Invisibility = White

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Originally published 2/2006. This was part of my Master's thesis on Anti-Bias Curriculum. However, it was also a declaration of myself as a Social Justice Ally. 

As an Early Childhood educator, I recognized the importance of this work on behalf of the children and families we serve. Without an exploration of our internal bias and recognition of the privileges that come from being white in a white society, how can we hope to welcome all families and children into the classroom? If, as a White college educated woman, I cannot recognize and be aware of the advantage that I am automatically granted as a member of the dominant culture, how can I truly advocate for all families and children? How can these families feel welcomed in a classroom in which I teach?

My mother-in-law in Detroit will often tell me that white people are crazy. I used to assume this was a kind of funny endearment. When I asked my husband about this, his response was “White People are crazy. She means it”. I have come to understand the meaning of this phrase, not as an endearment, but as an extremely serious statement.

I am fortunate. I am the white member of a black family from Detroit. They love me as a member of their family and I am afforded a unique view into a family from a race and culture other than my own. They view my questions and inquiries about these obvious issues with patience and love. The white culture in which I was raised did not openly address these topics and I am asking things to find out. I want to know because they are my family too, and because I am the mother of a bi-racial daughter, who will have to navigate these unsteady racial waters in ways that I never was required to think about.

When my mother in law says this phrase “White people are crazy” this is what she means. White People are the dominant culture in the United States. They are the holders of nearly all the political, social and economic power in our society. They design and control our government, our schools, and our legal system. White people control most of the media outlets – radio, television, and newspaper and book publishers. White people have designed a total system that grants them implicit favors and privileges as they navigate these systems. Yet, they blatantly, as a group, deny this. White people point to a select few of other racial heritage that have been successful as examples of the equality and fair treatment afforded to all Americans. White people will tell you how all of that discrimination “stuff” was in the past, that they had nothing to do with that. Most of the White people who say these things truly believe them. However, for American persons of other non-white heritage, this is a glaring un-truth. To co-opt a phrase from a twelve-step group – The elephant is in the room and only the white people can’t see it.

For my mother in law and husband, the refusal to “see” on the part of white people makes them crazy and untrustworthy. Terrance’s wife, her daughter in law and mother of her granddaughter is one of these white people. I am a white person and admit that I spent most of my life not seeing the elephant.

For my journey into the issues of anti-bias curriculum, the beginning came with my relationship with my husband. While there had been no overt statements of racial or other bias in my family, I was taken aback by the vehemence of my mother’s reaction when I announced my relationship with Terrance. The stream of racist and hateful language that flowed from my mother shocked and horrified me. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that if I was to go out with him that day, I could find another place to live and finance the rest of my college education. The threat was unveiled and clear. Walk away from the black man, or walk away from your comfortable life.

In those moments, I made a decision that would influence the rest of my life. I uncovered my mother as racist. I consciously walked away from the privileges of my white family. This action solidified my emerging sense that issues of race and culture were to be a crucial part of my personal and professional life. However, my liberal education and background was shaken to the core. My white liberal Democratic people were not supposed to react like this when confronted with issues of race. I was ashamed and embarrassed that my family behaved this way.

When I discovered the Anti Bias Curriculum shortly after my graduation from college in 1992, I felt as if it were a professional revelation. This was what I had been looking for! While the topic of “multi-cultural education” was broached during my teacher education at the University of Vermont, it was not a central part of the education of emerging teachers. Preparing white teachers in Vermont did not seem to necessitate the discussion of issues of race and culture in society. We were, on the whole, upper middle class white students, preparing to teach white students.

During this time, I was also falling in love with a man not of my racial heritage. I was experiencing, for the first time, the obviousness of race in an all white environment. Walking into restaurants or stores, I noticed other white people noticing us. My invisibility in my culture, of which I had never been aware, was no longer afforded to me when I walked beside Terrance. I had crossed over a line that I previously did not know existed.

With time, my assimilation into a dual cultural role became as second nature. I stopped noticing because life consumed my attention. A career, a marriage and then a new baby shifted my focus from issues of race and culture to those of every day life. Occasionally, I would be jolted from complacence into thinking about this uncomfortable topic. From the elderly white woman who approached me with my infant daughter inquiring when I “got” her to the white father who loudly inquired to me why the child care center was closed for Civil Rights Day when there were no black people here; these incidents were always unexpected and left me speechless. I had forgotten that as a white woman, without my husband nearby, I visibly re-integrated back into the dominant white culture. This invisibility seemed a tacit permission, allowing other white people to say things in my presence that they would not dare speak of with my husband at my side.

