Category Archives: social policy

Teachers Under Fire

I was going to say that the title of this post was metaphorical, but anymore, it may not be.

Putting that aside for now, however, teachers today face any number of other difficulties they don’t deserve, some of which have existed for decades and others that have come to the forefront in recent times.

My respect for teachers is immense. I wanted to be a teacher when I was a child. My father, though, wanted me to be an engineer. My mother finally got him to stop trying to channel me away from teaching, but by that time he already had. Not that I ever became an engineer, however. (I might have been able to become one, but I think I would have been a very unhappy engineer.)

Still, even though I never became a teacher (unless you include two years of teaching English to first-year college students while going to grad school), I became involved with education throughout much of my life as a writer. I worked for magazines that included Today’s Catholic Teacher, Early Childhood News, Private School Administrator, School Planning and Management, and Technology and Learning. I edited textbooks on religion, English, and social studies. Education was in front of me at every turn.

The obstacles that teachers face these days, though, can’t be alleviated by articles on classroom decoration tips or advice on self-care (important as that is).

Teachers put up with low pay and out-of-pocket expenses for supplies that they shouldn’t have to buy. They put up with crumbling schools that lack basic necessities like heating and air conditioning. They put up with old textbooks or newer ones that are prescribed by committees who have few choices, thanks to the power of states like California, New York, and Texas. They have to teach in school buildings that may have lead in the drinking water or lack ADA-compliant facilities. (Two years ago, a report said that 2/3 of US schools weren’t up to ADA standards.)

Not enough people going into education – and why would they? The pay is low (and staying low) and respect is not a given. The general public does not understand the process of education, or they think that the way it was in their day is the way it should always be. They place too much emphasis on test scores, meaning that teachers must “teach to the test” instead of allowing children to learn in more fruitful, organic ways such as project-based learning.

There is scientific evidence that small class sizes are better for student learning, but finding the money and the number of educators required for that is not forthcoming. In fact, subjects that aren’t considered “academic” enough, such as art, music, and drama, are being sacrificed. Even recess for grade-school children is no longer guaranteed in order to spend more time in the classroom, despite the fact that physical activity is vital to a child’s health and development.

Many of the difficulties facing teachers were recently highlighted when approximately 4,500 teachers, librarians, counselors, school nurses, and other support personnel in Columbus, Ohio, went on strike. It was the first time since 1975 – nearly 50 years – that they had done so. The teachers’ demands included pay raises of 8% (they were granted only 4%, despite a much higher rate of inflation). But many of the issues they brought forward related to infrastructure issues such as the lack of functioning heating and cooling systems in the schools, particularly since the weather has been so hot and continues to be. And the teachers went back to school after a week on strike, despite the fact that only a “conceptual agreement” was reached. It included no promises of spending on infrastructure, though that was the cause that received the most complaints and publicity.

And what were the repercussions of the strike? The district hired 600 substitute teachers to replace the 4,000 or so teachers and fill in for online classes. In addition, the movement to allow public, taxpayer-supported funds to be used for private school tuition was enhanced, which would leave even fewer dollars in the public system to effect changes. An official for the Center for Christian Virtue, which placed billboards around Columbus promoting private schools, castigated the striking teachers: “These schools are hitting kids while they are down. After all kids have been through, being blocked out of their schools for years [a reference to the COVID crisis], and having just failed attempts at remote teaching, the fact that they would strike now is the ultimate blow to kids,” Baer said.

The Twitterverse reacted as well. While many tweets supported the strike, there were also ones that decidedly didn’t. “For the 2nd time in 3 years, Columbus City Schools athletics have been paused for all Fall sports. Both sets of soccer teams looking to have off campus workouts while the teachers are on strike. Pray for all CCS students and athletics during this difficult time” was one opinion. Another said, “Give them 48 hours and fire them. Their PR is mindless, the kids would rather be in school and their extracurricular activities. If the teachers cared about the kids, they’d still be teaching.”

Nor is Columbus the only place where these battles are playing out. New York City is engaged in a court case over proposed slashed budgets advocated by the mayor, who is a proponent of charter schools that sap funds from the public schools.

