Politics 2017: Grief & Recovery

I’m tired of waking up in the middle of the night with the orange visage of our 45th president crossing my consciousness. I hate being fearful at a gut level about what may be coming from the government now handed over to a group of unsympathetic, inhumane mean-spirited politicians. I hate feeling an anxiety over every part of my and my family’s future, including whether or not we might survive a war which “we” start. “We” in quotes because it won’t be we the people who pull the trigger or press the button. It will be an egomaniac whose thin skin leads him to believe he is being dissed every minute of every day.

The purpose of the current group in power seems to be to dismantle any and all programs that even appear to benefit/help/aid and succor their fellow citizens. I just want to ask “Why? What is it you hate about helping people? What is it that sticks in your craw when people have health insurance, and access to clean water, healthy air, stable school systems? What is so threatening about that?” I try to imagine their answers, and beyond the usual pale platitudes about government being too big, which usually means they want to privatize business to aid their buddies, I can’t even imagine what they might say. Because-I don’t like other people getting benefits? Because-no one is actually deserving of any help if they’ve messed up in their life at all? Because-I just don’t want anyone to get anything for their taxpayer money? What reason is there that justifies causing pain to fellow citizens, pushing them out of their homes, or losing the ability to manage their chronic diseases, causing them to have to buy 2 years worth of bottled water just to bathe their children?

Previous generations of Republican leaders were strong pro-business, pro-military and pro-family. The pro-business showed up when the Interstate Highway system was built under the leadership of Dwight Eisenhower, connecting the country and providing not only jobs, but the means to sell goods across the country. Pro-military can almost go without saying-often to the detriment of other domestic programs when new weapons systems took precedence over feeding the hungry. Pro-family Eisenhower expanded Social Security, Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency, and Republican Senators promoted education, scientific exploration and living wages. They were willing and able to work across the aisle, recognizing that country came first.

When did it become acceptable for politicians to pursue power at the expense of their constituents? I feel as though every discussion and debate in Congress is accompanied by a virtual nuclear option-go our way or nothing happens, or, even worse, we retaliate against you for defying our plan.

I am sad for our country, sad for our honorable politicians who continue to try to serve their districts while trying to keep their party “leaders” happy. My grief is deep, as in my 60 years on the earth I don’t remember in my lifetime or that of my parents, feeling that the social contract of our mutual citizenship was ripped apart. Even in the depths of WWII I believe that the country as a whole worked together, and during the rages of the Vietnam War era, the wrong actions of Richard Nixon were found out, and there was agreement to hold him accountable. The norms held. But I don’t know what the norms are any more, and I fear the patriotism I believe in is being shoved aside in favor of personal enrichment and rape of the earth.

My progress out of the morass of grief and discouragement may take a while. I’m trying to find the means to accomplish this-and writing my blog may be one way. Hard physical exercise helps. The community of people energized by the Women’s March on Washington is a beacon of light. And I will have to find those places of activism that work for me and speak to the values I have.

This I know-I will not let my country go. I will defend the poor, the needy, the helpless. I will do my best protect the best of America, and commit to doing all I can to help those with influence to do the right things. I can do no less.

 

The Value of Learning in Tribes- and why Saving Sweet Briar College matters

We all have tribal groups-it may be the group with whom we cheer at the bar during March Madness, or the high school gang we still build our reunion around, or the people with whom we trained at our first job. Those tend to be tribes of choice: we root for the same team, have shared experiences, have endured together.

Our more basic tribal groups are the families into which we are born, the communities in which we live. And then there are the biological tribes-our gender, skin color, orientation.

Our tribes provide us places to “be ourselves”-not explain how we got there, why we think a particular way, not have to justify what comes out of our mouths or is in our hearts. At their best, tribes give us identity, pride, strength and safety. At their worst tribes become xenophobic, critical, fearful and close-minded–in other words, they can embody both the best and the worst of human behavior.

When we are growing up, we learn in our tribe what is acceptable and normal. We step out from our small family tribe to a community, our schools, larger families, larger experiences. How we learn in those groups very much depends on our comfort level, our ability to fit in, and a deep-seated recognition of whether or not we belong. If we become secure in ourselves during those experiences early in life we have the bedrock, foundational strength to persevere, stand tall and be our best selves. It’s what most of us aim for with our children-the ability to be their best selves.

Single-sex education, such as is provided at colleges and schools such as Sweet Briar College, Hampden-Sydney College, Wellesley, Woodberry Forest School, Smith, Avon Old Farms, is a tribal experience. It isn’t for everyone. But it is an important choice that should be available, and I believe that our current age actually needs single-sex options in education more than ever before, but constituted differently than how it began.

Over the millennia, the education options offered to women and men varied widely. In wealthy households, women were educated to be the chatelaines-keepers of the keep, overseeing the requirements of the people associated with the land. Sometimes that included lessons in reading and writing, astronomy, and figures-all needed in order to do their job. The (male) monks were the keepers of learning, and their duties included instructing the future male leaders. Generally speaking, men were afforded more leeway in receiving an education-and I am making very broad generalizations. Over time, women were not given as many educational opportunities, which eventually resulted in people who believed in education for all creating segregated academies for women of a certain economic standing. Some of these academies focused on actual book learning, but in many the curriculum was built around the “ladylike” arts of needlework, household management, artistic endeavors. Rarely was there any instruction in the sciences, mathematics, or other “male” disciplines. Eventually -within the last 150 years- women’s education became more normal, broader, deeper and more recognized. But-these schools were essentially founded as rebellions, a way to provide women an education without discomfiting or disarranging men’s lives. And if one was a woman in the lower or middle-classes education was not necessarily an option depending on where one lived.

