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Welcome to the FALL 2019 C.I.V.I.C. DISCOURSE!
Citizenship Identities Values Inclusion Cultures
Articles and podcasts at the intersection of parenting and social justice.
This quarterly roundup is meant to be a gathering of articles, talks, and podcasts that Cow Hollow School families and teachers find inspiring, enlightening, or enlivening. We're hoping this can be a way to exchange ideas, help us connect, and broaden our habits of reading and listening. So, when you read or hear something that strikes you, please send it to Christina McCarroll-Doherty. If you'd like, tell us what made it meaningful for you. The idea is that these will be CIVIC-related in some way — concerned with how we talk with children (and ourselves) about social justice, identities, values, and human differences; and with how we move and help in the world. We'll send a quarterly compilation to the CHS community. We look forward to reading together!

CIVIC is a committee of Cow Hollow School teachers and parents facilitating interchange about Citizenship, Identities, Values, Inclusion, and Cultures. CIVIC celebrates, seeks, acknowledges, and honors the presence of these themes both within and beyond our school community. Cow Hollow School is a school grounded in the pursuit of social justice, social responsibility, human dignity, and respect for all.


In this provocative and fraught piece from October's Atlantic, George Packer describes searching for schools for his children in Brooklyn — and his vertiginous personal and political responses. Standing in a pre-dawn line to register his son for preschool, he confronted his own "strange mix of feelings. I hated the hypercompetitive parents who made everyone’s life more tense.... And I worried that we were all bound together in a mad, heroic project that we could neither escape nor understand, driven by supreme devotion to our own child’s future." The dilemma here is not so much public versus private, but sorting out one's hopes and horrors in parenthood, one's own role in systems of access and equity, and our children's experiences of selfhood and school ... as well as asking some questions, while leaving other assumptions (and school reputations) largely unquestioned: "Politics becomes most real not in the media but in your nervous system, where everything matters more and it’s harder to repress your true feelings because of guilt or social pressure." The piece (just published) has already stirred many pots, and here are a few responses — from the education nonprofit Chalkbeat ("Has the 'culture war' come for NYC schools? What you should know about that contentious Atlantic essay"), from The Columbia Journalism Review ("Lessons from a big, flawed education story"), and from The National Review ("George Packer gets mugged by reality"). Here's a Q & A with the author.

New York Times Magazine award-winning education journalist and school-segregation expert Nikole Hannah-Jones writes about choosing a school for her daughter, Najya, in Brooklyn — and how, in the year following, Naiya's elementary school became a battleground in conversations about segregation, gentrification, access, and power in New York's public schools. "Here in this city, as in many," writes Hannah-Jones, "diversity functions as a boutique offering for the children of the privileged but does little to ensure quality education for poor black and Latino children.... True integration, true equality, requires a surrendering of advantage, and when it comes to our own children, that can feel almost unnatural." For more from Hannah-Jones — including a reminder that "while adults are talking about the problem, there are children in these classrooms right now who are being deprived of the education that they deserve and who are going to face lifelong consequences for that" — here's a Q & A in Teaching Tolerance. And here's Part One of Hannah-Jones' exploration of a school district's accidental desegregation in Normandy, Missouri, on the podcast This American Life; here's Part Two.

Writer and journalism professor Keith Nessen — yet another Brooklyn parent! — writes on choosing a school for his son Raffi — a process "not like choosing a TV show to watch or even a neighborhood to live in. There were so many factors — your politics, your financial situation, the amount of time you had to take your kid to and from school, and the very personality of the kid!" Nessen finds himself in a quandary of ethics and parenting: "If you chose a 'good school,' wood blocks, an active and well-resourced PTA, you neglected society, and what sort of parent would want to make society any shittier than it already was? But if you chose society, justice, equality, you chose, a little bit, against your kid — no wood blocks, no after-school enrichment. And, man, you had to have a lot of confidence in the enriching nature of your own parenting to believe it didn’t matter where your kid went to school. I was finding I did not have that confidence in mine."

KQED's Mindshift podcast visits a classroom at Oakland's Head-Royce School, where first-grade teacher Bret Turner helps six-year-olds explore privilege and power, from structural racism to microaggressions, gender identities, and homelessness. How Turner's examination of his own privilege as a straight, white man inspired him to revamp his teaching — and how parents have responded. There's also a written version of this story on KQED News.
Thank you, Ashley Scatena of Little Garden, for this contribution!

