Category Archives: Ripped from the Headlines

The Best Friend to Have: One Who Listens

Read this article this morning and the study it references aligns with a lot of what I’ve been learning about neuroscience in my book club:

“The new study found that supportive listening could contribute to cognitive resilience — it seems that having someone who listens to you helps spur neurogenesis, which is the neuroscience term for the growth of new neurons, and boosts synaptic plasticity. Essentially, a friend who pays attention can help your brain continue to work and grow throughout life.”

“Researchers found that people who reported their friends and family listened to them as a source of support had a lower risk of developing age-related cognitive problems, like Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia. Interestingly, the researchers didn’t observe the same correlation for other types of social support, such as love-affection and emotional support.”

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Filed under My Life, Ripped from the Headlines

On Greek Life

Have you read my disclaimer? If not, now’s a good time.

Note: I actually wrote this post about 2 months ago and never published it; however, in reflecting on the horrendous stories about Greek organizations currently in the spotlight, I revisited it and decided to go ahead and post it. Because, obviously, it’s still relevant.  Just insert “OSU and Penn State” alongside Clemson University as necessary. 

Tucker Hipps’s parents have every right to speak out and warn other parents “of college students who want to pledge a fraternity.” After all, what happened to Tucker is completely unacceptable.  While it’s important to note that the official investigation is not yet complete, I personally accept the consistent stories of the students from whom I’ve heard on the matter. As anyone who went to college knows, there’s the official story, and there’s what all the students know to be true.  In addition, it is well-known amongst those close to Clemson University and its student population that Greek life at Clemson is out of control–and has been for some time.  Between alcohol-related injuries and deaths and accusations (often founded) of sexual assault and misconduct, it’s clear there’s a problem. With that said, I feel compelled to point out that what’s happening at Clemson is not indicative of what happens in Greek life across the country.  Hazing is bad. Hazing can lead to death. That much is indisputable.  However, that’s not the way it is in every fraternity or every sorority.  It certainly wasn’t my experience as part of the Greek system.  I pledged a sorority.  And at no time was my life in jeopardy.  At no time did someone ask me to do something that compromised my values, my integrity, or my safety.  I did not experience the sort of peer pressure that Tucker reportedly did.  Rather, I found in my sorority a support system of women who helped me navigate the college experience.  As someone without a solid familial support system, this was incredibly important not only to my survival in college but also to my ability to thrive in college.  In my sorority I also learned the value of giving back to the community and to those in need.  I learned to speak up for myself and for the things I believe in.  I learned not to settle for less than my best or less than what I deserved.  Certainly, I experienced growing pains as I matured into adulthood; my sorority affiliation did not protect me from that. Rather, it nurtured my development. It helped me become who I am today.  The women I met helped form the woman I am today.  Some of them are still my strongest supporters, my closest confidantes, and the people upon whom I call in difficult and/or challenging times.  I learned to accept that kind of love and support and to give it back.  “To give much is to receive much” was our motto. And I learned to live by those words of wisdom during my time in my sorority. I was not just a part of my own sorority while in college; I was also part of the larger Panhellenic organization that governed all sororities and fraternities at my school.  Our sorority worked closely with the fraternities within that organization, and we socialized with the men in those fraternities regularly.  We dated those men, befriended those men. We pledged in the same semesters as them.  We shared our experiences. Later, we shared in welcoming new members to our organizations.  To say that hazing did not occur at all would be a lie, but to say that it happened in the ways it does within Clemson’s fraternal organizations today would also be a lie.  I hear what my students and their friends do to join those organizations–the risks they take, and I advise them that compromising their principles or safety is never worth the friendships they may earn in so doing.  That’s not just part of my job; it’s a part of who I am–based on what I believe. And that is a direct result of my own experience with Greek life. What happened on that bridge–and the subsequent cover-up by members of his fraternity–is not ok.  There should be serious repercussions for all those involved–especially for the upperclassmen who forced a young man-via peer pressure–to do something that could potentially (and ultimately did) endanger his life.  Fraternities at Clemson should be held accountable for their actions and their consistent and flagrant acts that violate the very principles of the organizations to which they belong.  Because what they are doing is not what Greek life is about. It’s not what my sorority was (and is today) about; it’s not what the fraternities of my day/time/place were about. What happened to Tucker Hipps was unacceptable.  But it is not representative of Greek life overall.

