Tag Archives | Education

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

Malls as far as the eye can see…but what about a science museum?

Today in The National, I’m writing about the speed with which Abu Dhabi is growing: everywhere you look, there are construction sites, cranes, earthmovers.  But the construction seems dedicated to malls and apartment buildings…I’m wondering whether someone couldn’t design a children’s science museum?  When it’s 44C in the shade, wouldn’t it be great to take the kids “science-ing” instead of shopping?  Click here to read the article–and let the newspaper hear your comments!

Continue Reading · on August 7, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, Education, expat, family, Kids, UAE

in which we discuss unicorns, world religions, and whether barack IS in fact a muslim

About two weeks ago, we got notification from the boys’ school that today, 17 June, would be a national holiday and the school would be closed.

National holidays on short notice. One of the perks of life in the U.A.E.

I’ll give you a minute to think about how parents in a large metropolitan area in the States, say New York, might react to a holiday delivered so casually. The brouhaha about banning soda would pale by comparison.

When the boys came home from school last week, excited for the long weekend, I asked them what holiday was being celebrated today.

Boys: It’s the day that Mohammed rode a unicorn to Jerusalem and met with all the prophets and they had like a prophet party.

Me: A unicorn?

Caleb, emphatic: Yes! Or maybe some other magical creature, no, no, Abdullah in my class said it was a unicorn. And that Mohammed met with God, too.

Me, again:  A unicorn?

Liam, patiently, the way one speaks to the elderly:  The word is buraq and that’s the word for unicorn or any magical creature.

Caleb, unconcerned about translation issues: What is a prophet, actually?

Me, realizing yet again that what my children don’t know about religion (any religion) would fill all the holy books, combined: Well, a prophet is a holy person who–

Liam: Noah was a prophet!

Me: Um…sort of, I guess, and some religions see Jesus as a prophet, but Christians see Jesus as the son of god–

Caleb: Whose idea was it to be Christians?

Me:  The followers of Jesus called themselves Christians but they were originally Jewish —

Boys: JESUS WAS JEWISH?

Me: Yes but in this part of the world–

Boys: Jesus was from ABU DHABI?

Me: No, but this part of the world, the Middle East, is where Islam, and Judaism, and Christianity all began, thousands of years ago.

Boys: So is Mohammed from Abu Dhabi?

Me: He was born in a place called Mecca, which is a holy city to Muslims, but he also lived in a place called Medina.

Caleb, getting at the heart of the issue: Did Jesus ever ride a unicorn?

Me: I don’t think there are unicorns in any Jesus stories. Just donkeys.

The boys are unimpressed. Unicorns are cool. Donkeys, not so much. The boys wander out of the room to worship at the altar of “Star Wars the Old Republic,” which is our household’s primary religion. I turn to my holy book in search of answers to questions about Mohammed and the unicorns.

Wikipedia, praised be its name, says that the unicorn holiday is actually Isra and Mi’raj, which celebrates the night that Mohammed rode a magical steed to “the furthest mosque,” in what we now call Jerusalem. Apparently, at least in the realm of Wikipedia truthiness, this journey is also where Mohammed bargained with God about how often Muslims should pray. God originally asked for fifty times a day and Mohammed got him down to five.

Mohammed’s magical steed was called buraq. You can pronounce it “barack.”

And there you have it. Some Tea Bagger confused unicorns with Presidents.

(And no, I’m not saying anything about believing in unicorns being more or less ridiculous than believing that Obama was born in Kenya.)

Buraq also, according to my online holy book, can be translated as “a beautifully faced creature.”

So while it’s clear that Barack isn’t a Muslim, it seems entirely likely that he could be a buraq. After all, as I said to the boys: have you ever seen Barack and a buraq in the same place at the same time?

 

***

When you’re done reading through these various Wikipedia links, check out my review in The National of Lauren Groff’s entertaining and thought-provoking new novel, Arcadia. For that matter, if you’re searching for a good book to read on vacation this summer, look over there at the Amazon box. No, not the little ordering box, but the long box, with books in it, just to the right. Lots of good reading in that box. Help yourself.

 

 

 

Continue Reading · on June 17, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, Children, Education, expat, Kids, lost in translation, Parenting, Politics, religion

Encyclopedi-mom

Caleb has boundless faith in my intellectual capacities. I am, in short, his google. (Momoogle?) And while I’m flattered that he thinks I have the answers to everything, you know what? If I ever knew the answers to even half these questions, by now, in my late middle age? I’ve forgotten pretty much everything.

A recent walk:

Where did the earth come from? I mean, not just the earth but the stuff ON the earth?

When England and France fought each other why were they fighting? Did they burn Joan of Arc in England? Why did they burn her?  Did they torture her first?

If a bomb rains fire down on you doesn’t the fire go out before it reaches the earth? Then how does the bomb kill people?

Who is the king of the Egyptian gods? Is there a king god?

So London is a city and it’s the capital of England? Is there a capital of the world? Why not?  What is Abu Dhabi the capital of?

Why did money start? What started money?  Why do we have it?

Do those London soldiers, the Beefer people with black hats carry real guns? Why not? If they’re not real how can they guard against thieves and bad guys?  Then who is the real guard for the queen?

Why is the ocean salty? No, I mean, where did the salt COME FROM? How did it get into the ocean?

The observatory place in England said everything is stardust, so does that mean salt is stardust?  Are WE stardust?

How do they get the salt out of the ocean?

How fast is the moon spinning and could it ever spin faster than the earth?

Why do people become Muslim? Why do people believe in god?

If I became a Muslim would I wear those white things on my head? I like those.  Maybe I will be a Muslim and drive a big car.

***

See? Now you’re tired too.

Continue Reading · on August 23, 2011 in Children, Education

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