I could also mention the flack that teachers are now receiving from lawmakers and parents who want to control what teachers teach, what books they have in their libraries, and even what they’re allowed to say. And don’t get me started on the let’s-arm-the-teachers thing. There’s not enough room here for my outrage. Maybe another time.

So, here’s the bottom line. Teachers have continued to work with purpose, care, intelligence, and dedication. They have also continued to be underpaid, overworked, under-respected, and over-criticized. That they have continued to do so is a tribute to their strength and resilience. But how long must we expect them to do so? Sure, our kids deserve better than what they are getting through our broken education system – but our teachers deserve better too. When teachers get what they need to do their jobs as well as they are able, it’s a win-win. I don’t know why that should be controversial.

As John Steinbeck said, “I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.”

Teachers are indeed the artists and architects of the future. We owe them a little more slack and a lot more support.

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A Wise and Good Man

Not long ago, I saw on Facebook a picture of Captain Kangaroo in his costume, with a silly expression on his face. The caption was something on the order of “Who in his right mind would put this man in charge of a bunch of children?”

Well, I would, for one. It’s easy to take a photograph of anyone that presents an unflattering portrait, and if that person’s job is to be a children’s entertainer and to have ping-pong balls dropped on his head, he’s even more likely to look goofy.

The reality is quite different. Captain Kangaroo may have acted goofy, but in real life, he was far from it.

I had heard that Bob Keeshan (the Captain’s not-so-secret identity) was an advocate for children, but I never realized how passionately and compassionately until I had the chance to interview him, many years ago, when I was the editor of Early Childhood News magazine. (The accompanying photo is a souvenir of that occasion, resurrected from a single frame of film that somehow survived both the tornado and all our moves. My husband found it and I found a way to digitize it. If Mr. Keeshan looks tired in the photo, it’s because he had just finished giving one of his impassioned speeches. But I digress.)

Keeshan was a friend of fellow children’s entertainer Fred Rogers (of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood), and they occasionally guested on each other’s shows, spreading their message of gentleness, care, and fun with widening audiences. After Captain Kangaroo was pushed into an unfavorable time slot, the show was picked up by PBS and ran for a number of years there.

Keeshan began his crusade of child activism while he was still The Captain to innumerable boys and girls, including me (I was particularly fond of the puppet character Bunny Rabbit because it wore glasses like I did). But Keeshan learned that there was a horror movie involving an evil Santa Claus, and that commercials for it were being shown during children’s shows, including his own. He objected and made his voice heard.

After he retired, Keeshan became a tireless child advocate and speaker. He stood strongly against violent video games, which he noted taught children nothing about the real world, and particularly against children’s shows based on those same video games or on violent toys, like “Power Rangers” and “The Transformers.”

But Keeshan’s crusade for children’s rights didn’t stop at the other side of the TV screen. At the speech I attended, he said that many run-away kids should really be called “throw-away” kids for how families and society failed them. Unfortunately, neither my clips nor my notes of my article have survived, so I can’t tell you exactly what he said, just that he said it with fervor and sincerity. And sometimes quite a bit of anger.

In lieu of the article, I offer some Bob Keeshan quotes taken from other sources over the years.

Back in the old days, when I was a child, we sat around the family table at dinner time and exchanged our daily experiences. It wasn’t very organized, but everyone was recognized and all the news that had to be told was told by each family member. We listened to each other and the interest was not put on; it was real.

Generosity has built America. When we fail to invest in children, we have to pay the cost.

Children don’t drop out of high school when they are 16, they do so in the first grade and wait 10 years to make it official.

I enjoy meeting not only contemporary children, but yesterday’s children as well. It’s nice to talk about the experiences we shared, they tell me, “You were a good friend.” That’s the warmest part.

Now, how goofy does that sound to you?

Living in a Post-Pandemic World

No, settle down. We’re not there yet.

You’d think with all the CDC mask roll-backs and the number of vaccinations you see on TV, that the whole national nightmare is over.

Well, it’s not.

We have not reached “herd immunity.” Herd immunity occurs when so many people in a population have been vaccinated that the virus has no place to go. Various estimates state that between 70% and 90% of the US population must have been vaccinated in order for that to happen. The US population is 382 million (give or take). Only 36% of the population has been fully vaccinated, and not quite half have received the first dose. I’ve done the math: that means to reach herd immunity, approximately 2/3 of the people in the US still need to be fully vaccinated. That’s over 250 million. We’re nowhere need herd immunity.