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Filed under Higher Ed, My Life, My Opinion, Ripped from the Headlines

Powering Down and Unplugging

I ran across this article the other day, and I agree with the idea that “people have a pathological relationship with their devices.” I know I do. I’m constantly checking the smart phone, the tablet, the iPad, the MacBook, the laptop…and the list goes on.  And I’m a big social media addict, regularly using Facebook, Twitter (multiple accounts), Instagram, LinkedIn…you get the idea. I’m connected–as connected as a person can be probably.

I also agree with this: “Our addiction to screens is affecting our well-being, productivity and creativity…”. And I’m ready for a break.  Today is my last day of work until January 3rd. And I mean that. I am not checking that e-mail account one more time effective immediately. For real. I’m also going to unplug my other devices. Ok–maybe not so much unplug as at least put on Airplane Mode (i.e. disconnect from the Internets). I still want to get phone calls or text from friends, my husband, and in case of emergencies. But I’m saying no to e-mail (all 4 accounts) and no to social media (all…however many accounts) and no to the internet in general.

This isn’t altogether new for me.  For the past two years at this time, I’ve done the same thing. And each time I really enjoyed it. I read books, watched movies, wrote,  relaxed, played with the dogs, went on walks, cooked real meals, and just generally enjoyed the time off.  The difference between those years and this year is simple: for the last two years, we went up into the mountains, where there was no service.  So even if I wanted to, I couldn’t check in. And again, I loved it.  It was so freeing.  This year we’re at home and Verizon works just fine here.  But I’m making a commitment. Effective tomorrow I’m putting these mobile devices on Airplane Mode and disconnecting for a week.  We’re having a real vacation.

“See” you in a week–when I’ll probably tell you all about how awesome my time off has been. Happy holidays!

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Filed under My Life, Ripped from the Headlines

Is this wrong? Yes.

So today on my ride into work, there was a discussion on the radio about this letter a teacher in NY sent home with her pre-K students.  The question offered to listeners/callers was this: “Is this wrong?”  The answer is yes.

The letter in question attempted to address the personal hygiene (or lack thereof) of children in the class. Here is a photo of the letter:smelly letter

If I were a parent who received this letter, I would write a letter back, and it would look something like this:

Dear Teacher,

I am writing this letter to inform you that you have failed–both as a teacher and a human being.  Allow me to explain why using a traditional scale: U = Unacceptable; NI = Needs Improvement; A = Acceptable; E = Exceeds. I have organized this from least important to most important for your benefit.

Professionalism: U

Did you hand write this with a marker and mimeograph it down the hall? How am I supposed to take you seriously? My (hypothetical) 4-year-old can use an iPad. You can’t use a computer? It’s 2013; if you’d like me to read something, type it up, print it out, and then send it me. I refuse to read scribble from anyone other than my child who just learned to spell his name.

Grammar: U

Unkept? You’re talking about my child, not my lawn. The word you’re looking for is unkempt. Also, you use a comma before a coordinating conjunction when it’s used to combine two independent clauses. You missed two of those. And one more–please proofread and edit before you send me or my child anything else. I really don’t want him picking up bad writing habits. (FYI: If you’d typed your document in Microsoft Word, spell and grammar checker would have helped you with your struggles to appropriately use Standard American English.) Also, periods. Enough said.

