Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Is DeVos Really The Greatest Danger to School Children?

According to my social media newsfeeds, we have something new to be upset about. I know that it's been difficult to focus. The atrocities keep popping up like so many kernels of microwave popcorn, the public ire and fear busting the internet wide open with each new Trumptopian development.

Betsy DeVos - businesswoman, billionaire, political campaign contributor, and grizzly-phobe - is the new United States Secretary of Education.  She is, of course, the bogeyman, striking fear in the hearts of teachers and parents across the country.

She lacks classroom experience, school administration training, or really any background in education. She has never taught in a public school, nor attended one, nor sent her children to one. It also seems unlikely that she has ever spoken to anyone who has. She has no relevant credentials or experience that would have prepared her for a position directing and controlling the almost 70 billion dollars in education funds this country doles out to public schools each year, not to mention the lives of more than 50 million public school students.

I can understand the desperation of parents and teachers. That's a lot of power and influence and responsibility for one unqualified, underprepared woman to wield. There is a real and tangible and founded fear that having DeVos in charge of the nation's public schools could inflict severe harm on our young people. The Department of Education with DeVos at its helm is obviously an agent of destruction.

But what a lot of people don't understand, or have conveniently forgotten, is that the Department of Education has long been an agent of destruction, that the country's public education system has a history of harming our young people through systematic failure.

Just in case you need some reminding:
If it isn't glaringly apparent that the entire U.S. system of public education is failing and failing hard, you're lacking some major critical thinking skills... which we can likely blame on your public school education.

The system is already failing our children, and it didn't need Betsy DeVos or Donald Trump to do it. 

Let's be honest, what's the worst thing that an incompetent, grossly inexperienced billionaire could cause? 

Only the complete and total collapse of the Department of Education.

Yeah... that's the "worst" thing that could happen.

Or is it really the best thing?

Monday, January 23, 2017

Don't March for Me, Marge and Tina.

(If you sang that title to a tune from Evita, we should be friends.)

I knew I was going to upset a lot of people when I posted that "I Have a Uterus and My Rights are Just Fine." It's why my finger hovered nervously over the mouse before I finally clicked the post button and sent it out for all the world to see.

I knew there would be backlash. I knew that people were going to leave nasty comments and send me hateful messages. That's not really what made me nervous, though. I knew that I was going to upset some people that I actually care about. (Yes, I actually care about some people. Not many, but a few. I'm not entirely evil.)

I understand that passions are running high. People don't just march on Washington in droves unless they really, REALLY feel strongly about something. I knew there would be some panties in wads. And I was right. The hate mail and personal attacks have come flying in. But in the spirit of open discourse (Sorry to all of the people who unfriended, unfollowed, or unsubscribed. You didn't give me the chance to prove points or explain. I suppose it's easier to ignore dissenting opinions than to ponder them.), I thought I would clarify just a few points.

First: I never said I was ungrateful to the women who marched for my right to vote. In fact, I am incredibly and eternally grateful for the protests and arrests and hunger strikes. So grateful that I regularly exercise that hard-won right, probably far more frequently than the average apathetic American. So, please don't assume I need a history lesson.

Second: Don't shut down my opinion because of my perceived "privilege." I know that I am just a "college-educated, middle-class, white woman," but I am still entitled to form opinions, even when they disagree with yours. Also, you shouldn't assume my background, because you are probably wrong. I grew up in poverty, with no electricity or hot water, and I've experienced poverty as an adult, too. As a child, I watched my father punch holes in the drywall inches from my mother's face. As a teenager, I lived in a neighborhood that was infested with crime and drugs and gang violence. And I've worked at a job where it was "okay" for rich men to grab my butt and ask me if I was on the dessert menu. How's that for "privilege?"

But isn't that how we shut down dissenting opinions, now? By pointing out the other person's "privilege?" Oh, that's right ... I'm just a woman. I'm not supposed to have an independent thought. I'm not allowed to think for myself...unless that thinking for myself brings me to the proper conclusions.

Third: While so many of you have promised to "march for me anyway," ...Don't.

Because we apparently have very different ideas about what basic rights are.

The Women's March and its collective demands for equality and women's rights left me scratching my head wondering "What more rights do we need?" Because, in the United States, women have the right to vote, hold public office, pursue higher education, and own property. We can marry or divorce, have children or not. We have access to birth control (although perhaps too freely and without acknowledging the dangers and risks of long-time use) and other forms of reproductive care. There are laws against sexual assault and female genital mutilation.

But you answered the question. You marched for free birth control and easy unregulated abortions and mandatory maternity leave. You marched for single mothers living in poverty and for government health care.

I know this still makes me the enemy, but I don't think the government needs to swoop in and solve all of our First World problems. In fact, the more power we give "them," even in areas we think are good and noble and beneficial, the less power we have for ourselves. That's how we become victims.

It surprises me that so many people fear a Donald Trump brand of fascism, a form of government power run amok, and yet we just saw hundreds of thousands of women march down the streets of our nation's capitol asking government to do something (whatever form they expect that "something" to take)...No, demanding that government do something. Government control is government control... even when it takes a form you agree with. And once you hand over control to government, it is nearly impossible to get it back.

And fourth: Just because I don't think government intervention is the solution, doesn't mean I don't feel empathy for those women who are struggling.

I do realize that this country isn't quite where it needs to be, that sexism is alive and well, and that women aren't always treated with the respect they deserve. I realize the scarring effects of sexual assault. But all of the legislating and politicking in the world won't solve those problems... because they aren't political problems... they are cultural problems.

