Truth and Consequence

If, like me, you are a sexual assault survivor, you are struggling right now. Dr. Ford’s testimony was more than one woman’s story; it was a testament to what so many women have experienced and hidden for most of their lives.

I have similar stories in my life—so many traumatic stories that when the movement started, all I could admit is #MeToo.

I knew all my abusers: I can see their faces, hear their words, smell their scents, and feel their hands and bodies on mine as if it were yesterday. I may not be able to recall the address of each of the locations or the first and last names of my abusers—but I’m pretty sure if I had to, I could research those things based on the details I do remember.

That’s how traumatic memories work—the things we wish we could forget burn themselves into our long-term memories. They become the very fabric of our lives and shape every decision and thought process afterwards. The nonessential details or the mundane experiences fade.

These sexual experiences have created relationship and self-worth issues for me that have taken countless therapy sessions and self-help books to correct. I’ve worked hard at denying the lies I believed about others: that men were justified in their abuse because I deserved it. I now know that I am not responsible for other people’s choices and behaviors. However, I still battle with the lies I believe about myself: that I am only valuable as a sexual object and that no one can ever truly love me for who I am. I am getting healthier but am still not completely healed yet.

After the assaults, the only things I could control were what I did with those memories. Mostly, I kept them to myself. Why?

  1. Because I fear that I wouldn’t be believed. I couldn’t imagine sharing the deepest pain of my life just to have people not believe me or accuse me of ulterior motives. Or even worse, to have my abusers deny what they did to me instead of apologizing for their behavior. The additional trauma I would suffer would be exponential.
  2. Because, to put it simply, I don’t want to share my stories. They are painful. They have been shoved so deep in my memory that it gives me physical and emotional pain to recall them.
  3. Because I’m ashamed. I know I can’t blame my 5, 10, 18 or even 23-year-old self for what teenage boys and men did to me, but my shame shield is immediately activated when I think about what these things may say about my self-worth.
  4. Because sharing sometimes has negative consequences. The few times I have shared a story or two, either I felt so much shame I ended the friendship, or I received sympathy—not empathy—from the person I entrusted; it somehow made me feel less than human. Sharing would also mean I’d have to open myself up to be scrutinized or ruin my or someone else’s life with my truth.
  5. Because most of my abusers were teenagers. As I age, I realize many of these boys were probably lost, confused, misinformed, or maybe even hurting. My hope is that these boys changed, that they realized the error of their ways and became better men as they matured and had families.

Yet, I still fear that my silence has continued the cycle of abuse. What if my silence allowed the boys to continue assaulting others? What if these boys who took advantage of a lost, wounded, little girl — for I was always a lost, wounded, little girl even at 23 when I found myself in that small, dark place — grew up to be men who took advantage of lost, wounded, little girls? It’s too painful to think about, so instead I chose to believe my teenage abusers were driven by youth and curiosity, rather than evil intent. Perhaps that makes me naïve or a coward or just an optimist, but whatever the label, I did what I needed to do to survive and heal.

With healing, I have been able to use my painful experiences to become a better person, mother, and teacher. I can empathize and support those who have experienced similar pain. I can guide, advise, and correct those who need help understanding gender inequality and what it means to be a woman. I have already made my peace and continue to use my experiences to help others.

I guess the only other question I want to ask and try to answer is: What would it take to give actual details of the assaults?

It would require something of monumental importance for me to name my abusers and share the details—something that would require me to sacrifice my personal safety and health for the greater good. The decision would not be made lightly, but with soul searching, plenty of counsel, and the hope that it would make the world a better place.

Honestly, I still don’t know if that would be enough to dredge up the past, but a few things I know for sure: I would never relay the details of those nightmares to get attention or for a political agenda. I’m worth more than that.

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Choose to be Teachers and Students

My daughter and son-in-law asked me to speak at their wedding. I was honored but also hesitant–what could I, of all people in their lives, say about marriage? The only thing I know without a doubt. With their permission, here’s my speech:

As we gather to celebrate your journey together, I want to share with you a little wisdom I’ve acquired along the way. After 15 years in education, I’ve realized a very important fact: We never stop being students. As a matter of fact, even without an education degree, we are all teachers as well.

This concept applies perfectly to our relationships. Every thought, word, and action speaks volumes for those willing to listen, watch, and engage. If we choose to be diligent observers of the people in our lives, we learn the important aspects of who they are. But as much as people observe us, they can’t know everything about us, unless we teach them. We must not be afraid to share the inner workings of our hearts with those we love and trust.

Therefore, Nicole and Tripp, you must choose to be teachers and students of each other.

As much as you think you know the person standing in front of you, there is always something to learn about each other. You must be willing to teach the other what makes you happy, angry, or sad; you must be willing to learn how to ease each other’s burdens and how and when to give each other space.

I know from watching the two of you together, that you have already learned much about each other and are not afraid to teach each other about your needs.

But as time goes on, each of you will change and grow—sometimes together; sometimes apart. But if you make the commitment to always be a student and a teacher, you will learn about the changes and teach each other who you are becoming. You will learn to give each other space and comfort when you each need it because you will teach each other when and how. Just as teachers can’t expect students to know what they have not been taught, you can’t expect the other to know how to meet your needs.

Teach each other with patience and love. Engage with each new stage with diligence and passion. Be dedicated students of each other and your relationship.

Just as you have chosen to marry each other today, Nicole and Tripp, may you choose to be teachers and students for the rest of your lives.

