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Betsy DeVos: Inexperienced and Unqualified – and Anti-Public Schools

Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, has not one day of experience as a professional educator and has never held public office. Not a good sign.

She and her children all attended private schools due to abundant family resources. She therefore wants to give poor children the same opportunities. The same options. Or so she says.

Break out the violins.

In this teacher’s humble opinion, the best thing for most children – almost all, I would say – is a good neighborhood public school. One they can walk to, if possible. A school where children have friends that live nearby (remember when kids didn’t require a two week-in-advance play-date appointment?).

Parents need their kids’ schools to serve as a hub for the community. To be places where they can meet neighbors at a rummage sale or pot-luck supper. A place to build friendships. And where they can pick up a sick son or daughter in a matter of minutes, without traveling across town.

If one of her privatized schools doesn’t work out for a family, I heard DeVos say in an interview, they can select another one.

Is she serious?

Changing schools is traumatic. The parent – usually a mother who’s already got her hands full – needs to spend time doing research before school-hopping. But privatized schools are not accountable to anyone except themselves. If a parent has a problem with anything, tough nuggies.

Teachers’ unions are up in arms about Trump’s pick for the nation’s top educator. Why would a president pick someone who wants to destroy the most important vehicle for elevating the masses? I think the answer is plain enough. 

For corporate giants who require cheap labor, the masses need to stay where they are!

But teachers deserve to be paid what they’re worth and have sufficient benefits. They want schools that are regulated and accountable for students’ progress. Schools that won’t close down, tossing both teachers and students out on their ears when the profiteers call it quits – which has happened in DeVos’s state of Michigan, where a high percentage of schools have been privatized, due to her influence.

She makes it no secret. DeVos’s real aim is pushing for-profit schools, which she couches in beneficent terms like “school choice,” “charter schools,” and “vouchers,” making it seem as though poor families deserve what families like hers can have in a heartbeat.

But I for one am tired of hearing conservative Christians promote ministries-for-profit while posturing as saviors of mankind. Next thing we know Chick-Fil-A, the Christian Conservatives’  favorite fast-food restaurant, will be running the country’s school lunch program.

I can’t help but question: Is it really the gospel of Jesus Christ that’s on her family’s mind, or the funneling of tax payer money into corporate hands? To me, for-profit education reeks of a philosophy steeped in social Darwinism. (A nasty old bugger!) This 19th century albatross perpetuated the idea that the highest social and economic classes should take advantage of the less fortunate due to their “evolutionary” flaws. It promoted a racist agenda that encouraged the cream to stay at top of the social pyramid – while the masses floundered at the bottom.

In the past, however, public education, like the military, has been the source of upward mobility, moving people into the middle class like a great equalizer. But it has not been doing a good job of it in the past quarter-century. The effects of globalization required that our children not have quite so much general knowledge, and much maneuvering has happened on the pedagogical front, pushed into schools by non-profit-funded educational gurus like the late education-reformer Ted Sizer. His “less is more” mumbo-jumbo required massive teacher reeducation on the nine principles of his “Coalition of Essential Schools,” which became widespread in the 1990s.

It was then that I learned about the new paradigm. No longer was the teacher the teacher. She was a facilitator, and the student was to be in charge of his own learning. This changed everything. Yet no teacher or administrator offered me this information. I had to dig it out.

In my view, education reformers threw the baby out with the bathwater. Under Bill Clinton and Goals 2000 there were many reform models. Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Pew, among other foundations, provided the grant money to fund the change-agents.

But here’s the thing: Children need to know what they don’t know. Otherwise they end up an arrogant lot with inappropriate levels of self-esteem and weak basic skills. In some schools, a third-grader may know what a simile is, but see no reason to copy a word correctly when it’s placed in front of him. A class may be taught about primary sources, but be clueless about capitalization and punctuation.  A cut-and-color worksheet featuring gingerbread houses and gingerbread men is presented to kindergarten children who have never tasted gingerbread. Is nobody minding the store?

