Monthly Archives: January 2013

Fashion Statement

Spirit Week is always one of the highlights of the SBS year, from the traditional “Pajama Day” on Monday right through the traditional “Color Wars” skits on Friday. Wednesday is usually “Spirit Day” (we wear blue and white and/or SBS clothing). Tuesdays and Thursdays, however, change around from year to year, providing a nice blend of tradition and routine on the one hand, and freshness and innovation on the other.

In last week’s 7th grade MOCA meeting, Heidi reported to her classmates that they got their top choice color, yellow, that Tuesday would be Twin Day, and that Thursday would be – and I believe this was actually a proposal made by the 7th grade – “Dress like the opposite gender” day. My Humanities 7 class, some months ago, asked me why men don’t wear skirts (“You got me,” I said, “Probably because femininity is undervalued in our culture.”), so amid cheers of “Yay!” and “I get to dress like a boy!” were also cheers of “We get to see Bill in a skirt!”

Just a day earlier, 15-year-old feminist Lilinaz Evans (with whom I had recently networked through a unit we were doing in Life Skills 8 when I learned of her #TwitterYouthFeministArmy) had retweeted a posting by @WeekWoman: “I think more men should wear skirts. Rebel against gender barriers!” I couldn’t resist responding: “My 7th graders are all for that. :-)” and Lilinaz wrote back, “Brilliant! Excellent for hot weather in the summer!” while @WeekWoman wrote “delighted to hear it!” Also, my friend Jean-Marc asked if I would send des photos.

It was a playful interchange, and yet underlying it was the notion that feminist goals are best met not merely by expanding options for girls and women but also by expanding options for all genders. Bill wearing a skirt, apparently, could be serious business indeed.

In fact, one week previously, the feminist blog Jezebel had published a posting entitled “Awesome Indian Men Don Skirts to Protest Rape Culture.” (warning: strong language.) For those who may not be aware, six men have been accused of brutally gang-raping and murdering a young woman on a bus in New Delhi. The crime sparked unprecedented massive protests and calls for justice and an immediate end to rape culture. Among those were an event in which men wore skirts, coining the slogans: “Don’t skirt the issue. Speak up, support women.” and “Change mentalities, not clothes.”

Author-activist Eve Ensler, perhaps best known for the play “The Vagina Monologues,” decided to protest violence against women by declaring February 14 to be a day of “One Billion Rising.” Spread by both social and traditional media, the idea has exploded, and is taking on wholly different characters in different locations. In the United States, Congress declined to renew the Violence Against Women Act last year; a new version of the bill is currently seeking an additional five co-sponsors as I write. This Act dates back to 1994, and has been routinely re-authorized every year up to 2012. The reasons for the controversy include protections offered to LGBT people, Native Americans, and undocumented immigrants, as if women who fall into one or more of those three groups are somehow unworthy of basic rights. Many One Billion Rising supporters in the U.S., unsurprisingly, intend to connect observation of the day to the fight to pass VAWA this time around.

So, yes, I will be wearing a skirt on “Dress like the opposite gender day” – February 14. And yes, I will do it in a spirit of fun and to support Spirit Week. But I will also be wearing a skirt to promote the elimination of gender role stereotypes, to protest rape culture, to support the Violence Against Women Act, and to participate in One Billion Rising.

That will indeed be a fashion statement.

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Jezebel printed the following pledge in their posting which all those attending or even passing by the “men in skirts” rally were asked to sign, and in the spirit of One Billion Rising, I share it with you:

I promise that I will be sensitive to gender issues in the way I speak and act. I promise not to be passive. I will step in if I hear offensive speech or views. If I see something wrong happen in front of me, I will create a discussion and talk about my beliefs.

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Filed under Gender, In the Classroom, On Education, School Happenings, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Bending the Arc

It has been one month and one week to the day since the shooting at Sandy Hook, and still many of us are depressed and in shock. In quiet moments at holiday gatherings, online in virtual discussions on bulletin boards and through Twitter, many of my friends and family have shared that they felt subdued this year compared to in normal years. This is in no way meant to diminish, share, or hope to begin to understand the grief that parents and family members of those who died must be feeling; it is simply the truth of our reality.

