An Open Letter to Hershey Company: Denounce the KKK

Following news reports of recent recruitment activities by the KKK involving (what else) hate fliers and Jolly Rancher candies, I sent a note to the candy maker’s parent company. Join me! You can call (800-468-1714) or write.

Hello,

I am a long-time fan of Hershey’s chocolate, taking myself back to childhood each time I break off a piece from a larger candy bar and let it melt on my tongue. Even as boutique and hand-crafted chocolates have come into fashion, I frequently grab a chocolate bar at the grocery store checkout—and always convenience stores while on road trips—because no chocolate tastes like Hershey’s chocolate. Hershey’s Kisses are a staple from Santa Claus every December, comprise centerpieces at our home when we host guests for any reason, and serve as a little pick-me-up when the 2:30 workday doldrums roll around. My child now enjoys, like I did when I was her age, the joy and magic of unwrapping the little silver morsel. Hershey’s is a part of my American experience, like it is for millions of other people. In it’s essence, Hershey reminds me of love.

So you can imagine my dismay at the news this past weekend that the Ku Klux Klan has been distributing their hateful recruitment fliers all across American communities, by placing them in plastic baggies weighted down with Jolly Ranchers, a Hershey Company product. This activity is extremely disconcerting at any time, but it has an especially painful and frightening sting in light of the events coming out of Ferguson, Missouri these past weeks (and New York City, NY; and Los Angeles, CA; and Beevercreek, OH; and Chicago, Il; sadly, I could go on and likely will have other opportunities to do so). The last thing we need in America is the spreading of radical ideology that furthers white supremacy.

I urge the Hershey Company to publicly denounce the use of any of its products as a means for distributing the hate, racism, and bigotry being spread by the KKK. Additionally, I would encourage you to make a donation to the ACLU or another charitable organization that is working to undo all the evilness that racism has created in our country. You could even ask any recipients of said fliers to turn them in and donate one dollar (or one hundred) for each one you receive.

Please: Be louder than the hate groups. Join those of us working diligently as anti-racist activists to spread love, equality, equity, peace, and justice. Be love.

Thank you,
~aaryn

Gazillion Voices, Will You Just Consider This?

You got something to say?

Say something!

You got something to say?

Say something!

That is the call-and-response that my daughter learned at Pact Family Camp where we have taken her every summer for the last three summers.

Pact, as you know if you’ve read anything I’ve written, is an organization whose mission is to advocate for adopted children of color throughout their lives (you can read their full mission here). Pact Family Camp is the place where Ruby is given the tools and the language to talk about adoption and race, and where her father and I learn about how to help her into adulthood bearing the full weight of the single biggest choice in her life about which she never had any say. It’s big, heady, lifelong-journey stuff, and we bring it all home and go forward into the world, doing our best to push against the stereotypes and narratives the world has set aside for us.

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You got something to say?

Say something!

I’m dusting this space off because, for the first time in a long while, I have something to say. I used to write frequently here (and in CityBeat) about adoption, race, and parenting, and the convergence of all three. I had lots of views and opinions—still do, actually. But I’m more informed now in many ways, most pointedly because with our first keynote speaker at camp, I began listening to and internalizing the voices of adult adoptees. The things they have to say have really given me pause, both figuratively and literally. Figuratively, because they pushed me to seriously reflect on where I was as an adoptive parent, where I had been, where I need to go, and how best to get there. And literally, in that I pretty much changed the way I wrote about adoption; which is to say, I mostly stopped. I think it is important that adoptive parents writing about adoption include and/or bear in mind, adoptee voices and viewpoints in some way, and that has been a real shift for me.

One of my main sources (though not my only one) for adult adoptee voices has been an organization called Land of Gazillion Adoptees (LGA). LGA, led by adult transracial adoptee Kevin Vollmers, is putting. It. Out. There. Like, all of it. And—I say this with a caveat, which I’ll get to in a minute—it’s good. Without question, the most silenced, the most dismissed voice in the adoption triad is that of the adoptee, and Vollmers has created a platform from which these marginalized voices can be heard. It isn’t always easy to hear what adult adoptees have to say though, and there have been more than a few moments where I’ve had to check myself. Something’s not to my liking? I feel myself getting angry? Instead of getting defensive, I try to sit with it; to figure out why it is my hackles are up; to really understand why something that a person said has made me so uncomfortable. And I always keep in mind that no matter my discomfort, no matter how dismissed or marginalized I might feel, it really is small in comparison to what adoptees face in society. At least, this is what I’ve learned so far. So, yes, most of what Vollmers and LGA are offering is good, even when it makes me feel sorta bad.

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But about that caveat.