When children in elementary school are given developmentally and cognitively accelerated learning concepts, they are pushed too quickly into abstract thinking before they are ready for it. Some middle school children are so lacking in fine motor skills they cannot hold a pencil properly. Why is this? Textbooks are no longer viewed as essential learning tools, which only adds to the confusion. I wince when I think how little factual knowledge students will have when they graduate.

But DeVos’s pay-for-play leadership is not the answer to these problems. What we need is an understanding that children cannot learn when they are under stress at home. Parents and other primary caregivers must gain an understanding of how abundant positive interactions build brain circuitry and bonding, for healthy cognitive and emotional development. Parents and teachers must also understand effects of childhood developmental trauma that stems from a lack of such interactions, leading to neglect, and how such neglect negatively impacts brain development. That’s just for starters. Then we need greater empathy in the classroom.  More eye-contact and compassion. And the belief that every child should develop to his or her highest potential. But teachers must also understand their role in polishing these diamonds-in-the-rough. A diamond cannot polish itself.

My term for it is sweet striving. It’s when a child is encouraged to make something beautiful and not give up, but put in their best effort.

DeVos’s realm is wealthy indeed. And vast. And it is hard to stop anyone whose money wields such power.

Quoted in this Jan. 11, 2017, Cosmopolitan article, DeVos said, “I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect some things in return.

“We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment; we expect a good and honest government. Furthermore, we expect the Republican party to use the money to promote these policies, and yes, to win elections.

“People like us must surely be stopped.”

I’m not sure what she’s implying in her last statement. Except that it’s a projection of what she believes people would like to do to her and those who support her. And she would be right. FFG

Surprised by Snow

We never seemed to know when a snow storm was coming. Back in the day we didn’t have Doppler Weather Radar. Or maybe we just didn’t care.

But no big deal. Most mothers were stay-at-home, and expert in the science of unjamming snowsuit zippers, and pulling on leggings and mittens.

My siblings and I cheered when we heard the hoped-for announcement over a local radio station. We couldn’t wait to set out for Frenchy’s Hill. Somehow, all memories of frozen fingers and toes from last winter had been erased from our minds.

As we loaded up on french toast or scrambled eggs – whatever Mom had on the stove – we’d hear the early scraaape-scraaape-scrape of snow shovels on the sidewalk. Someone clearing a path. Chester Smith, the old man next door, used to yell if you stepped on his grass.  Once I shoveled his walk as a favor. He poked his head outside and grumbled, “Come here and I’ll give you a quarter!”

I didn’t even want it.

Today, once again, we have a snow day.

I was notified of the mini-vacation by the school district’s website. Red letters flashed at the top of the screen: CLASSES CANCELED TODAY, FRIDAY, JAN. 6, 2017.  Now I can hunker down, instead of substitute teaching a bunch of seventh graders whose lack of understanding about what it means to “read” anything can only be described as a gaping hole. Continue reading

Alt-Right Son Needs Reminder of Christ’s Message

As the oldest of six children, I was forever trying to make everyone to get along. “Let’s play Monopoly,” I’d offer when our parents went out. But they were a wild bunch, my siblings, and basically out of control. I couldn’t do much about it. But I didn’t know any better, being a kid myself.  Maybe that’s why I’m such a peace-lover today. I worry when parents do stupid things to hurt their children, and when children hurt their parents. And I worry about the new trend of unmasking hatred, a horrible omen unveiled by our president elect.

That’s what’s happening in a little ski town in Montana, where cheerful Christmas lights strung between rustic shops belie the fact that a son’s alt-right political organization, which is based in that town, stands to destroy his family and the peace of its residents.

The son is Richard Spencer, a prodigal if there ever was one. The man ought to hang his head in shame. A building his parents own in the resort town of Whitefish, MT, is the scene of local protests, especially due to Spencer’s anti-Semitic views.

While the parents, Rand and Sherry Spencer, seem to be trying to separate themselves from their son’s alt-right opinions, evident in a Dec. 17 op-ed letter published on the Daily Interlake’s webside, they fall short of disavowing him. “As parents we love our son. We are not accustomed to the spotlight. Furthermore, we feel we are not part of the story, nor do we wish to be a part of this story, as our son is a grown man.”