Meanwhile, men’s schools were flourishing, proving their tribes with their own particular flavors of learning, whether it was military, scientific, literary, an amalgam-they had choices of a wide variety, all designed to help men “become men”.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s coeducation was driven by the natural desire of women to be included in the opportunities available to men-and men finally figuring out that having women around was actually an improvement for most of them. In the 40 years since that wave of education choice swept over the school landscape many thought that the educational option question had been resolved. Women seemingly had a place at all the tables because they were now being educated with men. The schools that stayed with single-sex were seen as anomalies, dinosaurs whose usefulness was probably limited.

But-now, in 2015, we are seeing that the pay gap for women is still an issue, 60 years after President Kennedy signed into law an Equal Pay Act. Women are being denied access to health care options, many young women, especially in public schools, are still not encouraged to pursue interests in science and math, and just as sadly, young men don’t know how to deal with the young women in their lives whose dress is provocative, sexual innuendo is everywhere, and puberty is extremely difficult to navigate. These, and many other attitudinal challenges are just a few the reasons why we may need MORE single-sex education options than we currently have.

I have had some unique experiences in single-sex education. I grew up at an all-boys boarding school which my father had attended and at which he then taught. After attending a co-ed elementary school I attended another all-boys school as one of 7 faculty daughters, before finishing high school at an all-girls school. I have taught single-gender science, computer and language classes, and my children have attended single-sex schools as did my husband. I know first hand that males and females have different needs when learning, different approaches to thinking through problems and different processes of thinking. ┬áIt was wonderful to watch middle-school boys and girls reach the same end goals by almost completely different paths, and be thoroughly and enjoyably themselves while doing so. Being single-gender in high school means that there’s no looking over the shoulder to see if the (boy)(girl) you like is watching or not, wondering if your hair is done right, whether (he)(she) thinks your answer is stupid. All that anxiety and self-consciousness is gone-replaced by a real focus on learning and being truly one’s own self.

When I read articles about how single-sex learning doesn’t make a difference, I know that the writer hasn’t asked the right questions. It’s not a matter of the grades-although grades are important. It’s not just a matter of what the hard data shows. The result of being able to learn in a single-sex environment is that for the rest of your life there’s a knowledge that there are others like you, your educational tribe, and having been with them gives a grounding of belief and strength that is unlike any gained in another environment. The fact of being able to “be yourself” when learning has a profound effect that is lifelong. It shows in the ability to look at someone of the opposite sex and not cave when their opinion is different than yours. It shows when there’s no embarrassment about being male or female-and a recognition that we are all equal while being different. It is apparent when one can realize that it’s lovely to have the company of the other gender, but it is also wonderful to have friends of one’s own gender, rather than being in competition with them.

In the 21st century we have the opportunity to re-think single-sex education using the experiences of the last 50 years, going beyond the inaccurately-derided feminist goals of equality to a humanism that allows us to celebrate and learn to integrate our male and femaleness into our shared communities. We need the single-sex education experience so that we have safe places to learn to be our fully-fledged selves in our genders, so that we can learn to appreciate the good in the other gender, and be allowed to develop our strengths which are equal and different.

We especially need the women’s single-sex education so that we can now fully integrate women into the economic life of the country, the political decision making and the solving of societal challenges. We (women) approach the building of community differently, our ability to multi-task can make businesses more productive, and our willingness to compromise to benefit the greater good is needed more than ever before.

We don’t need gender wars-there isn’t any war. There is a need to calmly and productively educate everyone to be their best selves. We need Sweet Briar-maybe not entirely as it has been-but its core purpose of educating women is needed more than ever before. Let’s rethink, re-imagine and rebuild for the 21st and 22nd centuries.

Who I am-and why I am here

What a great assignment from WordPress-tell us why you’re here and who you are.

Who I am has been difficult to answer lately, which may be why I am writing publicly, rather than keeping a journal. The accountability factor is huge, and for this purpose, it amounts to telling the truth, out loud, rather than quietly between the covers of a journal which only my eyes will ever see.

Who I am-for some reason it always starts in my mind with where I’ve come from, and as a new acquaintance forcibly reminded me, “that’s your obituary!” Active mode: I am a facilitator-of conversations, projects, situations. I’m a diagnostician of organizational blockages, and I love to connect people to other people, information and new ways of seeing the world.

Why I’m here? Truth telling, but also it’s a way to share what I learn, connect out and about, and, with any luck, engage in conversations that are positive, create community, and build strengths for all of us.

As I put more words and paragraphs together I expect I’ll write about the worlds of nonprofits, learning, storytelling, organizational growth and strategic planning-in my mind the two are interconnected-as well as various “extra curricular” topics that strike my fancy.

So this first post is short-more to come, and thanks for reading if you happen to stumble across this post.