Playing in the Schooltime of Others

A typical day in the life of an American toddler might include a trip to the playground, some television, snack time and perhaps a play date with a friend. With a few inexpensive additions to the normal routine, a youngster’s pre-school experience could be transformed from mundane to spectacular. A field trip to the museums, or a day at a petting farm are just two of the many exciting adventures that might spark a child’s imagination and eventually make an enormous difference in his or her performance in school and on standardized tests.

Very young children learn best when exposed to information that is visual or tactile in nature, that is, if a 2 year old can feel a bunny’s fur or hear a donkey braying, he is likely to recall those events, even unconsciously, when asked to make word associations on standardized tests. Observing the patterns in the veins of a leaf, or watching the legs of a caterpillar as it crawls, or listening to the chord progressions in a Bach melody are mathematical learning experiences more valuable than a thousand classroom hours could ever be.

When my oldest child was an infant, my law school professor suggested I try the Glenn Doman programs. “Teach Your Baby to Read”, and “Teach Your Baby Math” are effective strategies to introduce letters, words and numbers to young children, and we had lots of fun with them.

Aside from the educational value, the time that parents invest in their toddler’s early learning experiences will reap priceless psychological benefits. The emotional bonds developed between parent and child are the foundation for the child’s self concept. A healthy, well-adjusted sense of self is critical in the child’s later efforts to build positive relationships throughout life.

For parents, the seemingly childish act of laying face up on the grass to observe white clouds pass across the sky could be a profoundly relaxing departure from the challenges of the grown-up world. For a child whose parents took that time to spend with them, it could mean the world.

Book Review: War Anthem by Keith Andrew Perry

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My rating: 5 of 5 stars

War Anthem, A Review

From the evocative use of language to the stirring plot, this novel provides an insightful analysis of human behavior and politics.

The rich emotional life of the main character, Jason Diggs, is the backdrop for a description of historical events few have known of before now. From the rise of Washington, D.C.’s Black intellectual class to the development and implementation of DC Home Rule, the writer, Washington, DC lawyer Keith Perry, chronicles the dazzling changes which occurred in Washington from the late 1950’s to the present time.

War Anthem takes an unblinking look at the superficial value systems and shortcomings of the Black middle class, much like E. Franklin Frazier’s Black Bourgeoisie. However, Mr. Perry also makes a largely positive and optimistic critical analysis of the way in which unique challenges and opportunities were confronted by Black Washingtonians.

Many DC political figures will recognize themselves on the pages of War Anthem. From the late Dave Clark and Walter Washington to Marion Barry, the personalities and behavior patterns of well-known individuals are clearly described. Without exception the writer treats individuals characters with respect and kind detachment.

Like all good literature, War Anthem tells more than one story. This book is a beautifully-written memoir about coming of age in Washington, D.C. as a fully conscious, self-aware Black male who understands the leadership responsibilities placed on gifted individuals.

“I understood how death changes both the future and our understanding of the past.

Gray images flashed before me of mother’s heroism during her illness and I considered the vacuum she was leaving behind. Had I been a weaker man, I might have passed through this time immune to my suffering, spurred by some grief induced amnesia; but like my mother, it was my privilege to consciously endure.”

Mr. Perry amplifies many archetypal themes in War Anthem, and in so doing provides a great service for us all. His achievement in this book is that he has woven a magnificent human tale regarding rites of passage and manhood with a story of political intrigue and municipal history. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and I most assuredly recommend it as a piece of literature which I suspect will soon be required reading for young men matriculating through colleges all over the world.

Julianne Robertson King

When Disrespect is the Status Quo

I admit it, I’m fascinated by the national celebrity status recently conferred on DC School Chancellor Michelle Rhee. With the powerful Oprah Winfrey media machine and the blessing of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, she appears headed for an illustrious career as the national poster girl for educational reform.

There’s only one problem:

The objectively quantifiable data shows that her efforts have hurt student progress in District of Columbia Public Schools.

