When we experience the religious rituals of the “other,” we usually cannot help but respond with an internal running commentary, seeking connections to our own past. I know that whenever I heard the blast of a conch shell at an Afro-Brazilian rite during my years in Brazil, my mind would skip back to the sound of the shofar in my childhood temple.
On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, many Christians (and Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists) find themselves attending services with Jewish partners, or parents, or other family members. These services, while tremendously important to Jews, can be difficult for those without Jewish education to access, due to length, solemnity, and the density of Hebrew. Nevertheless, I always strongly recommend that those of other religions accompany their Jewish partners or parents to synagogue services, both to keep them from feeling lonely, and to learn and reflect.
The Chicago Tribune spoke with Mark Hyman for advice on how to avoid going broke while supporting your kids' love of sports:
When Mark Hyman interviewed parents of young athletes for his book on the rising cost of youth sports, he found tales of love, dedication and massive expenditures.
"One parent told me, 'I'm spending more money on my younger son's ice hockey than I am on my older son's college tuition,'" Hyman said.
One dad, Fran Dicari, calculated that he spent $11,704 in 2011 on soccer and baseball trips, golf clubs, physical therapy, gas for getting to games and all manner of fees, uniforms and equipment for two kids.
This isn’t about teachers being afraid that they’ll be knifed in class or have their cars stolen in the bad neighborhoods where they teach. Nor are they worried that a disruptive student will threaten them, or that a disturbed gunman will invade their school. It’s not about being berated by an angry parent, or accused of being unfair—or something far worse—by a student.
I follow the education reform debate closely. Over time I realized that most of the voices raised in this debate were those of people who had nothing to do with the classroom. The obvious question was, “What do politicians, business executives, clergy, academic researchers know about teaching?” The people who would know best—teachers—were rarely heard. Yet the ones I knew and came in contact with were eager to talk about what they did. It was a decidedly different conversation from the ones the pundits and critics were having. Yes, most teachers lamented mandated testing, the loss of classroom autonomy and a one-size-fits-all curriculum shaped by test results. But most were happiest talking about what teaching has always been about: students and the amazing things they do (or don’t do, given the day).
So I decided to invite teachers from a variety of educational settings to share their experiences, to talk about why they teach and who they teach, and to tell the stories that keep them in the classroom.
In approaching teachers to write for the series I was surprised how many at first hesitated. It wasn’t because they were too busy or didn’t have anything to say. Some had even written drafts and then gotten cold feet about going public. None of the articles were vindictive or critical of their school administrations. None were personal attacks or a fault finding feast. If anything the pieces were warmhearted, funny, and insightful. What criticism there was was directed toward our national education policy and its harmful effect on students. Still, in the end, a few teachers backed out altogether while others asked that their full name not be used or that their schools’ location be purposely vague.
And there’s the fear. Teachers were worried that somehow they would get in trouble with their school administrators. From what many teachers report there’s a strong message being given to teaching staffs: Don’t rock the boat. Don’t ask questions. Don’t bring up the inconvenient truth, say, of a school policy implemented to meet a national mandate that contradicts current research or best practices. In such an atmosphere of distrust, powerlessness, and alienation from what should be a culture of collegiality and collaboration what choices do teachers have but to hunker down and try to survive? After all, these days, teacher evaluations have become just as high stakes as student testing.
According to a MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, teacher satisfaction has slipped from 65% in 2008 to only 39% in 2012. Perhaps this fear of speaking out is contributing to that dissatisfaction. The sample of teachers that I encountered may seem small and therefore inconclusive. And maybe it’s just a coincidence that teachers from different schools and different parts of the country felt this fear, this need for caution. But it’s enough to make me wonder what is going on in our schools when teachers are afraid to engage in sincere democratic discourse, a process that we have always valued and that we teach our students is an essential ingredient of a healthy country.
It is an historic day for marriage equality in the United States. The Supreme Court decision in US v. Windsor struck down the Defense of Marriage Act; and the more limited ruling in Hollingsworth v. Perry effectively moots Prop. 8 in California. Beacon has been publishing books that promote valuing all families, including but not only through marriage equality, for a long time. Take, for instance, What is Marriage For? by E. J. Graff, which we first published in 1999, and is considered by many "the bible of the same-sex marriage movement."
This excerpt from What is Marriage For? explores that public/private intersection of our definition of marriage. We hope that this book continues to inspire people to fight for LGBT equality across the country and around the world.
Inside Out or Outside In: Who Says You’re Married?
One of the most basic tensions in the history of marriage is between those two interlocking sides of marriage: marriage as a publicly policed institution and marriage as an inner experience.
Which one turns your bond into a marriage: a public authority or
your heart? Are you married when the two of you decide to care for
each other for life, a decision you live out day to day, a decision only
afterwards recognized by your community? Or is it the other way
around: does the family, or church, or state pronounce some words
over your head, write your names side by side in a registry, and bestow upon you a marriage, a license and legal obligation to carry
out the responsibilities of a¤ection and care? This may sound like
one of those faces/vases illusions, and for good reason: marriage
doesn’t exist unless both parts happen—two human beings behave as married, and everyone else treats them as such. But it does
matter which side you think counts more: the decisions made
about individual marriages will be quite different if you think marriage is a publicly conferred status or an immanent state. And each position’s internal contradictions can—and have—caused social
havoc when unchecked.
In history, this debate is almost inextricable from the debate
over which authority rules marriage. Who decides where the enforceable marriage is made—in your heart, or in a registry—and
why? That decision might be less complex if the only people who
have to recognize your marriage live within twenty-five miles,
when the people who see you two behaving as married are also the
ones who oversee the granting of the widow’s dower. And it might
be more complex in our world, in which each of our daily lives goes
beyond our circle of acquaintances to touch dozens of strangers
and anonymous entities, from the motor vehicles registry to our
children’s schools. The story of the public/private marriage line is
therefore also a story of how marriage has shifted, in comparative
legal scholar Mary Ann Glendon’s words, from custom to law.
Roman marriage was the immanent kind: when challenged in
court (over, say, whether a widow inherits or whether a child is legitimate), a marriage could not be proved by anything so simple as
a public registry. A judge had to investigate whether the two lived
together with affectio maritalis, ‘‘the intention of being married.’’
To be married, all a couple had to do was ‘‘regard each other as man
and wife and behave accordingly.’’ What does that mean, ‘‘behave
accordingly’’? The Romans may never have defined it, but (like
Americans and pornography) they knew it when they saw it. A
judge sized up the couple’s ‘‘marital intentions’’ by such signals
as whether she’d brought a dowry, or whether he openly called her
his wife. Augustine and his concubine, for instance, were living
together without affectio maritalis, since he was intending a later
power-marriage. But had the same pair intended to be married—with no change in their behavior—they would have been. Marriage
was a private affair: the state could police only the consequences,
not the act.
While the Jewish configuration changed over the millennia,
what remained central is marriage as a private act: only bride and
groom could say the magic words that turned them into husband
and wife. After many centuries the rabbis inserted themselves and their seven blessings into the ceremony, before the big feast, but
even they knew they were not essential: the pair made the marriage
within themselves. Which is why, in Jewish law, a court could neither ‘‘grant’’ nor refuse a divorce. If a husband’s inner willingness
to be married evaporated (sometimes hers counted but often it did
not), then the marriage itself had evaporated: the rabbinical court
or bet din could merely decide questions of fault and finances.
Christianity, as we know, wanted nothing to do with marriage
for centuries. When asked, some priests might come by and say a
blessing as a favor, just as they’d say a blessing over a child’s first
haircut. No one considered marriage sacred, as celibacy was: marriage was one of those secular and earthbound forms rendered
unto Caesar. But as centuries rolled by, an increasingly powerful
Church saw that marriage was central to ordering Europe’s civil
and political life—not so much those few called to sainthood, sacrifice, and martyrdom, but the many ordinary folk who needed to be
told how to behave.
And so the Church launched a battle for power over marriage’s
rules, a battle that lasted roughly a thousand years. Today we have
the peculiar impression that Catholicism has always had one vision of marriage, but for every marriage rule eventually imposed
on Europe, the Church’s own debates were abundant. It first formally ruled on marriage in 774, when one pope handed Charlemagne a set of writings that defined legitimate marriage and
condemned all deviations. After another five hundred years of
struggle, the Church came up with a marriage liturgy and imposed
its new and radical rules—the ballooning incest rules, the one-man-one-marriage rule, and most controversial, the girl-must-consent rule—on the powerful clans. ‘‘It is clear,’’ writes one historian, ‘‘that this attempt to impose order on matrimonial practice
was part of a more ambitious plan to reform the entire social order. . . . regulating the framework of lay society, from baptisms
to funerals,’’ the most intimate acts of most people’s lives. The
Church’s push to rule marriage was slow and uneven but very determined. Here and there it would issue a decree and struggle with
local nobles over whether it would be observed; now it would retract a bit to permit a lord to marry his dead wife’s sister or annul
his existing marriage; then it would push forward again.
It was not until 1215 that the Church finally decreed marriage a
sacrament—the least important one, but a sacrament nonetheless—and set up a systematic canon law of marriage, with a system
of ecclesiastical courts to enforce it—and had a fair amount
of people willing to observe those rules. By 1215, the year that
the Fourth Lateran Council issued its matrimonial decrees, the
Church had ‘‘broke[n] the back of aristocratic resistance . . . after
lengthy individual battles with the nobility, kings included.’’
