Mixed Salad of Thoughts

Sunday, September 03, 2017

I was recently in an online healthy, plant-based eating group were someone posted an article that purported that Amish people (who don't get vaccinated) have less autism, cancer, and other diseases. While on it's surface it seemed to support eating habits similar to those of the group, the article was fraught with lack of clear evidence/sources, tautologies, and false cause fallacies. 

In fact I commented as follows before the thread was shut down:
The only source cited (without links or references) is the dubious " journal Cancer Causes and Control " then reference to some Ohio State study that (if it even exists)I GUARANTEE might have at most made conjecture about causal relationships, but NEVER would have said "Here's Why..." as the click bait article does.
Reading threads like this help me realize why I teach, and why our curriculum focuses on teaching kids to read with purpose and read critically. In in 2nd grade we teach the students to look at an article like this and determine the purpose-- is it to 1.Entertain, 2.Inform, or 3.Persuade? Obviously this article wants to present itself as an Informational text, but when we look closely we can determine that the author definitely has an opinion that is clear, and that they want us to share: We should live in several ways like the Amish: NOT getting vaccines, and eating more whole, unmanipulated foods. That's fine, we don't dismiss a Persuasive text, we evaluate it CRITICALLY to determine if it is a strong, logical argument and if there is enough evidence to support it.

In third grade we begin having students cite their work, they must include (at the very least) the title of the piece and the page or paragraph number for the source as well as using quotation marks around the author's words. This is a critical step in determining if information belongs to an outside source or the author of the article. (Something notably missing from the Amish/Anti-Vaccination piece) 

In fourth grade we begin having students use two pieces of text to build background knowledge, compare, and determine if the accounts match. A student might read an informational article on wolves then a narrative story and be asked, "Is this a realistic portrayal of a wolf?" This pushes them to begin questioning the text in front of them. Begin to determine whether or not it can be trusted. 

In Middle School we begin  teaching logical fallacies. Did the author make a blanket statement about a group or concept that cannot hold true for all? That's called a generalization. There is not enough data to support the statement and one need only find an outlier to prove it false. (My favorite of these was Trump's statement "No one knew health care was this complicated" ...pretty sure a few people would say they knew.) Generalizations also happen when someone uses a stereotype or small sample group to generalize about the entire group. They happen more frequently when the group is the less powerful, less predominate group. So while we see white-supremacists chanting how they hate minorities we do not assign those virtues on all whiles, but when an individual or small handful of a minority group do something it is more likely to be generalized about their entire group. We teach students to recognize these generalizations that are so insidious that they are often held as fact or believed to be statistically supported despite a lack of data.

 Closely related is a fallacy called "Begging the Question" in which something is stated as fact or a premise for an argument that has not actually been proven: Blacks are better atheletes, Urban schools are inferior, or Grandparent are wise. These "facts" are not at all facts and if an author bases an argument on them, the entire argument is based on a weak foundation that has not been proven.

We go further with our students in the last years of Middle school in demanding they look at two articles on the same topic and present why one is stronger or weaker than the other. We start with them dissecting the article based on it's use of qualified sources and clear citations. Does one have better sources than the other? Are all the sources listed in a way that we can go and read them for ourselves? Does the author make it clear when they are quoting work and when they are speaking for themselves?
Then we ask students to look for generalizations and false causation logic. Does the author use generalizations (and are those generalizations necessary to prove the argument) or do they connect two things to say one caused the other without clear evidence beyond that one happened first?

Then we ask them to really read closely, line by line, and ask: Are there ANY claims that are stated as fact that are actually opinion, and if so, do they back up those opinions with expert opinions or logical evidence? If they do not have an outside expert, do they establish, by way of their own experience, credentials, or personal research, that their claims are valid?

Finally, does the author address counter-arguments? When they do so do they adequately disprove them without resorting to personal attacks, dismissals, or other logical fallacies (strawman, bandwagon, appeal to emotion, etc.)

All of the above take place in the English classroom instruction, supported by progressive instruction in Science and Social studies that show students HOW a study should be conducted and what evidence is needed to support a conclusion. In these classes they learn how others have done research as well as the successes and failings of humanity over-time. They learn how history has proven the dangers of falling prey to "Bandwagon", "Divide and Conquer," "Slippery Slope," and "No True Scotsman" speakers who have moved crowds, turned votes, and committed atrocities.  They learn the concepts of marginalization, and dehumanization. They learn the best and the worst of what humanity has been. 