Guest Blogger: Letter to President-elect Trump

For their Critical Thinking final, my students had to write a letter to President-elect Trump or to their generation. CJ’s Letter to President-elect Trump is insightful and unbiased (in my biased opinion?). He eloquently expresses what is at the heart of our fears and hopes with Trump’s election. I think the most beautiful part of this letter is where he is drawing a line in the sand. May we all have such lines we are unwilling to cross, and positions we are willing to defend.

trump

Dear President-Elect Trump,

My name is Charles Dixon and I am not just a concerned citizen, but a soldier who will soon be calling you my Commander-In-Chief. While I have the utmost respect for the position that you will be occupying, I will be completely honest and say that my respect for you personally is extended hesitantly. I have observed your interviews and debates, which to me are downright concerning, specifically, in that you consistently feed and amplify the fears of a sizeable portion of the American people. Any American can look around and tell you that America is in a sad state, which is why we need a leader who will inspire and lead us to be better people to our neighbors, friends, and family. However, the fear-mongering that you’ve become known for has to stop, as it will only divide us as a country further than we already are.

Now, I understand that you, similar to President Obama, are inheriting a myriad of complex problems from the administration which preceded you. In no way are you ever going to make the entire population happy. This is the realistic truth of the American people: We are a vast and diverse group of people, whose interests, political stances, and religious viewpoints differ drastically. We may be a fickle people sometimes, but we are an amazing group whose very diversity is the foundation for our strength as a country. Please understand that you will be a representative of us all, not just a small group of Americans.

The most troubling thing that I’ve heard you say in your debates is regarding the committing of war crimes against the families of terrorists (Morton http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/mar/3/donald-trump-says-hed-force-us-military-commit-war/). Because I am a soldier of the United States Army, this hurt me to my soul. What you suggested regarding this matter would tarnish everything that uniform stands for. Yes, we are sworn to protect the people of the United States, but we are a direct symbol of what America is supposed to be: a bastion of hope for those who are beaten down and brutalized. What is it that we then symbolize if we turn to brutalizing the family members of those who are threats to us? Do we not become the very thing that we are fighting against? As a soldier, your proclamation that “they will follow my orders” sounds more like a dictator, than a leader. I can tell you with the utmost faith, that while there may be a small number who will obey these orders unquestioningly, the majority of my brothers and sisters in arms will stand against you with a resounding NO. We are not a barbaric horde who just looks to destroy any trace of opposition or enemy resistance. We are members of the greatest armed force in the world. We are the ones who will stand up for what is right, and not because it is easy. We do so because if we don’t, then who will?

Initially, your campaign promises and general direction worried me because they appeared to validate the fears of a large section of America that is quite racist. The fact that you have recently distanced yourself from those ideologies is a welcome relief. That is the type of leadership that we need from you in these coming days. A leader who strongly promotes healing and tolerance, not one who seems to encourage destructive and divisive behavior either directly or through his own actions.

All in all, we the people of the United States (those who voted for you and who didn’t) are anxious to see what your course of action will be. You can go down in history for numerous reasons. I, for one, am hoping that you go down in history as the one who helped our country realize many of its flaws and corrected them. This in itself can be done in various ways, some of which you have already done simply by winning the election. But from here on out, it is not just the people of the United States watching you with hesitant hope, but the entire world. Please don’t disappoint us.

Sincerely,

Charles Dixon

Guest Blogger: Letter to Millennials

As a college writing teacher, I have the pleasure of helping my students discover their writing voice and their passions in life. Every once and a while I will read an essay that I need to post on my blog because it lines up with my goals, which is to help people find their own healthy path in life through optimistic realism. Rose’s Letter to Millennials fits well with that mission. I have been working with millennials my entire professional career; they are some of the most amazing people I have ever met. Rose is no exception: Her letter is insightful, powerful, and a must read.

millennials

Dear Millennials,

I would like to start by saying that I’m sorry for the bum rap our generation has, but it’s not entirely our fault we have been deemed lazy.

During this age of technology and smart phones, I will admit that we have become a sluggish bunch. The youth of today seem less involved in what is actually going on in the world, and more focused on what is happening in the cyber world. The constant yearning for likes and thumbs up have caused us to be a generation that craves approval and is therefore further let down by those around us when we don’t receive any. I must admit that social media is a huge contributor to the negative self-esteem experienced by today’s youth. Think back to when you were young and the world seemed full of backyards to explore and swings to jump from. Life was so much simpler when the only way to know what people really thought of you was to ask them on the playground. Those were the times of a No Harm No Foul policy, and if you didn’t like what that kid had to say about you, all you had to do was walk away from them. Today the struggle becomes not only what that person has to say to your face, but also what they say online after you have turned your back and walked away.

It has become harder to escape the constant scrutiny that follows every one of us around, so we can’t be blamed for feeling sad and wanting to avoid what is waiting for us outside the safe walls of our home. I will admit that human beings have become more hurtful with their words and actions, and empathy has all but disappeared. So I urge each of you to take the extra moment and think about how your words are affecting others, and together we can begin to end this cycle of nastiness. As stated in Psychology Today, “Millennials are reporting the highest levels of clinical stress, anxiety, and depression than any other generation at the same age” (Angone). Believe it or not, we are all in this thing called “life” together, so it is time to start acting like it. It is time to practice unity among our fellow people.

Our generation, the millennials, is the largest at over 85-90 million people in the US (Angone).  So it’s no wonder that everything we do is under scrutiny: If one of us makes a mistake, then the whole generation is blamed for it. You as an individual can’t control the quantity of our generation, but you do have the power to change the quality. If you expect to be shown respect by others, then take the steps to earn it. And I don’t mean just when you want something, or only to certain people, but with every single person you encounter.