As an educator, I had done a fair amount of exploration into the topic of Anti-Bias curriculum while teaching in my own classrooms. In pursuing accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, it was a criterion to be integrated into the mission and philosophy of the child care center. As the director of this center, I led the conversations of this topic in order to infuse everything we planned with an awareness of the messages we were sending to all families. As a mother of a bi-racial infant daughter, I became more aware of the urgency of the message of Anti-Bias curriculum on the part of the families we served.

These were not always pleasant conversations with teachers or parents. I was accused of being Anti-Christian, Racist, a promoter of Homosexuality, and even told I was a person looking to psychologically damage young children by removing holidays from our center curriculum. I presevered. My personal agenda to make that child care center a place of welcome and support for all families and children became a consuming work. Those staff that did not agree with my vision of anti-bias curriculum eventually left and I found others who shared a similar vision and were willing to commit to it.

Our NAEYC validation visit was scheduled on Halloween of 1999. The validator remarked that she had never seen such a calm, peaceful child care center on Halloween in her career. There were no costumes or candy. There were no excluded children due to religious beliefs. While not perfection, we were living much closer to the intent of Louise Derman Sparks work in Anti Bias Curriculum. We were not standing on the traditions of “we've always done it this way”, but rather examining the motives behind our traditions. We asked, “Is this good for children and families?” and let the answers guide our curriculum and policies.

So, I unwittingly started this thing...

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Despite my worry that I am going to get sacked ( and not in the "sexy" way) meaning all of the dire predictions of Terrance finally come true (i.e. "Your smart ass mouth is going to get you fired, Dawn!")

I am so very proud and pleased by my other lady Ph.D. commenters.

Fight the patriarchy, ladies.

Rebel in Training

Thursday, October 30, 2014

I opt my kid out of standardized testing.

Yep. You can, you know. Did you know? Probably not, but you can.

Emily has two parents who both know how poorly constructed standardized tests are, as well as how they are effectively designed to track students into tiers of education. I call this the "We wouldn't want any poor kids to be in AP English - General English is good enough for them." mindset.

I also do not believe in punishing or rewarding any single teacher based on how well my - or any other kid - takes a test. Standardized tests don't assess quality of teaching, AT ALL. They assess how well a single kid takes a single test on one single discrete day in time.

Teachers shouldn't teach to tests. Good pedagogy speaks to this. We have boatloads of educational research to support this. And yet what do we ask teachers to do when we tie their job security to how well a class of children test? Um, duh. They teach to the test.

Pearson helped write NCLB. It should shock no one that they are making billions of dollars off of the standardized testing that has followed. Race to the Top is no better. Common Core is laughable, with it's design to fail built in the fabric of the design. The SAT and ACT will shortly be going the way of the GRE as more colleges concede that these scores are no true barometer of a student's potential success in college.

As an educator, the only way out of this stinking quagmire that I can see is to withhold my child from being a data point. No data, no stick to beat the teachers.

Emily knows all of my concerns about testing. She is both relieved and occasionally embarrassed about her mother's deep commitment to this opting her out.

But here is what I didn't see coming. Emily has started informing her peers...who inform their parents.

We had four other children opt out this week.

My school psych colleague smiled when I told her this yesterday. "Oh, I am going to hear about you!", she said, laughing.

I know. I know that I have become the over educated parent who won't shut up about this. I know.

I don't care. My kid is not a data point to be used by Pearson to make more money soaked in the anxiety vomit of young children. My kid needs all of her instructional time focused on curriculum, not hours going over how to take the tests, or in assemblies exhorting the children to DO THEIR BEST ON THE TEST BECAUSE IT IS VERY IMPORTANT!!!.

Alfred Binet, creator of the very first sort of standardized test, wrote prodigiously on why this should never be generalizable. Yet, here we are.

Join me. Opt out.

* They don't even hassle me anymore, the way they once did, because there is no argument valid enough to ask me to allow my child to be used in a manner that I find suspect and unethical. They will hassle you, though. Principals will call you. School Psych people will pester you. They will lie to you to get you to acquiesce. Teachers are forbidden to even discuss an opt out option with parents, on pain of being fired.  This is a sickness and it needs to stop. 

Can you pass that dish of oppression?

Monday, October 13, 2014

It is no secret that my politics are.....quite left. I AM that left wing bleeding heart liberal that gets demonized in the press. The fact that my spouse is a bit more left than I am makes for an interesting parenting experience.

Now, aside from the lack of godliness in the home ( which I am sure indicates a lack of "values" or whatever the hell else won the republicans the last election)- there is a decided "anti-establishment" theme to many of the books in our home.

Look, there is the Marx reader ( my husband's), See there Alfie Kohn's books on the failings of the American educational system, Behold "Lies my Teacher Told Me" on my bedside. Our child had no regular alphabet in her room - she was looking at the "Alternative Alphabet" - featuring "P is for Peace and Y is for Yoga". You get the point.