And according to the Church, what turned two individuals into
a married couple? It was—drumroll, please—the couple’s private
Why a drumroll? Because the Church insisted that a private
promise was an unbreakable sacrament—that marriage was an immanent experience, a spiritual reality created by the pair’s free and
equal consent. That was practically a declaration of war against the
upper classes, a radical and subversive idea emphasizing the sacredness of the individual spirit. Marriage, the Church insisted,
was not just about land and power and wombs, but about human
In a regular feature titled “Ask Interfaith Mom,” I plan to tackle your questions about raising interfaith kids. Here’s a great question from a comment on a recent post about interfaith grandparents:
Question: In raising my son both, I realize his grandparents will not always like or support how we are bringing the two traditions together and I am interested in ways to present to them that they should always feel free to opt out of saying anything or doing anything they don’t really believe. Thanks for any guidance you have!
One of the most liberating aspects of choosing both family religions is that you give yourself permission to pass on to your children that which is meaningful to you, rather than a required system of beliefs and practices. And in making your own choices, you set a precedent that your children will have the right to opt into or out of any of these beliefs or practices.
Discussing this freedom with your parents (the grandparents) will help them to feel comfortable making their own choices about whether or not to participate in any ritual or prayer they might encounter when celebrating with your interfaith family. Ideally then, the idea that they have permission to participate, or not, would be integral and natural, and would not need to be announced in a formal manner.
But of course, it may take time for extended family members to reach this state of appreciation. Grandparents who have spent a lifetime in a “monofaith” environment, and who may still feel sadness over the fact that their grandchildren will not be raised exclusively in their own religion, cannot always be expected to jump into interfaith practice with enthusiasm. What I can tell you is that many who have started out reluctant or even upset over the idea of an interfaith upbringing, over time have come to appreciate the way extended interfaith families are able to share spiritual inspiration, religious history, and cultures.
However, everyone in an interfaith family (or for that matter, living in our religiously pluralistic society) is going to have moments, often when visiting a more traditional place of worship, when they may want to opt out of participating in a prayer or ritual. Let’s get to some challenging specifics: for instance, taking communion at church. In some churches, the ritual of taking communion becomes a public declaration around who has the right to participate. In such a setting, it would be important to reassure interfaith family members in advance (whether a grandparent, spouse, or interfaith child) that it is fine to remain seated in the pew, and not go up to take communion. Explain that even some Christians abstain from communion at certain times or in certain places, for their own personal reasons, or because not every Christian denomination invites all Christians from other denominations to participate. While those who choose not to take communion may feel like they are sticking out by staying seated, in theory no one should ask them why they remained in the pew.
When you design an interfaith family celebration, this is your opportunity to make the rituals and prayers as inclusive as possible. Ideally, such a celebration would be so welcoming that no one would feel the need to abstain. Sometimes, this means recasting a prayer or ritual to be more radically inclusive, and explicitly inviting all to participate. Personally, I have seen Jewish people (and even a rabbi) take communion at a super-progressive Christian service in which the communion ritual was presented as a metaphorical table where all share food and drink together, based on the Jewish rituals of blessing over bread and wine, regardless of religious institutional membership or beliefs.
To take another example from the other side of the aisle, the bris, or Jewish ritual circumcision for baby boys, can be difficult for non-Jewish family members. Honestly, it is difficult for many Jewish people too, some of whom now oppose circumcision and have designed baby-welcoming ceremonies that do not involve cutting. It’s important to share all the different viewpoints on this ritual with non-Jewish family. I do understand why some interfaith families choose to have a bris, and the deep meaning it has for some Jewish family members. But I don’t think anyone (Jewish or otherwise) should feel required to attend the ceremony. And it would be important to communicate this permission to participate, or not, to everyone in the extended family as early as possible to avoid misunderstandings. Both the new grandparents and their intermarried children must make an extra effort to empathize with each other at this vulnerable moment around birth: the new parents must try hard to accept and not resent family members who choose not to participate, and family must try hard to accept and not resent the choice of the new parents to honor (or conversely, to move away from) such an ancient ritual.
Sometimes, grandparents may surprise you with their willingness to participate, and cross theological boundaries. For instance, I was worried about how my Jewish father would react to hearing his interfaith grandchildren say a traditional Christian prayer such as the Lord’s Prayer in our interfaith community Gathering. To my surprise, I saw my father reciting the prayer along with his grandchildren, and discovered that he said this prayer in his public school classroom everyday, growing up in the 1930s. Since the prayer does not mention Jesus, my father did not even realize until much later that this is officially a Christian prayer. As an adult interfaith child who was raised Jewish, my own appreciation of the Lord’s Prayer is heightened by the knowledge that many scholars have pointed out the parallels between the language in the Lord’s Prayer and the Kaddish and other central Jewish prayers. So a moment I had anticipated as possibly problematic became an opportunity for interesting theological discussion with my parents.
What experiences have you had in including interfaith grandparents? Or, what is your perspective as an interfaith grandparent? And what questions do you have for “Ask Interfaith Mom”?
If you take the time to watch one TED Talk this week, make it this one. Geoffrey Canada is an educational innovator, and in this video (part of which appeared on PBS) he makes a powerful argument for changing the way we think about public education.
Canada knows how to help kids achieve great things: as the president of Harlem Children's Zone, he has changed countless lives and transformed a community. While the Harlem Children’s Zone started out focusing on a single block -- West 119th Street -- it has since expanded exponentially. It now encompasses more than 100 square blocks and serves an estimated 10,000 children, providing pre-kindergarten care, after-school programs, health care, college planning and classes for soon-to-be-parents.
Long before the avalanche of praise for his work—from Oprah Winfrey, from President Bill Clinton, from President Barack Obama—long before he became known for his talk show appearances, Members Project spots, and documentaries like Waiting for Superman, Geoffrey Canada was a small boy growing up scared on the mean streets of the South Bronx. His childhood world was one where "sidewalk boys" learned the codes of the block and were ranked through the rituals of fist, stick, and knife. Then the streets changed, and the stakes got even higher. In his candid and riveting memoir, Canada relives a childhood in which violence stalked every street corner.
"I wish every city had a Geoffrey Canada." —President Bill Clinton
"Geoffrey Canada's realistic yet hopeful voice finds fresh expression through the comic style of Jamar Nicholas. Canada's account of his childhood and the role that violence played in shaping his experiences provides hard-won and crucial lessons." —Pedro A. Noguera, Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education at New York University
"Jamar Nicholas is a master of his craft—his drawings are full of life and truly stunning." —Bryan Lee O'Malley, creator of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
"Geoffrey Canada is one of this country's genuine heroes. His personal meditation on America's culture of violence is a beacon of hope for our humanity." —Charles Johnson, author of Middle Passage
"Canada has never lost touch with the child within himself or with the fears of the children around him struggling to reach adulthood in the violent streets of America." —Marian Wright Edelman, author of The Measure of Our Success
"Canada takes us on a powerful journey. . . . He is a man of hope and a wonderful storyteller." —Henry Hampton, executive producer, Eyes on the Prize
It’s hard reading about the lockstep curriculum
set out by Common Core with its emphasis on “informational readings,” and
seeing all the hoops students and teachers have to jump through to meet its
standards. Quite frankly, it makes me sad.
“Why sad?” you might wonder. Frustrated, maybe, or for that
matter, mad. But sad? Usually when the topic is education reform frustrated and
mad come easily to me. But this is different. I’m a romantic (as I think many
English teachers are) and I see literature—poetry, drama, fiction—and its power
to change people’s lives as the heart of an English teacher’s job.
But the designers of Common Core don’t see it that way. They assert that
students have been raised on an easy-read curriculum and because of this they
are unable to analyze complex reports, studies and government documents. The
administration’s solution is to have informational texts make up 50 percent of
elementary school readings and 70 percent of 12th grade readings by 2014.
Unfortunately, the burden of this solution will fall mostly on English
teachers, leaving them little time to teach real literature. Instead they will
somehow have to figure out ways to get kids interested in such texts as “Fed Views” by
the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco (2009) or “Executive Order 13423:
Strengthening Federal Environmental Energy, and Transportation Management”
published by the General Services Administration.
So yes, it makes me sad to see the education of the heart—the real core of any
worthwhile English curriculum—gutted for the sake of global competition, and to
see teachers once again take the hit for “dummied down” education.
But I feel saddest for the kids who must struggle their way
through this type of literal—not literary—education, especially those kids
for whom school is already a difficult and alienating place.
I’ve worked with those students in both
alternative high schools and a county prison, young men and women who have
already had the heart taken out of their lives by poverty, racism, abandonment
and neglect. They have very little interest in school because the traditional
school setting has had very little interest in them. And now this latest
roadblock makes success even harder to attain: a reading curriculum that has
less to do with real life, their real life, and more to do with corporate
As an English teacher it’s never easy to get
disaffected kids to pick up a book and read. I was constantly justifying my
choices, answering the question every literature teacher (and author) is
confronted with in one way or another, “What’s this got to do with me?” But
once we got past those hurdles and students gave a particular reading a chance,
I have seen books—novels, plays, poetry, biography, memoir—save at-risk kids’
lives, if only for the time that they are reading them.
