion, although that comes with some built-in sex discrimination. I am relatively healthy and have access to good-quality, affordable health care. When B retires, we have retirement savings and our house to live in. While not rich by US standards, I am aware that I have more wealth than the vast majority of people in the world.

Yes, I am privileged in so many ways.

Because I grew up in a tiny town, only about 200 people when I lived there and even smaller now, there was not a lot of racial diversity. My parents, though, were diligent about exposing us to the wider world and modeled the dignity and equality of all people, as did Catholic social justice doctrine. As a young child in the 1960’s, I watched as the civil rights movement was translated into law and hoped and, perhaps took for granted, that progress was being made toward the equality that the United States had so long touted.

While acknowledging that some progress has been made, there is still so, so much wrong, which is why the death of George Floyd at the hands of police – on top of so many other deaths of black and brown people in police custody; decades of inequality in education, housing, employment opportunities, and pay scale; violence; the higher rate of illness and death from COVID-19 among people of color and those living in poverty; unequal laws and enforcement resulting in large numbers of black men in prison; obstacles to voting; the recognition that many of our essential workers are poorly paid people of color; discrimination; and personal attacks of all kinds – has caused such anguish, outrage, and action across the country, not just among the black community, but among people of all races. People in other countries are demonstrating not only in support of the US civil rights and Black Lives Matter movement but also to highlight discrimination in their own countries against indigenous and black and brown people.

The vast majority of these protests have been peaceful, which made the recent clearing of the park near the White House all the more appalling. There have been other instances of violence against peaceful protesters and the press, which are totally unacceptable and against the US Constitution and laws. I also oppose any violence against the police or other protesters, arson, theft, and the destruction of property.

Because of my age and the need to protect myself and my family against COVID-19, I have not been to any protests in person. There have been several peaceful protests locally, including some directed against our county jail, which has a percentage of inmates who are people of color much higher than our population and a distressingly high number of inmates who have not been treated sufficiently for medical conditions and/or who have died. We have not had the kind of looting here that has happened in larger cities. There has been a very sad case of arson, the destruction of the premier accessible playground in our area, although no one knows whether or not the person/s involved were motivated by the murder of George Floyd. There has been an outpouring of donations to re-build this special place as soon as possible.

As a white person, I can’t know what it is like to be a person of color, but I do have a window into it from members of my family. Two of my brothers-in-law and my son-in-law, as well as their children, are people of color with personal or family roots in Asia and Africa. They have shared stories with me about fear when being stopped by police, about being followed and asked to leave a store while shopping, and about loss of educational opportunities. They hear derogatory language based on their race. Sometimes, their status as a family is questioned because they are bi- or multi-racial.

Our Declaration of Independence says that all “are created equal” and entitled to the rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We need to carry this out, however belatedly, and maintain it for generations to come. As the late Rep. Barbara Jordan said, “What the people want is very simple – they want an America as good as its promise.”

How do we accomplish this? When I wrote this post a week ago, I did not have concrete ideas, but I have since heard a number of proposals, some around policing and legal practices and some that attempt to rectify consequences of racism in the areas of health care, housing, education, and employment. This gives us an opportunity to advocate with our local, state, and national representatives to enact new laws and policies to move us toward equality. It also means that we can use their positions on these proposals to evaluate candidates in upcoming elections.

I’ve recently had the opportunity to attend several webinars about the path toward greater environmental and social justice. Hearing leaders articulate needed actions and policies gives me hope. Another very hopeful thing for me is seeing the two youngest generations, often called Millennials and Generation Z, stepping forward with ideas and action to shape our future. These young people are more diverse and generally more accepting of personal differences than their elders. Much of the recent energy behind environmental justice, gun reform, and racial/ethnic/gender equality has come from these younger people. I know that I am a better advocate for these causes because of what I have learned from my daughters and their peers.

To me, all of this work is about respect for the dignity of each person and a moral obligation to care for others and for our global environment. There is so much work to do, but, together, we can #BuildBackBetter.

Smith commencement

On this weekend in an ordinary year, the Smith College campus and Northampton, Massachusetts would have been awash in graduating students, their families, and returning alumnae, participating in the traditional activities of commencement and reunion. (While all reunions used to be held simultaneously, now only landmark years, such as the 25th and 50th hold reunions in conjunction with commencement weekend. The other classes meet on the following weekend.)

This year, though, because of the pandemic, the festivities moved online. Saturday evening, the campus would have been illuminated with hundreds of lanterns. Instead, there was a global illumination event, with alumnae and friends of Smith lighting their own lanterns or candles in honor of the class of 2020.  Commencement was livestreamed on Facebook, with a special Zoom experience for graduates, family, and friends.