So when our daughter comes home from public school with a cut and color Columbus day ship and asks us if we are going to have a Columbus day feast to honor Columbus - you get two dumbfounded adults scrambling for a response.

Terrance's response: "Daddy isn't into Columbus. I don't do Columbus day."

Oh, very helpful. Thanks ever so much. That was quite illuminating.

I bring out the children's book "Encounter" by Jane Yolen- which we read, and re-read at this time of year. Being an early childhood person, I tend not to answer my daughter's questions with the same cut and dry responses my husband uses. I want to engage her thought process and get her to think critically. Terrance thinks that this is a bullshit approach.

So we talk about what the experience of the Native People's must have been like. That discovery isn't the same when you discover something that belongs to someone else. It would be like me walking into her room and "discovering" her Playmobil house and claiming it as my own. Not very heroic.

"That's stealing.", she says.

"Yes it is, honey. That's why daddy and I are uncomfortable with Columbus Day. He may have been very adventurous to sail over the ocean to find and see new things- but he was very unkind to the people he found living there already."

And Emily - as always - absorbs this information to the best of her ability. And says:

"Can I stay up late and eat popcorn?"

Fight the power, honey, fight the power.

Originally published in October 2006

end of summer

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Last sundress of the season. And snazzy clear blue frames.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

While I haven't been here, I have been here.

Busy with a new school year, all of my energy is focused outward to students and Emily.

This is good. I am better when busy. I am happy when I am busy, even when that exhausts me in other ways.

Many things don't change, for despite my fearlessness in many aspects of my life I remain a creature who needs stability. I struggle against the dailiness that I need, but don't want to need. My rebellions become small, nearly imperceptible to outsiders. Yet they are there. I nurse those tiny coals, keeping them in my mouth like Raven.

I change my sheets every Saturday and sprinkle lavender oil over them. I patch the duvet that should, by rights, be at the end of it's life...but I keep it. It is grounded in a different time. I ignore the feathers that creep out and into my hair every night.

I make small steps into a social life. I befuddle and dazzle others who have no idea what the whirling dervish I become means, and I am unable to explain my need to be liked, to be understood. To be Known.

I fret about the research I am not getting done, but console myself with the quality of my teaching and service to my department.

Summer is easing. The dreams which crowded me in the summer have let up enough for sleep.

The cicadas were singing tonight. I find the buzzing cacophony soothing.

I age. I realize that I know nothing, and that the totality of my experiences are so small.  My body betrays me in small, intimate ways.

I wrap myself in decorations and continue on. There is no other direction. Backwards is my Ragnarok and I have been exiled.

Selkie Nature

Sunday, August 03, 2014

I am a Selkie, a changeling woman.
You may capture me, but I will always long for something,

Something cold and salty and feral.

I will stay for loyalty, for my half selkie children

Until I can bear it no more and slip my seal skin back on

and slide back into the dark sea.

Industrial Park

Thursday, July 24, 2014








Monday, July 21, 2014

My blood has begun to feel like molasses. Thick and viscous, it pumps through my body while simultaneously clogging the works. I feel like a human in slow motion with every movement a monumental effort, only to have my body stop mid action.

 I wake in the morning through sheer force of will.

My brain has gone into some sort of hibernation. This is frustrating because I have things to do. Thinking Things. Things I like. My brain has teamed up with my increasingly slowed down body to conspire against me. There is a rebellion in these bones.

I don't care for it.

I sulk. Balefully.


On Saturday I woke from a weeks worth of increasingly distraught dreams.  Not nightmares, which have the predictability of my archetypal characters, but dreams of loss, anxiety, sadness and tumult. 
Each evening, a new cast of characters - each less expected than the last - would saunter into my unconscious to have their way with me.

I woke, each time,  deep in melancholy.

I have always been a lucid and active dreamer.  This, however, was getting ridiculous. I was becoming wary of sleep. I didn't want to see those people. I didn't want to relive those losses. Rejection, abandonment, loss - over and over and over, every night.  For every step forward, I was being pushed backwards off of a precipice.

Exhaustion will force me into a defensive and reactive position. My sleep must be protected.

With little else than intuition, I decided to make a dream talisman. This decision was made, spontaneously, as I went out for my bike ride.

I had the vaguest idea of what I was looking for, and no bag to carry things I improvised and used my yoga top. A smooth flat , black rock was the first thing that called to me. I knew I needed a red clover, and a small pine cone too.  I wanted a feather from the mother duck I'd watched in the woods this spring, but could find nothing left around where she had nested. A cluster of wild strawberries found contributed a leaf. A silvery spike of grass; a small white flower and some willow - A white yarrow, a sprig of beech. A cluster of juniper berries came last - all shoved down the front of my yoga top.