I’m pretty certain that one of the Federalist Papers, a Common
Core selection, wouldn’t have kept 15-year-old Warren out of trouble on the
cell block and coming to my jailhouse classroom. But Manchild in the Promised Land did. As Warren put
it, “I’ve never ever read a whole book before,” but once he got his hands on
Claude Brown’s memoir that changed. Slowly, he got lost in a book that not only
reflected Warren’s own troubled life but also did something else—showed him a
young man much like himself deciding that life on the streets was no life at
all. That book helped keep Warren out of trouble and coming to school long
after he’d read the last page.
The way poetry did for ‘Nor, a 17-year-old
single mom who worked the 3-11 shift at Sears. ‘Nor never missed a day of
school because of the poets she read in class like Nikki Giovanni, Langston
Hughes, Rilke, Luis Rodriguez, and her favorite, the enigmatic Emily Dickinson.
She didn’t always understand what she read but those words helped her survive
life in the projects where too often words had nothing to do with poetry.
And it’s hard to imagine that George Orwell’s “Politics and the
English Language” would have had Tanya, a real cut-up with a long suspension
record from her home school, jumping off the school bus and running towards me
yelling, “Mr. C., Mr. C, I finished 1984! I can’t
believe what they did to Winston!”
Given the way this country is going, haunted by
one tragedy after another, maybe it’s time to re-examine what we want our true
Common Core to be. Maybe it’s time to worry more about the heart of America,
and about all America’s children and less about the bankrolls of corporate
America. Let’s design a reading curriculum that keeps kids connected to their
schools, to their communities and to their best selves.
As a sociologist who writes at Psychology Today, I must admit that there is some very bad sociology out there. And like bad psychology, bad sociology can be incredibly harmful to individuals and our culture at large. Such is the case with the obviously flawed study produced by sociologist Mark Regnerus last year that was supposedly a measure of the children of gay parents. Of course, it really measured no such thing, but it claimed to.
The study was a case of comparing apples and oranges and insisting you’ve measured bananas. Because Regnerus could not find a large enough sample of adult children of gay and lesbian parents, he decided to ask adult children of divorced parents whether or not their parents had ever had a same sex relationship. This is a problem. The relationship could have been one time or thirty years. The relationship could have resulted in a gay or lesbian identity or not. We don’t know because Regnerus decided that apples were a close enough measure of bananas. To make matters worse he compared those apples to oranges: he compared the outcomes of adult children of divorced parents to adult children of still married parents and found, not surprisingly, that these adult children were more likely to be depressed, unemployed and alcoholic than those whose parents were still together. I say not surprisingly because even a bad sociologist knows that marriage is highly correlated with socio-economic status. It would make sense that children who grow up in less wealthy and less educated households are more likely to be less wealthy, less educated, more unemployed, and yes, even depressed and alcoholic. Poverty creates all sorts of stress in a person’s life that wealth and well-being do not. That is just sociology of the obvious.
Normally no one would care that there is some bad sociology out there (and believe me there is), but this work is being used in a variety of court cases that will decide the fate of gay marriage, gay adoption laws and in many other ways the legal future of gay families. And here's the really scary thing: the study was funded by the ultra-conservative Witherspoon Institute to the tune of $700,000 specifically to influence the Supreme Court of the United States decisions. That's right: the conservative funders of the study and the conservative sociologist who conducted it were assuming that the results would show gay families are worse than straight families and recent emails between them retrieved through Freedom of Information Act requests prove it. An article published in the American Independent and the HuffingtonPost reveals that:
The documents, recently obtained through public-records requests by The American Independent and published in collaboration with The Huffington Post, show that the Witherspoon Institute recruited a professor from a major university to carry out a study that was designed to manipulate public policy. In communicating with donors about the research project, Witherspoon’s president clearly expected results unfavorable to the gay-marriage movement.
To make matters worse, the peer-review process of this article that was published in Social Science Research seems to have been both highly compromised and highly rushed. Despite an internal audit by Social Science Research, the editors have been unable to explain why the article was submitted before data was fully collected, why reviewers were rushed to approve or disapprove its publication in such a short time frame, why two of the three reviewers were connected to Regnerus, and why they have not yet retracted the study.
This strange marriage of the anti-gay agenda of the Witherspoon Institute, which is connected through one of its founders to the National Organization for Marriage, a conservative researcher in Regnerus who has publicly staked his claim for heterosexual marriage as the best option for all of us, and some seriously flawed statistics will now be influencing court decisions and gay families for decades to come.
Despite an amicus brief filed by the American Sociological Association stating that Regenerus' study
provides no support for the conclusions that same-sex parents are inferior parents or that the children of same-sex parents experience worse outcomes"
it will still be considered in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Supreme Court case to decide the constitutionality of California's Prop 8.
Which is just what the Witherspoon Institute wanted. And Regnerus too. But anyone who cares about families, all families, not to mention the integrity of social science, should refuse an invitation to the wedding of bad sociology, anti-family values and just plain mean-spiritedness that this study represents.
Susie Bright, in addition to being a best-selling author, activist, and podcast host, is editor at large for Audible. Susie's blog, The Bright List, keeps readers and listeners apprised of new audiobooks.
Mark Hyman tallys the price of youth sports in the USA in dollars and lives. From equipment to private lessons, from tournament trips to MRIs, parents are bleeding themselves dry for their children’s activities.
The example of the parents who skipped health insurance payments to pay for their son’s golf lessons was shocking!
Some parents try to live their dreams through their children. They believe they're investing in their children’s future, led astray by the many corporate youth programs who tell them their kids are the next Venus & Serena Williams— they just need more lessons, more workshops, more camps.
Fine investigative journalism might make you think twice before you send your kid across the country to Lacrosse summer camp.
At what cost are we asking our kids to live out our dreams? Hard work and love of sport are one thing—but sixteen year olds, used up and limping around like old men— is quite another.
Mark Hyman examines the youth sports culture that drives kids to be "superstar" athletes at earlier and earlier ages-- starting with himself.
Hyman has been in the trenches as a "sports dad," getting heavily involved in the leagues and practices, until it became “as much a fulltime job as my fulltime job.”
I always thought the push for excellence in young players was so they could get scholarships to colleges, or into professional leagues. If their injuries make them used up before they even get there, what are we doing?
Hyman offers solutions and perspective— he knows how many people have this on their minds. I'd recommend this book to anyone with kids, especially those ferrying their kids to three kinds of practice every day of the week.
Today's post might provide a little inspiration for your 2013 vacation, much as editor Alexis Rizzuto received for her outdoor adventures.
At this time of year, I start pulling out maps and guidebooks and poring over my lengthy—and always growing—list of outdoor trips I want to take. (My document slugged “Trip Ideas” is now 11,855 words long.) There are two reasons: First, to make those big dream trips happen, you have to think, plan, and dream months in advance. Plus, the planning is almost as much fun as taking the trip.
Here are my 10 favorite family adventures at The Big Outside (another list that will keep growing and evolving), to help give you some ideas and inspiration for 2013. All have a story and photo gallery, and most also have a video. In a couple of weeks, I’ll share my list of 10 all-time favorite adventures at The Big Outside, domestic and international, that are not necessarily for families—although there are definitely trips that could be on either list (and there’s no overlap between the two lists).
Here’s wishing you an adventurous 2013.
Campsite below Zoroaster Temple, along the Tonto Trail in the Grand Canyon.
Susan Katz Miller is both an interfaith child and an interfaith parent. Her book on raising children with two religions, based on hundreds of survey responses and interviews, will be published by Beacon Press in 2013. You can find her interfaith essays at interfaithfamily.com and on NPR’s All Things Considered. She served as an expert on interfaith children at national conferences, and has chaired the Board of the Interfaith Families Project of Greater Washington DC, the interfaith group with the largest religious education program in the country. She is a former reporter forNewsweek and New Scientistmagazines, and her work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, Discover, Science, and many other publications.
After almost two decades of raising interfaith children with two religions, I realize I am about to be laid off from my parenting job. I must content myself with the idea that my husband and I have done all we could to educate our kids in both family religions: Judaism and Christianity. The controversial pathway we chose long ago has served us well. Now, it will be up to these new young interfaith adults we produced to decide whether or not to continue to tell their own stories. And I will be stuck chronicling the experience of interfaith empty-nesters.
So, Hanukkah feels strange and slightly melancholy this year, with our firstborn away at college. With only one teenager left at home, I declared the official end to kids hunting for little Hanukkah gifts hidden under sofa cushions and behind bookcases. My son was fine with this. Adults rarely give each other Hanukkah gifts in my extended family, and he is well on his way to becoming an adult. But as it turns out, I did not actually have the authority to make this abrupt and unilateral proclamation. Just because I represent the Jewish side in our interfaith family does not make me the boss of Hanukkah.
So after we lit candles and said blessings and sang “Rock of Ages” on the second night, my (Christian) husband surprised me by saying he had hidden little Hanukkah gifts for me and our son. I was touched, and irrationally excited: I hadn’t hunted for a present since I was a kid and my (Christian) mom instituted this Hanukkah tradition in our family.
My bemused son and I quickly located the little tissue paper packets–in a clay pot on the mantel, and on the windowsill behind the curtains. They turned out to be utterly fabulous, completely cheesy blinking LED Hanukkah pins–a menorah and a dreidel. I wore them both at a Hanukkah party the next night.
