A close friend of mine is a psychology professor, which turns out to be a very useful kind of friend to have. Since getting to know her, I now have a much better appreciation for why Pavlov's dogs did what they did. I can also sketch the Maslow's Hierarchy pyramid and finally understand what people are talking about when they reference cognitive dissonance.
Some of our most interesting recent conversations have been around the psychological concepts of guilt and shame. Guilt, my friend has taught me, involves a focus on a regretted behavior and the desire to set things right. Shame, though, she explains, is a focus on the actual self being bad, and is often associated with feelings of hopelessness and unworthiness.
Now, opportunities to feel guilty abound in the world of parenting. I feel guilty when I lose my temper with my kids. I feel guilty when I've let them spend an entire Saturday afternoon in the basement on Xbox so that I can enjoy a solo "House of Cards" binge. I feel guilty when I tell them it's okay to put the recycling in the regular city trashcan if our recycling bin is full.
But I think the first time in recent years that I've felt a real sense of shame, as both a parent and community member, was last Tuesday evening as I sat in a crowded elementary school LMC to listen to Ken Taylor, executive director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, and his colleague, Torry Wynn, present key findings from the 2013 Race to Equity report to our PTO group.
This wasn't the first time I'd heard about the on-going study, which has brought to light the sobering fact that African Americans, who make up 6.5% of the population, fare much worse than whites in Dane County. But it was the first time I realized that our community's discrepancies are among the worst in the nation. The facts are staggering: 74% of Dane County's black children were poor, compared to 5.5% of white children. This 13 to 1 disparity ratio may constitute one of the widest black/white child poverty gaps in the country.
In 2011, over 20% of Dane County African American students were identified as chronically absent from school, compared to just over 2% of whites.
Nearly half of all black high school kids do not graduate on time, compared to 16% of white kids.
Even among students on track to graduate on time, black 12th graders were only half as likely as their white classmates to take the ACT. And among those who did, African Americans averaged a score of 18. The white average was 24.
I could go on. The report is 44 pages of statistics.
So, there I sat, a D.C. and then Chicago transplant, who has spent many an hour since moving to Madison bragging to my bigger-city friends about what a fantastic place this city is to live. I've waxed poetic about our spectacular farmers' markets. And about how great it is to have a world-class public university just blocks away from my home. I've raved on about our gorgeous lakes and awesome bike paths, not to mention the fact that there's a yoga studio on just about every corner.
Yes, shame is the best word to describe how I felt upon fully realizing for the first time that so many of the amazing things I am so proud of in my adopted home town -- including a public school system that has served my children in spades -- tend to work best if you look like me. Talk about cognitive dissonance.
But fortunately, my professor friend has also taught me that shame, which is often accompanied by the desire to want to shrink away and hide, isn't a particularly productive emotion.
So instead, this past Saturday morning I decided to take a step further in educating myself about racism by taking part in an "Intentional Talk" at Fountain of Life church called "Understanding Prejudice, Discrimination and Racism" moderated by associate pastor Kevin Evanco. And it's kind of incredible what I learned in those two hours. Mostly, I learned that I know next to nothing about African-American history and culture. And that I am personally far from immune from behaving in both privileged and racist ways.
So I'll definitely continue to be part of the Church's future discussions. They will be posted on the Justified Anger website). As well, I plan to enroll in one of the YWCA's on-going Racial Justice Workshops this summer.
I learned this past week that I unquestionably have a lot to learn about the root causes of our shameful racial inequity in Madison. But I also know wanting to learn more is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.comments powered by Disqus
I've always been a supporter of companies that empower women and girls, and when the creator of such a company is a fellow Wisconsinite, I get even more excited. When Verona resident Melissa Wardy got fed up with stereotypes found in clothing for girls, she started her own company.
