Tuesday, October 27, 2009


By the way....

Libby Gruner, who writes the "Mama Ph.D." column for Inside Higher Ed, had a perceptive take on the Lipman column:

--Joanne Lipman notes in the New York Times that women's advances in the work force seem to have stalled since 9/11/2001, despite the fact that women make up half the work force, and "mothers are the major breadwinners in 40 percent of families." As one of those major breadwinners, I could wish that Lipman had followed through on her analysis of the reasons for women's lack of progress in the work force. Instead, the article ends with advice that sounds like it came from a women's magazine, not the "paper of record: she advises women to be self-confident, have a sense of humor, and "don’t be afraid to be a girl." It's not quite clear how following this advice would have kept reporters from making fun of Hillary Clinton's "cankles," however, let alone how it would help women achieve pay equity.


Words from two wise men

This is from a Boston Globe editorial. The subject was high school dropouts.

Two luminaries of education passed away last week...

Theodore Sizer, who was 77, was involved in education from the ivory tower of Harvard to founding a coalition of small schools that includes several Boston public pilot schools. He likely would have said the retention is possible only if teachers have the chance to make a connection. In 1996, he said to the Christian Science Monitor, “Is there a teacher who knows my youngster well enough to write a good college reference? The answer in a lot of schools is no.’’

In expressing how it was possible to adopt the assumption that all students can succeed against a fatalistic acceptance at the outset of the school year that a certain percentage will fail, he recalled to USA Today in 1996 about the time that he was called upon as a 21-year-old second lieutenant in the Army to train new soldiers how to fire weapons.

“Nobody said, ‘Well, some of them don’t test well,’ ’’ Sizer said. “There wasn’t an assumption that some can’t learn. It was: ‘Lieutenant, I give you an order.’ I watched semiliterate dropouts whose home language wasn’t English take off like rockets and become superb people.’’

....Gerald Bracey, who was 69, probably would have complemented Sizer’s passion for classroom intimacy with a call to stop teaching to the test. The longtime policy critic and former analyst for the National Education Association said of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind, “If 2000 was the year that testing went crazy, 2001 was the year it went stark raving mad . . . What say we take a moment to consider a few of the personal qualities that standardized tests do not measure: creativity, critical thinking, resilience, motivation, persistence, humor, reliability, enthusiasm, civic-mindedness, self-awareness, self-discipline, empathy, leadership, and compassion.’’

Bracey was also well known in education circles for bipartisan skewering of politicians, including President Obama, and media coverage for painting public schools as so bad that no one wants to actually help them. In one of his last contributions in September to the education policy magazine Phi Delta Kappan, Bracey said, “Americans never hear anything positive about the nation’s schools and haven’t since the years before Sputnik in 1957.’’

In 1996, Sizer told The Boston Globe that it should be no surprise that students drop out of “big, standardized, mechanized’’ schools. The surprise will be when we stop delivering such schools to the students.

I have a son and a daughter. My daughter went to a small high school where everybody knew each other's business. She flourished under the ability to shine and excel in a smaller fish tank. My son went to one of the larger public high schools in the state. He enjoyed the relative anonymity and the opportunity that provided for concentrating on what interested him. Both were good students who got into good colleges: She went to a smallish college in the mountains and he is currently at a big city university.

What the two of them taught me is that one size does not fit all. In a majoritarian republic, we sometimes forget that.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009


The more things change.....

I just saw this Joanne Lipman column in the New York Times, about the lack of progress in women's happiness since the 1980s. Here is a sample:

Even the positive numbers we’ve heard about during the recession are misleading — the ones that seem to indicate that women have suffered fewer job losses than men. The reason? Women are still concentrated in lower-paying fields, rather than the high-paying industries like finance and real estate that were hardest hit....
...I don’t think it’s a coincidence that exactly at this moment [9-11], women began losing ground — and not just in measurable ways, like how many women make partner or get jobs as chief executives. I’m referring to how we are perceived. The conversation online about women, as about so many other topics, degenerated from silly and snarky to just plain ugly — and it seeped into the mainstream. Recently, before a TV appearance, I did an Internet search on one of the interviewers so I could learn more about her — and got a full page of results about her breasts...