I ran upstairs so Terrance wouldn't ask why I had a bunch of things in my shirt. He thinks that I cling to sanity in the best of times, so this would have convinced him that I'd booked a seat on the crazy bus.

I found a little purple gauzy bag  and added my treasures. I added some fur from the heavily shedding Coco and Jackson. They were happy to help in exchange for a bit of dried strawberry.

As I placed it at the side of my bed, I only said "Please don't let me have those dreams again. I can't keep reliving that."

For the past two nights, no dreams.

Yet the weight inside my body remains. I am a golem, freezing midstride, equally befuddled and flustered at my inability to move forward.

meditative lull

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

So, um, Hi.

How is it going? It's been a little while, eh?

But here's the thing: I have conversations with you all the time in my head. Honestly. And because I do that, sometimes I lose track of when I last spoke, or what I've told you.  On the one hand, I suspect I need to speak more often - which is a bizarre thought. I mean, there are times when I can't shut the fuck up, but within the last few years I've grown quieter. More withdrawn into my mental milieu of conversations.

Insanity, perhaps.


Before summer, my therapist and I discussed my plan. You know, the plan for staying on the path. Idle hands not only makes devils work, but can get Dawn into a whole shitload of trouble.  I must keep a regular sleeping schedule. I must stay busy and productive. I must be forced to interact with humans and not simply live in a dark cave with the rabbits, cat and child.

To this end I've kept the regular sleeping schedule. I rarely sleep beyond 9 a.m. - which is a miracle from whatever deity to which you ascribe.  I wake up and stay awake (Hark!). 

I bought a bike too. I take actual rides on my bike. Every other day for a minimum of 30 minutes. My poor middle aged ass/crotch scream after these rides. They scream: "What in the ever loving fuck do you think you are doing?"

Given my solid 15 year "no exercise" stance, you can see why they may be engaged in protest. 

I go to work and sort our classroom. My intellect is brought to bear on the organization of materials and creations of systems for students to use the materials. As always, I am a builder of systems. It soothes me to know where everything is, to have touched every book in the library. Obsessive? Maybe a little but the sense of order, the sense of fully understanding what we have so I can plan for what we need fulfils some deep internal itch within. 

As of yesterday I have personally inspected and catalogued 2,139 books in our resource library. 


The third prong of the plan was "Be a little bit social." I mean, let's not go crazy, right?  I try to remember to say "Yes" when I want to say "No, thank you" and recede into the quiet safety of my bedroom.  Partly this is the habit of an introvert, but it doesn't always serve me well.

I put this part of the plan into action when I found a knitting group to join. No, I don't knit but I bring my rug hooking and work along side these people who have no affiliation with my job.

I've been attending for about six weeks and I've begun to actively wonder if they will change the date/place without telling me in order to get rid of me. 

Why? Well - remember the "I can offend anyone, usually without intent, in about five minutes" superpower? Yeah. 

Here are some highlights from the last several weeks:

Person announces that they read that jicama is not good for you and is used as a pesticide. Dawn reacts with shock and laughter, while proclaiming that this is ridiculous! She has been eating jicama for 16 years - there is some in her fridge right now!  Person is not amused.

Person tells another Person that she needs to watch the grandson because if babies don't crawl it leads to spine damage. Dawn holds back for about three minutes before blurting out that barring some sort of specific spinal/skeletal issue that LOADS of babies don't crawl. It means NOTHING. Dawn reiterates that she has cared for HUNDREDS of babies. Babies are her "thing" - like really. Persons glare at Dawn.

Person tells another person that doctors feel that babies should have no solid food before the age of One. Dawn can't even try to hold back. "WHAT?!?!?! That's ludicrous!" she proclaims. "What evidence is there for withholding food from six month old infants, barring allergy concerns?" 
Person defiantly says "Obesity!" Dawn gets even more riled, states that people should be more concerned about the quality of food they give babies and less about obesity. Dawn launched into her "We need fat to build synaptic connections" speech. She is glared at again.

Person asks Dawn if Common Core is a plot to inject communism into schools. Dawn begins to laugh - actually laugh and retorts "It's injecting something all right - Capitalism and stupidity." Dawn considers wearing her "Feminist Health Center" t-shirt to next gathering.

Person asks other person if the college in NYC that they visited for Person's daughter had "good security". Person responds that "They had guards at the gate, but that they really hated NYC."

Dawn knows what this is code for, so she slyly mentions that she now loves cities. In fact, she was just in Minneapolis and was thrilled by the city. Her hotel had some odd comments online about the neighborhood not being "safe". Dawn notes that as she is not scared by non-white people she found these comments to be ridiculous. Silence ensues.

