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Flowerless STEM

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STEM is such an oft-used acronym that people outside of the education industry no longer think of flowers and plants when hearing it. The origin of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math emphasis is a response to the United States’ position in the international market. In 2006 President G.W. Bush initiated policies to increase federal funding to support STEM education and output as a response to concerns that the U.S. was falling behind. That same year the Unites Sates National Academies (comprised of; National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, National Research Council) issued a plan to federal policy makers to address their concerns regarding the declining state of U.S. STEM education. When the President and national academies directly involved with very lucrative industry call for action, attention is usually paid.

Not many people would argue with improved education and higher standards in any subject. But when an initiative seems reactionary and the response narrow in focus, there is concern. Determining that there is an industry, in which the U.S. is not leading the way let alone keeping up, is relatively unprecedented. It is no wonder that we’ve reacted so strongly and rapidly. It’s a little disconcerting to start to lose one’s superpowers. But to focus on one area of study is tantamount to remodeling K-12 public education into vocational training. To do this while ignoring what other factors make many other nations superior in their industry and education is shortsighted. There are so many cultural, political and traditional differences in the ways countries conduct their business and education.

There are places in which children attend school six days a week and are in lengthy after school classes well into the evening. (There are countries in which one’s work life is as intense and prescribed as well.) There are countries in which K-12 educators are highly trained and paid and are given professional latitude and respect. But we don’t seem to be selecting much from the international buffet table beyond STEM emphasis; and that is what leads to thoughts of shortsightedness. When the money and policies are focused on one area it is inevitable that other areas will suffer. It is often those areas that are less quantifiable but no less necessary in the modern world. Most often and most likely it is Language Arts, History and the Fine Arts that are left behind. Science, math, engineering and technology are fabulous tools to help to understand how our world works and how to work within it. But being well educated is more than being well trained in one area. Understanding the world around us and knowing how to communicate to that world in which we live, knowing how to write, speak, and process the written word are crucial skills; without them there is no sharing of STEM or any other discoveries.

Without a sense of national and international history we are destined to stumble through the world half-seeing. Without exposure and access to the performing and fine arts what (to paraphrase President Franklin D. Roosevelt) are we even fighting for? The arts reflect the times in which they were created and are vibrant and pulsing history lessons. They also stretch the intellect and help us to see the entire world in more vibrant hues. Education (unlike job training) is meant to open and fill our minds. We need to be taught subjects but also how to critically think for ourselves. Education should be broad, deep and challenging. We should bolster STEM studies, and we should also ramp up all liberal arts studies. There will never be a national consortium of arts organizations with serious economic juice. But it is certainly well within the power of federal policy makers to invest in well-rounded education for all.

We have never been a country striving to make everything the same. We celebrate our diversities. We get a kick out of our different dialects, names for foods, and local customs. We are a 31 flavors kinda people. Do we really want the primary focus of our K-12 system to be in one subject area? Where will the political scientists, playwrights and lawyers come from? How will we get well-rounded novelists, historians and Supreme Court justices? There’s no doubt that our education system is not what it once was. Schools are asked to do way too many things besides educate, teachers are not treated well, and funding is elusive. The answer is not to be found by sticking our fingers in our ears and muttering “la la la STEM.’ We’re better than that, we’re bigger than that and we’re certainly more interesting than that.

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2013 in Education

 

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Texting While Parenting

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Technology is altering the very fabric of society and eroding the parent/child connection!! At least that’s what you’d think by scanning media. Phones: smart, cell, land, and rotary have changed everything about how we communicate!! It’s true; you know what also changed communication; the written word, the printing press & going a bit further back; speech. But the children! They are attached to their screen. Yes, as they were once attached to their comic books, and paperbacks. Okay but what of the parents? Parents are often on their smartphones/tablets while in the presence of their child. Shudder. Grown people are actually reading, writing or talking on the phone before their child leaves for college?!

At first glance a parent pushing a stroller while texting or chatting is a bit disconcerting. But that’s more to do with what was once a private behavior is now public. All our mothers talked on the phone. Some of our mothers threatened dismemberment if interrupted. (“There better be a LOT of blood if you’re interrupting me!”) Talking/texting while parenting publicly just takes some getting used to. Like girls styling their hair in a crowded restaurant. Over your food. There’s very little private behavior left. So once we just get onboard with that, what in the world could possibly be troubling about an adult being an adult in the presence of their child?

