Archives for posts with tag: school

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Originally posted in Everyday Feminism. Photo of me, circa 1989.

 

I didn’t have a “normal” childhood.

I didn’t play video games, or ride the bus, or have recess. I never rode my bike around the block or played with neighboring kids. I didn’t have a functioning television, let alone cable.

In fact, I spent the greater part of my childhood exploring an eleven-acre plot of farm land and forest and reading books about strong women from history, while tucked into the corner of a sagging red couch in our 100-year-old farmhouse.

I was homeschooled.

And up until I entered public school in sixth grade, the people I spent by far the most time with were my younger sister and my parents.

That’s not to say that I didn’t have friends – both girls and boys – or that I didn’t get a wonderful education. In fact, my third grade educational assessment showed me at tenth grade levels in many subjects.

But my early years certainly didn’t fit the mold of the typical American childhood.

My birthday parties always had historical themes about struggle and hardship; my feet were covered in calluses from walking barefoot through the rocky forest paths.

Homeschooling is certainly not for everyone.

It is also only available to those privileged enough to have a parent who is able – and willing – to stay home from work to teach their children. But it is a valid and wonderful option for some families.

This article is not a critique of homeschooling.

Rather, this is an investigative journey into discovering how being homeschooled affected some of my relationships – in particular, my relationships with men – and what this says about growing up in America, even without an average introduction to society through public school.

The conclusions drawn will certainly not be universal; if anything, they are personal. But I hope that by investigating together, some light may be shed on how the young female mind develops with (and without) societal norms.

Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Also

Unlike some young women, I didn’t grow up buying into the notion that women can only do certain types of jobs, that women are less capable in science, math, and construction – or anything, for that matter.

With the only other student to compare myself to being my sister three years my junior, I was not exposed to gender stereotypes in the same way that many kids are. I was not interacting with a large group of kids, so I didn’t see people breaking off into interest groups based on gender.

When I got together with friends, it wasn’t girls versus boys. My most gender-biased activity, in fact, was a club that my sister and I started called the “Brave Women’s Club,” which essentially entailed taking adventures and spying on the neighboring farms.

All of my Barbies had professional jobs. They were pilots, professors, farmers, or business people. They had career aspirations beyond looking pretty. I was indignant when I received a doll that spouted out lines like “Let’s go shopping again!” and “Let’s make cookies for Ken.” I couldn’t understand why in the world this chick didn’t have better things to do with her time.

And when the evil mastermind Barbie caught some of the others in one of her diabolical schemes, it wasn’t Prince Charming who came to save the day. It was a collaborative group of friends who thwarted the evil plan that was endangering their pals.

Maybe this was because I wasn’t so constantly exposed to the rhetoric of princesses necessitating handsome princes to save them.

I think the semi-isolation of farm life and homeschooling made these themes less constant in my life. Additionally, I didn’t have cable programming drilling these falsehoods into my forming brain.

In this way, I believe I dodged the societal mindfuck that women can only do certain types of jobs well, and that they can’t be the saviors. I saw myself as an open book with career possibilities ranging from oceanographer to firefighter to historian.

But it wasn’t all positive.

Men as the Ones to Impress

Because of my limited contact with men (besides my family members and a handful of wonderful male friends), the male species was something of a mystery to me.

And because I didn’t have a brother and spent most of my time in the company of females, I grew to view men as elusive and special – as the ones to impress.

Yes, I knew that I could do anything I wanted in my life, but I also felt a deep sense of need to be the Perfect Girl. I felt that it was utterly crucial to impress the men that I came into contact with – to please them so that I was well-liked, despite my alternative upbringing.

Sadly, this grew into a deep-seated fear of confronting men in later life.

For years, I struggled to understand why I couldn’t stand up for myself when strange men groped me or tried to take advantage of me. Most of my female friends, almost all of whom had much more varied contact with males in their early lives and more traditional childhoods, would become exceedingly frustrated with me for just these reasons.

They didn’t understand why I couldn’t give the asshole who slapped my ass at the bar whatfor. To be honest, I couldn’t explain it either. I just felt an innate need not to create a scene – not to be a problem, to be good, and to impress. Even if it left me feeling used, hollow, and twisted.

I don’t know if this is a common problem among young women that have been homeschooled. I only know about my own experience. But when I finally realized what was going on in my mid-twenties, I was shocked.

How could I – someone who believed so deeply in the power, independence, and equality of womankind – have been playing into entrenched gender roles so deeply?

I don’t think I’ll ever fully know the reason.

But I think that without enough early contact with the boys who would become my peers as adults (causing me to search endlessly for their approval), and because I took social cues from what I knew of “classic” behavior for women, I fell into the trap of submission and docility. And it took decades to crawl back out.

