Let’s stop playing dodge ball across an imaginary gulf

When it comes to politics, I really do believe the vast majority of us sit in an ample swath down the middle. Yet, when it comes to how we are positioned, it’s as if we’ve been picked for teams in gym class and have begun to believe in the “evils” of the other side.

In the gym classes of my younger years, picking teams wasn’t my favorite thing. Nor is it now. My political views veer in a particular direction, but I don’t see those who disagree with me as being on the other team. Voting is a competition, but it doesn’t mean that I have to throw the dodge ball at someone’s face to participate, or even win.

Out of curiosity, I wander every so often into the media environment that promotes different views. This practice hasn’t changed my views, but it has influenced how I consider the media environment that supports mine. Anger and finger-pointing exists on both sides. Spin exists on both sides. If someone talks favorably about God, ultra-conservatives are quick to claim that person for their team, a Crusader who wants to “obliterate the left” when said person’s message may have nothing to do with politics. At the opposite extreme, that same person talking about God might be held in suspicion, the expectation that they are likely anti-abortion and therefore also a white supremacist and climate change denier.

Without the benefit of polling — and we know how well that works — I can’t determine how prevalent extremists are. But I can say my personal experience indicates there are plenty of people who aren’t so far on either end that they can’t coexist with those who don’t share their precise views.

It’s brand politics. To a certain extent, we’re going to engage in it. Some may want to spend more time at Starbucks and less in an Uber (or vice-versa) because of the stand each company’s CEO has taken on the recent immigration order. This is a freedom those CEOs share with all of us — the right to stand up for what we believe in. The rewards and risks are market-related. If you are supplying something that aligns with my political views, my demand for what you offer is going to go up. But I can also avoid companies that counter my views.

The kind of brand politics I think we want to be careful about is putting others on the opposing team and leaving them there, only interacting with them to show force or prowess about our own views. As many on both sides have pointed out, our votes impact other people, including those who don’t agree with us. But we’re actually all on the same team. We share many of the same resources. We pass each other on the street. Every time we get into a car, we count on others to be good drivers. We are all sitting on the same bench.

This isn’t to stay I don’t want to talk politics with friends. It’s actually the opposite. I want more talk, but I want it to have substance. I want people to tell me why they do or don’t support something. I want us to get past name-calling, cliches and assumptions.

Because whenever you articulate your views, you cycle through your own personal vetting process. We should all be asked to this during times like these. Right now, many of the issues arising aren’t red or blue. Unless we shed those filters, though, we won’t be able to see what they really are.

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Is this a good guy with a gun, Mom?

Do we really want our kids seeing threats everywhere?

Do we really want our kids seeing threats everywhere?

If you send a child to school in this decade, you know the feeling that creeps up on you. Will my reality be shattered by another — the fact that this country offers little protection against someone breaking into my kids’ school and firing off multiple rounds of ammunition with the intention of killing as many people as possible?

This is one of those things you simultaneously try to bury in your subconscious to protect your sanity and emotional fortitude to send your child to school and also keep top-of-mind so that you can do your civic duty of participating in a collective force against the gun lobby.

Maybe you don’t want to believe that guns are the problem. Maybe your political and social views have had you favoring lawmakers who happen to support your values but also are funded by gun manufacturers through the NRA. Maybe you are beginning to understand that conflict of interests. My guess is that you still feel the same fear most parents these days do. If this is the case, I am still talking to you. In fact, I am especially talking to you.

We’ve seen many articles and opinion pieces — lockdown drills have been added to the fire and tornado drills we grew up with. Kids shouldn’t have to know how to barricade themselves in a closet because someone armed like a terrorist has come to kill them. Teachers shouldn’t have to devise way to squeeze 20 little kindergarteners into a cubby space to hide them from a disturbed individual with dozens of rounds of ammo. Armed combat should not be part of the requirements for being an educator of children.

Today I saw something just as unsettling — a photo of a man exercising his open carry rights in a donut shop, taken from the perspective of a family sitting 20 or so feet away.

It didn’t appear that this man was participating in a staged protest. He was simply buying a donut, or some coffee, and he happened to have a sizable weapon sticking out of his pocket.

In the foreground of the photo is a child. I think about what this looks like to him.

If I was sitting at that donut shop, what would I have done?

The gun lobby protests that in a world where there are so many guns, more guns are needed — that to be armed is to be safe, that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is to be a good guy with a gun. But research shows that this is very, very rarely the case.

Look at the photo. What do you see? If you love guns, you might see a piece of gear you admire. If you want responsible gun control, you see someone whose mind you want to change. If you are the NRA, you see dollar signs.

