Tag Archives: education

Dear Donald: A Plea For Decency

19 Dec

trumpstampDear Donald:

How unfortunate that the only truth you managed in the past two years was that the “election was rigged.” Sadly it was rigged on your behalf. While I fear this plea will fall prey to your pathological narcissism and thus will not be heard, I make it nonetheless.

It looks as though you may be assuming the role of President of the United States. May I implore you to rise to the occasion — to comport yourself with the gravitas of the role of a world leader?  You are NOT representing yourself here, rather you are representing every person that lives in the United States. Sadly, you have “drained the swamp” (your words) directly into your cabinet and have caused great alarm for all targeted people and communities living in the US. This is not just about misogyny, but about how someone who demonstrates every day that his ego rules over all else and whose success is rooted in the oppression of women, people of color, the LGBT community, people with disabilities, and all of the intersections therein.

For you and your followers, we need something to prove you all are not racist, homophobes, misogynists, breeders of hate. Your appointment of white supremacist and homophobe Steve Bannon does not inspire hope. Your appointment of white supremacist and homophobe Jeff Sessions further deteriorates any modicum of trust in your judgement. Sessions who was declared “too racist” during the Reagan years is now fit to be in your cabinet? One can hardly take solace in your appointment of Rex Tillerson, the Director a US/Russian oil company, as the next Secretary of State–conflict of interest much?  In fact, every appointment you have made demonstrates great disdain for the office they will hold and nothing but contempt and disrespect for the American people.

According the the Southern Poverty Law Center, CNN, Time, The New York Times, and myriad other publications, hate crimes have increased exponentially since the election. Sadly, you have done nothing to disavow any of this horrific behavior. As such, your silence condones it. Your supporters have grown so emboldened that they are ushering in the New Fascism. Ohio has just passed some of the most restrictive laws that preclude women from governing their own bodies. Louisiana has now passed laws that declare LGBT protections illegal, thanks to eternal homophobe Jeff Landry.

Given the evidence of the intercession of the Russians to influence the election in your favor, I know many are now worried about war. Is this what you want to be your legacy? Your inability to understand diplomacy, the need for intelligence meetings, (I know you consider yourself “biggly smart”), your disdain for science and for education should alarm us all. This is where I hope I am categorically wrong. I hope we do not end up in another war because of you. I shall take no pleasure in telling your supporters that they have only themselves to thank for another war and the loss of human life for caprice.

Yes, while I suspect this plea will be wholly ignored, I also implore all people living in the United States to resist the New Fascism, for us all to stand in solidarity, to work together to ensure that your threat to democracy does not prevail. Mr. Trump, “Have you no decency sir?”

I shall end this letter asking everyone: who will you take action to stand with and harbor? Sweet Honey in the Rock: Would You Harbor Me?

Paul Ryan: Beware

2 Nov

Paul RyanI’m not even sure how to begin to unpack this colossal lying, hypocritical,  racist, misogynistic, ignorant, self-serving piece of hell whom we now call the Speaker of the House. I think I will start with the miseducation of Paul Ryan. I heard him say that this is not a national position. What? Did you really just say that out loud? Where did you go to school Speaker Ryan? The Speaker of the House is second in line to become the President of the United States, should something untoward happen to the President and Vice-President. How is that not a national position?

I think it would behoove all of us living in the United States to fully understand what we have with Ryan as he now holds such emormous power.  This is the man who said in his acceptance speech that:

I never thought I’d be the speaker. But early in my life, I wanted to serve in the House. I thought the place was exhilarating—because here, you could make a difference. If you had a good idea and worked hard, you could make it happen. You could improve people’s lives. To me, the House represented the best of America: the boundless opportunity to do good.

But let’s be frank: The House is broken. We are not solving problems. We are adding to them. And I am not interested in laying blame. We are not settling scores. We are wiping the slate clean. Neither the members nor the people are satisfied with how things are going. We need to make some changes, starting with how the House does business.

We need to let every member contribute…

Wow! Clearly, this is a man who has zero capacity for self-reflection. When he said, “improve people’s lives,” about whom was he talking? His career is built on keeping many targeted populations from having better lives. For example, Ryan proposed to cut social programs such as Medicare and Food Stamps and gutting Planned Parenthood. I will use his own words here: “I support the rights of the unborn child. Personally, I believe that life begins at conception, and it is for that reason that I feel we need to protect that life as we would protect other children.”  Sadly, he does not support family leave for women or families to take care of children — more than ironic given he demanded he be allowed time to spend time with his family before accepting the job of Speaker of the House. What a perfect example of “I want mine and I don’t care if you get  yours.”