So in that sense, I'm glad that the women who marched felt feelings of love and unity and solidarity. There is far too little of that in the world. And I admire that so many people joined voices and demanded to be heard. However, that doesn't mean I need to think like them. I don't agree with all of their platforms (for many reasons) or demands or concepts of fundamental rights.

So Ladies, go ahead and march for yourselves.

Don't march for me.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

I Have a Uterus and My Rights are Just Fine

Public Domain
I didn't march on Washington.

I know that's surprising considering I possess both a vagina and a fully functioning uterus. But I just couldn't bring myself to join my sistren with their pink pussy hats and expletive-riddled signage.

I mean, I kinda get it. I'm no fan of the Cheez Doodle with a bad combover currently masquerading as president of the United States. But the official Women's March on Washington website claims that this is a "women's rights" demonstration, not a protest against The Donald, at least not beyond his previous, admittedly vile, locker room banter.

I know that many will consider me a traitor to my sisters and a disgrace to my gender. They may call me brainwashed, a misogynist (It wouldn't be the first time), or worse... a Republican (although I'm not). But I couldn't, in good conscience, don a pink pussy beanie, grab a pithy ovary emblazoned sign, and march through the streets of the nation's capitol, because I don't think I am treated like a second class citizen.

Shocking right? That the media brainwashing hasn't penetrated my cranium? After all, we've been hearing about the republican "War on Women" for years now. And that inaccurate statistic about women making 77 cents to every dollar a man earns, well that's universal gospel, in spite of all of the refuting evidence.

But I am not a victim.

I have the right to vote, hold a job, inherit property. I have the right to bodily integrity and higher education and to show my hair in public. I can marry or not marry, divorce if I want, heck, I'm even likely to get custody of my kids. I can defend myself and my property. I can even drive a car... down public streets... in broad daylight.

It's sad to me that hundreds of thousands of women, who woke up in comfortable beds on Saturday morning, ate decent breakfasts, dressed in whatever clothes they chose, boarded public transportation without being escorted by a male, or actually drove their own vehicles to a legal protest, somehow believe that they are oppressed because they are women.

This is America, not the Democratic Republic of Congo where women cannot even sign legal documents. This isn't Pakistan, where women are gang-raped to pay for men's crimes, honor killings are widespread, and there are no laws against domestic violence. This isn't Somalia, where 95% of girls face barbaric genital mutilation, usually between the ages of four and eleven. This isn't Afghanistan, where girls are discouraged, sometimes violently, from seeking an education and where rape victims are often forced to marry their attackers. This isn't Chad where children as young as eleven are forced into arranged marriages.

This is America. Women have had the right to vote for almost a hundred years. We've sent women into Space, seen them appointed to the Supreme Court, run for Congress, anchor the evening news, break Olympic records, and lead billion dollar companies. Women even earn more undergraduate and graduate degrees than men. What rights are we missing?

As mothers, we tell our daughters that they can be anything, achieve anything, become anything they want, and because we live in America, that's basically true. So why are mothers dragging their daughters to huge political protests, railing and whining about a system they claim holds them down simply because they are women? Those are some pretty mixed up messages. I assure you, ladies, the government is not responsible for your successes or your failures in life. You are. Stop blaming the government. Stop accusing "the man" of holding you down. You are better than that. You are stronger than that. Take control of your own destiny.

We don't live in a Third World country. Sure not everyone gets free birth control or cheap abortions on demand, but are those really basic human rights?

If you think so, you probably need some perspective. Take a trip. Not a mini vacation to Washington D.C., either... take a jaunt to Chad or Afghanistan. Ask those women what they think fundamental women's rights are.

In comparison to those women, we're all just whining and throwing little spoiled temper tantrums in our silly pink hats.

And we should probably be ashamed.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Lessons Learned Hunting With My Dad

My father died last week.

To make a long story short, he had a heart attack while hunting and was rushed to the hospital. My mother made it to the hospital to be with him while the doctors were running tests to find out exactly what happened (His EKG was normal and we wouldn't find out until much later that he'd actually had a heart attack). The last words he spoke to her were, "I'm ready to go home." Which would be all kinds of existential and stuff if he hadn't immediately followed it with, "They need to stop sending all these pretty nurses in here." His heart stopped twice while the doctors prepared to run tests.

When I found out, I sped to the hospital, some 2 1/2 hours away, in the middle of Virginia's recent blizzard. He was on life support when I arrived. He had suffered brain damage when his heart stopped on the CAT scan table. His kidneys were failing and his blood pressure was dangerously low.

Elk hunting in Colorado 2011
It is a grueling thing to decide to take someone you love so much off of the machines that are keeping their body alive. I put an old dog of mine down once. I thought that was the hardest thing in the world to do. I was wrong. But in what would be a great act of mercy, my father decided he would save us from that decision, and his body gave up on its own before we had a chance.

This week has been indescribably difficult. My father was my hunting partner, my fishing buddy, and a constant, predictable strength. It still feels like I am walking around in some sort of dream world or alternate reality. Other people's fathers die. Not mine. He was too stubborn, too ornery, too alive.

But he is gone. And I already miss him terribly.

Here is the essay I read at his memorial service.

Lessons Learned Hunting With My Dad

My family tree has a treestand in it.

Seriously, everybody in my family hunts. My grandfather hunted. Both of my uncles hunt. My father would have packed up his bags, headed into the woods, and stayed there if life would have allowed him and hunting season ran all year long.

I was born in early September, so  I was only a few months old when my parents first took me hunting. My mother claims I called in a curious doe with my baby whimpers and half-hearted cries from my cozy spot in the back of the nearby station wagon .

Before I was even three, I would spend late summer afternoons perched on an overturned five gallon bucket, short legs dangling, waiting for the doves to fly in. It was hard to sit still when I saw them, it was so exciting. “Here they come, Daddy!” I would say too loudly as I tried to whisper unsuccessfully. "Be quiet. You'll scare the birds," he would fuss.