Sorry about all the math, but it’s important. Just because the CDC or your state government or whoever lifts mask and social distancing and sanitizing restrictions doesn’t mean that that’s a good, sensible thing to do. Why do you think states are offering incentives varying from a free beer up to $1,000,000 for folks to get vaccinated? It’s not because they’re comfortable with the numbers who already have.

The United States embodies a philosophy of rugged individualism (also one of not having paid attention in math and health class). But it also has a philosophy of helping one’s neighbor. Right now the rugged individualists are ahead. Those who refuse to wear masks put themselves in danger of contracting COVID. But, perhaps more importantly, they put at risk those who cannot take the vaccine for health reasons, especially the elderly and immunocompromised. And we’re talking here about real health reasons, not the phony-baloney fake “I’m exempt” cards that you can print up yourself or order off the internet.

(My husband, who works at a store greeter, meets many of these people every day. He says he’s always tempted to ask them what that medical condition is – rhinotillexomania? The store won’t let him. But I digress.)

It’s sad to think that so few Americans are willing to be in the “helping their neighbors” camp. Some are certainly stepping up. TV ads promote helping neighbors get to a vaccination site. Uber is offering free rides, and people are encourage to donate to Uber to help defray the cost. I have heard of buses that give free rides to those who are on their way to get vaccinated.

My husband and I are fortunate. We were able to get our vaccines at a Walmart within five miles of our house, with at most a 45-minute wait for the first shot. And Dan’s employer gave a $100 bonus to anyone who showed a valid vaccination card.

As to side effects, another reason that people cite as being a reason they don’t get the shot, I can report that in my case I had chills and fatigue the next day, but since I get chills and fatigue on a fairly regular basis, it wasn’t really a big deal.

And to the people who think their civil rights are being violated by COVID restrictions: You meekly go along with signs in every place of business that say, “No shirt, no shoes, no service.” Why is “no mask” so much more oppressive? What’s the big deal about having proof of vaccination? Your kids have to prove they’ve had measles, mumps, diphtheria, and other vaccinations before they can be enrolled in school.

The post-pandemic world will be a great one. It’s inconvenient to wear a mask and socially distance (one would hope that hand-washing would not seem very onerous). It’s unpleasant at best not to be able to hold weddings and funerals and graduations without some precautions. And there are people who are genuinely afraid of needles, to whom I would like to say, “Suck it up, Buttercup.” But really, it’s hard for me to believe that 2/3 of Americans are so needle-phobic that they can’t get a vaccination.

And this is not even considering the rest of the world. Travel companies are starting to advertise vacations abroad (with cancellation and rebooking policies). But the real problem is that this is such a global society that even Zoom conferences can’t take the place of face-to-face ones forever (though they do perhaps point out how little business travel really needs to be done and how many people are quite capable of working from home).

But there are outbreaks in Brazil, India, and other countries. We may talk about not letting people from other countries into the United State, but there are still countries that won’t let US citizens into theirs without COVID testing or proof of vaccine.

For the moment, let’s not even talk about how the coronavirus may be (or is) mutating and what that might do to our social structures.

But just know that sometimes “rugged individualist” is a synonym for “asshole,” at least when it comes to matters of life and death.

What I Do – And Don’t – Know About the Vaccine

This week I got my first shot of the Moderna vaccine, which was the kind they had at Walmart, where I was able to get an appointment for me and my husband. I don’t really know the difference between that and the Pfizer one, but I do know the Johnson & Johnson one (also called Janssen, for some reason) requires only one shot to be effective and requires less refrigeration than the others.

Getting the shot itself was okay. My arm didn’t hurt at all until the next day and was then just a minor nuisance.

Actually, my legs hurt more than my arm did, because there was a lot of walking, waiting, and standing involved. The trip went like this: From the parking lot into the store. From the front door to the pharmacy department. Standing in line there, while they tried to find my insurance on their computer. Then to the lawn and garden department at the other end of the store, where the shots were being given, for some reason (one of the things I don’t know about the vaccine). And I had to stand in line there too, while my husband was scoping out planters.

