Friday, October 5, 2012

The scary, silent P word

It sure was fun following the first  debate on TV and Twitter - Romney's inaccuracies; Obama's less-than-stellar performance.  The Big Bird jokes alone, made it worth the time.

But, two days later, I still can't shake my morning-after feeling of disappointment. How in the world were these two powerful men able to debate for a full 90 minutes about the US domestic economy without even uttering a word about poverty?

An excellent education blogger, Jersey Jazzman, refers to America's Invisible Poor Children.  We have the highest child poverty rate in the developed world.  Nearly 25% of our children are growing up in poverty. Are we really OK with that? 

In my experience, well, yes, most of us are.  Most people I know go out of their way to avoid any contact with poverty.  It's not that hard to do: choose wealthier schools, avoid certain streets at night, join country clubs instead of community centers, live in nice neighborhoods.

Poverty is being ignored in education too.  Wisconsin is about to give each school a comparison "grade" - without any consideration for widely diverse demographics. This has been done before in other states. Not surprisingly, the poor schools get low grades.  The wealthier schools get high grades.

Yesterday, I had the afternoon off.  My son's school (68% poverty rate) was going on a field trip to a local community garden. At the last minute, the President decided to stop in Madison for a campaign speech. I toyed with the thought of going to see the President instead of spending the day with the kids.  A Presidential visit is once-in-a-lifetime, right?

In the end, I chose the kids.  And had the best afternoon I've had in years.  Because behind the childhood poverty statistics are some amazing, incredible, curious, energetic and all-around awesome kids. (And let it be known that they are being taught by amazing, incredible, and all-around awesome teachers, too.)

The President and Gov. Romney may be able to ignore them, but I can't.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Low performing schools - or not?

I read the story in Mother Jones today (yes, we actually subscribe in print) and cried.  Really:  tears, streaming down my face.  THIS is my kid's school.  Except substitute "Wisconsin" for "California" and "middle school" or "elementary" for "high school."

Most people in my neighborhood flee to private schools.  Or "open enroll" to a whiter, richer public school in Madison.  

For a multitude of reasons, we have stuck with our diverse, low-income schools.  And we have loved them.  More than loved.  Seriously, some of the Teachers and Principals we have met along they way have been life-changing figures in our lives.  I keep a running list in my brain of the 10 most influential people in my life - the people who inspire me to be a better human.  The people who make me work harder for all that matters in the world.   Currently, 6 of them are from one of the kids' schools.  (And I'm related to the other four....)

Registration is tomorrow.  Yes, we have another round of neighbors fleeing our school.  But this year, I'm not going to feel sad about that.  This year, I'm going to post this Mother Jones article on my bulletin board and continue my inspired fight for education for ALL.

Monday, April 23, 2012

But pineapples don't have sleeves!

This started out as a comment on Ed Hughes' fabulous school board blog.  (And if you live in Madison, you absolutely need to be reading that blog - He does a wonderful job of keeping the rest of us up to date on local education issues.)

Disclaimer:  my children do very well on standardized tests.  They come by this honestly.  My entire family does very well on standardized tests.  We have never met a scan-tron sheet that we didn't love at first sight.

But guess what?  It doesn't really matter!  If standardized tests were an accurate prediction of life success, my sister and I would currently be President (her) and Vice President (me)....her tests were always a percentile higher than mine, you see.  Or we would have invented Google or Facebook or a cure for cancer or something.

But we're not.  She's living in Alaska, saving the environment.  And I'm living in Madison, working, raising kids and going to too many school board meetings.  We both have very average lives. Lovely lives, for sure.  (But truly not 99th percentile lives, if one is measuring value by career or economic success.)

I very much want to defend standardized tests.  Left to my own world experiences, I would argue passionately that standardized tests were quite obviously the one and only measurement of pure intelligence.

But.  It isn't true.  The more I experience life outside of my own sheltered view, the more I am quite sure that isn't the case.

I've been following the story of the sleeveless pineapple all week and it just gets better and better. 

I've come to the conclusion that most of these tests don't really measure anything beyond how one manages to manipulate the test.

The one area in which I have been most disappointed in Obama has been education and his insistence that more testing is the answer to all our ills.  (Looks like I'm not alone - Matt Damon seems to agree.)

Why the emphasis and focus on standardized testing? Seriously. We already grade our children.  Why can't the grades speak for themselves?  Do we have such little trust in our teachers that we need some testing company to swoop in and charge us a ton of money and tell us our kids are super smart?  (or super dumb, as the case may be?)

