By Simon Tang
The ensuing conflict between parents and teachers over the response of the school systems across the nation, and in Loudoun County, make evident one fact: both facilitators of our education are part of the bigger problem.
In a way, the teachers and the parents are really one in the same. To contextualize this, consider two powerful politicians: Donald Trump and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In short, both are politicians who influence and conduct policy in 280 characters or less, both are polarizing figures within their respective political parties, both appeal to a specific base in their political party as opposed to the entire party at large. Donald Trump and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are basically the same people a few generations apart and on opposite sides of the political spectrum.
Why does that matter in a discussion about education and school reopenings?
Because teachers and parents are essentially fulfilling the same roles in a different conflict: while parents are calling for in-person schooling for their children, the Loudoun Education Association (LEA) and its members have called for 100% distance learning. Both, however, ignore larger problems just as Donald Trump and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez do in the political sphere.
Where is student input in any of the positions that parents and teachers have taken?
Parents are concerned about their children’s education, but what about the kids themselves? Where do they find themselves in trying to answer this challenging question? And what about the concerns for teachers’ children?
This negligence works both ways.
In a statement released on Monday, July 6, the LEA said, "As the voice of employees, LEA conducted an all staff survey and provided the results to LCPS Administration and the School Board in early June. Unfortunately, vital employee input was not incorporated into the development of LCPS’ presented plans."
"As the voice of employees... Unfortunately, vital employee input..." It sounds like LEA’s concern for students is minimal.
While the educators’ concerns are important, if "academic growth, physical safety, and emotional well-being of our students" is most important, doesn't it make sense to consider the students’ own concerns?
What is incredulous is that neither parents nor educators seem to understand the fact that their conflict does not help students, but neither did their “partnership” in pre-coronavirus times. Both parties subverted students' autonomy and their ability to become learners together. Now they are just doing it apart.
In the background of racial injustice, the killing of George Floyd, the shooting of Breonna Taylor, the sexual assault of Vanessa Guillen, it is important for us, as a society, to come together to ask and answer the questions surrounding racial violence. These events are not isolated; they are part of a larger problem in this country. In the same way, the challenges we face in education – of helping students become the agents of their own education, of addressing racial inequity within schools, of services for students who need special accommodations – are not isolated problems. They are part of a larger failure.
Now, I am challenging you to realize that today’s social and political ills are connected with flaws in our education from yesterday. The problem is a lot bigger than a simple comparison of Donald Trump and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or the names of those fallen in the cause for social justice.
In a political climate such as this, is it not important that the next generation receives the highest quality education? The students of today will be the policymakers of tomorrow; serious changes to our political system and status quo must start with how we educate students.
Educators and parents playing the role of politicians in our homes and in our schools does little to empower students; they are the same as politicians focused on reelection in the fall. Just as politicians are seemingly interested in challenging the racial status-quo in this country, educators and parents are seemingly interested in the welfare of students. But how much is self-serving, posturing, and virtue signaling?
For this – our education system – to work, students must be the driving force of their own education. Students must be empowered to think and act of their own free will. What we have now are options – and no solutions – just as in the real world where there are options but no clear solutions to our social ills.
I realize that this writing does not provide an in-depth answer about the question of race in the United States, nor about the many questions about schools, but my conclusion is this: the only solution to the social and educational problems we face today is to convert students to life-long learners, and it starts with changing the minds of parents and educators in our homes and our learning environments. They must recognize that students should be included in the solutions, not ruled over and compelled.
Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don't take.” The only solution now is to take a shot.
by Ryan Tibbens
More school. That is Senator Kamala Harris’s suggestion to help working class families struggling with childcare bills. Harris, who built her career by putting more people into more government institutions for more time, is now vying for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, and as her campaign loses steam, she panders harder and harder to her base’s concerns. Unfortunately, Harris does not share many of those concerns, and when she does, she is so far removed from experiencing the problem on a personal level that her solutions seem tone deaf.