Yes, Mr. Ryan, the House is broken. When were you planning an apology here? Let us remember that you are one of the architects who helped to break the House with your obstructionist agenda.  Of course you are not “interested in laying blame,” because that would mean you would have to apologize to the people of the United States, specifically all targeted populations and all people experiencing poverty. Perhaps we could “wipe the slate clean” by putting you and the other tea party members in check.

You continue to obstruct the Affordable Health Care Act and offer to repeal it. How does that “improve people’s lives”?  Easy for you to propose because you have a Cadillac health insurance policy paid for by the citizens you are working against.  In fact, you continue to work AGAINST women, people of color, the poor, and the LGBTQ community. (You champion promoting workplace discrimination against the LGBT community.)  From my perspective, you seem to be only concerned with white, heterosexual, Christian, wealthy men.

You also seem to be a big fan of wars, having supported going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Have you been to war? What do you propose to do to support veterans after they serve? You have consistently voted to cut veterans’s benefits, which seems both ironic and hypocritical if you are sending troops to war.

I can only hope your tenure as Speaker of the House is exceedingly short lived and that more intelligent voices will prevail and replace you with due speed.  I do wonder what your mentor Ayn Rand would think of your current position, or the fact that even former Speaker Bohener (not a friend to anyone) thought your budget proposal was too harsh.

Sadly, I am not encouraged or excited to see how you will perform in what is most certainly a national role.  Let us hope you prove me wrong.

LGBT Pride and History Month 2014: Jared Polis

29 Jun

JaredpolisToday I would like to honor and celebrate Representative Jared Polis from Colorado.  Polis is currently one of a handful openly gay member of congress — no small feat given how welcoming John Boehner has made the House of Representatives for the LGBTQ community. He’s also the first out gay parent to serve in Congress.

Polis has dedicated his life to improving education. While his business enterprises have been diverse, he has focused his extensive philanthropy and political aspirations on ensuring access to quality education for everyone. His first elected office was to the Colorado State Board of Education, where he served part of his term as Chair. He also worked to ensure the passage of the largest school bond proposal in Colorado history, improving and modernizing educational facilities in the Boulder Valley School District.

Polis has put his own money to work as well, creating a foundation dedicated to creating “opportunities for success by supporting educators, increasing access to technology, and strengthening our community.” His work focuses on ensuring that schools have adequate technology to prepare students for success in a rapidly changing world. He also demonstrates amazing dedication to issues of racial equity, as he strives to create better access for targeted and immigrant children.

Since 2008, Polis has been the Representative for Colorado’s 2nd District. In Congress he continues his push for quality education, serving on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. He also chairs the Red to Blue program, helping Democratic candidates in competitive Republican-held districts. Rep. Polis is an outspoken critic of the lives and money the U.S. has wasted in Iraq and Afghanistan. A staunch supporter of civil rights, he has supported legislation and action opposing US involvement in countries with anti-gay laws as well as programs supporting the LGBT community in Iraq, Honduras, and elsewhere.

Jared Polis has been open and out throughout his career, providing a visible example of a proud, successful gay man as well as a supportive partner and father. I would also like to take time to thank all of the LGBTQ parents raising children and being visible! It is still relatively early in Rep. Polis’ career, but his work thus far indicates a commitment to equity and opportunity. I look forward to seeing how that passion grows.

Black History Month 2013: Loretta Long

27 Feb

LorettaLongToday we honor and celebrate a woman who has been a key part of the lives of millions of children, Dr. Loretta Long. As Susan, Long has been a member of the cast of Sesame Street longer than anyone but two colleagues: Bob McGrath and Caroll Spinney (the puppeteer who portrays Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch).

Born in Paw Paw, MI in 1940, Long pursued a degree in Education, determined to make a difference in young lives. She was also interested in entertainment, and began co-hosting the WNET show Soul! while substitute teaching. The show mixed musical variety (including performances by Stevie Wonder and Patti LaBelle) with frank political commentary, appealing to all Long’s interests. One day she saw the set decorator preparing scenes for a new program and asked for more information. The show was Sesame Street.

[It] wasn’t Dick and Jane’s old neighborhood with the picket fence. That intrigued me.

Impressed by the educational and multicultural goals of the program, Long went to audition. What she didn’t know was that the creators were looking for a “Joan Baez type” for the female lead. All the other performers were there with guitars; Long had expected a pianist. Improvising, she sang “I’m A Little Teapot” to the children in the test audience, engaging them to join in. Her infectious good humor and way with the kids won her the part.