I understand that growing up in this world hasn’t been easy, and it doesn’t feel fair for others to judge you because your parents took it easier on you than theirs did on them. But the world has become a lot more complex over the years, and the lines have been blurred between what is considered easy and hard. A huge complaint of many is that our generation is growing up entitled. One cause could be the participation trophies we have been given (by the previous generation that criticizes us, I might add) our entire lives. The common thought, and I have felt this way myself, is that “Millennials were given trophies for just existing” (Angone). Our elders created a double-edged sword—on one side, they had a desire to create equality among us, but on the other side they didn’t create a reason for us to deserve receiving something for nothing. As long as we showed up, we deserved to get a trophy, no matter how much or how little work we put in to earn it. The over sensitivity to equality appears to be both a blessing and a curse, but not in the way that people expected.

Participation medals, however, aren’t the only problem. Pair that with the dramatic change in what it means to win and be successful.

“When I look at the millennials, I don’t see a generation entitled to success, we are obsessed with it. And for good reasons. We don’t know how to fail. And when we do, we’re pretty sure we’ve actually won. We grew up in a competitive, bell-curve, wait-list society. Fighting for a spot on the team, in a school, at a job, for the win. We don’t want blue ribbons because we feel entitled to them; we want them because we’ve been in a cage match to win them our entire lives. Now, the stakes to win those blue ribbons are just slightly higher” (Angone).

Everything these days feels like a race to win, rather than racing towards a dream. We see this on the youth soccer fields and baseball diamonds when parents scream at coaches, officials, and players over bad calls and plays. It doesn’t matter what we are fighting for anymore because everybody just wants to come in first. That’s the way we grew up. It has been hardwired into our brains through example and experiences that the only ones who actually win are the ones who come in first. And in terms of morality, it doesn’t seem to matter how we won, as long as we did.

I would ask each of you to think about why, even though you have so much provided for you already, you still crave more. I think that there is a dual battle going on inside each of us. On the one hand, we know what it is like to already have the basic necessities provided for us, and on the other hand, we feel as if we still need the luxurious items that we realistically could live without. It is not enough to simply have a phone or a car, but now we feel as though we have to have the newest version of phones or the coolest looking cars. Why? Because to us, that is winning. Practicality is no longer important to us when we could have something better.

I know there are many people from older generations who are so quick to refer to our generation as lazy and spoiled. But a funny thing happens when you grow up: You have a biased view on what you were like growing up. It is so easy for older generations to call us the lazy ones, but they don’t remember that they used to be just the same when they were our age: “So it’s not that Millennials are lazy or narcissistic; it’s that young people are lazy and narcissistic, and as they grow older and more responsible those things tend to right themselves” (Burkus). The older generations don’t remember as clearly as we do all the pressures we have right now to find a good paying job, and how daunting it is to have your whole life ahead of you with seemingly no time at all to figure out what you want to do with it.

Not surprisingly, this generation is the most educated (Angone), but somehow that doesn’t seem to be enough anymore. Getting a college degree isn’t enough to get us in the door for a job, and to some it feels like the equivalent of a high school diploma. It seems that the college education we indebted ourselves to is just another way to try to win, to come out on top—not something we go into because we have a dream job waiting for us on the other side of it. It was always a goal of mine to go to school and graduate from college, though I didn’t know what for—only that I had to do it. I know that there are others who feel the same. But this is what we think it takes to make the proper transition from childhood into adulthood. But what if that transition has nothing to do with school and more to do with who we are?

The problem that previous generations have with ours is that it is taking us longer to get through this transition step, which makes us look lazy, but the world is a different place now than it was back then, and there are many other options besides school. A diploma no longer gives you a big one-up from other job candidates. I would agree that this generation may not be as motivated as the ones before, but there is so much provided for us that we don’t feel the need to go and get it ourselves. When parents, teachers, and bosses over provided for us, there isn’t as much drive to run towards the next step. When we don’t know where that next step will lead us, where we are is good enough. Jeffrey Jensen Arnett calls it “emerging adulthood.” He says, “as young adults today, [we] aren’t stepping full-force into adulthood, we’re backing into it….It’s just taking a lot longer than we ever could’ve planned” (Angone).

So how do we battle the unknown world ahead of us having grown up the way we did? I don’t have the perfect answer for any of you because to each of us, where we hope to end up will look different. I do know that it is hard to have the courage to do what we really want when we constantly worry what others will think of us if we do go for it. Here is the truth that we are too inexperienced to realize and the previous generation seems to have forgotten: This phase you are in right now is not your final phase. If you know you have long term goals, don’t push them aside for the short-term factors. As hard as it is for us to let go of what’s happening right now, it is truly the only thing we can do in order to move forward and reach those long-term goals.

My friends, accepting change and looking inside of ourselves to find out why we must do so are the only things we really can do to provide ourselves with a fulfilling life. Once you take those first steps, the rest will fall into place. The profitable thing you do that makes you happy (commonly known as a job), the kindness you show to others (such as letting others have a turn to win), and pursuing your true dreams (A.K.A. putting in the work) are the most important factors to having a successful life. If we as a generation all took these steps together, we would reflect a better light, and instead of looking down upon us, the ones who criticize would rejoice in the fact that we have become a generation to be proud of.