There have been moments over the last year-ish since LGA appeared on my radar, when the administrators have lashed out in a way that I think is harmful to their goals. It’s funny I should say this now because just yesterday, a friend told me in a chat that, while he and I are “a hair’s breadth different” when it comes to issues of race, he feels my approach is sometimes detrimental to the greater cause. And while I wouldn’t admit it in the moment, I think he was right. I know he was right. (If he’s reading this, he should feel vindicated). I’m well-intentioned, and relatively unafraid to put myself out there, and sometimes I get it wrong because I’m super-duper passionate with a Luxardo cherry on top. And sometimes, I let that super-duper-passionate-with-a-Luxardo-cherry-on-top part of me get in the way of delivering a meaningful message or creating a productive dialogue. The fire that keeps my fingers at the keyboard can both serve me and undermine me, and it’s something I work on. “Sharpen your pen,” my friend said to me. Ouch, but also: Yes.

My point in bringing that up is that I get the roaring flame and brimstone of LGA. Adoptees are tired of being silenced. And when you’re sick to here of something, well then.

You got something to say?

Say something!

Which is what LGA did. Someone in their camp smashed his pen and reached for his flame thrower the other day over an interview at Water Cooler Convos with adoptive parent and mommy blogger Kristen Howerton, author of Rage Against The Minivan. I know how good, how electrifying that can feel in the moment. But…yeah. I also know what it feels like to pine for an unsend button.

I won’t go into all the details, but I will say that what started out as a “*YAWN* Why do we find her so…boring!” and the unfortunate FOX News-ish administrator claiming to have heard “from a very reliable source” that Howerton tends to “talk smack about adoptees behind closed doors,” ended with a series of mean-spirited attacks and accusations. LGA even went so far as to compare Howerton to Joyce Maynard, a woman who disrupted two adoptions (read: gave her adopted children away) and went on to write a book about it. (I refuse to link to her; you’ll have to seek that one out for herseslf.) That was, in my opionion, an unnecessary low point for LGA.

As it happens, I was at a Pact event in Los Angeles last weekend and met Kristen Howerton (and her family) in person for the first time. We had dinner together with four other families (I must throw out a huge thank you to our wonderful waiter at Lyfe Kitchen, who was patient with us and our many rambunctious kids) and the inimitable founder of Pact. Many incredible conversations took place and I did not get the same impression of Howerton that LGA seems to have.

I don’t know Howerton well, or at all, really. I do not read her blog. But I do know that she was at the Pact function, which speaks volumes about whether she is invested in doing the hard work. Pact is not for do-gooders or saviors; it is not for people collecting children like wrist charms or for those who wish to be tourists in race. You either get it, or you don’t; there is little middle ground. Howerton and her husband, in my experience of them, are thinking deeply about issues facing their transracial family and are making decisions—small and (some very) large—based not on what is easiest or most comfortable for them, but based on the immediate and long-term needs of their children, specifically their adopted children. From our conversations, I learned that she listens to and internalizes what adult adoptees are saying, including those voices coming from LGA. And while yes, she is a Christian, something LGA pointed out and something that gets my hackles up, she doesn’t seem to be prosthelytizing or bringing to the table the dangerous views shared by a wide swath of evanagelicals making adoption news these days. In all, my impression is that the lightning bolt pointed toward her is overcharged, if not misdirected.

None of us is perfect, and I would include Howerton in this assessment. I don’t necessarily agree with all of her viewpoints (and she probably wouldn’t agree with all of mine), but she does love her children and I think she takes very seriously what the adult adoptees have to say.

IMG_6152

LGA got excited yesterday when Howerton responded to some of their attacks, and encouraged their supporters to keep tweeting at her. “We’ve got her attention!” they said, gleefully. But, I have to ask, to what end? They want her to engage so they can brutalize her? That seems so counter-productive, and shortsighted, so…contemporary in this age of outrage porn. So yes, LGA, you got her attention. But did you do it in a way that can work for you? How much better would it have been to get her attention (which wouldn’t have been difficult to begin with, since she is a fan of LGA) by calmly yet seriously calling her on the things you think she is wrong about? How much further could that kind of dialogue have gone? Imagine a thoughtful conversation between LGA and Rage Against The Minivan? That would be a collaboration from which many readers could benefit, saving the rage for the Maynards of the world. Instead, the ugliness that unfolded served to undermine LGA’s credibility and the important work they are trying to do.

As I said before, I have largely stopped writing about our daughter’s adoption and my feelings about it. I approach any writing with the fear of being viciously attacked by a community that has taught me so much and is very important to me, even as I stand on the outside looking in. I value what adult adoptees have to say and where they’re coming from; those voices are essential in my child rearing efforts. Essential. I want to be—and in fact, am—an ally to adult adoptees. I think Howerton may be an ally, too. There are quite a lot of us, I think. And LGA would do well to recognize us as such, even as they understand we probably have a lot more to learn, even as we may make some missteps along the way. Those of us who would otherwise be activists and speak out on behalf of adult adoptees, adoptee rights, and reform in adoption cannot join you if we get pilloried any time we say something in a public forum.

