Saturday, August 23, 2014

White Girl On A SoapBox

Have you ever felt unwelcome somewhere?  You walk into the room and instantly you can feel an uncomfortable icy chill letting you know that nobody thinks you belong there.  What if you walked into a store and everyone looked at you as if you were going to steal something?  Maybe they follow you around or ask "can I help you?" in that special tone that says, "I'm watching you."

I had a craving for yakisoba and so I went to an Asian import store to grab some ingredients.  The one I usually frequent was out of my way that day so I popped into a new place. I was the only white person in the store, no big deal.   I entered the store and smiled at the first person I saw, they acted as if they didn't see me.  The store clerk, walked right by me as if I was invisible, the other shoppers avoided me (literally left the aisle when I walked into it.)  A store full of introverts perhaps?  No, because I noticed that they were smiling and communicating to each other.   The other customers got welcoming greetings and friendly chatter at checkout.   They were sending me a message loud and clear that while they wouldn't turn away my business, they did not want me in that store.   When I went to check out I thought for sure that if I was friendly and kind maybe then I could get a smile, or really at that point I would take acknowledgment of existing.   The clerk never looked at me, never said anything, except for my total and I had to pack up my own groceries.   I left with a feeling inside me that I can't even describe.  I have typed and deleted several attempts at explaining it and I just can't.  

As I experienced this, I thought of how lucky I was that this was a rare occasion.  Usually when I enter a business I am seen as a valued shopper and everyone is as friendly as ever, even if it's customer service mandated.  In my community I am assumed to be a person worthy of trust and respect based on a first glance.   This isn't fair, I am physically capable of stealing or causing trouble, but because of my skin color I am assumed to be "good." This thought makes me sick.  I tried to imagine how a woman my age, a mother perhaps, who happened to have skin pigment in a shade much darker than my own, how would she feel as she goes through this feeling of not being welcome (or worse)  in her very own community.  Not once a year, but daily feeling that way.  

There is a film called "When The Bough Breaks" that I watched for a birth doula training.  It is about the horrific number of premature births in African-American babies.   The numbers went down significantly after the civil rights movement, but then after not much time they began to skyrocket again.   Take these two women into consideration and tell me who you think would be at risk for having a premature baby?  

1. A white woman of low income, high school drop out, eating junk food and occasional drug use, no prenatal vitamins. 

 2. A black woman,  high income, Masters Degree, eating organically well balanced meals, no drug use, taking prenatal vitamins.   

That second woman, who is taking such good care of herself, she is at a much greater risk of having a pre-term birth.   (I can't find the documentation on the study mentioned in that video but here is another study done on the subject comparing women where everything is equal except skin color.  

So why are these women having babies early?  The thought is that it all has to do with cortisol.  This stress hormone is part of the magic that kicks labor into gear.   Ideally, it is at a very low amount at the onset of pregnancy, as the baby develops and the pregnancy continues it naturally rises, once it reaches it's peak level then labor will begin.    Except, what if a woman starts her pregnancy with already high daily levels of cortisol, then as it increases it will begin to trigger labor well before the pregnancy has reached 38 weeks.   
If you asked these women if they have stressful lives, they may tell you things that seem very normal, like a busy work schedule, shuttling kids around to various classes, or worrying about an aging parent.  However, that is not the stress that is raising cortisol to dangerous levels.  Instead it is an invisible daily underlying stress, from being treated like an outcast, knowing that their sons, brothers, and fathers are at risk of being beaten or killed for no reason, the generations of worry and stress, being passed down.  These things are what rise those levels of cortisol, not being late for soccer practice.   This is the difference that effects birth outcomes for so many African-Americans.   (The above info of what causes the underlying stress is not me making assumptions, but rather a representation of things that individuals interviewed on the film had said.) 

So what can I, a white woman in a city of mostly other white people (thanks to some messed up laws made years ago.) do to make a difference?  I'm doing all that I know how to do.  I'm trying to bring awareness because I think if it's not in your face it's hard to even imagine. I can bring awareness with this blog but I can also bring it to my own children.  Typically I don't like to tell my children negative news stories or harsh reality because I like keeping them innocent. Last year for 5th grade my daughter learned about the civil rights movement and she was going on thinking everything is better now, that all the work has been done.  The truth is that it's not done and she needs to know that.  She needs to know that there is still misunderstanding and hate out there that needs some light shined into it.  The job isn't done.  If she sees her white friends mistreating someone because of the color of their skin, I want her to know how important it is to do something.  It's bigger than that one person, it's bigger than her. 

 It boggles me that we can live in this future of smart phones, and google cars that drive themselves, and such intelligent gadgets to make everything easier and yet we are still as a whole, acting so stupid.   It's a skin color that is all.  If you think black people are more likely to commit crimes then why are all the serial killers and mass-shooters white?  Let's just agree that there are all sorts of people who can do bad things, and unless somebody is actually doing a bad thing, lets just assume that they are good and treat them with respect.  