A few weeks ago, Harris suggested that, as a measure to ease childcare costs for working class families who pay for after-school care, we should keep public schools open for three additional hours each day, approximately 8am through 6pm. The senator, previously a successful lawyer, married for the first time at the age of 50 and now has two step-children. Regarding the difficulties of raising children on a budget, Harris shared personal experiences from her own childhood: “My mother raised my sister and me while working demanding, long hours, so I know firsthand that, for many working parents, juggling between school schedules and work schedules is a common cause of stress and financial hardship.” Interestingly, after somewhat-almost-kind of-supporting universal basic income, Harris now promotes a supposed working-class measure that actually benefits businesses. It is astonishing that, reflecting upon her own family’s situation through a child’s eyes, her solution is to make childcare cheaper, not to make parents get home sooner.
If America’s leaders are concerned about burdens on families, why not try to reduce the work day rather than lengthen the school day? School's primary purpose is not childcare, but politicians, parents, and social reformers conveniently forget that, again and again. Children need more free time, not more school; parents need more time with their children, not more time at work. Harris's bill is yet another example of how America's priorities are misaligned and of how good intentions in school legislation too often yield bad outcomes. While some companies and school systems are having success experimenting with a four day work week, others (and others and others and others) are finding benefits in a shorter work day. Given low unemployment rates and historically low birth rates, plus the oncoming wave of automation, modern economies will soon need to come to terms with the fact that few employers and fewer employees benefit from a long work week. But here we are – a serious presidential candidate for a major party “helping workers” by misusing schools as daycares so that employers can continue archaic eight-hour expectations.
The very real, very current problem is that she says she's helping young, working class families, but what she's really doing is subsidizing employers who don't pay their employees enough to afford decent childcare or those who require impractical, inconvenient work schedules. It's like how Walmart and McDonald's pay many of their workers far below the wages necessary for quality, independent living, but they get away with it because taxpayers pick up the deficit through a variety of housing, food, and healthcare assistance programs. Those programs are generally good, but we should oppose offering too much assistance to someone who has a real job because we're really transferring money from taxpayers to the corporate stockholders, using that underpaid worker to mask the transaction. If we want to help those workers, we should find ways to increase their wages rather than subsidize their employers.
Educationally and developmentally, most young people need more free time, more independent play and inquiry, not more time in the classroom -- particularly the elementary school-aged children that this program would target (high school kids don't go to babysitters after school). Plus, we already can't adequately staff our schools, so why on earth would it be a good idea to extend the hours and hire more people, further diluting the quality of the candidate/worker pool everywhere? Families need more time together, not more time working or being housed in government facilities. If you want to help working families, give them more time together, not a cheaper way to spend time apart.
By Chloe Abbott
Once again, it's June, and we have plunged into Pride Month. For a solid 30 days, we can expect parades, rainbow-colored everything, and a general feeling that "wow, things have gotten so much better." To many, this month will be a refreshing celebration of what it means to be gay and trans. While the Stonewall Riots of 1969 may be the origin of Pride as a protest, Pride is now a triumphant march, waving the rainbow flag as a trophy, not a war flag.
I go to D.C. Capital Pride every year, which takes place in Dupont Circle, a historically gay community that was once ravaged by crime and the AIDS epidemic with very little police or public health intervention to assist. Now, every year at Pride, not only do police guard the parade itself, but they march at the head of the parade, throwing beads and dancing just like the rest of the revelers. That alone looks like progress. The people who once would not protect the community now participate in as well as protect that community. To a non-LGBT person, this is the ultimate triumph for LGBT people: “Look, a whole month in your honor! Pride is a huge event in so many places for so many people! Gay marriage is legal as well, meaning so many couples can legally tie the knot! This is what progress looks like.”