Over the weekend following the news, one of my online friends started a private discussion about how best to react in public. Everyone agreed that this should not be about either appropriating grief or self-promotion. Everyone agreed that whatever happened in the short term, it’s what happens in the long term that really matters. For some of us, that translated to putting our voices out there. For others, it meant maintaining a respectful silence.

Another of my online friends brought up the fact that children are dying every day of gun violence, but the media – and thus the country – pays little attention. Indeed, Children’s Defense Fund has cited statistics showing that approximately eight children a day die by gun violence. That means over 300 kids since that horrible day, more than two Sandy Hooks every week.

It seems we are indeed embarking on a serious national conversation on gun violence. Gun control itself is of necessity part of this conversation, but so are many other issues – our culture’s attitude toward mental health issues, questions of insurance, what Gloria Steinem has called the cult of masculinity and the supporting cult of femininity, and looking at root causes deeper down: poverty, sexism, racism, and other prejudices.

And meanwhile, the issue of climate change hovers over us, casting its own shadow of uncertainty and doubt. It can all get overwhelming pretty quickly….

… and then I step into my classroom. A couple of weeks ago, for instance, my Life Skills class was talking about microaggressions, those subtle moments when a person, generally oblivious and well-meaning, insults you or otherwise makes you feel marginalized – for example, asking someone who, unbeknownst to you, is lesbian if she has a boyfriend. They had a great discussion about the role of intention in such moments as well as how the comments are received regardless of intention, and quickly saw the connection to stereotypes (which they articulated) and privilege (which they didn’t articulate but understood at a gut level). Several of them said they have never really experienced microaggressions, and one of them said she wished the world were more like Stoneleigh-Burnham. I told her I was actually working on a blog on just that very topic.

Similarly, Carroll Perry, a newly retired teacher at my son’s school, said at their baccalaureate service last spring, “There has been progress, and there will be a lot more. The cynics forget that people like you are coming on to the scene, and that you view today’s challenges not as insuperable problems, but as your stewardship.” I look out at you students here, and I completely agree.

Today, for the second time in history, we hold the inauguration of a Black president. President Obama‘s re-election, as he himself has said, proves that 2008 was not an anomaly. Earlier in his career, when he was still a Senator and candidate for president, he had the opportunity to speak at a commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He noted, “Dr. King once said that the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice. It bends towards justice, but here is the thing: it does not bend on its own. It bends because each of us in our own ways put our hand on that arc and we bend it in the direction of justice…” (Obama, cited by Howe) When a 7th grader says “When you start to get interested in boys or girls or whatever you find interesting,” when another 7th grader says “I just don’t see what the big deal is if Black and White people go out together,” when I suggest to the drummer prior to an Upper School Rock Band performance that I wouldn’t drum in a skirt and a Senior comments without missing a beat, “But we wouldn’t think any less of you if you did,” you can feel that arc bending.

The long struggle for social justice may get overwhelming at times – of course it does! But as long as we are in it together, as long as we see steady improvement, as long as there are people like you taking your place in the world, there will always be hope.

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Filed under In the Classroom, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Women’s Film Series Project at SBS

Ever since I came to Stoneleigh Burnham School in 2010, my interest in Women’s Activism has grown rapidly. I have spent three years engaging in intellectually stimulating conversations with many talented and promising young women. This school understands the importance of guiding young women to express themselves and seek change outside of the classroom. My goal is to bring in ideas and perspectives that will leave a lasting impression. We, as SBS girls, may live in a place where our voices can be heard, but in the outside world, women are often silenced. The oppression of women is not just a foreign issue, but increasingly present in the United States, where supposedly, “all citizens are created equal.” My frustration towards our gender’s oppression has inspired me to spread awareness to the SBS community. When I was given the opportunity to create a CAS (Community Action Service) project for the IB program, I immediately jumped at the opportunity to harness my passion for women’s activism and use it to inform the school. Ultimately I decided to create a Women’s Film Series, in which I would air inspiring documentaries and movies about the struggles of women around the world and the women who have led in the fight for equality.

On January 12th, the first night of my film series began with a showing of the documentary “Miss Representation,” directed by Jennifer Siebel. This is an inspiring film about the misrepresentation of women in the media. The students who attended this showing were outraged by how women are often portrayed in movies, TV shows, magazines and newspapers. Even the most powerful women in the United States, and throughout the world, have been bombarded with disrespect and mistreatment. The students left the film, feeling the need to seek change. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to start this Film Series.

