The Poky Little Pundit


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Laboring for some kind of fruit

my bean plant

My own garden! This is my first ever attempt to grow beans from seeds. Crossed fingers (or vines).

The past few weeks, I have been saying, to anyone willing to listen, that the next purchase I make will be a condo with no garden. It is absurd, I know, to complain about owning a home. Talk about first world problems. But having a garden is just totally, thoroughly exhausting. And like many exhausting things, also frustratingly worthwhile. Because after a day spent literally digging in the dirt, progress is visible. You have created and sustained life.

I feel the same way, to an extent, about trying to get involved in politics. There is no end to unfamiliar terms, to limits on time and resources, to the careful tending of raw material to yield a tiny bit of beauty or sustenance. And like gardening, there is such a host of people who know so much more than you that it is easy to just think, ‘I give up! Give me some cement and a cocktail!’ A large part of me also laughs at myself for the suburban middle-class-ness of both pursuits.

But I continue to hunger for that one, delicious plant that pops out of the dark earth, fecund with life. I’ve planted a few more this week: I applied to be a PCO for the 36th District Democrats. A PCO, or Precinct Committee Officer, is a person who knocks on doors in the leadup to elections and provides materials on endorsed candidates. Sounds like a great idea.

I also met up with Kirkland City Council member Shelley Kloba, who recently entered the political arena after many years of experience in the PTA. She was not only generous with her time but also with her ideas about how I can use my unique talents to become a part of the change-making institutions in our state. She defines herself as a child advocate and was down to earth, warm and obviously dedicated to serving her community – what a role model!

Finally, I am applying to be a member of the board of New Beginnings, an amazing Seattle organization committed to ending domestic violence. I can’t think of a better way to spend an evening than helping women and children in need.

But back to that garden: I have found, as many gardeners have before me, that one can spend an inordinate amount of money on stuff that you stick in dirt. Especially if you are impatient, or lazy, or an unfortunate combination of the two. I was hoping that, by merely expressing an interest in politics and scattering seeds, things would come my way. But no. I have to pick out the right seeds. I have to check the light and have good-quality soil. I have to water them. I have to weed things out. I have to water them again.

Right now, I’m just sowing seeds. And as everyone knows who has grown something from seed, it takes time and it’s kinda boring to watch. So I am taking time this summer to allow my tiny political plants to grow without witness. And, well, I also have a novel that needs finished by September 3 (both my birthday and the first day of school), and blogging is a fantastic way to procrastinate.

So until then, unless something momentous occurs, I am signing off. May all of you pursue goals this summer that will bear fruit!

Love, The Poky Little Pundit

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The Parent Tax

So last Thursday, I went into my high school to discuss my schedule for September with a colleague. My problem is that I no longer have a room – I will be travelling between two classrooms during the day to teach.

To non-teachers, that probably sounds like no biggie – and yes, there are worse things. But it is a bummer. It means I will not be able to set up my lessons for the day on a Smartboard, like I have been doing (that’s an interactive whiteboard, for those who haven’t been in a classroom for 20 years). It means I will not have a private, quiet space to complete my work each day. It means I have nowhere to put up book lists or display my favorite poetry or even make a private phone call, barring a bathroom.

But that’s not actually the part that makes me angry. What makes me angry is that my loss of a room is just another tax I pay for having a child. Yes, it is really that simple. I will break it down for you.

See, the problem is that high school starts at 7:00. We have to BE THERE at 7:00. And guess when all daycares open? 7:00. Do you see the problem yet? Let’s go a little further. Of my department, three of us have young children, which means three of us teach part time. And as my friend and colleague, who took over for me as Department Chair on my leave of absence, blithely informed me: The problem is that we all want the same schedule.

And it’s that tiny little word there – the ‘want’ – that makes me angry. Because I don’t WANT to teach part time just so I can get my kid to daycare. I don’t WANT to lose my classroom, and spend the day carting around stacks of papers, a computer and my personal belongings. I don’t WANT to lose out on a significant chunk of my paycheck because some idiot decided to make high school start at 7 bloody a.m.

