I know that the idea of talking about race with your kids – for many parents – can be about as scary and uncertain a territory as talking about where babies come from (if not more so). Many parents are concerned, and rightly so, that to talk about race with kids is to risk the unintended implanting or reinforcing of stereotypes and issues that they themselves carry. We discussed this in some part in our previous post, “Talking About Race: Part One.” Whatever the reason, there’s no way to escape the fact that – thanks to the current state of our country, laws, and systems – race is a significant part of our culture, and ignoring it or pretending it doesn’t exist won’t make things better; it’ll only leave our kids unprepared.
Recently, I went to hear Ta-Nehisi Coates – a writer, activist, and Atlantic senior editor – speak on “The Case for Reparations” at Loyola University in Baltimore. And while I learned many fascinating and deeply important things regarding the issue of reparations (you can read his article on this topic by clicking here), what I’d like to share with you is this (paraphrasing): If you want to consider yourself a part of a community or family – e.g. an American – then you can’t simply come out on holidays and celebrate everything the community’s done well. You have to embrace the burdens of your community, the problems and debts it owes, along with the benefits and victories.
In other words, part of being an American now is understanding what America has done well as well as what crimes it’s committed/committing. Being thoughtful, critical, and honest about our country as it is and as it has been isn’t being unpatriotic or un-American – it’s being constructive; it’s being useful; it’s being the voice of real love in the family when the family’s in trouble. We can’t sweep race and its many related issues under our collective rug. We can’t come out on MLK Day and celebrate Dr. King’s legacy only to then dishonor and stomp all over it by pretending that the struggles are over and done with.
I know that race is a contentious topic for many people, but that’s why it’s so vital that we continue to educate ourselves and talk with our kids about it. In addition to the tips we mentioned in Part One, here are a few other ideas to consider:
- Make it clear that the celebration and importance of learning about Black History doesn’t end on March 1st. Learning about new cultures and peoples different from ourselves—no matter our race, religion, gender, or background—is important all year round.
- Experiment with reading new voices (both alone and with your kids) like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Toni Morrison, and Clarissa Pinkola Estés
- Try talking with your kids’ teachers to see how the school is handling (or not handling) the subject of race
- Try blog-surfing with your kids to find and read works from other young people (and maybe even kids their own age) related to the subject of race (make sure the blogs are critical and thoughtful, though, and not just spouting negative, prejudicial nonsense). This can show your kids that they can be a part of the conversation as well, that they can have some power and speak up for what’s right. As a starting place, try out the Nerds of Color blog:
When I was a kid in middle school, I got some of my first experiences with the monsters Anxiety and Depression—and I got them close-up and personal, as my younger brother began showing symptoms of the latter. Anxiety and depression can often be difficult things to recognize (many kids go without necessary medications because of lack of medical care/diagnosis while others become over-medicated and over-diagnosed), as they are often disguised by or confused for things like anger, defiance, lack of confidence, mischief, and shyness. As Holly Robinson explains for Parents Magazine,
Unfortunately, many parents and teachers perceive symptoms of anxiety—like refusing to go to school or use a public restroom—as defiance. Anxiety may also be mistaken for (or even mask) other developmental disorders, such as ADHD, depression, or learning disabilities, so it’s important to identify anxiety early and help your child learn to manage it.
I know that, for my brother, his depression often reared its head in anger, in bursts of fathomless aggravation, temper, and self-loathing. —Things his teachers often misunderstood, things that often left him feeling isolated from others kids at school, things that I rarely understood myself as a kid; and all of these only worked to exacerbate his fears and symptoms. Fortunately for us, our mother was proactive, able to do her research, get us out of schools with willfully ignorant teachers, and get us all the help we needed.
In Jane E. Brody’s “Helping Children Gain Control Over an Anxiety Disorder” (New York Times), she references Dr. Golda S. Ginsburg, a Johns Hopkins University expert in childhood anxiety, saying, “childhood anxiety disorders typically result from an interaction between biology and environment. For some … there is [also] a strong hereditary component” (qtd. in Brody). What’s more, parenting styles and behavior can also have an impact, perhaps especially in cases of “parents who are overprotective or overly controlling, who constantly identify dangers in the child’s world” (Ginsburg in Brody).