But it was a long time before my Daddy actually let me do more than sit on a stand or in a blind with him. He claimed it was because I was always so small. He didn’t think I could handle a firearm. I was convinced he wouldn’t take me because I wasn’t a boy. So I pestered him obnoxiously until, like most parents, he finally gave in.

He took me squirrel hunting. I didn’t have proper hunting gear, so my mother bundled me in my puffy purple coat and I pulled on my flimsy sneakers. On our way out the door she hollered “Good luck.”

We would have the most miserable day ever. It rained, soaking my sneakers and my puffy purple coat. We forgot our lunch, leaving us hungry the whole day. We saw not a single squirrel. We got lost in the woods. And then, on the way home, the truck blew a tire, stranding us on the highway in a time well before cell phones.

Daddy blamed the whole thing on my mother’s “good luck” wishes before we left. No one, I mean no one, says “good luck” to a hunter. You might as well cast a voodoo curse on them. He was still cussing about how she ruined that hunting trip years later. Maybe even as recently as this past Christmas.

As you can imagine… I was completely hooked. He did eventually agree to take me deer hunting, but didn’t want to waste money on buying me hunting gear. He was completely convinced that I wouldn’t stick with it, that I was too tiny and tender-hearted to actually enjoy hunting with him. He figured I would abandon the notion and decide hunting wasn’t for me.

This was before all of the current pink camo hoopla or the special fashionable hunting lines for female hunters, so gear that would actually fit me, was hard to find anyway, but picture if you will, a much smaller, 85 pound version of me, wearing my father’s man-sized, hand-me-down camo. I had his old camo coat, an old pair of his camo pants that wrapped around my waist almost twice. I even wore a saggy pair of his old long johns. I might have been forced to wear a pair of his men’s size 12 hiking boots if Uncle Joey hadn’t stepped in and offered up a pair that Mikey had already outgrown.

I was 13 the first year he took me to George Washington National Forest in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains for rifle season. We had driven in his old Dodge D-50, arriving at our campsite well after dark. I hadn’t even gotten to see any of the mountains on the drive in. I was exhausted and just crashed into bed in Uncle Terry’s camper to try and get some sleep. Then well before daylight, he came pounding on the camper door to get me up. In those days, he believed the serious hunter hiked in by flashlight and hiked out the same way. So I dressed in the dark, then I scarfed down some luke warm oatmeal in the camp's kitchen tent while shivering uncontrollably.

Then we hiked, which sounds adventurous and dashing and exciting. It wasn’t. He hadn’t even bothered to give me a flashlight, so I just followed his bouncing light through the darkness, up steep terrain, gasping, my legs aching as his flashlight steadily got further and further away from me in the dark.

That flashlight did eventually stop, up high above me on the dark ridge. After struggling for several minutes more to reach it, he just told me “Sit here.” Then he left me. In the dark. Without a flashlight. I was thirteen.

I watched his light move off uphill, growing fainter and fainter until it finally disappeared over the top of the ridge.

I was alone in the dark. I was exhausted from lack of sleep and the exertion of hiking up terrain I was unaccustomed to. I was shivering and my feet were cold. I was scared. I was scared because I didn’t know what to do without him.

And I was angry. I was angry with Daddy because he had left me alone in the dark.. I was so angry in fact, that I decided I wouldn’t even shoot at a deer if one walked past me. That would show him.

I sat fuming and freezing in the dark, until I finally somehow drifted off to sleep, passing out from exhaustion, my back pressed against the hard bark of the tree where he’d left me.

Something startled me awake some time later. I didn’t really remember where I was, but as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, I started to see what was around me. While I had been sleeping, the sun had come up. My father had left me in the perfect spot. The morning was all bright and glowing gold, and I had a clear view of the mountain dropping in deep waves of browns and greens down to a sweeping valley, where I could just make out a herd of cattle grazing. It was so stunning that it took my breath away. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Then I saw, working their way slowly up the slope toward me, a flock of turkeys, maybe as many as 20 (although more probably only 6 or 8. I am my father’s daughter after all), clucking and shuffling and scratching through the leaves. They came right past me, the flock splitting in half to pass on either side of the tree I was sitting under, like I was just part of the scenery.

Suddenly, I wasn’t scared or angry with him anymore, I just couldn’t wait to see him again so I could tell him about everything, the valley, the cows, the turkeys, and just how freakin’ gorgeous everything was around me.

He had known just the right place to leave me.

I learned a lot of really important lessons hunting with my Dad. I certainly was exposed to a very vivid and colorful vocabulary. But I learned a lot of other things, too.

Patience, for example. Sitting still in 18 degree weather, watching my breath fog, feeling my toes slowly numb, waiting for hours on end, hoping for even a glimpse of a deer is grueling. But there is strength and beauty in waiting for that single great moment. In that regard, Daddy was the most patient man I know. In traffic… not so much.

I learned that nothing worthwhile ever comes easy. You have to get up early, work hard, stay late. Go in with a flashlight. Come out with a flashlight. Like my Daddy always said, “If it were easy, it would be called killing, not hunting.”

I learned that if there isn’t a trail, that I should blaze my own. Unless you’re in the mountains and see a deer trail cut into the side of a steep ridge. Deer are a whole heck of a lot smarter than most people when it comes to getting around in the woods. Aside from that,  the good stuff usually happens well away from where everyone else is traveling. So take the trail less traveled. It will make all of the difference.

