Monthly Archives: April 2013

… Like We’re People

Every August, my hometown hosts one of the great 10K races in New England, the Bridge of Flowers Classic. Hundreds of runners, from local kids to world-class elite racers, line up on the Iron Bridge while seemingly half the town lines up to watch them or goes to take their stations to volunteer and help out. On several oocasions, Greg Snedeker (our jazz and classical music teacher) and friends set up out on the course to provide musical support. It’s always fun and festive, and a wonderful way to spend the morning.

One such morning, I saw Dana Parker, the Youth Minister from my church during my teenage years (and, for fans of In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle by Madeline Blais, the kind and supportive Dean of Students mentioned in the book) walking down the Iron Bridge to find a spot to cheer on his wife. Thinking I could not pass up this chance to tell him something I’d wanted to say for over 20 years, I ran past dozens of other spectators, skipping and side-stepping around and out of the way of people so I could keep moving and keep him in sight. I finally caught up and said “Dana,” loudly enough to be sure he heard but not so loudly to attract attention, and he turned around. “Bill,” he said, that familiar slow, warm smile spreading over his face. After we caught up up on our lives for a few minutes, I said, “Well, I just needed to tell you that I’ve been trying my whole life to do for kids what you did for us. You treated us like people, and it meant the world.”

He tilted his head and another familiar expression came over his face as he said, “Well, you were people.”

About a week ago, my Humanities 7 students were talking before class started, and they brought up the fact that a number of teachers are moving on this year. One of them, Hank Mixsell, is wrapping up a long and successful career in which he made a positive difference in the lives of countless students; others, such as Kayla Burke, Michele Berdela, and Mandi Repoli, are at the other end of long and successful careers etc. and are moving to be with fiancés and significant others or because they’ve wrapped up their internships here. The kids have connected to every one, and at an age where so much in their own lives may seem to be changing and unstable, changes in teachers can be scary. They talked back and forth about ideas for what they hoped for in new teachers next year, and in the end asked me with heartbreaking earnestness, “Please, just find us a teacher who will love us.” I assured them that the one inviolable principle I hold in hiring new teachers is they they know, understand, and genuinely like middle school kids, and they looked at least somewhat relieved.

I mentioned this moment on the ISED-L listserv, and several people very kindly wrote in to say how wonderful our school sounded and how lucky those kids were.

That was the theme of many conversations during our recent Spring Family Weekend, and the dominant sentiment behind many of the student-led conferences I witnessed Saturday morning. One teacher asked me how my morning had gone, and I said, “Well, I spent the whole morning just sitting and listening to kids talk about how much they had learned this year and what they wanted to keep working on while their parents looked on and smiled. So I’d say it was a pretty good morning.” There were the usual tear-inducing moments when the depth of learning, connection, and self-awareness the kids were showing so simply and matter-of-factly left me feeling overwhelmed.

One of the things these kids talk about openly, and with far more insight and nuance than many people would expect, is the notion that they are still growing up. It is at once a comforting reassurance that they are normal, an uncomfortable reminder that they do still have some growing up yet to do, and ultimately a simple fact of their existence. This is just one of the many ways I can relate to them. I don’t mean just through remembering my own teenage years, though goodness knows I do and I had my share of moments of immaturity. No, I mean the concept that however mature I may be now, I am less mature than I will be. I’m sure if I live to be 100, I’ll look back at something my 95-year-old self did and just shake my head. It’s part of the human condition.

And in our joint humanity, my students and I, we all simply go forward and do our best, with the confidence that comes from genuine respect and deep connections. It’s almost…

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Nails in the Coffin?

As many of you may know, and to no one’s surprise who follows women’s basketball, Brittney Griner, a 6’8” Senior from Baylor, was the first player to be chosen in the 2013 WNBA draft and will play for the Phoenix Mercury. With only three rounds and only 12 teams drafting, very few players are invited to attend in person, but of course Ms. Griner was there, all smiles, in a white tuxedo.