But that’s just me bitching.

The truth is, while I didn’t enjoy every minute of the process, I was overjoyed that I got the vaccination. It’s not that I enjoy injections (or “jabs,” as the rest of the world calls them). I’m not needle-phobic.

One thing I don’t know about the vaccine is why it was so hard to find a location that would give it to us. It would have made sense to get vaccinated at the pharmacy in the store where my husband works, but no. I was put on one of the infinity waiting lists and Dan couldn’t even get on that because he doesn’t have a smartphone so he couldn’t get a text about it. (Dan is the last person in America to have a stupidphone, one of the old flip variety. I think he just likes to pretend he’s a cast member on the original Star Trek.)

I tried a couple of other local pharmacies. I tried registering online, but no appointments were forthcoming. And there were no stadium drive-through vaccinations (that I heard of). At last, I tried Walmart. I’m not fond of Walmart, for any number of reasons. But this time they booked appointments for us within a reasonable time.

Now, as to the supposed dangers of the vaccine. Here’s what I do know.

You cannot get autism from the vaccine, as one of Dan’s coworkers fears. That was definitively debunked years ago (the doctor who started it all lost his license) and was only considered a potential hazard for children when the rumor was first going around (the bogus rumor, I add).

You will not be chipped by Bill Gates. First of all, the tiny needles they use for the vaccination are too small to contain even a microchip like the ones my cats have. And Gates surely has no interest in where I go (which isn’t of interest to much of anyone at all, not even me). Nor do I think he cares what I spend, as long as some of it is on Microsoft Windows, which I need to do my work. Besides, your cell phone is perfectly adequate to track your movements, if anyone is interested.

You will not get the Mark of the Beast along with the vaccine. None of the vaccines I’ve gotten – smallpox, flu, etc. – have had the least effect on my soul. I don’t see why this one should be any different.

Taking the vaccine is not the first step in a long, convoluted trail to government control and a cashless society that keeps track of where we go and rules our bank accounts (see Bill Gates, above).

Getting the vaccine has not changed my DNA (or even my RNA). I would not pass along tainted genes to any hypothetical children, and I will not turn into a half-human-half-animal person. DNA doesn’t work that way, and neither do vaccines.

I do believe I might get flu-like symptoms when I get my second dose, but I’ve handled the flu before. It’s a drag, but not as big a drag as COVID.

All in all, I’m glad I got vaccinated. All I really have to say about it is “Go ye and do likewise.”

 

Big Pharma and COVID-19

Big Pharma has a bad rep. And there are certainly valid reasons for that. Recent accounts of price gouging, particularly on common, life-saving drugs like insulin, have had consumers fuming. The cost of newer drugs is sky-high. And there have been an awful lot of drugs that were apparently sent to market too early, leading to a lot of dire side effects and drug recalls. Add to that the dubious practice of advertising prescription medications direct-to-consumer, and Big Pharma has abused the trust of the American people. The drugs they develop and sell may be – indeed, often are – beneficial and even life-saving, but that doesn’t seem to dissipate much of the cloud of bad feeling surrounding American pharmaceutical manufacturing.

Unfortunately, Big Pharma is likely going to be needed to help get us through the coronavirus crisis.

Sure, there are government agencies involved in the process of developing treatments and vaccines as well – the CDC, FDA, and NIH, to name a few. But even these institutes and organizations have been tainted by the dubious reputation of large drug companies. They are seen as in cahoots together, developing and testing drugs together, rushing them onto shelves and into doctors’ offices and hospitals, patenting the results, and pocketing the proceeds. Never mind whether that’s an accurate portrayal or not. That’s the public sentiment.

But where, exactly, do people believe that COVID-19 treatments and vaccines are going to come from, if not from Big Pharma and the various institutes? This is a novel virus, not likely to be much affected by drugs that already exist, though those should certainly be tried. Cures for other diseases have already been tested on COVID-19 and found wanting. Crackpot theories such as drinking bleach have made the rounds, with the potential to do great harm rather than help. Developing pharmaceuticals requires a huge investment of time and especially money. Big Pharma has to be big to work even as well as it does. So, yes, we should be looking to Big Pharma, if not directly for discovering a vaccine, at the very least for manufacturing and distributing it. Basically, there aren’t any mom-and-pop vaccine shops, biotech start-ups and upstarts notwithstanding. 