Seriously - how long before they give me the slip?


I've got an instagram account now. Mainly this is so I can upload the pictures from my phone. They are always random - sometimes of me, frequently of the cat and other stuff I wander across during my bike rides or at work. balefulregards. That's me.  I still don't like my phone camera and carry around my nice camera in my purse, but the instagram thing amuses me. 

Self Defensive

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Last Fall, Emily and I took a self defense class.

The origins of how we came to be in a room with a handful of other women, learning to punch, kick, shout and fight our way out of a physical attack seems ludicrous in hindsight ( she promised her father that he could pick some exercise activity if she could adopt a cat and he chose THAT), yet there we were.

As an adult woman, I am no stranger to threats or instances of gendered violence. I've had boyfriends push me  and hold me down while angry. I've experienced the not quite consensual but acquiesced to sex because it was just easier than the fight that would follow if you said no. The father and cousins who sexually assaulted me...all men.

I know what it is to walk on a college campus at night with mace in my hand, listening for abrupt movement. I know what it is to wrestle out of the grips of fraternity brothers who followed you to the bathroom and stood, blocking your exit, so they could try to get you back in to their rooms alone. I've made packs with girlfriends in college that we would stick together. No splitting up..because our reasoning was that it was more difficult to rape us if we were in a group.

I've given fake phone numbers to men in bars to get them to leave me alone. I've used the "I have a boyfriend/husband" line when the simple "No, thank you" wasn't enough. I've experienced the aggressive side of rejection, when the man begins calling you a fat dyke who he wouldn't fuck anyway..while you stare dumbly at this burst of hostility and glance around for allies.

And even now, at 44, I know what it is to walk on a college campus again while doing a visual scan of my surroundings while I walk to my car at night.

I know that my experiences are so typical that we rarely mention them, because that is just how it is.

Now I have a 16 year old daughter and my worries for her are changing. As a younger child, I made sure to know the adults surrounding her. I kept my predator antennae well tuned and alert for those who were looking for an unguarded child. I insisted that she wear bike shorts under all her dresses so she didn't need to worry about showing her underwear and I didn't need to worry about individuals who could become aroused by the sight of her underwear.

Yet, at 16, she is moving further out beyond me. This is good and right but...Oh. The things that wait out there, just off the path, where the light is dim?  Fucking terrifies me.

After the first night of class, when we were both hoarse from screaming and our arms were burning with exhaustion she became angry: Why did she need to do this? This was ridiculous and her father was just being overprotective and this was all STUPID!!! Then she said, "Nothing is ever going to happen to me!"

Oh, my sweet protected girl child.

By age 16, I was already sexually active. I had already been sexually assaulted by my father and cousins. I knew far more about life than I should have.

In reaction against my own experiences, I have sheltered her. I have tended and guarded and watched on her behalf. My vigilance has never ceased. Within her declaration that nothing would ever happen to her,  I worried that my vigilance had been unwise. She could not see the wolf in the woods.

Not that evening, but later, I explained that we hoped that nothing would happen to her....but it could. It could because she is female and women (and children) are the prey of the human world. I explained that she believed that she knew her friends and that she would never be in a situation where she would need to defend herself....but she might. I tried to explain that the line between being safe and not safe is gossamer thin.

I tried to explain that the world in which she is entering is one in which she has to be watchful because of her sex and on behalf of her sex.  I do this while trying to not color her world view with apocryphal tales, but rather with caution and realism.

I do this and feel the inner anger of a mother of a young woman who has to poison this well in order to save her from pain.

One Month Later

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

I think about the blog. I think about all of you out there. It's just that sometimes I get so distracted, or sad, or exhausted, or lonely to do anything but think it in my head.

The winter malaise has continued. While I continue to love my job and (almost) feel like I have a rhythm of anticipation in regards to the ebbs and flows of the semester, I am lonely here.

I don't make friends easily. Coupled with my occasional need to ferret myself away like a nocturnal animal, this makes finding friends difficult. I am also now at stasis with my job...Busy, but not drowning. This has meant that I can poke my head up and look around my environment in a long term way.

While I like my little city, I am starting to feel wildly out of place. This is ironic, since I lived in New Hampshire for 14 years and the places aren't really dissimilar.

However, I've changed. My years in Montreal allowed me to soak up something...different. While I was hardly a fashion plate there, my quirk "worked". I started to look like someone who lived in Montreal.

Here I am more noticeable, regardless of my eclectic choices of apparel. Someone said to me "You are SO City!" which I found odd because I'd never considered myself to be a "city" person.

I am the Doubtful Guest, writ large on my landscape

A strange exotic bird that people regard - not balefully really - but with a mixture of confusion and interest.

