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I am becoming more and more convinced that the world is run on rhetoric, not on common sense problem solving that takes a hard look at what's wrong and goes about actually FIXING it. If you want to read the entire article I'm about to blast, you can click here: http://aft.org/notwaiting/index.cfm

What this article attempts to do is persuade public school teachers that this documentary is portraying them as "bad", and...? What? I'm not sure what they're trying to do in response. In a response riddled with so many falsehoods that it makes me wonder if the person who wrote it actually even SAW the movie, the AFT comes off sounding like a very petty (if rhetorically gifted) child who loses a game and cries "But it's not FAIR!"

They begin by making sweeping assertions that are 2/3 false, and it is only those 2/3 that they go on to elaborate upon.

"The film's central themes—that all public school teachers are bad, that all charter schools are good and that teachers' unions are to blame for failing schools..."

Is a "central theme" of the movie that all public school teachers are bad? This could not be more false. If it were true, my husband Greg (a public school teacher) and I would have been deeply offended, maybe even walked out. On the contrary, the movie paints teachers as they really are. Some are truly horrifically bad, and the tenure system is a huge problem. But there are just as many if not more teachers who, as the AFT writes "work their hearts out every day". Not only does the film recognize these teachers, it reveres them. On 2 or 3 separate occasions, Davis Guggenheim refers back to his documentary Teach, which followed the lives of 3 L.A public school teachers and their complete devotion to their students.

Is a "central theme" of the movie that all charter schools are good? Again, false. The movie points out that even only 1 out of 5 charter schools is really all that successful at improving performance. But many of these schools have figured out dangerously reproducible strategies for drastically improving the learning performance of all kids, no matter where they live or who their families are. And the way these schools can flout union policy and achieve results is a major threat to the status quo... hence...

Is a "central theme" of the movie that teachers' unions are to blame for failing schools? YES. It is. And unapologetically so. Because it's true. For reasons I can't even fathom besides just staying in power, teachers unions again and again stuff the pockets of our politicians, block movements for merit pay for good teachers, and just feed the public meaningless rhetoric about "unity" and "working together" as their rationale. And it needs to end.

Are teachers unions the only thing to blame for failing schools? No. For the past three years as Greg has been establishing his teaching career, we've run up against all kinds of issues. Teaching to the test (though to be fair, teachers unions did support No Child Left Behind), lack of funding for the worst schools (we paid for paper and pencils out of pocket when Greg was working at a bottom rung middle school in Philadelphia), and apathetic parents are all enormous social problems to be overcome. But as education reformer Geoffrey Canada says in the film, "People are doing it. People are doing it every day."

And it's time for unions to get out of the way, and the only way that will happen is if we all as citizens stand up and demand it.

As writers for kids, we have a unique opportunity to be heard, to influence the public, to support this essential grassroots movement. And we must do it. This generation of kids is less literate than the one before it. Is it any wonder book sales are dropping? It's not just a recession; it's that fewer kids know how to read, much less read at a level that it can be a non-stressful, leisure activity.

And if they don't learn to love reading now, what does that imply for our future? While (like it or not) the primary method of conveying story in our modern culture is probably film, the primary way of conveying non-fictional information about our history, our world and the people running it is still the printed word.

This is a nightmare that can only snowball on itself. As we raise less literate kids, we are raising even fewer great teachers who will be teaching their kids. We are already 'in-sourcing' many of our highest skilled, best paying jobs to international workers who received a more rigorous education than Americans. We are out-sourcing our lower skilled jobs to international workers who received little or no education and will work for pennies an hour. And we're seriously looking at our unemployment rates and wondering why?

Call your local theater and tell them they must screen Waiting for Superman. See the movie. Tell your friends. Write letters to your local editor. Be a volunteer literacy mentor. Start a community based organization like this one: www.austinbatcave.org 

Our futures (and our jobs) depend on it.

$ The Price Tag of Community $

Clearly, I failed at my daily posts. Maybe I'll give it another try. But for now, oh well. I have something to write about today that's really bugging me, no accompanying photo provided.