It was clear: Despite spending my formative years outside of the public education system and eschewing standard norms, patriarchal views of women’s inferiority had somehow managed to seep into my consciousness.

Society Plays Its Hand

Whether or not my theories about homeschooling’s role in the matter are correct, I am certain of one thing: American society messed me up early, even though I was cut off from it in many ways.

It only took one year in public school for me to start despising my body, to start feeling the intense pull of pressure to be thin and beautiful. And I hung onto those ideals as the way to make men like me.

Despite being at the top of my class in high school, many people thought I was a complete ditz. I know, because when people found out what classes I took or my GPA, they would say, “No way! I didn’t know you were smart.”

And I am beyond certain that most of this was due to the way that I presented myself.

When you feel like looks and “being fun” are the things you have to give, they become a huge part of your identity – and the part that you play up. Instead of talking about my interests, goals, or passions to guys that I liked, I’d just wear a low-cut shirt and talk about the crazy shit that happened at last week’s party.

I’m still guilty of this today at times. I still catch myself avoiding intellectual conversation and sticking to what I came to believe early on was “my selling point.”

The Patriarchy Is Nobody’s Friend

The patriarchy affects more than just women.

It affects men when it tells them they need to like football, lift weights, hook up casually without feelings, and eat red meat – and that if they don’t do these things, they are weaklings. It rejects men who cry when they are sad, like watching ballet, or care about fashion.

The patriarchy is nobody’s friend.

It serves no helpful purpose in our society. And yet many of us are still beholden to it.

But that’s one of the reasons why feminism exists – to help everyone become more tolerant and to look at the differences among us as assets to be valued instead of shameful secrets to be hidden.

Fighting societal gender bullshit is no easy task – which I’m sure you know yourself.

Whether you are male or female, and whether you had a conventional education or not, cutting through the mess of lies and hypocrisy that our society presents us with on a daily basis is downright tough.

But it can be done.

***

If I do anything in my life, I hope I can help some other girl struggling like me realize that she has more to offer the world than her beauty and her body – that the people she really wants to associate with will value her for quirkiness, kindness, passion, and talent. Or for her mad Frisbee skills. Or simply because she speaks her mind.

We can all be part of dismantling the patriarchy. But we need more people to become educated about why it is hurting us.

We need more people to read Everyday Feminism, more people to teach their kids to defy classic gender roles, and more legislators to pay attention to gender pay inequality.

It’s for all of these reasons, and so many more, that we all fight the patriarchy every day.

I envision a better tomorrow, in which a young girl who is struggling with self-acceptance and self-worth won’t have to fight tooth and nail to be respected for more than her appearance.

Because each and every one of us is more than just a pretty face, despite what society wants us to believe.

student_loans

Cross-posted from my article in the YWCA USA Blog

Most college graduates depart campus with a degree in hand, invaluable experiences, new friends – and a mountain of student loans to repay as they begin their careers. Unfortunately, things just got worse for students nationwide. On July 1, subsidized Stafford loan rates doubled from 3.4% to 6.8%, despite efforts in Congress to come to an agreement and keep rates low.

Paying for college has always been a struggle for middle and low-income families, and it’s just getting more difficult as tuition fees increase, less federal student aid is made available and interest rates soar. Most college students emerge from their years of study saddled with a formidable amount of student loan debt – on average, about $27 thousand worth.

Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” If this is true, why has getting a higher education become almost synonymous with inheriting a world of debt?

Research shows that it is disproportionately low-income individuals, women, people of color, and first generation Americans who carry this debt. But as the economy struggles and tuition rates continue to rise, more and more middle-class Americans must turn to high-interest student loans in order to afford their degree.

The alternatives are few, and ending your education after high school is not much of an option if you want a career that pays at least a decent salary. The Bureau of Labor tells us that 57% of US jobs available between 2006 and 2016 will necessitate at least some type of postsecondary education.

Last week, the Senate passed Senator Tom Harkin’s (D – IA) Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act, which lowers the interest rates for the 11 million student borrowers taking out new federal student loans after July 1, 2013. The bill instantly decreases interest for all borrowers – down to 3.86 percent for undergrads and 5.4 percent for graduate students. Rates for PLUS loans drop from 7.9 percent to 6.4 percent as well. Maximum interest rates in future years are capped at 8.25 percent for undergraduates, 9.5 percent for graduate students, and 10.5 percent on PLUS loans.

