Gender, Uncategorized

But what if I’m wrong…

 

Earlier this week, I tweeted:

sexism3

Timothy’s tweet caught my eye for two reasons. First, because of my recent writing on gender , I’ve been primed to look for everyday sexism. (You know that thing where you notice cars with the same make and model as your new car? Same idea.) Second, because of Yvonne Brille. When Brille died, the first line of her obituary in the New York Times was:

She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children.

Oh… bee tea dubs, Mrs. (her preferred title) Brille:

  • was the only female rocket scientist in the 1940’s
  • received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation
  • invented a propulsion system that helps keep satellites in orbit
  • supported women in math and engineering until her death

Yet, try it on your favorite male scientist or inventor and see how odd it feels. One writer offered up:

It feels awkward to say “this is sexism” when sexism is a big systematic … thing. Some like to say that voting for Hillary because she’s a woman is sexist. (Spoiler: it’s not.) Which means we don’t really have a good handle on what is or isn’t sexist. So while it feels like talking about Nancy Carlsson-Paige as “Matt’s Mom” isn’t *really* sexist, it is a part of a system that defines women by their relationship to men. That mental model is what supported a claim for 100’s of years that women couldn’t own property, or that didn’t need to vote because her husband was voting anyway. In the world of school, dress codes come from that same mental model – girls can’t wear certain clothes because they’re distracting to boys. Let that sit for a bit.

So. I saw it. And I spoke up. A few days later, I noticed a tweet from Timothy in which he included Nancy’s name, instead of Matt’s Mom and I tweeted a quick “thanks.” In a direct message, Timothy shared that the reference was actually a joint idea with Nancy. That part of their podcast is to point out the irony in people asking for Matt Damon’s opinion on education when in fact, it’s his mother who is the education researcher and well-versed in public education. Timothy and I chatted a bit and apparently I wasn’t the first one to raise a flag. Nancy herself did. So did other guests on his podcast.

Is it still an example of everyday sexism? Yes – it frames a highly-qualified, talented woman by her relationship to a man, her son. Is it malicious? No. Was I wrong? I’m going to go with wrong-ish.

Then this morning, I saw this:

As a result of discussions with a variety of people, some of which got a little peevish on my end, especially when I got a hat trick of accounts with white male avatars telling me that “gender is irrelevant.”, I’m undecided if what’s happening here is the same kind of everyday sexism as in the case of Brille or Carlsson-Paige.

So, at this point, these are the claims that I’ve fleshed out:

  1. Yes, it’s sexist because it frames Ms. King’s job against Mr. King’s identity.
  2. No, it’s not sexist because if Mr. King were a Ms., it would still be a conflict for Mr. King to hold a job at a lobbying firm.

I have thoughts on both but am more curious in what others think. The funny thing for me is that in every case, the men who responded focused on the conflict of interest – staying away from the idea of sexism. Two men privately DMed me and mentioned they were hesitant to speak up about sexism in case they were wrong. That to me, speaks to a pattern. But as I shared, I keep seeing Gray Honda Crosstours everywhere I look.

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Overconfident Men*

mansplaining

“#Mansplaining**. The Statue” Picture Source

I put down a bunch of words about gender and race over at Identity, Education, and Power and got to join and have lots of really interesting and challenging conversations. I’m hoping they continue in all sorts of spaces.

The upside of writing the piece is that I got to talk to lots of smart women about a matter of life and death we’re not used to talking about.  The downside? It primed me to see patterns. In the piece, I cited a text by Soraya Chemaly about the history of girls outperforming boys in schools that has really stuck with me. The entire text is full of great stuff. Including this quote:

What if we stopped calling it a boy crisis, and started talking about male OVERconfidence?

So while I may feel a certain envy at the confidence and hubris exhibited by a particular man or men when they talk about a topic they may not be well-versed in – that’s on me and my lizard brain and ego. It’s better to look at patterns, as it is with most things related to sociology.

Evidence for the claim 1: Code designed by women rated higher than men’s, but rejected when gender revealed

Evidence for the claim 2: The remarkably different answers men and women give when asked who’s the smartest in the class

Evidence for the claim 3: Why men get all the credit when they work with women

Evidence for the claim 4: Everything tagged “Knowledge and Intelligence” on the Sociological Images blog.