Two days later, during the course of an interview with “Sports Illustrated,” Ms. Griner was asked why she felt sexuality was no big deal in women’s sports. She responded, “I really couldn’t give an answer on why that’s so different. Being one that’s out, it’s just being who you are.” Asked if making the decision to come out had been difficult, she said, “It really wasn’t too difficult, I wouldn’t say I was hiding or anything like that. I’ve always been open about who I am and my sexuality. So, it wasn’t hard at all.” Though the interview received a fair amount of attention on social media, it received attention more for the low-key “no big deal” feeling to the moment than for the news itself. As Wesley Morris said in his article “Brittney Griner and the Quiet Queering of Professional Sports,” “Maybe it was amazing for its utter whateverness.”

Mr. Morris continued to point out that Ms. Griner had painted her fingernails “a shade of orange that might have been awkward had she been picked up by, say, the Atlanta Dream instead of the Mercury.” To him, the combination of the nail polish and the tux emphasized that Ms. Griner was not playing dress-up but was simply expressing who she is. In his eyes, this is simply the confirmation of a quiet revolution, what he calls “the small but increasing genderlessness in professional sports.” He continues to affirm that “This younger generation of gay athletes — accustomed to degrees of cultural, social, and legal inclusion — better knows the relative personal normalcy of being gay than the crisis and melodrama of telling the world you’ve been living a lie. More and more straight ones have gay friends, classmates, cousins, siblings, and parents.”

The discussion may get a bit tricky when you consider that sexuality and gender aren’t the same thing, though of course, for most people, they are related. And of course, fashion is only significant to the extent that a person deliberately chooses their appearance to reflect their true authentic selves. But Mr. Morris’s fundamental hypothesis – that while we might have been expecting the closet to be smashed open in men’s sports, perhaps the revolution may have already been quietly going on for a while as shown by a certain breaking of gender-based fashion rules – is intriguing. Certainly, if the world of men’s professional sports can embrace gay people wholly and unequivocally, that has the potential to create a major shift in public opinion – one which has also, it must be acknowledged, already been taking place slowly but surely for some time.

And maybe women’s sports are indeed showing the way.

The Humanities 7 class, at one point last Fall, was considering holding a “Come as you are” day. They abandoned the idea for two principal reasons. One, that several people were concerned it might not be taken seriously and become just another excuse to wear sweatpants. Two, that several people were confused as to why anyone wouldn’t “come as you are” in the first place. Their honesty and self-confidence were both refreshing. For Brittney Griner, too, it seems, every day is a “Come as you are” day. Maybe those orange fingernails are helping close the lid on homophobia. Maybe transphobia will meet the same fate soon after.

And maybe my students and their generation will help nail the lid shut.

Once and for all.

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

Echoes of Silence

In the echoing silence, I thought I could hear closet doors that had opened a crack softly but quickly shutting again. We were at a faculty professional development session on supporting lesbian and bisexual students, and an earnest young houseparent had just explained to the facilitator that we didn’t have any issues around sexuality among the faculty and staff because no one was gay. Seriously? I thought to myself. How could we even know? Just because no one has dared come out?

We did find a way to end up having a productive session that day, and by the end of the year, the first two students I can remember from my first 12 years at this school had indeed found the courage to come out as lesbian. This was during the years when graduating Seniors offered a present to the Head of School, and following the theme set for that school year, the Class of 1997 each offered Patrick Collins their own “Book of You” as a way to remember their individual voice at the school. In a gesture that showed how far we had come in less than a year, one of those students offered Mr. Collins The Joy of Lesbian Sex.

Seven years later, when Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, Lisa Ganci, our bookstore manager, and her then-partner were the second couple in line at the Northampton Town Hall waiting to get their marriage license at the stroke of midnight. She shared the overwhelming joy of that moment with the school during Housemeeting, speaking movingly about how lucky she felt to work here in a place where she could feel completely safe and supported.