So that–I have some 4-year-olds to thank for a career!

Long taped the show, substitute taught (much to the confusion of students who saw her in the classroom and on TV), and pursued her PhD in Education from the University of Massachusetts all at the same time. She wanted to be sure to have the tools to make education meaningful and fun both. Her dissertation was entitled “Sesame Street”: A Space Age Approach to Education for Space Age Kids.

While educating generations of children on fair play, diversity, and basic skills, Long has also been a strong voice for social justice. She is dedicated to creating true equity and challenges people to think outside their comfort zones.

In 1998, she wrote the children’s book Courtney’s Birthday Party, about two girls who are best friends, one white and one black. When Courtney, the white girl, has a birthday party coming, her mother doesn’t want to invite Dejana, her African-American friend. The girls work together to solve the situation, promoting diversity and cooperation. Long faced some criticism for the book because people felt it wasn’t realistic in 1998. She demanded otherwise (quite accurately) and provided kids, parents, and teachers with a marvelous tool.

We seldom know about the backgrounds of the entertainers who create educational programming. As Long observes,

TV is like fire. It’s good when it keeps you warm and bad if it burns your house down. TV is very popular and you need to be aware of what your children are watching.

The cast of Sesame Street were all dedicated to true educational and social justice principles (including the late Will Lee, better known as Mr. Hooper). Thank you Dr. Loretta “Susan” Long for providing your voice and passion for so many years.

(For a wonderful, lengthy interview with Dr. Long, visit the Archive of American Television.)

Black History Month 2013: will.i.am

11 Feb

will.i.amToday it is my pleasure to honor and celebrate musician and social justice activist will.i.am. William James Adams was born in L.A. in 1975. He grew up in the Estrada Courts projects surrounded by poverty and struggling minority families. He was raised by Debra Adams, a single mom who wanted the best for her son and pushed him to be true to his unique self. She fostered his musical inclinations and helped him get in to Pallisades Charter High School, where he met Allan (apl.de.ap) Pineda.

The two formed Atban Klann, a socially-conscious rap group, which caught the attention of Eazy-E. He helped them land a deal before they were out of high school. They recorded and performed while will.i.am was also a regular on the rave scene, taking in a wide variety of musical influences. After Eazy-E’s death, the group transformed into the Black Eyed Peas and began one of the biggest musical careers of the last 20 years.

Solo and with the group, will.i.am has won seven Grammys, eight American Music Awards, a Billboard Music award, and dozens of other awards and accolades. Along the way, they have sold over 60 million albums and spent dozens of weeks atop the American and British charts. What makes will.i.am so remarkable is that he has channeled his money and success into making the world a better place.

He is an outspoken political activist who campaigned for President Obama in 2008 and 2012. He helped arrange the “Yes We Can” video and album that raised money and awareness for the campaign. Disdainful of how politics are practiced, he is optimistic about what good politicians can accomplish, especially after spending time touring outside the U.S.

The spark was traveling outside America and seeing it from a distance, seeing the way people viewed us. America went from this beautiful country to “Oh my gosh, you guys are so stupid.” But America tomorrow could still be the light of the world.

He is also a tireless activist for education, particularly science, technology, and math. He founded will.i.am angel, a non-profit dedicated to transforming lives through education, opportunity and inspiration. It provides educational opportunities for disadvantaged and marginalized children and helps create strong educational programs. He also spends a fair amount of time in Great Britain and has donated significant time and money to the Prince’s Trust there.

will.i.am clearly sees the intersections of oppression and the connection between ugly 1% politics and the spiral of poverty.

You can rule ignorance; you can manipulate the illiterate; you can do whatever you want when a people are uneducated, so that goes in line with corrupt business and corrupt politics. And they’re so transparent about it! They’re telling you right to your face that they’re cutting education because they want you to stay stupid. They don’t want you to know what’s good for your body, mind, or community, and they don’t want you to have a future, they just want you to consume the shit that they benefit from. They don’t want you to be rich, they want you to be butt-ass poor and in debt … That’s not my America.

On top of his talent and passion, he’s a witty, charming, and humble man who truly enjoys sharing his ideas. I first developed a real appreciation for him when he appeared on The Graham Norton Show with one of my favorite people, Miriam Margolyes. Their interaction is absolutely delightful and I dare anyone not to be in love with them both.