As a proud member of the class of ’82, I watched the first part of the ceremony. (I admit that I didn’t watch the conferral of degrees, which included the name and photo of each graduate.) I was surprised by how often the alumnae were invoked in the addresses. It’s comforting to know that the strong connections among alumnae and to the institution persist, despite the efforts to divide people that have been so worrisome in the United States in recent years. I add my sincere good wishes to the new alumnae as we all try to find a positive path in the face of these troubled times.

Here are some of the things about the ceremony that I found especially striking:

  • The acknowledgement of the indigenous peoples of the region where the Smith campus now is by Director of Religious & Spiritual Life and College Chaplain Matilda Rose Cantwell ’96
  • The strong bond that President Kathleen McCartney has with the students, the alumnae, and the entire campus community and the sensitivity with which she treated the disruption of the pandemic
  • That 2020 Senior and Alumnae Class President Dimitra Konstantinos Sierros chose to attend Smith for much the same reason I had – because the students she met as a high schooler were so engaged and interesting that she wanted to be a part of such a vibrant community
  • That Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi drew together the accomplishments of notable alumnae and the activism of the class of 2020 in her commencement address, while looking forward to the future endeavors of the graduates

This is not a reunion year for my class. When we meet for our 40th in 2022, I expect that there will be a vaccine and/or effective treatment for COVID-19 widely available so that we will be allowed to travel and gather on campus, although masks and less physical contact may still be a feature of post-pandemic life. I sense, though, that this experience of nurturing community at a distance will make our bonds even stronger.

The class of 2020 may prove to have the strongest bonds of all.

SoCS: Sesame Street

Thirty years ago, our television was often tuned to Sesame Street on our local public broadcasting channel. It was an hour long and we followed the story lines of the human and Muppet characters. We had Sesame Street songs on cassette and some Sesame Street toys. We even had a Sesame Street songbook that served us well for many years and often sat on the music rack of our piano.

Now, our television is sometimes tuned to Sesame Street on our television, which is much thinner but with a bigger screen than it was thirty years ago. We still have it on our local public broadcasting station, but the episodes, which are only a half hour, are delayed by months, as the series is now on HBO. I admit that it bothers me, although I know that they needed to make the change to keep the series going.

Our granddaughter ABC, like many other young children, is more likely to watch Sesame Street segments on a tablet or smartphone. And, unlike our old cassettes, there are no tangles of tape as they got used often.

I hope that Sesame Street will continue to be produced around the world for many more years to come. I want it to be there for ABC’s children, too.
*****
Join us for Just Jot It January and/or Stream of Consciousness Saturday! Today’s prompt was “television.” Today’s pingback link is here: https://lindaghill.com/2019/01/18/the-friday-reminder-for-socs-jusjojan-2019-daily-prompt-jan-19th/ 
More information and prompts here: https://lindaghill.com/2018/12/31/what-is-just-jot-it-january-2019-rules/  

Haiti project

In these divisive days around the US elections, I have been clinging to any positive news of people reaching out and offering love, hope, and acceptance. I want to share this story from this past Sunday at my church.

There is a parishioner who co-teaches a service learning course at the local community college. Part of this course is a service trip to Haiti, to a village in the northern section of the island. The church has raised funds and donated materials for the projects on a regular basis over the last several years, so she gives us periodic updates.

The group went to Haiti in October. Because of flooding and hurricane Matthew, the village had endured damage to many of the mudbrick and straw buildings, but other repairs had already been made. The water system that protects the people from water-borne diseases was back in service. The two-classroom school that was part of the earlier iterations of the project had re-opened. Two more classrooms will be added soon. They and the adjoining church, which also serves as a community gathering place, are powered by solar panels and there is enough energy storage to allow the children to do homework at the school after dark, using LED lights. Computers that were donated are part of the school curriculum. There is also a newly-opened sewing school with donated machines that is helping local people learn a useful trade.

Last year, land was cleared for a community garden which grows food for the schoolchildren’s lunch. They had been growing staples like corn and beans which can be dried for later use, as there is no refrigeration available. The community had decided to grow rice as well, which wound up being a fortuitous decision; when the floods came, the rice crop continued to grow nicely and they just had their first rice harvest, with many bags of rice in storage for future school lunches.

The school lunch program is especially important as many of the children will eat their only meal of the day at school.

School costs the equivalent of $25 a year, but that sum is too much for some of the families, so there is a new scholarship fund in place to help more children attend school. There is also a plan to add a kitchen with solar ovens to the school, so that the cooks who make the school lunch can also bake breads and pies for sale to benefit the lunch program.