Communication: U

Did you really need to send this out to everyone (Consider reading my post on Bcc and Reply All and apply to this situation if you have the critical thinking skills to do so, which based on this evidence, I doubt.)? Don’t you think it might have been more effective to have targeted your message to a specific audience?  And is a generic handwritten letter really your best device for getting your message across? A more appropriate method of communicating to parents of children you think stink would have been a personal phone call. Furthermore, watch your language! “Enough said?” Really? Your tone is…self righteous and arrogant and…all around negative. It’s like you were hoping to start a fight, not resolve an actual problem. Also, for the record, despite the all-caps title, this is not actually an urgent notice. An urgent notice (!!!) would be something like, “There’s black mold and asbestos in our classroom, please only send your child to school tomorrow if he has a Hazmat suit!” An offense to your olfactory perception is not urgent.

Empathy: U

Empathy, since you seem to have none, is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s (like a 3-year-old’s) shoes and understand how they likely feel and then behave accordingly. Did you even stop for a second to consider how these supposedly dirty and stinky kids might feel upon discovering that their teacher doesn’t even want to be near them? Or how their parents might feel upon receiving your letter? You should know this, but I’ll go ahead and make sure it’s clear: sometimes people do the best they can with limited resources. I read that 30% of the population in your area lives below the poverty line. Maybe they’re doing the best they can. You should at least consider the possibility.

Social Responsibility: U

Look, if some of the children in class are really a health and safety concern, you might consider that the appropriate action to take is reporting a case of possible neglect. Sending a letter like this home to an abusive and neglectful parent could actually make things worse for the child in question.  If you are that concerned, call DSS and let them know.  Had someone done that for my foster kids, they would have been removed from their abusive home years before they were. Speak up–you may be the only voice those children have, so instead of marginalizing (and dare I suggest bullying) them, be an advocate for them. Be a friend to them. Be a role model. It’s your responsibility as a teacher and a human being.

Enough has not been said here, but I feel like this might be a good starting point. I encourage you to reflect on your behavior, consider the ways in which you may have better addressed this issue, and make a commitment to do better in the future. Accept that this was a BIG mistake and make a plan to better yourself. In short, take this as a a teachable moment. Learn. Grow. And then maybe you’ll be able to rise from Unacceptable to Exceeds (or at least Acceptable).  Let me know if I can help.


Parent of (a hypothetical) child in your class.

PS: Finally, please sign below indicating you have read this report in its entirety and understand its contents.


(Bad Teacher)

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Filed under My Opinion, Ripped from the Headlines, Social Problems, Teaching & Learning

Reading in SC–Reform?

So this is another one of those educational endeavors created and lauded by non-teachers that will undoubtedly be passed into law and forced upon educators who (and I know this comes as a shock!) might actually have a better idea.

Look–I get it. We need to do a better job with education in this state. And yes (yes, yes yes!) reading is fundamentally important. Should students know how to read by 3rd grade? Ideally. Teachers know that, y’all. For crying out loud, they spend 8 hours a day with these kids. They know who can read and who can’t…and they probably know why better than you–or a bunch of politicians.

What’s particularly maddening about this particular case is that Greenville County already recognized the reading problem and developed a program for fixing it. And their program is outperforming everyone in the state. What they are doing is working. They’ve got research to prove it. But the State would rather have them throw all that good work out the window to adopt some new system that they’ve chosen (a new system that likely requires teachers to fork out an estimated $4800 each to be retrained  while creating a new office within the Department of Education to give oversight to the whole thing–yay! More government!). Further, this system is reactive (if you can’t read by 3rd grade, we’ll keep you back a year and make you do summer school too), whereas the interventions Greenville County has seen success with are proactive and help students before there’s that serious a problem.

It just doesn’t make sense. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, if you’re going to change education, talk to the teachers–ask them what works and what doesn’t–what are they doing and what aren’t they doing–what resources do they need to get their students where they need to be. Ask them. Because they actually know more than you (evidently) give them credit for. And how about let’s stop scrapping programs that work just to say we’re doing something different. If it works, don’t just throw it out.

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Filed under Developmental Education, Ripped from the Headlines

I’m Not a Black Man

I’m not a black man. Never have been. Never will be. I have never grown up black in America. I’ve never been raised by a father who lived through the 1960s Civil Rights movement.  I have never  sat on the knee of a grandfather who stood thirsty before a Whites Only water fountain or who had to give up his seat on the bus to a white man.  I have never been followed through a department store because I look like a possible thief.  No one has ever crossed the street to avoid me because I had a hood drawn up over my head. People don’t hit the lock on the car door when I walk by. Because I’ve never been a Black American.

