Of Zip-Strips, Xenophobia and College Move-In Day

 

A confession: I am dealing with my anxiety about my ever-loving, blue-eyed firstborn’s departure for college by making frequent visits to the parents’ Facebook page set up for his university class.

All my mixed feelings, all my joy at watching him spread his wings, my anguish over not being able to buffer the world’s harsh shoals for him and my sadness at not having him plop his fanny down on the couch to show me something side-splitting on his phone—I’m channeling all of it into a blizzard of judgyness directed at strangers.

These poor kids—they think they’re striking out on their own!

My favorite is the mother who wants us all to buy zip-strips because she (mistakenly) believes they are the same thing as surge protectors and somehow thus safer than extension cords. She almost got away with making it out to be college policy.

Then there’s the parent whose student got a flat while riding their bike on campus. From halfway across the country, she wanted to know if anyone knew whether the school provides pumps.

There’s the mother who wants assistance shipping her macaroni-based “special salad”—which contains TWO JARS OF MAYO–to her son. And the mother “with food-handling training” who had some thoughts about the gambit. Continue reading

It’s Time to Ban “Pray Away the Gay” Therapy

Our Kids Are #BornPerfect — Let’s Stop Telling Them Otherwise

 

Do you remember Justin Aaberg, the 15-year-old Anoka-Hennepin student who, after enduring ceaseless taunting about his sexual orientation, hung himself? Aaberg’s was the most prominent of a wave of suicides that resulted in the district, Minnesota’s second-largest, coming under a court order to protect its LGBT kids.

Justin was out to his perfectly affirming mother, Tammy, who speaks passionately on why the embrace of a supportive family doesn’t always fend off the hate. Imagine showing up to school to find your classmates decked out in matching “Be Happy, Not Gay” T-shirts. Imagine those classmates can reach past your mother into the cocoon of your bedroom and into your pocket, via the digital conduits for harassment.

Hearing Tammy Aaberg’s story devastated me while I was covering the suicide contagion for MinnPost. But thinking about the Aabergs halts my breath in a whole new way now that I am the gay parent of a 15-year-old who has been bullied. His school is a haven for queer kids and educators, but then there’s the world, you know?

The seventh anniversary of Aaberg’s death just passed. It’s time for Minnesota to join the 11 places–10 states and the District of Colombia—that have outlawed conversion therapy for minors. It’s time for private and public schools to stop insisting that if fragile young people can’t “pray away the gay” they are fundamentally “disordered.” Continue reading

Opt-Out So White Redux: White Minnesota “Progressives” Address School Disparities by Choking Off the Data Identifying Them

The other day my older son told me a revealing story about his final days as a student in Minneapolis Public Schools. One day last spring one of his teachers informed the class that if they wanted to take the state science exams they were welcome to go down to the office and schedule a time.

This was the International Baccalaureate section of a hard science course, a dozen kids who presumably would make Southwest High School and its teachers look shiny and successful. And who were all, at the time, prepping for a solid month of IB testing—something the school brags about in its marketing efforts.

As he talked I looked up the recently released results of the assessments. At his school 43 kids, or a little more than a 10th of the class, took the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments in math. Sixty-one 10th graders took the reading test. Resulting involving fewer than 10 students are not reported publicly for privacy reasons; too few 11th graders to count took the math test.

So like 104 of about 1,400 kids who were supposed to take the test did. And what have we heard about it from the higher-ups? Zip.

This is the third year running district and state leaders have done nothing when confronted with abundant evidence that teachers are putting up roadblocks to the collection of data. I mean, for fewer than 10 kids to take the math test how many people had to turn a blind eye–or collude–all the way up to the highest levels of the education system? Continue reading

Minnesota’s Grand Plan to Collect a River of Data—And Then Bury It

Confidential to the Denizens of Lake Wobegon: You know that whole Garrison Keillor shtick about all the kids being above average actually makes fun of our collective tendency to engage in magical thinking, right?

What’s that? You get that the shtick is a shtick—but your kid really is one of the above average ones? You willing to bank their future on that?

For the second year in a row, the parent resource hub Learning Heroes reports that Americans dramatically overestimate their kids’ academic achievement. Ninety percent of us believe our kids are on track in school, while in fact an apples-to-apples test administered to a cross-section of U.S. students every four years puts the number at one in three.

It astounds me that increasingly the reaction to news such as this—particularly among affluent white parents and at least here in the Twin Cities many of the educators who staff their schools—is to attempt to get rid of the flow of data. Or failing that, to bury the numbers.

I mean, we’re talking about the very same class of people for whom worrying about the kids’ economic and social advantages is a competitive sport. And yet here we are, in perfect Minnesota form, responding to a federal law requiring an overhaul of the way we track schools’ performance by creating a new system that will collect terrific data but minimize its practical uses—to help children in poverty and with disabilities. Continue reading

Know Who Just Stood up for Gay and Transgender Kids? We Did, Minnesota

Of Texas, Toilets and the State Department of Education’s Transgender Toolkit

 

Sunday night I stepped off a flight from Dallas, pointed myself in the approximate direction of Roseville and–buoyed by the fact that MSP was literally 30 degrees cooler than Texas and the metaphorical temperature difference even bigger—directed a beam of pure gratitude in the direction of the Minnesota Department of Education.

I’ll get to Texas presently, but let’s start with the good news.

Over the vociferous protests of the usual suspects, MDE last week issued a “toolkit” for schools and educators to use in supporting transgender and gender non-conforming students. Eleven pages of advice on everything from pronouns to prom, the document is a tremendous and hopeful thing.

There’s some genius stuff in there. So simple it throws into hard relief the notion that the transgender bathroom wars have absolutely nothing to do with ensuring everyone has a pot to pee in.