Math Proficiency Scores:

-14 schools are worse off in 2010 than in 2007 with declines as high as 25% and an average of 8%
-41 schools are worse off in 2010 than in 2008, with declines as high as 35% and an average of 11%
-61 schools (52% of all schools) are worse off in 2010 than in 2009, with declines as high as 30% and an average of 10%

Reading Proficiency Scores:

-40 schools are worse off in 2010 than in 2007, with declines as high as 45% and an average of 6%
-58 schools are worse off in 2010 than in 2008, with declines as high as 36% and an average if 9%
-66 schools (56% of all schools) are worse off in 2010 than in 2009, with declines as high as 41% and an average of 9%

(source withheld)

Other performance facts:

-AYP (Annual Yearly Progress) under Leave no Child Behind, results for DCPS: 10 schools achieved AYP in 2010 a 70% decrease from 2009, when 34 achieved AYP.

-The achievement gap between White and African-American 4th grade students for Math has increased to a 58 point gap in 2009 from a 53 point gap in 2007.

-DCPS tested 14% fewer African-America children in 2009 indicating that many African-American families are leaving DCPS for charter or private schools.

-Since 2007 DC School construction shows favoritism toward Wards 2 and 3, where outlays average between $118 and $152 per sq. ft. compared to Wards 7 and 8 where expenditures drop between $40 and $54 per sq. ft.

(source withheld)

The truth is that systemic educational reform is holistic in nature. The history, economic development, and social structure of the student population has to be accommodated before lasting change occurs.

Positive educational outcomes for all children require analysis of the learning styles, and teaching strategies that work best for each demographic group. I strongly urge that educators study a focus group created by DCPS in the 1970’s called The Innovation Team, which was formed to study the challenges and opportunities specific to Urban education.

Washington, D.C. was decimated by the crack and gun wars of the 1980’s and 90’s, and some of those lost were among our most vibrant, creative and intellectually curious. Domestic and educational policy of the Reagan Bush years has had the effect of stifling the momentum of the 1970’s as related to Black consciousness and upward mobility. The collective psychological development of the Black community is diminished as a result. The children we see in the classroom today are essentially postwar survivors, yet we haven’t developed a plan that faces that excruciating truth. The sick joke is to send Rhee here, to insult and demean and blame our community for failing to effectively protect our young people.

If Oprah cares, and I believe she might, if properly informed, she needs to focus, not on personalities and style and money, but on history. Refugee and post-war children around the world have to be nurtured in a very focused way to be returned to their natural brilliance.

A Sheep in Lion’s Clothing

When news of the Eddie Long scandal broke, people didn’t want to believe that he was guilty. He may not be guilty. The events leading up to this scandal, however, are reminiscent of horrific stories coming forth from Catholic congregations for decades. No one wanted to challenge the power structure or question the behavior of the seemingly Godly men in whom they placed their trust. Now the Catholic Church is paying billions of dollars in damages because the population failed to take precautions and speak out against sexual abuse of children. To be sure, someone within the New Birth congregation had an inkling, a feeling that something was amiss in their pastor’s behavior toward boys and young men.

Now, incredibly, people are postulating that this crisis should spur new dialogue regarding homophobia in the Black community. To be sure, that is a critical piece in the healing and reconciliation that has to occur among segments of the African-American community. Would Eddie Long have been as successful in the ministry as he was if he had been openly gay? Is it unrealistic to place the expectation of genuine moral purity on powerful men? Do their words mean less if we find them to have fallen from Biblical precepts? These are important questions.

However, the conversation regarding sexual orientation should take a back seat to the conversation about protecting our children from sexual predators.

Future generations of African American people will ponder the way we handle this current crisis in the Church. There are other sexual scandals brewing in several Black mega churches in the U.S., and whether they are quietly settled or brought to the public by the media, we all have to confront the inconsistencies between what we say we are and what we really are.