I have become exceedingly annoyed lately with writers, whose work is clearly self sustaining, making exorbitant amounts MORE money for teaching people what they know. Don't get me wrong. I believe any professional with expertise to share deserves to be compensated accordingly. I just wish people would be a little more compassionate, inclusive, and supportive of those who just CAN'T pay fee after tuition after registration.

I am saying this now so I will hold myself to it later. If my writing ever becomes self-sustaining (in the sense that I can quit my other jobs), I vow to prioritize sharing my time and knowledge with those for whom that is not yet the case... not to say that I would never charge for my work, but one can do things to help. Sliding scales, trading services. Sometimes just being open to understanding that some people are in a really, really bad place financially and can barely afford to keep a roof over their head yet are still crying out to be seen and heard and to grow in the art that they have to share--and including them anyway.
I get so frustrated by all the writerly things I can't participate in for lack of funds. Conferences, retreats, workshops, classes... thousands and thousands of dollars a student married to another student plain can't pay for. I am so thankful for the community I have in Vermont (and thereby, everywhere VCFAers live), but the fact is that I could never afford to be a part of it if it weren't for the fact that it's eligible for government loan assistance. Heck, I am probably going to have to resort to playing guitar on the streets for quarters to pay my loan bills after I graduate. So I guess my general frustration is this... why do we have to pay our every last dime in order to be a part of a community of artists? It seems so antithetical to the art itself... art is supposed to be about making something beautiful and then giving it to the world. Or is that just overly idealistic and Bohemian of me? Whatever the case may be... it makes me sad, really sad, and someday I hope I can be a part of changing this mentality.

Same old me: Day 17

When I was a kid, I had a few favorite things in life. Those things were: 1. Ice cream, 2. Pippi Longstocking. Clearly, not a lot has changed. As Astrid Lindgren said, "Childhood is not an age, it is a state of mind." In some ways, it's great and necessary to grow up. We can't rely on our parents forever to do our laundry, walk the dog, know the answers, understand politics and religion (and make choices accordingly) all on our behalf. But in other ways, growing up is a tragedy that I intend to avoid forever, if possible.

After all, as Pippi says, "No, that's nothing to wish for, being grown up. Grownups never have any fun. They only have a lot of boring work and wear silly-looking clothes, and they have corns and minicipal taxes...And then they're full of superstitions and all sorts of crazy things. They think that something terrible is going to happen if they stick their knives in their mouths while they're eating, and things like that."
    "And they can't play either," said Annika.

While I may not be able to avoid 'miniciple taxes', I can choose every day to avoid the fear and the boredom and the lack of imagination that comes along with "stability". Being "settled" and having a "stable" life seems to be the pinnacle of the American dream. You can't have any fun scrubbing the floor with brushes strapped to your feet if your ultimate goal is to be able to pay a maid to wash the floors for you. You can't see the possibilities of the world around you if you're paralyzed by the fear of everything that could go wrong. You can't really and truly know or enjoy (or write for, I would argue) children, if you are too busy making money and prizing stability to PLAY. And I don't mean play as in going on fancy annual vacations with all the disposible income you've gathered for yourself. I don't mean play as in having friends over for dinner and drinks (though I'm the first to admit that kind of grown up fun is definitely necessary at times). I mean PLAY, as in see how anything and everything could be an exciting game, as in breaking the rules now and then, as in dressing up and being ridiculous, as in heading out for a day with nothing on your agenda and no idea what you will find--as in being a "thing-finder".

One of my favorite Emerson quotes says, "People wish to be settled: only as far as they are unsettled, is there any hope for them."

Being a child is all about faith and hope and being open to joy from small things, without which we absolutely MUST be settled (or else we would die of fright from all the 'mights' 'maybes' and 'coulds' haunting our consciousness). Children are constantly moving, crying or laughing whenever the urge strikes them, telling rambling stories with no plot necessary, wearing clashing outfits, telling outrageous lies for fun, digging, swinging, sliding, searching, running. By definition, they are unsettled. I have to heartily concur with Emerson that without those things, without those elements of remaining 'unsettled', there is no hope for us. So maybe what I'm really saying is that to be human at all is to stay a child, in many ways, forever.