It just gets lonely.


My dancing partner and I did not win the "Dancing with the..." competition. One professor ( who won) is rumored to have offered his classes extra credit to show up and vote for him.  I was irritated by this, although I suppose it is the way the game is played.  My idealism does not serve me well in matters such as these.

I thought we did beautifully, though. We had waltz which is HARD, ya'll, HARD. I got my partner to agree to dance to the theme from Spirited Away, which tickled me beyond measure.  Then, I got him to agree to humor me in my costume choice: A corset over a lace shirt, with black skirt and peacock feather tail. I also got to wear a tiny hat.

Let's be honest, I will do just about anything to dress up and parade around. Including spending 8 hours a week in dance rehearsal.

I'm sad that it is over. Although time consuming I found that I like to dance. I'm also not too bad at it.

I know you're dying to see it...So Ok. Here it is.

Spring Brake

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

While Spring break has come and gone at my school, Spring is being temperamental and avoidant. I nearly cried to see the snow again this morning. I am a strong woman and don't generally complain about weather during the season in which it is expected, but I am being worn thin by this never-ending cold.

I have bought daffodils for my office to console me.


Right before break, I was nominated by a student to take part in a "Dancing with the UWL Stars" event.  It would be professors paired with members of the Competitive Ballroom Dancing team. I'm not a dancer, but I was tickled to be nominated. It seems that in under two years I've gained a reputation as a professor who may be willing to take part in a dancing competition.

I was a hairs breadth from saying "no, thanks" when I stopped myself.  Did I have the extra time? No, not really .....But......Ah, hell. Why not?! 

This is how I found myself practicing three days over Spring Break with my very patient and kind partner. Our dance style is Swing and I am willing if not always coordinated or graceful. 

Our first competition is Thursday night, so we have two more practices until we perform. I was glad for Swing because I  already have the wardrobe for it. My dance heels came Monday afternoon and I was able to practice in the heels during Monday night's rehearsal. It's one thing to walk all day in heels, it is quite another to do a very fast triple step swing dance in heels during which you are spun one direction than another while remembering to do something with your arms AND smile.

The one move we hadn't nailed down was a "finishing move" ( stop giggling. No, really, stop because then I start to giggle...).

The first suggested moved involved my leaping up and making some kind of shelf with my knees on one of his legs then being thrown forward and down. 

Um, No.  I put the kibosh on that move right away. Know thy limits.

The second move was one in which I throw myself backwards, kick one leg up to be held in his hand while he spins up around. 

We tried that move ONCE. While it was reported by the other dancers that it "looked good", they also told me that I needed to look happy and not horrified/terrified.  I could not promise that.

The move that we settled on was a kick ( by me) over him, then I crouch and he kicks over me. He spins around and reaches behind, between his legs and pulls me through his legs, throws me forward/up...and I fall backwards with my arms out and one leg kicked up.

I'll pause while you catch your breath from laughing.

I'm sore, but pleased. It's fun, this swing dancing, and I've been inspired to sign up for lindy hop lessons. I asked Terrance and to my utter shock, he's agreed. I told him if he refused I would canvas all my male colleagues for a dance partner. I would have, too. 

So think of me on Thursday night at 6:30 when my kind and patient partner and I are doing our Swing dance. Emily will be video taping this extravaganza for her father who will be in NYC.  Many of my students will be in attendance and my work colleagues will be cheering me on. 

I plan a well deserved martini post performance.

Spoiler! - No, I can't.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

This Friday I had an appointment with my wax professional.

I like her well enough - she's no Rosa and not even Polly, but hey, I'm in Wisconsin. I'm just happy to find someone who is willing to do a Brazilian wax.

Your relationship with someone who does your wax should be...friendly.  I mean, you know. She is staring at your crotch, ripping out hair and you are chatting it up. It's not a time to invite controversy.

Unless you are me.

The comment was tossed off innocently. She is kind of a "everything natural is good" person, and I can live with that to a point. At some point the conversation turned to accepting the decisions of other people as their right and how we should respect those rights when she let the "My sister doesn't vaccinate her kids and people are so judgmental of her decision!" statement slip.

I lay on the table, considering my options. I blinked twice, hard. I considered letting it go. Seriously. I am naked from the waist down. She is one of the only people to offer this service in my immediate area. She is currently smearing very hot wax on my nether regions.

Deep breath. Don't do it, Dawn. Let it go.

Yeah. I can't.

I began to describe the hot zones that surround measles outbreaks, and the consequences of everyone who enters those hot zones for 24 hours Post exposure. I talk about elderly people, pregnant women and babies too young to be immunized.  I talk about what happens to them when they catch measles.