President Obama, yesterday, in the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict commented that “it’s important to recognize that the African- American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that that doesn’t go away.” He explained, “those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida.”

I have my own set of experiences that have shaped my world view, made me who I am. Those experiences color my responses, reactions, and feelings to and about certain events and situations. I can’t know how I would’ve reacted to the Zimmerman verdict as a young black man or as the mother of a young black man. But I can imagine that my feelings would’ve been different because they would’ve been colored by my experiences as an African-American. And I know those experiences are different than mine as a white woman.

People all over social media and IRL are fired up. The “conversation” about this verdict is heated–and divisive. I see African-Americans declare justice hasn’t been served–and never will be for Blacks in America.  I see them expressing fear for the young black men in their lives. I see white people, in turn, defensively claiming that these fears are unjustified–an overreaction because this isn’t about race. “Why is it always about race with these people?” they ask each other, annoyed. Our justice system worked exactly as it should, they say. Black people, incredulous, respond: “How can you say this isn’t about race?! The justice system failed us.”

These responses illustrate very clearly the president’s point. They reflect the experiences of the people who make them. The president reminds us to take that into account. And we would do well to do just that. Instead of responding angrily or defensively when we don’t understand–instead of just arguing about it, we would do well to have a civilized conversation about it: “Why do you think the system failed? Why don’t you? Why do you think it’s about race? Why don’t you?”

We would do well to listen to one another, really listen. To try to understand, to empathize with one another, put ourselves in each others’ shoes.  To try to understand, accept, and respect that people have different ways of knowing, doing, and being. 

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Filed under My Opinion, Ripped from the Headlines

Encouraging Creativity

The other day, I came across this article, which claims that “study results show there is a serious lack of creative stimuli in the American education system.”

I’d have to say I agree.  Our focus on assessment–on standardized testing in particular–kills rather than fosters creativity.

Every semester in my Freshman Seminar class I give my students some containers of Play-Doh and some “creativity kits,” containers with everyday objects like thumbtacks, paper clips, buttons, toothpicks, pennies, and random tidbits I’ve picked up at the craft store.  Their assignment is to create something that represents how they best learn.

We do this assignment after talking about the differences between high school and college learning and how students need to relearn how to think creatively–think outside the box.  Children do this SO well. It’s why a toddler will play inside a cardboard box for hours or why kids have imaginary friends who visit for tea.

And then, somewhere along the line, we kill that creativity. And by the time students arrive as freshmen in college, they just want to know how to pass the test.  They don’t really want to think outside the box–they just want the right answer.

Inevitably, the majority of my students, when given that Play-Doh, will struggle for the first 20 minutes.  They’ll say, “I don’t know what to do!” And they’ll try to quit or take the easy way out: “I made a hand because I’m a hands-on learner,” and I have to push them to try harder.

Once they get past the initial hurdle, they come up with some really clever ideas.  And they enjoy the activity (click here for more details and pictures!).  They enjoy learning that’s fun.  They enjoy flexing their creative brain muscles. And that’s important.

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Filed under Higher Ed, Ripped from the Headlines, Teaching & Learning

FYI: A Rape kit is not an abortion procedure

When I saw the news reporting that a Texas state representative had said in “the emergency rooms they have what’s called rape kits, that the woman can get cleaned out…” and compared said rape kits to an abortion procedure, I thought that surely it was a misquote (I also felt sick to my stomach—seriously: “cleaned out?”). Surely, someone did not say that. But apparently someone did: Jodie Laubenberg.

I don’t know if this woman is confused or just stupid (she claims her thoughts came out “muddled” because she was trying to get them out as fast as she could), but I do know this: her words are dangerous.

