Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Daphne is For Boys

I love this mom. Sarah, from Missouri, let her 5 year-old son dress as Daphne–one of the female characters from Scooby Doo. Why the hell not?

Because some of the mothers in her son’s elementary school were dismayed by her son cross-dressing as a girl. Mom’s blog post about the Halloween costume went viral last week: more than 33,000 comments. As she explains on The Today Show, only a few of the comments were negative. 95% of the commenters expressed support.

Doesn’t this mom deserve applause–not criticism? For shucking norms? For doing what parents are supposed to do, be supportive?

For loving her son above all else?

Mom admits that she doesn’t care whether her son is gay or not; it’s the homophobia from her community that angers her. If a boy wants to dress like a girl, why make him feel embarrassed by his choice? Why not celebrate this 5 year-old’s originality?

Filed under: education, homophobia, kids, sexuality, , , , , , , , , , ,

Public Education and Politics

Michelle Rhee, D.C. School Chancellor, will resign from her post tomorrow. Breaking news, yes, but expected: her tenure as the no-nonsense head in the struggling school system has been the subject of endless controversy, praise, and, in part, a new documentary on the failings of U.S. education. I first learned of Rhee’s uncompromising expectations from a long profile in Time; in her public appearances, she comes off as both fearless and resigned. Seems like the D.C. public schools are losing one of their great leaders.

How do we–all of us, not just those with kids in schools or kids in “good” schools–care for our ailing public school system? How do we remove politics–tying property values to school funding, resources to test scores, school leadership to local elections–and put the students first?

I was a kid who went to public schools. In Iowa, there never struck me as much of a disparity between the public and the parochial or prep schools. Some part of me knew that the private school kids had more homework and better college-prep, but even at that young age, when my mother asked me if I wanted to attend the local Catholic secondary school, I mulled it over and said no. The immature kid in me just didn’t want to leave my friends; looking back now, I wonder if I made that decision partly out of fear of higher expectations in a school that seemed, from the outside, more rigorous, more academically-intimidating, and less the slacker atmosphere I knew at my public high school.

 

Kandice Washington, a University of Chicago Charter School teacher, works with her students. The UEI will refine and expand its successful teacher preparation program with an $11.6 million ARRA grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

 

I’m no education scholar but I often wonder about our public system in the U.S. It’s a trickle-up theory, no? If we begin educating our children with low expectations in high school, fast-tracking one student to college-prep while sending another on an alternate, more labor-oriented program of study, how do we divide instead of pool our human resources? Doesn’t our nation suffer from this two-track system as a whole?

All to say that my suburban education system was flawed and yet, pretty good. I’m ambivalent in retrospect. But ultimately I have this luxury of retrospect. I received a strong K-12 education, an even stronger undergraduate experience, and the necessary training and flourishing of the mind as a post-graduate. In my urban neighborhood in Boston, I sometimes ask myself if the kids on my street have the same kind of excellence in teachers, funding, and leadership.

I don’t know the answer.

Filed under: education, intelligence, iowa, politics, united states of america, , , , , , , , ,

Cyberbullying and Gay Suicide

Students at Rutgers protest after Clementi's suicide

Roommate issues, gay attitudes, and technology: a recipe for disaster?

The news earlier this week that Tyler Clementi committed suicide is a tragic one. Not only for Clementi’s wrangling with his sexuality, but because the Rutgers’ freshman’s thoughts leading up to his death were so readily accessible to the public: insensitive taunts on Twitter,  questioning of actions on a gay website, and, ultimately, Clementi’s final status update on Facebook.

According to the New York Times, both Clementi and his roommate Dharun Ravi expressed their thoughts about Clementi’s sexuality in various places on the internet:

On Sept. 19, Mr. Ravi messaged his Twitter followers that he had set up a webcam in his room and then watched from Ms. Wei’s room, adding that he saw Mr. Clementi “making out with a dude.”

The postings on the gay chat site last week, reported Wednesday on the Web site Gawker, appear to show Mr. Clementi’s reactions as he read Mr. Ravi’s posts about the camera, and the apparent disdain for his homosexuality.