In classes throughout these grades they learn to discuss and debate with their texts and with each other. They learn to respectfully disagree and then state why, supported by evidence, or pointing out the error in thinking. They learn to rationally discuss concepts and ideas in ways that lead, not to being "right", but to the even better feeling of having new clarity and insight into an idea and developing their own ideas into well-formed arguments.

And hopefully, if we have done our job well, they go on to continue this critical thinking in High School and College and for the rest of their lives, as they become voters and parents and leaders in our community. Hopefully they learn how to recognize and tear down false claims and how to speak up against those that would spread them. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Support & Compliments

I had a revelation recently. I was feeling really bad after my therapist asked who supported me and I couldn't think of anyone I really turn to. She said that if we constantly push away support people will stop offering it. I didn't think much of it because I didn't feel like people really offer me support very often for me to even be ABLE to turn it down. Then, about a week later I was discussing something with a friend and she was saying that people always compliment her but never challenge her or give her areas of growth/critiques and that it feels really insincere when all they have to say are good things. I realized that when people give you a compliment, whether it is sincere or not they are, in essence trying to support you; trying to make you feel good or better, or recognize your strengths. Not only that, but if you can't take that compliment, why would they think you could take a critique? And if you continue to brush off those compliments, why would they continue to try offering that support? 

I'm complimenting people a lot more these days and recognizing that as long as my intent is to support their strength, individuality, or happiness there is nothing fake or insincere about it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015



The past few years I have become more versed in conversations on identity. I have known three people who have gone through three very different journeys that hinged on gender identity and transgender issues. I have witnessed and celebrated the new milestones in tolerance, acceptance, and compassion the country has gained in regards to gay rights. I have seen movies, comics, books, and television embrace open discussion and exploration of a wider variety of characters that including everything from a 16 year old female, Muslim, Pakistani superhero to a transgender prison inmate. 

Two women passed the rigorous US Army Ranger training,  a bi-racial man became our president, gay marriage was legalized. The world has been opening its eyes to greater possibilities.

Racism took center stage as people struggled to have their voices heard as they spoke out about the burdens and inequities they face daily.

Through it all I continued to primarily identify as the same things I have for most of my adult life.

  • (Cis-*)Woman.
  • White.
  • Heterosexual.
  • Artist/Knitter/Writer
  • Dancer.
  • Friend.
  • Daughter/Sister/Cousin/... then Aunt.
  • Environmentalist
  • ...
Yet I've found a few things have changed... (*the added "cis" being one of them)

When I went to graduate school to become a teacher, and even after my first year teaching, I still struggled to see myself and my identity as being a teacher. Now I don't struggle, but I don't see teacher as a stand alone identity. Just as my role in my family has multiple facets/titles, I feel my role as an educator has multiple facets:
  • Teacher/Social Justice Advocate/Loving guide to children/Concerned Voter & Citizen
I cannot separate being a teacher from the love and concern I have for the 75+ students I have called my own. I cannot separate my concern for them and the struggles they currently face and will face in the future for my concerns for our country. I cannot separate the importance of my personal job from the importance of education as a whole for repairing damages and creating futures for our country and EVERY child in it. This responsibility is huge and if I don't work hard to limit myself can sometimes be overwhelming.

Being a teacher and the stress and anxiety related to it might have also contributed to my next identity:
  • Depression sufferer
After an extremely difficult first year of teaching, and a principal who would publicly and privately shame teachers, I went into a bad cycle of anger and shame and shut out the world for a while. It took a long time for me to get back on my feet and even longer to fully come to terms with the damage done and the foundations of that damage in my system of values and beliefs. 

After making it through a school year on anti-depressants, I started therapy. In therapy I recognized in myself many things that I was unaware of or did not want to admit to. I embraced therapy and became determined to be open and honest with myself and others. I have talked openly with others about my depression, about my difficulties, and about my therapy. I have embraced vulnerability and honesty. In doing so I also recognized that one of the labels I would have assigned myself in the past does not currently hold true. It has perhaps been one of the more difficult pieces to be honest about because in some ways I wish it were true and it would be easier if it were true.

So here is my honesty. My vulnerability.