The people in the village are filled with hope, as they work steadily toward making their lives safer and more comfortable with the help of their friends and partners from our area.

We all need hope. We all need to reach out to each other, to help each other, to recognize that every person has inherent dignity.

Thank you to the villagers in Haiti for reminding me of the power of hope.

 

My first MOOC

I am a proud alumna of Smith College, one of the oldest women’s colleges in the United States. I am committed to the liberal arts tradition of pursuing education in both breadth and depth and am eager to learn new things.

So, when Smith announced that it was offering its first ever MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), entitled Psychology of Political Activism: Women Changing the World, I jumped at the chance to sign up, ultimately joining over 5,000 participants from 140 countries.

The seven-week course, taught by Professor Lauren Duncan, was scheduled to begin March 21. In the weeks prior, I had carefully planned for the three to five hours a week that the course was projected to take.

Within the first twenty-four hours that the course was available online, my mother-in-law died after suffering a heart attack.

I wasn’t sure whether or not I would still be able to do all the course activities as I had planned. In one of our first assignments, we had to state our learning goals. I honestly said that I didn’t know how well I would be able to keep up, but that I intended to try.

Back in the day, I was a very good student – and hyper-conscientous. Those instincts reasserted themselves and, even though I was exhausted and overwhelmed, I kept up with the coursework, which often took longer than five hours for me to complete, until the last week. We were to write a five to ten page paper and critique another student’s paper – and I just did not have the time/brain power/concentration to do it. It was some comfort that, because I had completed all the other work, I had enough points to pass the course, had I actually been taking it for credit, which I wasn’t…

Despite my less than optimal participation, I was very pleased to have taken this course and learned a lot from it. I have admired many activists and it was interesting to gain insights into their personal makeup and motivations. Given that I have been involved in  activism myself in several different areas, including feminism, social justice, and environmentalism, I was also able to see some of what I learned alive in me.

The course used the lives of eight activists to help teach various theories of the psychology underlying group identity and activism. Our first step was to choose one of the eight women to study in depth by reading her oral history transcript from the Smith College Archives. Our choice divided us into study groups facilitated by Professor Duncan’s on-campus student assistants.

I chose Katsi Cook, who is a member of the Mohawk nation and an activist for feminism and indigenous rights, combining in her work as a midwife/educator utilizing medical knowledge in a culturally appropriate practice, and for environmental justice. Since my New England childhood, where we lived in an area that had once been home to the Mohawk nation, I have been interested in the indigenous peoples of North America, so I loved reading about Katsi’s experiences as a Mohawk, particularly the storytelling aspect. I was also drawn to Katsi as I have a long-standing interest in women’s health issues and in environmental issues.

Even though we each chose one activist to study in depth, we learned about all the others, who were active in racial issues, gender issues, and civil rights, through their timelines and other course references. Each week, we also learned about Smith alum and feminist icon Gloria Steinem. There was even a special discussion board for Gloria Steinem’s segment of the course, which gave us a forum for addressing our own experiences with activism.

After an introductory week in which we chose the activist to study in depth and read her oral history, we used the next five weeks to study a relevant psychological theory, beginning with earlier work and progressing through to more recent developments in the field. We read scholarly articles and viewed Professor Duncan’s lectures on them, along with relevant applications to our group of activists.

I found the earlier weeks, which  involved older theories, to be insufficient to explain Katsi Cook’s or Gloria Steinem’s or my own experiences, although I certainly gained some insights. One of the most important for me was learning about Politicized Racial and Feminist Identity Theory. There is a stage in this theory called immersion in politicized racial identity and embeddedness in feminist identity in which the individual ties themselves so closely to their racial or gender group that they exclude those who don’t belong to their group. In this phase, attitudes toward people outside the group can be very rigid and negative. For the vast majority of people, this phase leads to an emersion/emanation phase, in which the individual develops a more open and nuanced way of relating to people from other identity groups.

Learning about this theory made sense of a situation that bothers me. Many people have a negative connotation of feminism because they think that feminists hate men and feel superior to them, a viewpoint that may be held by women feminists in the embeddedness phase but that is not held by most feminists. Unfortunately, this misunderstanding has led many feminists of all ages and genders to be reluctant to use the word feminist to describe themselves. I appreciate and participate in the current efforts to reclaim the accurate use of the words feminism and feminist, but it can be difficult to educate people. It was helpful for me to be able to apply insights from this theory to this current problem.