Evidence for the claim 5: The entire book Men Explain Things to Me.

Evidence for the claim 6 (added March, 2016): That this piece on ed tech was given national exposure over anything by Audrey Watters, who has been saying the same thing for YEARS.

So … now what? In my Identity post, I advocate for white female teachers to leverage the power of demographics to transform how race and gender are addressed and taught in schools.  If numbers mean power, then white women hold some degree of power in schools. I think we can bring about massive change, combining cognitive shifts at the individual level with large-scale re-framing of this thing we call “school.”

At the same time, I’m reminded of a rather disconcerting reality: American women did not get the right to vote – the all-male Congress of 1920 had to give it. The men had to progress enough in their own views of women to recognize the right to vote wasn’t gender-specific (or at least fake that awareness because it was more politically savvy.) In so many cases and spheres even today, change will require massive shifts to the mental models held by men.

How do we reconcile these things? How do we bring about change in an arena where we do not hold power or hold very little? How do we change men’s mental models when our formative years were marked by boys hearing girls should demur and defer and girls seeing teachers excuse male classmates’ behaviors under the heading of “boys will be boys”? Just as most white Americans were likely raised to *not* talk about race, I suspect most men were raised not thinking about gender in any real sense. Add in tensions around heteronormative behavior and it appears as if nothing is going to change without some serious recombobulation. And to be clear, it’s #notallmen. There is a marked difference in exchanges with men who aren’t wearing a mantle of confidence or a cape of mentorship.

So how do we help individual men see the patterns in their behaviors? What does it look like to change the system, one mindset at a time?

I honestly don’t know what an individual woman is supposed to do. I know (because I’ve been told) it’s not my job to explain to an individual man when I see the pattern – cause that’s rude and annoying. And hand upon a stack of first-edition feminist lit books, I’m all ears to any man who wants to explain it to me. But be forewarned, if your solution relies on women changing our behavior, I’ll say that’s all well and good – but tell me again how it was that women got the right to vote?

 

 

*Below is one of my most favorite pictures ever on Twitter. From the single headphone cord, to the quote, to the framing of the shot – I love it and I want to do everything in my power to get her voice heard and knock down what I can that’s between her and the freedom she’s entitled to and wants. I’m going to use this asterisk as a way to share this picture and to clarify that the pattern of over-confidence, while not limited to white men, is unique in its manifestations among white men. Sociological Images has some great tags that compile texts on how the messages about men of color are different than those sent about white men. There’s also some compelling work from those who study stereotype threat that gets at how few white male archetypes and stereotypes exist.

 

**Mansplaining is a flawed term, I get that. If the Germans have a better word for it, I’ll start using that word.

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Doing Twitter Wrong

I’ve been blocked again. My crime was apparently “being annoying.” Which, well … yeah. I have a perma-crink in my neck from all of the navel gazing and pondering. Some people knit. I tweet.

Being blocked always makes my heart skip a beat. I view blocking as a tool to stop abuse. So when I discovered someone took the steps needed to block my account, I looked over my tweets for offensive, racist, sexist, threatening, violent words – all of those things that violate the whole “be a decent human being” code of conduct, as it were. What I see in my tweets is a severe case of last-worditis. I see repeated patterns of “yeah, but….” I don’t see my words as offensive, racist, sexist, threatening, or aggressive. My hunch is those who blocked me didn’t feel offended, hurt, or worried for their safety.

They do though, I suspect, feel annoyed by my presence in their mentions. I freely recognize that no one is obliged to engage with me, to not block me, or otherwise participate in my ponderings. But still I wonder: why block? Why not mute?

So I have to infer I’m bad at Twitter. Sometimes. I  knowingly hit “Tweet” when I know the words – in the absence of facial and verbal cues – are likely to be read in a way I did not intend them. But I’m working on it.

I no longer “@” someone who isn’t directly a part of the conversation and drag them into an exchange they may not want to be in. I also avoid tagging a third party unless I want to draw a second person’s attention to their account.

If someone in a multi-person conversation hasn’t responded within two tweets, I remove their handle from the thread. If there is a multi-person tweet, I make sure I attach my response to the right person, moving all other names to the end of my tweet.