No, it’s not your job to help us. It’s not. But maybe, please, try not to shut us out completely. Set down the flame thrower. Sharpen that pen. Because like it or not, we are all in this together. And not to be all Pollyanna or anything but together, we are stronger.

 

 

 

Movie review: Closure

Every once in a while, someone touches your life in a an unexpected and deeply meaningful way. Such is the case when I had the good fortune to meet Angela Tucker.

Angela Tucker and me.

All because: Once upon a time, I saw a trailer, cried an ugly sniveling cry, and promptly emailed the producer to say ILOVEYOUALLHOWCANISEEYOURFILM? It’s true. I did that waaaay back in the spring, was allowed to see an advanced copy, promised a review, and then I got to hug Angela at Pact Camp because she and her husband brought their film to Pact Camp! My review is horribly delayed because I suck. But you know who doesn’t suck? Angela Tucker, that’s who! You can totally tell from that photo of her, too.

Now, on to the horribly delayed-because-I-suck review:

Angela is the subject of an intensely personal and widely relevant documentary currently making its way through the indie film festival circuit (it’s currently being screened at the Doctober Festival in Bellingham, Wa.). Produced and edited by Angela’s husband Bryan Tucker—with original music by Mr. & Mrs. SomethingClosure follows then 26-year-old Angela on her journey to meet her birth mother, who placed her for adoption when she was born.

Diagnosed as special needs and given a long-term prognosis that didn’t include walking, Angela spent one year in the home of a foster family before being adopted by David and Teresa Burt, a white couple who live in Washington. There they raised a total of eight children, seven of whom were adopted, and Angela flourished into the radiant, active person you see in that picture up there. The same one who chooses, with each new preview of this film, to bravely share what most adoptees would not. And who can blame them? This film is about transracial adoption and the difficult search for identity and connection. This. Is. Big.

The film opens with Angela in a Skype conversation with Teresa. Angela is preparing to dial the number of her birth mother for the first time, and the back-and-forth between the two women is filled with nervous giggles, sighs, reassurances. There is a lot of love and trust between these two, and you feel it immediately. Angela’s mother listens to her daughter, and counsels her calmly about how to end the call if and when she needs to. Angela takes a moment, takes a breath, looks at the camera, then dials. The phone rings and the screen goes dark as Deborah picks up.

The tension created is immediate and doesn’t let up for much of the film. Whether it was intentional on the part of the filmmaker, the first twenty minutes was especially rife with moments that had the potential to go off the rails. Bryan (I’m going with first names since he and his wife share the same last one) focused much of his attention on interviews with David and Teresa telling the story of how they built their family. And as they spoke of Angela’s growing desire to know her birth mother and other relatives, there were admissions that felt sort of…dangerous.

David mentioned not seeing color, just kids in need; Teresa expressed worry about being replaced; Angela’s sister grappled with why their parents weren’t “enough.” In the modern adoption world, we hope for openness and the need to recognize that in fact, adoptive parents aren’t enough. But theirs are real fears spoken of honestly, and it is clear that the family moved beyond them and instead came to fully understand and support Angela’s need to know where she came from, and in rather amazing ways: Angela’s brother-in-law rises to the occasion, and his dedication to not just her but to one of her siblings as well, is something I didn’t expect. This evolution in thinking is crucial and Bryan’s focus on it was smart.

Unable to find her birth mother through the limited records at her disposal, Angela and Bryan decide to focus their search on Angela’s birth father instead. Thanks to determination, the wonder that is the Internet, and a process that left me agape, they find him living in Chatanooga. The family promptly sets off for Tennessee, where they meet Oterious “Sandy” Bell, along with numerous other extended family members. At some point during this meeting, Sandy mentions he knows where Angela’s birth mother Deborah lives, and they once again pile into a van. When Angela and a car load of family members approach Deborah on the sidewalk, Bryan shuts off his camera, realizing that this is a moment that warrants more privacy. And it does: Deborah denies Angela. But still: We had seen a lot. This was a very difficult scene for me, because I felt as though Deborah was ambushed.

That’s not how you’re supposed to do it, I thought. But there is no How To Meet Your Birth Mother handbook, and I found this scene—like much of the film—to be very instructional in backing off with my adoptive parent knows best judgement. This was Angela navigating a very difficult circumstance unfolding in the moment; it makes sense that she would want those she loves most to be there.

