how to wear a suit.

june cleaver, via takefive

Today, I wore a suit.

This wasn’t my first time. But—as usual—I was struck by how uncomfortable I looked and how awkwardly the collar of my dress shirt laid upon the lapel of my blazer.

Remember Ralphie’s little brother, Randy, in A Christmas Story? Remember his snow suit? It felt a lot like that.

Now, perhaps it’s just an ill-fitting suit, but I doubt it: everything was tailored just fine. No, this wasn’t so easy to explain away. When I looked in the mirror, I just felt sort of shapeless and boxy. More significantly, I felt like I was playing dress-up in an outfit—and an image—that doesn’t belong to me.

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Suzanne Venker would like to exploit validate this insecurity. In her Fox News op-ed entitled “The War on Men,” women are harangued for seeking out higher education and full-time careers because “women aren’t women anymore.” As a result, “the men have nowhere to go.”

Luckily, Venker breaks down her argument in easy-to-digest pieces so even my feeble female brain can understand. Her argument is simple: “Men want to love women, not compete with them.” The solution? Even more simple: As a woman, all I have to do is “surrender to [my] nature—-[my] femininity—and let men surrender to theirs.”

While this is exceptionally good news for me (like I said, I look awkward in a suit; strollers and aprons are much more flattering), what I worry most about is what our daughters’ futures will look like with such bleak and repressive attitudes towards them.

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It’s not enough to slut-shame. It’s not enough to rape-shame (…and rape-shame…and rape-shame). Now, we must ensure that our girls understand that this overwhelming world of education and self-sufficiency is—really—no place for a lady.

Instead, all too often, powerful women are accused of being overbearing, masculine, unladylike, and—worst of all—unattractive. Thus the “feminine” Kardashian archetype becomes the new role model because even if they’re not the smartest or nicest women, at least they’re pretty.

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I cannot tell you how many times this has come up in my interactions with middle-school girls: pretty lips, pretty eyes, flat stomach, curvy hips, cleavage, “good hair.” It broke my heart every time that grace or intellect or humor were afterthoughts—if they were even thought of at all. This is our value system, and it becomes all the more apparent when reflected within the autonomy-shaming vitriol espoused by Venker and her anti-feminist cohorts.

In reviewing what sort of external attitudes we would like ourselves to be subject to and what sort of lives we want for our daughters, we must first determine what sort of role models we will choose to be. Blaming women and shaming young girls away from academic achievement and self-reliance only serves to defend the disparities and further feed into self-esteem issues, thereby weakening our society as a whole.

The real solution to this social schism has nothing to do with surrendering; in fact, it’s just the opposite. If we hope to provide a “balanced life” for our girls, we must first demonstrate the value of their minds and demand their self-image be derived from a place of internal power, rather than external perception.

Essentially, we must first teach them how to wear a suit.

“a friend you haven’t made yet.”

With the 2012 election right around the corner, our televisions and websites have been inundated with lofty promises, public endorsements, and snarky sound bites. Furthermore, everyone (admittedly, myself included) appears to have something to say about each of the candidates, their platforms, and the “correct” vision for our nation’s future.

It’s easy to get swept up in the rhetoric, especially as many of these issues are highly polarized (and thus highly emotional). From social issues like gay marriage and abortion rights and rape to the national deficit and job creation, we are shown candidates that seemingly disagree on all topics—which in turn means that each group of partisan supporters must disagree on all topics.

Add name-calling and bullying to the mix, and the situation quickly becomes volatile.
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There’s already been a great deal of discussion surrounding hatemonger “conservative political pundit” Ann Coulter, for her incendiary and classless use of the term “retard” in reference to President Obama. I refuse to fuel the fire by engaging Coulter on this topic: her desperate words do not interest me.

What does matter, however, is the vast outpouring of support for those disparaged by her offensive remarks and the public outcry against this hateful rhetoric. But in our denunciation of her bad behavior, we must be careful: all too often, we elect to “fight fire with fire” and—although it may provide a temporary feeling of vindication—this approach offers nothing conducive to effecting change.