Similarly, psychotherapist Tamar E. Chansky suggests that, for parents trying to help their children deal with anxiety issues, the goal should not be “to put down children’s fears but to help them see that their fears are unwarranted and that they can overcome them” (qtd. in Brody). Brody outlines some of Chanksy’s “‘master plan’” for helping kids deal with anxiety:
The key takeaway? Don’t blame your child or yourself for their anxiety and/or depression. These are boogeymen that feed on things like blame, stress, and insecurities. Be sure to talk with your children openly, your doctor, as well as your partner and friends—you can’t help your children handle their anxieties, depression, and so forth if you aren’t getting the help you need to handle it all as well.
Recently, The Atlantic published Derek Newton’s “Higher Education Is Not a Mixtape,” in which he argues that – contrary to many popular arguments and articles – higher education is not going the way of the music industry (i.e. people won’t begin shopping for individual professors instead of for universities the way they now shop for individual songs instead of for entire albums). Along the way, Newton makes some compelling points:
Though many universities have not done a great job of keeping up with technological advancements or at keeping costs down, many of the people making arguments for the tech future of higher ed are also personally and financially invested in the companies and technologies necessary to make this future possible. Moreover, the arguments for increased technology and the “unbundling” of higher ed also seem to be missing a basic truth: Unlike music – which listeners buy because of the artist, not the artist’s record label – students “shop for schools, not professors” knowing that their future career success is often tied, at least initially and in part, to the reputation of their university.
However, a simple (and obvious) response to many of Newton’s arguments is: Yes…for now.
As a more recent graduate of an MA program, I well remember just what “distance learning” and “online learning” courses can look like – and it wasn’t pretty. This gets back to Newton’s concession that many schools and degree programs haven’t done a great job of keeping up with the technological times, so that if they do offer online courses and learning opportunities, many of them aren’t yet all that they could be (which means that many students either elect not to use them or view them as a last resort). But this isn’t something that’s likely to last for much longer, and improved distance learning tech could very well lead to an “unbundling” of universities, to a marketplace for professors and courses over entire schools.
Given the constraints of rising tuition rates coupled with the increased number of non-traditional students (e.g. middle-aged and older adults coming back to school for degrees, training, certifications, and so forth), online learning opportunities and distance courses are likely to only increase in number and quality over the next few years. These increases will undoubtedly change the way people view online opportunities and, in turn, how they shop within the industry of higher education generally.
What’s more, many institutions, like Ft. Worth’s TCU for example, now offer comparatively cheap, non-degree opportunities (both online and in-person) to students (traditional and non-traditional alike) who are interested in auditing particular courses rather than in pursuing a full degree. This trend may be evidence that certain demographics are in fact interested in shopping for higher ed opportunities on a professor or course-basis rather than on a university-basis, similar to the trend of buying a $0.99 song rather than a full album.
In my opinion, Newton throws his best possible argument for the traditional college experience under the bus by only barely mentioning it in his final paragraph:
In the current system, it may not be efficient to maintain fine-arts programs, but most people think it’s important to have them. It has long been part of colleges’ mission to expose students to new ideas and disciplines. On campus, even business students, for example, are typically required to study literature and other topics in the humanities. Some may call that inefficient; others call it essential.
As a liberal arts student myself with three degrees, including English and American Studies, I appreciate better than most the difficulties and benefits of pursuing an education that doesn’t directly lead to an obvious, lucrative career path. And there certainly are difficulties – jokes bashing the putative usefulness or wisdom of liberal arts degrees are classic and many professors within these fields do an amazingly poor job of discussing with students just how many career opportunities are (or will be, could be) available to them. Thus, many students either prematurely cross liberal arts programs off their list or graduate from them without a full appreciation of just how flexible and useful they can truly be.
To me, the bashing or general rejection of liberal arts degrees only shows a lack of creativity on part of all involved. A degree in English, after all, doesn’t limit a person to Writer, Teacher, or Unemployed. As Walt Whitman once wrote, “I am Large. I contain Multitudes.” There is more to a student than their degree just as there is more to a degree than its acronym. Education, like life, will – in large part – be what you make of it. Similarly, there are more jobs out there, more possibilities and opportunities than you can ever account for, because they – like the higher ed industry itself – are always changing. And that’s part of what a liberal arts degree is great for: teaching students how to think (for more on this particular point, see David Foster Wallace’s 2005 Kenyon College commencement speech) and how to grow with changing times.