In closing, I would suggest to not let what our elders have to say about us dictate the legacy we will leave behind. We should not be giving in to the pressure of their hasty assumptions; rather, we should be making a new name for ourselves that we would be proud to embrace. It starts today with each of you. Don’t do what they expect of you, but do what you would expect of yourself. Do not settle into the title of “lazy millennials,” but go out and show them that you are better than that. Yes, presently we do not have the greatest reputation, but with a little change from each and every one of us, someday we will.

Sincerely,

Rose Doucette

The Problem with Choice

I know too many people who are not educators (and some who are) that are in favor of the choice movement in education. The biggest reason people want choice is to improve the education for their own children and then create competition so that other schools will be forced to improve or shut down. Unfortunately, both reasons are based in misconceptions about education.

I will concede that “choice” is not a bad thing when you are talking about businesses, service industries, and commodities. We definitely want businesses to compete for our money. Competition makes businesses strive for excellence. That’s why people, outside of education mostly, thought that “choice” would make all schools better, but it hasn’t.

Why? First, because education is not a business; it is a human right (Article 26) that is protected as part of our inalienable fundamental rights to which people are entitled simply because they are human beings, “without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour (sic), sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

In other words, if a business fails, the owners can start over, maybe poorer and a little wiser, but no real harm done. If a school fails, it has negatively affected the human rights of every child that went to that failing school.

So how does the “choice” movement hurt human rights? Bear with me as I try to explain this point.

If you are for “choice” in education, you want better “service” for your child. We all want what is best for our children–I’m not arguing that. But if your child is going to a failing school, and you have the money to pay for private schools, which is part of that choice movement, then you will no longer care about that failing school because you can give your child something better (unless your child makes a mistake which will result in an expulsion with no chance of return to that private school). That is great for you and your family, but what about all the other children who can’t afford to pay for private schools?

The next question is usually, isn’t that why people came up with charter schools, so that people who can’t afford private schools can still get a quality education? Yes. Charter schools, in general, are another great idea–on paper. You don’t have to pay for charter schools out of your own pocket—technically—but your tax dollars go to those schools. Our government gives charter schools a certain amount of money for every child enrolled in that charter school; so just like public schools, our government pays for your child’s education—that is if you are lucky enough to get selected, and your child behaves well enough to stay at that school. Most charter schools operate on a lottery system, so not all students will get in, and most schools will kick students out who make mistakes or make the school look bad in any way.

Once again, for those parents who want choice, this sounds great because those children who are selected have a great atmosphere for learning.

However, what people forget is that there are many students who will have to continue going to that failing school. If you can’t worry about someone else’s children, then just consider this: Pulling your child out of the failing school does not pull them out of the society in which they live. One way or another, the negative effects of that failing school will still affect you and your children.

Just to summarize the first point, education is not a business; it is a human right. Therefore, educational choice is about people only caring about their children—no one else’s. Those who can afford it will choose to pay for their children to go to private schools. Out of those that remain, some parents will apply to charter schools and a few lucky students will get selected. That leaves the rest in public schools because public schools will take every rejected and expelled student and do the best they can to educate those students within the confines of the system. Public schools also have incredible students who are successful despite the “choice” movement.

Is it any wonder our public schools look like they are failing if the wealthy and well behaved students are all going somewhere else? Along these lines, by eliminating the heterogeneous classroom in all three options, it makes it harder for those struggling students to see what work ethic, study skills, and perseverance looks like. On the other hand, a classroom that has students with different genders, talents, abilities, interests, backgrounds, and cultures will help all students work toward a higher standard. The students in heterogeneous schools can relate to the world better because they experience diversity on a daily basis. The homogeneous classrooms found in private and charter schools miss out on this necessary part of children’s education. Also, when you remove the top tier of motivated students, the learning culture deteriorates on multiple levels. Students with average ability, motivation, or interest lose that interest, and kids who struggle for whatever reason just give up. Remember, we want our children to be civic-minded and global citizens. How can they understand the global world or empathize with the struggles in our society if they grow up only relating to people just like them?

http://standardizedtests.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=4346 Denver Post cartoon satirizing the effect of standardized tests on public education.
http://standardizedtests.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=4346
Denver Post cartoon satirizing the effect of standardized tests on public education.

Second, it is important to note that private and charter schools don’t operate under the government’s watchful eye, which allows them to reject the highly controversial Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and refuse to participate in the corresponding state tests. Since these schools operate independently, they don’t have to participate in the very reasons that people are complaining about public schools. As a matter of fact, many private and charter schools saw the CCSS as a flawed document right from the start and opted out of it.

Remember, CCSS and the state tests are mandated for public schools by the government, while at the same time, the government is pushing for more charter schools that do not have to follow the mandates of the government. Does that make sense? So how can this “choice” movement improve the quality of all schools, when public schools don’t have the autonomy to fix their schools?

Third, to make matters worse, the government is giving money to private and charter schools because of that “choice” movement in the form of vouchers—money that could be given to public schools to improve those failing schools. Of course private and charter schools are going to appear as the right “choice” when they have money to purchase the newest technology, have the freedom to be innovative, and can reject the foolish educational reforms that are more about money than about our children.

privitization
http://www.hmleague.org/educational-political-cartoons/cartoon-privatization-tap/

Those outside of education do not understand that public schools cannot choose to change their operating methods, so it is impossible for public schools to compete in this so called “business market.” Besides the fact that education is a human right and not a business, the business competition model cannot change public schools because public schools are at the mercy of the government that continues to cut the budget of public schools to pay for tests and to give vouchers to private and charter schools.