In the coming weeks I will be showing the following films: “Iron Jawed Angels,” directed by Katja von Garnier, which depicts the struggles of Alice Paul, founder of the National Women’s Party, to achieve suffrage in the United States. I then will show “Half The Sky,” a two-part documentary inspired by the book “Half the Sky,” by Nicolas D. Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn. This film documents the journey of author Nicolas D. Kristof and several celebrity activists into ten countries to tell the story of inspiring women. The women that they interview have lived in a world where forced prostitution, sex trafficking, maternal mortality, and gender-based violence have taken place. The last film on my list will be aired during Women’s History Month. I will be showing the documentary, “Gloria: In her Own Words,” directed by Peter Kunhardt. This film chronicles the life of Gloria Steinem, a prominent figure in the Women’s Movement. So, when this Film Series has finished, I hope that this community will have been inspired to become women’s activists and strive to seek change around the world.

– Mary P., 2013

 

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Filed under Gender, International Baccalaureate, On Education, The Girls School Advantage, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

The Necessity of Maladjustment

My shoulder grew progressively numb as my friend, convinced that everyone who claimed to be a pacifist had a breaking point, kept hitting it over and over. His face began to contort, and through gritted teeth he hissed, “I’m going to make you hit me.” But I didn’t hit back, and eventually he walked away in disgust. I’ve always wondered what he took away from the incident. Me, I took pride in having successfully maintained my principles of non-violence, though as it turned out I couldn’t have moved my arm if I had wanted, and it hung uselessly at my side for at least five minutes as I walked to my next class and took my seat.

Several years beforehand, when I was in eighth grade, I first read Daybreak by Joan Baez. In a series of poems, dreams, vignettes, and essays, she explored her own pacifism and the principles by which she unflinchingly led her own life. It was one of the most influential books of my childhood.

As I grew in adulthood, though, I couldn’t help but think that it wasn’t always as simple as Ms. Baez made it out to be. One evening, not long after I began teaching here, we invited Andrea LaSonde Anastos, then co-minister of First Church in Deerfield with her husband George, to talk about her life and work. Among other subjects, she touched on her own pacifism, inspiring a question from one of the students as to whether she could ever conceive of a situation where she might choose to use violence. She said before she had children, she would have said absolutely not, but that she now realized that if someone went after her kids and she had the chance, she wasn’t sure but what she would take them out without hesitation. Oddly, I was comforted by her admission. I believed (and still do) there was a big difference between personally suffering for one’s principles and watching others suffer, perhaps even die, for the same reason, and I myself wasn’t sure what I would do in the same situation. She made it safe for me to feel that ambivalence.

One month ago today, a gunman broke into Sandy Hook Elementary School, and you know the rest. This country has a history of mass killings, and so often the initial shock and outcry subsides after a few days or maybe weeks and nothing ever changes. But there is some evidence that things may be different this time. Here at Stoneleigh-Burnham, our Student Council has written all students “[inviting] you all to wear GREEN and WHITE to commemorate the one-month anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, CT.” (Claire L.) No doubt, we will be just one of countless schools doing so.

And this doesn’t even take into account the many individual actions private citizens may be taking, such as writing their Representative or Senators, or engaging people in conversations both face to face and through social media. In a country far too often divided along partisan lines, I feel like I’ve seen more sincere effort to reach across those lines and find common ground than with any other issue in months if not years.

As many people are saying, this is going to be a marathon and not a sprint. Meanwhile, according to the Children’s Defense Fund, an average of eight children die each day due to gunfire. That’s 56 kids each week, and nearly 250 since Sandy Hook. This lends a certain sense of urgency to the marathon.

Martin Luther King, Jr. has written, “There are some things within our social order to which I am proud to be maladjusted and to which I call upon you to be maladjusted. I never intend to adjust myself to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to adjust myself to mob rule. I never intend to adjust myself to the tragic effects of the methods of physical violence and to tragic militarism. I call upon you to be maladjusted to such things.” (King)

I hold out hope that our country has finally become permanently maladjusted to events like Sandy Hook. I hold out that hope not only because I see Dr. King’s ideals in my students but also because I know so many people across the political spectrum who have been deeply moved by Sandy Hook and who sincerely want to leave a better world to our children. It will not happen on its own and it will not be easy. But the alternative is simply unthinkable.