In the past, I've defended standardized testing.  Now, I'm not so sure.

And finding out the story was really about an eggplant?!  Now, that was the last straw.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Jacket

I hosted a birthday party last night for my 'Little'.   I piled her friends into the minivan and headed to the local roller rink.

After a rough start (locating 14 year old girls who living in various apt. complexes turns out to be harder than it sounds,) we all arrived in the designated party room, ready to have a fabulous evening.

The excitement and laughter were brought quickly to a halt when a manager of the rink rushed over and proceeded to interrogate the birthday girl, claiming that someone who wore the "same color jacket" as she had on caused trouble the previous weekend.  Evidently someone with this same color jacket had started a fight.  Police were called.  She was banned from the rink for 6 months.

The rink management assumed that my little was this troublemaker.  As they accused her of being a criminal, I saw her fold a thousand times over inside herself to the place she goes when this happens.  (And yes, dear white liberal friends....this happens. a lot.)

I intervened, of course.  Explained that this must be a case of mistaken identity.  Explained that the girl they were accusing had never been in a fight in her life.  Explained that they were with me.  Explained that we were there under our BB/BS relationship.  Explained that this was a birthday party.

The rink management quickly backtracked and couldn't have been more gracious.  They explained that she looked a lot like this other girl.  (And again, they mentioned that both girls had the same color jacket.)  They were wonderful hosts for the remainder of the evening.

The jacket in question was light grey.  It was a very stylish jacket - cropped with short puffy sleeves.  My Little hopes for a career in the fashion industry and pays a lot of attention to her clothing.  She may have a very limited budget, but she always looks amazing.

We put it behind us and ended up having a fabulous time.  We rocked that roller rink.

Midway through the party, I noticed her jacket crumpled up and stuffed in the corner of the box that held our shoes.  With every fiber of my being, I wanted to rescue the jacket and go to her and tell her to put it back on and wear it proudly because she is beautiful and young and stylish and awesome.

But I didn't.  I left the jacket crumpled in the shoe box.  I think it may still be there.

Because we both know that this incident wasn't about the color of her jacket.  It was about the color of her skin.

We have a long way to go.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Something to like: A big 5 year anniversary

A lot happened in 2007.

In 2007, the iPhone was introduced (and immediately purchased chez Nelson, propagating an addiction to all things Apple.)

In 2007, we were told our 13-year-old cat was about to die, so we went out and got two adorable kittens. (Needless to say, we lived in a three cat household for the next 5 years...)

  His sister, not so much.
In 2007, Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize.  (I still don't think he should have, but that's an argument for another day.)

in 2007, Mitt Romney was running for President.  (Oh wait, that is still happening.)

In 2007, Son D was obsessed with baseball.  (Oh, again, still happening)

But hands down, the single most important thing that happened in 2007 was my match with my Little Sister through BB/BS. 

A. is my third match.  Honestly, I wasn't going to do another one.  I'd done two already - isn't that enough?  Like most people, I have an incredibly busy life with a job and kids and a home and plenty of other volunteer opportunities.

But then I met A. You would have to be a stone not to fall madly in love with her. She was an amazing 9-year-old elementary school student - vivacious and curious about everything in life.  I was hooked.

Over the last 5 years, we've had a lot of fun together. Lots of life lessons on both sides.

Something remarkable happens at the 5-year mark. I think it must happen in every relationship, whether it is a marriage or a friendship or a BB/BS match.

At 5 years, you become kindred spirits. By then, you know each so well: you know every one of each others flaws...and yet love each other hopelessly anyway. You've laughed. You've cried. Ups, downs, boredom, difficulties, thrills - you've had them all.  At 5 years, you are matched in your heart and soul.

After 5 years, I could not be prouder of the 14-year-old young woman she has become. 

I won't post a recent photo to respect her privacy, but just imagine the strongest, most beautiful, kindest girl you can imagine who sings like Whitney Houston and smiles like Mona Lisa.  Yep, that's her.

It occurs to me that 5 years in the future, it will be 2017 and I will be sending her off to college. She'll be the first in her family to attend college.  Because of BB/BS and the scholarships/opportunities available to her through this program, she WILL attend college.

Can I ask you a favor?  If you've read this far?  Please click on the link to BB/BS of Dane County's Facebook page  and "like" them.  A wonderful company (Capitol Insurance) has offered to donate $1 for every "like" they get. 1,000 likes will give them the ability to make another match! 1,000 likes will give some other lucky soul the life-changing amazing experience that I have had.

What's not to like about that?