Fourth, people and the government are not paying attention to the problems with some charter schools. John Oliver did this great piece on charter schools that exposed the problems with the government funding these unregulated entities.

 Many “nonprofit” charter schools are finding deceptive was to make a profit. Once again, if “choice” education is supposed to create competition and a striving for excellence among all schools, Oliver’s research shows how that business model is failing even in the charter school industry.

On the other side of this issue, though, I will admit, there are some amazing charter schools out there. This is my biggest frustration: If there are innovative schools that are working, why can’t we adopt those innovations in public schools?

If parents truly want choice, this is where we as parents and educators need to concentrate our efforts. In Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the statement that “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children” should be taken literally and used to fix public education for all, not to give choice only to the wealthy and the fortunate.

If we want true education reformation, we need to make sure the public tax dollars are being used correctly to create an actual choice movement within the public school system itself: Increase money being spent on public education to improve ALL schools, regardless of location; increase teachers’ salaries to create a true competition for quality teachers; increase public school autonomy so that principals and teachers can use their knowledge and experience to innovate and create the right learning environment for their students.

If people are really concerned about choice, they should make sure their local public school is doing what their children need in order to thrive. Imagine a public school that has the elite academic prep curriculum of Phillips Exeter Academy for those students who are college bound; the innovation of The Ron Clark Academy for those who are creative or learn differently; the care and nurturing of the Learning Skills Academy for those with learning disabilities; and The Independent Project (https://youtu.be/RElUmGI5gLc) for those who want independence and a nontraditional education. Using these innovative schools as models to transform public schools would meet the needs of every student regardless of race, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status—not just the wealthy and lucky few.

Friday Writing Challenge: A Favorite Movie

Inside OutInside Out

I know. This is a Wednesday, but when I started writing about Inside Out last Friday, I realized this movie was a post I needed to write about, not for writing practice, but to explore why it impacted me so profoundly.

When I taught American Literature, I told my students that we study history to know the facts of a time period, and we study literature to know how people felt about those facts. That’s one of the reasons I love this movie. Inside Out goes beyond entertainment; it is film as literature. It’s a film that illustrates how we feel about the increase in childhood depression and parental over-involvement, and how we feel about creativity and imagination being replaced with rigid curriculum.

On the surface, Inside Out is a brilliant illustration of the way our emotions work to protect and guide us on our journey.

The story revolves around Riley, a young girl, and the emotions that work the control panel in her head. The first emotion we encounter is Joy with Riley’s first coo, which is immediately followed by Sadness with Riley’s first newborn cry. Next, we meet Fear; he keeps Riley safe. Disgust keeps Riley from being “poisoned, physically and socially.” Anger “cares very deeply about things being fair.” The personification of emotions lends itself to comedic situations.

The deeper level, however, illuminates two very real problems in our society today: depression and helicopter parenting.

Right from the beginning of the movie, we see that the battle between Joy and Sadness will determine what kind of life Riley has. What we discover by the end is that the key to a healthy, well-balanced life is to accept the importance of all emotions in our lives, and that Joy and Sadness complement each other, rather than cancel each other out. The other commentary is on helicopter parenting: Joy, as wonderful as she is, starts off bragging about Riley’s “mostly happy memories.” She wrongfully takes credit for Riley being happy, which gives her the false notion that she has to control everything in Riley’s life.

The movie takes us on Riley’s physical journey as she moves from Minnesota to San Francisco with her parents, as well as Riley’s emotional journey because of that move. With each disappointment Riley faces at her new home, we see that Joy pushes the other emotions out of Riley’s life. At first, it looks like Joy is right–always looking on the bright side of things is the best way to get through these problems.

It isn’t until Riley’s dad is angry on the phone and has to leave that we see Joy’s need to control Riley’s mood might become an issue. Riley is fearful and sad, but Joy won’t let Sadness take over. She insists on Riley being happy.

When Riley is remembering a funny moment from their travels, Sadness touches a gold memory orb, and it turns blue. Joy can’t turn it back, and she doesn’t understand why. Sadness needs to touch the happy memories, but because of Joy’s pride over her role in Riley’s life, Joy begins to make a series of bad choices that affect all of Riley’s emotions.

While talking to Sadness, Joy says, “Well…you know what? You can’t focus on what’s going wrong. There’s always a way to turn things around, to find the fun!” At first, it sounds like solid advice, but this might not be the healthiest way to deal with difficult and painful situations. Avoiding sadness implies that there is something wrong with that emotion.

Joy then wants the emotions to make a list of everything Riley should be happy about. At one point, Anger says, “No, Joy. There’s absolutely no reason for Riley to be happy right now. Let us handle this.” If Riley would’ve expressed her anger, fear, disgust, and sadness, she could have gotten the help she needed from her parents. But when Riley pretends that she is okay, it leads to more suppression of emotions.

Riley’s mom says something to Riley that seems innocent and appropriate: “Your dad’s under a lot of pressure. But if you and I can keep smiling, it would be a big help.” Asking Riley to be their “happy girl” and to be responsible for her dad’s feelings are requests we should never make of our children.

After this interaction, Riley falls asleep and Joy controls Riley’s dreams– Joy doesn’t think the dream is appropriate for Riley. This is such a powerful statement on helicopter parenting. I’ve seen too many parents do this to their children–from sports to careers–parents are choosing what they think is appropriate, regardless of what the child wants, loves, or excels at.

