Archive | Education

How do we raise “global citizens” ?

“Global citizen” is a phrase I’m hearing a lot lately. That’s what we’re all supposed to be aiming towards–at least, those of us who didn’t vote for “Brexit” or aren’t in favor of the Trumpian wall.  It’s what is supposed to happen when you move to another country and raise your kids outside their “own” culture (whatever that means); it’s supposed to be what happens to the so-called “third culture kids.”

I have my doubts, sometimes, about whether this global citizenship thing is really possible. That’s what I’m writing out this week in the World Moms Network and you can check it out here. Let me know what you think: is global citizenship possible? And if so, how do we create that mindset?

Continue Reading · on July 6, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, Children, Education, growing up, Kids, World Moms Blog

Commencement Time, or what does a dinosaur have to do with the liberal arts?

It’s graduation time all over the US and in Abu Dhabi, NYUAD students are readying themselves for the same ritual.  And as students prepare to march across all manner of stages and listen to all manner of speeches, it seems appropriate to think about what we want our kids to study at school… that’s what I’m writing about in The National today.

 

photo credit: http://jurassicpark.wikia.com/wiki/Forum:Cloning_dinosaurs

 

Continue Reading · on May 22, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, Education, NYUAD, The National, UAE

Gender Gap in Silicon Valley…

So the other day I was reading The New Yorker — the actual magazine, not the tablet version. I hate reading magazines electronically. They force me to read chronologically, when for me some of the joy of reading a magazine is flipping through the pages and reading whatever I want, in whichever order. Yes, that means I’m always about two weeks behind, but hey — if you want to know what the hot restaurants were in late October, I’m totally your gal.

Anyway. So the other day, there was a short article about the gender gap in Silicon Valley, written by James Surowiecki.  Titled “Valley Boys,” the article described what we all already know: the leadership in the digital world is overwhelmingly male. Sorry Sheryl, it seems that leaning in isn’t getting the job done. Screen Shot 2014-11-29 at 10.17.25 AMThe article sketched out some of what is being done in an attempt to change this problem, which is, in fact a problem.  At the end of the article, Surowiecki cites an oft-cited study by McKinsey, which found that “organizations with the most diverse executive teams had dramatically higher returns on equity and earnings performance than those with the least diverse teams.”

Want a higher return on your investments? Invest with the company whose board doesn’t look like a poster for the Old White Guys society. Wait, what’s that you say? That’s what most of the Republican party looks like?  Er… well, ‘Murrica, hope you’re not expecting a quality return on that particular mid-term investment.

But I digress.

The next article in the magazine was titled “The Programmer’s Price,” by Lizzy Widdicombe, and focused on an agency whose specialty is hiring out computer programmers and techies.  Here’s the photo that ran with the article:

The agency 10x has nearly eighty clients, mostly in North America, though one codes from India and one from beaches in Thailand.

Nice-looking bunch of fellows, aren’t they? Especially the lad with the gingery tresses in the front.

So here’s my question: did the editors at the magazine intend for this piece to be a visual commentary on the “there are no women in tech” article? Or are we witnessing unintentional editorial irony?  There are no women in that picture and the only mention of women in the article is the fact that this digital talent agency only has three women on its roster, a fact that one of the agency’s owners says he is “bummed” about. Yeah. I’m sure the gender inequity is, like, totally a drag for him.  I’m sure that the  the women trying to break through the ranks of coding machismo in order to land one of the plum coding jobs (or should we say Apple jobs?)  are bummed about it too.

It’s no surprise to find irony in the pages of The New Yorker; I’m just not used to seeing the articles silently comment on one another in this fashion. I appreciate the irony–and realized too that if I had a daughter, she’d be learning to code.

 

 

 

Continue Reading · on November 29, 2014 in Children, Education, Feminism, tech life, Uncategorized

happy birthday, gloria steinem. I wish you didn’t matter.

Gloria Steinem spoke at my college graduation back in 1986.