Do you see a good guy with a gun?

I don’t know this man, as is the case for the thousands, perhaps millions, of people who will see him on social media in the coming weeks. I have no idea if he has any intention of harm. He could simply be a misguided individual who is otherwise kind and thoughtful — a real good guy.

But if you are a child drilled in the art of hiding from people with guns, I think what you might see is the monster who, rather than hiding in your bedroom closet, lurks outside the door to your school. And now he’s in the donut shop. Is it time to hide under the table? Can you barricade yourself in the restroom before he opens fire?

If you are a parent, how likely is it that you will stick around to find out?

I don’t want to demonize this man. It has been my policy to avoid name-calling and assumptions about people who own guns, because I believe that putting people on the defensive won’t support change. This image isn’t about this man. It’s about the gun, and what it represents to our children.

The gun lobby may find reassurance in this scene, but my guess is that most people don’t — especially our kids. Isn’t it time that we make guns less a part of their lives?

One question about Ahmed and his clock

Good for Ahmed! But we still have problems.

Good for Ahmed! But we still have problems.

Last week 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed was arrested for making a clock, because the circumstances of the situation led those in charge to believe that it might be a bomb.

It looks like it’s going to be a better Monday for Ahmed this week, but I still have a question:

Are we really living in an era where a home-made clock created by a high school student with a passion for inventing has no place at a school?

The home-made clock

I’m not sure if in the history of our public education system there has been a more confused time for striking the right balance of quantifiable measurement and intuitive teaching, standards and freedom to explore, serving the gifted and addressing the challenged and giving the best opportunities to everyone else, and providing the right learning environment for kids who have abundant resources and those who are simply just hungry. Perhaps my teacher friends can confirm or deny this, but judging from all that is said and written about education today, we are faced with a crushing number of issues. Many of our educators disagree with how political leaders are addressing them.

Thanks to my teacher friends and family, I read a lot about how standards impact those who have a hard time in the classroom, whether due to abilities, home environment, racism or otherwise. But I also see how creating a narrow channel for our teachers to draw from debilitates kids who aren’t fully served by what happens in the classroom.

Should we expect someone like Ahmed Mohamed to stifle his excitement for what he discovers, what he can do, and not share it with his teacher because it is atypical?

Has our educational system has become so rigid that kids are no longer expected (or welcome) to “color outside the lines”?

This boy, like other “maker” kids, goes beyond the standards to take ownership of his learning experiences.

Some might call it inspired.

The student

Ahmed Mohamed is Muslim. He lives in a community where the mayor has had a strained relationship with the Muslim community. Some of the things that were said to him when questioned indicate that his religion had some influence on how the situation was being treated.

My son attends an enrichment program for kids who like to and have the talent to invent, run by one of this country’s most prestigious universities. The requirements to attend are fairly narrow, so I can’t say it is a diverse group on the whole. But when I show up to drop him off and pick him up from his classes, the kids, parents and teachers I see have different skin colors. The groups are not fully representative of all the major world races and ethnicities, but there are kids there who look like Ahmed Mohamed and others who do not look like my white son.

It’s not the perfect picture of diversity, but isn’t this the kind of direction we want head toward for our kids?

The school

What shouldn’t have a place in school are the hard decisions administrators have to make about how to keep their students safe. Obviously in some places they need more guidance on what should be perceived as a threat. A simple home-made clock lands a kid in police questioning, but in some states his father wouldn’t have to leave his gun in the car to come in and pick him up from the principal’s office. We need another phrase to describe this inconsistency of logic, because “messed up” is inadequate.

Shouldn’t we be more afraid of people who have made it easier to bring weapons into schools than adolescents who like to tinker with circuit boards and digital displays?

Ahmed’s story has a fortunate ending. But even after he gets back from the White House and Facebook headquarters, the factors that influenced what happened will still be the same. Looks like this incident will turn out fine for him. And like so many others, #IStandWithAhmed. But we all know that there will be other kids like Ahmed who won’t be so lucky.

What are we going to do about that?

I Am Not Not Charlie (Sharestentialism Part 2)

Blank feedLast week’s social media response to the killings at Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris reminded me that sometimes I don’t really have a lot of guts when it comes to speaking up. As the “I am Charlie” meme spread across Facebook and Twitter feeds like a match dropped in a hayloft, I didn’t post a thing… not a single thing about the atrocity.

My reaction to the news was sadness for the victims, for their families, for the relentlessness of extremists. I was sad for the concept of freedom of speech. As a big fan of satire, I was sad for the risks those who engage in it take.