If I’m getting a sense there’s a misunderstanding – and we follow each other – I’ll use DM to be sure I understand. I try to attend to the backfire effect. I’ll come here to post in longer form if it makes sense.

I’ve become hyperconscious of hashtag etiquette and making sure I use them correctly.

I’m trying to get better but apparently, I’m still bad at Twitter.

I wrote about this once before, got some great feedback and a lesson in sealioning, and then pulled the post down. I was still learning and there’s some language in that post I regret. And to be clear, I regret some tweets I’ve sent. I’ve apologized directly when I could, sent a message to the universe when I couldn’t. In the cases where I have literally no idea why a semi-famous person blocked me because I’ve never sent a tweet to them in my life and only discovered they blocked me when I went to RT a RT, I don’t have imaginary conversations with them while I’m driving. Nope.

The most frustrating part for me is that I know I have a lot to learn from those who block me and vice versa. (Quick shout out those who have tweeted to me “You’re not interested in learning. You just want to be right.” You get to have your own special imaginary conversation with me. Usually when I’m stuck in traffic.)

Being blocked – and knowing it’s because you’re annoying NOT because you were abusive or abrasive or offensive – is an odd thing, in a vaguely reminiscent-of-middle-school way. Part of me wants to start an #UnblockJenn campaign and persuade those who blocked me to engage in discourse until… well, until we talk ourselves out. The other part of me is fairly confident I need a new hobby. While those parts battle it out, I’m going to continue to reflect on what it means to be good at Twitter. What it means to be good at discourse in an asynchronous environment and try to reconcile how educators can model the best and worst between disagreeing adults.

 

 

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The Tension of Test Prep

One of the lessons I picked up during systems thinking work many years ago was the need to thoughtfully identify leverage points. 9 hours in NYS schools currently cast a long shadow over the other 1250. My hope is we can make the non-testing hours as incredible, meaningful, and engaging as possible.

Yet, as long as annual testing is federal law (and until NY shifts to the portfolio model like NH), we’re going to have to figure out a way to deal with those testing hours in grades 3-8. Angela Stockman got me into infographics which lead to a way for me to organize my thinking around learner-centered test prep in NYS. Hoping it helps some find a way through.

Test Prep

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#NotAllSchools

Two divergent stories came together to poke this particular post out of my brain.

First: Watching the “Bernie Bros” story unfold, then twist, then double-back on itself, and watching really smart people I follow do their best to avoid saying “Not all Bernie Sanders Supporters” while simultaneously trying to say it wasn’t really a thing. I’m watching from afar, mostly because I’m in the camp of “Oh god, oh god, anyone but Trump/Cruz” and I live in a really blue county in a really blue state where my blue vote will live only to bring me pleasure.

Second:  a series of Twitter conversations/discourses over the weekend with people who have very strong opinions about public education. So strong that many of them appear to advocate for the end of universal, free, compulsory public education in America. The threads tend to make for some pretty strong cognitive dissonance for me as I really, REALLY struggle with the claim that a society would be better off without a free education system. And make no mistake – I’m not a carte blanche defender of unhealthy schools or structures. I freely recognize there are schools in which the system is making things harder for children, instead of easier. There are schools that unintentionally and unconsciously perpetuate cycles of passive racism. There are students who hate school. I get that.

And yet… I’m an “improve what we’ve got” sort of thinker and do-er.* There are schools that have already gone beyond the archetype of traditional school. Schools like SLA which hosted EduCon this past weekend. There are free public schools where students pick their own course of study, set the behavior code, and defend projects of their own design to demonstrate their readiness for the next adventure. So each time I see a tweet proclaiming how very terrible, very bad, no good the ENTIRE public school system is, I feel compelled to respond with a counter-example. I offer up an example of what to all intents and purposes appears to be school done right, hoping that the conversation will shift from “statement about how bad schools are, aren’t I right, folks?” to “Here’s what’s possible. Let’s elevate this.”