So my husband created a moment of role-reversal comedy (mom acting like a kid and receiving a goofy “kid” present). At the same time, he distracted us all from missing our college girl. And he paid sweet tribute to the interfaith family created when we got married 25 years ago, and to the tradition instituted by my pioneering interfaith parents, who are still happily married after more than 50 years. Such small gestures, combining tradition and innovation, respect and humor, bind interfaith families together.
William Ayers is Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the founder of the Small Schools Workshop and the Center for Youth and Society, and he is the author of many books on education, including Teaching Toward Freedom: Moral Commitment and Ethical Action in the Classroom, On the Side of the Child, and A Kind and Just Parent. His new memoir, Public Enemy: Memoirs of Dissident Days, will be published by Beacon Press in Fall 2013.
I’m sure this is a moment you want to savor, a time to take a deep breath, get some rest, hydrate, regain your balance, and take a long walk in the sunshine. It might be as well a good time to reflect, rethink, recharge, and perhaps reignite. I sincerely hope that it is, and I urge you to put education on your reflective agenda.
The landscape of “educational reform” is currently littered with rubble and ruin and wreckage on all sides. Sadly, your administration has contributed significantly to the mounting catastrophe. You’re not alone: The toxic materials have been assembled as a bipartisan endeavor over many years, and the efforts of the last several administrations are now organized into a coherent push mobilized and led by a merry band of billionaires including Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, Sam Walton, and Eli Broad.
Whether inept or clueless or malevolent—who’s to say?—these titans have worked relentlessly to take up all the available space, preaching, persuading, promoting, and, when all else fails, spreading around massive amounts of cash to promote their particular brand of school change as common sense. You and Secretary Arne Duncan—endorsed in your efforts by Newt Gingrich, Paul Ryan, and a host of reactionary politicians and pundits—now bear a major responsibility for that agenda.
The three most trumpeted and simultaneously most destructive aspects of the united “school reform” agenda are these: turning over public assets and spaces to private management; dismantling and opposing any independent, collective voice of teachers; and reducing education to a single narrow metric that claims to recognize an educated person through a test score. While there’s absolutely no substantive proof that this approach improves schooling for children, it chugs along unfazed—fact-free, faith-based reform at its core, resting firmly on rank ideology rather than any evidence whatsoever.
The three pillars of this agenda are nested in a seductive but wholly inaccurate metaphor: Education is a commodity like any other—a car or a refrigerator, a box of bolts or a screwdriver—that is bought and sold in the marketplace. Within this controlling metaphor the schoolhouse is assumed to be a business run by a CEO, with teachers as workers and students as the raw material bumping along the assembly line while information is incrementally stuffed into their little up-turned heads.
It’s rather easy to begin to think that “downsizing” the least productive units, “outsourcing” and “privatizing” a space that was once public, is a natural event. Teaching toward a simple standardized measure and relentlessly applying state-administered (but privately developed and quite profitable) tests to determine the “outcomes” (winners and losers) becomes a rational proxy for learning; “zero tolerance” for student misbehavior turns out to be a stand-in for child development or justice; and a range of sanctions on students, teachers, and schools—but never on lawmakers, foundations, corporations, or high officials (they call it “accountability")—is logical and level-headed.
I urge you to resist these policies and reject the dominant metaphor as wrong in the sense of inaccurate as well as wrong in the sense of immoral.
Education is a fundamental human right, not a product. In a free society education is based on a common faith in the incalculable value of every human being; it’s constructed on the principle that the fullest development of all is the condition for the full development of each, and, conversely, that the fullest development of each is the condition for the full development of all. Further, while schooling in every totalitarian society on earth foregrounds obedience and conformity, education in a democracy emphasizes initiative, courage, imagination, and entrepreneurship in order to encourage students to develop minds of their own.
When the aim of education and the sole measure of success is competitive, learning becomes exclusively selfish, and there is no obvious social motive to pursue it. People are turned against one another as every difference becomes a potential deficit. Getting ahead is the primary goal in such places, and mutual assistance, which can be so natural in other human affairs, is severely restricted or banned. It’s no wonder that cheating scandals are rampant in our country and fraudulent claims are commonplace.
Race to the Top is but one example of incentivizing bad behavior and backward ideas about education as the Secretary of Education begins to look and act like a program officer for some charity rather than the leading educator for all children: It’s one state against another, this school against that one, and my second grade in fierce competition with the second grade across the hall.
You have opposed privatizing social security, pointing out the terrible risks the market would impose on seniors if the voucher plan were ever adopted. And yet you’ve supported—in effect—putting the most endangered young people at risk through a similar scheme. We need to expand, deepen, and fortify the public space, especially for the most vulnerable, not turn it over to private managers. The current gold rush of for-profit colleges gobbling up student loans is but one cautionary tale.
You’ve said that you defend working people and their right to organize and yet you have publicly and noisily maligned teachers and their unions on several occasions. You need to consider that good working conditions are good teaching conditions, and that good teaching conditions are good learning conditions. We can’t have the best learning conditions if teachers are forced away from the table, or if the teaching corps is reduced to a team of short-termers and school tourists.
You have declared your support for a deep and rich curriculum for all students regardless of circumstance or background, and yet your policies rely on a relentless regimen of standardized testing, and test scores as the sole measure of progress.
You should certainly pause and reconsider. What’s done is done, but you can demonstrate wisdom and true leadership if you pull back now and correct these dreadful mistakes.
In a vibrant democracy, whatever the most privileged parents want for their children must serve as a minimum standard for what we as a community want for all of our children. Arne Duncan attended the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools (as did our three sons); you sent your kids to Lab, and so did your friend Rahm Emanuel. There students found small classes, abundant resources, and opportunities to experiment and explore, ask questions and pursue answers to the far limits, and a minimum of time-out for standardized testing. They found, as well, a respected and unionized teacher corps, people who were committed to a life-long career in teaching and who were encouraged to work cooperatively for their mutual benefit (and who never would settle for being judged, assessed, rewarded, or punished based on student test scores).
Good enough for you, good enough for the privileged, then it must be good enough for the kids in public schools everywhere—a standard to be aspired to and worked toward. Any other ideal for our schools, in the words of John Dewey who founded the school you chose for your daughters, “is narrow and unlovely; acted upon it destroys our democracy.”
I met Amber at a tutoring program for inner city children. It was 1966, my senior year in high school, and the war on poverty was on, a war we’ve failed to win.
At nine years old Amber looked like a scarecrow, an old scarecrow at that, bird-picked, weather beaten. She was stick thin. None of her clothes fit, hand-me-downs from her sister Bunny who quickly outgrew her clothes while her younger sister didn’t seem to grow at all. Her eyes were dark circled; her hair, straw and falling out.
Saturday mornings she was one of the first kids through the church basement doors. My friends and I weren’t naïve. We knew that that gaggle of children who showed up each week wasn’t there for the mandatory hour of instruction. They put up with our drilling them on the timestables or helping them parse a paragraph. They were really there for the cookies and milk, and the tables spread with art supplies and games. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that they may have been just as eager for our attention, our reliability, and perhaps even our youthful faith in the future as for those treats.
I worked with Amber all that year. She didn’t progress much. But that didn’t seem to matter. She was always there. Besides, there was something else going on: I was being tutored in what poverty was really all about.
Walking Amber home several times I got to see where she lived—a cramped, drafty tenement—and to meet the rest of her family. Her mother, Mrs. Laurel, was as frail and battered looking as Amber. She had a nervous tic that twitched her head, a purple bruise on her cheekbone, a baby on her hip and a toddler pulling at her housecoat. Peter, a year older than Amber, dervished through the apartment while Bunny, a twelve year old with a fifteen year old’s body, refused to say hello.
There were no secrets in the Laurel family. Sitting at their kitchen table I heard how Bunny was boy-crazy, how Peter ate paste in school, and how they all loved margarine and sugar sandwiches. Amber, I was told, shared the bed of whatever brother or sister let her: she was a bed wetter. Pointing to the toddler pulling a waste basket over and the baby on her lap, Mrs. Laurel told me how “Mr. Laurel” was in and out of the house. “That’s what these two are all about,” she laughed ruefully then touched her cheekbone.
I lost track of the Laurels when I went off to college and got involved in another war—the war against the war, the Vietnam War. I didn’t think about them until Ronald Reagan in the 1980s started talking about the “deserving poor.” By then I was teaching kids in an alternative high school that very well could’ve been the children of an Amber or a Peter or a Bunny. I remember at the time wondering if the Laurels would’ve fit Reagan’s criteria for “deserving.” What would he have made of that bubble bath that tumbled out of the grocery bag Mrs. Laurel plopped down on the table one day when I was there? Or the endless packages of Lick-a-maid her kids lapped up from their grimy palms instead of lunch.
And now, years later, census figures show that the US poverty rate has hit its highest levels since President Johnson declared war on it, and that child poverty has increased from its 2010 twenty-two percent level.
This is especially bad news in these high stakes, high pressure days of “educational reform.” How will the Ambers of this world fare with so much depending on a student’s test performance especially when “education reformers” continue to refuse to acknowledge the crippling role that economic disparity plays in academic performance? Yet the stakes have gotten higher. According to a recent Council on Foreign Relations report, “US Education Reform and National Security,” (a report Diane Ravitch called the latest education “jeremiad”) educational failures are indeed a threat to national security. Another burden put on young shoulders.