Likening a sexual assault forensic evidence kit (aka rape kit) to abortion is just downright irresponsible. Not only is it just not true, but also it could potentially deter rape survivors from consenting to a rape kit when they visit the hospital after an attack. And why is that a problem? I’m glad you asked. It’s a problem because rape kits are a key tool in prosecuting rapists successfully.  The evidence culled from rape kits (i.e. DNA) puts criminals behind bars—stops rapists from being able to rape again—gets predators off the streets.  If a woman (particularly a pro-life woman) mistakenly thinks that a rape kit is a type of abortion, she’s more likely to opt out, which means her rapist is likely going to escape justice—and he’ll be back out there, trolling for his next victim.

Her thoughts may have been “muddled” in the process of becoming actual words, but the fact remains: her words were inaccurate and irresponsible…even dangerous.  I only hope that the words spoken to sexual assault victims by doctors, nurses, and advocates outweigh the comments made by Ms. Laubenberg yesterday. It also wouldn’t hurt if she made a public statement admitting and correcting her error…but I won’t hold my breath for that.

Hey! You’ve read my disclaimer, right?

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Filed under My Opinion, Ripped from the Headlines

We Are South Carolina; These Are Our Children

When an 11-year-old boy attempts to slit his wrists with a razor blade plucked from a pencil sharpener, it is a cry for help–a very loud, very important cry for help. And for one such boy, it was a cry no one really responded to–his cry was silenced, his pain ignored.

And it happened right here in the great state of South Carolina–at the Boys Home of the South in Belton. The state failed him. The Department of Social Services failed him. The adults at the group home charged with his care failed him, leaving him vulnerable to abuse by putting him what they knew was a potentially dangerous situation.

But finally something is being done about it–because, of course, of a lawsuit and not because someone accepted responsibility for this epic failure and decided to make changes to protect the children of SC because it’s the right thing to do (The Boys Home of the South maintains their internal investigations show no wrong on their part).

That little boy is not alone. There are reports of children in state care who were starved to death, were not getting proper medical care or, in at least one case, were placed back into a home where the child suffered more sexual abuse.

SC leads the country in institutionalizing children. About 24 percent of children in state care remain in group homes or institutions–and the regulations by which they operate are outdated and ineffective (which is how 11-year-old boys get raped in state care). We do not have nearly enough foster parents in this state.

There are children who did not celebrate Father’s Day today because they have no father to honor. South Carolina is their legal guardian. And we, who live here, are South Carolina.

These are our children. And they deserve better than we’ve been giving. These are our children. They are our responsibility. And we need to do better.


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Filed under Child Abuse, Foster Care, My Opinion, Ripped from the Headlines, Social Problems

The Smarter Move

Somebody sent me this post this morning: it explains how Florida has passed legislation making developmental education in college voluntary (where previously it was mandatory).

I worry for Florida. But more than that, I worry for us–and hope that we (South Carolina) are not heading in this direction.

Here’s (part of the reason) why:

ACT’s most recently published (2010) What Works in Student Retention (WWISR) data for community colleges rates the following as the top three practices making the greatest contribution to retention:

  1. Mandated placement of students in courses based on test courses
  2. Tutoring
  3. Remedial/developmental coursework (required).

Other research supports this, finding developmental education to be a significant predictor of retention. For example, Highbee, Arendale, and Lundell (2005) point to estimates that two million students would drop out of college every year without the benefit of developmental education.

Still other research tells us this:

  1. Passing developmental writing is a predictor of fall-to-fall retention.
  2. Passing a developmental reading class has been shown to be the greatest predictor of retention.
  3. Passing developmental mathematics courses is an indicator of both fall-to-spring and fall-to-fall retention.

When student retention and student success are our goals, it makes you wonder, doesn’t it, whether moving from mandatory to voluntary placement in developmental coursework like Florida is really in students’ best interests…or if revamping developmental education to increase its effectiveness, as we are doing, is really the smarter move.

I’m sure you can guess where I stand on the issue.

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Filed under Community College, Developmental Education, Higher Ed, My Opinion, Ripped from the Headlines