I’m not launching into a tirade about how conditions around the country are inconsistent for gay people (but they are, as the Bible Belt alone still sports a distinctly homophobic and transphobic attitude, not to mention the homophobia around the country in other religious groups and amongst many minority communities). This isn’t much of a talking point, as any non-LGBT person who sees progress also knows that, of course, there are still going to be people struggling. That’s why we still have not just Pride, but charities and homeless shelters specifically for young gay and trans people. Saying plenty of gay people still have it difficult isn’t a shock, I would hope. Even more so, I would hope it is no shock to say that trans people are still at square one in terms of public acceptance. I think many people’s real reactions are of confusion: What is the LGBT community? How long is the acronym, and how many terms are there? What does it mean to be trans? What pronouns do I need to remember, or is it even worth my time? Is it against my religion or not? What is it that these people do? Even a truly good supporter of the gay and trans community likely has confusion and questions that they are too afraid to ask for fear of being labeled homophobic/transphobic. This is an unacceptable state for our allies to live in, and if our allies are confused, then just imagine how moderates feel.
The overwhelming response when someone says or tweets a homophobic/transphobic idea is to tell this person to apologize and “educate themselves.” This key point, of “educating themselves,” is a problem for me. People who tweet homophobic ideas probably feel like they have educated themselves and are staring down at a weird, unexplainable social phenomenon with no logic to its motives. I think that people who “educate themselves” without knowing the proper resources or communities will find the worst sources possible and not understand the difference. It’s entirely idealistic to expect that someone who does not know better should have the tools in their back pocket to know better, but just doesn’t use them. Sure, plenty of people may revel in their own ignorance, purely enjoying trolling people, but more often than not, the moderate audience who does not understand LGBT politics does not understand LGBT politics. Telling anyone to “educate themselves” does nothing to actually guarantee that they will learn anything. All it guarantees is a defensive response and a shutdown to actual information out of frustration and further perceived victimhood: “I can’t say anything these days without a mob coming after me.”
Maybe you’re thinking, “It’s not a mob! It’s expecting accountability!” I argue that the other side does not know what your definition of accountability is. There is an information gap between LGBT people who want the general public to know their terminology, know what acceptable behavior is, and know how to have a respectful conversation about it, and the general public who doesn’t understand the terminology or what acceptable behavior is, and therefore cannot have a respectful conversation about it without some background.
The tricky thing is, background is hard to find from the sources we want. Looking up LGBT topics on YouTube, Reddit, Twitter, or Tumblr gets you a lot of misinformation from both sides of the discussion. If you simply look up the word “transgender” on YouTube, you get some decent looking videos, but more common are videos of “DESTROYING trans arguments” and odd debates of “Are there more than two genders? Trying to find middle ground.” There are no definitive answers to be found with search results like these. Someone who wants to educate themselves will only be more confused when your results range from Stephen Colbert interviewing the man who lifted the transgender ban in the military to Ben Shapiro “destroying transgenderism and pro-abortion arguments.” There is nothing to steer a confused person in the right direction, and the most dangerous videos often have the catchiest titles. Even worse is that YouTube’s algorithm will keep recommending similar kinds of videos with increasingly radical opinions. By asking someone to educate themselves without giving them any foundational information, you are sending them off to chase a rabbit hole and, if they don’t know any better, plunge deep into it.
So maybe Tumblr is a better bet? After all, a lot of young gay people found their community on Tumblr. Tumblr led the way for the first generation of young gay and trans people to feel more comfortable open and out in a society changing its mind. Emboldened youth spread the gospel of tolerance and gay rights to me and many others in the early days of popular social media, and it has become a site known for liberal politics and lots of LGBT users. The problem is that Tumblr has been horribly wrong about a lot of LGBT issues. Not because anyone was stupid, but because the leaders of this new generation of gay kids were actual children: children who did not understand the vast history behind gay and trans people, rather just understood their own experiences.