I also learned confidence. He would get excited every time I bagged a deer or a turkey whether it was a little doe or an old longbeard. It didn’t matter. He would pat me on the back and say, “I’m proud of you.” He made me feel like I was competent and able, something that was reinforced when the meat hit the table.

And I also learned to not let an animal suffer, to make my kills quick and clean, that the worst thing you could do was prolong death.

When Daddy and I were hunting, we had a custom. We would do this weird little fist bump. He would say, “Racky tacky, put ‘em in the sacky.” He did it with my boys, too. They know what I’m talking about. It was our way of saying “Go get ‘em...Have fun… see you in a little while.”  (Because you never say “good luck" to a hunter. Right Mom?) Then we would head off to our own stands. In the mountains I would usually watch him slip over the top of the ridge. Then we would meet back up after the hunt was over, usually after sundown

I held my Daddy’s hand while his heartbeat faded away to nothing. But when he left, I didn’t say, “Goodbye.” Instead, I gave him that same weird little fist bump, our hunting fistbump, and told him, “Go get ‘em… Have fun ...see you in a little while.” Silas was there, and he did the same thing.

You see, he isn’t really gone. We’ve just parted ways for a bit, headed in different directions. He’s just slipped over the top of the ridge. We’ll be meeting back up after sundown.

Rest Well, Daddy. Love you. See you soon.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Don't Panic! Southerners Do Know How to Handle Snow

Right now the South is bracing for Snowpocalypse 2017. A few days ago, when the weathermen first dared suggest snow was on it's way, the entire population of North Carolina lost its mind. The mad dash to the grocery store for bread and milk ensued, and the aisles at the local Piggly Wiggly became the cornucopia scene from The Hunger Games. Hell hath no fury like a silver-haired old lady trying to grab the last half-gallon of 2%. Heaven has no rage like the mayhem on the bread aisle.

Like most of my neighbors, I've been stalking The Weather Channel for the past 72 hours like a psycho lunatic, monitoring the maps and hourly forecast, trying to pin down just when the flaky white stuff will make it's appearance. The projected time of arrival and amount of accumulation has fluctuated significantly, but the consensus seems to be that the snow will be preceded by some rain showers starting sometime after 7 PM (which will likely wash away all of the salty brine that was sprayed on the roads two days ago).

In a true Southern overreaction, the public schools have decided to close two hours early. Just in case they aren't able to get everyone safely home before it starts raining at dinner time.

This is why our Northern cousins scoff at us. We over react. Not just to snow, but to the mere mention of snow. Days in advance.

And then we don't know how to plow it, or drive in it, or send our kids to school in it. Just a few slushy flakes and we're declaring a state of emergency and cancelling everything. It's like we don't know what do with it.

But we do.

Sure there is a mad dash to the grocery store for bread and milk and alcohol, but it's mostly because we're preparing for a grand party. We know that life will basically stop for at least 24 hours (but probably more), that we will hunker down, wear warm socks, and binge-watch Netflix. It will be glorious as we stoke up a fire, eat some milk sandwiches, kick back and relax. We won't be able to go anywhere, after all. Everything will close. Everything. The stores. The schools. The highways.

But before the relaxing, we'll pile on 27 layers of thin cotton clothing and wrap our feet in plastic bags (There's really no reason to own snow gear when we only see snow a few days each year) to venture outside. We will pelt each other with slush balls and make icy, muddy snow angels. We will catch flakes on our tongues and make sad excuses for snowmen. We will find a way to sled on even a half inch of slushy ice, not on fancy sleds but on trash can lids and laundry baskets and cardboard boxes, flocking to the overpasses if we have to (Actual hills are hard to find in the South East). Or we'll just hook our kids up to an ATV or the back of a pick-up and drag 'em around. Southerners know how to have fun. (This is also why the local hospitals must remain open during snowstorms. No one said we were smart. Have you seen our standardized test scores?)

We all know that the snow isn't going to be that serious. Heck, the temperature is supposed to be back in the mid fifties by Wednesday. No one is going to be trapped inside for days, forced to eat their pets or burn the furniture to survive.

But there's more to life than just surviving, on a snow day or any day. It's something we Southerners understand. It's why life seems to move slower here. We know that life isn't always about hurrying to get somewhere you aren't. Southerners know how to have fun. We know how to party. It's a tradition we hold as dear as sweet tea, ball caps, and Mama's fried chicken. That's why all y'all (This is proper Southern grammar. Please hold your scathing emails.) head down here for Spring Break and Summer Vacation. We not only know how to "raise hell" but we also know how to relax, take things slow, appreciate the finer things in life.

This weekend those finer things will include homemade snow cream, hastily built snow people, rosy cheeks on happy children, and a day off. So scoff in wintry-driving self righteousness if you must, grumpy Northerners. But I think we Southerners know exactly how to handle snow.

Y'all should be jealous.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A Letter to My Daughter on Her 18th Birthday

Dear Hannah,

We made it! Happy 18th birthday, Sweetheart! I don't know if you feel any different today than you did yesterday. Maybe you should. Today is the day you enter legal adulthood, the day that you can legally vote (please take the responsibility seriously and approach the voting booth well-informed and skeptically optimistic), purchase tobacco products (Yuck), enter binding contracts (Please don't enslave yourself to unnecessary debt), and purchase lottery tickets (You have better, more productive things to do with your money. Trust me).

Turning 18 is a pretty big deal. This isn't your run-of-the-mill birthday. You only turn 18 once, after all. So on this momentous day of celebration, I thought I would write you a very personal letter. Sure I'm posting it to the internet for all the world to see, but you should be used to that by now. This is kind of my M.O.