Seven years after that, one of the Seniors came out to the school in another housemeeting, announcing that he was transgender, explaining what name he was using and what pronouns should be used. We faculty had prepared for that moment, with our Mission and Diversity Statements as a guide, and following that housemeeting met in advisory groups to process the announcement. My own group of seventh and eighth graders took the news completely in stride, perhaps in part because three of their families already knew transgender people who had come out. One of my students asked if we were still a girls school, and I said yes, we were still a girls school – with one boy.

Time and time again, I read that one major contributing factor to the sea change in attitude in this country toward homosexuality has been the increasing numbers of people coming out. Suddenly, from the perspective of heterosexuals anyway, gay people weren’t this strange “other”; they were your neighbour, your uncle, your sister. They were people who led perfectly ordinary lives but who happened to be inclined to fall in love with other people of their own gender.

There remains some confusion about bisexuals, and even more confusion about transgender people. If the existence of gay people challenges the notion that men invariably fall in love with women and women invariably fall in love with men, at least the notion of “invariably fall in love with a specific gender” remains in place. Bisexual people and transsexuals further challenge that binary concept of gender, and of course other transgender people just blow it apart. I often read that, as more and more bisexual and transgender people begin to come out, people will increasingly be able to understand the normalcy of these ways of being, and they will be increasingly accepted in society for exactly who they are.

This is why it’s worth taking some time each year as we observe the Day of Silence to think about how far we’ve come, how far we still have to go, and how we get there. The more we break the silence about the full range of genders and sexualities, the easier it will be for people throughout that range to simply be their true authentic selves in public as well as in private.

That’s not to say that we don’t have a long road ahead of us. Thomas Beatie, a trans man who first gained fame during his pregnancy, recently had an appeal to divorce turned down because his marriage was not recognized by his home state. A gay person was handcuffed and forcibly removed from the hospital bedside of his dying partner. Smith College did not review an application from a trans woman because some of the documents she submitted defined her as male; in that context, note that the crazy quilt of laws in this country mean that some people are considered to be different genders in different states. Furthermore, some marriages that are legal in one state may not be recognized in another, and some marriages that are legal in one state may continue to be recognized in another… until one or both people in the couple take a particular action.

To be clear, I’m not arguing about specific religious attitudes toward LBGT people; each religion of course has the right to define their own values, and I fully respect that. Some religions embrace and support LGBT people, others consider it a sin and love and respect them anyway, and then there’s the Westboro Baptist Church. As for me, I fully support anyone who loves and respects all human beings, and I fully resist anyone who refuses to do so.

And that means speaking out into the silence. I regret to this day that I did not react to that earnest young houseparent’s remark, understanding that she no doubt meant well, but specifically working to create a context where those closet doors might open back up a little. I am relieved that they did, and proud of our school for the progress we have made over the last 16 years.

It used to be that, in speaking of puberty, we would say “Oh, she’ll be getting interested in boys,” and most girls would expect that would happen. We’re getting to the point when most people realize that outcome is the most likely – but not certain; as I’ve written before, fully a third of our students reported in a survey given by Life Skills 8 students that they “weren’t sure yet” of their sexuality. I sense, too, that students are aware that it is possible that another student will come out as transgender during their time here. In all cases, I sense various levels of confusion around what all possible genders and sexualities mean but also a sincere desire to work through that confusion in order to be able to accept everyone who is a part of our community.

With all that, though, I am well aware that every single member of the community has their own perceptions of the climate of our school, and they may not match. Do echoes of silence remain here and if so, what can we do to fill that silence? And how will this play out for our students once they’ve graduated?

This, then, is the ongoing work we must think of not only on this Day of Silence, but also throughout the year.

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Gender Matters

You could say I was frustrated. On the way home from Virginia on Sunday, April 7, at a gas station near Scranton, I had downloaded first the CBS Sports app and then the ESPN Sports app, but was unable to tune in to the UConnNotre Dame game. Baseball, NBA, and discussions about baseball and the NBA – and men’s college basketball – abounded across my virtual dial. However, nowhere could I find a live broadcast of the women’s Division-I basketball semi-final game even though it featured one of the premier rivalries in sports.