“And so I feel like it was ‘look at what a fag my roommate is,’ ” he wrote on Sept. 21. “Other people have commented on his profile with things like ‘how did you manage to go back in there?’ and ‘are you ok?’ and the fact that the people he was with saw my making out with a guy as the scandal whereas I mean come on … he was SPYING ON ME … do they see something wrong with this?”

Is cyberbullying the root of this tragedy? Not enough education in respecting diversity? Or a combination of both?

Filed under: education, gay rights, technology, web 2.0, , , , , , , ,

Is College Worth It?

I am a proponent of higher education.

In general, and removed from modern connections to financial success, the idea of higher education is one that pleases me to no end. I’m thinking about higher education–for an intellectually curious student, not just someone who attends college as another rung in the life ladder–as something that feeds the soul, introduces great thinkers, teaches us to question and reason for ourselves. Rebecca Mead meditates on the utilitarian value of higher ed in this week’s Talk of the Town. Separating college from money, she writes:

Unaddressed in that calculus is any question of what else an education might be for: to nurture critical thought; to expose individuals to the signal accomplishments of humankind; to develop in them an ability not just to listen actively but to respond intelligently.

I could not agree more whole-heartedly. The merits of higher education can be seen, if I look at my own place in life: Where would I be if I hadn’t gone to college? And if I had chosen a state school in the Midwest as opposed to the private, liberal education I ended up choosing on the East Coast? Would I have encountered and met the same diverse community? I think of certain friends whose taste in music, whose real engagement with good books, whose desire for travel all helped nurture my own passions. I think of my partner and his intellectual passions and deliberations, and how his powerful life of the mind impacts (directly, through our conversations, and indirectly through his actions) my own.

How has higher education influenced me? Above: Horsing around with friends my first year of college in 1990; Below: Addressing students at the university where I teach, earlier this spring.

Mead writes in response to recent talk that college just ain’t worth it. “Don’t go to college,” argue many, like economist Richard K. Vedder, founder of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity. Mead cites Vedder’s line of thought, including “eight out of the ten job categories that will add the most employees during the next decade–including home-health aide, customer-service representative, and store clerk–can be performed without a college degree.” The conclusion? The number of college degrees awarded statistically does not match what the economy needs for workers.

But this line of thought seems to ignore Mead’s, and my own, thinking that a college education can not be measured merely by post-collegiate salaries alone. And I’m not going to the other extreme, of the Steve Jobs and Ellen DeGeneres, famous folks who never received their diplomas. I’m trying to assess how college, as a total experience, both the in-class and out-of-class, makes us more whole. I think about how lucky I was to have spent six years as a student of higher education, and how this has led me to my current position within the academy. In a series of small, perhaps serendipitous, moments my college years provided the incubation period for me between adolescence (and adolescent thought) and adulthood. I think of the mess I would have been going straight from high school into the working world.

Filed under: economy, education, work, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Inherent Tension in Spelling Bees

In a little more than an hour, the new spelling bee champion will be crowned. The Scripps National Spelling Bee has been streaming live on ESPN since yesterday, and will commence on ABC tonight.

There’s something unbelievably compelling and tension-filled about spelling bees. Still unbelievable to me that something so arcane and academic in nature draws such a wide audience. Mainstream media outlets like Slate have shed light on the predominance of Indian American spellers, who often participate in a kind of minor-league spelling bee circuit. Gawker, on the other hand, contrasts this year’s crop of spellers with the sudden-death wackiness of last year’s batch of homeschooled spellers.

If you’re like me, you can’t wait to see these kids spelling for their lives (pardon the appropriation, RuPaul).

Filed under: culture, education, entertainment, , , , , , ,

Fiction

BIOGRAPHY

WORK
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
September 2014
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Pics from Africa 2010

No food for lazy man

Mao and Du Bois

Inside W.E.B. DuBois' library

Commemorating the great pan-African writer

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About Me

http://rsiasoco.wordpress.com/about/

About Me

Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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