Spencer, or course, thinks he’s doing his patriotic duty. His views, which are fringe Right Wing, make the Tea Party seem innocuous by comparison.

As a result, his parents’ names and reputation have been tarnished, and their tenant business-owners have suffered financial consequences.

Is it fair? I think not.

I remember when my younger brother paraded around the high school stage waving a sign in support of the George Wallace during the 1968 presidential race. The late four-term governor of Louisiana was avowed supporter of segregation, even calling out the National Guard to keep black students from entering a university. That year Wallace ran against Richard Nixon, a Republican, and Hubert Humphrey, a Democrat.

I never felt more embarrassed, sitting in the auditorium that day. My best friends were of different races, and I was proud to know them: one was Jewish, another an Estonian immigrant, and another black. We ate lunch together every day for three years.

To add fuel to the fire, a Neo-Nazi site, The Daily Stormer, is doing a “human flesh search” on the Whitefish protesters, many of whom are Jewish, and publishing their personal contact information and photos.

Where will the hatred end?

This is Christmastide, so let’s look at the truth, and the reason for Christmas in the first place: Christ said, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”

Love your brothers and sisters. Even if you don’t want to. Because each of us needs to be the change we want to see in the world. FFG

Four Ways to Value Friends and Family – Without Buying A Single Thing

I used to think I couldn’t visit a friend without taking along some little gift – a loaf of homemade bread, usually.

Fortunately, I got over it, eventually realizing that most of the time, my humble presence was sufficient. I learned that what happens during our visit is far more important than my latest recipe.

What counts is giving people value.

In making others feel valued, we reflect how God sees them – beautiful and perfect. So – what we do and say when we are with loved ones matters. It matters a lot.

I must admit, I haven’t always been great at this. Not even what I’d call “good.” (But thank God for neuroplasticity. The brain – and our habits – can change.)

In my experience,  it’s important to consciously zero in on what truly makes people feel loved and respected. Or at least try.

Here’s my short list:

  1. Making eye-contact. We all know people whose eyes roam around the room while they’re talking to us. They’re distracted. Unable to focus. And how does that make us feel? We wonder if they’re even listening to what we have to say! Believe me, I know about distracted people.  I used to be one of them. Making eye-contact conveys respect. It says, “I appreciate you.”
  2. Being still.That means being present, especially when someone needs us to listen. You’ve heard the saying, “We are not human “doings,” we are human “beings.” (Although I will be the first to support good works.) Remaining still makes us mentally available. It allows someone to “empty their cup”and tells them they are deserving of being “heard.” Even a small child. Especially a small child. We simply give the other person our time and attention – and listen with empathy.  When my older daughter was trying to choose a college, she’d visited all the schools where she’d been accepted, and already attended a departmental event at one school. But she was still undecided. Then another invitation arrived in the mail, for a special meet-the-department chair event on a particular Saturday. But she really wasn’t excited about going.  So early that morning, I went into her room and lay down beside her. What a tough age – and a tough decision! I mentioned that we could go, and be there in two hours. Would she like to take another look?” In our time on the bed, she revealed that the first time she visited the school, students had led the discussions. She’d been disappointed in their presentation. But she’d never mentioned any of that. Now, with this bit of information, I proposed she give it another shot, because an actual professor would be speaking.  We went. She loved it, and now it’s all history. Remember, you can never tell what impact your being there will have on someone’s life.
  3. Touching. Touch is the earliest form of connection. It’s what babies feel in the womb, even before they can hear, around four months gestation. For babies and young children, touch is not optional, but essential for weight-gain and physical growth as well as social-emotional development. I carried all my children in a red corduroy Snugli, keeping them close. I recall one night when my youngest, then three, tucked my hand under her cheek as she fell asleep. She wanted me to stay with her and my hand gave her comfort. With teens, we need to take our cues from them – never forcing it – but responding in a way that respects boundaries and is comfortable for their personalities. In some cultures, men openly hug in greeting. Women are seen walking arm in arm. (Two of my husband’s cousins do this and I love it!). Reaching out to touch another’s arm or shoulder while talking, or hold a hand, shows the person we value who God made them in the flesh. And there’s nothing more accepting than that.
  4. Saying their name. Yup. Pretty simple. You can give someone value just by using their name – albeit in the right tone. I was recently touched when my mom casually inserted my name into a sentence during a conversation. To me it meant, “I am speaking directly to you, no one else.” Doing this brings the conversation into the present moment. It’s a powerful way of telling someone you really “see” them.