In this age of parenting as guerilla sport it’s actually refreshing to see a grown person engaged by something beside their child. A parent not utterly consumed by his/her child makes for a much better parent (perspective is everything.) For the child, it is imperative that they experience their parents as something beyond their appendage or magic genie. Learning to do things on their own, even the simplest things is what plants the seeds for strong roots. Remembering to pack their lunch or do their homework teaches competence, responsibility and creates self-esteem. Being left to one’s own devices in social situations not only develops coping mechanisms but also gives the child the freedom to experiment. Attending birthday parties or summer camp with a parent in tow stifles creativity. Children, particularly in early adolescence like to try on new selves. It’s hard to improvise with your choreographer in tow.

So enough with the demonizing technology. Parents do not need to focus on their child every waking moment. They need to be engaged and present which is not the same at all. Teaching a child right from wrong, how to be a good member of society and how to be a functioning adult has nothing to do with being emotionally and physically available 24/7. Seeing one’s parent engage with other adults (outside of a pee-wee soccer match) is important for a child. Being on the phone signals to a child that mom/dad has a life beyond the playground. (This is critical for parents who take their vacations with their children, dine out with their children and/or sleep with their children.) If children do not see adulthood as somehow more privileged or better than childhood, why grow up? So pick up the phone or tablet and read, write, chat. If anyone dares give you the evils or heaven forbid verbally criticize you, have at it. Perhaps you could hold up the tablet & remark; “Such a pleasure to be able to read again! All that smoking & drinking while pregnant meant I didn’t have a free hand!” Or I suppose if you’re a better person than I you could just hold up the phone & ask; “Did you need to make a call?”

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2013 in Childhood

 

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Seeing Differences

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I’m a profiler. Why pretend otherwise? Without any effort whatsoever; the appearance, and speech of a stranger is rapidly calculated and a (metaphorical) card pops out that reads; “tourist” “nanny” “poser”. We all do this to one extent or another. People who can not assess people by visual and verbal cues are often taken to a specialist. There is an actual biological origin and motivation for this ability. Our senses exist to take in information and to assess danger. We may not know everything about the tiger say, its hobbies or dreams, but we know it’s a tiger and it’s headed straight toward us.

Most everyone can make certain generalizations about people very quickly. This comes in handy when looking for directions; would you ask a tourist how to get somewhere or would you ask a local? Of course you’d have to be able to identify a tourist and a local. And, this is where people may get themselves into trouble. “Appearance” is not a question of skin tone or pant waist. The way in which someone carries him or herself is an integral part of their appearance and often speaks volumes about who they are. What a person says and not just how they say it is also key. Grammar, syntax and accent are fascinating but may tell you less about someone’s intentions than what it is they’re actually saying. What people say (and don’t say) is probably the best (and perhaps only) reliable indicator of who a person is.

A 20-something in a stuck elevator wailing how ‘this is the single worst thing that’s ever happened to me in my entire life’ has led a charmed life, no? The same could be said about a supervisor who without a word, routinely hands you his empty coffee cups. The stranger, who worlessly pushes you to the ground at the sound of an explosion, knows a thing or two about survival. Our past and our sense of our place in the world are continuously communicated. We tell our stories (laced with varying degrees of fiction) literally and figuratively. For those who engage in the literal, it’s always fascinating to see what they include and choose to omit. In their editing, they often tell us more about themselves than they ever intended. Case in point: a woman wrote the story of her small child’s dog attack (just to be clear; the dog attacked the child.) It’s a traumatizing and bloody story that quite frankly is entirely her doing. She has remorse for the trauma and the facial scar but seems to have zero understanding of her role in the mauling. She knowingly created an extremely dangerous situation, not just for her own child but for anyone in proximity. That her children were not removed from the home, she was not imprisoned and was paid to write about her sorrow can only lead me to come to this conclusion; she is privileged. Had she lived in public housing the authorities would be aware of her behavior. If she had been to a public hospital the authorities would know. If she had looked a certain way or talked a certain way, the authorities would know.

It causes me no pleasure that I have engaged in the same act of profiling that perpetuates such inequity. But how do we ever fight for justice if we cannot detect the injustices? The only way to see that people are treated differently is to see the differences. There is nothing immoral or politically incorrect about acknowledging that people are diverse. What is morally reprehensible is to engage in separate and unequal justice.

 
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Posted by on June 1, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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Speak Now Or Forever Hold Your Peace

Blame it on the stratospheric rise of the wedding industry, the etiquette business not keeping pace with technology or the parent as friend trend; whatever the cause there seems to be a need for modern day nuptial communication guidance.