I have to assume those who advocate for free-schooling, un-schooling, home-schooling know that not all public schools are terrible, horrible, no good, very bad places. That they agree the concept of school is no more a monolith than all male Bernie Sanders supporters are cut from the same cloth. Yet, when the threads go on and on about how terrible, horrible and no good teachers are – and those threads are populated by mostly white, mostly male faces… I have a visceral response.

My response usually comes in the form of awkwardly edited tweets in which I attempt to convey an idea that’s THIS     BIG in a space that’s thisbig. While I’m tweeting, though, I’ve often a particular cliche running through my mind: Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it. Granted, people tweeting out statements about how bad school is aren’t exactly barging into SLA’s classrooms telling the students and teachers they’re wrong. But at the same time, voices carry. Signals are boosted – or they’re lost in the crowd.

It also needs to be said that my claim is never that students couldn’t accomplish the same incredible work on their own, but rather, they’re doing this great work in school. What’s gained by knocking down the system and hoping they arrive at a similar end on their own? I’ll wear my bias right out in the open: I have a hard seeing how eliminating public education will move us forward as a society in any meaningful way.

 

 

 

*I’m still working on, thinking about, reconciling different texts and writings related to the idea of “the Master’s tools” that Audre Lorde writes about.

 

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The Tension of Time Limits

Spoiler: I have no idea why NYSED made the decision to lift time limits on the state tests. I was not in the room. I’m a wild speculator, just like anyone else outside NYSED who is writing or talking about the changes in time limits.

Caveat: I live in the land of authentic, performance-based, portfolio assessment. I’m a large-scale testing tourist.

Bias: I believe that those who go to work for any state education department keep their humanity cards. I believe, like all of us, they are trying to make the best decisions possible with the information they have, within the constraints they see. So, when it comes to this decision, I believe they are trying to attend to Opt Out members’ concerns in ways that make sense and are doable given policy constraints.

So let’s look at testing time.

The first given we have to accept is that the goal of testing time limits is to provide students enough time to do their best but not so much time that the test takes over a student’s entire day. Most tests students take have a built time limit such as one period or one class block. Since large-scale tests like NYS’ are given in 700 school districts, there is no pre-existing limit so they have to figure it out. Unlike the Regents exams, for which classes are paused for a week, the 3-8 tests happen during a school day. Thanks to the intertubes, there’s a paper trail we can follow to see the thinking behind the current limits for the 3-8 tests.

From the 2015 Test Administrator’s Guidetime1

This is what 5th graders are expected to do with that time. From the Teacher’s Guide to the 5th Grade ELA Test:

time2

So how is NYSED, or any test designer, supposed to know how much time is the right amount of time? There are few things we can look to.

First, they estimate how long it should take students to take the test. From the 2014 NYS Testing Program Technical Report.

time4

To review the math for 5th graders:
42 questions that are estimated to take one minute each: 42 minutes
6 passages that are estimated to take 5 minutes each: 20 minutes

42 + 20 = 62 minutes
(which leaves 28 minutes of “extra” time given 90 minute limit for students *without* extended time)

These rules of thumb are referenced in several texts and guidance documents around test design. I found references going back to studies in 1973 that speak to “one-minute per multiple choice item.” All of that said, test designers need to find out if the “rule of thumb” actually holds. So they look at a statistic called speededness (Tech report, page 46):

time3

The technical report concludes:

The industry standard general rule of thumb is that omit rates for multiple-choice items should be less than 5.0%. Omit rates across multiple-choice and constructed-response items on the Grades 3–8 Common Core ELA and Mathematics Tests typically ranged from 0% to 3%. As may be expected, omit rates tended to increase for items at the end of the test booklets, and only for ELA Grade 3 in Books 1 and 3 did items initially exceed that 5% threshold. It was for that reason that the last two operational items in Book 1 (both MC) and the last operational item in Book 3 (a 4-point CR item) were dropped from scoring and all analyses presented herein. In general, omit rates rarely exceeded 3%, even for the last items within a booklet. That is, these omit rates remained within the acceptable range for large-scale achievement tests. In summary, the low omit rates observed across entire forms are consistent with tests that are not speeded. [emphasis mine]

In other words: generally speaking, students weren’t rushed. They had enough time. When they didn’t, items were removed from students’ scores if there was a slight indication they were rushed. The statistics, though, present a different picture than the stories of stressed students told by those who presented at forums, wrote letters, or post on social media. It’s these stories that I suspect informed SED’s decision. From the memo to the field: this change in policy may help alleviate the pressures that some students may experience as a result of taking an assessment they must complete during a limited amount of time.