In 1962 Michael Harrington showed America the face of “the invisible poor.” Now that the ranks of the Ambers among us are growing will we finally be able to look squarely into those faces and help the children of poverty achieve true academic parity? Or do we—and they—have to wait another 50 years?
The United States Olympic team comprises 529 athletes, and it’s difficult to generalize about who they are. They represent 25 sports. They come from 44 states. The tallest is 7-foot-1. The shortest is 4-foot-11. There’s a 15-year-old swimmer and an equestrian athlete who could be her grandmother.
The parents of these athletes are equally diverse. No doubt, many are perfectly wonderful. For years, they’ve shouldered the responsibilities of sports parenthood without complaint or expectation. Some go to Olympic venues where their children are competing and hold their emotions completely in check. Others like Lynn and Rick Raisman, parents of the gymnast Aly Raisman, don’t even try. The last time I checked, video of the Raismans’ synchronized squirming had passed 100,000 views on YouTube.
Exuberant parents aren’t the problem in youth sports. Overzealous, overly ambitious parents are. Undoubtedly, they are part of the U.S. delegation too. As parents, we make a horrible mistake when we confuse our ambitions with what kids truly want and need from sports. I’ve been writing about the issue for years yet I’m still taken aback by some of the stories. A noted orthopedic surgeon in Los Angeles who operates on the damaged elbows and shoulders of youth pitchers once told me of a recurring conversation he has with patients. A young person confides that he does not want an operation and would prefer to quit his sport. But he’s stuck. “I don’t know what to do because I don’t want to disappoint my parents. It’s so important to my dad.”
Extreme Olympic parenting has been well documented. In her classic book "Little Girls in Pretty Boxes," Joan Ryan exposed the culture of excessive, often abusive, training including the story of a 14-year-old gymnast who suffered a broken wrist in the gym. Rather than take a break, she dulled the pain each day with prescription drugs and a dozen Advil. Subtract the parallel bars and it sounds like child abuse.
All the more reason to celebrate parents who keep things in perspective -- even if they don’t always stay in their seats.
The problem with Slaughter’s piece—and now planned book—is not that she doesn’t speak for most women, but that she and other women in the 1% fail to recognize how their failure to exercise power in support of women at the economic bottom hurts all of us. Take a fictionalized, working-class black woman named Crystal living in a city like Baltimore, a town blessed with a large number of highly-ranked hospital systems. Jobs in health care are plentiful and a woman with only a high school education and who is, say, a practical nurse may be able to find employment as a home health care worker or as an aide in a hospital. If she lives in West Baltimore and has no car, she will have to leave her home early—most likely while it’s still dark to get to work at 7 or 8am when her shift begins. Baltimore has one of the most limited subway systems for a major American city. Thus, Crystal will have to wait at a bus stop and take a ride that will last about hour or more before she makes it to her job. When she leaves home in the morning, she must leave her children—ages 12, 9 and 7—to get ready for school. This means that the 12 year old will have responsibility for waking and organizing the two younger children, and ensuring that they make it to school on time. This includes seeing to it that her siblings have their notebooks and homework in their backpacks, locking the door to the home, and navigating bullies (her siblings’ and her own) on the walk to school.
If her shift at work is 12 hours, Crystal will make it home by 8pm or 9pm. Perhaps she has a neighbor or sister or cousin look in on her children in the afternoon. Maybe not. If she has a normal 8 hour shift, she will make it home, physically exhausted, by 7 or 8, with precious little time, or perhaps even inclination, to read with her children or to spend “quality” time asking about their day and getting familiar with the names of their teachers and friends.
So what do the women of the 1% percent, who’ve just discovered that they can’t have it all, have to do with Crystal? The women in the 1% have the power to take the lead in changing the conditions that make it nearly impossible for Crystal to work and parent effectively. They are regular voters. Perhaps they work in city or state government, or they are doctors, professors or partners at a major law firm in town. Perhaps they work in the federal government like Slaughter did, taking the Amtrak Northeast Corridor train to their job at a federal agency in D.C.
Despite Slaughter’s accurate portrayal of the difficulties these women face in balancing their home and work lives, these women actually have power. But the failure of the transportation system in Baltimore to meet the needs of working class people is not a priority for them. They drive or take the commuter train to work. They have a nanny or regular babysitter who meets their children at the bus stop and brings them home. So they did not seek to ensure that the billions of dollars in stimulus money were allocated for construction projects would go to projects that would benefit working women—like inner city transportation improvements—rather than highway construction projects more likely to benefit those at the top.
Women of the 1% vigorously supported the Lily Ledbetter Act, and are mindful at their own workplace of pay equity between men and women. But these same women are not at the forefront of efforts to increase the minimum wage, which stands at a pitiful $7.25/hr. That would give Crystal less than $300/week before taxes on which to raise her 3 children.
What role have elite women played in seeking to change oppressive criminal justice policies like stop-and-frisk, California’s “3 strikes you’re out” sentencing law or the proliferation of long criminal sentences for non-violent drug offenses that might be responsible for landing Crystal’s husband in jail for years, without the ability to contribute to the well-being and support of his children and wife? Isn’t the emotional stability of Crystal’s son—who if he lived in New York City might be stopped and frisked by police a dozen times during his teen years—just as important as that of Slaughter’s son? What choices does the working-class mom of a black, teen stop-and-frisk victim have to help her son through the emotional fallout of police harassment?
And let’s be real. Many women in the top 1% employ women at the economic bottom. All over Manhattan one sees the startling visual of black and Latina women pushing white babies in carriages and strollers. What worker protections do these women enjoy? Many of these domestic workers leave their own children all day in the care of others to take care of the children of economically elite women. Organizations like the National Domestic Workers Alliance have worked for years to organize and obtain basic labor protections for domestic workers. Where do 1% women stand on the efforts to afford labor rights and benefits to the women who care for their children and clean their homes?
Finally, we should remember that Crystal and women like her are not without ambition. Like Slaughter and other economically elite women, they have a strong desire to elevate their educational and professional status. Crystal enjoys working with patients and also knows that if she were able to get her degree as a registered nurse, she would make considerably more money than she is able to make now. Having children should not mean the end of education or professional development for women. How can we support the ability of working class women to move up the ladder?
Slaughter’s piece fails to recognize that women in the 1% have real power to transform the work/family reality for women at the economic bottom, who are seeking the luxury of the kind of choices about which Slaughter and I wring our hands.
As a weekly rider on the Amtrak ACELA train on the run from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore, it’s been hard not to notice over the past two years how many high-powered white women on the evening train seem to unwind by reading Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. With briefcases tucked behind their knees and power lipstick faded after the day’s meetings, exhausted 1% women on the evening train ride seem to find a kind of perverse relaxation in reading a romanticized account about the bonds that might develop between privileged white women and their black maids. But we needn’t rely on fanciful, retro fables that elevate personal friendship over economic, educational and social transformation. Change for women in the workplace will happen from the bottom up, and will take hold when powerful women expend their capital on behalf of women in the 99%. But I suspect that we shall wait a long time before there is a book deal that tells this story.
I empathized with the issues he faced—I’ve also felt ambushed by racist imagery when reading classic children’s boReadoks to my multiracial child—and I was sympathetic to his viewpoint.
But ultimately, Marche just seems flummoxed by the problem. “How am I supposed to explain to a child the superimposition of cultural generalizations onto toy cars and monsters and space aliens?” he writes. “I can barely explain it myself.”
Neither can I, really. But I think Marche is much too quick to dodge tough questions about kids and race. His bottom-line answer seems to the question in the title is, “Don’t—don’t read racist books to your kids”—and if you do, to excise racist language and imagery. I saw this response echoed by followers on Twitter when I shared his piece.
The trouble with this answer is that it assumes books are either racist or they are not—and if they are, the solution is to simply ignore them. But as a parent and as a journalist who covers scientific research into the roots of prejudice, I don’t believe that’s the best plan, in reading or in life.
Some books, like The Story of Little Black Sambo, are obviously too explicitly racist to bother reading, but since those are often out of print and off library shelves, they are the red herrings of this debate. Because the truth is that there are many very good children’s books which are, like people, often a mix of the bad and the good.
Take the Little House series, for example—wonderful stories that my wife and I have read aloud to our son since he was five. A woman born in the 19th century and raised on the American frontier, Laura Ingalls Wilder, wrote these books. They are the product of a time and a place, and we are reading them across a span of time that makes the stories strange to us.
Thus there are portrayals of African and Native Americans that seem stereotypical; many of the characters in the books are casually, bluntly white supremacist in their attitudes. In one passage in Little Town on the Prairie, for example, Laura’s father—a good man—participates in a minstrel show with grotesque racial caricatures, and Laura refers to the performers as “darkies.”
At the same time, however, there are elements in these stories that confound our own stereotypes of the time—characters like the African-American doctor, based on the real-life George Tann, who saves Laura, her family, and her neighbors from malaria in 1870. A black doctor treating whites in 1870? Who is, indeed, the only doctor—and likely the most educated man—in the region? In the narrative, Laura notes his race but doesn’t dwell on it. Tann is less strange or unexpected to her than he might be to us. This is part of the value of reading old, classic stories—discovering how people of past times lived and saw the world, and taking the good with the bad.
But even granting that reality, the question remains: How do we help our children navigate obsolete racial attitudes and stereotypes that will, if internalized, hurt their ability to navigate multiracial 21st-century America—and even hurt them, if they are kids of color? Here are three tips, largely distilled from the Greater Good anthology I co-edited called Are We Born Racist? New Insights from Neuroscience and Positive Psychology. Each one arises from scientific research, but I’ve put them to the test in my parenting, messy and imperfect as that is.
