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
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.
All during childhood, we calmly tell our kids they don't need to be afraid of the dark, thunder or the monster under the bed. But it's pretty hard to keep your parental cool when your kid is about to embark on the one thing that terrifies you. I knew the problem wasn't really with him. It was with me.
Last January, when temperatures dipped below minus 30 and most people between the ages of 16 and 24 did anything to stay inside, a small yet sturdy group of at-risk teenage boys and young men stacked wood and managed controlled burns at Festge County Park near Cross Plains. Five months later, following a temperature swing of more than 100 degrees, Isthmus found some of those same guys removing invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn at Lake View Hill County Park on Madison's north side.
The first week of summer break at our place usually comes and goes without incident. At times, one could argue, it even verges on pleasant. I have no school lunches to pack and the kids have no 7 a.m. buses to catch.
Have you tried getting anywhere on either Verona Road or East Johnson lately? I'm pretty sure a six-month old could crawl to Fitchburg, or across the isthmus, in less time that it takes me to drive there these days.
As soon as the door closed behind him, I poured myself a cup of the coffee he had made and took a moment to let the enormity of what just happened sink in. My son was ready that morning despite my inability to properly set an alarm clock. My kid was ready that morning without nudging, cajoling, or reminding. He was ready, even when I wasn't.
For the past 17 years or so (i.e., since I've had kids), I haven't made books the priority in my life I know they should be. It's not that I don't try. Just this past weekend I had the best of intentions of picking up, and even finishing, I am Malala, this year's UW-Madison's Go Big Read pick. But the copy still sits untouched on my nightstand.
The longest day of the year is upon us. For those of you keeping track, the sun will rise at 5:18 a.m. and set at 8:41 p.m. on Saturday, June 21. All that daylight, courtesy of the annual summer solstice, will provide the perfect backdrop for Make Music Madison, a daylong event featuring hours and hours of free performances in nearly every corner of the city.
Last week, for the first time, I made my way up to one of the open gallery nights during Madison West's Fine Arts Week, the school's annual showcase for all things creative. The scope of the event is huge, with nearly 1,600 students participating, and the quality of the presented works is phenomenal. It's almost as if the school had been lifted off its perch on Regent Street and traveled back in time to Belle Époque Paris.
If you have aspiring authors in your house, this summer offers a fabulous opportunity for them refine their writing skills. For its second summer, the Greater Madison Writing Project, in partnership with Olbrich Botanical Gardens, is sponsoring two week-long camps in August for young writers entering grades 3-8.
There are lots of benefits to living in a college town. First and foremost, there is always something going on -- a lecture, a film series. Maybe even a protest, if you're lucky. And since becoming a Madisonian, I, for the first time in my life, find myself interested in college football.
My passion for the talent show clearly runs deep, but I'm more than just a fangirl. This year marked my second as one of the "Ziegfelds" of the Follies, Hamilton's annual showcase for singers, musicians, dancers and other varied forms of entertainment. Trust me, when you are part of the spectacle's "producing/directing" team you get a new-found appreciation for how hard the kids worked to get up on stage.
My daughter, who turned twelve just this past week, is not legally "of age" when it comes to social media. But I guess, in many respects, especially in those that involve screens, I am a permissive pushover. I've allowed her join some networks.
What adults love about camping -- sleeping under the stars, getting away from it all, the sounds of nature -- can be scary for children. It's dark in a tent. Nothing is familiar. Of course, camping with kids is more work for adults, too. Stay cool, live in the moment. Forget about that lost fork. Making s'mores, spotting wildlife, that's what kids will remember.
I have just returned from a whirlwind, five-day, four-city college tour with my son. You know those "101 Things to Know Before Visiting Disney World" guidebooks that experienced theme park travelers have written to help the uninitiated? I think I am now officially seasoned enough in information sessions and campus tours to give some serious thought to penning a similar "insiders guide" for the junior-year parent.
This past week, against both my will and better judgement, I accompanied 50 or so middle school kids to the Future Problem Solvers Wisconsin State Bowl, a popular academic and skit-writing competition.
It may be a bigger waste of breath than electricity to ask my kids to turn off the lights when they leave a room. If I've nagged them once, I've nagged them a thousand times. No, I've never noticed anything amiss with their fingers. But it appears they are physically incapable of flipping a switch to the "off" position.
I want to say thank you to the Board of Education for allowing Maia to return to class, unquestionably the place she belongs, as well as to thank them for adopting the new policies. But just as importantly, I also want to thank Maia and her family for their willingness to come forward with their story.