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Frame Goes Out The Window

A few days ago I purchased a print from an artist on Etsy.  It was a gift for a dear friend of mine and I wanted it to go in a beautiful frame. I went to the store and purchased a standard sized frame.  I had the print with me and although I didn't measure, it looked like it would fit.   Once I got home and attempted to place the print in the frame I found it was just a little too tight.   Now I had a choice to make.  Return the frame and go searching for another one, maybe even custom made as it was now clear to me that this was not a standard size print.  My other option was to trim away at the edges, lose a little bit of the picture, nobody would notice or ever know.  I could make it fit in the standard size frame, the easiest solution. I had the scrapbooking tools to make it happen.  However, I knew that if I cut away at the picture I would be loosing part of the beauty that the artist put there.   The work she so lovingly created would be destroyed.  Perhaps it would still look good sitting there in that frame, but something would be missing, it would be a broken image, less than what it should have been.  The picture had been perfectly made, every drop of color and tiny marking meant to be there.  Who was I to say it had to go in a standard sized frame?  

During that time of framing the print and considering cutting away at it I thought about the latest decison for the education of my son. I thought of all the time we spend telling him to just sit still and try harder. Wiggle a little less and for goodness sake stop doing cartwheels when you are supposed to be in line waiting with the rest of the children! This is what we had been doing.  Trying to make him fit into a educational system that is standard size.  The problem is that he wasn't created to be in a standard frame.  We can trim away at him, put him in the hallway, explain that he must do what the rest of the class is doing.  We can make him feel like he isn't good at school and destroy his joy in learning....or we can throw the frame out the window and see where the exploding ball of excitement would like to bounce to!

Just where did this standard size education come from anyway?  It came from the industrial revolution.  We needed people who could stand still, focus, and do one job very well all day long.  They needed to be strong in self control and imagination and movement were frowned upon.  We also had the farmers, planning the crops, daily repetition of caring for the crops, careful examination of soil conditions and waiting patiently for the harvest.  We needed those farmers, we still do.  We need those people in the factories.  The trouble is not everyone was created to be a farmer or factory worker.  Some are wild hunters, always on there guard, ready to run, climb, and swing to reach their prey. They must be clever and quick to react in danger. They are on the move and rarely settling in one place for long. They belonged in the wild, but there isn't very much wild left in today's world and so they are left to be looked at as trouble makers.   Thom Hartman writes about this in The Edison Gene.  The book goes trailing into some genetics that I skipped over but the heart of the book is that American socieity, and schools were created for the farmers type, they work very well for most children but for the hunter child they are a nightmare. Those children deserve something different.  Something more than a label and time in the corner wearing a dunce cap.  

Even if you think Thom Hartman is a loony (and some people certainly do) there is other research out there with the same message about school and kids like my son.  
 I've done a lot of reading on kinesthetic learners (Learning by doing/moving) and kids who have been diagnosed with ADHD.  Studies have been done showing that children who were diagnosed with ADHD and medicated so that they could be successful in school no longer needed medication to learn once they switched to learning at home.  Here is the catch though, if the parent used a traditional curriculum the child would still have trouble learning and the parent would feel they needed medication.  If however, the parent  did not follow a curriculum or educate in an environment like that of a traditional school the child no longer needed medication to learn.  This means not homeschool in the way of "whatever school does, but at home." Instead it must be child lead learning.  The child picks what they want to learn and the parent facilitates getting them to the information they need.  You can check out the study in Psychology Today (because that is the kind of stuff I read in my spare time.)   The idea of no curriculum and following whatever he wanted to do sounded a bit scary and possibly a terrible idea so whenever I began to doubt my decision I would look back at this study.

I am not doubting it anymore.  My intuition has been screaming all along that this whole "school" thing wasn't best for him and about a month ago the decision was made final.
  "You can learn ANYTHING you want!" I told him.  
"Remember you took Spanish at school and didn't like it, what language would you like to learn?" 
 Without a moments pause he replied, "Ancient Egyptian." 
Since then my husband has taken him to the library, he checked out a book on hieroglyphs, learned about the Rosetta stone (the real one, not the learning program) and has began his journey in unschooling.    