The question then becomes, if and when Big Pharma does develop drugs and vaccines for COVID-19 (far from guaranteed – we still don’t have a vaccine for HIV/AIDS), will people be willing to use them?

Scientific literacy is pretty low in the US right now. People don’t understand how vaccines work. Of course, that isn’t entirely the fault of the US education system. For decades now, there has been a growing party of anti-vaxxers that don’t just not understand the science, but refuse to even consider it. And facts don’t matter to those whose minds are made up. Still, after all these years and the complete discrediting of the guy who faked the study, people believe that vital childhood vaccinations cause autism.

Then there are the conspiracy theorists. I don’t know how many people there are who actually believe that Bill Gates is a Bond-style supervillain living on a volcano island, petting a long-haired white cat, but there certainly is a vocal subset of people who proclaim that, even should a vaccine for COVID-19 be produced, they will not use it, for fear of being microchipped, or submitting to the New World Order, or the Number of the Beast, or something. There may not be many people that far out on the limb, but their fervent influence has the potential to disrupt the herd immunity that ought to develop after the proper use of a new, effective vaccine.

So, the question becomes, if and when a treatment or vaccine becomes available, will people be smart enough to avail themselves of it? Or will the lack of trust in Big Pharma, the medical establishment, and medical science itself mean that sufferers will deny themselves treatment and go right on spreading the deadly disease?

I suppose it in part depends on how horrendous the death toll has been by the time that a vaccine exists, and how many family members, friends, and loved ones of doubters have died. 

 

 

 

Sick of the Virus

I am sick of all the coronavirus blog posts and memes. But there are a few that I’m particularly sick of, especially the defiant ones and the conspiracy theories. Here’s what I think, for what it’s worth.

No, COVID-19 was not engineered by the Chinese or anyone else. There are plenty of viruses running around out in the wild and jumping species without anyone having to create them in a lab. Just because this one might affect you doesn’t mean it’s special.

No, wearing a mask does not violate your civil liberties. Miners and construction workers have to wear hardhats. Painters have to wear masks or respirators. Surgeons have to wear gowns, gloves, and masks. There are laws about these things designed to protect the people involved. If they can suck it up and wear protective equipment without protesting, so can you.

No, your need for a haircut does not trump my need for staying off a respirator.

Yes, social distancing is inconvenient, but it still beats having your lungs filled with fluid.

Yes, the employees in businesses that are still open probably hate wearing masks too and sanitizing their hands multiple times a day. But they don’t want to take your viruses back home to the people they care about.

No, it’s not necessary to carry guns to rallies protesting COVID-19 restrictions. Shooting legislators and health authorities will not make a bit of difference to the virus. Show some dignity, people. 

Yes, states have the right to respond to the virus in any way they choose, but they ought to consider that the virus does not care about state lines or crossing them. An informed national policy would make the crisis less of a crisis, though.

No, people in the 70s did not like gas rationing, any more than people during World War II liked rationing of gas, sugar, flour, shoes, and many other commodities. But they put up with it for the sake of a greater goal. In this case, the greater goal that restrictions are required for is preserving the lives of innocent people.

No, you don’t need that much toilet paper. The virus attacks the respiratory system, not the GI tract. Leave some for others, for goodness sake. Let’s not be ridiculous here.

No, Bill Gates, Hillary Clinton, and George Soros had nothing to do with the origin or spread of the virus and are not using it as an excuse to microchip everyone. (Microchipping your pets is still a good idea.)

Yes, staying at home and sheltering in place can be boring. And trying to work from home or home-schooling your kids can be frustrating. But there are people who do these things by choice, every day of the year, and if they can put up with it, so can you. Boredom and inconvenience are not sufficient reasons to risk death for yourself or others.

No, politics has no effect on the virus. It hits red states and blue states equally, all things being equal. Some states are just more on the ball than others when it comes to limiting the spread of the virus. Look at Ohio – a red state with a governor who listens to a doctor and takes her advice about proper precautions. The virus wasn’t “timed” to interfere with elections either. There’s no way you can make a virus do that.