There’s a great text on test blueprints that gets into a lot of this and more importantly, it speaks to how issues such as time limits are things that teachers need to consider when designing their own tests. So while SED’s announcement will likely generate conversation about large-scale tests and time limits, here’s hoping a little bit of that seeps over into conversations about teacher-created tests.

Postscript: I can’t find a source to cite at the moment, but I know I’ve read texts about the unintended consequences of untimed tests. I’m going to try and dig them up over the weekend for another post on this scintillating topic.

Second Postscript: The question came up around why 42 items – or why so many items in Book 1? That’s an issue of validity. Which could make for another post or textbook…

Third Postscript: So what about students with extended time? I’m trying to figure that out based on how our neighbor-ish over in Massachusetts handle it. Some tweets on it.

 

 

 

 

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Adventures in Data Collection

I took a lot of shit when I had the handle “DataDiva” on Twitter. A fair amount of it, I brought on myself by not considering the impact of 140 on a fellow human or by being clueless about a particular topic. The rest of it came from the first word in my handle.  More than once, someone tweeted at me out of the blue about how data was killing public education. I never quite figured out how to respond to those tweets so … I changed my handle. I picked the name a decade ago for a project because it was funny and I like alliteration and was mostly fine with letting it go.

I’ve seen the light that “data” is troublesome. I remain fully team “evidence of student learning”, on the side of documentation for learning, and will wave whatever flag I need to wave to get student work to the table without using that word. Regardless, I’m still about doing data collection right. I’m not talking here about corraling numbers into columns in Excel, which is a noble pursuit unto itself, but the lovely, messy noisy stuff that is people’s opinions.

If you want to collect people’s opinions about a topic or issue, you can design a survey. So far, so easy. If your area of interest is people’s voting plans, you ask a straightforward question such as “Which of the following candidates do you plan on voting for?” Anything beyond that forced-choice, neutral question and you get into the art and science of survey design.

Consider these two simple demographic questions.

The one on the right comes from a group of researchers based at a large university looking to collect national evidence about a particular movement in education. Their project likely went through the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at their university. The first page of their survey explains their purpose, goals, and intent. The demographic question comes at the end of the survey, after the important questions have been asked.

The one of the left comes from a grass-roots organization seeking to collect information from members. There is no research statement. There is no information about purpose, goals, or intent. The survey is framed in an email to members but once the survey is opened, there’s no context, just a question about the participant’s age and then Q2.

The demographic question on the left should raise red flags*. And to be clear, this isn’t about the nature of that survey, the project’s goals, or the organization. Rather, it’s about the tension of trusting the results of a survey when it’s clear the survey is lacking traits of quality found on the right. So, as a reformed DataDiva, I’d gently ask that before providing a response to a survey, look for hallmarks of quality.

  • Is there a statement of purpose, research, or intent?
  • Are the questions as neutral as possible?
  • Can you ascertain how your response will be used?
  • Do you detect a bias in the survey? Are the desired results telegraphed in the questions?
  • Will they use your data to support their claim or study the issue?
  • If a question strikes you as unfair or biased or if you have a question, do you know who the author is or who to contact?

Your opinion has weight. If you’re going to give your voice to someone else to use, there’s no harm in taking a beat to be an informed gifter. On the flip side, it’s helpful to understand why professional survey designers and academic researchers do what they do. In many cases, the respondent is forced into a choice without a chance to explain context. This design feature isn’t a flaw in the survey, rather it’s a function of the purpose, goals, and data collection needs. Often, research surveys will end with a “can we contact you for more information?” If you want to explain more, make sure you provide accurate and current contact information.

* The red flags?

  1. Male/female are sex-related words, not gender.
  2. Transgender isn’t a separate gender. A woman may identify as transgender but she’s still a woman. Note that the survey on the right leaves the choice up to the user.
  3. “Identify” is an extraneous word. In survey design, every word should be there because its inclusion helps the researcher.
  4. It’s the second question of the survey. There are different opinions on if demographic questions should go at the beginning or the end. What comes first in a survey is incredibly important in terms of getting a complete responses from participants. In other words, why did the designers put them first?