While I was raised within the Baha'i Faith, and have spent much of my life identifying as a Baha'i, acting as a Baha'i, attending Baha'i events, and making Baha'i friends, I do not currently feel as if I am a Baha'i. While I continue to search my heart and my mind to grow as a person, I do not think this belief is something I can hold or seek to hold on to right now.  I know that this switch may cause disappointment and pain to some of my friends and family. I know that it may mean losing some friends. It is not without great thought that I have come to this conclusion, but it is with honesty that I feel I must address it and let those who know me best become aware. This in no way changes the deep love I have for my Baha'i friends and family or for many of the teachings of the Baha'i Faith. I will continue to be an advocate for peace, for empathy, for compassion, for equality and for the elimination of all kinds of prejudice, but I will do so as an individual, representing only myself and my own views.

So it's said. Now I need to find the courage to publish it and share it. May I have the strength to deal with whatever may come (and the money to cover the therapy sessions for anything beyond that.)

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Sunday, August 16, 2015

"I don't understand..."

Lately I see a lot of comments that begin with phrases like: "I don't understand why people would say..." and then go on to criticize, villainize, or dehumanize a person, a group, a concept, or an idea. I find this frustrating. Maybe it's the teacher in me. Maybe the world-traveler. Maybe the empathizer.
You will NEVER understand anything you don't actually try to understand. (pause, let it sink in, reread if necessary)
You will NEVER understand anything you don't actually try to understand.
Let's say, for a hypothetical you don't understand why anyone would advocate for laws that allow people to terminate pregnancies. I'm sure you also don't understand why when abortion was illegal there were women who were willing to either commit suicide or risk their own lives when they put themselves in the hands of virtual butchers to try to terminate unwanted pregnancies. When you can truly understand the desperation of that woman, when you can empathize with her on a human level, regardless of your feelings about abortion, you will UNDERSTAND why she feels the way she does and why people who know her and care about her or someone like her don't want her in that situation. You will understand as a human.
We'll make it even and say that you don't UNDERSTAND why someone would advocate laws that prohibit women from terminating pregnancies. You may also never have known the grief of losing a child you had loved to miscarriage, or of loving a child that might have never been born. You may not know how it's possible to attach the degree of love and attachment to a "bundle of cells" that a family that has gone through miscarriage of a wanted child has suffered. You may not know the spiritual grief an empathetic person feels every time they think of those lost children. When you empathize with this person and recognize their emotions you will UNDERSTAND why they feel the way they do. You will understand as a human.
There are no monsters here. No evil creatures with unknowable designs.
You can't understand the decisions of those you disregard and refuse to empathize with. If you cannot understand a person's decisions it does not make them illogical or a monster, it makes you ignorant of what they are thinking.

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Sunday, August 09, 2015

Listening as part of healing is more than hearing the words someone says...

I've been thinking about my students, thinking about myself, thinking about family, thinking about my coworkers, thinking about America, and thinking about the Black Lives Matter movement and I'm drawn back over and over to the idea that we can only hear the words, viewpoints, experiences of others through the filter of our own beliefs and experiences.
Students can not separate the relationship they have with their teacher from what is being taught. Coworkers cannot help but filter their relationship to their job and their boss to their conversations with coworkers. Family cannot separate their lifetime of experiences together from the conversations they have with each other. And we, as Americans, cannot separate our history, both as a nation, and our own personal histories, from our individual perceptions of the realities and conversations on race.
How then can we even hope to dialogue successfully without first taking the time to listen, recognize, empathize, and accept as valid the experiences and lives of the speaker and address their needs- be it for acceptance, for agency, for voice, for empathy, or just someone to sit and listen without judgement or doubt?

Tuesday, August 04, 2015


Dear People who want to shop at IKEA alone (for need or sanity), You can do it! So long as you don't buy anything you can't lift on your own or put in/on your car solo you're fine. First- Park near the end of the store with Returns. Then SHOP! Load all of your belongings on whatever carts or trolleys you can push. Then pay for your items. Next take your items towards the exit where people doing returns enter. Flag down someone who works there (really anyone will do.) Tell them you need someone to watch your purchases while you fetch your car. Finally fetch your car, go retrieve your purchases from wherever they put them and load up! Congratulations, you shopped IKEA without having to bring the circus, consult with others, or talk someone out of buying another Billy bookcase or CD organizer. Go you!