But the implications of the bill are complicated, warn some youth advocacy groups such as Young Invincibles (YI). They believe that the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act is more of a quick fix to score points for lawmakers than a long-term solution. According to YI, while the bill reduces interest rates in 2013 and takes pressure off of Congress, it leaves students susceptible to large rate increases in the future. Because the bill sets interest rate caps so high and enables them to increase at a rapid pace, many low and middle-income families may suffer overwhelming interest rate surges in upcoming years – making postsecondary education less of an option for struggling students while making the government a profit of $184 billion over ten years (according to the Congressional Budget Office).

The bill passed 81-18, with seventeen Democrats voting against it. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, as quoted in an article in The Hill, said “I cannot support a plan that raises interest rates in the long-term while the federal government profits off them. This is obscene. Students should not be used to generate profits for the government.”

An amendment championed by Warren and Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island that would have set the maximum loan cap at 6.8 percent instead of 8.25 percent was rejected, as well as Senator Bernie Sander’s amendment to require reauthorization of the bill after two years’ time.

The Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act now moves to the House, where the bill’s supporters will attempt to achieve passage before the August recess.

While the future of the student loan debate remains uncertain at present, the Senate will most likely revisit the issue next year as they work to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.

In the meantime, student advocates and many in Congress will continue fighting for a better compromise that protects students from higher loan interest rates in the future as well as the present – and that does not allow the federal government to profit from student borrowers.

 

Sequestering the Future?

On my way back from Colorado recently, my flight was delayed and I got stuck in Chicago overnight. Annoying? Yes. Life-damaging? Most certainly not.

On the other hand, losing access to Head Start (a national anti-poverty program that provides comprehensive child development services to disadvantaged three and four-year olds)? That could really have a damaging impact on a young person’s life. A California study cited by the National Head Start Association shows that society receives nearly $9 in benefits for every $1 invested in Head Start for a child. These benefits include increased future earnings, employment, and family stability for the child along with decreased dependance on welfare, crime, grade repetition, and special education needs.

So what would you suffer through to give these children back their Head Start program? I for one would gladly spend a night stranded in a strange city if that meant that a low-income child would continue to receive these benefits, even for a week.

But that’s ridiculous! You say. No one is making a choice between one or the other. Well, that’s not necessarily true.

Last Friday, Congress approved a bill to end sequestration-caused furloughs of air traffic controllers in hopes of getting flights back on track nationwide – and then they flew home for a week-long recess. This was a great move for people waiting in long lines at airports – but not so great for the millions of vulnerable people suffering deeply because of  sequestration cuts – all of whom Congress ignored on their way out of the office.

So who are these suffering people again? Along with those disadvantaged kids trying to get an education, they are the long-term unemployed, seniors trying to get home care and meal services, and low-income people on the verge of homelessness – just to name a few.
A few quick facts about how sequestration is affecting our most vulnerable in various places around the country:

  • In Florida, approximately 2,000 kids will be turned away from Head Start and Early Head Start next year.
  • 80,000 long-term unemployed in Illinois will see their unemployment benefits reduced by 16.8 percent as of May 27.
  • Wisconsin’s La Crosse County will start serving 6,000 fewer meals to home-bound seniors because of sequestration cuts. For some seniors, this meal is the only one they get in an entire day.
  • A $1 million sequestration cut to the Salt Lake County Housing Authority will deny rental assistance to about 112 homeless/housing endangered families.

So why is ending tiresome airport lines more pressing than helping a child get a good education or getting a poor family into a home that they can afford? Simply put: M-O-N-E-Y. Airlines are big money power players, and the travel sector was losing millions of dollars for each day of continued furloughs. Airline execs were chomping at the bit to get these pesky sequestration furloughs fixed before the summer travel season. “That’s a critical time for our industry,” says Erik Hansen, director of domestic policy for the U.S. Travel Association.  He fears that the delays may have kept some international travelers from booking trips to the US.

Of course, travel and tourism are good for the economy – and everyone wants to see the economy continue to improve. But keep one thing in mind: helping vulnerable people become active participants in the economy is crucial to recovery as well. Making sure that kids receive a good education and are put on the path to college early in life makes it much more likely that they will get well-paying jobs and contribute to the economy in a positive way. Keeping families off of the street enables parents to hold down jobs and kids to stay in school. Helping seniors stay healthy means less of an economic strain from emergency room visits. The list goes on and on.

Do I have the answer to fixing all of the problems presented by sequestration while working to reduce the deficit? No. But I know that continuing to ignore the devastating problems it is creating for low-income people nationwide is not okay. I hope that our elected officials in Congress get their priorities straight upon returning from recess.

To ask Congress to protect important programs for low-income populations, take action with the National Education Association’s Ed Flight Campaign or send this emailable letter from the Coalition on Human Needs.