This situation calls for more than prayer. Someone has to speak for our children. Do we cherish our children enough to put their safety above the need to idolize men like Eddie Long?

Mirror, Mirror

The Evil Queen

The queen stepped before her mirror:

Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who in this land is fairest of all?

The mirror answered:

You, my queen, are fair; it is true.
But Little Snow-White with the seven dwarfs
Is a thousand times fairer than you.

When the queen heard this, she shook and trembled with anger, “Snow-White will die, if it costs me my life!”

Standing apart from the widely-accepted archetype of the female as life giver, care-taker, and warm nurturer, is the seemingly aberrant character of the Evil Queen. She crops up in folklore and fantasy literature as the arch nemesis of the likes of Snow White and Cinderella (that’s the evil stepmother upgrade.) Her jealousy, her spiteful and bitterly vindictive nature, and her apparently Godless lack of compassion or empathy are legendary. As villains go, the Evil Queen presents a disarming conundrum since she is usually endowed with physical beauty.

..and as we all know, beautiful people are always good. Right?

In our admiration of the beautiful, do we tend to lower the behavioral standards and norms the rest of us have to follow? Conversely, how accurate or fair is the stereotype of the beautiful, but superficial person who is consumed by ego-dictated goals and desires? Perhaps the Evil Queen and Snow White are two halves of the same whole. Maybe their extremes of character are posed in a manner that allows the reader to reflect on the idea that true beauty lies somewhere deep beyond the formation of cheekbones and eyelids and lips. Maybe real beauty is all about someone’s heart and soul.

Proverb. First found in a work by Sir Thomas Overbury’s, 1613:

“All the carnall beauty of my wife, Is but skin deep.”

In Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters author John Steptoe describes similarly polarized opposites. Manyara and Nyasha are both dazzlingly beautiful, but one is compassionate and sweet while the other is ambitious, cruel and spiteful. They are both sent to see the king as he prepares to chose a wife who is the most worthy and beautiful young woman in the kingdom. Since Manyara and Nyasha share the same upbringing, parents and life experiences, the differences in their character and personality must be the result of deeper, inborn traits. These traits are exposed as they endure the journey to the palace, and the king chooses the daughter who is beautiful both inside and out.

The story raises the twin questions of the nature of worth, and its relation to beauty. In the story, the King desires ‘The Most Worthy and Beautiful’ daughters in the land. What does it mean to be worthy, and must one be beautiful in order to be worthy? If not, why does the King have this added request for beauty? Would he reject a worthy queen who was not beautiful, or a beautiful queen who was not worthy? Which is better, and what do you think? http://www.teachingchildrenphilosophy.org/wiki/Mufaro%27s_Beautiful_Daughters#Questions_for_Philosophical_Discussion

For me, American society’s fascination with external appearance and body consciousness is as destructive a force in our collective psyche as any mass hallucination to ever take hold on a people. The questions of who is beautiful and who gets to decide is a never ending fairy-tale that drives sales in cosmetics, hair care, jewelry, advertising and a dozen other sectors of the economy. The deeper, more fascinating inquiry is in the nature of a personal individual quest: If my spirit shines brightly enough to overshadow any physical flaw or imperfection, how could it matter?

True Confessions of an Aging Drama Queen

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Unlike the fabulous Norma Desmond, an over-the-top character in the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard, I am neither dangerous, nor completely insane. Those caveats aside, I’m constrained to shift into “Oh My God I’m 50” mode with an unblinking honesty that belies the hysteria lying just under the surface of my psyche.

Hmm, I was actually able to utter the phrase: “I’m 50” without breaking out into too many hives. Interesting.