Valuing the people in our lives is what we are meant to do – lifting them up, helping them become more. And we could all do a little more of it.  FFG.

 

The Mommy Apocalypse: Daycare, Oxytocin, and Why We’re Becoming A Society of Non-Nurturers

“As childcare costs overwhelm young families, more women are staying home, and families are losing financial ground,” according to the blurb for a 2014 segment of NPR’s To The Point, guest hosted by Barbara Bogaev.  Then came the embedded solutions family policy experts like to apply:  “Should employers step up with paid leave, flexible work hours, on-site preschool?”

As a mom who hand-raised four kids, the premise for the program, titled, “The Rising Cost of Childcare,” stuck in my craw for months.

So I came up with few question of my own: If we now know that maternal nurturing behavior is passed down to the next generation, why are Americans still so in love with letting other people raise their kids? Some babies aren’t even dry behind the ears before they’re handed off to a stranger.

And could our propensity for surrogate parenting be responsible for our evolution as a nation of non-nurturers? Which is definitely where we’re heading.

Think about our schools’  “zero tolerance” policies – one strike and you’re out. The way our country’s mentally ill are now sentenced to prison instead of hospitals. And how the right to bear arms has become the rallying cry of many conservative Christians, of far more importance than either healthcare and education. (Blessed are the gun-owners?) And the heartless way in which police shoot first, ask questions later.

To support their views – and to my great consternation – Bogaev’s panelists also linked rising childcare costs to a “stalled” women’s movement and decreasing family budgets.

A stalled women’s movement – as though intelligent women who opt to put their children first are a bunch of empty-headed Lucy Ricardos who can’t figure out how to open a pickle jar.

The message was much like any other marketing spiel that “pushes” commodities in consumer’s faces, like toothpaste and laundry soap. In this case, the commodity is daycare. The rationale for buying it is that it’s a necessity.

Too bad they didn’t present any data on what happens when the maternal-infant bond is broken early on, day in and day out.

Regardless of the family’s financial status, a baby’s need for intense nurturing is real. For those willing to look at the child’s side of the equation, there’s plenty of research on why Mom will always be baby’s best bet.

Meanwhile, as we wait for pediatricians to catch up with the latest neuroscience, the bad advice continues unabated. A mom in my infant massage class was recently advised by a friend to let her 5-month-old baby cry-it-out. The friend admonished the mom for picking the baby up right away, saying she would never learn to sleep on her own. (I suspect the friend was jealous!)

I started thinking, who are these anti-nurturers, and why do they persist in telling mothers to neglect their young?  Are we entering the Mommy Apocalypse, marked by a breed of genetically modified women whose “touch receptors” have been inactivated?

No, I’m not writing a sci-fi novel. But the idea isn’t far-fetched.

We could be seeing a population of mothers whose maternal behavior has been altered by a history of insecure maternal attachment, which then becomes a generational pattern. In such moms, oxytocin production may be blocked due to stress-induced epigenetic changes in the DNA – which has been seen in rat studies. And since oxytocin is necessary for dopamine production, these moms won’t light up with joy upon seeing their babies’ faces. In other words, the brain’s reward system is… qu’est ce que c’est? Broken.

Even more sadly, this type of mother may not be able to understand why other moms would even want to cuddle their babies.  Even watching the lovey-dovey stuff makes them nervous.

Low oxytocin has been correlated with low trust as well as decreased empathy.

I spoke with a mom a few years ago who honestly believed there’s no absolutely no difference between at-home maternal care and daycare. “Anyone can change a diaper. The baby doesn’t care who’s doing it,” she said.