There are some tricks you can use as a parent and one of them is called strewing.  Basically  it means putting things out there that you think would interest your child.  You don't tell them  they must look/play/study the item and if they never pick it up that is fine.  Although secretly you might be wanting to beg them to look at it.   I did this a couple weeks ago with cursive.   I knew that my son was interested in cursive because last year he dissected writings until he discovered how to sign his name in cursive.  I was at Barnes and Noble and saw a cursive practice book, the kind with the arrows that tell you how to make the letter.   I brought it home, and showed him, I simply said, if you decide to check it out be sure to look at the little arrows as they will guide you on how to move the pencil.    I left it on the kitchen table that evening and went to bed.   The next morning, before I had even woken up he had already finished the entire cursive alphabet. I was actually strewing before I knew the term existed.  The year between 1st and 2nd grade he wasn't feeling like a strong reader.  I started writing notes back and forth with my daughter intentinally leaving them where he would find them, and of course he would want to read them to spy on his sister and mom.  His reading confidence improved greatly that summer.   That is strewing at it's best... at it's worst they ignore it and learn something they are more interested in.   

This method of learning doesn't have to be done only at home, schools can certainly do it too. Montessori gets very close and there is Sudbury, and Reggio schools using this method throughout the world.   There is one school in Mexico that was previously using the traditional method of teaching and switched it up and now the kids are one of the top schools in the country.   You may have heard of the computers given to children in India.  No instructions, just a computer.   Driven by their curiosity they figured out how to boot it up and much more.  The article on both of those stories and more can be found on Wired.

The initial thought I had was that this way of education will not be convenient for me.  Next I thought of all that we had put into making regular school work for him.  The emotional energy that was drained from hearing the latest news from the classroom of what he had done wrong that day. His own feeling of failure, or his defensiveness as he told me that he wasn't being "bad" but just had to sit in the hallway.   The nervousness when I would volunteer in the classroom as I would try to somehow telepathically control him into sitting still and not making a sarcastic comment.   I actually stopped volunteering in his classroom because it was bringing me so much anxiety.  So perhaps, mentally and emotionally this is not inconvenient at all.   I feel very lucky that our family can make this choice.  I do not have to work a 40 hour work week and  I know that not everyone has the luxury of taking their child out of school, or the choices nearby of alternative education styles.

Looking forward I am excited and hopeful.  I'm seeing the potential in my son rather than what he is lacking.  I wish more kids like him had the options to learn in their own way.  I imagine we would have many more Da Vincis, Einsteins, and Newtons if they were only allowed the time and space to explore.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Summer is racing

It's August now and summer has just been so quick that it makes me excited and sad all at the same time. Trying to pack in all the fun that comes with sunlight in Oregon.  We have such a long and dark winter that it makes me appreciate the days of light.  I love summer!  We have been going to the pool as much as possible and my children just morph into calm and happy when they enter the water.  Maybe that is everyone actually.  Hooray for swimming!

I have written nothing because the days have been so full.  We took our children to their first renaissance fair.  My daughter fell in love with it, as I knew she would.   I also survived the county fair with  hours of hot concrete and questionably safe rides.  It's been great.... and then if I stop and glance out of my bubble, it has been a devastating and horrible summer.  My car stereo usually switches to NPR during the school year after the kids hop out and get loaded into the classroom.   These days it's rare that I catch a glimpse, but when I do I just want to cry, and sometimes I do.

  I can't help but fill with tears because all this stuff outside my bubble of swimming and fun, it is real and it makes me so sad and angry and helpless.   I want so badly to take in refugees, stop bombs, and slap congress... so badly to change any one of these things.   Instead I focus back into my bubble, into these children who will hopefully be in the future making changes long after I am around to guide them.  I teach them tolerance, kindness, acceptance, peace and somehow for today that has to be enough.   It rips my heart out to imagine the face of a child seeing a sign of hate after a treacherous journey and a hot bus ride through a foreign place, a place that you were told would be full of hope and opportunity. America the beautiful.

I imagine if I was that Mexican mother, if I lived in a place where drug lords told me I better do what they say or they would take my precious daughter. To think that they would train my little adventurous boy to be just like them.  You can bet that I would grab my children and run away! Because I don't think I could imagine the journey running away would be worse than the reality of staying.  Still, how scary that run would be, and how impossible the odds. I can't even begin to come close to imagining what those mothers are facing.   Just the thought of my children's faces terrified by their world, I can hardly take the sight of their faces when they have a rough day at school.   How can anyone hold a sign with hateful words to such innocent people who are just trying to keep their children safe, keep themselves safe.   I don't care who you vote for, what "party" you are in.  re-attach yourself to humanity, open your eyes, put your sign down and help someone.

Coming off my soap box now... but if the problems of your summer sound more like mine be thankful and show some love to those who are hiding in bomb shelters, sneaking out of violent countries, and scared for their life.

My summer problems have consisted of what type of fruit to freeze in the popsicle container and saying things like "you've had 2 hours of minecraft... turn it off!!!" "Stop climbing the washing machine." "Find a tissue and why on earth would you NAME your booger?"
  I feel like a jerk for thinking that these are problems and my life is "stressful"