I am not an etiquette expert.  I have produced and managed copious events, attended over 30 weddings and have been touched, tickled and traumatized by nuptial communications over the years.  There are many people touting newfangled etiquette advice.  Yes, dear reader, I have witnessed advice that gift registry information should be front and center at all times.  (Think: “letter to Santa”)

Weddings are a rite of passage fraught with meaning and sentimentality  Wedding planning usually emphasizes the party aspect of the wedding.  Yet, the most overlooked and defining aspect to wedding planning is communication.   Technology has turned us all into photographers and web designers, but technology is only a means to the end.  Even those intentionally eschewing technology and are only communicating through handcrafted invitations are well served to raise their marketing consciousness.

The number one rule to keep in mind is that an invitation is not a contract.  Gifts are lovely but are never a quid pro quo for being invited.  Inviting anyone to anything defines you as a host or hostess and you must behave as one.

Engagement

Let’s start at the very beginning, that’s a very good place to start.

Engagement Parties are not mandatory.  Their primary purpose is to introduce the two families of the intendeds to each other.  Gifts are a welcome addition but by no means necessary.   There should be no registry at this point.  Gifts should never be opened at the party itself.  An engagement party is not a child’s birthday party or a shower.

Speaking of showers….

No mention of gifts, gift registries, or web sites have any business being included with an invitation.  When invited guests R.S.V.P. they can ask their host about gifts.  Besides being gracious, this tactic will raise your R.S.V.P. rates!

The Wedding

The number one guiding factor of invitations is that they alert the guest as to the tenor of the event.  An engraved, raise lettered invitation on heavy stock paper in neutral colors screams “formal.”  A “cute” construction paper invitation in “cool” colors communicates “come as you are.”

The invitation package should include all relevant information for the guests.  Simply putting the web site address on the invitation is lazy and a cheap ploy to link people to your gift wish list.

If you are having multiple events (i.e., rehearsal dinner, brunch, etc.) include very specific relevant information in the wedding invitation.

Communications during any and all wedding centric events is crucial as well.  Remember that the most fundamental premise is to be a good host or hostess.  Your job is to ensure that your guests feel welcomed and are comfortable.  Part of how you address this is by communicating your intentions.  Some wedding couples choose to create a program to describe the relationships of the people included in the wedding party, or to describe religious rituals that will be part of the ceremony.  Other couples have the officiant describe to the guests what rituals will be performed.  Unless yours is a wedding in a very closed community, do not assume that your guests are familiar with your practices and consider by what means you’d like to communicate.
Keep in mind that what is not said is as important as what is said.  I have been to weddings at which the officiant used the blessed occasion to spout anti-homosexual rhetoric.  Twice.  And no one stopped him or corrected him.  I have been to a wedding at which the priest and the rabbi went into fierce oratory competition during the ceremony, going so far as to grab the microphone from each other.  Very holy.
No you can not control everyone’s behavior, but you can convey your intentions and vision to those who will be involved, prior to the event.  This is true with religious or civil officiants, caterers, bakers, etc.  There are those (cough: me) who gave a list to the band leader of verboten songs (i.e., chicken dance, electric slide, and yes, the horah.)  If you are adult enough to get married you are adult enough to ask for what you want.  Politely.
There is no question that receiving lines are awkward for everyone involved.  The wedding couple does need to address each and every one of their guests however.  This must be done as a couple, doing so individually does nothing to convince the guest that you two are destined for couple greatness!  Simply put, your job is to thank your guest for coming.  You needn’t do so with a cheap assembly line gift, simply a sincere in stereo thank you is sufficient.

Post Nuptials

Oh, if only it went with out saying that a prompt, personal, handwritten thank you note was in order.  Never is anything electronic acceptable.  Well, maybe if it’s a flat screen television.  If I hauled myself to your event, or sent a gift, you can lift a pen and a stamp.  Personal counts.  This is where actually speaking to all of your guests comes in handy.  “Thank you so much for coming to our wedding.  It was so lovely to see you and I was so happy that husband/wife had the pleasure of meeting you.  I can’t thank you enough for being part of what was such an important day for us.”  or a version that also thanks for a gift, or a version that only thanks for a gift.

A note on visual communication

Photos of yourself no doubt make you happy.  They are not a form of communication and should be used ever so sparingly (like your monogram.)  Narcissism is a slippery slope.

 
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Posted by on October 5, 2011 in Marriage/Wedding

 

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