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It is in recognition of this fact that John Franklin Stephens’ “Open Letter to Ann Coulter” has made such a positive impact on so many people in the past few days. Where there is bitterness and division, Stephens counters with acceptance and kindness. He reminds us that “being compared to people like [him] should be considered a badge of honor” because “no one overcomes more than [they] do and still loves life so much.”

Stephens’ first op-ed piece, “Using the word ‘retard’ to describe me hurts,” is even more poignant as those of us fortunate enough to “fit in” are reminded of our blessing:

“The hardest thing about having an intellectual disability is the loneliness. We process information slower than everyone else. So even normal conversation is a constant battle for us not to lose touch with what the rest of you are saying. Most of the time the words and thoughts just go too fast for us to keep up, and when we finally say something it seems out of place.

So, what’s wrong with “retard”? I can only tell you what it means to me and people like me when we hear it. It means that the rest of you are excluding us from your group. We are something that is not like you and something that none of you would ever want to be. We are something outside the “in” group. We are someone that is not your kind.”

This is the sort of essay that needs to be present in our schools, our offices, and in our homes. The distinction between casually and callously throwing around a disparaging term (simply for the sake of being disparaging) and Stephens’ thoughtful and sensitive response is overwhelming.

As I read his words, I am filled with admiration and pride that there are still people fighting for kindness and promoting tolerance. I am persuaded, I am energized, and I am prepared to support fellowship by eliminating hatred.

the education justice fight.

[via HuffPost]

Although Chicago’s Public Schools have reached a tentative deal to end the Chicago Teachers’ Strike, the cost to parents, taxpayers, and—above all else—students has already been significant. While there will undoubtedly be further debate on what sort of national implications this ordeal will have, the primary question that must be addressed is simple: “How can we avoid this from happening again?”

The Chicago Teachers’ Union president, Karen Lewis, called upon parents during her Sunday evening speech to “join…in [their] education justice fight.” According to CTU, at stake in this battle are teachers’ evaluations, job security, working conditions, and the broader issues surrounding student violence, homelessness, and poverty. According to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the only contested issues left pertain to principals’ ability to choose their staff and how to balance teachers’ evaluation demands with mandated legislation.

What is most curious about Lewis’ rally to protect students from “exposure to violence, homelessness, hunger, and other social issues beyond [teachers’] control” is that this particular method of protest places those students in the very dangers she claims to be fighting against.

While teachers picket, the Chicago community has been forced to pick up the slack. Faith-based organizations have offered “safe havens,” 144 of the public schools have offered morning activities and free meals for impoverished students, and all administrative police personnel have been deployed to Chicago’s streets in order to offer additional student protection. CTU has acknowledged that these “children are exposed to unprecedented levels of neighborhood violence,” yet they cannot—or, rather, will not—find alternative methods of protest in order to promote the safety of their students.

It is the Union’s position that teachers’ “job security is stability for [their] students.” Considering that stability requires students knowing they have a safe place and meals provided for them, CTU’s actions over the past week have demonstrated clearly that this fight for teachers’ security has come at the cost of students’ safety and well-being. Lewis calls for the Chicago community to “evaluate us on what we do, not on the lives of our children that we do not control.” If what they are doing is choosing politics and personal gain above student welfare, how can we offer anything but a failing evaluation for how the Unions are handling an educational policy crisis?

Certainly, the end of the strike is just the beginning of many continuing conversations about education reform and teachers’ collective bargaining rights. However, it is wholly disheartening to realize that the students have become the true victims of the CTU’s “education justice fight.”

don’t forget ed.

via ssk

“If our schools fail, then so will everything else—from our economy to national security. Yet every four years, the issue of education is shockingly underplayed on the campaign trail.” – Gaston Caperton, College Board President.