Do you have a little reader or an aspiring teenaged writer in your house? If so, you may want to venture to the Wisconsin Book Festival this weekend, to whet their appetite for wonderful words as well as your own.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband and I had two names picked out. Upon her arrival we had not yet come to a conclusion on what that name would be. Everyone told us that when we saw her we would just know. We didn't.
At age 10 months, my kids have seen the zoo a lot already. I was a zoology major in college, and I have something of a zoo addiction still, so the twins (and their dad) are more or less condemned to a future rife with zoo visits.
Home-schooling can be a lonely proposition. Even as a college professor, Juliana Hunt remembers struggling to find support to home-school her now-grown daughter. "I was always hoping to find like-minded people who were in the same position as me," she says. "I know that children learn best through a give-and-take, question-and-answer process of teaching and learning, but where do you find mentors who can make that happen?"
After sleep patterns, I think the next biggest parenting concern I have and hear about revolves around the topic of food. How can I make sure my kids are eating enough vegetables? Did I pack them a lunch that is healthy enough? What can I feed them after school that doesn't come from a box? How many gripes am I going to get about the dinner I'm about to prepare?
As far as places to embark on Baby's First Air Travel go, Dane County Regional Airport is a pretty sound choice, especially at 6 p.m. on a Saturday night. My biggest fear was that my nine-month-old son would start screaming in the airport; my second biggest fear was that my son would start screaming and some of my former Epic colleagues would be around to hear it.
The recent shift in the weather is just another sign that autumn is fast approaching. That means one of my favorite activities is just around the corner -- apple picking. My husband and I have been picking apples every fall since before our kids were born.
I have a lot of questions about what to put on my eight-month-olds' plates -- and, if I'm honest, a deep and abiding fear of putting the wrong thing there. Did I start them on solid foods at the right time? What's the deal with baby-led weaning -- how much self-feeding should they be doing? At what age should I give them potential allergens like shellfish or nut products?
Lily the potbellied pig arrived at Heartland Farm Sanctuary blind, lethargic and too overweight to walk. The children of Heartland's summer day camp program took it upon themselves to put the curl back in her tail.
Is it just me or does each summer seem to go by quicker than the last? The end of summer is upon us and for many families this means the start of a new school year.
This past week, on the way to the grocery store, my daughter asked what I believed she thought would be a innocuous question, "Mom, when are we going back-to-school shopping?"
Volunteering with the Young Writers Summer Camp this past week really helped me to remember how utterly creative kids can be when encouraged to come up with their own ideas and use their own words.
This past week I gleefully accepted an offer for new job on the UW-Madison campus. My kids are getting are older and I guess I've felt for a while now that it was time to figure out what would be next for me on the professional front.
"Kids spend so much time in and around school, it's the only place where some have a chance to develop an appreciation for a healthy lifestyle," says Katie Hensel, founder and executive director of Tri 4 Schools.
"I'm envious, mom," said my twelve-year-old daughter as she hopped in the car after theater camp last week. "All the other kids in my group seem to really like, and to be really good at, singing, dancing and acting. But I think all those things are just okay."
"People are looking to book space here all the time," says Remy Fernández-O'Brien, communications and facilities coordinator for the Lussier Community Education Center, a private, nonprofit community center on Madison's west side. "They want to throw their child's first birthday party here or hold a Girl Scout meeting. We're really busy year-round, but it's especially lively here in the summer."
Last week, in response to the county-wide Sleep Safe, Sleep Well public health campaign that encourages parents to "share the room, not the bed" with their sleeping infants, Isthmus contributor Ruth Conniff penned a lovely opinion piece in defense of bed sharing entitled "Confessions of a Co-Sleeper."
As much as I'd like to believe there is latent genius in my daughter's early finger paintings, I'm pretty sure her works are not distinguishable from those created by the pointer fingers and pinkies of thousands of other children from across the world.
Seeing Romeo and Juliet this past weekend was a definite reminder that I need to prepare for something that might resemble a (near) West Side Story around our place pretty soon.