And again, this is her story. Which includes Deborah’s rejection—a second rejection, really—which is sharp, and Angela is stunned as she tries to work through why Deborah has done this. “I do feel like I deserve to know stuff. She has an obligation to tell me some things,” Angela says at one point. And we feel her angst completely. I defy anyone to withhold tears at this. We soon learn that Deborah has kept Angela a secret from her family for 26-years and we are given a window into the loss she has experienced as a result of placing Angela for adoption, as well as some insight into the wall this secret built between Deborah and her siblings. That loss ripples out to all of Angela’s people—her aunts, uncles, siblings—who flood her with phone calls, effusive in their longing for her, desperate it seems, to make up for lost time. The voice mails are both joyous and mournful, much like adoption itself.

As defining life moments go, meeting birth family had to be a major kicking up of sediment, and I would guess that neither Angela or Bryan were prepared for the aftermath of repeatedly sharing and discussing this little film with very big implications. To relive it at each screening, to discuss it and defend it and explain it must be exhausting. The audience with whom I watched this movie was made up of adoptive parents and adult adoptees some of whom took great issue with the film’s title (I personally kept thinking that this was less of a closure and more of an opening).  But as Bryan said in a Q & A after the screening, this is Angela’s story, but it’s his film; it is a documentary, but it is art. It should be noted that while this film is worthwhile to any members of the adoption triad—adoptees (age 13 and older), birth parents, and adoptive parents—it can be very triggering, and the title may be a part of that. As I understand it, audiences not intimately familiar with adoption don’t tend to have the same reaction. This film will be  different experience, with different meaning and impact for each viewer, depending on the lens.

I’m no expert in cinematography, but there are some places in this film that felt long to me—a few drives in the car and one scene in a pool hall—and more economical editing wouldn’t have taken away from the tone being established. There are also a several spots with religious overtones that could lend this film to being the darling of the currently in vogue Christian adoption movement.

It sort of goes without saying that Closure doesn’t end in a crisp package with a neat bow. There isn’t an end to this story. This is real life. Bryan Tucker brings his humanity to this film, to his wife’s most personal story, and gives a compelling, heart-wrenching, validating, and deeply moving depiction of her struggle. This is a gift to those of us living in families touched by adoption, for those of us who see ourselves in any of the roles, and offers us much to contemplate and discuss.

Testing…testing…does this thing work?

No, I’m not talking about this neglected website. I’m talking about the grueling season that is right now bearing down on many of California’s kids. It’s testing season, folks, the time of year when No. 2 pencils and prison-like lock downs on school campuses reign. It’s the season that helps make Pearson one of the wealthiest companies in the world (read that thing with tissues in hand because you will weep); the season that causes Michelle Rhee, Ben Austin, Rahm Emmanuel, and other like-minded education “reformers” to gleefully piddle in their pants at the idea of closing more “failing” schools. Score one for privatization.

Of course, I’m opting my child out of the tests because I don’t subscribe to child abuse. Tomorrow, while the kids in my daughter’s second grade class spend day one of six bent over Scantron sheets while chomping on prohibited-during-all-other-school hours mint gum, my child will be eating crepes she made while learning about the Greek diva, Maria Callas.

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Like Maria Callas, my poor kid has an overbearing mother, one who simply could not take her girl by the hand and lead her quietly away from bubble answers and into the light of Verdi’s La Traviatta. No, her mother had to create a Shit Storm first by posting her opinion on Facebook. And yes, I’m really missing my CityBeat platform these days, thank you very much.

Anyway. Ruby’s school sent out an email with suggestions on how best to prep our little Social Experiments for the next two weeks of testing. This inspirational missive came after a very lucrative solicitation last week for the aforementioned mint gum. Because some random un-cited research claims it helps kids stay focused and calm…which might be an argument to offer it everyday, no? Ponder that for a moment.

Some of the things the email encouraged parents to do at home were:

  • Ensure your child is at school everyday, and on time!
  • Ensure your child eats a nutritious breakfast, daily.
  • Ask your child to read a bit more than usual this month, or read with your child for longer periods to build stamina.
  • Talk with your child about the tests & the importance of doing his/her best.
  • Encourage your child to think positive thoughts like “I can do this!”
  • Talk with your child about their anxieties & express your confidence in his/her ability.
  • Be sure your child wears comfortable clothing
  • Encourage your child to pay careful attention to test directions and matching the right answers to the right question  

The email included some “other cute ideas” as well:

7_smartwater
“SMART WATER”:  give kids a water bottle each with original smart water, or one with an added label……gives kids the motivation that they can do it!