Yes, you are acting like an idiot if you harass (or shoot) employees who insist you wear a mask. They are carrying out their employers’ instructions or the health regulations of their state, county, city, or other authority. They’re not to blame for it.

No, no one is whipping up fear for fear’s sake. COVID-19 is already fearsome enough without it. This is not a plot to use fear to control us all. 

Yes, I have an axe to grind, “skin in the game,” as it were. I am a senior with an immune condition and an immunosuppressant medication. My husband has diabetes and a job in the high-risk environment of a grocery store. If either one of us gets the virus, we’re likely both toast.

There. I hope I’ve made it clear. These “news” stories, rumors, memes, and speculation have to stop. There are people’s lives at stake here, folks.

When the Pandemic’s Over

Right now there are a lot of blog posts that tell you how to get through this period when we are plagued with COVID-19, the coronavirus. There are helpful patterns for sewing masks. There are recipes to try and games to play to while away the time spent in self-isolation. There are exhortations to take up a new hobby or learn a new language or just take care of yourself – your mental and physical health. There are also entertaining conspiracy theories for the origin of the virus, which seem to involve germ warfare, Hillary Clinton, bats, the Deep State, and the elections. (Personally, “bats” is the word that comes to my mind to describe these theories.) There has even been a virtual science fiction convention online that has been running for weeks instead of just for the usual weekend.

But at some time – no one knows just when – there will be a break in the clouds of invisible invaders and we will all breathe a cautious sigh of relief. What will we all do then? Keep practicing our new hobbies and languages? Try to turn those masks back into bandanas or fetching little hats?

I have some suggestions.

Hug everyone you care about. One of the worst things about social isolation and distancing is that they make you feel … isolated and distant. We may be shy about returning to shaking hands as a social norm (I prefer the Vulcan hand salute). But hugs are life-affirming and life-sustaining.

I’m not recommending that we substitute hugs for other greetings for business or ordinary social purposes. But so many of us have been without hugs and long for a brief squeeze or a warm embrace with a friend, a grandchild, a lover, a niece – whoever has been involuntarily separated from you. It is my great good fortune to be acquainted with some world-class huggers (including my husband) and it is my intent to line them all up and hug every one of them. 

Be prepared for the next time. There will be a next time, make no mistake. COVID-19 may not confer immunity, leading to a second wave. There’s always the regular flu season, which I suspect will now make us all very anxious. And there’s been SARS, the Spanish flu, the bubonic plague, and countless other pandemics that crop up with surprising regularity (and not just at election time, either).

I’m not suggesting that we all fill one closet with toilet paper and another with bottled water, pasta, and hand sanitizer. But it couldn’t hurt to keep on hand at least one extra package of the things that the stores keep running out of. Take advantage of two-for-one sales. It’s like filling up your gas tank when it’s half empty (a thing my father did faithfully).

Eat out and shop locally. Bars, restaurants, and small local businesses are among the industries hit the hardest. Some may never recover. But those that do will need patronage to get back on their proverbial feet. And tip well. Servers in particular have been hard hit. I understand that with contactless pizza delivery now in place, customers are forgetting to leave some money in an envelope taped to the door for the driver. And the “delivery fee,” if there is one, doesn’t go to the driver. It goes to the store. (You didn’t know that?) Tip for food delivery the same as you would for a restaurant meal – 15% or 20%.

Educate yourself. There are good nonfiction books – reputable sources – that offer information on epidemiology, pandemics, zoonoses (illnesses transmitted by animals to humans), and epizootics (epidemics ditto). David Quammen’s Spillover, Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone, and Influenza by Dr. Jeremy Brown are good places to start. 

Maybe if more people understood a little bit about how these diseases develop and spread there would be less fear, scapegoating, and improbable chains of coincidences presented as theories.

Vote. Vote as if your life depends on it. It may.

 

The Equal Restrooms Amendment

Back when I was in high school, the Equal Rights Amendment was in the news. (Yes, I am that old.) We debated it, researched it, wrote papers on it, and held mock elections. Boys carried signs calling it the “Equal Restrooms Amendment.” (They were making fun of the ERA, but in fact, restroom parity seemed like a good idea at the time, as there was always a line in the women’s room, but never one in the men’s. But I digress.)