Before the age of 40, will.i.am has already made the world a better place and provided both example and opportunity to others. Who knows what else he will accomplish?

Happy Birthday, M. Carey Thomas

2 Jan

M_Carey_ThomasOn this date in 1858 a pioneer in education and women’s rights was born. Martha Carey Thomas — known as Minnie to her family but simply as Carey by her own preference — was born into a Quaker family in Baltimore. She was badly burned at the age of seven and became an avid reader during her convalescence. She had a strong independent spirit, influenced by her mother and aunt, both early proto-feminists. She graduated from Cornell’s Sage college and was offered a position as dean but opted to expand her horizons first.

Coming from great privilege, she toured Europe where she developed a love of music and theatre. This put her at odds with her Quaker upbringing, leaving her largely without religion for the rest of her life. She attended a number of universities in Europe to demonstrate the academic prowess of women and received a PhD in linguistics from the University of Zurich. (Her dissertation was on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, one of my favorite works of literature.)

When Thomas returned from Europe, her father had just been made a trustee of the new Byrn Mawr college. Drawing on her academic strength, she petitioned to be made president of the university. Citing her age — she was 25 — the board rejected her offer but made her a professor of English and a dean. Recognizing her talents, President John Rhoads had her tour other women’s colleges to get ideas for the new school. She visited Vassar, Smith College, Wellesley, Cambridge in Boston, and Radcliffe, returning with a stronger sense of feminism and a strong desire to improve education for women.

After Rhoads’ death in 1894, Thomas was made President. She stopped teaching, but continued as Dean until 1908. She maintained strict academic standards and designed a system of tracked academic courses modelled on Johns Hopkins. (She herself had attended that school but left because she could not officially gain credits as a woman.) She frequently lectured on women’s intellectual equality with men.

One man’s mind differs from another man’s mind far more widely than all women’s minds differ from all men’s.

She was a staunch suffragist and the first president of the National College Women’s Equal Suffrage League. She was also a peace activist and a supporter of the Progressive party. Sadly, she did not always use her privilege for good. Despite being part of a marginalized population and an activist for equality for women, she was also a eugenicist and an opponent of non-European immigration, thus showing her complexity as a flawed human being.

Thomas was romantically involved with Mamie Gwinn, whom she had met while studying in Leipzig. They were together for many years until Gwinn left her to marry a man. That triangle was immortalized by Gertrude Stein in Fernhurst. She later became involved with Mary Garrett, with whom she lived in the campus president’s home until Garrett’s death.

Carey Thomas retired from Bryn Mawr in 1922. Mary Garrett had left her the astounding sum of $1.5 million; she dedicated some to the school and used to the rest to retire in luxury, engaging in world travel and her love of music and theatre. She died in December 1935 at the age of 78, leaving behind a complicated legacy.  While I do celebrate Thomas’ voice for the Suffragist Movement, her peace activism, and her stand for equality for women, it is a great disappointment to see that she was not able to look at the intersections of oppression, or realize how her eugenicist beliefs marginalized people, as she was marginalized.

Number 1 Hero of the Year 2012: Malala Yousafzai

31 Dec
Number 1 Hero of 2012

Number 1 Hero of 2012

Even with all the wonderful nominations TSM received for Hero of the Year, the winner was clear from early on. No one received more nominations than Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai. The final decisions were based on more than just votes, however. Yousafzai — a young woman of 15! — is a shining example of social justice. Having virtually no inherent power or privilege, she found her voice at the age of 11 and has used it to great effect.

All of the heroes and honorable mentions have made the world a better place. What sets Yousafzai apart is the very real risks she takes every day. She has less to start with and has put it all on the line, even suffering a potentially fatal gunshot wound from Taliban assassins.

Her mission is simple but powerful — every child in the world should have access to a reasonable education by 2015. Coming from a place that believes women should never be educated, she understands the power of learning and reading. Nurtured by her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, also an education activist, she began blogging about conditions in her province for the BBC at age 11. She also attended a Peshawar press club event, getting rousing applause for her powerful question:

How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?

For her powerful voice, tireless activism, willingness to risk all, and youthful promise, TSM is proud to honor Malala Youfsazai as Hero of the Year.

Honorable mention for the top spot goes to another Muslim activist seeking change. Ludovic Mohammed Zahed started the Unity mosque in Paris, the first fully LGBT embracing house of Islamic worship. Zahed’s mission includes full inclusion for women and transgender worshippers. He’s another brilliant example of change from the grass roots and a great example of using personal power to change the world for everyone’s benefit.

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