I move on to congenital rubella syndrome and what happens to pregnant women who are exposed to rubella. I discuss babies either spontaneously aborted, or born with significant brain damage and - if they survive birth - are often blind and require lifelong care.

I then describe the effects of chicken pox on children who use inhaled steroids for asthma.

I talk about the whooping cough outbreak in our local schools and in the dorms of the university.

I talk about how science has completely debunked any link between autism and vaccines and that, frankly, I feel strongly that children who don't have vaccines shouldn't be allowed in public school because they endanger all of the other people in the school, particularly the children who need herd immunity because of allergies to vaccinations or other factors which mean they can't be vaccinated.

There I am, laying half naked on the table alienating the person who has the hot wax in her hand.

I don't know what it is in my character that simply doesn't allow me to stay silent. It is not always a helpful trait, and often gets me in more trouble than is needed. Yet, there it is.

Can I stay quiet?

No, I can't.

Agents of change

Monday, February 17, 2014

A few weeks ago I assigned a webinar being hosted by NAEYC as an assignment for my students in my Administration of early childhood programs classes. The topic of the webinar was leadership and I thought it was a timely way to start moving into the overall topic of what it means to lead a program.

Yes, we get to budgeting and staffing patterns, but fundamentally I view this as an advocacy course. I take them through how parents apply for child care assistance, how child care and ECE is funded in the United States, quality rating scales and accreditation. It is sort of an odd course for them, not tied to how to teach precisely, but more about the external world that surround ECE. Important, but not terribly "thrilling".

I assigned some questions to which I wanted them to respond after listening to the webinar. I read their responses this weekend and wanted to talk a little about them in class today.

In one question I asked:

When describing the respect that is afforded Early Childhood teachers, Dr. Washington noted:

“If you are at a cocktail party and people find out you work with young children they go to find someone more interesting.”

Have you experienced this? Why do you think that ECE is thought of as “uninteresting”?

Most responded that they hadn't yet had this experience. On one hand, I was glad. One the other, I knew it was coming. I can't tell you how many times I've watched people glaze over when I talk about what I "do". This started when I was in college and announced my major, stating that I wanted to teach Kindergarten. My stepfather was crestfallen. "But! You have one of the most brilliant minds for literature I've ever seen! You want to just teach colors?! ABC's?!?!"

Yes. I knew, even at age 20, that ECE needed brilliant people. My oppositional nature prepared me to take the hit of professional disrespect, professional denigration and come back swinging with research, facts, and basic child development. 

Imagine when I later announced that I wanted to work with infants.  I think my parents could feel my expensive University of Vermont education burning.

So, there are my students today. It's been snowing since 7 a.m. and the majority have been in their field classrooms from 7:30 until noon. They come snow covered and red cheeked into my classroom. I ask them if they think all professors are paid the same wage. They nod yes. They assume that PhD = same degree = same pay rate.

No. I smile and shake my head.  A professor in the College of Business makes double what I do. We started the same year.

They are stunned. STUNNED. "With a PhD?!? Same as you?". Yep. Same as me. In fact, my alma mater of McGill is probably a higher ranked program than the ones from which they graduated. (McGill is generally ranked between 18 and 21 in the world)

"What does this tell you about the value placed on our profession?"

They are silent. 

They know they will never be wealthy. I've told them the 50% attrition rate of teachers in the first 5 year statistic over and over. I am not looking to inveigle them or hide the truth of what they are facing.  Yet this cold hard fact silences them. Two PhD's. Same university. Vast pay differences.

I move to another question:

A major theme in Dr. Washington’s talk was that we must be the change agents within our profession.  We must take control of our own standards and assessments in order to build the system we want, rather than complain about the one we have inherited.

Do you view yourself as an agent of change? How so?

Now, about half of them answered Yes. They did feel they could be or were agents of change. The other half expressed doubt. They had to do what their cooperative teacher wanted in order to make him/her happy. They had to deliver the canned, standardized curriculum because it was what the district wanted. They wanted to be employed when they graduated, so they were already preparing themselves to conform to ideas they knew, based on research, to be ineffective teaching methods. 

We spend four years teaching them to be creative curriculum creators and they give up as soon as they are handed a "manual" and told to read off the page.

"Listen", I said. "Every one of you is an agent of change. Now sure, you can't kick down the door and change everything the first day...but you can defend what you know to be right - based on what you know about child development. You can ask Why - over and over - just like you are a three year old. Why are we doing this? Why are we changing this? Is this really what is best?

Use research. It is here for you. Arm yourself with best practice. 

Teach parents what to expect. Help them be advocates for their children. 

