Category Archives: Education

Motherhood (Part Two of Law and Pleasure Series)

I was born in 1937 and married in 1958. I was a born idealist, living mostly in the imagined beauty of future possibilities. I grew up Catholic, but with only one sibling who was ten years younger than I am. I envied my Catholic school mates with lots of sisters and brothers as built-in playmates. My religion sent me a lot of mixed messages about my worth as a woman, but motherhood was definitely held up as the ultimate purpose for a woman.
Although I went to college on a full scholarship at Rice University, which was a predominately male, technical school, I simply didn’t feel attracted to a career. I was a history major that didn’t want to teach. I wanted to get married and dreamer that I was, I thought I’d enjoy having a lot of children as playmates. In fact, when I married, we spent time picking out names for thirteen children of both genders. (Thirteen was my lucky number. I passed Calculus on the thirteenth of one month and was chosen as a Yearbook Beauty on another thirteenth. At the time, I didn’t realize that neither of these was going to be particularly helpful in bringing up children.)
My father wanted me to be a scientist. So he discouraged me from taking Home Economics at my girls’ only high school and my mother gave up after one disastrous attempt to teach me how to cook.
She had decided to start me off as simply as possible with a cornbread mix. All I had to do was put the mix in a bowl, add water, some vegetable oil, stir and put it all in a greased pan. She put everything out, pointed out the instructions on the box and left me to it. I was doing fine, really. But she came in right before I was going to put it in the pan. She said, “OK. Now, wash your hands and put it into the baking pan.” And she left again. I was confused. My mind tends to connect ideas and discover new possibilities. This is often a gift, except when I connect the wrong things. I wondered why I needed to wash my hands? I did remember reading somewhere that bread baking involved using your hands for some reason. So, I began to scoop out the mix with my hand and shake-fling it into the pan– and around it. Between what missed the pan and what was stuck to my hands, there wasn’t much left to cook. As I was standing there puzzled, mom returned, took one look, and yelled, “What in the world are you doing? What a mess!” I started crying and backed away from the mess. Unfortunately, I backed into the stove where there was a small pot of melted butter for the fresh artichokes mom was cooking. The butter went everywhere, down into the burner, down the front of the stove, down my back, onto the floor. As Mother stood open mouthed in horror, I fled sobbing to my room and threw myself, butter and all, onto my bed.
Mother was also a perfectionist housekeeper. Since my mind was usually occupied with ideas and impossible dreams, my attention to physical details was pretty much non-existent. So Mom didn’t delegate many housekeeping tasks either. And since she herself didn’t iron, I never acquired that skill either. Are you beginning to feel sorry for my husband, who fell in love with me at first sight in Calculus class?
Coming back from our honeymoon in Acapulco, Mexico, we visited my in-laws in Nashville. Then as now, fifty-eight years later, my husband wore white button down dress shirts. I decided to wash and iron them, more in an attempt to impress my in-laws, than out of love. It never occurred to me that this was an acquired skill, not a natural talent for all women. I remember hearing my father-in-law come into the house asking in a loud voice, “What’s burning?” and my mother-in-law hushing him with, “It’s Eileen ironing.”
The next part of this series will deal with both some of the humorous challenges of having four children in five years and the Religious crisis of my doctor telling me that having another cesarean section in the next few years would most likely kill me and my Catholic Pastor’s response that, “Lots of children end up with very good step-mothers.”

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Senator Lamar Alexander Considers Job Training for the Handicapped as Entitlement

My letter to Senator Alexander and his reply. What do you hear?

Dear Senator Alexander,

Tennessee’s exemplary Medicaid-funded Employment and Community First Choices program is enabling high school graduates with autism to work, pay taxes and contribute to the economy. Because Tennessee cared about individuals with disabilities, many are now living productive and active lives in our communities.

But, per capita caps, block grant funding, and Medicaid cuts, will seriously curtail this model program aimed at helping people help themselves instead of just being in custodial care.
Please find a way to keep helping the least of our citizens fulfill their potential and lead productive lives.

Eileen Norman (Grandmother of a 19 year old graduate with autism.)

Dear Eileen,

Thanks very much for getting in touch with me and letting me know what’s on your mind regarding President Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018.

Fiscal responsibility is about setting priorities and keeping spending in check while supporting and maintaining our country’s economic competitiveness and national security.