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The burden of justification and questions that hurt

I've seen quite a few images on FB that speak to a common difficulty: 

It got me thinking about how we treat groups and people outside the dominant culture and the undue burdens placed upon them. In response to my cousin's posting of a similar image and the subsequent conversation I wrote the following:

I think the problem is that people feel it is okay to offer their opinions and question the choices made by vegetarians and vegans when they wouldn't otherwise. It would be exceedingly rare for a stranger or even a friends to confront a meat-eater with nutritional validation questions and yet saying you're vegetarian or vegan makes many people think it's okay. 

It's the same kind of undue burden of self-justification that is put on so many groups that deviate from the perceived norm. While it is natural to be curious about something different, it is inappropriate to ask questions for which the answerer must carry the burden of justifying their actions. So it's okay to say, "Do you find it difficult to eat healthy as a vegan?" or "What made you decide to be a vegan?" but asking questions in which it is made clear the person needs to defend their choices is just rude.

It's the same kind of undue burden of self-justification that is put on so many groups that deviate from the perceived norm. While it is natural to be curious about something different, it is inappropriate to ask questions for which the answerer must carry the burden of justifying their actions. So it's okay to say, "Do you find it difficult to eat healthy as a vegan?" or "What made you decide to be a vegan?" but asking questions in which it is made clear the person needs to defend their choices is just rude.
But I know that the average person asking these questions doesn't intend offense. They are just coming from a place of ignorance, curiosity, and assumptions based on what they know from their own culture. I wanted to write a bit more about the kind of questions in this category, how they hurt, and what people SHOULD be saying instead. (Note: it is difficult to come up with alternatives as many are topics that are simply intrusive and judgemental by nature and should probably not be broached except with those you know well.)

So here are some examples, the biases they come from and alternative questions:

Question: "Why don't you straighten your hair/wear something pretty/dress up a bit?"
Assumptions: Believing this person should conform to a beauty norm set by society
Why is it offensive?: Let's be honest, this is really a rhetorical question that could easily swap out "Why don't you.." for "You should..." pointing at the fault or "potential improvement" the questioner sees. No one should have to change their natural look or personal preferences to conform to an arbitrary standard of beauty. Expecting black women to straighten their hair is in essence asking them to look more white. Telling a woman she should dress up, wear make-up or try to be pretty is in essence telling her that she is not beautiful enough as she is and that  her value and worth is tied to her beauty as set by the standards of our society. Unless the person has come to you seeking your beauty advice it is not your job to judge or evaluate this person based on your own standards.
Alternatives: "What do you think about beauty standards today?"

Question: "Aren't you worried about the risks of dying young/heart disease/ diabetes associated with weight?" 
Assumptions: That a person with a high BMI is necessarily unhealthy and that they choose to be so.
Why is it offensive?  Again this question could be reworded to say "You should be worried..." Which automatically means the questioner feels as if they know more and know the correct response that the listener SHOULD be experiencing. This is both conceited and based on facts that the questioner isn't likely to have. There are very few overweight people that can live oblivious to their weight, the way society sees them, and the health risks surrounding obesity. Additionally there are plenty of overweight people that are in better shape and exercise more than those of average weight. Perhaps they still should concern themselves with health but they don't need to justify those concerns or lack of them to you. Also take into consideration that there are many other health issues that can cause weight gain and your insensitivity may be an even harder hit than just weight prejudice.
Alternatives: "Would you like to...go for a walk/join me for lunch/stop by for dinner/go to the gym with me?"

Care to take one on yourself? How about one of these...

  • "How do you expect to get a job with all of those tattoos/blue hair/ piercings?"
  • "Don't you think your child would be happier if you..."
  • "Do you want your kid to grow up to be _______?"
  • "Don't you think if you were more/less ________ you'd be taken more seriously?"
  • "Don't you want to challenge yourself?"
  • "Don't you want to be able to support your family?"
  • "Don't you think you should be more...for your wife/family's sake?"
  • “Surely, you don’t need those,” she said. “LINK pays for juice for you people.”

On Privilege and Experience Part 1

The world (at least as I perceive it through my facebook wall) seems to be storming with events, articles, debates and even SCOTUS decisions that all center around sexism and racism and poverty. Many of these have spurned comments and conversations that use and focus on the sometimes vague, sometimes contentious, and often difficult to explain noun: "privilege." The term isn't new and it isn't actually that difficult to define: "a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people." But what is new is a huge portion of the population being confronted with the notion that they need to recognize their privilege.