A special snack each day:

baggie of cheerios with “We’re cheer-ing you on”
baggie of Lucky Charms w/ “Show What you Know, Good Luck”
baggie of pretzels w/ “Don’t let the test “twist” your head”
baggie of popcorn w/ “Poppin’ in to say you’re doing great”
box of raisins w/ “You’re Raisin’ your score”

A special treat to start the morning:
die cut star  with label/ “I’m a Test Takin’ Star” and a starburst candy
a bookmark that says “I’m a Smart Cookie” and a cookie
a bookmark that says “Do your Bear-y Best” and gummybears
a eraser w/ “Erase those fears right outa your head”
business sized card with “Believe, Achieve, Succeed” and a penny

Uh, huh. Yes. Fo’ realz! Our school just did some serious product placement. I’m starting to think that Pearson owns Smart Water, Starburst Chews, gummy bears, mint gum, cookies, all ingredients needed to make cookies (including oatmeal, just to cover the bases), cookie sheets and Teflon®. Bwahahahahahaha!

Some important context here: Our school has an extremely strict stance on food. Students are not allowed to bring treats to school on their birthdays; junk food, candy, sweets of any kind—including gum—are all prohibited in packed lunches; even Valentine’s Day is a no-go. Teachers are allowed to have 3 parties each year, the only time that food is permitted, but all food items must be cleared with the nurse first. Ah, the drudgery of childhood.

no-junk-food

There is value in this policy, sure. I get the allergy angle, and can appreciate the collective effort to protect children from danger. But c’mon. This is excessive. So what if the kids ask each other to Be Mine! with a lollipop or a SweeTart? Who cares if a teacher gives out a piece of licorice at the end of a long day? Whose business is it if I want to put a small sweet in my kid’s lunch box because…well…just because.

But these are the rules, and I go along quietly because these are the rules. Until they aren’t any more. Because what better time than test time to start your PearsonBot’s morning with a special treat of “starburst candy”? What’s better than sending Tommy Test Taker to class with school-sanctioned Ziploc bag of Lucky Charms? LIVE LARGE, KIDDOS! SNAP THAT GUM LIKE NOBODY’S WATCHIN’!

That is, until June 11th and then don’t you show up with that poison on campus or else.

And so—you know me—I went ahead and mentioned this hypocrisy on the school’s Facebook page with the purpose of highlighting how our culture of standardized testing is so big, so important, that we will do ridiculous things in the endless hunt for high test scores. Since January, my kid’s homework packets have included lengthy practice test questions in English despite the fact that, according to the school website, “[i]n grades K-2, students receive academic instruction in French only.“  With such explicit teaching to the test—in direct opposition to their stated curriculum—it can’t be a stretch to think there would be free Jell-O shots at the school entrance if “studies showed” a correlation between reading comprehension and vodka.

My post elicited an angry reaction from parents (rightly so) aaaaand also the admonishment that I shouldn’t have made my thoughts public, that Facebook wasn’t the right place to have this particular conversation. But I disagree. I think it’s as fine a place as any to be having this conversation.

SMOKE AND MIRRORS: If 90% of the American public supported the outlawing of abortion, you bet your sweet zygotes that our elected officials would have it done. What’s so different about the background check?

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Uh-huh. That’s right. I’m gonna deal with this today, because re-sharing this photo on Facebook didn’t make me feel any better. I shouldn’t write about it now because I’m really pissed off, and I always try to sleep on things I’ve written before I hit publish (or send, for that matter). I’m so pissed off about yesterday’s despicable senate capitulation to big money and the gun lobby. I’m pissed off even though I knew way back in December—about 13 seconds after I heard the death tally in the Newtown massacre—that nothing was going to change. It was this firm knowledge that was going to keep me from getting pissed off when today happened. I was supposed to shrug, sigh and move on. Bombing in Boston, Cowardly Congress, ho-hum, do these pants make me look fat?

But about 12 seconds after that grim announcement that 20 babies had been heinously slaughtered at the end of a weapon designed for warfare, I had a kernel of hope that, Hmmmm…maybe the obliteration of a bunch of (almost all) white children will finally tip the scales.

I quickly dismissed that sense of possibility. I’m a realist, after all. But the human spirit has a proclivity toward wishful thinking, an affinity for hope. It’s a survival thing, I think, an involuntary response to unbearable trauma.

Well. I attribute my anger tonight to that stupid fucking hope. That singular floating dust mite of ridiculously irrational, completely intangible bullshit that must have lodged itself somewhere deep in my body even as I’ve said, over and over again when discussing this topic, We will never change.

I knew. I knew nothing would come of the twenty murdered kids. If congress couldn’t make change after the gun was turned on one of its own (narcissists as they are, this—if anything—should have compelled them to act), why would a smattering of six-year-old body parts across a schoolroom have any impact?