Chicago librarian Elizabeth McChesney began visiting the city's laundromats in 1989, and reading to children as their clothes tumbled in the dryer. Now, through the work of a coalition of nonprofits, including Libraries Without Borders, storytimes and bookshares are showing up in laundromats nationwide. How laundry literacy can help children gain access to books — even as decreased library funding has curtailed access to storytimes in low-income communities — in an über-local effort to meet people exactly where they are.
Novelist Tochi Onyebuchi recalls the books he grew up on, and how "[a]s the oldest son of a widowed Nigerian immigrant, ... I'd long grown accustomed to reading and caring about characters that in no important way resembled me." In his English classes at Choate Rosemary Hall, "white characters were allowed the full depth and breadth of human experience ... [while t]he few books we read by a black author ... were laden with anguish ... There were 1 million ways to be white. But to be black, you had to be suffering." Why school reading lists matter — and what a "shiver of recognition" can mean.
Amelia Bedelia, heroine of Peggy Parish's books for children, and consummate literalist who "draws" the drapes by getting out her sketchpad, "dresses" the turkey in lederhosen, and hangs lightbulbs outside when asked to "put out the lights": Is she a scatterbrained housekeeper — or domestic rebel? Sarah Blackwood makes a case for Amelia Bedelia as "the Bartleby of domestic work," — ... [who] turns passive aggression into a kind of art" — "a figure of rebellion ... against the work that women do in the home, against the work that lower-class women do for upper-class women.... Throughout her daily grind, she cheerfully acquiesces to her lot even as she subverts almost every task assigned to her." For those who may have loved Amelia Bedelia as children, but feel a little incredulous revisiting her life with the Rogers family, this analysis offers a new lens. (Not at the camera shop, Amelia Bedelia!)
Why do so few books about children exploring the outdoors feature black protagonists? Who gets to tell stories about nature — and who gets to (safely, victoriously) explore the woods? "Often," writes The Atlantic's Ashley Fetters, in conversation with children's-literature expert Michelle Martin, "that story gets told with a special emphasis on the boot-strapping white European immigrants who studied and cultivated the wild land of early America, ... which erases the experiences of people of color who were developing relationships with the land at the same time but under different circumstances." Manifest Destiny, manifest bias, and a manifesto for change. 
Poet Rachel Richardson revisits Beverly Quimby's Ramona series, and finds, in reading the books aloud to her own daughters, that the stories feel "still entirely relevant to our messier, complex world. More than anything, Ramona stands for empathy in the face of misunderstanding. She reminds us how it was to be a child in a big world, needing to be seen, cared for, and reminded that we belong." An ode to Ramona's fierce love and fervid independence, and how getting reacquainted with a childhood heroine helps one mother "feel bolstered to be a better parent, loving my kids’ wide-eyed wonder."
In this reminder of the complexity and layered meanings of children's books, translator Emma Ramadan writes about the challenges of translating children's literature, and talks with five prominent translators—of Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese, German, Italian, and Dutch children's books—about their work: "What do American readers of picture books want to hear? How do we judge what children will enjoy? Will children in the US respond to the same ideas as children of the original language culture? This was new territory for me, and it opened my eyes to just how complex the process of translating children’s literature really is."

For over two decades, the national literacy program Read Across America was pegged to Dr. Seuss's February birthday and filled with the iconography of his work. But as Seussian characters and Theodor Geisel's personal actions have come under both popular and academic scrutiny for what many see as racist stereotypes, the National Education Association has moved away from Dr. Seuss in Read Across America celebrations, towards a more broadly representative set of authors. Two recent pieces — one on National Public Radio, one in Education Week — explore the questions of whether and how we might continue to teach these books. As Stephen Sawchuk asks in the Education Week piece, "What should teachers and parents do about the culturally insensitive imagery and text in some beloved classics—including the dog-eared favorites that still sit on their shelves?"

A note: We've struggled a bit to find articles on the intersection of parenting and climate change — and yet, facing and fighting climate change feel essential to caring for children and their futures. So this category will include pieces that aren't specifically tied to parenting, or to the experience of childhood, but that can help us contemplate and work for change on a habitable Earth.
How 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has gained a hold on our collective imagination through logic, action, and a war against hypocrisy: "Her activism was prompted by a contradiction: the planet was dying but the grownups were not behaving as if there were an emergency. This was absurd, unthinkable, untenable — and it was reality.... Thunberg is a child who rebukes adults for failing, and for forcing children to act. She calls bullshit on every single political slogan based on the construction of children as human beings in need of protection. Her activism is not an attempt at participation. It’s an intervention."
Seven-year-old Geronimo LaValle interviews David Wallace-Wells, author of The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming (2019), about climate change. Among Geronimo's questions and observations: "Will the Earth be destroyed when I'm a grown-up? ... Where is the safest place to live when I'm a grown-up? ... [and] Cow farts are a problem." This moving piece — with a powerful note from Geronimo's mother at the end — also offers a model for talking with children about climate change, with doses of both reality and reassurance: "If we don’t respond — very soon, and very aggressively," Wallace-Wells tells Geronimo, "the planet will likely look very different fifty years from now than it does today. But not so different that you might confuse it for another planet — it will still be Earth, and it will be where many, many humans live, including you."
Roy Scranton — whose writing on parenting amid the grief and peril of climate change we've featured on CIVIC Discourse before — considers how hard it is to contemplate our extinction due to climate change ... and also how necessary: "Perhaps the most important philosophical question we face today is how to commit to some notion of human flourishing in the face of such an existential threat. The answers to this question must of necessity be open and multiple, yet one step seems absolutely necessary before even beginning to explore such answers: loosening our grip on what we are, on what is, and on the present — a task that demands recognizing what we have lost."
Writer and climate activist Bill McKibben wonders in a recent New Yorker, "what levers can we pull that might possibly create change within the time that we need it to happen?" His answer? That while far-reaching cultural and political change may not happen as rapidly as we need them to, survival is still eminently possible: "[T]hose who hold most of the money also have enormous power, and ... their power could be exercised in a matter of months or even hours, not years or decades. I suspect that the key to disrupting the flow of carbon into the atmosphere may lie in disrupting the flow of money to coal and oil and gas." To hear McKibben imagine how our species might come through this struggle, you can also listen to this interview from Outside magazine.