Ultimately, I think the future of higher ed falls somewhere in the middle here, in a combination of distance/online and in-person learning, of professor-shopping and university-shopping. As our student bodies change and grow more diverse, so must our learning opportunities. This isn’t a time to throw away all we’ve built in higher ed, but neither is it a time to try stalling change and growth.
*For those who’re interested, here’s the audio of Wallace’s speech:
Further & Related Readings:
- Marisa & John Bowe (editors), Gig: Americans Talk About Their Jobs (2009) – ***This book is an amazing resource for getting started thinking about all the different kinds of jobs, careers, and work opportunities out there today
- Derek Newton, “Higher Ed is Not a Mixtape,” The Atlantic (January 2015)
- The Project on Student Debt, “Student Debt and the Class of 2012” (December 2013)
- Martin Smith, “What universities have in common with record labels,” Quartz (July 2014)
- Errol Craig Sull, “Student Engagement in the Online Classroom,” The Chronicle of Higher Education (January 2013)
- Kelly Field, “Obama Presses for Free Community College and Tax Reform,” The Chronicle of Higher Education (January 2015)
Article Reviews: Tara Parker-Pope’s “Writing Your Way to Happiness” & “Creating a New Mission Statement”
Article Reviews: Tara Parker-Pope’s
Tara Parker-Pope’s New York Times articles, “Writing Your Way to Happiness” and “Creating a New Mission Statement,” are a pair of terrific explorations into the power of personal/expressive writing to help you do everything from gain a more positive outlook to boosting your memory to exercising more to getting better grades. Even Parker-Pope acknowledges that this might sound a bit like pie in the sky self-help nonsense, but it’s grounded in some pretty impressive research.
Let’s start things off with, “Writing Your Way to Happiness”—a fascinating piece with deeply encouraging conclusions. Here’s the long and the short of it: If you’re willing to take the time—say, maybe 15 minutes a day—to keep a journal or diary where you actively focus on and (re)edit your own personal narrative, you will not only (hopefully) find that your positivity and personal responsibility improves on the page, but also throughout the rest of your life.
I know this is certainly true for myself. Whenever I’m stuck on a problem or a negative streak or begin feeling overwhelmed, I almost always find that spending time writing (venting) in my diary is just what I need to pull me out of my funk.
According to Parker-Pope,
Studies have shown that writing about oneself and personal experiences can improve mood disorders, help reduce symptoms among cancer patients, improve a person’s health after a heart attack, reduce doctor visits and even boost memory.
The results of these studies—hailing from institutions like Duke and Stanford—show both short-term and long-term benefits to expressive writing. Parker-Pope illustrates several examples of these positive results throughout her article, but I’ll just offer one of them here as illustration:
…researchers focused on African-American students who were struggling to adjust to college. Some of the students were asked to create an essay or video talking about college life to be seen by future students. The study found that the students who took part in the writing or video received better grades in the ensuing months than those in a control group.
The important part here, as this example suggests, is not necessarily the artistic medium—it could be writing, video, or perhaps even other art forms—but the focus on self-reflection and the crafting (and editing) of an honest personal narrative.
And this leads nicely into Parker-Pope’s other recent (slightly older) article, “Creating a New Mission Statement.” “By creating a mission statement,” Parker-Pope explains—by engaging in thoughtful sessions of expressive writing—“people can begin to identify the underlying causes of [their] behaviors, as well as what truly motivates them to make changes.”
So, where to begin? If free-form brainstorming and diary-writing intimidates you or simply isn’t your “thing”—never fear! Parker-Pope is ready and comin’ to your rescue, offering the following questions as a solid starting place:
- How do you want to be remembered?
- How do you want people to describe you?
- Who do you want to be?
- Who or what matters most to you?
- What are your deepest values?
- How would you define success in your life?
- What makes your life really worth living?
Then, she explains, once you’ve got a few of these questions answered (or at least well-brainstormed and doodled out), take what you’ve got and try to mold it into a more cohesive mission statement or personal narrative. This isn’t something you’ll ever need to share with anyone else, but still, it should be something honest, full, and thoughtful. Rather than write about how you want to lose weight, Parker-Pope suggests, trying focusing instead “on a set of guiding principles that capture how you want to live your life.”
To get started making substantive changes in life, sometimes all it takes is dedicating the time to substantive self-reflection.