Most people’s impression of Tumblr politics is that a bunch of people believe there are hundreds of genders and orientations, and that anything can be oppression if you play victim enough. This has unfortunately been pasted onto liberal politics as a whole, with “Did you just assume my gender?” as a strawman liberal argument to be mocked. I can’t completely lie and say this reputation of Tumblr alone wasn’t at one point relevant, but it is a fallacious argument because, again, it was the logic of children who very quickly realized that most trans people do not get offend that quickly or that aggressively. The rapid adding of letters to the acronym LGBT was a result of young gay people trying to combine both the concept of inclusion in liberal ideology and the concept of fulfilling a role that being a young person instills in you. “Bisexual doesn’t fit me, because I’m an individual with specific tastes!” When you’re pubescent and desperate to find your role, you create your own to feel special. This is not the pattern of adult LGBT people and never has been. Adult LGBT people have always understood that they are individuals, even under whatever labels fit their orientation or gender. I remember having a lot of conflict over who I was as a gay person because of how I felt forced into specific representations of gayness and gender. I grew out of this conflict as I grew out of young teenhood, much like anyone else with any other identity confusion in late-middle and early-high school. The fact that non-LGBT people’s general understanding of gay culture is that of puberty and middle school is deeply troubling to me.
There is no blame to be assigned because you cannot hold middle schoolers accountable for disrupting the messages of a long-oppressed minority or for seeming juvenile. In fact, if anything, blame should be put on anyone who pointed to this era of young teenagers and proclaimed this was the new wave of dumb liberal ideas to watch out for. But maybe they didn’t know the difference because, when online, anonymity makes it difficult to tell who’s an adult and who is a child. Instead, we must address the consequences head on. LGBT people are not here to get rid of gender. That would be dumb, and very few people believe in this, just like any other extreme ideology. They are not here to get rid of straight people, either, or masculinity, or femininity, or privacy in bathrooms. If your impression of a gay or trans person is someone who aggressively hates straight people and demands special privileges, ask yourself, “Does this sound like adult behavior, or like a middle schooler who just learned what a protest is?” If it sounds like a middle schooler, then you should second guess your assumption, because it likely is the work of a middle schooler, and they’ll likely improve their outlooks. There are people who haven’t, but they become, and remain, the strawmen for a movement that largely does not share their views.
So. What can we say this pride month to help the general public better understand gay and trans people? The answer is to actually respond to people. When someone says something objectively wrong, or ignorant, or makes a mistake, be direct, polite, and speak without condescension. Accept that you are not going to change people’s minds with one Twitter thread; just plant the seed so that they know where to begin if they so choose to pursue real answers. We need to get comfortable with engaging people who hold troubling opinions or say troubling things. Public perception of gay and trans people needs to become more mature to combat a juvenile understanding of what we want. We don’t just want our Pride festivals and RuPaul’s Drag Race and Queer Eye, and we certainly do not want to talk about Caitlyn Jenner (unless you want to hear why we do not care for her). We want gay people to be able to adopt children and not be seen as a fashionable entertainment commodity, trans people to be understood and safe from assault. Remember that the majority of America is moderate and interested enough to ask questions, but maybe not enough to seek good answers. Instead of demanding them to seek answers (“Educate yourself!”), maybe we should offer up our knowledge and experience and history as the insight that they don’t know, but that they really, really need.
Ebola & the Fall of Man
By Ryan Tibbens
I began writing this in 2014 when an Ebola outbreak shocked the world. As the illustration by Andre Carrilho (above) indicates, the major outbreak initially received intense press coverage in the industrialized world because white people, particularly a few Americans, were infected. The disease even moved inside US borders. However, thanks to a lot of hard work by the CDC, US Customs, and a handful of other organizations, threats to the United States quickly faded. As did the press coverage. Unfortunately, the outbreak actually lasted over 2.5 years, well into 2016, infected over 28,600 people, and killed 11,325 people. Because few of those affected after the initial panic were white or American or European, public interest dissolved, and the victims in Africa were left to fend for themselves. However, Ebola continues to be a problem in Africa, particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Recently, militant groups have taken to attacking hospitals and Ebola containment centers, threatening not only the lives of countless healthcare workers, but quite possibly the rest of Africa and, perhaps, the human race if containment is breached. This is the second largest Ebola outbreak in recorded history, with a death toll over 1,100 since August 2018; attacks on hospitals and health centers have wounded or killed around 100 benevolent souls. The rest of this article is from my initial draft, written in 2014, with only minor revisions.