The unfeeling woman could be a poster child for pediatrician Lane Strathearn’s article, Maternal Neglect: Oxytocin, Dopamine and the Neurobiology of Attachment, published in the Journal of Neuroendicrinology (Oct. 17, 2011)

Strathearn writes, [W]omen who report childhood emotional neglect show significantly reduced levels of CSC oxytocin, as is also seen for other types of maltreatment (though not for physical neglect).

The article cites rat studies that demonstrate how non-nurturing behavior, as well as nurturing behavior, create generational cycles.

However, Strathearn says in closing, “Further research is needed to explore whether modern obstetric and childrearing practices—such as scheduled cesarean sections, early non-maternal childcare, and lack of physical touch—may be contributing to this cycle of neglect. Additional studies are needed to explore the role of oxytocin in promoting secure mother-infant attachment.” (Lifted from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2826.2011.02228.x/full)

Could it be, as Bogaev’s pro-daycare brigade points out, that families in which the mother quits working are “losing financial ground?”

I suggest we look at loss of income in another way. For example, as an opportunity for a mother to play a significant role in shaping her child’s development.

Parents who are educated, talented and clever should be able to figure out how to “make do” with less for the first three years of a child’s life.  It’s an opportunity to get creative. Slow down to the speed of sound. Become students of mindfulness. (OK, and maybe move to a third-world country.) Moms have more time to plan and prepare nutritious meals. They can provide the kind of unhurried time young children require. I can’t imagine sitting a two-year-old on the potty and telling him, “Hurry up and poop! Mommy has to go to work.”

While there will always be a need for daycare, it should not be a source of embarrassment when a family can no longer afford it.

The best fate that ever befell me was not finding a teaching job right out of college. To support my student-husband, I took a job in a federally-funded childcare center. I knew before the year was out that I would never send my kids to daycare.

“Opt-out” is the term for women with an advanced degree, breadwinner husband, and income of $75,000 or more. I’ve never been in that tax bracket. (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/05/07/opting-out-about-10-of-highly-educated-moms-are-staying-at-home/)

Our four children were born over a span of 12 years. With the first two, I was a full-time SAHM. While we were not poor, the month always lasted longer than the money. Later, I took a part-time job working from home. What got us though those intensive parenting years was my husband’s commitment to having a stay-at-home mother for our children. He worked full and part-time jobs and never complained. Our budget had so many holes, it looked like Swiss cheese. But leaving my babies was never an option. I felt an incredible urgency about my role. A sense that it wasn’t going to last and I needed to focus on the children. I trusted the feeling and allowed it to consume me. To me, staying home to nurture my children was like putting gold in the bank.

Again, I do not disagree that some families cannot make do with less – or they would be destitute.

But discrimination against SAHMs definitely exists. The mothering profession is often viewed in the media (and by friends and relatives) as an inferior career choice. (Although that’s not saying much for people who care for kids.) I think some successful working women see their little ones as accessories, like a scarf or necklace. They decorate themselves with a hug every morning before the nanny takes over.

So here’s FamilyFieldGuide.com’s  # 1 Tip: No matter what you do for a living, no matter how prestigious your job or impressive your earnings, your child’s first three years are more important. If you find yourself torn between baby and career, choose baby. 

While some mothers may be dropping out of the workplace due to the high cost of childcare, the linked Pew Foundation survey does not specifically state that as fact. It does say that the majority of non-working women aren’t working because they don’t want to be. “For women, the share (of those not in the labor force) saying they didn’t want a job hovered around 38% throughout the 2000s but began creeping up in 2010, reaching 40.2% last month.” (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/11/14/more-and-more-americans-are-outside-the-labor-force-entirely-who-are-they/)

It also points to “marginally attached workers” – people not counted as unemployed because they searched for work in the past year. Concerning this group, the report says, “The rest of the marginally attached cite a range of reasons for not having looked for work recently, including family responsibilities, being in school, ill health, and problems with child care or transportation.”