Here is what I have learned as a mom, teacher, and child advocate: Parents need to love their child as he or she is, not as the parents want him or her to be. I get it. Parents have dreams as well–dreams about their children living a happy, fulfilling life. Who better to help their child navigate through that life than the parents who know their child’s strengths and weaknesses? However, once they start this process, parents rationalize the control over every decision and direction.

But the reality is everyone is on his or her own path–our children included. We really don’t know what another person needs in order to learn and grow. I know that the control comes from a loving place: Parents are trying to spare a child from feelings of heartbreak and disappointment. But when parents jump in and try to manage their child’s path, feelings, or experiences, they rob the child of a lesson he or she needed in order to learn and grow. If parents don’t let a child have the experiences of heartbreak, disappointment, and failure, the child will never develop the ability to figure out how to do it differently next time.

A great illustration of this is when Joy plays the accordion loud and fast the day after the first major crisis. Joy says, “I don’t think of it as playing so much as hugging.” Joy is trying to distract Riley and the other emotions from dealing with the real issues. If everyone does what Joy deems as the correct path, everyone will forget how horrible life is in that moment.

Throughout, Joy also tries to control Sadness. Joy’s goal is to help Riley have a “good day… good week…good year, which turns into a good life!” But whose definition of “good” is Joy using? She is using her own, and she thinks she knows Riley better than anyone. Instead of being one emotion in Riley’s life, Joy is trying to become the only emotion in Riley’s life.

When Riley starts crying on her first day of school, she starts a negative spiral, not because crying/sadness was bad, but because Riley feared the judgment. Then, because Joy couldn’t accept that Riley was sad, Joy tries to control the core memories, which leads to something in Riley breaking. If Joy would have allowed Riley to feel the sadness and fear, it might have led down a healthy path. Instead, Joy’s controlling behavior led to Joy and Sadness being sucked out of the control room. Riley is then left with only Fear, Anger, and Disgust to control her emotions–definitely a recipe for disaster.

Riley now has to navigate her life without Joy and Sadness. Disgust helps Riley give an attitude to her parents in the form of sarcasm. Anger leads Riley to tell her parents to “Just shut up!” emotionally pushing them away while simultaneously invoking Dad’s Anger.

Dad adds to the problems by not having an honest conversation with Riley. He says, “Things just got out of hand,” and “Where’s my happy girl?” These are distractions and avoidance rather than helpful when Riley can’t communicate her pain. After this interaction is when “Goofball Island” crumbles. Then Anger destroys Friendship Island. Riley’s three remaining emotions fight with each other and can’t access the necessary emotions to open up and release the pain. The beauty of this interaction, as difficult as it may be to watch, is that it shows how Anger, Disgust, and Fear push people away. Sadness, however, draws people in. We just have to be willing and vulnerable enough to let people see our sadness.

The crumbling Islands of Personality is an incredible visual for what happens inside of a person experiencing depression. I can only speak from my own experiences with depression, but it does feel like something is breaking inside. It’s hard to access the good memories. Anger and fear control my thoughts and actions, which then pushes away the people who love me the most. If I can’t have a good cry about it and share my pain with someone who lets me feel my pain without judgment or trying to fix me, the depression will last longer.

Halfway through the movie, Bing Bong, Riley’s silly, long-forgotten imaginary friend, shows up. He helps and hinders the progress, but in the end, it is this imaginary figure that becomes the catalyst to Riley’s healing. He also adds humorous scenes. I love Imaginationland, where Bing Bong is “practically the mayor,” for all the beauty and creativity Riley, at one time, accessed daily. It is Imaginationland that saves her in the end. Again, Inside Out subtly points to the importance of creativity and imagination. We should be nurturing that in our children, not taking it out of schools and forcing children to grow up too quickly.

Back in the control room, Anger, Fear, and Disgust try to help Riley with her hockey tryouts, but, seriously, how can anything go well when Anger, Fear, and Disgust have the reigns? As Riley is struggling even to skate well, Disgust says a funny but poignant line: “It’s like we don’t learn anything.” Learning cannot take place if the main operating strategies of a child are embroiled in anger, fear, and disgust.

This interaction results in Hockey Island crumbling. As Riley’s Islands of Personality crumble, her dream worlds in Imaginationland are also being crushed. It is here that we see what Riley’s dad should have done when Riley was angry earlier.

Bing Bong is upset that his rocket was tossed into the dump. Joy tries to make silly faces, just like Dad tried to do with Riley, but that’s not the appropriate response to anger, fear, or pain. What is the right response? Giving the person permission to be sad, sitting next to the person and listening, holding his or her hand, and understanding the pain. Sadness sits next to Bing Bong and says: “I’m sorry they took your rocket. They took something that you loved. It’s gone forever (Joy hates this and thinks Sadness is making the situation worse). . . . I bet you and Riley had great adventures. . . . Yeah. It’s sad.” Bing Bong puts his head on Sadness’ shoulder and cries. Sadness puts an arm around Bing Bong until he’s done crying. After Bing Bong feels heard, understood, and has cried, he can move forward.

Even though Joy has seen how Sadness helps in many situations, she pushes Sadness away when they try to get back to Riley through the memory recall tube. This interaction delays their return to the control room. As Family Island falls apart, it cracks the recall tube and sends Joy and Bing Bong to the abyss of lost memories.