At the time, as a graduate of a woman’s college, I thought to myself “oh good lord, her. Couldn’t they find someone more relevant?”  It was the era of “divest now” and “free Mandela;” we’d just spent four years at a single-sex college where “gender issues” were as pervasive as the scent of the clove cigarettes many of us smoked.

Yes, it was the mid-1980s: there were shoulder pads, bad perms, Billy Idol on the radio, and we all smoked like our lives depended on it.  We thought that abortion rights were sacrosanct and that surely there would be a woman president before we turned 30, which was about as old as any of us could imagine being.

Now I’m fifty and Gloria, omigod, is eighty and we all of us, men and women, should hope that we do eighty the way that Gloria is doing eighty. Because her eighty would exhaust my fifty, that’s what I gotta say about that.

But how wrong was I—about so many things — lo those many years ago: we’ve recovered from clove cigarettes, bad perms, Billy Idol, and shoulder pads–but women still don’t earn equal pay for equal work.  Mandela was freed, apartheid was overthrown — but the statistics for sexual violence against women in South Africa and elsewhere in the world continue to rise.  We’ve seen the erosion of abortion rights in the U.S. and elsewhere; we’ve seen health care programs for poor women and their families slashed from state budgets.

And ironically, on the same day I was reading gossip on the internet researching very important researchy things, I saw an article on Jezebel about New York State’s new educational guidelines, which have been overhauled to fit with the new Common Core History Curriculum.

I know, I know, it sounds so totally exciting!  But you have to understand: I’m a literature professor. I actually like to think about things like “curriculum” and “reading lists” and “rubrics.” Well, okay, not so much rubrics, but the other stuff? Love it.

So I read the article and here’s the gist: in the pages devoted to all the elements that students in high school will have to learn about US and Global history, would you like to know how many women get name-checked? About seven.  Would you be shocked to find out that on the lists of What You Should Know there are many, many more men?  Jezebel doesn’t connect the dots they way I do, though, in their discussion of the women who are mentioned on this list: Mary Wollstonecraft, Ida Tarbell, Ida B. Wells, Jane Addams, Margaret Sanger, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Beecher Stowe.  All of them are writers and reformers. None of them are, you know, world leaders.

I’m just wondering … if you’re talking about English history, I’m thinking that Liz I (Tudor, not Taylor) might be a name to consider; ditto Isabella of Span, who I guess maybe didn’t do anything except, I don’t know, bankroll the guy who stumbled into North AmericaAnd what about in the category of “imperialism?” Dontcha think maybe Queen Victoria might have warranted a mention?She’s got an entire era named after her bad dowager self.

A person could read through this list and come away thinking that women have never been involved with any aspect of world governance, anywhere in the world, at any point in time.

I realize lists like these can fuel the “what about” arguments for days; I’ve fought with myself about what to include or leave out, as I write syllabi for my classes (upside? I always win the fight).  I am sure that these guidelines are the product of hours, months, maybe years of people meeting and talking and yelling, of sending endless emails back and forth, of cutting-and-pasting and then cutting-and-pasting some more.  And I know these are “guidelines” and “conceptual” and not meant to be proscriptive or definitive or absolute.

And yet.

If I’m a busy, probably underpaid teacher (yes, I know, hard to imagine but just imagine, okay?) and I were being asked to re-vamp my curriculum for the next school year,  I might just scan these guidelines and zip zap zoop, add some names from the list, swap some titles on my current reading list for the ones mentioned here and be done with it.  Yes, we’d all hope for more thoughtful and considered revisions but I know how hard it is to write a syllabus and I know that it is really tough to teach a brand-new course, much less make sure that I can get all my students to pass a set of proscribed exams as a result of my brand-new course—all of which suggests that following the guidelines to the letter becomes really, really tempting.