1. Openly discuss the existence of race and racism.
Prolonged exposure to people of different races helps reduce anxiety—this is the famed “contact hypothesis,” and the reason why it’s very good to raise children in multiracial environments. But it might be even more important to openly identify and discuss feelings about people who are different from us, to make ourselves conscious of kneejerk responses so that our conscious brains can take over and regulate unconscious bias. Children can be trained to do this from a very early age—teaching impulse control is, in fact, fundamental to childrearing. This is just one more example of that.
How is that insight operationalized in my parenting?
Long before our son was exposed to ambiguous racial imagery in books like the Little House series, we read him children’s books about black, Asian, Native American, and Latino history, especially ones that show how non-White peoples were treated at different times in American history. These include Ruthanne Lum McCunn’s trilingual Pie-Biter[Editor's Note: McCunn is also the author of A Thousand Pieces of Gold, which was published by Beacon Press], Diana Cohn’s ¡Si, Se Puede! / Yes, We Can!, Richard Michelson’s Across the Alley, and Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House series, which does a pretty good job of dealing with race and racism in historical context. Each of these books reveals, to some degree, the realities of racism, while also giving children heroes—people throughout history who have struggled against prejudice.
This, I hope, is the framework my mixed-race son brings to encounters with yellow menace imagery in the old comic books that I love reading to him. And when we encounter a “slant-eyed, Oriental mastermind” (to quote one old comic of mine), I stop, close the book, and tell him that image is a product of prejudice, and that I think prejudice is wrong. I try to answer any questions he has. Then I re-open the book… and keep reading.
2. Emphasize our capacity to grow and change.
Speaking of comic books: Ever hear of the superhero team Thunderbolts? They’re a group of Marvel supervillains who are trying to reform themselves and put their powers to use in saving the world. I love the Thunderbolts—as well as other morally complex comic characters like Wolverine, Catwoman, Silver Sable, and more—because they reveal an essential human truth: few of us are pure good or pure evil. “Good” people can do bad things, and “bad” people can do good things—and perhaps become a force for good in the world, no matter what bad they did in the past.
That message is completely consistent with neuroscience. This is a message readers hear again and again in our anthology Are We Born Racist?: “Research consistently shows that we can override our automatic associations through our behavior, and can even unlearn our automatic associations with enough practice,” writes co-editor Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton. “Thus we’re not simply either egalitarian or prejudiced; egalitarianism is a learned skill.”
This is a message kids need to hear—not just when it comes to countering prejudice, but in all areas of life. Psychology calls it the “growth mindset,” and its message is simple: You will grow and you will get better with practice—and so will other people. When we encounter Oriental masterminds in the comics of yesteryear, I emphasize to my son that what was OK then is not OK now. I often connect this process of change to the political activism we’ve read about in other books, like Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins.
These moments are also excellent opportunities to develop empathic skills, which both scientific studies and common sense say can help reduce bias. We can, for example, ask how it might make black people feel, to be told they couldn’t eat or drink in certain places, just because they were black—or to see the minstrel shows like the one in Little Town on the Prairie.
“To understand prejudice and the brain,” writes psychologist David Amodio, “one must take the brain (and the mind) for what it really is: a survival machine.” It’s designed to search for threats, which could come from people outside the tribe. But it also evolved to negotiate complex social interactions and to override automatic impulses. “The brain cannot be anti-racist, per se, because it never stops spotting differences and sorting people into categories,” writes Amodio. “But it is pro-goal—and if the goal is to make judgments without regard to race, the brain can do that, though it may take a bit of effort and practice.”
The point is that we should encourage children to adopt fairness as a goal, and to not reject people just because they look different—and reading a children’s book with racist imagery and ideas provides an excellent opportunity to reiterate the importance of that goal. And in this, we are again helped by evolution. As we report every week here at Greater Good, many, many studies have suggested that human beings are wired for altruism, compassion, and empathy. Group identification can limit those qualities and prevent us from extending them to people outside the tribe, but that’s no reason to throw up our hands in defeat. The challenge—and the opportunity—is to provide our kids with the messages and the social environments that elicit their natural impulses for fairness.
Even if human nature is not quite the ally I hope it is, the basic point stands: We have to ask our children to adopt fairness to all people as a goal, and to call out unfairness when we encounter it in one of their books, movies… or inside ourselves. Research says the more explicit we are with children about that struggle, the better. We’ll overcome racism by talking about it, not ignoring it.
We stand on the rim of an unnamed slot canyon in the backcountry of Utah’s Capitol Reef National Park, in a spot that just a handful of people have seen before us. We’ve arrived here after hiking about two hours uphill on the Navajo Knobs Trail, and then heading off-trail, navigating a circuitous route up steep slickrock and below a sheer-walled fin of white Navajo Sandstone hundreds of feet tall, stabbing into the blue sky. Now I peer down at the narrow, deep, and shadowy crack that we have come to rappel into, and feel a little flush of anxiety.
By making the 100-foot drop into this slot canyon, to be followed by three more rappels, we will commit ourselves to going all the way through it—there will be no option to climb back out the way we’re going in. We know the walls will close in to about two feet or less apart. We also know that one long horizontal traverse through that claustrophobic chasm will require employing the rock climbing technique known as “chimneying,” where you press your feet, hands, and back against opposing rock walls, and meticulously reposition feet and hands one at a time to inch slowly sideways as you would climb up or down a chimney.
My wife, Penny, looks at me and asks gravely, “Are you sure about this?”
Neither of us is worried about ourselves. We are thinking about the two little people in our party who have never done anything quite like this before: our 11-year-old son, Nate, and daughter Alex, who turned nine a week ago.
We do have an ace in the hole, though: our other companion today, my buddy Steve Howe. Steve has been Backpacker Magazine’s Rocky Mountain Editor for years—which is how we became friends—and runs Redrock Adventure Guides. Having lived in nearby Torrey for more than two decades, he knows Capitol Reef’s backcountry quite possibly better than anyone. He and a friend of his made what was probably the first descent of this slot canyon only months ago, and Steve went down it most recently two days ago.
Although this slot has no known name, for purposes of organizing this park’s largely anonymous wilderness in his own mind, Steve has dubbed it Stegosaur Canyon, and the unnamed but distinctive white fin soaring above us The Stegosaur. He calls the narrows section that we’re looking down on a “butt-crack slot”—a highly visual descriptor meant to inspire a mental image of a slice in the rock that continues narrowing as it drops deeper, eventually pinching down to just inches wide. Someone losing their grip on the walls in the chimney section could fall and become wedged in.
It is definitely serious stuff. But Steve and I had also discussed the difficulty of the slot canyon in painstaking detail at his house last night, and he showed me his pictures of it. I thought about the challenging situations Nate and Alex have handled well before—particularly rock climbing, which most closely parallels this endeavor, and where they had to follow instructions and remain calm. I became convinced that they could manage this.
When I tell Penny again that I think the kids will be fine—and Alex and Nate both insist they want to do it—she gives in to the implacable momentum of will to move forward. But she tells me, not entirely in a joking tone, “I’m holding you responsible.”
Yes, well then. It’s good to know where you stand.
We’ve come to Capitol Reef in the last week of March, on our kids’ weeklong spring break from school, to spend a couple of days on off-trail dayhikes with Steve and then backpack for three days into Spring Canyon.
Dominated by the Waterpocket Fold, a spine of sandstone ridges, cliffs, canyons, and spires that extends nearly 100 miles from Thousand Lake Mountain to Lake Powell in southern Utah, Capitol Reef is one of the largely overlooked gems of the National Park System. Situated between more-famous Zion and Bryce national parks to the southwest and Arches to the east, with minimal infrastructure and roads to attract the masses of tourists who never stray far from their vehicle, Capitol Reef (like Canyonlands, another easterly neighbor) sees a small fraction of the visitors that flood those other parks. So few people venture into the backcountry that you can show up at the visitor center’s backcountry desk here on the day you want to start a multi-day trip and grab a permit for wherever you want to hike, no reservation needed. Try that at Yosemite or Grand Canyon.
On previous visits, I had discovered that Capitol Reef has scenery comparable to its neighboring parks—but it feels wilder, less overrun. I’ve squeezed through other slot canyons here, hiked trails through a landscape of rock formations that look sculpted by a giant child with an unlimited supply of mud and crayons, and camped below night skies lit up like Times Square with stars.
During conversations at home before the trip, the kids had eagerly suggested we go backpacking and descending a slot canyon during their spring break. So we came here fired up for an adventure.
Nate and the rest of the party scramble up a rising, flared crack on an off-trail hike in Capitol Reef. Click on the photo to see the complete photo gallery.
Yesterday, our first day in the park, we dayhiked with Steve from the end of the park’s Scenic Drive into Capitol Gorge, a wide, sandy-bottomed canyon of sheer walls. Steve pointed out petroglyphs of bighorn sheep, deer, and sun figures that are 900 to 2,000 years old, carved by Fremont Indians who once inhabited these canyons. After walking 30 minutes down Capitol Gorge, we turned onto The Tanks Trail, ascending steeply a quarter-mile to rock basins the size of small swimming pools, filled with water—features found throughout the Waterpocket Fold, explaining its name.