Even as 90%— NINETYFUCKINGPERCENT!—of American people support background checks for gun purchasers: Nothing. 45 “nay”s (I’m not counting Harry Reid’s strategic vote) and our representatives stacked their papers, and straightened their ties and headed home for the night with their jobs and their pay checks and their free-health-care-for-life happily in tact. Shit we, as voters, bestow on them with the humble expectation that they, oh…I don’t know…represent the fuck out of us? That’s right. They represent us. Is 90% so loud as to be deafening?

Meanwhile, gun violence goes on and on, blahdeeblah, I wonder what shoes to wear to the gala on Saturday….

You know, black children die every day in America thanks to guns, and nobody in congress cares. It’s a fact of life. But congress doesn’t care about dying white kids either. It occurs to me that we may finally have undeniable proof of a level playing field. Are we supposed to be hopeful about that?

No. No we are not. We should be depressed and ashamed, because we all lose. Screen shot 2013-04-17 at 10.44.54 PM

Look. 90% of Americans do not agree that we should confiscate all guns. Nor do 90% of Americans agree that we should ban automatic weapons, though I line up in that group, too. What 90% of American people do agree on, is the requirement of a background check for gun purchasers, not unlike that required to obtain a driver license. Or a passport. Or a child. Funny: You have to have to have a background check to adopt a child, but not to kill one. Any bonehead can do that. In fact, has done that. And will again.

Just. Stop. It.

This trend has made it’s way to Target, which does not mean it is okay or good or should be tried or any combination of the three. In fact, it means it’s going to get even worse.

Camel toe is a better look than these sneakers.

Camel toe is a better look than these sneakers.

The wedge sneaker must stop. So please. All you fashion bloggers: As if you aren’t making fashion loathsome enough already, quit talking about and/or wearing these hideous abominations. No, they do not dress down your boyfriend jeans. No, they do not go from day-to-night with a fancier purse. And no, they are definitely not the “epitome of downtown cool.” They look horrid and one day, you will look back at your photos and lament  your choice to not only wear these shoes, but to endlessly foist them on the reasonable women of America.

 

 

Teaching to the test has officially begun at my daughter’s school.

And by OFFICIALLY, I mean, EXPLICITLY SANCTIONED.

Behold the notice included with the first homework packet that came home following the Christmas break (and again in a more specific letter from the school that followed a few days later):

Dear families: Welcome back! Starting this week we will begin adding a book report (to be completed in French) and English homework. The English homework is to prepare your child for the standardized state tests in June.

To re-cap: Ruby’s school—a magnet school—is an immersion school where kids are enrolled in either Spanish or French. The French program is laid out on the school’s website like this:

Grade
% French
Approx.
No. of minutes
% English
Approx.
No. of minutes
K
100%
360 min.
0%
0
1
100%
360 min.
0%
0
2
100%
360 min.
0%
0
3
60%
215 min.
40%
145 min.
4
5
50%
180 min.
50%
180 min.
6
7
8

French Language Arts-4 hrs a week

History-4 hrs a week

English Language Arts, Math, Science and P.E.

 

Grade

%

Min.

French Subjects

%

Min.

English Subjects

K

100

360

All subject areas

0

0

1

100

360

All subject areas

0

0

2

100

360

All subject areas

0

0

3

60%

215

French Literacy
Science/Health
Math
VAPA

40%

145

Social Studies
Literacy
P.E.

4
5

50%

180

French Literacy
Math
Science/health

50%

180

Social Studies
English Literacy
P.E.

6
7
8

30%

History
French Literacy

70%

250

Math
Science/Health
English Literacy

Notice that there is no English instruction until 3rd grade. None. Instruction is taught 100% in the target language. As is common with immersion programs, children learning a second language often lag behind in their English reading until 4th or 5th grade, at which time they catch up. My child falls into this category, and hoo-boy! is she ever frustrated by it. English reading is in this house is an endeavor that is more nerve-wracking than this:

Like, who here can read with that kind of music in the background? Am I right???

So it is bothersome that homework—which we are already opposed to in this household (thank you, Alfie Kohn)—now includes material that doesn’t coalesce with the stated goal of the school, but rather appeases test zealots. Which is to say, who gives a shit about the kids? Not only is this material above the reading level of many children in 2nd grade at this school, but it is explicitly not designed to cultivate curiosity or to spark a love of reading for any child in any school. Of course, it also comes with those fun and useful multiple-guess questions at the end. This is about data and data manipulation and lying to ourselves and cheating our children. Standardized testing, and the prep for it, is child abuse.