Poet and novelist Ocean Vuong, author of the new book On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous (2019), asks in The Paris Review, "How can we not ask masculinity to change when, within it, we have become so wounded?" Vuong, born in Saigon and raised in Connecticut, writes on American masculinity and identity, exploring the ways in which "[m]asculinity, or what we have allowed it to be in America, is often realized through violence. Here, we celebrate our boys, who in turn celebrate one another, through the lexicon of conquest." 
"Reports of the modern, involved father have been greatly exaggerated," writes Darcy Lockman, clinical psychologist and author of All the Rage: Mothers, Fathers, and the Myth of Equal Partnership (2019). "The so-called marriage-between-equals discourse, ever present in certain corners of the country, bears little resemblance to what really goes on in the home." In an essay urging women to greet their own gratitude with caution, Lockman writes of appreciation for this skewed status quo as "a force that repels change. For too long, women have paid for this imbalance with their well-being — financially, emotionally, existentially. Only once gratitude is relinquished for righteous anger will gender rules in this realm be rewritten."
What might it mean to raise a child free from gender stereotypes? Royce and Jessica James tried to find out. Looking back over sixteen years of parenting, they talk about the exhilaration and loss that defined their process, an effort to let their oldest child, Isis, "figure out ... who she is as a person, and not as an idea about what other people think she should be." Shankar Vedantam, host of the podcast Hidden Brain, muses, "It was as if others took their decisions regarding Isis as a personal insult." This piece includes an interview with Isis at age 16.
Dr. Diane Ehrensaft, a developmental and clinical psychologist at UCSF and founding member of the Child and Adolescent Gender Center, talks about children's gender identities and expression with Jen Lumanlan on Your Parenting Mojo. This is a great primer on gender terminology, gender possibility, how to really listen to children telling us about their gender(s), and how to help children navigate a world still largely anchored in gender binaries. Among the most important messages for young children? "Gender comes in all kinds of colors and hues," says Ehrensaft, "and whichever one you want is great. You are the arbiter of your gender. You will know — and it's not for someone else to tell you."
But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids is a warm, playful, and respectful Vermont Public Radio program in which host and producer Jane Lindholm takes children's questions to experts. In this episode, Lindholm, along with anthropologist Anna Catesby Yant and pediatrician Lori Racha, responds to children's questions on gender, biological sex, men's and women's bodies, and how culture shapes us (or tries to).   

"How do we more fully recognize each other as human, in order to be more humane?" asks Imani Perry, Princeton University Professor of African American studies; scholar of culture, literature, law, and race; and author of the new memoir Breathe: A Letter to My Sons (2019). "And how do we shift what we talk about as political questions to ethical questions, which is really where they belong?" In this conversation with Krista Tippett — part of the podcast On Being's Civil Conversations project — Perry reflects on raising black boys in America, on "the narrative of terror [that] almost evacuates the full humanity of their lives, and my life," on "the work of intimacy," and on a mother's "ethical responsibility to be hopeful ... [and] also to lavish with love."
What are ethics, anyway? In this episode of But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids, host/producer Jane Lindholm takes on ten-year-old Finn's question: "Is it okay to do something that you were told not to do — and then never tell anybody?" Together with the hosts of Australian podcast Short and Curly (a children's podcast all about ethics), and many child-ethicist voices, Lindholm explores the subtleties of discretion ... and discernment ... and deceit. "The thing about ethics," explains one Short and Curly host, "is that even when nobody's watching — even when there are no rules — our ideas about right and wrong, good and bad, they're the things we carry around with us. We can't actually hide from ethics because it's with us all the time."
Can kindness be taught? National Public Radio's Life Kit suggests that not only can we teach kindness; it is imperative that we do. Scarlett Lewis — whose six-year-old son, Jesse, was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School — along with Jennifer Kotler Clarke of the Sesame Workshop and Thomas Lickona, author of How to Raise Kind Kids (2018), discuss how we can teach, model, and cultivate kindness for and in our children — and why we must.