Don't be afraid to say "no, thanks" to a job that isn't right for you. Sometimes you get fired. I did. I got canned as Director - partly because I was soft hearted and rotten with money, but also because I wanted my staff to earn more, and get better benefits and I wouldn't cram 24 kids into a classroom with 2 teachers. I valued quality over quantity. After I was done crying for two weeks because I was sure I had tanked my career at age 32 and was a failure, I found another job. You'll fail, but it doesn't mean game over.  

YOU are the gatekeepers. Each of you. You stand between children who want to love to learn and this insanity surrounding us - knowing full well that we will never be paid as we deserve and will most likely be blamed for things that are out of our control. 

Be subversive. Be smarter than stupid laws or mandates. Get in the system and maneuver through it. We change systems from the inside. We prove to individual people - parents, other teachers and administrators - that a play based curriculum delivers far better results than 1st graders filling in worksheets. 

I need you to believe that you are agents of change because I believe you can be. The day you truly  believe you have no power as a teacher, that you are a cog in the machine? You need to leave that job. You deserve better than that. Those children deserve better than that."

And then I started the next part of class. 

Fun with Eyeshadow

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

We all realize that I am just a 4 year old with toys, right?

Curiosity and Creation

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Prompted by my friend Maija who, after reading the Arts and Crap post said:

"Tell me what to Do with her!?" ( meaning her 20 month old daughter)

Here are some things that I saw work pretty successfully with Younger kids (Toddlers and up):

First off, I don't do food as art material. I know, I know. Some of you are shaking your heads in horror.

"But Pudding Paint, Dawn!"

Nope. I feel strongly that food is food, and is not art material. Particularly when we are attempting to also socialize table manners and how we expect them to behave during meals, the message "Don't play with your food" gets mixed and convoluted when we are encouraging children to play with food - sometimes - but not others.

This means no beans or rice in the sensory table, no macaroni stringing, no whip cream painting.

It incredibly privileged to treat food as art material and I just won't do it.

Art materials are made to be non-toxic. For myself, I would prefer to spend more money on reputable brands for things such as paint, markers or crayons to be sure that the standards are being adhered to, in terms of non-toxicity.  There are other things you can get on the cheap, but I am somewhat a traditionalist when it comes to what brand paint/markers/crayons I purchase.

This means if you toddler eats a spoonful of paint, they aren't going to die. You might have some curious diapers for a couple of days, but no lasting harm. Same with Crayons - I used to warn families when their child had decided to snack on crayons that they may see the results at home, depending on digestive speed.


Don't be afraid to limit choices - a child doesn't need 96 colour choices of crayons at once.  Starting with Red, Yellow and Blue is fine. Switch them up every once in awhile. By the age of 4, you'll see them starting to differentiate more distinctly and choosing shades of colour, but at the beginning they don't need the full palate.

Offer different textures of paper, or place things which will give texture under the paper. When they draw, they will notice that there is something changing the way they are able to pull the crayon across the paper. Do rubbings of bark, or other textured surfaces outside.


Limit choice again. Change texture of paint by adding different things - water, dish soap, sand. Offer objects as brushes: Q-tips, pine branches, sticks, dandelions, forks, small squares of sponges - whatever catches your fancy ( and theirs)

Food Colouring:

We often placed small medicine cups of coloured water next to absorbent material ( like coffee filters or paper towels) and either used eyedroppers to drop single drops of the water or something soft like a Q-tip to draw/paint. This makes soft pastel colours and emphasizes blending, as the water soaks through the paper.

Toddlers, being toddlers, want to stick hands in things. They want to taste. They want to feel. One of the more insane "projects" I've observed involved asking one year old to paint with toothbrushes and NOT stick the toothbrush and their mouth. The teachers spent the whole time telling children to not put the toothbrush in their mouth. Finally, with a child who simply wouldn't stop sticking the toothbrush in his mouth? They popped his binky in his mouth.

So now the child is told (via body language and adult choice) "I don't want to hear you - here, let's plug you up" all while asking a child to NOT DO the very thing he/she knows a toothbrush is used for: sticking in your mouth.

Talk about a pointless experience for a young child. Or rather, an experience which reinforces "Adults are crazy and I shouldn't listen to them."

Since toddlers ( and all children) are so kinesthetic, the process of creating is where the joy is found.


Last semester, I had a difficult class. It wasn't the personalities - I liked all of the students a great deal - it was their group unwillingness to create. They didn't play.

The question I kept coming back to? When did they stop playing? When did it become so preferable for them to be told what to do? When did the desire to create, to explore, to test what happens become...unpleasant?

I am prepping for a new semester and am hopeful that I can lead this new group to a different understanding of art and the delight that comes with curiosity.  I hope so, because their discovery is what fuels me to keep chipping away at the monolith of sameness so many of them survived.
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