Adoption of the guidelines is voluntary—and it’ll take you a nanosecond to predict the state’s largest district will be the last to go there. Still, I’m immensely grateful to live in a state where human rights are advancing. Continue reading

Little Hearing on the Prairie

In Which Minnesota’s Dysfunctional Board of Teaching Retreats—Literally—to a Barn

 

Quick: Can you, without asking Siri, locate Avoca, Minnesota, on a map? You can?

What are you doing on Wednesday, when the state’s troubled Board of Teaching, reputation for being disinterested in public input notwithstanding, plans to meet in a barn in far southwest Minnesota?

You’ll have to get up early if you want to make the 8:30 a.m. “breakfast with stakeholders/legislators.” Avoca is three hours from the Twin Cities and a healthy 20 miles from the nearest motels, which appear to be in Worthington.

I’m sure it’s bucolic. Google Earth hasn’t gotten to Avoca yet, but I imagine it as sort of Martha-Stewart-meets-the-Pizza-Farm-craze-meets-Reanimator. Because the business on the agenda includes beginning to draft the rules that will govern the newly created Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board.

Yeah, I missed that wrinkle, too: The dysfunctional board that’s going away at the end of the year gets first crack at shaping its successor. Continue reading

If You Can’t Beat ‘em, Co-opt ‘em

With the dust settling, turns out this year’s legislative session might have been a good one for kids

 

You might be forgiven for tuning out as this year’s state Legislature ground its way toward adjournment, adjourned, went back into session, adjourned, went back into session and finally, mercifully, adjourned for good.

I know I did. From reading the headlines it seemed like Minnesota SOP: Incremental gains in both policy and finance that let the electeds from both parties to go back to their districts claiming to have delivered for kids–if nothing transformative.

And so I have been reading and rereading a newly released wrap-up of the session’s finer points put together by EdAllies, a policy advocacy group, with a mixed mind. Because despite the relatively narrow cast of this year’s headlines, it looks like a lot of solid policy got hammered out.

And the DFL governor, who has not been an advocate of many of the policy changes he nonetheless signed into law, got a lot more money for education out of the GOP than looked likely at the start of the year. Which is huge, given that the state has fallen far behind education funding levels of the early 2000s.

So what’s mixed about my mind? More money for kids and good policy should be a slam-dunk, right? And it could be, but if you look at the arenas in which long-sought progress was won you’ll note that many of them are areas where legislatures past have voted in changes only to watch them founder in the quicksand of bureaucratic resistance.

I say we set cynicism aside for a while and see whether the third time’s the charm. Continue reading

Waiting for the Rainbow

The Year Since Orlando Has Brought One Hit After Another—and a Renewed Commitment to Meeting Fear with Celebration

 

A year ago today we woke up to the news that a domestic terrorist had trapped hundreds of people inside a Florida gay club. He gunned some down indiscriminately before stalking others like prey. By the time I saw the headlines, 49 people—virtually all Latinx—had been confirmed dead.

I literally couldn’t get out of bed. A few hours later Barack Obama spoke, decrying the symbolism of a slaughter during Pride: “The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub,” he said. “It is a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights.”

The mixture of emotions–horror at the scale of the violence and astonishment that, in my lifetime, the president would define a gay bar as a sacred community space—was enough to get me upright at the keyboard. Continue reading

Inconvenient Truths

We Can Greet North High’s Rising Grad Rates with Polar Pride–and Still Ask What Those Diplomas Mean

 

Today in the Continuing Adventures of Minneapolis’ Biggest Buzzkill, we engage in the sad but necessary task of a little graduation-season reality check.

This morning’s Star Tribune carries a heartwarming story about the amazing turnaround at Minneapolis Public Schools’ North High, from which some 50 seniors graduate today. The piece sketches the school’s “comeback” from five years ago, complete with a graph showing the graduation rate’s rise from 44 percent to 82 percent.

Congratulations to those Polars. May their diplomas serve as a formal invitation to bright futures. The world needs bright young people like them more than ever. Let’s agree, as a community, to support them in whatever endeavors come next.

The mellow I feel obliged to harsh? The narrative that has sprung up around the rebirth of the high school—at least as depicted by this city’s newspaper of record—skirts some major potholes. In fact, I’ve been thinking of it all morning as Exhibit A in why, in 2017, regional newspapers need to do like the national ones and realize that public education is not an entry-level, tooth-cutting beat but a hard-edged policy arena in need of watchdogging.

Of the 63 members of the 2017 class who took a state reading exam in 10th grade, seven—or 11 percent—passed. Of the 54 juniors who took the math test the next year, four—or 7.4 percent—passed.

Let’s countersink that nail: Two of 42 North 10th-graders—next year’s presumed grads–last year passed the reading test.

The story takes no note of this. Continue reading

The Big Gay Way to End the School Year

Happy Pride, y’all!

June 1 marks the start of a month-long celebration of LGBT history and culture and of our extraordinary leaps forward in terms of equality in recent years. If what you know of Pride is the rainbow- and glitter-bomb-saturated parades that are the grand finale–great. I hope to see you there; I’ll be the one on the sparklepony wishing she’d brought sunscreen.

In the meantime, let me leave you with this: Pride is an incredibly important month for educators and students. Schools can play a vital role in supporting LGBT youth and in affirming their identity—especially if their understanding of it is still in formation.

In no particular order, then, I offer several opportunities for educators to observe and celebrate:

Feels like home

Know where young people who suspect their families might not embrace their sexual orientation or gender identity can explore in a supportive cocoon? Where there’s hopefully a library full of books where they can see themselves and answer their unvoiced questions—maybe even staffed by a librarian who can create the space for them to browse unobserved? Continue reading