Category Archives: In the news

Sesame Street encourages girls to love their hair just as it is.

I adore this clip from Sesame Street encouraging preschool girls to love their hair. In a society that constantly tells women that they are always in need of improvement, this is an amazing message to share with little girls (and big girls too).

Reconsidering Columbus Day

Tomorrow is Columbus Day, and today is a Federal holiday celebrating Christopher Columbus‘ famous voyage to “discover” America.

Like most people, I’ve never given much thought to the holiday other than remembering talking about it in elementary school and knowing that banks are closed today.

That was until I saw this thought-provoking PSA asking viewers to reconsider America’s celebration of the holiday.

This PSA got me thinking, and I have to agree with the point made by it. Celebrating Christopher Columbus is effectively a slap in the face to descendants of the indigenous peoples whose lives were ruined by colonization. Is keeping with tradition a legitimate reason to continue celebrating a man who caused harm to so many? That does not seem right to me.

“Accomplished teachers believe that all children can learn at high levels and hold high expectations for all.”

Yesterday on Oprah she talked about the problems in America’s public education system. As guests she had the director of the new film “Waiting for ‘Superman’,” Bill Gates, the Chancellor of Washington D.C.’s public schools, and singer John Legend. The film is about how frequently students are failed by public schools, and tries to identify the problems and solutions.

The talked about how bad teachers and principals are the problem. D.C. schools’ Chancellor’s solution is to fire ineffective teachers and principals, and her method has greatly improved the system. While many teachers jump to the defense and argue that we aren’t the problem, I think there’s something valuable in this discussion. While ineffective teachers aren’t the entire problem (there are many elements including parents, government, societal and economic disparities), ineffective teachers are a big part of the problem.

Teachers are on the frontlines and our actions impact students on a day-to-day, on the ground way that politicians’ and administrators’ decisions don’t. What a huge responsibility! While this is really intimidating, it’s also an amazing opportunity to make a huge difference in the lives of so many people. As a teacher, your impact (whether it is positive or negative) has powerful repercussions on not only your students but their families and communities.

While there are many elements involved in being an effective teacher, a major one is believing that all children can learn at high levels and holding high expectations for all. I think that a failure to hold all students to a high standard is a way in which many teachers fail students. Expecting less of particular students or even certain groups of students does not prepare them for college, success, or the working world. Expecting less is giving up on students and something no teacher should to if they want to make a positive difference. A staggering number of children are failed because their teachers expect less of them. Students cannot achieve excellence if the bar is set low for them. This plague of low expectations is beginning to show its head in the form of plummeting SAT scores (in Georgia at least), a less equipped workforce, and rapidly declining graduation rates. A hard but necessary step to combat this is for individual teachers in individual classrooms to hold all of their students to high standards in academics, behavior, and responsibility.

Going easy on students may seem like the “nice” thing to do, but ultimately it does students a gross disservice. Until every teacher in every classroom steps up to set the bar high for each and every one of their students, believes students can achieve great things, and makes the effort to equip students for great success, we will not see the positive change in American public education that we so desperately need.

Shut up Chris Brown

(6/29 edit: The embedded video that was once here was removed by BET.)

So last night at the BET Awards, Chris Brown took the main stage again for the first time after beating his ex-girlfriend, Rihanna. The backlash against Chris Brown after this incident was pretty strong. Most of America took Rihanna’s side, even after Brown apologized publicly in numerous interviews, somewhat blaming his behavior on witnessing his mother be abused as a child and therefore carrying on what’s often called a “cycle of abuse.” While Rihanna’s career is as successful as ever (good for her), the last I’d heard of Brown was in early June when he was denied entry to the UK on grounds the British Home Office describe as, “We reserve the right to refuse entry to the U.K. to anyone guilty of a serious criminal offense. Public safety is one of our primary concerns.” I applaud the UK for this decision! I’d like to argue that one reason domestic violence is so prevalent in America– one in four women will experience domestic abuse in her lifetime (click here for a domestic violence fact sheet)– is because it’s often treated with a slap on the wrist by our legal system and society.

Last night’s performance by Brown goes to show how quickly we excuse this despicable behavior in our society. First, the fact he was even allowed to perform to such a wide audience as major cable network BET‘s was disturbing. Second, his tribute to a pop star held with such high prestige as Michael Jackson is questionable– of all the people they could have found to do a tribute a year after Jackson’s death, why Brown? Doing a Jackson tribute was a sure way to draw attention last night, and it does not seem to reflect very kindly on Jackson’s memory to have an abuser of women (although, ironically, Jackson may have been an abuser of children) be the one to pay homage to him. Third, Brown’s breakdown was clearly a publicity stunt. He started crying during his performance of “Man in the Mirror,” a song about changing ones self to make the world a better place. Clearly Brown pulled this to have people feel sorry for him and finally forgive and forget what he did to Rihanna.

Pop culture embracing Brown as a changed man sends a message to those in abusive situations (abusers and victims) that this type of behavior is easily forgiven and forgotten. This is a dangerous and heartbreaking message.

Helen Thomas pushed into retirement for having an unpopular opinion

Before today, Helen Thomas was unarguably the most famous member of the White House Press Corps. With her push into retirement today over comments regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she has made the move to most infamous.

Thomas, 89, has been a correspondent for fifty-seven years and has covered every president since    Eisenhower. A legend in the White House Press Room, she was the only journalist to have a seat reserved for her, and one on the front row at that. She broke numerous glass ceilings for women in journalism, including being the first female officer in the National Press Club, the first female officer in the White House Correspondents Association, and its first female president in 1975-6. Thomas’s numerous other achievements and awards can be found in the biography section of her website (http://www.helenthomas.org/helenthomasbiography.html). Thomas has published five books and was still an active White House correspondent, most recently representing Hearst Newspapers. All these feats are impressive, and her level of activity at an age when most are forced to resign themselves to lives of relaxation and relegation by society was something to be admired.

All of this ended today, however, when Thomas announced that she was retiring in light of comments she made regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The video has become a YouTube sensation, and at the time that I wrote this it had 1,216,339 views. Here’s the video. Please note that the comments at the end are not my own, but rather the creator of the video’s.

Thomas apologizes for the comments on her website, http://www.helenthomas.org/home.html :

Helen Thomas issued the following statement today: “I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon.” (June 4, 2010)

While many applaud Thomas’s retirement over these controversial statements, others blame the lack of filter on her age. I think blaming or excusing the comments on the basis of her age is ridiculous: obviously this woman is still sharp-minded or she wouldn’t still be publishing books and working as a journalist. Many groups found her comments to be offensive and are glad that a journalist who holds such opinions will no longer be reporting.

My view is a little different, however. I do not agree with Thomas’s comments and do find them offensive to Israel and its citizens. But is Thomas not allowed to have a different opinion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and still be allowed to work? I understand and respect that Israel is an ally to the United States and that is recognized as an autonomous nation, whereas Palestine does not have such international recognition. But is Thomas not entitled to her own opinion? In my opinion, nothing about her comments was hateful. She just stated her opinion that she favors Palestine in the conflict. Again, I do not agree with Thomas, but I find it odd that she no longer has a career because of making opinionated comments, something countless other journalists, writers, and political commentators do every day.