I shouldn't write about the old motherhood cliche, about how I can't believe time passed so quickly, blah, blah, blah. But it's true. I can't believe how fast the years have flown by, especially when each individual day (especially those early ones) seemed to drag on forever, slowed down by the messes and the laundry and the inevitable tears (I admit the tears were mostly mine. You were a fabulously calm baby. But you've met your brothers, right?).

I know that things haven't always been easy for you. I'm fairly certain that your older brother made several attempts on your life (although he swears that Christmas tree just kept toppling over on top of you of its own volition. We eventually had to tie it securely to the wall with 550 paracord. Very festive.) and you didn't always get the best version of me. Too many times you got the rundown, terribly exhausted, paper-thin sanity model of a mother. You had so many hand-me-downs and divided attention and leftovers. There was so much less of me to give to you, and you've always had to cry more, share more, wait more than I would have liked.

But dear, sweet baby girl, I have loved you more than I thought humanly possible. Before you came barreling into this family (after 36 hours of labor. Yes, I plan to remind you of that every single birthday), I doubted the infinity of love. I honestly thought there was only so much to go around. But love isn't like the lap space you had to share with wiggly siblings. It can't be divided. It can't be shared. The moment you were placed warm and reaching into my arms, it was like I grew a whole other heart just for you. I didn't know how much love a person could feel until I felt you in my arms, until that first moment we finally met face to face.

I look at you with awe sometimes, wondering how you could possibly be mine. It is sometimes difficult for me to reconcile the confident, poised, articulate woman I see before me now with the pig-tailed little girl who rolled in mud and loved The Magic Treehouse and Play Doh and Angelina Ballerina. But here you are, so thoughtful and generous, hard-working and dedicated.

I feel like I should be writing this to impart some important and practical life advice, but it isn't necessary. The truth is you astound me with your maturity and tenacity, with your bold sense of purpose, and a wisdom beyond your years. You've proven to be trustworthy and prudent and responsible and all of the things that people your age usually aren't. Honestly, you're a better person than I was at 18. Heck! You're a better person than I am now, at least on most days.

Welcome to the adult world, Baby! I can't wait to see what Life has in store for you. Or maybe I can't wait to see what you have in store for Life. Either way it's going to be an exciting ride.

Happy Birthday! Your life is no longer in my hands, it's now in yours. I know you'll make it beautiful. That is certainly what you've made mine.

And now I am likely to lose myself in a fit of nostalgia and a large bottle of wine. Here's to you, my wonderful, fabulous, beautiful daughter! I am proud beyond words to be your mother. Just remember that no matter which roads you choose to travel, I will always be your number one fan.



Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2017 Can Hear You. Everybody Act Natural.

2016 is almost over, and there are tons of people celebrating it's departure. I suppose for most it's been a crappy year. 2016 is taking Carrie Fisher and Prince with it, while leaving behind a president-elect who largely resembles a sociopathic orangutan.(no offense to orangutans...or sociopaths, for that matter.) It shouldn't be surprising that there is a prominent attitude of "let's just go ahead and get this thing over with already."

I've seen the tweets and status updates broadcasting plans to "stay up until midnight, just so we can watch 2016 die!"

And I've even seen broad proclamations of "2016 was the worst year EVER!" Just scroll through Twitter if you don't believe me.

But really?

2016 was the worst year ever?

Worse than 1348, the year the Black Death reached England, spreading through most of Europe and parts of Asia and the Middle East? Now known as Bubonic Plague, the heinous disease would claim almost 60 percent of Europe's population (taking around 1.5 million human lives) and creating a series of religious, social, and economic cataclysms that would rock the world for centuries.

Worse than 1666, when The Great Plague of London swept across England? It was like Black Death, The Sequel, claiming the lives of more than 100,000 people. And just when you thought the Plague was enough to classify a year as pretty darned shitty, 1666 decided to throw in The Great Fire of London just to keep things real. The fire destroyed over 70,000 homes... which might have been a good thing considering all of those Plague germs laying around. But I wouldn't mention that to anyone whose home just went up in roaring flames if I were you.

Would you say 2016 was worse than 1919 when an influenza pandemic (which started in 1918. Another pretty shitty year) swept over the planet? That was a neat little population reducer, killing off about three to five percent of the world's humans. Also that year, Germany was strong-armed into signing the Treaty of Versailles, which pinned all the blame for World War I on them, plunging that country into a huge economic depression setting the scene for Adolf Hitler to rise to power.

Which brings us to 1933, the year Hitler became the chancellor of Germany and opened the first concentration camp at Dachau, where tens of thousands of prisoners would die. How does 2016 measure to this one? Keep in mind this was also the worst year of The Great Depression. One in four American citizens were unemployed and trying to figure out how to keep their families fed.

Was 2016 worse than 1994, when over 800,000 Rwandans lost their lives in less than 100 days? Maybe only if you were a Tutsi.

How about 2001? Remember those thousands of Americans who lost their lives in the al-Qaeda hijackings that targeted the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11? Almost 3,000 innocent people died in that one. It also marked the beginning of the War on Terror which has also cost the world thousands and thousands of lives. Have we forgotten that? Even when we promised we wouldn't?

Are a few celebrity deaths (although admittedly brilliant celebrities) enough to trump pandemics and war and genocide? Even when we toss this past U.S. presidential election and Brexit into the mix, 2016 still seems relatively tame.

Just trying to throw a little cold harsh perspective in your face, lest 2016 leave you feeling like you need to cower in a safe space with some coloring books, play doh, and some cute friendly therapy dogs because you just can't even. Maybe people are whining about 2016 and it's "Worst. Year. EVER." status, because we've watered down history and discouraged critical thinking. Maybe our failing public education systems are to blame. I mean even a vague understanding of world history should keep anyone from casting such a sweeping claim. Let's be honest, there have been way shittier years in human history than 2016. In comparison, 2016 looks like some sort of punk poser.