I used to believe that broken glass and AIDS were the worst things in the world. I would remind people of their treachery all too often -- broken glass at barbecues, picnics, hikes, concerts, and wading in creeks -- AIDS at parties, bars, double dates, and the like. They used to be the worst things to me because they prevented us from enjoying the best parts of our natural lives; they discouraged us from plugging in to the world we are a part of.
Anyone who has ever dug her toes into cool, wet sand on a hot, sunny beach knows a feeling that shoes will never allow. The same goes for cool blades of green grass in June and the first toe dipped in a shady river on a hot August afternoon. Shoes are fine for snow, pointy rocks, and 120 degree asphalt, but we shouldn't need them everywhere, and broken glass forces us to be careful of our feet in even the most fun, relaxed, natural setting. The functional similarities between condoms and shoes, and the discouraging characteristics of AIDS and broken glass, should make my claims against AIDS obvious enough.
But they are not the worst anymore. If doctors, scientists, public health officials, elected leaders, and ordinary people don't act more aggressively and more immediately, Ebola will quickly make broken glass, AIDS, and even the bubonic plague look like paper cuts or the common cold.
Why? Because Ebola attacks us in a way that will lead to our fall from civilized grace. I know: calling our existence "civilized grace" is both optimistic and hyperbolic, but if we don't contain and CURE Ebola, we will look back at this violent, impersonal world like a utopian dream. We stand one genetic mutation away from destruction, but we ignore the danger so long as it stays in Africa.
You see, if it doesn't mutate and become airborne (or waterborne), Ebola will kill itself off, and it will spare only the worst among us. Unlike the more contagious measles and influenza, Ebola can't spread through air. For a person to contract Ebola, he must come in direct contact with the virus via an infected person's blood, sweat, tears, urine, feces, vomit, blood, or by linens and textiles directly touched by the victim. More rarely, humans can contract the virus from other animals, usually by hunting and eating mammals (or being bitten by a bat, as happened to a child in 2014, setting off the 2.5 year outbreak). Let's not worry about animal-contact transmission, as that may be unpreventable, at least for now. No, let us consider Ebola's human-to-human transmission, which is both homicidal and suicidal.
Despite the fact that our world is full of violence, poverty, disease, and oppression, it is also full of kind, generous, and caring people. In reality, the good outweigh the bad, and the good are usually quieter about their endeavors. If it bleeds, it leads; the most profitable news is bad news, so we hear more about the bad than good. Still, ask anyone you know -- are more of your family and friends good, caring people, or are more of them selfish, cruel people? Sure, perspective counts for a lot here, but goodness, generosity, and respect are universally desired traits and treatments. Our entire code of morality has evolved around cooperation, meaning most of us are pretty good at cooperating at least most of the time.
And there is the problem. We care for each other, and Ebola does not. We want to be cared for, and Ebola does not.
Ebola attacks our sympathy, our kindness, our nurturing spirit. It attacks both our literal and figurative hearts. A person can only contract Ebola through direct contact -- as little as a single virus can lead to fatal infection -- and 99.99% of the population will only ever contact Ebola for one reason -- to care for afflicted friends, family, and neighbors.
Ebola is worse than broken glass and AIDS because it not only discourages immersion in the natural world, but it discourages the nurturing and close-contact that bind us to each other. The kind of personal care and affection that define most of the "higher primates" will be the very traits that devolve us back into brutes. That is, if we can't stop Ebola.