Shaking my head, I sent out a general tweet asking my friends to keep me informed of the half-time and final scores, started up my car, and got back on the road. Jeremy Deason, our former Athletic Director, and Susie Highley, a middle school teacher friend from Indiana, would both oblige, updating me every 10 basketball minutes or so. I knew Liz Feeley, our Director of Development and a former Notre Dame coach, had been nervous with excitement and anticipation all day, and I decided if only one of us was to be able to experience the game firsthand, it should be her. She must have been experiencing her own frustration, though, since Notre Dame ended up falling to UConn by nearly 20 points, a highly atypical margin from two teams who had produced a one-point game, a triple-overtime game, and a two-point game over the course of the season (all three games going to Notre Dame).

And so it was that Tuesday night, April 9, I was sitting with my legs stretched out on the couch, my computer balanced on my lap as I worked on my preps, my cat scrunched between my legs with her chin on my ankles, my lucky Connecticut Sun cap on my head, watching the pre-game show with an edge of excitement and anticipation. They were profiling Louisville’s star point guard Shoni Schimmel, and in my haze of trying to think what might be a fun activity for my French 2 class to learn the new imparfait tense, I heard one announcer mention that at age six, she was playing with boys. I looked up half-curious, half-perturbed, to see where they would go with this inane insight. Luckily, they dropped that line of thought quickly and focused on her career and her accomplishments. But the moment left me thinking.

Recently, there was a bit of controversy over a statement by Mark Cuban that he would consider drafting Brittney Griner, the 6’8” Baylor senior who has dominated the game from her freshman year, for his NBA team the Mavericks. Part of the controversy, of course, was whether she was genuinely good enough to play in the NBA. But another part of the controversy was whether or not she should even try. Some people felt she should go for it, making the point that there are women good enough to play with the guys. Others felt she should go for it, making the point that one should follow one’s opportunities wherever they lead. Still others felt she should stick to the WNBA, a lifelong dream of hers and one of the premier women’s leagues in the world, adding the cachet that a player of her quality can bring even to a well-established league with many stars.

Pat Summitt, the retired coach of the women’s basketball team at the University of Tennessee, accumulated 1098 victories during her career, more than any other Division-I basketball coach. From time to time, the question would come up: Could she coach men? The general consensus was divided between two opinions – one the one hand, people believing that of course she could coach men, and on the other hand, people wondering what the heck kind of question is that anyway?! Because after all, she is the winningest coach in history. She loved her job, she loved her players, and she was proud of what they accomplished. She has nothing to prove. And besides, the question suggests that coaching men is tougher and/or somehow more important than coaching women. Granted, the men’s game is awash in much more money than the women’s game, and coaches (and, at the professional level, players) make much more on the men’s side. But that’s just money and has nothing to do with actual importance.

That said, as women’s basketball gains in respect and in financial resources, more and more men are drawn to coaching women, and the percentage of women coaches has fallen even as no woman to my knowledge has yet coached a men’s team at the Division-I college or professional level. That is a disparity worth noting – and worth correcting.

Recently, browsing through a Barnes and Noble bookstore, I picked up Pat Summitt’s autobiography, Sum it Up: A Thousand and Ninety-Eight Victories, a Couple of Irrelevant Losses, and a Life in Perspective. In it, she describes a moment when she was doing a question-and-answer session and one person asked her “How do you coach women?” She fixed him with her Gaze and responded with perhaps a tinge of scorn, “You don’t coach women, you coach basketball.”

I remember taking my son and my nephew to their first WNBA game, the Connecticut Sun vs. the Phoenix Mercury right after Phoenix had taken UConn alumna Diana Taurasi in the draft. I can still picture the moment. Standing right in front of us, Taurasi caught a pass and redirected the ball toward a teammate in one impossibly quick flick of her fingertips. My nephew turned to me and excitedly asked, “Who is that?” (My son already knew.)