Then we left the trail behind, following Steve up and up onto the almost barren, wildly contorted, otherworldly rock-scape of the reef formation. Domes of rippled white, red, and golden sandstone, petrified sand dunes from the age of dinosaurs, rose above us on all sides. Alex noticed something moving in the distance, and we all turned to watch a bighorn sheep grazing on one of the rare patches of vegetation growing up there. We scrambled, often on all fours, up a steep slope of loose, shifting talus blocks, traversed a sidewalk-like ledge across a cliff, and wriggled our way up a flaring groove in stone.
Explore Capitol Reef off-trail and you quickly understand why it remains so unknown: It would take years of patient, hit-or-miss forays over its convoluted, labyrinthine topography—and countless episodes of getting turned back by impassable cliffs and canyons—to piece together a twisting, seemingly improbable route that actually got you from point A to point B. In other words, it would take the kind of time that Steve has put into getting to know this park.
At a high pass, we sat down in warm sunshine and gusts of cool, early spring wind for a break. Below us unfolded a valley lined by white and golden cliffs and spires, a spot also unlabeled on maps but Steve says is known to a few locals as Sand Blow Canyon. We hiked to its upper end, to the base of a feature that actually is named on maps and visible from many points in the park, a massive dome called the Golden Throne.
Whenever we walked across beach sand yesterday, I looked for other footprints, but saw none. In 22 years of exploring Capitol Reef, Steve told us, “I have never, ever encountered another person while hiking off-trail in the park.”
As if to punctuate that point, near the end of our rugged, six-mile, mostly off-trail dayhike, as we descended a gully of loose rock, Steve noted, “Probably no one has walked through here since I came here 10 years ago.”
That gully narrowed into a slot that abruptly turned vertical. We pulled out two ropes and we adults rappelled about 12 feet over blocks of stone jammed in between the slot’s walls; we lowered Alex and Nate over. Then we descended one at a time, helping the kids as needed, through a vertical chimney that was sort of like a twisting sandstone laundry chute. That dropped us into a short, narrow hallway that terminated at a cliff, where we made a 25-foot rappel—lowering the kids again—to the ground. As the late-afternoon March sunshine started throwing long shadows across the cliffs and domes in the distance, we picked up the Golden Throne Trail and hiked the two miles back to our car.
After seeing how Nate and Alex did on that rugged day, Steve told me, “Your kids can handle Stegosaur Canyon.”
Now we are about to find out.
On the rim of Stegosaur Canyon, we put on climbing harnesses. Steve makes the 100-foot rappel first, followed by Nate, who rappels on his own, though I back him up with a belay on a second rope. I lower Alex, then Penny and I follow—and we are in the hole.
I see none of the usual signs of human traffic, like a beaten path or the branches of the occasional bush broken off. We scramble over rocks deposited by periodic flash floods, push through brush, and use a rope to lower over two vertical drops of about 15 feet. The walls steadily close in and rise maybe a couple hundred feet above us, keeping us in cool shade. Then the canyon makes a 90-degree left turn, and we stop at the mouth of the narrows.
The walls close in to two feet or less apart—too tight to squeeze through wearing our daypacks, which we take off to carry in one hand while edging sideways over sand and rocks. At the chimney section, Steve and I cross first with Nate between us, talking him through placing his feet, hands, and back side against small features in the walls to inch gradually across the traverse. Maybe 20 feet below us, the canyon constricts to a crack less than a foot wide with several inches of standing water.
Leaving Nate at the other end of the 100-foot traverse, Steve and I chimney back and repeat the procedure with Alex. Both kids traverse it slowly and calmly—just the way they should—and beam with pride at the other end. Beyond the chimney section, we hike through more sandy-bottom narrows, the walls still not much more than shoulder-width apart, to emerge from the canyon’s mouth, where it ends in a 100-foot pour-off that we rappel and lower off.
Later, back at Steve’s house, he and I measure Stegosaur Canyon’s length on his mapping program: it’s 0.6 mile long. It took us three hours to descend the slot canyon itself, sandwiched between an approach hike of about three hours and an exit hike of another hour or more—a pretty full day, and one of my kids’ most exciting adventures to date.
Backpacking Spring Canyon
At the park visitor center on our third morning in Capitol Reef, the ranger at the backcountry desk tells me that we’re the only party that has obtained a permit to backpack into Spring Canyon today, our third day in the park. We’ll see a few dayhikers in Chimney Rock Canyon, the tributary of Spring Canyon where we’ll begin and end our three-day hike. Beyond that, we’ll have the entire canyon to ourselves.
It’s at least nine miles from the Chimney Rock Trailhead to the bottom end of Spring Canyon, where it meets the Fremont River. While some hikers knock it off in a day, backpackers often do it as an overnight trip, to spend a night below Spring’s soaring red walls. But at the canyon’s mouth, you have to ford the river to reach UT 24. When we eyeballed the river yesterday, we decided it was moving too fast and deep to ford it with the kids. So we’ll hike in six or seven miles and camp two nights, giving us a day to explore farther down canyon before hiking back out the way we came in.
The temperature sits around 60 degrees and the sun filters through a slight haze; we wear T-shirts and shorts without breaking much of a sweat starting up the Chimney Rock Trail. To our left, burnt red and orange walls rise some 300 feet tall above steep slopes of broken rock and fine sand; to our right stand darker burgundy cliffs of Moenkopi Shale with horizontal striations in hues of red, including the severe pinnacle called Chimney Rock. A 30-minute climb through switchbacks on a good trail brings us to a pass, where we start the gentle descent into broad, sun-baked Chimney Rock Canyon.
Towering red cliffs with patches of white and orange and black water-stain streaks rise up on both sides; enormous boulders pile up below the cliffs. In the canyon bottom, the trail ends and we follow the dry, sandy channel to the junction with Spring Canyon, about three miles from the trailhead. The route continues down the canyon bottom of sand, cobblestones, and slickrock, beneath walls several hundred feet high.
At a pour-off, we walk a wide slickrock ledge above a narrow gorge maybe 12 feet deep, with walls sculpted in dramatic, smooth curves. At another pour-off, we detour up onto a goat path across a steep, crumbling slope. Some six to seven miles in, after more than four hours of hiking, we pitch the tent on a grassy bench beneath cliffs topped by domes and spires—our home for the next two nights.
Accessible and not very difficult, Spring Canyon is one of the more popular backpacking destinations in Capitol Reef. But “popular” has a different meaning in this park. While we’re not exploring virgin terrain, as we were Stegosaur Canyon, not seeing anyone else in here allows my kids to feel like explorers.
On our middle day we hike a couple of miles farther down the canyon and back. We scramble over boulders and I boost Nate and Alex up into cave-like “windows” in the rock that they crawl inside. Even though daytime temperatures have reached around 60 degrees every day since we arrived in the park, in a narrows that rarely sees direct sunlight we find thick plates of ice in the inch-deep trickle of water flowing from a spring—a reminder that winter only made its exit a week ago.
The kids spend at least an hour of our walk telling me about wild dreams they’ve had. Their stories sound to me like a perfect soundtrack to a dreamlike landscape—one that we have to entirely ourselves for a few days of hiking and exploring.
In a 1974 New York Times column, the great Craig Claiborne offered the following instructions for filling home ovens with the steam necessary to produce crisp-crusted European artisan bread:
Take two iron ingots, about 6-10 pounds in total, and heat them on a stove burner until “fiery hot.” Then, “using extreme caution and wearing padded asbestos gloves” transfer the glowing ingots to a baking pan at the bottom of your oven. Next, place your loaves in the oven and pour boiling water over the ingots. This will immediately produce billows of scalding steam so “shut the oven as hurriedly as possible.”
I was hooked after “fiery hot” and “asbestos gloves”—what a great project to try with kids! A perfect Fathers’ Day activity!
“Or maybe not,” my wife commented from the other room, reading my mind.
I’m a dad and a slightly obsessive amateur bread baker, but those two sides of me don’t always mix that well. My kids don’t really like to bake bread. They like to eat it, and they like to putter around the edges while I bake. But they don’t yet have the patience to see a European artisan loaf through its 8-15 hours journey from mushy white paste to glorious golden richness.
Or maybe it’s me who lacks patience… Either way, instead of fighting against short attention spans, I weave my kids into the baking process with quick, fun activities. Since I’m a food historian, they usually derive from an oddity of the past.
Here are two favorites that provide a dash of instant gratification during baking day and a way for fathers (0r mothers) to connect with their kids in the kitchen. Even better, there’s only a small risk of explosion.
In 1939, scientists at the Wallace and Tiernan Laboratories in Newark hooked a ball of dough to two electrodes, cooking it perfectly evenly with no crust formation. This demonstrated something that most bakers already knew: bread’s rich, nutty flavor comes primarily from browning reactions in the crust. No crust, no flavor.
When I asked another dad, who is an experimental physicist and beer brewer, how to reproduce this test, he offered a surprisingly simple option: microwave the dough.
It was an immediate hit, and a great source of pleasure at precisely the stage in baking when my kids start to lose interest.
Here’s how it works: have your kids shape a small lump of rising dough into a ball (about the size of a golf ball). Then microwave it on low for about a minute, or until the dough has doubled in size (and just before it bursts into flames). The result—as predicted by science—is a doughy, flavorless gumball. But my kids love it more than anything. Hands down it’s their favorite thing to do on baking day.