This leads to the most important, poignant, and heartbreaking scene in the movie. Joy tries to get out of the abyss, but it’s useless. Bing Bong states: “Don’t you get it, Joy? We’re stuck down here. We’re forgotten.” Joy falls to her knees when she sees the blue core memory of Riley crying in class. As Joy watches other sweet memories fade into ash, she cries, “I just wanted Riley to be happy. And now…” Joy finally cries a long, painful cry–Joy finally feels sadness. She wipes a tear away from a gold memory, which rewinds the memory orb to show that the joy Riley felt with her teammates actually started with sadness. It was Sadness that brought Joy–that brought her parents to her side, that brought her teammates to encourage Riley. Joy finally understands the necessity of Sadness. She also understands that Riley’s path is not Joy’s to control. With renewed determination, she has a plan to get back to Riley: Bing Bong’s Rocket. Bing Bong helps Joy get out of the abyss, but he sacrifices himself out of love for Riley. Another beautiful illustration of love.

Back in the control room, Anger, Fear, and Disgust have realized their mistake and try to change Riley’s plan, but it’s too late. The console has turned almost black, and Fear states: “Guys. We can’t make Riley feel anything.” My heart aches here, not just for Riley, but for every student I have worked with who had that empty stare. For those beautiful lives that had stopped feeling well before they got to me. I was able to help some, but too many of them were too far into their depression to hear my pleas, to see me sitting next to them offering my shoulder.

Through a series of incredible steps and feats, Joy and Sadness get to the control room, but it’s Sadness that has the power to remove the Idea Bulb and change Riley’s path. Sadness touches all the core memories, turning them blue so that Riley can finally speak her pain to her parents. It’s important to note that Riley’s parents speak their own sadness–they are honest with Riley; they don’t try to cover it up or sugar coat it. It is at this point that the three of them are in an embrace, crying and comforting each other so that Riley can finally smile again. Sadness brought Joy.

The rest of the movie is filled with much needed comic relief moments. We laugh through our own tears and, hopefully, accept the necessity of sadness in our lives.

Uncommon Core Book Reading: Chapter 19

On August 24, 2015, I read Chapter 19: Teach Them How to Be Happy from Uncommon Core: 25 Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in a Cookie Cutter Educational System at Great Bay Community College in Portsmouth, NH.

To purchase Uncommon Core, go to WordCrafts Press or Amazon.

To schedule a book reading, speaking engagement, or interview contact me at pdhawk1010@msn.com or Bethany Ring, Publicist, WordCrafts Press pr@wordcrafts.net

Opt-out Letter 2015

March 23, 2015

Dear New Hampshire School District,

I am refusing to allow my child, Ian Hawkins, to take Smarter Balanced assessment, the Science NECAP, or any other state standardized tests. I believe that my child’s educational progress can best be measured using his daily school work and regular classroom testing.

According to the U.S Constitution, specifically the 14th Amendment, we are protected by our rights in regard to parental control over one’s child. Parental rights are broadly protected by Supreme Court decisions (Meyer and Pierce), especially in the area of education. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that parents possess the “fundamental right” to “direct the upbringing and education of their children.” (Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534-35)

I believe that a single “snapshot” test, such as Smarter Balanced, cannot adequately assess Ian’s skills. I also believe this testing creates undue stress and anxiety for him. The elementary school has been wonderful in assuring Ian’s educational progress this year; it is because of this growth that I am also frustrated that instruction time is being taken away from him in order to administer these tests. Neither the school district nor his teachers will have access to the results of these tests until the next school year, which will not help anyone improve my son’s education now.

Ethically, I cannot support a test that is taking away time, money, and resources that should be used for my son’s edification.

It is for these reasons that Ian will not be taking any of the state tests this school year. I respectfully request that Ian’s class grades, class placement, and eligibility for future endeavors not be affected by refusal of this test. Please contact me so we can discuss alternative class work and/or activities for Ian while his fellow students are testing. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Respectfully,

Pauline Hawkins

 

Picking Favorites

I have had students in high school accuse me of picking favorites. At that age, it’s understandable that they would have difficulties with the way the world works. They are still young and look at how unfair everything is–a fact they can’t seem to accept. Therefore, when they see a teacher showing perceived favoritism to someone, they want to call him or her on it.

ClassroomRecently, I had a college student accuse me of picking favorites. He or she wrote it in the comments section of the course evaluation that goes to my supervisors, citing it as proof that I’m the worst teacher ever. I had to laugh. That comment says more about the student than it does about me.

As a teacher, I try to be fair, ethical, and professional in all of my dealings with students. Truthfully, I am not always perfect at this: I have good days and bad days; I don’t always handle difficult situations or students in the most professional manner. When I have made an error in judgment, I try to right my wrong through an apology or another action that makes sense. However, picking favorites does not fall into this category.

If this student would have had the courage to talk to me about this perceived slight, this is what I would have said to him or her:

You are right. I do have favorites. However, the truth of the matter is my favorites are not decided by me; the “favorite” distinction is completely decided by the student.

My favorite students are the ones who talk to me with kindness and respect. I am a collaborator with them in their education. If a student does not put value on that teacher/student relationship for this reason alone, then he or she will never be my favorite. I am only an enemy to those who see me that way.

My favorite students are the ones who work hard in and out of class. They may not be the brightest students, but they are working hard to become successful on their academic journey. I don’t care if at the current moment, they are A, B, C, D, or F students ; if they are working hard, then they are my favorites. Students who expect a passing grade for failing effort have failed themselves. Regardless, I would never mistreat students who are failing. Their experience in my class has nothing to do with me.

My favorite students are the ones who are respectful to their classmates. I really love the students who contribute appropriately to classroom discussions, who wait their turn, and who acknowledge that everyone has an opinion. The students who make snide remarks under their breath and who can’t respect someone who has a different opinion will never be my favorites, unless those students apologize for their errors in judgment and correct their ways.