Good basketball is indeed good basketball, whoever plays it and whoever coaches it, and anyone I know who has truly given the women’s game a chance has enjoyed it. Yet, for most fans, and apparently for most pro team owners and college presidents (who hire coaches), gender still matters. That Shoni Schimel played with boys at age six should be entirely beside the point. Whether or not Pat Summitt could have coached men should be entirely beside the point. Whether or not Brittney Griner could play in the NBA should be entirely beside the point. Someday, maybe that will be true. Maybe then, CBS Sports and ESPN will see the wisdom of giving women’s sports equal weight.

And maybe then, cars passing me on the highway near Scranton will be able to hear me yelling every time UConn scores.

P.S. For those who don’t already know and who may be curious, UConn did win the championship, beating Louisville 93-60. This tied coach Geno Auriemma with Pat Summitt for eight championships, the record in women’s ball and two behind overall NCAA Division-I record holder John Wooden.

P.P.S. For those who may be interested, here is a link to the Pat Summitt Foundation which raises money to fight Alzheimer’s Disease.

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Filed under Athletics, Gender, In the Classroom, On Athletics, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School, Women in media

Once You Get to Know Them

It was Monday, April 15, 2013. Tax Day. Patriot’s Day. And a normal school day at Stoneleigh-Burnham. During Morning Announcements in my Humanities 7 class, the notion came up that Patriots’ Day was a day off for most residents of Massachusetts and Maine and, after some good-natured grumbling, the students got down to work. Out of a class of 10, seven students wanted to read from their independent writing, and the entire class listened carefully and patiently to over an hour’s worth of readings, bringing insight and empathy to their comments and suggestions. The rest of the period continued in the same vein, and later on my French 2 students would be similarly willing to work to understand at a deep level how you distinguish when to use the imparfait and when to use the passé composé instead.

Following this class, I went to Reception to meet the students who were travelling with me to volunteer at the Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society. As we loaded up the car, one of the girls mentioned there had been some sort of an explosion in Boston and, thinking of the Boston Marathon and my cousins who were running in it and my brother who often is involved with it, I lent them my phone when one of theirs died so they could look up what happened. They stuck to the facts, which were still sketchy at the time – two explosions, some injuries – and we moved on to talk about other things.

Unfortunately, no one was at the animal shelter when we got there; they must have assumed we would have Patriots’ Day off like most other schools. The kids remained cheerful, I told them on the bright side from my perspective I enjoyed spending time with them on the car ride, and we headed back to the school. Talk turned to the song “Accidental Racist” and the controversy surrounding it, and once again the girls turned to their phones to pull up information that would get them facts. From what they could tell, the song didn’t seem so bad. Focusing on lyrics like “I guess we’re both guilty of judgin’ the cover not the book / I’d love to buy you a beer, conversate and clear the air,” they felt that that the singers, Brad Paisley and LL Cool J, really wanted to look past surface appearances and get to know each other better. From the few lyrics I had heard, I agreed. (By the way, “Why ‘Accidental Racist’ is Actually Just Racist” in “the Atlantic” gives a superb analysis; I wish I’d read it, or listened to the song, before the car ride.)

There was nothing accidental about the racism I was to encounter that evening when I got home and caught up on the horrific events in Boston and people’s reactions through my Twitter and Facebook feeds. Beneath the torrent of facts, thoughts, and prayers ran a disturbing undercurrent; Logan James, who runs the Twitter account “Yes, You’re Racist” was working overtime retweeting deeply offensive remarks about President Obama, Black people and Arabs. At one point, Mr. James paused to comment: “Currently experiencing one of the highest rates of racist tweets about President Obama I’ve seen since the election #StayClassyAmerica” A little later on, Elon James White, who runs the program “This Week in Blackness,” signed on to Twitter. Clearly deeply angry, he began to retweet his own selection of deeply offensive and racist sentiments. At several points, people commented on their despair for the future of the country, as for example one person who wrote: “not sure if I should laugh, ignore or argue. The young seem a lost cause.”