Astrid Lindgren with Inger Nilsson, who played Pippi in the 1970s Swedish films.

Congrats to Angie Frazier! :Day 16

I went hunting for angie_frazier 's new book, Everlasting, on release day (June 1) to no avail. But my favorite bookstores promised me it was on it's way, and lo and behold... good things come to those who wait! I found two copies facing out at my beloved Book Cafe today (June 2)! :) I snatched one for myself and snapped this photo of the other. And when I checked out, the owner was working and commented "I read the flap of this one, it looks really good! Might have to read it myself!" :)

It was a tempting weekend for book buying... I can't go into an independent bookstore and NOT buy a book. Despite the fact that my 'to-read' pile has officially surpassed my self-imposed height restriction. I also had to grab The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner (loving it so far, bad vamps are awesome!) and finally got with the program and bought the paperbacks of m_stiefvater's Shiver and Gayle Forman's If I Stay. I have about a month and a half before packets start up again and my plan is to focus intently on MG next semester, so I will be cramming as much YA goodness into this summer as I possibly can! I have to go read now! :)


What a craptastic week: Day 18

My cat Tony died today. It sucks and it hurts and I'm too sad to sleep. He was that great of a cat. I was that lucky to have him.

You know that saying "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened'? Well, in my opinion that is a fat truck load of BS.

I mean, I smiled all the time because I had Tony. He brought me peace and joy and love every day since we brought him home 4 years ago. He was a rescue, the first adult cat I had ever adopted, and I knew the second I saw his face (the same photo you see above) that I had to have him. He was already mine.

We brought him home and he was a nervous wreck for the first few months we had him. After his birth as a feral cat fed by a kindly old lady at an apartment complex that didn't allow indoor pets, he and his siblings were rescued when the apartments were torn down for a remodel. His siblings were adopted quickly, but Tony had a broken leg as a result of being hit by a car, and no one was willing to take a 'special needs' cat. Just when his card was up at the shelter, an old couple stepped in (thank you, couple I'll never know) and volunteered to nurse him back to health to increase his chances of being adopted. Thankfully, he did heal and was then taken in by a cat rescue so he wouldn't have to go back to an unsure future at Animal Control. So he went from one foster home to another, and was adopted and then returned to his foster by a family whose bunny couldn't get along with a new addition. This is where we entered the picture... by the time we got him, he was probably around 8 years old, obviously not sure of how long he would be staying anywhere, and had quite a few scars and marks from his 'shady past'. I knew he probably wouldn't live to be ancient, considering how unhealthy his early years probably were, but it didn't matter because I had to have him. We loved him through the months where he would anxiously run laps around the house, sleep on Greg's shoes to make sure he didn't go anywhere, even a crazy incident when he jumped up on the bed and bit poor sleeping Greg's finger (on 6-6-06 at 3:33 am--not even kidding!), which brought on an infection and ER trip.

But within a year, he was like a totally different cat. It was amazing to watch him change; we moved a few times in that year, and it seemed that every time we switched houses he mellowed out a little more, like he was coming to understand he was coming with us wherever we went. It's an amazing feeling to take a creature that's been hurt and scared, and watch how love can change them. He was a favorite with all of our friends and family, who would come over for a little 'Tony time' when life got too hard. It was never hard to find a willing cat sitter for him when we went out of town. He was a friend to everybody, and shared his peaceful soul and purr with everyone who came through our door. My favorite was when he would sit like a sphinx, blinking and looking like he held all the wisdom in the world.

So yeah he made me smile, but guess what? I'm going to cry because it's over, because as my mom taught me today, grief is necessary. Sad isn't bad, sad is a part of life. We're sad because we were glad. Because something brought us joy. It's not healthy or sane or admirable to just 'shake it off' when you lose something that meant so much to you. If we don't grieve our losses, they will build up and weigh down our souls, like plaque on our arteries, ultimately giving us a spiritual 'heart attack'. So despite the American discomfort with grieving, I'll grieve my cat. I'll cry because his life is over, and it was so very dear to me.