In the later weeks of the course, we learned more about some more recent developments in psychological theory. One of the most helpful for me in describing what I saw in Katsi Cook’s life and my own was the concept of intersectionality. The theory takes into account that we each have multiple identities which interact and determine our thoughts and actions. For example, I am a woman, a Catholic, a person with roots in the rural Northeast United States, a parent, a college graduate, and an Irish-Italian-American. Those aspects of my identity, along with others, impact my thoughts, actions, and reactions. Causes in which I am active, such as the movement toward women’s ordination in the Catholic church and the climate justice movement, relate in various ways to several aspects of my identity, not just one.

Another concept that struck me in particular in the later weeks was that of generativity. In examining what personality traits and life experiences lead to activism, we examined the impetus to change things for the better for current and future generations and to pass on knowledge and wisdom. All of the activists we studied showed this trait and it is something that I am acutely aware of in my own life. So much of the work of activism is about making change possible for the future, even when you know you are unlikely to see the final results of your work. Elizabeth Cady Stanton did not live to see women gain the federal right to vote in the United States, but her activism helped to make it possible. Many civil rights activists died before seeing Barack Obama elected president, but their witness was vital in moving the country forward. I myself am aware of the generativity aspect of my own activism. I may not see women ordained in the Catholic church but perhaps my daughters will. I won’t know how much impact my work against fossil fuels and for renewable energy and efficiency will have on the extent of global warming, but I feel obligated to future generations to try.

I truly appreciated this course and all I learned from it. The second offering of this course will begin on September 12, just a few days from now. If you are interested you can register here: https://www.edx.org/course/psychology-political-activism-women-smithx-psy374x-0. Professor Duncan has wisely added an audit option for the course, so people can choose to view the course materials and participate in the discussion boards without having to worry about papers, quizzes, and grades.

When things settle down here, I may be on the lookout for another MOOC. There is always so much more to learn.

One-Liner Wednesday: education

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”
– Aristotle

This post is part of Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday.  Join us! Link here:  http://lindaghill.com/2015/05/13/one-liner-wednesday-throw-em-a-pool-noodle/

school district election day

Today, across New York State, voters are heading to the polls for school district elections. For some reason I have never been able to ascertain, school budgets are the only ones that are voted on directly in New York. Unfortunately, sometimes this means that school budgets fail as a general statement against taxes, forcing second votes on revised budgets or austerity budgets that cut all extracurriculars and all-but-bare-bones transportation.

This year, there has been an unusual amount of advertising to pass the school budget. I think it is to convince people not to use the budget vote as an opportunity to take out their frustration with the contentious rollout of common core standards in the state. For the record, I no longer have school-aged children in my household, so I haven’t experienced common core directly in my family. I do support the concept of common core, to cover fewer topics in a school year, but in greater depth, in contrast to the current trend toward a mile wide but an inch deep approach. New York State’s curriculum has long been infected with survey-itis. For example, in the social studies curriculum, a survey of US history is taught in fifth grade, again as a two-year sequence in seventh and eighth grades, and then again as a one year Regents course in high school, locally usually taken in 11th grade. Because so much time is devoted to rushing through large amounts of material, there isn’t time to engage in in-depth analysis of any time period or theme. When I was in high school in Massachusetts several decades ago, we had options for semester-long US history courses in Civil War and Reconstruction, Minorities in America, Presidential Greatness, or several other options. Already expected to have an overview of our country’s history, we were able to develop deeper understanding of the hows and whys of history, which also helped to inform our lives as active citizens.

The upset over the implementation of common core seems to mirror two statewide changes that happened during my children’s school careers, the ending of local high school diplomas in favor of more rigorous Regents diplomas for all graduates and reform of state-wide tests in fourth and eighth grades and high school Regent exams. It also mirrors the transition to a new high school honors program on the local level. The root of the problems with all these changes was not that the final goals, but the transition itself, in which students are tested in the new framework without the benefit of the years of preparatory study that is in place when the transition is complete, resulting in lower test scores as these students catch up to the new standards. It seems that the same mechanism is happening with the transition to common core.

The other oddity of this election locally is that we have eight candidates running for four board of education seats. Given that candidates often run unopposed or with only one more candidate than seats available, this year is a hot contest. Even more unusual, there is a group of four being presented almost as a slate, advertised together in mailings, on yard signs, and in hand-delivered fliers, and endorsed by the local teachers’ union.

Voting is from 12-9 PM today at the local elementary schools. It will be interesting to see how this all turns out.

UPDATE:  The budget passed by a wide margin. All four of the candidates endorsed by the teachers’ union were elected; the two incumbents who were running for re-election got only 50-60% of the voting totals of the successful candidates.