 

 

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No True Scotswoman

A kindergarten teacher wrote a thing.

There are a couple of ways of reading the thing she wrote.

A. She’s a new teacher*, trying to make the best of a situation.
B. She’s been bought off to so the website can claim a teacher byline.
C. She’s a disgrace to the profession. Get her away from children.
D. She believes what she wrote.

For reasons, a not small number of people wrote responses to her thing built around B or C. A small number went with A and then the C group used B as a reason why the author of A pieces rose to her defense. In their responses, busy professionals, many of them teachers, took time out their day to write things to call her “a reformster”, “a child abuser”, and “not a real teacher.” She’s “stupid.” She ruined someone’s day. It must be satire as no one could be that …. that… so NOT a teacher.

I’m thinking D. She appears young. So incredibly, delightfully young. She’s likely grown up in the world of NCLB. Testing has likely been a part of her world since at least middle school. Despite that, she became a teacher. And then she wrote a thing. And people in her profession appear to be, I dare say, gleefully joining a tribe of pointing and scolding – You’re not a real teacher. You should have known better. 

She didn’t.  She found a way through and then she wrote a thing. And members of her profession are condemning her for it. There are no questions to her in the comments section. There are no statements of empathy, no inquiries into what else happens in her classroom. There is some professional empathy (hey kid, let’s have coffee and talk or it’s not her fault) but it’s framed around how very wrong she is.

20% of teachers leave the profession within the first five years. If, in 5 years, we find that Bailey is among that group, anyone want to take a guess on what she’ll say in her exit interview?

PostScript: I completely and totally get where the concerns come from. No doubt. My grrfuffle isn’t about the content of her post or the legitimacy of a response. It’s that when she googles her name, posts *about* her will come up. It’s that her profession turned against her and used the fallacy of “No True Scots[woman]” to do it. That irks me.

*Peter Greene (who commented below) researched Bailey via LinkedIn and has concluded she’s only passing through a classroom on her way to something else. There’s a lot to unpack there about many things. Perhaps another time. Meanwhile, I’m going to link to the fallacy again and have an extra glass of wine with dinner.

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On 2016 and Hypocrisy

Two quotes. Same author. Different texts. Different days.
“Even so, their test scores were nothing to brag about.”
“Protect your children… Opt out [of tests] in 2016.”

To be human is to be a hypocrite. We forgive ourselves for actions that we punish others for. We frame our words within the gorgeous complexity that is our internal dialogue but judge others’ based on a context of our choosing. When we contradict ourselves, we can re-frame the dissonance in a way that soothes our feathers. When others do it, we snipe, parse, point, and snark.

To be human is to want it both ways. Volunteers who work at women’s health clinics tell of parents who protest in front of the clinic on Monday and bring a daughter in on Tuesday. Public school advocates speak about their love and adoration for the system and then enroll their children in private schools. Self-proclaimed male progressives write blog posts in which they explain to a group of female professionals how they should do their job. We want nuance. We use hyperbole. We want something new, something better. We rally around “taking back” and “restoring.”

To be a human in education is to be a time-traveler. Teachers exist in the present with the child and the future with the adult that child will become. Those of us who support teachers, who sit on the edges trying to help them make sense of a profession that seems to lurch from firestorm to firestorm, work to use the patterns from the past to inform the present. For parents, I suspect it’s a constant dance between all three – their baby and their great love, their child, and their child’s future.

Given the number of fires that are currently burning in the world of education, it’s a pretty safe bet that 2016 is going to a tumultuous year. It’s my hope we humans who are educators get better at traveling through time. That we get faster at learning from our profession’s yesterdays. We attend more thoughtfully to the biases we carry from our pasts into our presents. That we actively work to ensure our interactions with others don’t leave painful hits they’ll carry forward. It’s my hunch students are looking to see how their teachers handle discourse. They are watching how their parents engage with those who disagree with them and learning. If we want to ensure that the future debaters, discourse-havers, and opinion-makers can do it well, we’re going to have to get better at how we human.