Failed emotional strip poker: Day 15

I just wrote and deleted 3 blogs. It's just too tough a night to write anything worth reading. This is my stuff that happens to be on the table. Incidentally, to me, this exact pile of stuff represents everything I want to be and have and do (but am not and don't and haven't), everything I'm not. And I think that's actually all I'm going to say, because every time I start to continue I venture into emotional overshare territory. I hope tomorrow is a better day.


A Picture Book Writer? Me? OK!: Day 14

I can't not write this picture book. It's too delicious. I've been wanting to write one, but lacking an idea until yesterday. Staring at the photo booth strip my therapist is making my crazy ass carry around in order to heal my inner child or what have you, inspiration struck. Those gigantic purple glasses I INSISTED I must own are just too hilarious to not write a picture book about. Add my mom's nickname for me (Petunia) and an evil blonde villain, and let the fun begin. I threw these little sketches together in 15 minutes of pure fun tonight (May 31), because I was dying to know what these girls looked like. And now that I know, I'm even more excited to give them a hilarious adventure to live out. I've started already of course (though my final critical essay on ghosts is still spooking about sulkily in a corner of my brain, waiting not-so-patiently anymore for its week late booty to get written). Forget avoidance, alliteration is always AWESOME. So far the manuscript prominently features children falling on their heads laughing and spontaneously combusting. Good times. Will keep posted.

Mallory Elise: Day 13

Mallory, Mallory, Mallory... I have kept this framed picture with me always for the past decade or so. My beautiful cousin when she was little... six or seven. And today she graduates from high school. I wrote a long, long reflection on this event which will mostly just be kept for myself, since frankly it's just too personal to share... and since I linked this blog to the photo of her I tagged on facebook, any of HER friends could theoretically read it, and the last thing I want to do is embarrass her in any way. But I WILL share a little bit about how much I love this girl...

 It's a little hard for me to fathom that she's actually weeks from her 18th birthday, done with high school and heading off for the beginning of her adult life. I remember distinctly standing in the kitchen in my house in Downingtown, PA on Washington Avenue, talking to my dad on the phone the day she was born. The kind of phone that was still attached to the wall with a cord. I was nine and a half. I jumped up and down when I heard it was a girl—with my two brothers and my cousin Molly's three, I had been longing for a baby sister or at least a baby girl cousin--and no dice for the past decade. The best part was I would get to meet her in just a few short weeks... her birth was perfectly timed with my annual summer trip to my dad's.

I adored her right away. As of course did my cousin Molly, thrilled to finally have a sister after nearly 14 years of waiting. We would even fight over her sometimes. :) “She's MY sister, not yours!” Molly would tell me when I loved her just a little too much, and I couldn't argue that fact. But the truth was, I was never going to get a sister of my own, so I poured all that little sister love into her.

I would think about her all year long, buying her little gifts and anything I could ever find with the name 'Mallory' on it (harder than you would think). When we were together for 3 or 4 weeks every summer, I carried her on my hip constantly--even when she was 8 years old and it was a little ridiculous. Or a lot ridiculous. I took her shopping, swimming, mini golfing, for ice cream, to movies (she loved Meg Ryan in French Kiss when she was only 3! :) Baby genius...), made up dances with her in her driveway, spoiled her relentlessly with every last dime I had in my pocket. I even have a photo of the two of us in avocado face masks eating huge bowls of mint chip ice cream when she was seven. Just the thought of my love for that little girl brings tears to my eyes.