I would have like some more specifics and concrete suggestions about how to change all this, like exactly why 9-11 changed things. If you ask me, Lipman is one of the privileged 1% and not very representative of the women I know. Her point about perception being the problem is right on, though.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a column about how couples who both do more housework have sex more often. The writer (a woman) took it as a given that the wives were doing almost twice as much housework as the husbands and that women worked only 19 hours a week outside the home. Not sure where she got her sample. The comments on the WSJ website were pretty revealing as well, with lots of references to men "helping" with the housework, as if it were the wife's natural duty and he was putting himself out purely to please her. Sort of like some of my friends who used to say their husbands were "babysitting" while they went to book club meetings. Excuse me? (I used to say.) Do you babysit when he works late or stops off for a beer? Is he not the kids' other parent?

I am very uncomfortable with the kind of feminism that argues that women are in some way "better" than men, because it is the kind of thinking that feeds into the notion that we should each stay in our own sphere. Anybody who has followed the careers of Hillary Clinton or Tzipi Livni -- not to mention Margaret Thatcher and Madeleine Albright -- should be disabused of the illusion that a woman-led world would be more peaceful than the present state of affairs. How about this: We let each individual person spend his or her time doing what they love and excel at? Then we might see a better world and lot less wasted effort.

Oh, and our sex lives would probably be pretty awesome as well.

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Friday, October 23, 2009


Is this love -- or possession?

I am amazed that there is not any outcry about a story, The Snatchback, that is running in the November Atlantic. I only know what is in the article, but that documents a disturbing instance of cultural and economic imperialism.

The Atlantic promo copy reads "If your ex-spouse has run off and taken your children abroad, and the international legal system is failing to bring them back, what are you to do? One option is to call Gus Zamora, a former Army ranger who will, for a hefty fee, get your children back. Operating in a moral gray area beyond the reach of any clear-cut legal jurisdiction, Zamora claims to have returned 54 children to left-behind parents. Here’s the story of number 55."

In the story, an aggrieved Florida man with no clear legal standing in the child's life hires a mercenary to kidnap his ex-wife's child from the boy's birth father.

Unless there are circumstances that did not appear in the Atlantic article, this is a clear-cut case of a rich American trying to buy himself a son. He goes down to Costa Rica, meets a young (and it turns out, not so stable) pregnant woman and brings her to the states with a translator to teach her English. She ends up divorcing him and going back to Costa Rica, but he wants to keep her child even though the birth father has custody according to Costa Rican law. The rich American says the kid is his because he has spent money on his medical bills and upbringing, and because he claims the Costa Rican courts are corrupt. Maybe their legal system is not all it should be but they appear to have made the right choice in this case. The kid says he wants to go back to his rich stepfather instead of staying with his not-rich father. No surprise there. If this guy Todd really loves the boy he should have left Andres with his biological family and set up a bank account for his education. As the story is explained in the Atlantic, it is all about control and entitlement, nothing to do with love. This stepfather says he loves his son. Any legal standing he has in the child's life was obtained after the custody issue arose.

Here are some comments from the bringseanhome.org website, written by people who have some familiarity with the heartbreak of international custody battles.
Tea wrote:

"The father did NOT kidnap his child. The father said he agreed to let his son live with her in the US and apparently was fine with the idea of only temporarily having his son stay with him until he found out the truth about her. He went to court in Costa Rica where the mother and the son were, when he found out about her habit, and fought her for custody. He won custody and she had visitation. During one of her visitations she and the stepfather kidnapped the child. How can you just take the child out of the country when you have lost custody and only have visitation rights? You can't that's why they had to sneak over the border....
Reverse the situation. What if the father was the recovering addict having just lost custody, had just showed up at the kid's school in FL and taken him off the street like she did? Would anyone even be asking if that was okay? Would it matter if he had a custody order from Costa Rica saying he had custody but no one had ever challenged it in Costa Rica, but in a United States court he had lost custody and everyone involved was currently in the United States. Which order would stand?"

Someone with the screen name LDJVR weighed in with this:

"The mother took the child to Costa Rica and handed him to his father instead of leaving him with the stepfather. Send the child to his father! Stepfather is not in the picture here.
The father should not need a lawyer. No legal birth parent should need to spend thousands in legal fees. All legal birth parents should need to do is report the child missing. The abducting parents or grandparents should pay all cost to have the child returned (IMMEDIATELY) and should be responsible for any legal cost. This child has been kidnapped from his father and his homeland! Does Secretary of State Clinton know about this?!?!? What an embarrassment to our country!"

A couple of the posters compared this to the Elian Gonzalez case, although in this case it is the US side that possesses the asymmetrical resources. I wonder what the Atlantic meant in publishing such an account. The reporter went with the US kidnappers and even interviewed the birth father while knowing there was a plot to break up his family. Doesn't that make her a co-conspirator?

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