The president has suggested a budget, but, under the Constitution, Congress passes appropriations bills. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee my priorities are national defense, national laboratories, the National Institutes of Health and national parks.

We will not balance the budget by cutting discretionary spending, which is only 31 percent of spending and is already under control because of earlier budget acts. Runaway entitlement spending – more than 60 percent of spending – is the real cause of the $20 trillion federal debt. With Medicaid reforms in the health care bill, Congress is taking an important step in addressing entitlement spending. If we don’t make tough decisions now, we’ll have let America slip from the hands of the ‘greatest generation’ to the ‘debt-paying generation’ with nothing to show for it but the bill.

I’m glad you took the time to let me know where you stand. I’ll be sure to keep your comments in mind as budget and spending proposals are debated in Washington and in Tennessee.

Sincerely,
Lamar

Medicaid entitlement of the handicapped?   Entitled handicapped?   A new concept for me!

Making America Great Again?

This is priceless!

By Susan Keller

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it looks like Trump is actually making America great again. Just look at the progress made since the election:
1. Unprecedented levels of ongoing civic engagement.
2. Millions of Americans now know who their state and federal representatives are without having to google.
3. Millions of Americans are exercising more. They’re holding signs and marching every week.
4. Alec Baldwin is great again. Everyone’s forgotten he’s kind of a jerk.
5. The Postal Service is enjoying the influx cash due to stamps purchased by millions of people for letter and postcard campaigns.
6. Likewise, the pharmaceutical industry is enjoying record growth in sales of anti-depressants.
7. Millions of Americans now know how to call their elected officials and know exactly what to say to be effective.
8. Footage of town hall meetings is now entertaining.
9. Tens of millions of people are now correctly spelling words like emoluments, narcissist, fascist, misogynist, holocaust and cognitive dissonance.
10. Everyone knows more about the rise of Hitler than they did last year.
11. Everyone knows more about legislation, branches of power and how checks and balances work.
12. Marginalized groups are experiencing a surge in white allies.
13. White people in record numbers have just learned that racism is not dead. (See #6)
14. White people in record numbers also finally understand that Obamacare IS the Affordable Care Act.
15. Stephen Colbert’s “Late Night” finally gained the elusive #1 spot in late night talk shows, and Seth Meyers is finding his footing as today’s Jon Stewart.
16. “Mike Pence” has donated millions of dollars to Planned Parenthood since Nov. 9th.
17. Melissa FREAKING McCarthy.
18. Travel ban protesters put $24 million into ACLU coffers in just 48 hours, enabling them to hire 200 more attorneys. Lawyers are now heroes.
19. As people seek veracity in their news sources, respected news outlets are happily reporting a substantial increase in subscriptions, a boon to a struggling industry vital to our democracy.
20. Live streaming court cases and congressional sessions are now as popular as the Kardashians.
21. Massive cleanup of Facebook friend lists.
22. People are reading classic literature again. Sales of George Orwell’s “1984” increased by 10,000% after the inauguration. (Yes, that is true. 10,000%. 9th grade Lit teachers all over the country are now rock stars.)
23. More than ever before, Americans are aware that education is important. Like, super important.
24. Now, more than anytime in history, everyone believes that anyone can be President. Seriously, anyone.”
Susan Keller

I’m not familiar with Susan Keller, but she is right on with this. Love it.

The Death of Feminine Values?