Let’s review: 20 was raucous. 30 was smashing. 40 was awesome. What will 50 be like? Certainly I would never choose to return to a time of youthful indiscretion, or free-wheeling risk taking. 40 was all about raising children and living the Claire and Cliff Huxtable ‘thing’, whatever that is. It was awesome, and without being trite: Been there, done that. (I hate being self-referential, but see the previous post: I am Not My Laundry)

So far, 50 is liberating and full of energy. Free-flowing ideas, creativity and fascinating people. Spiritual renewal. Optimism and joy. Healing. Hope. Rebirth.

God has sent me new and very special sister-friends who are helping me rebuild my self-concept. From the fabulous and multi-talented Karima, to the brilliant Marie and the amazing Dorinda; and Dawn who is a businesswoman like no other (can I be like you when I grow up??) and the bold and confident Audrey and the incomparable Jennifer, I am leaning how to work this whole; ‘I’m free to be whoever I want, now what?’ thing. And let me not forget the Gorgeous-Inside-and-Out Pascale who gave me my very own NEXT! Button. Words can’t express how much I love you.

I want to roll call all my beloved sisters: Dr. Jacqueline (Mom, you sacrificed so much so that I can be me), Jacqueline (Sisters forever) The Beautiful and Inspiring Kathryn whom I love SO Much!!!! Booski, Cynthia, Larissa, Sonja, Christine!!!, Anita, Dr. Peggy P., Debbie (You’re unbelievable!!) Miki (my intellectual twin), Turkessa, Kemie, Shadawn, Chana, Kibian, Scevia, Susan, Michelle, Lisa, Linda W, Ruth, Sara, Jean, Candy, Kitty, Sandra, Paula (please forgive me), Michelle Renee, Ms. Pat, Tara, Morgan, Pudd’n, Marsha, Linda A, Jocelyn, Eugenia, Jessica (what would I be without your insight!!!) Aisha (I know you can feel my love, so when the time is right…) Charlene, Peggy…. and what would life be without the Queens of my heart Justine and Miss Dominique?

Having recently made agonizing, but I think, correct choices in my life, I’m reveling in the new found freedom without feeling adrift. I can create any future I want for myself, and that knowledge is incredibly empowering. I’m not defined by my past or my losses or my pain. I can think about losing my stuff without sadness because my stuff no longer defines me. As the dawn emerges against today’s snowy panorama, I’m renewed by the strength and love and support that my friends have endowed me with. Maybe THAT’s what being 50 is all about!

Children Learn What They Live

Children Learn What They Live
By Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D.

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

Copyright © 1972 by Dorothy Law Nolte

Bah Humbug!

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Weaving the disparate strands of my life and belief system has been a challenge this holiday season. 11 months of the year, I can ride comfortably in the gap between society’s standards and my own. At Christmas, however the contradictions between Martha Stewart’s world and Julianne’s are a bit overwhelming. The commercialization of the holiday creates pressure that I resist each year.

Aside from making sure my home is festive, cooking the requisite holiday treats and wrapping and tagging the kids’ gifts, I will try to avoid the trite holiday rituals and commercialism of Christmas in order to focus on what feels real to me. My childrens’ excited smiles, the spiritual harmony associated with the advent of Christ, and the warm greetings offered by random strangers every time the words: “Merry Christmas” are uttered are the things that get me into the Christmas spirit.

I may never visit a nearby Lexus dealership at Christmas, and that Mercedes Benz with the huge bow on it belongs to my neighbor. I am not expecting a gift of a carat or more, and I’m okay with that. What I want for Christmas, and what I want to give to others…is a reflection of the healing power of Christ and the universal love he ushered into the world. Those are the real gifts of the season. Last time I checked, those things are still free.

What’s Love Got to do with It?

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Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.

Zora Neale Hurston

For the past few months I have evaluated a number of romantic relationships  in my life.  Being the jump-in-and-drown type, I usually decide against playing it cool, so I fling all of my emotions against the wall, assuming some of them will stick to my opponent/object/victim, and accordingly, receive the messy result I deserve.

Case closed.

Relationships, when they work, tend to reflect a dominant positive trait shared between the couple that allows each of them to complement the other.  In the good times, each person feels free to grow and develop as an individual while honoring the bond they share.