Just stop it with the insults to 2016. Sure it was more than a tad on the crappy side, but 2017 is close enough to hear you now. I don't want it to think all of this whining and moping and complaining is some sort of challenge. We don't want 2017 lurking just a few short days away to hear our ranting. We don't want it to come crashing in on January 1 screaming, "You thought 2016 was bad? Here.... Hold my beer and WATCH THIS!"

Everybody just keep quiet and act natural.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Why Are Schools Holding Technology Hostage?

A few weeks ago, at the family dinner table, the subject of Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline came up in conversation. My oldest daughter hadn't heard about the protests or the militarized police presence or the proposed oil pipeline. As I stumbled over the scant details I had picked up from the internet, she finally asked, pulling her phone from her pocket, "Can I just Google it?"

I almost told her no. We have a strict No-Phones-at-the-Dinner-Table rule. Crazy me, I like actually interacting with my family members without having to compete with electronic devices for their attention. But instead of complaining about real-world zombies glued to screens and controlled by electronic leashes, I gave her the green light.

Within a few short minutes, she was up to speed, able to offer relatively informed input, actively engaged in a conversation, that just a few minutes before, she hadn't been able to follow. That quick Google search for background on the Standing Rock protests led to more questions, though.

"What's an 'easement'?"

"What does the Army Corps of Engineers do?"

"What is the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie?"

Instead of having to deal with my awkward (and only marginally informed) answers, my kids had answers within just a few short seconds. Those electronic devices, that so often seem nothing more than a distraction from real life and meaningful human interaction, actually proved to be something else entirely. At that moment, at that dinner table, their phones were windows to real life events and tools that enhanced meaningful conversation.

Everyone walked away from the encounter having learned something. Even me. And I don't even own a phone.

Image Credits: Jon Fingas, Flickr
Meanwhile, I have a friend who is a high school teacher. She was recently complaining about how modern teens are glued to their phones, how they can't seem to function without them, how she has to collect them from her students at the beginning of class, hold their devices like hostages, and then pass them back out when class is over.

I understand the reasoning. Control is difficult to maintain in a classroom of 30 teenagers who really don't want to be there. Getting them to pay attention for a whole hour to a subject they probably care little about, while there are more interesting things just a click away, is a daunting task. And it's super important that they pay attention, because their standardized test scores (and therefore their entire futures) are at stake.

But this is the world we live in now, like it or not. We live in a world of constant connection and instant information. SmartPhones are here to stay. For good.

And maybe it is for good. Used responsibly, those electronic devices provide opportunities for spontaneous research and more thorough understanding. Not just through Google searches, either.

Mobile technology can facilitate collaboration on real-world projects with students on the other side of the planet.

SmartPhone features that help keep adults organized, like calendars, timers, alarms, and reminder apps will work for users under eighteen, too. These useful tools can help students coordinate sports and club activities and keep up with homework and project deadlines.

Online tools enable students to create spreadsheets, forms, slideshows, powerpoint presentations, videos, and word documents. These tools can even be used collaboratively with fellow students. These are the tools that many of them will be using on a daily basis once they are out in the work force. Integration in the classroom just makes sense.

As education budget cuts are limiting classroom technology updates, it seems more important than ever to utilize every technology resource available. Isolating students from their own electronic devices may be doing more harm than good.

Public school already crams children away in classrooms with their peers for hours each day, isolating them from real-world activities and interactions. Confiscating cell phones seems like just another way to isolate kids from real life experience and hinder them in developing real useful life skills.

By having students hand over their electronic devices upon entering the classroom, we are reinforcing the attitude that technology is nothing more than a distraction, when in reality, their phones and tablets can be very useful tools if used responsibly. We need to teach them to use them responsibly. The only way to do that is to have them actually use them, not isolate them or have them sneaking peeks in dark corners like guilty junkies trying not to get caught.

Technology isn't just a great way to waste time. Keeping students from their electronic technology, their own property, is a gross assumption that left to their own devices, students will not be responsible. Technology bans, whether schoolwide or in individual classrooms, prove a blatant lack of trust and rampant suspicion on the part of teachers and administrators. Have we forgotten that school students are human beings? Must they always be treated like criminals?

I get the fear my generation has as we watch the next one basking in the eternal glow of electronic screens, seemingly oblivious to the world around them, but we don't have to technology shame them.

They are natives in this new land of technological advances, even if it still feels foreign to us. Technology is their birthright. This is the new landscape, and like we've locked them behind wooden desks and cinderblock walls away from the real landscape outside, we are now actively isolating them from the cultural landscape. Depriving them of the most useful tools available, is only going to cripple them in the long run. Education is supposed to prepare human beings to function in the adult world, to be productive and well-rounded individuals. An education that neglects the necessary skills for successfully navigating the social landscape isn't much of an education at all. We have to allow them learn to utilize the tools of their culture.

Or we can choose option B and continue to rage against the machines, continuing with education policies that limit and prohibit and postpone encounters with the tools of the future. We could continue to put all of our effort into authoritarian approaches of force and coercion, instead putting it into building responsible, technologically fluent citizens.

I'd like to think we would choose option A. But I've never been very good at multiple choice tests.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Did Racism and Hate Really Win the Election?

Remember how the internet went crazy changing profile pictures to French flags after... I don't remember, I think something happened in France? And remember all of those hashtags of support when those school girls from somewhere had something bad happen to them? Well, apparently it's time to jump on the newest bandwagon of slacktivism.

In the wake of what for many Americans was a rather upsetting presidential election, people are doing something about it, at least doing something that requires little time or involvement or inconvenience. All over college campuses and on subways in big cities, people are donning safety pins. It's a small simple gesture, but it's trending on social media, so it must be important.