I am struggling with the turns feminism has taken. I thought it was about freeing women to be themselves, not expecting them all to want and be good at the same things, and that women who needed to work or chose to work outside the home would be rewarded equally with men. And my hopes for it were that it would bring traditional feminine values into the places of power traditionally held by men. I realize that not all women are nurturing, any more than all men are competitive. So when I talk about traditional feminine or masculine values, I am not limiting the yin and yang of them exclusively to either gender. Of course, like any movement or theory, we manage somehow to always take it to illogical extremes. Our economy has adjusted to two salaries and now, unless we marry and both partners work or one partner makes a whole lot of money, women need to work. So, the ones that want to be hands on with raising their children and love to cook and decorate and create and maintain beauty and welcome for others in their home environments are more and more forced into working outside the home, often in very limiting and non-creative jobs. And many women, who are not married, live close to poverty.
I went to an exhibit at the Frist museum recently on the history of the Samurai. Samurai were the greatly respected and highly honored soldiers of Japan. During a long peaceful time in Japan’s history, there were women Samurai. This period led to better treatment for women. Though better is a relative thing. Still, it surprised me, since this was a long time ago and  it was a position of honor traditionally only held by men.
In Sweden, Dads are now being given turns with wives at new parent time off from work. And two American women have qualified as Army Rangers. The whole point these days is to not consider anything as identified appropriate for only one gender.                                       This would work out, if nurturing professions and skills were rewarded the same as combative ones. Though the rank and file of the military don’t get paid extravagant salaries, as long as they are on active duty they live in a completely socialistic society. Retired military used to have pretty much the same benefits, but with constant wars the cost of supporting the military and war has gone up with corresponding cuts in veteran benefits and services. If you aren’t actively killing enemies, you aren’t important any more. Teachers are underpaid.  They are not provided free medical care, reasonable housing, cheap retail prices, inexpensive or free social activities, free churches and religious education, and special schools for their children. And frankly these days a lot of schools in the civilian arena are the equivalent of war zones.                                                           I think what I am trying to say is that while I want women and men to be equal, I also want traditional feminine values such as nurture and inclusiveness, to be considered equally important and rewarded as such.                                                                                                             Sexual mores are obviously now emphasizing the pleasure of sex as more important than its role in creating, deepening, and strengthening relationships. When the immediate gratification through pleasure becomes the accepted goal in life, relationships become disposable. Human relationships are simply not constantly pleasurable. They aren’t even meant to be. Pleasure for pleasure’s sake only, with no balancing maturing in relationships, leads to a population of aging irresponsible children.                                               Okay, I haven’t thought all of this through, so I need to stop and reflect on it. It’s hard to free myself from my generation’s programming enough to discern what is progress and what is throwing the baby out with the bath water. I tend to think traditional feminine values (not roles) are more evolved than masculine ones, so I don’t want to have those values disappear.  Obviously, I am prejudiced. But, before I take a break, I have one funny story that sort of illustrates some of the challenges.

Some years ago I had an army staff sergeant friend who had fought in Korea and Vietnam. Close to the end of his twenty years, he was given a cushy staff assignment in Boston near his wife’s hometown. After several staff meetings with his female officers all crying at times in each meeting, he volunteered to go to Korea, which was not a cushy assignment. I could understand a reasonably kind, but combat seasoned soldier, being uncomfortable with weeping officers, but I also wondered if the officers on all sides of conflicts cried instead of becoming aggressive, maybe it would cut down on the wars. After all, Jesus wept, why shouldn’t we.

 

Both Sides of Prejudice

When my Mom was growing up in Jackson, Mississippi in the nineteen twenties, her public high school was next to the one Catholic Church and school. She believed that the nuns wore headdresses to cover their horns. Most of the Catholics in Jackson were immigrants from countries in Eastern Europe that she had never heard of.  And their languages seemed strange and scary to her, as were any Blacks that she didn’t know. She ended up with a job in New Orleans and married to a Catholic newspaperman, who also happened to be a strong advocate for integration. She was a naturally kind person who cared about people, so she gradually adopted my Dad’s way of thinking. Though she remained Methodist, she was one of the most active mothers in my Catholic school and became great friends with the nun that taught me in first grade. But when my Dad went away in the army in the nineteen forties, Mom and I went to live with her parents back in Jackson. I went to a public grade school near by. As a new and very scared second grader, I experienced everyone in the school gathering in the gym and being separated into groups by religion. I have no idea why. But out of several hundred children, I was the only Catholic. Not a comfortable experience for an eight year old child.

In the mid-nineteen-fifties, my Dad, now a newspaper editor in Houston, Texas, endorsed the first black to run for a position on the school board. The schools were still separate, but the black schools had never had any representation. Late on the night of the election, the entry hall to our apartment was bombed. The bomb was primitive, but strong enough to make sharp pieces of slate and even the confetti packing all stick in the door and walls. Fortunately, I stopped on the way downstairs to answer the door when the bell rang. It was long after midnight and my dad wasn’t home from covering the election yet, so I stopped half way down just as the bomb went off.