Now, with the ERA poised to become law (perhaps) since Virginia ratified it, the most important issue to some is how it will affect restrooms. Pearls are being clutched over the idea that any male – and especially transgender ones – can just walk into a women’s bathroom, locker room, or shower room and peep at the girls. Or worse. There’s also a lot of talk about men being able to compete in women’s sports and win all the prizes.

People don’t believe me when I tell them that the entire text of the amendment reads:

ARTICLE —

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Sec. 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Sec. 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

That’s it. Not a word about restrooms or sports. According to section two, the states can make any laws they want about restroom restrictions or sporting events, and the courts (now packed with Republicans) will decide whether they are constitutional – whether they abide by the ERA.

It’s also important to note that there are already laws that say men are not allowed to stalk, molest, kidnap, or otherwise harass women or children in restrooms, or anywhere else for that matter. Of course, these laws do not prevent men from doing so, but they establish penalties should anyone transgress. The ERA would not change these laws.

Really, the hubbub seems to be more about transgender individuals, who (at least according to the opponents) decide every day which gender they wish to be. And individuals with penises – always a danger to women who necessarily have their pants down. Or transgender individuals who have not had their penises removed. Or something. (The prospect of lesbians peeping in women’s restrooms is never addressed, perhaps because it is not a real problem.)

And let’s not forget men participating in women’s sports. Or having an unfair advantage if they do. Or something. Never mind that there are many sports, such as marathon races, that allow both women and men to participate. Yes, the men usually do better than the women, but that’s not the point. Women used to be arrested for trying to run in a marathon. Now they can, all without the ERA. (Title IX, which dictates parity in women’s and men’s sports in publically funded institutions like schools and colleges, is something totally else.)

But let’s get back to the intent of the ERA, those three tiny sections (not hundreds of pages of documents, as some have claimed and apparently believe). Their purpose is to establish equal rights for women – and men – in matters such as pay, law, education, advancement, opportunities, and areas where women are at a disadvantage simply because they are women.

But notice that men would be covered by the amendment as well. It’s not called the Women’s Rights Amendment, after all, and there’s a reason for that. In areas such as child custody, for example, where women have the advantage simply because they are women, men would have equal rights under the law.

It’s sad that there is so much fear, misunderstanding, and falsehoods about what is really a simple concept – equality under the law. The right to be treated equally by organizations and institutions. The explicit right to be protected by the Constitution, for all citizens.

But it’s not about the restrooms. It was never about the restrooms.

 

Who’s the Bully Here?

You know why kids bully? Because adults bully. But no one wants to have that conversation.  — Lauryn Mummah McGaster

I saw this pass-along on Facebook the other day and decided that I did want to have the conversation. When we think about bullies, we usually think about kids bullying other kids – classically, stealing their lunch money or more recently, tormenting them for being perceived as gay, or any kind of different, really.

And what do we say when that happens? Kids can be mean. Kids can be cruel. Kids have no respect. In other words, the problem arises in the kids themselves. They shape the victimization of others, presumably out of thin air.

But stop a minute. We know that kids learn what they see adults do. They learn to talk and walk. They learn to swear and belittle. The walking and talking may be hardwired into humans, but the rest is clearly learning by imitation.

But adults aren’t bullies, really. They don’t go around stealing lunch money and certainly not in front of their kids.

You might be surprised, but adult bullying happens a lot at work.  Belittling and humiliation seem to go with business just as much as board meetings and yearly reviews. Not all workplaces are toxic, of course, but almost every one contains a group of gossips or a clique that excludes others just like children do in the cafeteria. They yell at underlings. They sexually harass others. They steal credit for others’ accomplishments and boast about it.

But wait, you say, children seldom if ever come to where their parents work and see them behave this way. How can they be learning bullying from them?

Bullying behavior starts with an attitude, a sentiment that there are winners and losers in life and the winners have the right (or even the duty) to lord it over the losers. Think about how many people were influenced by the “look out for #1” philosophy.