In the wake of what has been a divisive political campaign season, many people are declaring themselves allies to America's marginalized groups. Donning a simple safety pin is claimed to be an act of unity and solidarity, a way to show that the pinned individual is "safe" for the teeming masses of the country's demeaned, deprecated, and criticized.

While the gesture may have begun as a display of kindness, it seems to have run rampant, becoming a way for the left to offer themselves a hearty pat on the back, a way to wear their self-righteousness on their sleeve... or at least on their lapel.

The kinds of marginalized people that make the acceptable list for safety-pin wearing slacktivists are women, blacks, latinos, muslims, and anyone who slaps a gender non-conforming label on themselves. But in their fervor to be helpful and inclusive and peaceful and sunshiny, they are forgetting a very important group of marginalized citizens.

I live in small town eastern North Carolina (I didn't vote for Trump, so don't come looking for me), in a county that has 25.3 percent of its citizens living in poverty. This is a rural county. Most people don't come to visit, it's just a necessary evil you drive through on the way to the beach. But if you had taken the time to pull off the highway, enjoy our scenic byways lined with cotton fields and hog farms, you would have seen quite a few Trump/Pence yard signs.

Earlier this fall, well before the election, my family took a weekend trip to the gorgeous North Carolina mountains. While winding through rural places where you can almost hear banjo music if you listen real hard, we saw even more Trump/Pence signs, some of them billboard-sized. They were planted in rocky unkempt yards next to rusty old pickups, plastic lawn furniture, and free-roaming poultry.

While the results from November 8th left a lot of people baffled and confused, if you take a good look at the county-by-county election map, you'll see an obvious trend. Places with large concentrations of population, i.e. large cities, almost unanimously voted for Hillary Clinton, very small pockets of blue when compared to the red that stretched across the country like a spreading bloodstain. Rural America showed up to vote for Donald Trump in uncharacteristic droves.

Progressive minds are pointing fingers from their pity parties and safe spaces, blaming Trump's surprising win on racism, ignorance, and closed-minded country bumpkins. You know, the rednecks who lack culture and education and intelligence? That's the only logical reason that someone so evil and despicable and inhumanly orange could possibly have won the presidency, right?


By and large, it wasn't racism that voted for Donald Trump. It wasn't hate, either. It was desperation.

If you have a few minutes on your next drive to the beach, pull off the highway and take the backroads. Drive through small town America. Take a look at the boarded up storefronts and the empty factories. Rural America is on its death bed.

Poverty isn't only an inner city problem. Those redneck country bumpkins that the left disdains actually suffer from higher rates of poverty than urban areas. They are also more likely to live in extreme poverty, to suffer from it longer, and to have limited access to services such as clinics and hospitals and social services and even soup kitchens. Maybe that's why rural Americans have a lower life expectancy and suffer from higher rates of depression.  While the scenery is sometimes nice, life in rural America is no metaphorical walk in the park. Life is hard and only getting harder. All while rural America has largely been forgotten.

In mid October, Donald Trump held a rally in Fletcher, North Carolina. Fletcher, NC isn't the kind of bustling political hub that tends to generate a lot of interest from presidential candidates. The town only has a population of 7,243 people. I've never been to Fletcher, but I hear they have at least one stop light. Thousands of people packed the agricultural center there to hear him speak. That's thousands of people, perhaps more people than actually live in Fletcher.

While the other side was busy framing the average rural voter as hateful, useless, or "Deplorable", Trump was reaching out to rural America. Trump spoke about jobs leaving the country and moving overseas, a subject that has been felt intensely by people in towns filled with boarded up buildings and brownfields.

For ill or for better, Trump seemed to reach a hand out to rural America and promise to help them.

While celebrities and politicians and college campuses have hugged and welcomed and fought for the rights of blacks and hispanics, women and muslims, and everyone on the LGBTQ spectrum, rural America has been actively marginalized by them. With large paintbrushes of progressive thought, rural Americans have been trivialized as hateful, illiterate, frightening, useless. Their votes shouldn't even count. They have been silenced, told repeatedly that they were nothing more than intolerant racists and misogynists.

And even now, after they sent their voices screaming in bright red from the voting booths, the self-satisfying safety pin wearing left, who claim tolerance and acceptance, are circulating petitions bent on upsetting the electoral college in their favor, ultimately silencing millions of desperate voting voices once and for all. For the good of the country, of course.

For good or for ill, millions of Americans voted for Trump. It was an urgent cry for change, a plea to be heard, an attempt to matter to the powers that be. Instead of trying to silence them, perhaps we should be listening. Maybe they aren't ignorant. Maybe they actually have something to say. Does your safety pin include them?

If you aren't a safe place for them, stop claiming to be a safe place for the marginalized. Because I contend there is no part of the population more criticized and disparaged than the backwoods, small town, hard-working citizens of this country. Their lives matter, too. Even if it isn't catchy or politically correct.

No one likes to be ignored. How many times do you slap a dog before that dog lunges at you with a vicious backlash? Unfortunately, this time the vicious backlash came in the form of Donald Trump.

Maybe we should have listened sooner.

Now stop being smug and condescending. It isn't helping. It isn't helping at all.

And take off that damned safety pin. You look ridiculous.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

This is Armageddon - College Students Cry and Why We're All Doomed

The presidential election is finally over, for better or for worse. I'd like to say that I'm relieved because my life could use a lot fewer political advertisements. By Tuesday afternoon I had a stack of political mail fliers that would put the old Sears and Roebuck catalogue to shame. My youngest had memorized most of the television ads and could recite them with frightening accuracy, including facial expressions and voice inflection. She's a scary kid.