In the sixties, now living in my husband’s home town of Nashville, Tennessee, one of my social friends proclaimed furiously and proudly that as a hospital volunteer, she had refused to carry a black baby out to the car that day. She had done this right in front of the parents. I was horrified that a Christian mother with a college degree would be so cruel. So, I decided to volunteer at a black grade school as a tutor for children having trouble reading . As I grew fond of these delightful small children, I began to consider how limited their future would be, even if they learned to read. So, I joined the NAACP and worked in their offices trying to find employment for blacks in the white community. I happened to be working there on the day the Poor People’s March on Washington came through Nashville. Young blacks, who were in the more extreme Black Protest movements, came through the office where I was working that day. They obviously hated whites and made sure I was very aware of that. I went home stricken by my experiences of the extremes of hatred between the races. How could we avoid a bloody race war? But God sent Martin Luther King, Jr. and his message of non-violent protest. Thanks to him and many other brave Christian Blacks, we live in a different world now and my grandchildren have friends of all colors.

In the early seventies, my husband and I and our five children moved to a very rural area of middle Tennessee. One day, as I came into the little neighborhood grocery that had chairs around a potbellied stove, I overheard one of the men sitting there say, “Yep, If someone hadn’t of killed those Kennedys, we’d have a Pope running our country now and those Catholics you think are your friends would be killin’ us in our beds.” No one argued the point.

Don’t assume that because you are a law abiding white middle class American, you will never experience prejudice.

In the eighties, I had to use a wheelchair because there was no medicine yet for a condition that made walking excruciatingly painful for my feet. About that time, one of our sons went to work for an airline that allowed him to take us abroad for only the tax on tickets. So, we began years of traveling with the challenge of me in a wheel chair. America had already become mostly handicapped accessible, so we were not really prepared for the differences in Europe. In many countries the only accessible bathrooms were in a McDonalds’.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       In the German speaking part of Switzerland, in Vienna, Austria, and in the Czech Republic we met with open hostility. And the hostility was not just from skin heads. In Prague, when trying to get across a road in the rain and onto an awning covered side walk, wide enough for a wheelchair and other people to walk, several middle-aged, middle class looking women standing together chatting, not only wouldn’t move even slightly to let us get out of the rain, but one scowling, turned and literally hissed at me. I cried that night. I considered myself a kind middle class woman of reasonably pleasant appearance. Why would someone hate me without even knowing me. We learned it wasn’t because we were Americans. Now that the communists were gone, the Czechs were welcoming westerners with open arms. But until that year those with any kind of handicap had been kept inside, sometimes in attics.The new President’s wife was just starting a campaign to help them become an accepted part of the society. Shortly after we returned to America, we read that a German family had sued a restaurant in Germany for allowing a handicapped person to be seated where they were visible to others. They claimed that having to see this person while they ate ruined their vacation. The saddest part is that the court agreed and they were awarded $20,000.

Don’t assume if you are a liberal Democrat, that you aren’t prejudiced.

My assumptions about my lack of prejudice were knocked silly when I was substitute teaching a seventh grade English class in my small rural town. I called on a young black man and just stood there speechless with my mouth hanging open when he answered in an upper class British accent using  four and five syllable words, that I had actually never spoken, only read. I had been totally unaware of my preconceptions, because of my limited experience.

I realized that I had some prejudice against Germans from WWII and years of movies and books about the Holocaust.  Though I knew not all Germans agreed or participated in persecuting the Jews, I had not read of many Germans that risked their own their lives for them, except the Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, author of the book The Cost of Discipleship.  At first, my experiences in Europe reinforced my prejudice.  But, when reflecting back on the many experiences of kindness and generosity by Germans, Austrians, and Czech’s while in their countries, I realized I was focusing on a minority because of my long unchallenged prejudice.

We can and will survive our current fears and prejudices, if we commit to working toward a better America for all people, including both whites and blacks, who cannot afford college or have different gifts more suited to vocational education and also  for immigrants seeking sanctuary for their children from wars not of their choosing.