My favorite students are those who are courteous, instead of rude; who talk to me, instead of about me; who ask me clarifying questions, instead of complaining about me.

So, yes. I do have favorites, and I always will.

If you are not one of my favorites but want to be, what areas do you need to work on?

My Journey into the Spotlight

IMG_0443The past two weeks have been a whirlwind of activity. My Resignation Letter went viral through Facebook and Twitter. Within two days of posting the letter on my blog, the Gazette contacted me for an interview; then, KKTV 11 News asked for an interview, followed by Fox News America’s Newsroom before the week was over. A number of radio stations have also asked me to be a guest speaker on their talk shows. My letter was featured at Huffington Post, on Diane Ravitch‘s blog, and many other blogs and websites around the country. I have received emails from people throughout the country, as well as people in China, France, Morocco, and Jamaica. I will be speaking at “A Salute to Teachers!” this week, an event to celebrate and support teachers, so they too can have a voice in the profession they love.

All of this because I posted my resignation letter on my blog and put a link to it on my Facebook page. It is the same process I have followed for over two years with everything I have written. That’s all I did.

It’s interesting that I have been criticized for going “public” with my letter. Honestly, I wrote my letter with my administrators and superintendent in mind. I wanted to thank them for the wonderful years I had at my school. I was hoping to inspire them to fight for our children because I know they too are in this profession to improve children’s lives. I also knew I would post it on my blog. I write as an optimistic realist, hoping to inspire positive changes in people’s everyday lives while accepting the truth of life. My letter fit perfectly with those values; I kept the name of our school and district out of my post to give the school anonymity. My only agenda was to inspire change within my immediate circle; I had also hoped to pick up a few more followers on my blog. I had no idea the impact my letter would make.

There were many moments that first week I cried from the sheer terror of being pulled into the spotlight. I had hoped for a bigger platform to share my position on education, but this was too big, too fast. I wasn’t sure I was the right woman for the job. I almost didn’t call back any of the media requests for interviews.

Why did I? My students. As their messages of encouragement came pouring in, their words gave me the strength to accept what was happening. They encouraged me to proceed. They thanked me for fighting for them. They, in turn, have been fighting battles for me on public discussion boards. They are sharing their own concerns with education and are giving me credit for giving them a voice. There was no way I could let them down.

It has been a difficult, yet incredible journey: I have a great platform now, but it has come at a price. I have largely ignored the negative comments in the public forums because I know those comments are more about the people making them than they are about me, but I still saw a few here and there. It amazes me how many people judged my character, my effectiveness as a teacher, and my motivations based on a 1000 word resignation letter and/or the interviews I had very little control over.

One event that left me open for ridicule was my first television interview with KKTV 11 News. Mecca Rayne interviewed me for an hour in my home. I had never done anything like that before, so I’m sure much of the taped material was unusable. She asked me questions about my letter, about teachers’ salaries in Colorado, and how I felt about my students. I gave lengthy statements, which were paired down to a two-minute segment–a segment that Mecca largely narrated. After the taping was done, I helped her bring her equipment out to her car. It was then that she asked me, off the record, what I planned to do when I moved. I told her that I was a writer, that I had a screen play I wanted to revise, a novel I wanted to write, and with my family’s loving support and encouragement, I would pursue my dreams of being a writer and continue to advocate for public education. I told her I would hopefully start a tutoring business and apply at colleges for adjunct positions. If necessary, I would apply for substitute teaching jobs as a last resort. During the broadcast of the segment, Don Ward, the news anchor, asked Mecca Rayne what I was going to do after I moved away from Colorado. I think Mecca was caught off guard and searched her memory for the things I mentioned off camera. I believe she truly was trying to help me, but her comments made it sound like I “went public” because I was seeking attention for my writing career.

Ironically, the people who believe that I had this ulterior motive are also writing in public forums to make their voices heard.

Although I am excited to have this platform to inspire change, I am saddened that my letter may have put my school (students, teachers, and administrators) in a bad light. Even though I stated how incredible my colleagues are, negative comments filtered through to my Liberty family. Before I wrote it, I had asked my principal’s blessing over writing the letter  and then for publishing it on my blog. He gave me his blessing. Neither one of us could have guessed that my letter would have the impact that it has had. My school administrator has been a great support to me through many personal struggles, and it was never my intention to bring any negative attention on him. I also believe our school is one of the best schools in the area for many reasons: We have kind, intelligent students who are, and have become, some of the best people I know; our students have won many local and national awards over the years; our high-school graduates are doing great things in college and other post graduate experiences; about 70% of our students go on to college. Those students have found a way to rise above the current educational system. I am extremely proud of our school.

Why did I write the letter if all of these things are true? Because over the past eleven years, I have been more and more concerned over the 15- 20% of students who have given up on their education; I have become more concerned for those high achievers who also have high stress in their lives (three of my brightest students committed suicide over the past seven years, and more than I can count have tried and, thankfully, failed). I saw things getting worse for my students, not better. I needed to do something, and what I do best is write.

People have also criticized me because I didn’t offer any solutions. I am not aware of a precedent for offering solutions in a resignation letter, but I have been offering solutions for over two years now on my blog. I’ve posted those in “Education Reformation.” I plan to continue writing about the changes I’d like to see and to invite other people to share their stories and perspectives on my blog.

I am not giving up on my students or public education. I will continue to fight for them no matter how hard this gets. With greater support, I know we can make a difference.

Thank you for giving me this platform; I will not let you down.

Pauline