Here, for your thank-God-I’m-not-in-school-any-more reading pleasure, is the first homework assignment to help my seven year old proficient-French-reader prepare for the California Standardized Test in May, which she is not taking. (She is not doing the English test-prep assignments, with the support of our wonderful teacher, but more on that later). If you have the stamina to make it through these zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz passages and the questions that follow, weigh in in the comments on problems you have with any of it. Hint: There were zero drawings included with the homework. Okay, pick up your pencils and GO!

English Homework: Read the selection.  Then answer numbers 1 through 10.

How an Orange Grows

An orange is a sweet and juicy fruit.  A drink of orange juice is like drinking sunshine.  Oranges grow best where there is plenty of sun.  California has many orange trees.

Orange Groves

 Most oranges are grown on farms where there are many orange trees.  The trees are in long rows.  Many orange trees together are called an orange grove. Orange trees have green leaves.  The leaves stay green all year.  In the spring, flowers bloom on the trees.  The trees are white with blossoms.  The blossoms fill the air with a sweet smell.

Blossoms and bees

Orange blossoms are beautiful.  Blossoms make pollen.  Pollen looks like yellow dust.  Bees fly from flower to flower.  They pick up pollen at one flower.  They leave some pollen at another flower.  An orange may start to grow.  Bees are important in an orange grove.

Green oranges!

The blossoms fall to the ground.  A tiny orange begins to form.  It is green and small.  It slowly grows bigger.  It fills with juice.  Seeds grow inside the orange.  Finally, the fruit grows to its full size.  It turns orange.  Then it is ripe.  Ripe oranges are picked carefully.

From the Grove to Your Table

Most oranges are made into orange juice.  Some oranges are sent to stores.  You can but an orange.  Cut it or peel it.  You can squeeze an orange yourself to make juice.  Oranges taste great!

1.  The author uses the FIRST paragraph mostly to

A  tell the reader where oranges grow.
B  let the reader know what the article is about.
C  make the reader want to drink more orange juice.
D  tell the reader a funny story about oranges.

2.  Leaves on an orange tree are

A  white.
B  orange.
C  green.
D  blossoms.

3.  Oranges grow best

A  in sunshine.
B  in the dark.
C  in a lake.
D  on the roof.

4.  Why do the trees look white in the spring?

A  There are no leaves on the trees.
B  Snow is on the trees.
C  Pollen covers the trees.
D  The trees have white flowers.

5.  What color are oranges when they start to grow?

A  green
B  pink
C  orange
D  blue

6.  You need to answer a question about pollen.  Which section should
you read again?

A  Orange Groves
B  Blossoms and Bees
C  Green Oranges!
D  From the Grove to Your Table

7.  Why are bees important in an orange grove?

A  Bees look nice in a grove.
B  Bees can make honey.
C  Bees leave pollen in the blossoms.
D  Bees eat flowers.

8.  When you look at the drawing on page 1, you can learn

A  how a tree grows.
B  where the pollen is in a blossom.
C  what a tree looks like a winter.
D  which bugs like flowers.

9.  What is likely to happen if no bees go to an orange grove?

A  Many new oranges will grow.
B  Oranges will get ripe faster.
C  No oranges will grow.
D  The orange blossoms will not fall off.

10.  The author probably wrote this section

A  just for fun.
B  to get people to buy fruit.
C  to tell readers about oranges.
D  to teach readers how to grow an orange.

About the part that was excluded

My father died five days ago. My youngest brother learned of his death via Facebook, of all things, four days after the fact. The obituary paints a sleek portrait of a beautiful man who climbed mountains and adored animals. A mountain of a man, some might say of John Allred.

To be sure, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is an impressive accomplishment. Taking in and loving animals are acts of humanity. But it is commonly accepted—across time and throughout cultures—that one of the most meaningful things a person can do is to become a parent. To omit this portion of my father’s life with only a passing mention to “children from a previous marriage,” reduces the wholeness of it, and conveniently obliterates any truth of who he was at the very core of his being.

US in the snow

Aaryn Greer Allred

John Derek Allred

Corey Braden Allred

Those are the names of John’s three children. My brothers and I are real people with full, rich, complicated lives. We are not hypothetical afterthoughts. We are not apparitions. Except in the way our father treated us.

It deserves to be said that before marrying Susan Creager, “the love of his life,” John was married briefly to Leslie Kennedy, and then for 13 years to my amazing, resilient mother, Gaydi Shore. It could be argued that Leslie and my mother were also the loves of John’s life at one time.

Though it ended in divorce, my parents marriage began as a love affair, the kind any person could hope to experience in a lifetime.

mom and dad

To this day, despite the inevitable implosion of their relationship, I still love to hear the many stories of my parents’ courtship. Often at the holidays, I’ll ask my mother to recount—again—their wedding at the former Hotel Utah; the time she spent with my father in Germany; how he taught her to drive stick shift in their old Porsche; how much they wanted to have a baby. For all the trauma that was to follow those happier days, there is no doubt my brothers and I were conceived in love.