Adults carry these attitudes home with them. Children pick up on them. Think about what adults do and say in front of their kids, even – or maybe especially – when they don’t know the kids are within earshot. They bitch about their neighbors and their bosses. They use words like “bitch” and “bastard” and worse. They talk about their day and how “stupid” some co-worker was or how they “felt like smacking” the customer service representative.

And think about what adults say when their children are being bullied. Often the response is, “If he hits you, hit him right back. Show him you’re the boss.” This perpetuates the “winners and losers” scenario and sometimes leaves the “loser” with a desire to victimize someone even “lesser.”

Worst of all, think about how often adults bully children. There are too many children who are badly abused, hit and kicked and belittled by their parents. These cases sometimes get reported to Children’s Services.

Those are the extreme cases, however. Seldom does a single slap or two get reported. Telling a child that he or she is “no good” or “stupid” or even “a big disappointment” never gets reported at all. Some adults use humiliation, name-calling, and fear, all in the name of discipline and good behavior. Some pit one child against another, praising the “good” child and condemning the other. Some blame and shame ruthlessly.

They may think they are raising obedient children, but they are showing them through actions, words, and even tone of voice what it is to be a bully or a victim and how often bullying succeeds. The essence of bullying is that one person has actual or perceived power over another and uses that power in toxic ways. Think about how much power adults have over children and how seldom they consider how to use that power wisely.

This is certainly not to say that all adults abuse their power or their children. But when you look at children’s behavior, it’s hard not to see a reflection of the environment in which they were raised.

Bullies don’t just happen. They learn.

Retirement and Reality

I officially retired last year, when my birthday hit the federal standards, and I’m here to tell you, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

The commercials on investment – sorry, “wealth management” – would have you believe that retirement means a lot of opening your dream business, building your own Wright flyer, and washing elephants in Africa. (Or maybe India. I didn’t get a close look at the elephant’s ears. But I digress.)

What I’ve found is that in retirement, not much has changed for me. Oh, I get a modest infusion of cash every month via Social Security, which is certainly more than welcome. But I haven’t been able to quit my job. It’s freelance – not the sort of job that boasts retirement benefits. And the 401k from when I did have a job like that is long gone, eaten up by a voracious spell of unemployment owing to health problems.

What this all means is that life before and after retirement are markedly similar. I still work that part-time freelance job (which is not, thank God, over the limit for what a person on SS is allowed to earn). I still have to forego foreign travel. I take surveys to earn enough points for dinner at a nice place (within a very limited definition of a nice place). At the end of the month, I doubt my decisions on how many cable channels are enough. I have to buy my wine at Aldi.

Of course, there are benefits. The federal government sees to that (so far). That deposit that appears sporadically between the 9th and the 16th of the month (don’t ask me why) makes a huge difference in my lifestyle and my nerve endings. I am indeed grateful that I do not (yet) qualify for SNAP benefits as well. I am able to pursue my hobbies of yelling at whippersnappers and waving my cane at them.

I know it’s idiotic to use television and as a standard of what life will be like, but I can’t help looking at all the TV shows and commercials. Retired people romp with their grandkids and even babysit them (I don’t have any grandkids and likely wouldn’t babysit them if I did). They play golf, a “sport” I detest. They invest. They have fulfilling sex lives. Their dentures fit. (I don’t have dentures, but it’s the idea of the thing that’s important here.)

Of course, I wouldn’t know what to do with that sort of retirement if I had it. Work has become a habit after these many years and, though I’m sure I wouldn’t miss not doing it, it provides a sense of purpose and familiarity. I traveled when I was younger and could get around without a rent-boy to carry my luggage. There are still places I would like to see, but the places I have been were pretty amazing. If I had the choice to save that money (and I suppose I did), I wouldn’t. Perhaps when and if my memories grow dim, the sights I’ve seen will become distant blurs. But having had the experiences is something that I treasure.

And really, I am blessed, even in this not-quite-idyllic retirement. I still have my husband and we have our cats. We have a roof over our heads and food on the table. We have friends and family and an assortment of other things that, as they say, money can’t buy. I know that not every person of my age and state of life can say the same. (And there is something wrong with a system that lets that happen.)

So, even if I don’t have the golden-sunset vision of retirement, I am largely satisfied with what I do have. Someone else will just have to wash those elephants’ ears. I’ll make do with the kind they have at the local bakery.