Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Fascinating snippets from James' Talks to Teachers

It's a busy time around here in January, so instead of writing a longer post, I'm going to offer you a couple of thought-provoking excerpts from a book that I just finished teaching in our doctoral seminar, William James' Talks to Teachers. I am a huge fan of this book: it's concise, elegantly written, and still incredibly relevant even 120 years after it was conceived.

From the chapter on habit, here's James on the importance of developing productive habits early on:
We all intend when young to be all that may become a man before the destroyer cuts us down. We wish and expect to enjoy poetry always, to grow more and more intelligent about pictures and music...We mean all this in youth, I say; and yet in how many middle-aged men and women is such an honest and sanguine expectation fulfilled? Surely, in comparatively few, and the laws of habit show us why. Some interest in each of these things arises in everybody at the proper age, but if not persistently fed with the appropriate matter, instead of growing into a powerful and necessary habit, it atrophies and dies, choked by the rival interests to which the daily food is given.

We say abstractly: "I mean to enjoy poetry, and to absorb a lot of it, of course. I fully intend to keep up my love of music, to read the books that shall give new turns to the thought of my time..." But we do not attack these things concretely, and we do not begin today. We forget that every good that is worth possessing must be paid for in strokes of daily effort. We postpone and postpone, until those smiling possibilities are dead. Whereas ten minutes a day of poetry...and an hour or two a week at music, pictures, or philosophy, provided we began now and suffered no remission, would infallibly give us in due time the fulness of all we desire. By neglecting the necessary concrete labor, by sparing ourselves the little daily tax, we are positively digging the graves of our higher possibilities.
Or, more pithily, are you going to be an interesting middle-aged person or are you going to be someone whose tastes are frozen in time at age 22?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Behavior I Intend to Change Is

Last February, I blogged here about fatherhood.  It's time for an update.  In that post, I mentioned the "daddy-daughter dance" at my daughter's school, which caused a young friend, the daughter of two moms, to leave school in tears.  I am happy to report that my young friend requested a meeting with the school principal and shared her thoughts.  The principal promised that the dance would be structured differently this year, and to a certain extent it is.  This year, it has been renamed the "Sweetheart" dance.  "Daughters" are invited, along with a parent/care-giver of their choice.

I am not so happy to report that further conversations about the fact that so long as a dance is girls-only it continues to perpetuate gender stereotypes AND THAT IS NOT OK were less welcome.  Yesterday I lived out the recurring bad dream of many of us who once attended school: I walked into a school cafeteria filled with peers who did not want me sitting at their table.  Having co-signed a letter to the PTO thanking them for their inclusion of diverse families but asking them to reconsider limiting the event to girls, I attended the meeting along with several co-signers in order to continue the conversation.  After I talked about Title IX and the harm that comes to boys and girls alike due to the perpetuation of gender stereotypes, even fewer of them wanted me at their table.  Although I have more self-confidence now than I did in high school, at that point part of me really wanted to grab some friends and go out for a pizza bagel.  In fairness, although several of the mothers present shook their heads at me in irritated disbelief, others suggested that we work together to address the matter.  The Assistant Principal said that change has to come slowly, which I thought was kind of silly since the dance has only been held for two years.

What struck me about the meeting was how quickly the PTO attendees and administration alike were willing to stop excluding diverse families and how reluctant many of them were to address gender stereotyping.  It led me to the sad realization that Americans of my generation are willing to welcome single-sex marriage because in itself it poses no significant challenge to long-standing gender norms.  If you open the dance to girls with two moms, you can continue to celebrate girls as princesses who are to be valued as sweethearts.  You can also switch the "mother-son Cubs game" to a caregiver/son outing without questioning boys' commitment to professionalized sports and ritualized aggression.  But if you encourage boys to value the arts as much as professionalized sports. . . . well, I don't really know what will happen (although I suspect it would involve a significant reorganization of values and commitments), and neither does the PTO (who are smart enough to have the same suspicions).

Did I mention that everyone at the meeting, with the exception of the male Assistant Principal, was a mother?  As my post a year ago suggested, the demands we make of fathers qua fathers are pretty low.  They certainly do not include unrewarding tasks such as baking hundreds of cupcakes, decorating the gym, and spending Wednesday mornings listening to the viewpoints of working women who have not volunteered this year because they are too busy earning salaries, traveling to conferences in foreign cities, and enjoying the esteem of peers in venues beyond the school cafeteria.  When I apologized for needing to leave the meeting early to get to work, one mother wistfully commented "it would be nice to be going to work."  Let it not be ignored that the flourishing of our children depends also on the work, the real work, done by her and others who dedicate themselves to the raising of children and the maintenance of institutions in which that flourishing can happen.  As the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative essay contest reminds us once a year, there's a lot of behavior that needs to change.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Dignity and Education?

Colgate University, Hamilton, NY
April 5 – 6, 2013

THEME: “Dignity and Education”

Potential topics include:
• Implementation of the Dignity for All Students Act (NYS)
• Surveillance of students-GPS tracking
• Surveillance of teachers-APPR
• Dignity and education: Civil liberties
• Affirmative action issues
• Cheating among tutoring companies
• High-stakes testing
• Bullying in schools

Proposals due January 15, 2013

The New York State Foundations of Education Association invites
participation in the Annual Meeting from all those interested in the
foundations of education as scholarship and lived experience.
Especially welcome are proposals that develop “crossover discourses”
between and among sustainability activism, socially critical
curriculum, progressive politics/pursuit of global social justice,
comedy, theater, and visual arts/media literacy used in real
classrooms and/or civic and informal networks. You don’t need to be
from NY State. Undergraduate Students, Graduate Students, and K-12
teachers welcome! Alternative formats welcome!

Our conference is intimate, activist oriented, has no concurrent
sessions, and provides a great space for dialogue and feedback.

Keynote Speaker: Barrie Gewanter

Barrie Gewanter is the Director of the Central New York Chapter of the
New York Civil Liberties Union. Her path to working with the ACLU has
been unusual. After receiving a BFA in Stage Management, she worked as
a stage manager and technician in the professional theatre. She then
earned a Masters in Sociology and taught college courses in Sociology
and Women’s Studies. (She also tutored the SU Football Team.) As
Executive Director of the CNY Council on Occupational Safety and
Health, she worked with businesses and unions to promote worker safety
and health. She has been an advocate for women’s rights, gay and
lesbian rights, voting rights, economic justice and civil rights.
Gewanter played key roles in the implementation of Domestic Partner
Benefits at Syracuse University, in the passage of a Living Wage Law
in Syracuse, enactment of Bill of Rights Defense Campaign Resolutions
in Syracuse and Elmira. In 2011 she served on an Advisory Committee
that drafted revisions to legislation guiding effective civilian
review of police complaints in Syracuse. This legislation was enacted
into law in late December of that year. She has worked on class action
lawsuits challenging inequities in resources for public education in
NY State and deficiencies in its Indigent Defense System. Gewanter has
received awards from the Syracuse/Onondaga County Human Rights
Commission and Peace Action of Central New York. In 2008 she was
honored with a Community Service Award from the Syracuse/Onondaga
County NAACP. She is now in her 16th year representing the ACLU and
NYCLU in the Central NY Region.

Proposal Guidelines:

All proposals are due by January 15, 2013. To submit your proposal,
please visit http://conference.nysfea.org/ or
http://bit.ly/NYSFEA2013. Please register for a user account at the
site if you do not have one already, so you can log in to start the
submission process. Only those proposals submitted through NYSFEA’s
online submission site will be accepted for consideration.

For further information please contact Dr. Shawgi Tell at Nazareth
College at stell5@naz.edu.