Finish with a Pizza
European artisan breads need to cool for at least an hour, if not more, after baking. Tearing into a loaf too soon interrupts key chemical processes of flavor and texture development—but try telling that to your kids.
Instead, I distract them with an old Italian bakery tradition: set aside a hunk of raw dough (it can sit on the counter under a damp towel while you proof and bake your loaves). Then, as soon as you take your bread out to cool, take advantage of the hot oven and baking stone by making a pizza out of the set aside dough.
There’s a lot of talk these days about how to make “the perfect” pizza crust--all kinds of complicated formulas and mystical thinking circulate on this topic. But, really, any well-fermented Italian or French bread dough will make a delicious pie.
Let your kids stretch out the crust. It will get dropped on the floor and torn full of holes, but they’ll love it (and it’ll distract them from the cooling loaves). Top the crust with whatever you have around. A simple pizza bianca (topped with olive oil, salt, and rosemary) is easy.
In anticipation of Father’s Day, the International Museum of Women put together a gallery on “the changing role of the modern dad,” which includes a global facts and figures, a three-minute video on how mothers around the world view fatherhood, a documentary about stay-at-home dads in Hungary, and profiles of fathers in South America and Africa. They also invited me to contribute an essay on why and how fatherhood has evolved in North America. This was originally shared on the Berkeley Blog, and reposted on Beacon Broadside in honor of Father's Day.
In 1946, when my grandfather mustered out of the army and married my grandmother, he set up what looked like the ideal family at the time. His wife quit her job and he started work driving a crane in a quarry—a job he would do for the next forty years, working up to six days a week, sometimes 12 hours a day. When I asked him if he faced any challenges raising his three children, he replied, “I never did. My wife took care of all that. She brought the kids up.” This arrangement came with a rigid hierarchy: “She worked for me,” said my grandfather of his wife. “I always said, ‘You work for me.’”
By the time my mother and father met in 1963, the same year that Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, more and more people were starting to question this division of labor between men and women. The following year, the United States Congress formally abolished sex discrimination at work. I was born in 1970. “I wanted to be closer to you than my father was to me,” my dad told me when I interviewed him for my book, The Daddy Shift. “I wanted to participate more in my kids’ lives.” Even so, my parents never questioned for a moment that he would make most of the money and she would change most of the diapers.
By 1988—the year I graduated from high school—only 29 percent of children lived in two-parent families with a full-time homemaking mother. And like many Baby Boomer couples, my parents split in 1991—the same year I met the woman who is today my wife. By the time we became parents in 2004, my wife and I were stepping into a family landscape that was totally different from the one my grandparents faced in 1946.
For one thing, we never assumed that one of us was the natural breadwinner and the other a natural caregiver—instead, we saw those as roles that we would share and negotiate over time. For a year, I took care of my son while my wife went to work, and as we visited playgrounds, I met many other dads who took care of their kids while their female partners were at work.
This personal reality reflects one that has been empirically measured. For almost every decade for the past 100 years, more and more women in the United States have gone to college and work. For most of the past three years, men have been much more likely to lose their jobs than women, who are concentrated in fast-growing, high-skill industries like health care and education. Between 2009 and 2010, men with college degrees saw their median weekly earnings drop three percent while the income of women with degrees grew by 4.3 percent. Today, young women’s pay exceeds that of their male peers in most metropolitan areas.
Not coincidentally, fathers now spend more time with their children and on housework than at any time since researchers started collecting comparable data. I call it “the daddy shift” — the gradual movement away from a definition of fatherhood as pure breadwinning to one that encompasses a capacity of caregiving.
The right-wing “family values” movement has painted these trends as a crisis, but no one I know experiences them that way. Instead, we seem to share a positive (if often unarticulated) vision of the family as diverse, egalitarian, voluntary, interdependent, flexible, and improvisational. Many people hold these ideals without necessarily being conscious of their political and economic implications—and they’re not making politically motivated choices. In researching The Daddy Shift, for example, I didn’t interview any breadwinning moms and caregiving dads who adopted their reverse-traditional arrangement for feminist reasons. They almost always framed their work and care decisions as a practical matter, a response to brutally competitive labor and childcare markets.
Indeed, I don’t believe that a political force like feminism has driven men and women to share roles more equally; it seems more accurate to say that feminism has tried to teach people to personally adapt to broad, deep economic and technological changes that made equality more possible and desirable—and the movement has fought for public policies that would support our new roles at home and at work.
Rising inequality and economic instability has meant that many families can’t afford specialists anymore, with one focused on career and the other exclusively on taking care of the family. And so couples are moving from a family model that prioritizes efficiency to one that tries to build resilience in the face of economic shocks. In the ideal resilient family, both women and men are capable of working for pay and working at home.
But families often fall short of this ideal, partially because of lingering structural and interpersonal sexism, and partially because men lack support for their new caregiving roles at both home and work. Studies consistently show that 80 percent to 90 percent of mothers still expect fathers to serve as primary breadwinners (and very few will consider supporting a stay-at-home dad). At work, only seven percent of American men have access to paid parental leave, among other structural limitations.
How can the daddy shift continue? The to-do list is long. It includes an education campaign to help men of all social classes understand what workplace and public policies can help them be the fathers they want to be — and legal campaigns that will defend their jobs against backward attitudes at work. Men whose mindsets are still shaped by the sole-breadwinner ideal need explicit permission and encouragement from both their female partners and their bosses to take advantage of leave policies and participate in family life.
We also need to shift the language we use to discuss work-family issues in a more inclusive direction, so that it includes fathers as well as mothers. That language should stress resilience and meaning to men instead of the language of equality that has mobilized women. In the end, it’s up to guys to tell the stories of our lives and speak up for what we want. No one will do it for us.
Cambridge University Professor Michael E. Lamb has impeccable credentials as one of the world's leading experts on child development. Among other things, he was Chief of the Section on Social and Emotional Development of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development for 17 years. His list of publications is about 50 pages long (that is not a typo! check it out here). He is credited with, among other things, determining that fathers, as well as mothers, matter to child development. It is no doubt that early finding of his that endeared him to the "father's rights" movement and the fatherhood movement that sought to pathologize women raising children without father involvement.
Perhaps because of the mischaracterization of his research, Dr. Lamb was drawn into the public conversation about the relationship of family structure to child outcome. Turns out that his research supported the findings that when fathers are there, they matter; in other words that there is more to child adjustment than the mother-child bond. What his research did not support was the assertion that optimal child adjustment demands that every child have a father in the home.
In 2004, the ACLU, in a case litigated brilliantly by LGBT Rights Project attorney Leslie Cooper, called Dr. Lamb as a witness in a lawsuit in Arkansas state court successfully challenging the social services agency regulation against placing children with lesbian and gay foster parents. The trial judge referred to Dr. Lamb as the "most outstanding" expert witness in the case (coming close to saying he was the most outstanding expert witness he had ever heard), who answered questions fully with no "animus or bias" to any parties. He testified about what did (quality of relationships, available resources), and did not (gender or sexual orientation of parents), matter to the well-being of children. Since then, Michael Lamb has participated in other litigation, most notably the Perry case challenging the constitutionality of Prop 8.
Last month, Dr. Lamb published in the journal Applied Development Science a summary of many hundreds of studies over the last four decades elucidating the factors that contribute to child adjustment. The article, Mothers, Fathers, Families, and Circumstances: Factors Affecting Children's Adjustment is available online here. This means that Dr. Lamb's professional opinion is now widely available for anyone who needs support for the following propositions:
*Social scientists have reached consensus that the following factors matter most to healthy child development: the quality of relationships with parents; the quality of relationships between the parents and other significant adults; and the availability of adequate economic, social, and physical resources.
*Family structure explains a "small (or even insignificant) portion" of differences in child outcomes
*Children in one-parent families have greater adjustment problems than children in two-parent families, but the primary causes of this increased maladjustment are disturbed relationships with one or both parents, reduced resources when there is only one wage-earner and care-giver, and unstable living arrangments and conflict around parental separation. "The mere fact that the majority of children raised in single-parent or divorced families are well-adjusted," writes Dr. Lamb, "undercuts the argument that children 'need' to be raised in traditional families."
*Mothers and fathers are important to their children "as parents"; "father absence" is not itself important to adjustment. (emphases in original)
*There is no support for the notion that both male and female role models in the home enhance child adjustment.
*The same factors affect child adjustment whatever the sexual orientation of parents; children with same-sex parents suffer no developmental disadvantages when compared with children of different-sex parents.
*Arguments from "some politicians and advocacy groups, especially those who oppose divorce and same-sex parenthood" that children need to be raised by "biological" parents have no empirical support.
Dr. Lamb concludes that discrimination against individuals and families on the basis of sexual orientation, gender, and marital status -- which he refers to as "outmoded beliefs in the superiority of traditional families" -- are harmful to individuals, families, and children.
To me, this is what is most important about this article. It places single-mother and same-sex couple families together and debunks the myths about both. Too often, advocates for LGBT families (especially for same-sex marriage) distance themselves from single-mother families. Those families, they say, are pathological, but not ours. I despise such arguments. The Lamb article makes clear that circumstances often associated with single motherhood, such as exposure of the child to parental conflict and lack of resources, can lead to child maladjustment. But it is not the structure of a family with children raised by a single mother that's the problem.
Time for Michael Lamb to get an "allies" award from some gay rights group....