Friday, March 19, 2010

Crab Boils and Mean Girls

Have you every been to a crab boil?  You know that the crabs have to be fresh, as in.... Alive.  So the crabs are kept in a big basket until the water boils.

This is not a story about cooking and eating live animals.  It is about the nature of crabs.

In the basket, the crabs scramble around trying to get out.  Often, one will climb until it gets almost to the top, and then....

The other crabs pull it back in.

Many years ago, as I eavesdropped on a conversation between my mother and Senator Kay Patterson, I heard this story.  Senator Patterson said that black folk were like the crabs.  If one got too high, other black folk would pull him back.  White people could just sit and watch.

Mom suggested that might apply to women too.  Senator Patterson said he didn't know about women, but maybe.

It is sad that after over 30 years, women and black folk sometimes still act like the crabs.

You don't need white men to hold anyone back.  There are claws at your back. 

Even President Obama "wasn't black enough" and acted "white."  It's legion.  But as Senator Patterson didn't know much about women, I can't really talk about that, since I'm just looking from the outside.

I can talk about women.

I love women.  Some of my best friends are women.  I count on women.  But there are some women who act as if they have been raised to be cortesans or something.  They are nasty and competitive with other women, never supportive.  They are mean girls.

If a woman succeeds, they say, "She slept her way to the top." 

If a woman chooses to stay in a traditional role, they say she is lazy and stupid.

If a woman has a husband, bright children, a sharp mind, and a good heart, they do everything they can do to ruin her.

People (usually other women) will often say that they can't stand having a female boss because women are petty or flaky or random.  And there are women who make crappy bosses.  There are men who make crappy bosses. 

But some women don't want to have a woman for a boss because they are so insecure and jealous, they can't deal with women except in competition for men.  They have a brothel mentality.  They are stuck in middle school, where they whisper about loose girls, girls with ugly clothes, fat girls... These women are "mean girls" all grown up and still as pathetic and sad as ever.  All that's missing is that Clearisil smile.

I have a friend in a situation like that now.  (She is also black, so she has also been accused of "acting white" and "being uppity" by black women who were supposed to be her loyal employees.)  She is the director of a small charter school.  She has been recognized and honored statewide and nationally.  Most of the parents and almost all of the children love and respect her.  Largely due to her skills and energy, the school is a great success.  She empowers and encourages teachers and students.  She holds everyone accountable.  She is tough and she is fair.  She is the leader.

If she were a man, these women would be lying at her feet.  Instead, they are jealous and bitter.  Although they cloak themselves in a desire to "help the teachers" not have to work so hard, they act by trying to ruin her reputation.  Instead of saying that she is too tough (which men never are, incidently), they say she sleeps with men who aren't her husband.  Instead of saying that they disagree with her policies, they say she is a witch and should be sent to hell (I am not making that up.)

I know of another situation in which the old "mean girls" have made allegations of impropriety against a woman whom they know in a social club and have harassed her in her job, her church, and her home.  I'm sure you all know of similar cases.

What's with these sad pathetic women?  Men don't do this kind of thing.  They shoot each other, maybe, but then it's back to the bar for a beer.  Women nurse grudges like a new born baby.

When will we learn to support each other, or at least act in a civilized manner.  When will these chicks learn the difference between disagreement and disagreeable?  When will we ever learn?  When will we ever learn?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

REBLOG: What Inquiry Isn't

I wrote this in September 2007, and since it's tax season and since no one read this the first time, I'm running it again. OK? Thanks.

It seems that when people --- parents, teachers, community members --- ask what inquiry based education is, they often hear "I can tell you what it isn't." While I think there is an affirmative answer, like inquiry itself, it must be discovered and uncovered rather than put forth as a definition.

One of the founders of our charter school Sue does a wonderful job of showing inquiry. She leads the audience in a mini-lesson which begins with people calling out names of animals and moves through many other steps to illustrate how exploration can be used in all aspects of education. There is the sorting, which can be scientific and mathematical; then the wondering why we picked these animals, which can bring in social studies and self-discovery; then of course, reading about the animals... language arts. My description is clear as mud, I realize. Hmm, maybe we should say, "you have to see it to believe it."

One of the most common misunderstandings of inquiry are that it is dippy "let children do what they want because they are so wonderful who needs manners?" type of method. Some people who believe this actually want this for their children. Fortunately, this isn't what inquiry is. I'm all for conversing with children, listening to their unique view points and watching their little brains work as they are exposed to new ideas. There is something magical about a child carefully explaining some important point to an adult, mimicking his parents' checking strategy: "Do you hear me? What did I say?" But I'm also a big fan of civility. I don't think that a child's creativity or inquisitiveness are stifled by being expected to follow rules, listen to others, not hit other children in the privates.

In fact, inquiry demands a child have self-control (which the teacher helps to develop), independence, and ownership of his/her education process. They have to be responsible. If they are struggling, they need to ask for help. If they are "bored" (a word my children are not allowed to say), they must reach into their inner resources and make their learning experience richer, deeper, and wider. The teachers are there to help, but it is ultimately the child who will be the life-long learner. There will be a learning hum in a classroom, and good noise that means children are interacting and learning. However, respect for self, others, and the world around us are essential elements of our school. Everyone is entitled to a safe place to learn the way he/she learns best. Parents who believe that their child should not be guided to civility, while believing other people's children should bow to their little darlings' needs, are very disappointed. I have two words for them: Home School.

Another misguided view, I believe, is that inquiry is an end all and be all. A teacher of inquiry draws on children's natural curiosity and guides him/her toward discovery. However, the most important thing is that children learn well, and to do that, teachers need to draw on many methods and techniques. As an example, many people are convinced "phonics" is the way to teach reading. At some point, whole word became the darling of educators. The thing is, people learn to read using different methods and strategies. Both phonics and whole word are tools, but not the only tool. Similarly, inquiry is a philosophy, a background for teaching, but the teacher will use many tools to facilitate it. Educators should use what works, not get hung up on labels and fads. Flexibility is expected of children and should be encouraged in teachers.

The third notion of inquiry, that makes me really angry, is that inquiry is only appropriate for upper middle class children (probably white, but the critics won't say that.) All children, no matter what their background, are curious explorers. Some have it beaten (figuratively if not literally) out of them earlier than others, but all have the spark. Children can learn when they are a part of their education, are taught the way they learn, have relevant curriculum, and are respected as learners. And even when the spark has been smothered by years of factory-based education, it can be reignited by caring, patient, and respectful teachers. We have seen it happen.

Our school emphasized a child's role in his/her education. The students see themselves as writers, scientists, readers, social scientists, and citizens of the world. They have the tools to learn no matter where they go. Their strength comes from their rediscovered inner resources and not outside props. We are young and still learners ourselves. There is far to go, and mistakes have been made. But like rational, civilized people, we have learned from our mistakes and seek to improve. And like rational, healthy people, we recognize the strengths and great things that have happened and are continuing to happen.

Public education is extremely important to the health and well-being of our society. I believe it's important to have educated, rational, civilized innovators as our current and future citizens. And I believe inquiry-based education is the way to get that.