 Recognizing privilege is not a slap in the face, even if it might sometimes feel like it. I admit, sometimes the sting makes me want to cry just as much as I did when I was around 10 and a person told me, "When you said that, it really hurt my feelings and that makes me want to be around you less." I feel guilt and I feel shame and suddenly I try to recall all the things I've ever done or said that might have hurt someone and I jerk back as I feel this, not wanting to believe. I feel it. I feel it emotionally and physically and it doesn't feel good. And then I remember that shame isn't productive and the best I can do is move past it and make amends.

It's normal to not want to do something or think about something that is going to cause you pain. There are entire branches of psychology and people who make fine livings off of suppressed feelings and experience. But common sense tells you that if you are doing something that causes damage and you ignore it you are only going to cause the damage to increase. And while some souls go their entire lives living in privilege and refusing to acknowledge it, I think a life lived in ignorance is kind of a sad thing.

Privilege comes in all forms. From the fact that I can find a Band-Aid that reasonably matches my pasty skin to the fact that if I dress up and enter a fine hotel I'm more likely to be assumed a guest than the wait staff. I can enter stores without feeling the ever watchful eyes of security on me and I can ask for directions from strangers without them shying away and feeling threatened. I can speak in my native tongue with the speech patterns and vocabulary I use at home while on job interviews and in professional environments and no one ever accuses me when using that language of trying to imitate or act as if I am of a different race or culture. I can see images in magazines of people of my race and with similar features that are exemplified as beautiful.

I also have to adjust my language to sound more forceful, direct, and "male" in cover letters, resumes, and conversations to sound more like the professional standard set by a male-dominate culture and less like the submissive "female" tone I was expected and socialized to have during my upbringing in this same culture. I have to be aware of my safety both inside and outside my home, making sure my doors are locked and that I pretend I don't live alone (honestly I just questioned whether I should post that online or if that in itself is a safety risk.) I take less public transit as I worry about coming home at night by myself and try to avoid thinking of all the possible dangers that lay in the 1/2 mile between the train and my house. When I leave my home I have to concern myself with my looks not just to appear clean and well groomed, but to be in-style while walking a line where I can feel confident but not too sexy because that would be slutty, attractive because my clothes fit well but minimizing my weight because it is higher than the current standard of beauty. While I might want to look attractive on a date I also don't want to give the "wrong idea" because that might attract sexual assault, but I don't want to look too casual or schlumpy because I am expected to "compete" with other women in a society that tells men they are visual creatures and judges them on the attractiveness of their dates and women that they are a product designed and valued for its appeal as visual consumption.

So what is a person to do when faced with the face-slapping confrontations that seem to say, "You need to recognize your privilege. Ignorant people are the problem." No one wants the slap, nor are most eager to be told something that seems to say that THEY are the problem.

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Be nice, make friends, assume the best.

I moved a student to a new desk today and he told me he wanted to move back because he didn’t like sitting next to the boy I put him next to (who is new to the school and admittedly a little…unique.) I absolutely refused and told him that he has sat next to many people and that he complained about each one including the girl he currently is asking to be put back with. He didn't believe me and I flat out told him that he WILL get to know his new partner and that he WILL learn to like him. That anyone can learn to like someone when they know them better (something I don’t necessarily believe is possible for adults but is absolutely possible for children.)
I strive everyday to convince 28 young people that they are friends and that each of them is a wonderful person and that they need to show how wonderful they are in their interactions and respect for one another. I also try to teach that when they think anyone is being less than wonderful to them the first thing we should consider is why this wonderful person would do something to hurt us and question whether or not there has been a misunderstanding.
If only adults could do this better:
  • "Hey, we're a totally wonderful and caring country, are we sure we're showing other countries that through our actions?"
  • "We're trying our best to put out public policy, so I'm sure the other political party respects us and didn't mean any offense when they blocked our bill. There's no reason to retaliate."
  • "Hey, that other political party is full of awesome people too who are trying to do what is best for everyone, so I'm sure ...
Yeah, I couldn't even get through three before my cynicism kicked in and I couldn't even finish. People--adult people-- don't believe in others good intent. And I think it's partly because they so rarely have their own good intent and selfless inclinations. When we're all out for ourselves and OUR interests, how can we expect others to do anything less? And if we're only looking out for ourselves can we possibly be demonstrating our