A lost cause? Not the kids I know. Heaven knows there are vicious racists out there among young people as well as among the adults they are most likely emulating. But the kids I know believe what’s on the surface doesn’t matter, that you have to learn to get past initial impressions and truly get to know people, that racism is wrong, that sexism is wrong, that (to paraphrase Ferris Bueller) ism’s in general are not good. They care for and respect each other, and bring a dignity to their interactions.

They’re the kind of kids who can’t begin to understand why someone would set two bombs to go off in a location where they might kill an eight-year-old boy and injure a two-year-old, and the kind of kids who can’t begin to understand how a conversation about a horrific tragedy could disintegrate so quickly into petty partisan politics, reckless racist remarks, and the complete dismissal of an entire generation.

So while I understand why people might want to give up on young people, I beg to differ. Indeed, in one of my catch phrases, “They’re really nice, once you get to know them.” I wish more people could. They might be able to go to sleep with some degree of hopefulness and optimism even after a day like today.

And now that this is written, I shall too.

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Incontestably Human

Recently, one of my Facebook friends posted that she was riding in a taxi when the driver told her, “You know, you’re very lovely, very classy for a black lady.” Flabbergasted (her word), she responded, “Well, I’m sure you THOUGHT that was a compliment, so thank you.” During the Facebook conversation that followed this retelling, one of her friends commented, “Educating people out of their disillusion, fear, and stereotyping is a difficult thing, no?”

Yes, it is. And perhaps especially so with racism, since our country has evolved to the point where most people become deeply hurt, offended, and/or angry if someone calls them, or something they said, racist. That already complicates things enough when you’re talking about someone’s individual views, actions, and statements, but when someone, perhaps even someone who is deeply anti-racist, believes, does, or says something that is completely well intentioned but which is steeped in systemic racism, it can become almost impossible to start a discussion.

Interestingly, while sexism is also a huge problem in our country, I’m not sure the same level of tension always exists when attempting to start a conversation about a specific incident whether rooted in individual beliefs or infused by a systemic sexism. And that brings us to a recent incident at Phillips Academy, an independent high school commonly known as Andover as it is located in that Massachusetts town.

For me, it began with Soraya Chemaly (a Huffington Post writer on gender issues who, it turns out, attended Andover) tweeting a link to an editorial in “The Phillipian,” the school’s student newspaper, entitled “Not Post-Gender Yet.” I read it, loved it, and retweeted it. The author of the editorial, a sophomore named Grace Tully, began by stating common misconceptions of what a feminist is and affirming the need to break down those (mostly negative) stereotypes, stating: “It is our job as a generation to change that.” She wrote of the historical silencing of women and the ongoing issue of sexual objectification. Looking at a recent and ongoing controversy on her campus, she noted the issue of “a latent fear that the empowerment of women will result in the disempowerment of men.” In the end, she argued, “The fight for gender equality should not be limited to any specific orientation, political party, culture, religion or sex. It is an incontestably human fight that should encompass us all.”

The controversy at Andover to which Ms. Tully was referring involves elections for the Student Council co-presidents. Since the 1973 merger between the all-male Phillips Academy and the all-female Abbot Academy, the school has had only four female presidents. In what is commonly thought to be an attempt to address this issue, this year’s Student Council implemented a structural change in which pairs of students would run as co-presidents. The finalists included one team of two boys and one team of a boy and a girl. Thus, when a letter to the editor of “The Phillipian” dated March 1, 2013 asked students to “Keep in mind long term consequences—the pair you select could set a precedent and break down any remaining barriers for both boys and girls to run in the future,” tensions around issues of gender and fairness ignited.

Katherine Q. Seelye, in preparation for writing the “New York Times” article “School Vote Stirs Debate on Girls as Leaders,” spoke to a number of students to get their takes on the situation. Many of the girls felt that “previous generations of women had broken down important legal barriers, but today’s struggle was against a less overt sexism that was embedded in cultural attitudes.” (Seelye) As Jinq Qu, an 18-year-old Senior, observed “The access has been achieved, but the equality in terms of roles has not.” Meanwhile, Daniel Feeny, a 16-year-old student, said he had been raised with feminist values and added “It’s surprising to me to get here and see women say they are still treated unfairly.” The phrasing is key here – is the surprise purely that women are claiming unfair treatment, or is it also that women are in fact treated unfairly?