Here’s hoping 2016 is a year in which representatives from various groups in education model that adults can disagree and do it fiercely, gently, thoughtfully, spontaneously, and with as little hypocrisy as possible.

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A response to Michael Petrilli

So Michael Petrilli wrote about IUDs. I’m a big fan of  IUDs. They’re the reason I’m a non-parental taxpaying educator. And after reading Petrilli’s post, I have a request: Sir. Please stop talking about birth control and teenage pregnancy. I understand you have good intentions. I can see how your idea makes great sense to you: Want to reduce pregnancy? Teach high school students about the most effective way to reduce pregnancy. I get it. It’s a great idea.  But I’m asking you to stop talking. Demur, defer, elevate, and support instead.

Your staff was almost right – “nobody wants to hear a middle-aged man, much less a Republican, talk about birth control.” The problem is, though, that’s exactly who we do hear talking about birth control. From Congress to the courts, middle-aged men have always been talking about the right way for girls and women to handle their bodies.  Your suggestion, and your chart, adds “the classroom” to that list. 

Purity Pledges, pregnancy shaming campaigns, abstinence-only sex ed – all ideas that originated with and were advocated by middle-aged men; men who spoke from a position of authority and privilege, such as yourself. This isn’t to say middle-aged men can’t have great ideas. After all, hormonal birth control was invented by a middle-aged man (although funded by a woman.) However, when it comes to this issue, it’s worth re-considering how you add your voice. It’s likely there are a few challenges to your plan that may not have occurred to you. 

  • Schools are just now starting to realize the sexism inherent in the dress codes that tell girls what to put *on* their bodies and you’re advocating they tell them what to put *in* their bodies? Consider the long history of middle-aged men policing young girl’s bodies and appearances, especially for girls of color. Does your post add to that policing or help end it? Additionally, does your post help end stereotypes about who becomes a teenage mother or support them?
  • Parents are afraid to give their children shots that will LITERALLY prevent cancer because of a perceived connection to sex. How would the IUD message succeed when pediatricians can’t get parents over HPV vaccination fears?
  • In order to work, an intrauterine device (I noticed you didn’t use its full name) has to be inserted inside the uterus. Waaay up inside. To be sure, gynecologists go out of their way to reduce discomfort, but getting one inserted isn’t as simple as a shot in the arm. It’s invasive. Consider the impact this has on girls who have been abused: you, a middle-aged guy suggesting they get an IUD because you think it’s the best form of birth control.
  • IUDs are hormonal. The act of introducing hormones for most girls and women is a non-issue and can result in a reduction or elimination of menstruation. For a few, it can have the opposite effect and result in multiple visits to the doctor to resolve. Consider the impact this has on girls who can barely talk to their parents about menstruation, much less changes to it based on the introduction of an IUD.

And please do not mistake me. This is not about IUDs themselves. Like I said, I’m a fan. They’re fantastic. They’re safe. They’re great for all of the reasons listed in your links. Nor is this about sex ed. I, like you, am an advocate of providing all public school students with comprehensive, accurate, and thoughtful information about reproduction and human sexuality.

This is about inviting you, a white, male, middle-aged “Republican who supports preventative sex ed in schools,” to defer. You said it’s “an issue which nobody is talking about.” I say: You’re not listening. Defer to the women and girls who know this issue better and see the tension in you telling them how to handle this decision.

Defer to women like Gloria Malone, who is a young mother and blogs about her experiences.

Demur to groups like Futures without Violence who do important work around the issue of reproductive coercion by teenagers in abusive relationships.  

Elevate The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy because, as their title implies, they’ve figured out what works and need help getting the word out. (And in case you missed it, they did a really interesting study on how young Republicans feel about contraception.)

Support and call for others to support Planned Parenthood who has extensive information about IUDs and teenagers and is doing the hard work of getting safe, medical care to those who need it.

Defer, demur, elevate, and support instead. There are plenty of problems in education, Michael, and many of your ideas are interesting and compelling. This one, though …. any solution you come up with will be limited by your experiences. As a middle-class, white, male Republican, show the young women of America you’re different. You’ll be the kind of Republican that elevates their voices and solutions to the challenges they face, not the kind that lectures down at them.

 

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