Ultimately, John chose to exile me from his life, and to a different extent, he did the same with my brothers. He chose this path with the full support and complicity of Susan, a woman with endless space in her heart for animals in need, but no such capacity for John’s children.

In addition to my brothers and me, John is survived by two granddaughters: The lovely and inimitable 12-year-old Maisie; and seven-year-old Ruby, a most magical and glorious child whom John never had the desire to know. A third granddaughter will make the world a better place when she arrives this spring. It is my hope that Baby Doris will bring healing to my brother, as he will have the opportunity to become the kind of father he never had, but always deserved.

In the end, a man can summit the highest peaks in the world and rescue every pitbull at the shelter. But the true measure of his character—of his humanity—is plainly visible in the way he treats his children.

 

A New Year Question

Can all food be prepared gluten free so we no longer have to talk about it?

Discuss.

Race 2012: Voter intimidation and WTBleep is up with our “democracy”?

Have you heard? Mitt Romney is kicking butt (that’s for you, PBS) and taking names when it comes to the white vote. According to this Washington Post article from late last week, he’s losing the Latino vote by enough to potentially cost him the election…but not if Latinos stay home while white folks storm the gates in favor of the agitated, sweaty  shape-changer from last Monday’s debate. (Edited to add: This latest piece agrees, and mentions an “uncomfortable racial math” of this election. “We don’t want to see our politics divided by race going into the future,” says one CNN analyst whom I presume is not talking about the GOP.) And is Romney peeling off some of the Black vote? In 2008, Barack Obama carried 95% of the Black vote, but reports like this claim the number is slipping.

It makes little sense to me that this race is even close. But it is. And given how close it is, what is the GOP doing to push their guy over the edge? It certainly isn’t their opaque “5 Points Plan.” So what, exactly, are they doing?

I have one word for you: Cheating.

Since a candidate cannot win on the white vote alone, and since courting the brown vote hasn’t been a priority for Romney, Willard and his Grand Old Party are doing what they do best. Yes, the folks that will go to the mat over an American Flag lapel pin, and who will out-patriot any patriot in Patriotland by telling you exactly how patriotic they are, are disenfranchising voters of color.

In Arizona’s Maricopa County last week, Spanish language voter registration cards were sent out with the wrong election date. They claim only 50 cards had the wrong date, which makes complete sense, since there’s no way they would print, you know, 2 million election cards in bulk, right? Nah! You definitely run those off using your ink jet printer on an as-need basis!

Moving east, 140 of these beauties went up in African-American neighborhoods in Ohio and Wisconsin:

The Billboards were funded by an anonymous “family foundation” and are being taken down, thanks to some angry community members who knew that staying silent was to be complicit. These citizens helped Clear Channel—the company that owns the billboards—get over its Romnesia, reminding them about their policy that disallows anonymous funding of billboards. Another interesting tidbit: Clear Channel is co-owned by Bain Capital which is Mitt Romney’s former-ish company. If it smells like a rat…

Of course, we’ve been hearing all about the push for voter ID laws in myriad states across this country, a below-the-radar effort during the past two years to disproportionately target people of color even while right-wing supporters claim they are simply rooting out fraud. This is peachy coming as it does from those who know about voter fraud first hand. This anti-American effort to cut out the already disenfranchised in our society should be alarming to all of us, but especially so, according to the Center for American Progress, for women of color. Behold:

“Women of color stand at the crossroads of what is in essence a double disenfranchisement. When they are denied the opportunity to participate in civic life, they also lose the ability to voice their opinions and hold lawmakers accountable on the reproductive health issues that directly affect them.”

That’s a double-whammy, right there, if we inaugurate a President Romney next January.

And today, Race 2012 blogger Julene, pointed out a disturbing link between the anti-Obama ads running on BET and the overwhelmingly white make up of the board of directors of its new owner, Viacom. It’s sort of like white people owning the majority of black hair products on the market, only (no disrespect here, that is also a serious issue), it’s worse. It’s way worse. See the Tim Wise video at the bottom of my previous post for a primer about the age old divide-and-conquer method of disenfranchisement.

What I want to know is, when do the rest of us get outraged enough to act, like the people who forced Clear Channel to atone? When do we demand an end to this deviousness in our elections, and accountability and truthfulness and honesty in our political process? How bad do things have to get before all people, regardless of party affiliation, admit that these kinds of election shenanigans hurt all of us, individually and collectively and undermine everything that is good about—or should I say, anything that is left of—our democracy?

The time is now, people. The time is yesterday, today and tomorrow.