Daniel’s situation brings up what many of this year’s 8th graders in our school have told me about their experience. They believe strongly that, as girls, they are being taken seriously and genuinely encouraged to use and develop their voices. Their concern is what will happen in the outside world once they graduate. How will they develop the resilience, persistence, and assertiveness necessary to survive in a world that, like it or not, is still sexist?

Meanwhile, one of our faculty members shared a link to the “New York Times” article on our email system, intending to provoke (and succeeding in provoking) further thought on the notion of girls and leadership. And in point of fact, in recent years, our own school has not had vast multitudes of candidates for the position of President of Student Council even though, by definition, we know a girl is going to win.

Examine for a moment of your own reaction to the sentence you just read. What were you thinking? That girls need to push themselves in to leadership positions more often? That girls’ leadership styles need to be considered? That girls’ needs for connections can be both a blessing and a curse? That girls may have more difficulty being competitive than boys (for internal or external reasons)? That there may actually be non-gender-based reasons why more students don’t run for President of Student Council? Really, any or all of these reasons, and more, could conceivably explain it. It’s hard to tell for sure.

That’s how systemic sexism works. It sits there in the background, coloring our thoughts, making it difficult to sort out the truth, silently and invisibly confusing the matter and complicating efforts to work for equality. An anonymous commenter on the original letter to the editor seems to have nailed it: “Also, the issue of a lack of female leadership stretches far beyond Andover and is arguably (and unfortunately) the result of sentiments deeply rooted in our collective cultural psyche. Simply changing the election model and asking voters to favor male-female tickets does not address these sentiments, and frankly seems like an artificial way of speeding up a reform whose time has not yet come, and whose time will not come until deeper issues are dealt with.”

In other words, we need to fight Grace Tully’s fight. John Palfrey, Andover’s Head of School, set the context in saying, ” “We do not live in a post-gender, post-race, post-class society. Girls have not had equal access to top leadership positions.” The victorious candidates at Andover, Junious Williams and Clark Perkins, have said “During our presidency, we will host a series of campus-wide forums discussing gender equity in student leadership.” (both quotes from the article by Seelye) My son attended Andover and in my experience, when they decide to face up to something that needs attention, they make a genuine effort to follow through.

So let’s identify and discuss those deeper issues. Let’s deal with them. And, echoing the words of John Palfrey among many others, let’s have the courage to face up not to the work we have to do not only on sexism but also on racism. Let’s also acknowledge the role of classism in this country. The issues are, after all, interrelated.

You can’t change a society overnight. But you can start by changing, bit by bit, the parts of society that make up the whole. And when, one day, finally, even if it is (as Rachel Simmons implied earlier this year) after we are dead, we reach a critical mass of changed parts, we’ll suddenly discover that society itself will have been changed.

And that will be one happy day.

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Thank You, Public Schools

Thanks to John Norton of MiddleWeb for publishing this article by Bill Ivey and for granting us the right to publish a portion of it and link to the original.

Peter Gow, a college counselor at Beaver Country Day School and longtime virtual friend of mine, has recently been invited to write a regular blog for with an intriguing theme. Called “Independent Schools, Common Perspectives,” it is designed to explore the worlds of independent and public education and how they can strengthen each other. A refreshing concept and worthy goal.

In an entry entitled “Middle Schools: A Gift From the Public Education System,” he looks back to his own years in what those of us in independent education used to call “Junior Schools.” Those were the days when “independent schools were falling all over each other to turn their middle grades–five through eight, roughly–into middle schools.” Peter shares his own warm memories of working in middle schools, and, as the title implies, he explores the role of public schools in developing and promoting what has come to be known as the middle school model.

(continue reading)

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