Our family tucked in tight on election night. I spent the night stress drinking and wallowing in despair. My son checked the kitchen to be certain we were well stocked with milk and bread. "This is a shitstorm, not a snowstorm!" my oldest daughter fussed as she rolled her eyes in typical teen exasperation.

My youngest daughter was the only one who felt anything akin to excitement. She had a coloring sheet of the United States so she could fill in all the electoral votes as the results were announced. At thirteen, she is currently disappointed in her lack of opportunities to use crayons, so her coloring sheet was a thrilling chance to put her long-neglected red and blue Crayolas to use.

My oldest made a phone call home after jumping from airplanes and doing other badass military stuff. "Do we have a new supreme overlord yet?" "No... not yet," I told him.

At 1:30 in the morning I finally said, "Enough is enough!" (referring to the election coverage, not my wine consumption) and sent everyone to bed. It was starting to look like my greatest fear was coming to fruition. One of these two candidates was actually going to win the election.

And win one of them did. I'm sorry for the spoiler if you haven't been keeping up with the final season of America... but Trump won. (I know... I was shocked, too.)

I checked the kitchen to make certain we had plenty of bread and milk on hand for the ensuing political apocalypse. I wasn't certain what Armageddon would actually look like, but I figured bread and milk might be somehow important. But surprisingly, Armageddon looked like a fairly normal day. People went to work, dropped the kids off at daycare, folded laundry. The world didn't stop turning after all.

That is... unless you are a college student.

Many universities across the country cancelled classes on Wednesday and offered counseling to help their students cope with the trauma of the election results. Exams were postponed or made optional. Not only that, but therapy dogs, playdough, and crayons were made available in attempts to make the precious snowflakes feel better. And Cornell University actually hosted a "cry-in" to mourn election results, complete with staff handing out tissues and hot chocolate.

I understand that the results of this election have produced a lot of feelings of misery, discouragement, and out-right fear for the future. I totally acknowledge the gloom that has settled over portions of the population like yesterday's misty weather (Totally appropriate Armageddon weather. Thanks, Mother Nature). I get that things may seem bleak and confusing and frightening. I'm confused, too. I don't know whether to be ridiculously happy that Clinton didn't win or angrily upset that Trump did. Things are complicated right now.

But the images of despondent young adults weeping hopelessly while curled on the floor in the fetal position is too much. These are our future leaders we're talking about here. Are they just going to roll over, weep, and take whatever the government decides to dish out? If so, there truly is no hope for us.

Here's the deal, weepy tantrum-throwing young people. You are too old to behave this way. You're basically adults now. You don't get to scream and cry when you don't get your way. That's what two year-olds do, not the future of America. If you don't like the country you're inheriting, you get up off the floor, wipe the snot off your face, put on your big-girl panties, or grow a pair, or whatever gender-inclusive euphemism you choose, and you do something about it.

Sure, Trump might be the most disgusting incarnation of evil you could imagine. But Hillary was no sunshiny cupcake either. Stop calling your neighbors nasty names and accusing them of being hateful bigots. Most people left the voting booth (regardless of which candidate's name they marked with an X) feeling a mixture of guilt and shame, like they had just been complicit in spreading some nasty venereal disease. Very few people emerged feeling full of hope and progress and optimism. Keep that in mind while you're screaming and ranting at friends and family and members of your community who may have voted differently than you.

Besides, if Trump does turn out to be the tyrant you fear him to be, we're all going to need to work together to make things right again. So stop alienating your potential allies. Most people are basically good human beings with good intentions doing the best with what they've got in the moment. Just because they disagree with you, doesn't make them thoroughly wicked or vile... and it doesn't mean they hate you, either.

Perhaps all of these tears and whining and unwillingness to cope are because of too many years of soccer and t-ball, where trophies were handed out for just showing up and no one kept score. Maybe that's why you feel like maybe you should get the president you want because you voted. You showed up. You participated. That's not how the real world works. People lose. Teams lose. Sometimes even when it seems like they deserved to win.

But you know what you do when you lose? Sure, you can go cry in the locker room or run off pouting or angrily take your ball and leave, but what does that accomplish? If you want to be successful, you have to work so hard that you ache. You have to be tired and sore and you have to get dirty. If you want things to change, you have to make them change.

If you don't like where this country is headed, then do something about it. And you don't even have to wait four years to vote for it. We don't have to be victims of our government, even the one we've elected. There's more to social change than stepping into a polling booth. That's just one aspect. I promise you aren't helpless babies, no matter how our institutions of higher learning may be treating you. The fastest way out of despair is action.

Trump is only one person, although a person who will soon be handed a large amount of power. If we are this afraid of the wrong person being president, that is a hint that maybe the president . . . any president . . .even if it's the person you voted for, has way too much power. No one should have that much capacity for destruction, oppression, or domination, even if they have a pen and a phone.

Do you know what your forebears did when faced with cruelty and heinous evil? Do you know what they did when they confronted tyranny? They stormed the beaches of Normandy. They wielded bayonets at Yorktown. They waded through rice paddies in Vietnam. They didn't waste time coloring mandalas or squishing playdough or crying inconsolably on the floor. You should all be ashamed of yourselves. You come from better stock.

I'm not saying it's time to take up literal arms, but even virtual arms or symbolic arms or metaphorical arms would be better than this pansy-ass whimpering wuss fest happening on campuses of higher learning. Your parents are paying too much for your education to waste it on skipping class to do coloring sheets, even if you are feeling despondent.

Remember, it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness. Even when it seems really, really dark.

And speaking of dark... it's okay to do your crying there. But let's show the world a braver face, shall we?


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