Renew America by Refocusing Political Parties on People, not Power

One: We start at the grass roots level: our local party.
Two: We go to meetings and listen.
Three: We ask questions in a non-threatening way.
Four: We listen to the answers and rephrase them in a non-judgmental way so others know we heard.
Five: We suggest and offer hands on and financial help with party outreach efforts that help the poor, who are able and willing to work.                                                                                                              Possibilities:
First we need more creative ways to reach people: Flyers in doors of public housing, Trailer Parks, TV and Radio Public Service announcements, Face Book. Flyers in fast food restaurants, Laundromats, Hospitals , Clinics, Churches, and even in Utility Bills.
Call or visit Employment Agencies and learn about available jobs and requirements
Advertise available government training programs and offer transportation for those without cars.
Advertise available jobs and offer transportation for applicants and help with carpools to jobs.
Create programs for learning how to save money on essentials and start them at Senior Centers, Public Housing, and Churches.
Find the disillusioned and offer transportation to party meetings and activities. Have practical door prizes or “Thank you for coming” giveaways like shampoo, soap, etc. at meetings. Get to know the people and their problems. Involve them in brainstorming solutions. Get them involved in working on solutions. Utilize Senior Citizens and disabled Veterans.
Find more ways for the Parties, Senior Centers, Churches, rather than the government, to get to know and help people one on one or in groups.
Reach out to Immigrant groups, Seniors, Disabled Veterans, those in Public Housing, those on the verge of becoming homeless.
Learn through all this what part the government can best play in helping people help themselves and work on getting those in motion.

Different Gifts Make for Different Politics

One of the problems with education, besides economic ghettos, is not recognizing differences in personalities. Any one with several children knows they were different at birth. Most teachers of primary grades catch on eventually that no one system of teaching basics will work for all  children.
Personality differences include learning style differences, value differences,  actually even what we see, so also how we react to it. It’s complex. I only wish I had known more about these differences when I taught first and second grade. (See blog post: Important Things I Learned from First Graders When I Was Forty.)
Most intuitive thinkers question the status quo, see connections between differing things, explore new possibilities, are idealistic, and though some travel or do something else for a while, most will go to college. They also tend to end up living in the large cities. Concrete thinkers are more hands on, learn from their parents and practical experience, accept what is and tend to prefer small communities. We actually need to challenge all types fairly early to value skills opposite to their natural way of being in the world. The intuitive idealists often don’t recognize the practical costs of their dreams enough to develop either their own practical problem solving skills or preferably learn to appreciate and work with those whose minds work differently. And of course, vice versa. We need to affirm and enable problem solvers, but also early on involve them in problem solving ways to work toward ideals. Change is not always better, but many things can be changed for the better slowly while taking into account the immediate practical side effects for all. As long as many are looking only at the ideal possibilities and the others not only feel more secure with the familiar, but see only the problems involved in any great change, we will continue to be pretty much totally divided. Another difference is some of the population tends to live in the past, some in the present moment without much awareness of long term consequences, and others focus on the long view of the future.  Do you see why we have such different views?

The biggest problem is the solution isn’t either/or. It requires valuing each others’ gifts and working together. Unfortunately, that takes letting go of some of our most cherished prejudices and admitting that no one has answers that will work for all, unless we work together.

Revolution American Style

Growing up in my own family of birth, the worst mortal sin was stupidity. In raising our own somewhat precocious children, if they called each other stupid, my husband would ask the offending child, “Who’s stupid?” And the child had to say six times, “I am stupid.” Frankly, I was never really comfortable with that, because I would rather be beaten that told I was stupid, so I probably would have taken a beating rather than having to say,”I am stupid.” And yes, I have often thought that people, who do not see the world the same way I do, are stupid…….or to be politically correct, mentally challenged. Two things have challenged me on this: One, I was told after extensive testing in a two year program for preparation for ministry that I had two personal areas problematic for ministry. One: I test high enough on IQ tests that I probably always thought I was right in differences of opinions and the reality is that no one is right all the time, no matter how smart they are. Two: I over react defensively and emotionally to people, ie. I was oversensitive.
To be honest, I still struggle with both of these tendencies, but at least now, I struggle with them.
I still consider calling people “stupid” violence. And when, in spite of knowing I could be wrong, I think people are stupid, I try hard to: one, take into consideration that their personalities and life experience may be very different from mine and within those limits their responses may make sense. Ignorance is not stupidity. Stupidity is not curable, but ignorance is. But many people have to learn the hard way, by personal experience, not theory. In many ways, our educational system does not provide learning approaches that are effective for many, maybe even most, people. And our political system is so dependent on having access to huge amounts of money, that they don’t feel represented. Then along came “Jones”, Trump. Someone, who shares their fears that are less scary when expressed as anger, with huge amounts of money and the indifference to the establishment’s opinion that money can buy.
Read Michael Moore’s suggestions of how Democrats should respond to this challenge. It’s an eye opener and a call to change.