But I posted nothing. And as I watched my feed fill up with the bloody pen, I felt really awkward. I couldn’t bring myself to post anything about Charlie Hebdo on my timeline because “Je ne suis pas Charlie.” I’m not. I don’t possess the courage those artists at Charlie Hebdo had. I don’t have the talent. And before this terrible incident, I didn’t even know what Charlie Hebdo was.

I wanted to say this at the time, but I didn’t have the courage to do even that. What if I offended someone who did post the bloody pen to their page?* What kind of supporter of the free press would I look like if I posted such a thing?

In this act of not posting, I was proving my point, I guess. I really am not Charlie.

But then along came a real journalist — one even who writes for the Financial Times — pointing out that, yes, guess what, we’re not Charlie. Other real journalists followed. It wasn’t backlash. Rather, it was honesty. And it was something I could have posted the moment I thought about it.

But I didn’t. I am not even “not Charlie,” apparently. It seems my ideas need the approval of legitimate press, even when I’m pretty sure they aren’t original.

Sharestentialism is my term for the idea that you are what you share. But like the concept of white space, how does it relate to what you don’t share? By not sharing that I’m not Charlie, I was sharing that I have no guts, at least to myself (and my husband in whom I confided my mixed emotions.) I wondered, too, if the absence of “I am Charlie,” from my status update indicated a lack of concern.

Can the image we portray through social media be defined as much by our “silence” as it is by what we share? If the assumption that we are judged (at least sometimes) by what we post on social media is true, then what about what we don’t?

 

* I feel I must apologize to anyone who posted the bloody pen, and also isn’t Charlie. I know you were doing it out of solidarity.

Alliterative Memes Won’t Ban Bossy

When I first saw #banbossy, I dismissed it as a marketing ploy for Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean-In empire-in-the-making. The participation of the Girl Scouts surprised me only a bit, because I can see where such an organization would want to partner with the likes of Sheryl and her campaign. On the surface, it makes sense.

But the sense stops there, and as I saw and heard others considering it more seriously, I began to give it more thought. I’m the parent of a school-age daughter (and son), and through them and my own experiences as a child, I’ve had a decent amount of exposure to the term bossy as applied to young girls.

Sheryl may be a talented corporate executive, but when it comes to something like this, she’s misguided. As stated on the Girl Scout website, Ban Bossy is a “campaign that helps girls flex their leadership muscles.” When I clicked through to the materials the campaign offers, I found content that is on target. It’s unfortunate that they chose such a term to package it.

Bossy is a real word, and just because a person has the resources and wherewithal to organize an entire campaign to ban a word, it still exists. And it still has a place in childhood.

One of the most difficult challenges of being a parent today is facing the criticism that we are too soft on our kids. We don’t want them to suffer failure. We don’t want them to be labeled. We don’t want any other adults to say anything disparaging about them.

I once sat in a meeting with a teacher who told me that she didn’t use the word “bully” in her class. Why? One of her students was a girl who was bullying multiple children in the classroom, and she was “sensitive” about that word. I suppose we could have used the term “bossy” to describe her behavior — leveraging alliances, pitting girls against each other, hitting, campaigning to have certain girls excluded at various different times to get what she wanted. But according to the Ban Bossy campaign, that wouldn’t be appropriate either.

The thing is, there is a gulf between bossy behavior and assertive behavior, and most of us get that. Banning the term bossy really should be banning the idea that girls don’t have something valuable to contribute. But if Sheryl had visited a classroom lately and really paid attention, she’d find that many are set up to support the needs of girls more than boys.

All of this ties back to Sheryl’s Lean In campaign that promotes women achieving their goals and not being held back in their ambitions. I think there are more impactful ways than banning bossy to make that happen.

How about #baninadequatematernityleaves? Or #banthe60hourworkweek? How about doing something about the concentration of wealth to a small percentage or the Walmartization of our economy? These things may not affect Sheryl personally, but they are realities, and frequently barriers, for many women in this country who would be more than happy to pursue their dreams.

Perhaps she could support the things that are disappearing from schools that help build confidence in kids, such as art and music programs. Maybe she could use her influence to convince the entertainment industry to present better role models and more quality shows for tweens (because I can tell you that shows like “Jessie” and “Dog with a Blog” are working against the likes of Ban Bossy). Here’s an idea — create a campaign that addresses the rise in teen bullying and intimidation on social media, because if there’s anything that will hold a girl back from sharing her ideas, it’s ridicule from her peers.

If Sheryl Sandberg and the folks at Lean In are serious about making a difference for future women leaders, it’s time to ban alliterative memes that gloss over the real issues. The problems women face in leadership deserve more than just catchy phrases.