That’s how “convnentional wisdom” starts, I think: not with conspiracy or patriarchal malice (okay, maybe a little of that), just an insidious, easily overlooked neglect, and then suddenly there we are (again): women do the soft stuff, men do the hard stuff; women write books and news articles, men write treaties and doctrines and foundational texts; women report on things, men do things.

Happy Birthday, Gloria.  I wish I’d been right, all those years ago: I wish you were irrelevant. But you’re not.

Gloria at my commencement

Continue Reading · on March 26, 2014 in aging, Education, Feminism, Gender, Politics

in defense of poetry, with apologies to Percy Shelley

I spent about six weeks this semester teaching and talking about poetry with my students.  Almost to a person, they started the term with “eh…I don’t much like poetry,” and “I don’t get poetry,” and “what the hell is poetry even about, anyway?”

All reasonable questions, I guess, for students who have grown up in a world where they almost never encounter poetry, other than in song lyrics or spoken-word events.  Poetry, they tell me, is intimidating; it doesn’t make sense; it’s too complicated; it’s weird.

Full disclosure: I spent most of high school and all of college writing poetry. Whenever I’d get too philosophical during those late-conversations about Life that seem only to happen between the ages of 18-22 and only between the hours of 12-4AM, my friends would say “oh go write a poem,” as a way to get me to be quiet.

I kept writing poetry even after college—-poetry workshops, sending things off to magazines, the whole deal—-and stopped only when I got to graduate school, which pretty much thrashed every creative bone out of my body. Took me decades to get the graduate school’s pinched-face editor in my head to stop saying things like “maudlin!” “derivative!” and “you call that writing?”

All of which is to say is that although I knew my students wouldn’t be excited about spending all this time reading poetry, I was looking forward to spending time with words, nothing but words.  Someone said once that poetry is language calling attention to itself, and while I think poetry can be much more than that, that idea isn’t a bad place to start.  Poetry gives us a chance to think about how words feel in our mouths and sound out loud; poetry’s language works by compressing, distilling, wringing an experience or idea to a kind of essence that works on us in ways that we might not ever really understand.

We roamed through Seamus Heaney’s “Digging,” in which a gun transforms to a spade transforms to a pen in the hand of the poet; we looked at John Donne’s “Batter my heart three person’d god,” in which faith becomes a kind of ravishment, a physical experience; we talked about the bleak beauty in some of Anna Akhmatova’s lines; and marveled at the incandescent anger of Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy.”  The students put aside “it’s weird,” or perhaps, actually, they began to embrace the weird; they let themselves roam around inside the poems and not insist on absolute meanings.  And I got, perhaps, a little carried away by the whole thing and put a sign on my office door that said “Today’s Poem,” and then every day, I would post a new poem — a famous poem, an obscure poem, prose poem, haiku, nabati lyric — all kinds of poems.

One of the poems I put on my door is Ezra Pound’s imagist poem about being in the French Metro, called, fittingly, “In a station of the metro.”  It reads like this:

The apparition       of these faces       in the crowd:
Petals      on a wet, black    bough.

And yes, that’s what it looks like on the page, and yes, that’s the entire poem.  And yes, it’s a little weird.

But you know? Think about being in a crowded subway station, on a rainy day. Think about the blur of faces. Now think about the blur of wet, say, cherry blossoms on a dark branch.

See?

In his essay “Defence of Poetry,” Percy Bysshe Shelley (every time I say his name in class someone giggles, and I totally get it), said “Reason is the enumeration of qualities already known; imagination is the perception of the value of those qualities, both separately and as a whole. Reason respects the differences, and imagination the similitudes of things. Reason is to imagination as the instrument to the agent, as the body to the spirit, as the shadow to the substance.”

I guess the student who scrawled this comment at the bottom of the Pound poem wanted to live in a world governed entirely by reason. That strikes me as incredibly limited, and not a little bit sad.

IMG_7485Doesn’t make sense. Quit wasting paper.

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Continue Reading · on November 13, 2013 in Books, Education, language, NaBloPoMo, reading, teaching, writing

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