Due to circumstances and events of the aforementioned highly personal nature, her life since then has been anything but easy. And I, sadly, have been largely absent from it. But nonetheless, I'm so proud of her today for everything she's done, the way she's pushed ahead with courage and grace, Homecoming Queen and dance team co-captain, graduating from high school and heading to college. I know it hasn't been easy to keep going, though I can never truly fathom the pain she walks through every day. Where so many kids would drown in drugs and hopelessness, she keeps moving forward with her head held high. I don't know if I could have done the same. I love you with all my heart, Mallory Elise, and am excited to watch your future unfold.

In closing... from Sara Zarr's Sweethearts, a passage which makes me think of Mal every time I read it.

“...as I get older I think--can it really be love if we don't talk that much, don't see each other? Isn't love something that happens between people who spend time together and know each other's faults and take care of each other?[...] In the end, I decide that the mark we've left on each other is the color and shape of love. That's the unfinished business between us. Because love, love is never finished. It circles and circles, the memories out of order and not always complete.”

Day 1 of My Life As A Gardener: Day 12

Today I went to the farmer's market. I bought tomato plants. It may seem like a small thing, but to me it is a huge step into the infinite possibilities of homemaker potential that-- I don't know, but-- I might potentially have. Now wasn't that a beautifully executed sentence? :D Though I'm certain I can never beat Charles Dickens, who opens Oliver Twist with the absurdly unpublishable line, "Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no ficticious name, there is one anciently common to most towns, great or small: to wit, a workhouse; and in this workhouse was born, on a day and date which I need not trouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader in this stage of the business at all events; the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter."

No wonder there is no such thing as a modern classic; they won't publish them anymore.

But I digress.

Tomato plant, tomato plant, how shall thee fare? The way of my withering houseplant, which requires but a measly sip of water every month or two, which I seemingly can't bring myself to supply? I am exceedingly nervous. I feel like this tomato plant is a measure of my worth as a person. Can I nurture and create life, or do my sloppy time management and organizational skills make me a permanent failure at life? And, should I be able to bring these plants to fruition, what is next? Lettuce? Cucumbers? Can I grow my entire salad in pots on my deck? If I can do that, will the boost in confidence be enough to power me through to the completion of my novel? To get back to my yoga with dedication and regularity? To keep my house clean, or at least stop mindlessly throwing wrappers and clothes on the floor? To raise chickens in a coop which I will build by hand in my own yard? To learn to cook gourmet meals without a recipe from whatever I have in my fridge???

Let's not get ahead of ourselves here. They're just tomato plants, after all. Still seedlings, at that.

I'll teach her: Day 11

This is Hadassah, 2, my new day job #2, with her (still fairly new) rescue dog Shadow. Shadow still gets quite anxious when her new family is gone (as they always are when I'm there, obviously), especially when H and her baby sister are both sleeping. She will wander the house over and over, searching and whining anxiously. She feels a bit better when the girls are awake, but still whines and wanders quite a bit.

Today I was pushing Hadassah in her swing outside as Shadow wandered, whining and pacing up and down the fence.

"Poor Shadow." I said.
"Why poor Shadow?" asked Hadassah.
"Well, she's just really nervous."
"Why nervous?"
"Well, Shadow gets a little nervous when Mama and Aba aren't here because she isn't sure if they're going to come back."
She looked at me very seriously. "But Mama and Aba WILL come back."
"You know that because you're a big kid, but Shadow is just a little dog and she doesn't know it yet."
"Why doesn't she know it?"
"Well, because before she came to live at your house she had some other owners who weren't as nice to her. They left her all alone one day, and so now she just gets scared sometimes."
Hadassah thought about this for a second. "I'll teach her."
"You'll teach her?"
"Yeah, I'll teach her that Mama and Aba come back."
"I think that's a great idea."
"All done with the swing."

So I lifted her out of her swing and we went inside, where she proceeded to lie down next to Shadow on the living room floor and put her arm around her.

"It's okay, Shadow," she murmured. "Mama and Aba always come back. You don't have to be nervous." Her little face was snuggled right up to the dog's, whispering in her ear as she patted her reassuringly. I tried to be sneaky about grabbing my camera so I could get a candid, but obviously I got spotted and got the big grin for the photo instead. Still ridiculously sweet though, no?