Could it be that some women don’t want a job because they’ve found their children actually fare better with mommy at home? Despite the fact that most mothers in the U.S. work at least part time, 60% of Americans say children are better off when a parent stays home to focus on the family, while 35% say they are just as well off when both parents work outside the home.” (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/04/08/7-key-findings-about-stay-at-home-moms/)

The data is broken down to show, “Hispanics, white evangelical Protestants and those who never attended college” as more likely to say children are better off with a parent at home, and college educated women to say their kids are all right if parents work outside the home.

If this is true, maybe we should be asking why college educated women think daycare is just dandy. Is it because they they’ve invested so much in their schooling that they can’t jump ship for a few years? Or maybe they identify more strongly with their careers. Perhaps it just seems more progressive. Or could it be because their brains process affective cues differently – and they have trouble reading emotions – a trait related to decreased levels of oxytocin. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3319675/?report=reader)

Maternal oxytocin levels – the system responsible for maternal-infant bonding across all mammalian species – dramatically increase during pregnancy and the postpartum [period] and the more mother is involved in childcare, the greater the increase of oxytocin. (“What Happens to a Woman’s Brain When She Becomes a Mother,” by Adrienne LaFrance, The Atlantic, Jan. 2015) http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/01/what-happens-to-a-womans-brain-when-she-becomes-a-mother/384179/)

But with low oxytocin levels, a mother may not bond well with baby. There’s insufficient interaction. Mom can’t read baby’s social cues. And as a result, the baby doesn’t make as much oxytocin, without which he cannot regulate his stress, or become an emotionally healthy human being.

Oxytocin is magical. Called the “cuddle hormone,” it makes mothers want to be close to their babies, providing love, nurturing, eye contact, smiles, and all important touch. The biological underpinnings of attachment are undeniable.

“Without the assistance and monitoring of a caregiver, babies become overwhelmed by their emotional states, including those of fear, excitement, and sadness. In order to maintain emotional equilibrium, babies require a consistent and committed relationship with one caring person. As you can expect, the research indicates that the person best suited for this relationship is the mother.” (“The Science of Attachment: The Biological Roots of Love,” by Lauren Lindsey Porter, Mothering Magazine, 2003)

In his book Touching, The Human Significance of the Skin, anthropologist Ashley Montagu writes about the mother-baby relationship as “naturally designed to become even more intensive and inter-operative after birth” than while the baby was gestating or growing in the womb. (Montagu, 1988)

The environment expected by the newborn, Montagu often quipped, is a “womb with a view.”

So you see, all those mommies with babies strapped to their chests aren’t just trying to make a statement. They’re really onto something.

While society now pays lip-service to the idea of bonding and attachment, we’re kind of fuzzy on what it is and how it happens. “From an emotional perspective, attachment is the creation of a mutual bond in which the mother shapes infant development through her interactions and relationship with her child.” (“The Science of Attachment) The mother and baby become a unit, called the “mother-baby dyad.”

The reason a healthy maternal-infant bond is not optional, repeat – not optional –is because it forms the basis for all future interactions and relationships.

The percentage of stay-at-home mothers is on the rise: from an all-time low of 23% in 1999, the share of moms not working outside the home rose to 29% in 2012. (http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/04/08/after-decades-of-decline-a-rise-in-stay-at-home-mothers/).

And that’s good news, no matter what daycare advocates say. As a culture, we need to bend the conversation in favor of raising kids at home. Daycare need not be an absolute, even for low-income families.

Somehow we have equated living above the poverty line with the preferred place to raise children. The two are not mutually exclusive,” writes single mother Bobbi Parish in her Jan. 4, 2014 article, “I Lived in Poverty to Save My Son From Daycare,” (http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/i-lived-in-poverty-to-save-my-son-from-daycare-dg/

“Children need more than money and the things that money can buy,” writes Parish. “They do have a right to having their basic needs met: housing, clothing, food, education and medical care. But they also require love, guidance and protection. When mothers and fathers cannot provide those, no amount of money can fill the aching loss a child feels.”

As a society, we know something has to change if we are to raise emotionally healthy children who become emotionally healthy adults. The science supporting the significance of the maternal-child relationship is overwhelming. Like global warming, we ignore it at our peril. FFG