I had that once.  At least I thought I did.

But then I woke up from the dream.  I found myself tied to someone I didn’t know, who I found really didn’t like me very much.  Or himself.  Instead of complementing each other, we had really established a co-dependence on the appearance of a loving relationship.  We portrayed the characters of Claire and Cliff Huxtable without realizing it and found ourselves adrift.

So what do I jump into next?  My girlfriends say:  “Hey, do you.”  I hear that.  ‘Doing me’ means I tighten up every part of my life; from new job/business, new house/living space, new parenting techniques and new relationships.  I got it.  I get it.  I will pull away from the pier and set sail on a new journey in life, knowing that the ‘security’ of old relationships was just an illusion.

The task of cutting an undefined path is scary.  A male friend challenged me, saying:  “Don’t you want to see just how bad you really are?”  Of course I do.  But I also want to give an honorable sendoff to the protected, tradition-driven princess I used to be.

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Saturday…in the Dark

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University of Massachusetts Amherst at Night

Perhaps pain is a catalyst for growth.  If that is so, going to UMASS made me a giant.

Julianne Robertson

Washington, Adams, Coolidge, Kennedy.  Anyone who attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, commonly known as UMASS, recognizes these names as Presidents, yes, but also as the high-rise dorms in the Southwest residential section of campus.  Low rise dorms were also named after notable Americans:  Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville and others, but the names of each dorm had dual meanings.  The UMASS residence hall system, like those in other universities, groups students according to class, race, career interests, and other demographic considerations.  Accordingly, each dorm had its own flavor and unique atmosphere.  Pierpont, with it’s beautifully rendered psychedelic murals was the Pioneer Valley’s drug haven.  Coolidge and Adams, the high rise women’s dorms, were relatively proper, clean and quiet.  Kennedy was 21 stories of chaotic, rabble rousing madness.

Then there was Washington dorm.  As a 17 year old from Washington, D.C., I enjoyed meeting people from New York and Boston.  The men in Washington were invariably stylish, confident and very attractive.  Two in particular, I will call them P and M, were each bright, handsome, charismatic and intriguing because they’d been friends before they arrived on campus.  In September 1978, they were a wonderful addition to the small Black community in the midst of UMASS’ 25,000 student body.

Racial tension existed in Amherst in the aftermath of the the Boston Public School desegregation riots.  Many students in that era had attended recently desegregated schools, and horrific stories about South Boston were heart breaking.  On the other hand, Amherst is a bucolic college town setting with picture-perfect scenery and a post 60’s peace and love atmosphere.  In theory, every student could learn and grow in a safe university setting without ever experiencing the harsh realities of the outside world.

Theory and practice diverged wildly one Saturday night.

30 years ago, one of my African-American classmates was attacked by a group and badly roughed up while we were gathering for a party.  The instant he walked in a massive group of men left with him to confront the attacker.  I will never know exactly what happened, but eye contact with a returning member told volumes about the sorrow of brutality.  We all tried to comfort one another and get through the evening.

In the morning, Jose was dead.  1_soilingJose was an African American of Puerto Rican descent, but had not been at the party, and he took no part in the attack or subsequent events of that horrible night.  On Sunday morning, my dear friend Ike Bradshaw found Jose leaning against the wall of his dorm room, apparently strangled.  No police investigation ensued, no forensic evidence was collected.  Nothing.  In late November, the University had to prepare for finals and UMASS’ month long wintersession.  A community meeting was held in which we were all advised to stay calm and avoid commenting on the events until further notice.

No grief counselling, no funeral, no justice.  We were a community under seige, and only our youth and resilience allowed us to manage the confusion and anger.  Really, the experience plunged me into what I now recognize as a dangerous depression.  I got away from campus, weathered the storm, and returned to finish  the remaining 3 years there.  But I never forgot Jose.

I will never forget Jose.