Left unchecked, Ebola will kill all the good people among us. It will spare only the selfish, the unsympathetic, the folks who were never really into love, friendship, bare feet, and making love anyway. Ebola is the worst thing in the world because it will kill us for caring, and eventually it will die out because the only people left will have no hearts to attack.
Today Is the Best Day
By Ryan Tibbens
Today is the best day because it is the only day. Since the moment you were born, you have always lived in "today." You never lived "yesterday," and you will never live "tomorrow." Every day that you are alive is "today," and when you realize that, you'll have taken a long stride toward happiness.
When you realize that Monday, Hump Day, and Friday are only pseudonyms for today; when you realize that tomorrow never comes because, when the clock strikes twelve, tomorrow becomes today; when you realize that you will never wake up in tomorrow, just in a new today; when those abstractions become real, you will be when you are.
I often remind myself, my family, and my students that it is important to "Be where you are." I'm not as good at this as I'd like, but I try. My cell phone is the top distraction in my life, the most common reason that I'm not where I am. My mind is elsewhere, thinking thoughts unrelated to my physical surroundings, just one thumb and two eyes connect my consciousness to my physical reality. In those moments, I am not where I am. I often regret them because real life does not offer rewind or replay functions. The unreal world of my phone can almost always be rewound and replayed. Scarcity creates value, and I can only live now once, meaning right now, right here, is the most important moment in my life: it is my whole life.
We must remember that setting is both time and place, when and where; and to truly live, we must stay in our setting. To live life well, we must actually live our lives, and spending too much time thinking about the past or future means we are not appreciating today, our only day. I am not suggesting a life without reflection nor planning, but when our dominant thoughts in a day are about other days, it is safe to say that we are not fully living today. In Walden, Thoreau writes, "I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life[...]" In order to be present and mindful, Henry David Thoreau withdrew from society and lived a Spartan existence at Ralph Waldo Emerson's Walden Pond for two years, two months, and two days. He lived in a world much quieter than ours, and he still needed to change his setting in order to live today mindfully. If only we could all retire to a private patch of quiet, pristine wilderness when our focus and mindfulness need tuned.
The Roman Stoics saw life, time, and today in much the same way as Taoists and Transcendentalists, though their explanations tend to be more severe and demanding, more masculine and robust. In his Meditations, Marcus Aurelius writes, "Don’t let your imagination be crushed by life as a whole. Don’t try to picture everything bad that could possibly happen. Stick with the situation at hand, and ask, 'Why is this so unbearable? Why can’t I endure it?' You’ll be embarrassed to answer. Then remind yourself that past and future have no power over you. Only the present—and even that can be minimized. Just mark off its limits. And if your mind tries to claim that it can’t hold out against that…well, then, heap shame upon it.” He does not look for a secluded cabin site nor seek the reassurance of a friendly piglet; Aurelius demands mindful focus on today as a matter of pure will and necessity. He also talks about getting the most out of today: "Then hath a man attained to the estate of perfection in his life and conversation, when he so spends every day, as if it were his last day: never hot and vehement in his affections, nor yet so cold and stupid as one that had no sense; and free from all manner of dissimulation."
Even Taoism (see Pooh above) and Buddhism get in on the action of today. We must set in our setting. Be where you are. Be when you are. So much of life's stress comes from regretting yesterday and worrying about tomorrow, but that is silly -- yesterday and tomorrow only exist in our minds. If we can divert our attention and energy away from imaginary days and toward today, if we can pay attention to active attendance, then we can begin getting the most out of life while reducing anxiety and stress. Don't believe me? Check out all these inspirational quotes and images; they couldn't possibly be wrong.
Even the Serenity Prayer agrees: "God/Universe, grant me the serenity /To accept the things I cannot change [the past and future]; / Courage to change the things I can [today]; / And wisdom to know the difference. "
Be where you are, when you are. Be present. Check the links below for recommended reading on the subject.
Because no one else