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Filed under On Education, On Parenting, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School

Resolution

Annual discussions of whether making New Year’s resolutions serves any purpose, and if so how best to make them, are by now as much a part of New Year’s traditions as the resolutions themselves. But for those of us who teach, the chance to make mid-course adjustments is often irresistible. That tug may be especially strong in a year when many teachers report a more subdued holiday season than usual with the events of Sandy Hook so fresh in our minds.

The last day of school in December is usually a festive day, with the morning spent in classes, a holiday lunch with advisory groups, housemeeting with the faculty skit, an afternoon of athletics, packing, and relaxing, and the evening Winter Solstice Concert. This year was no exception, with perhaps one of the more touching examples being my French II class, which had voted to take their Unit 3 test the day before vacation rather than waiting until January and also decided to postpone the final day of in-class Secret Snowflake to add a special element of fun to the last class of 2012. They were all done by about 25 minutes into class, and one by one (or rather two by two) took off to their rooms, the school store, and other destinations so they could reconvene and take turns beaming at each other as they read cards and opened gifts.

Yet Sandy Hook was never far from our minds. On this, the third day of classes after the shootings, my seventh-grade Humanities class was suddenly ready to discuss it. In most cases, other students knew the answers to each others’ questions, and I filled in details as needed. They did a great job of distinguishing verified facts from what was possibly true, and processed their emotions together as well. My eight-grade Life Skills class made snowflakes, as requested by the Sandy Hook PTA, to send to decorate the children’s new school. And one of the middle school bands prepared to provide what would be one of the highlights of the day.

They had worked on an arrangement of the song “Titanium” by David Guetta et al. The arrangement was quieter and more contemplative than the hit version sung by Sia Furler, and the song’s theme of resilience against overwhelming odds gained depth and resonance. However, the lyrics refer explicitly to gun violence, and a mere five days after Sandy Hook, emotions were still too raw and the sense of shock too strong for us to be able to do it, even this arrangement, even sung by children. They were deeply disappointed, but understood and accepted graciously the decision to strike the song from the evening’s program.

Several hours later, one of the band members came up to me and asked if they could still perform that evening if they could find a song they all already knew. I said yes, provided I could learn the music in time and we could find time to practice. And so, at 3:30 that afternoon, we gathered in the gym with newly printed lyrics sheets for “Mistletoe,” performed and co-written by Justin Bieber, and began rehearsing. Greg Snedeker, the instrumental music teacher, joined us partway through to add a bass line, and after an hour’s work, we felt ready to go.

That evening, as the students and Greg set themselves on stage, I explained to the audience about the program change, our reasons why, and what the new piece would be. I won’t pretend the performance was flawless – for starters, I missed the second chord of the piece. But we hung together, the kids sounded great, and by halfway through the piece the audience, caught up in the spirit, began to clap along. They stayed with us through the end of the piece, and their applause was warm. Several people said they would keep a memory of the evening, one describing it as “a Christmas miracle.”

Sorting out facts, processing emotions, dealing with the need to do something, and affirming our common humanity are all common responses to tragedy. But, as countless people have written over the past few weeks, if that is once again where it all ends, then all the sound and fury will truly signify nothing. And, as countless people have also written, this will be a marathon and not a sprint. There are convincing arguments that we need a national conversation leading to action in the areas of gun control, the treatment and coverage of mental health issues, the cult of masculinity (and the supporting cult of femininity), and how best to protect our children. I also read a proposal for a new national War on Poverty as part of our response.

In short, we need to address the root causes of such horrific events in the long term as well as figure out the best course of action in the short term while we are working to better our world. It’s work that can quickly become overwhelming – how can each of us, as just one person, hope to accomplish all this? But at the same time, it’s work none of us need do all alone and all by ourselves. Each of us can find our own ways of addressing various issues which will intersect, overlap, and reinforce each other.

And so, as 2013 begins with that feeling of hope and promise that accompanies all new beginnings, let us rededicate ourselves, each in our own way, toward bending the arc of the moral universe towards justice.

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Filed under In the Classroom, On Education, Performing Arts