While the past few weeks at UVA have been wholly centered upon the clandestine coup staged to force President Teresa Sullivan’s resignation, I am heartened by our community’s response and the swift action taken in order to stand up to the grave injustice inflicted upon our alma mater at the hands of a small percentage of wealthy alumni and a vindictive rector.

Indeed, in reading the news recently, I am further heartened at the wide array of grassroots campaigns, petitions, and installations cropping up throughout our country. One that is especially worth noting is the College Board’s “Don’t Forget Ed” campaign at the Washington Monument in D.C. urging our legislators and policy makers to regain focus on the education system during this election cycle.

According to the campaign, 857 students drop out of school every hour of every school day, meaning that roughly 1.2 million students will not graduate on time—if they ever graduate at all. This November 2011 report from the Alliance for Excellent Education highlights not only the social dangers of an increasingly under-educated subgroup of American youth through increased crime rates and substance abuse, but also the significant economic drain by way of increased reliance on government welfare and subsistence, higher unemployment rates, and lower earned incomes (thereby leading to lower tax revenue).

In an election year overwrought with frenetic debate over the current state of our economy, it is frightening to realize how little attention is being paid to what is arguably our biggest determinant of long-term fiscal success: our students.

The College Board’s “Don’t Forget Ed” campaign could not have come at a better time as both sides of the party line engage in highly partisan “debate” that is little more than grown-up name calling. Our nation is clearly gearing up for a major political battle and the attack ads are already playing in most of our homes. While the economy is clearly the major player in this election cycle, we must not forget that the current state of our economy is a symptom of larger, more insidious problems within our policy. Thus, through grassroots support and advocacy, we can demonstrate that–in order to address economic issues–we must address educational issues. Otherwise our “solutions” are temporary at best.

I urge you to check out the College Board’s campaign and seek out ways to engage your own community. Here are a few more pictures from the “Don’t Forget Ed” Facebook page. It really is a visually striking installation and a fantastic way to illustrate a fairly abstract problem in a very concrete way.

size matters.

Yesterday at the Universal Blueford School, a struggling West Philadelphia charter school, Mitt Romney remarked that smaller class sizes are not significant in determining the success of our public school students. Already this has caused a considerable amount of heated opposition, and—indeed—one’s own intuition seems to reject Romney’s statement.

After all, parents and teachers aren’t advocating for more students and a higher student/teacher ratio in their schools. On the contrary, they’re fighting for smaller class sizes to ensure that each child is able to receive more individualized attention and one-on-one time to assist student comprehension.

Romney is often criticized for being “out of touch” with the American people (e.g. Biden, Baldwin, even the Auto Workers’ Union), and this may appear to be one more instance in support of that opinion. While I disagree with dismissing altogether the significance of class size as a factor, I do think that much of his statement was taken out of context.

Granted, it is an election year, so there will be an understandable amount of “tweaking” to what members of each political party say. However, Obama spokeswoman Lis Smith’s rhetorical response that “Larger class sizes are the answer to a better education?” demonstrates just how far Romney’s initial statement has been pushed.

Instead, Romney’s main point is that “it’s not the the classroom size that is driving the success of those school systems.” This is significantly distinct from the purported claim that class sizes don’t matter at all, and I think this claim is the real message behind Romney’s stance that has—regrettably—gotten lost in the political circus. Of course, smaller class sizes and student achievement are often linked, but it is not the size itself that matters, but rather the ability of teachers to identify weaknesses and provide personalized attention to students in need. Obviously, this is all facilitated by smaller classes, but it is ultimately the motivation of the teachers to inspire academic confidence and promote a healthy learning environment that makes the real difference.

I do feel strongly about ensuring a fair shake for both candidates (as long as they’re willing to play fairly in the first place). Romney has managed to alienate a large number of Americans through both comments and practices, and he is solely responsible for those results. However, it is important to listen to the whole message and remember that—while we can interpret his statements as an attack of “larger vs. smaller class sizes”—addressing the issue of class size would be treating the symptom, rather than the underlying problem.