And when people say, “Well, it was your choice,” I want to stab them. In all honesty, I had no idea what I was getting into, or how many choices would be taken away from me by my choice to have a baby. Parents should not have to choose between procreation and a career. And a society that sets up such an absurd choice needs reforming.

It is all part of the tax one must pay for being a parent. A tax that starts at conception and doesn’t appear to end until your child can find their own way to and from school. And what age is that? When will I feel comfortable allowing my son to wake himself up, nourish himself and get himself to school so that I can get to work on time? Age 8? 10? 12?

The solution is simple: Start high school, and all other employment where possible, at 9 am. Keep elementary and middle school start times at 8:30.

This would allow the great majority of us to wake our children, feed them, and get them to school or daycare so we can arrive at work without stress and without having to employ a morning nanny. It will also allow high school kids – who can get themselves to school, for the most part – to get much needed sleep, which is more in line with their natural circadian rhythms.

We could also simply be more understanding, as a nation, that parents are not being lazy when we go part-time or arrive to work a little late. We are making the best of a difficult situation for which there is no resolution in sight. And for those of us who do not have grandparents at the ready, or spare cash to pay for nannies, or for those of us whose spouses travel or who have no spouse at all, we are barely hanging on. And for what? So school can end at the bizarre hour of 2:30? 

Fellow parents or soon-to-be parents reading: What sort of “parent tax” do you have to pay in your job? And what can we do to take a collective stand? Considering the absolutely vast quantity of people this continuing problem affects, shouldn’t we be able to make a change if we really want to make one?


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Giving student writers their walking papers

newspaper

What happens when an institution’s watchdog no longer exists? When no one is compelled to take notice and report wrongdoing? When a community’s stories are not told?

About a week ago, a small article appeared in the regional section of the New York Times called “At School Papers, the Ink is Drying Up” by Winnie Hu. You probably didn’t read it, because you think the end of school newspapers has nothing to do with you.

I think it does.

Perhaps, you may be thinking, it is time high schools move into ‘the real world’ and realize that print media is dying an inevitable death. In the real world, just last week, The Chicago Sun-Times fired all their photographers. In the real world, today’s writer must be ‘creating content’ for ‘SEO.’ The irony is that at my current high school, the district does not even trust students enough to allow them to upload stories to a website – so if we are trying to prepare them for the real world, where online expertise is a prerequisite, we are seriously failing these kids.

Adults have fared quite well so far in the post print newspaper world – we are finding other avenues. We are expressing ourselves in droves online. Some too much, perhaps. Online, the odd teenager is producing an insightful blog or a funny twitter feed, but many teenagers don’t know how to fight with the written word. Sometimes, they don’t realize a fight even needs to take place. Soon, they will be like the proverbial lobster, slowly boiled alive. Sadly, my own idea to further bolster student expression in high schools, outlined in this post, is not going ahead next year. Blah blah funding blah.

What lawmakers and school districts may not realize is that by shutting off healthy, organized outlets of self-expression for students like a school newspaper, they are inadvertently encouraging them to find other methods that may not be so amenable to a school’s goals.

So here’s what could happen when school newspapers finally bite the papyrus: Kids could put together online newspapers outside of school, publish it for free, and say whatever the hell they want. No arguing over ethics. No copy-editing. No research. What they might gain, however, is getting the Hazelwood monkey off their backs (read an earlier post about Hazelwood here). No more principals sifting through their work. No more bowing and scraping to ‘the man.’ We are talking about an actual free press for young people – and better online content that may not be as well-crafted than students who passively drift through high school thinking they don’t have the power to instigate necessary change. (The teacher in me wants to remind students reading this that you still need to conform to libel laws and all of that other stuff I taught you.)

We should not cower in fear when we think of teenagers taking to the Internet to tell their truth, as many who make student press laws and district officials who uphold such laws do.

We should be afraid when they have nothing to say.