The summary of this entry in image form is:


More specifically, I am reflecting over my personal history of struggles to get rid of body hair in spite of its extraordinary difficulty, vs the particular fascist beauty standards that have to do with body hair.

This was prompted specifically by having to at least temporarily give up on doing anything to my eyebrows except trimming, because the skin around them has become irritated by a number of recent ingrown hairs. Cut for possibly gross or triggering discussion of body hair mixed in with the feminism )
Called my mom for Mother's Day this morning and got through on only the second try! Cell service in Tuscaloosa has improved mightily 1½ weeks after the record-breaking mile-wide tornado wedge that leveled enormous portions of the city. I wasn't able to give her anything particularly wonderful but she gifted me with this amazing Alabama/Tornado anecdote:

One of Dad's attendants' brothers was in Holt, a rather more rural part of Tuscaloosa County, walking around shortly after the tornado hit, looking to help people. He came to a house that was basically gone and where in order simply to reach it he had to shove and hack his way through a lot of debris. He found two dudes in the yard reclining in lounge chairs with cans of beer while an entire deer, cut into thin pieces, cooked on a fire they had built.

He asked them if they needed anything, and they replied, "We've got beer; we've got a doe smokin'; we're fine."

Also a lot of tornado-damage-centric updates, to wit:

  • Temporary cell towers have been raised, which aren't as good as service was before, but are better than the mostly-non-service they had a week ago.

  • Electricity: yes )

  • Cable and internet still out.

  • Roof: tarped, yard: paths cleared )

  • Lost trees ;_; )

  • Friends and connections in Tuscaloosa )

  • The wheelchair van's lift was damaged, and so was the body, but not the chassis or the inside. It's at the garage and apparently the repairs are a bit time-consuming, but whatever, at least the rest of the city is basically at a standstill rn so my dad isn't missing much except work.

  • The attendant who was with my parents when the tornado struck (and saw it coming because he slipped out of the relatively-safest hallway to look out the kitchen window, and saw "the twister coming and the transformers blowing up") lost his car. Specifically, a tree crushed it in my parents' driveway. For some reason his insurance refused to cover it so my parents have in the hope that the federal assistance stuff will later reimburse them. His brother has also been helping drag shit out of their yard pretty tirelessly. People are really great.

  • My parents live on 13th Street, which I saw namechecked erroneously elsewhere on a linked-to lj post as "not there anymore" (for the record, they're far from the only people on this street who are still there, even if a significant portion of the houses further down it are gone). If you've been following the news, you've seen photos of what used to be a Hobby Lobby and/or Big Lots (same shopping center) at the end of said street. They went for a walk while they were talking to me and walked by a number of neighbors out in their yards, including two different ones with chainsaws trying to hack up fallen trees.
My parents finally got through to me this morning - cell service has been very spotty in the area.

Most of my hometown, Tuscaloosa, is still without electricity, so no hot water, but regular water is running - Mom said they are in a "boil zone", but a lot of people have been giving them drinking water, so there's no shortage there. They also have a propane grill and a camping-sized propane stove for that matter, so even though their actual oven/range is electric, there's no problem about cooking. Yesterday my mom went out and got ice, and they cooked all the food in the freezer and then packed the extra in numerous coolers. Until yesterday there were three people staying in my parents' house (which is giant, and only lost usability in the library, with all four bedrooms remaining untouched) whose own places had been damaged, but the third moved out and now it's only the lesbians who gave my mom the animatronic dancing skeleton pirate last Mother's Day. (You see why these two are my parents' current best friends. Also they're both librarians.)

Not of interest to everybody, but here's a lot of information semi-organized: state of my parents' property, some other stuff nearby, what it's been like for my mom driving around )

Finally, via [personal profile] cleolinda, Alabama Tornado Relief: How You Can Help.
Which Alabamian malapropronunciation is funniest?

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Which Alabamian mispronunciation is funnier

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the "suit" of furniture (living room suits, starting at just 399.99... bedroom suits, starting at 499.99...)
12 (100.0%)

"repertory" (repertory theatre!)
0 (0.0%)

Did I ever tell you guys about the time we watched Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet1 in my 9th grade English class, and in the scene where they have sex, our student teacher2 came and held a piece of yellow poster board in front of the screen until they stopped?

I went to a large public high school in the most liberal city (which isn't saying much) in the grand old Pancreas of Dixie, Alabama. We were also taught Sex Respect instead of sex education in school, where activities such as making up rhyming slogans to discourage teen pregnancy replaced activities such as learning what contraception is or how impregnation occurs.

1. Romeo+Juliet had come out the year before so 100% of the class had already seen it. This was the Reign of La DiCaprio in my high school. Even Prince William couldn't compete. The next year, there was a group of girls belonging to my social clique who made sure that every time we performed impromptu skits in Spanish III - which we did once per week - at least one group's skit contained a reference to DiCaprio. The most popular skit, which they performed again at the end of the year party to great applause, was the one where Hilary Clinton (played by the other lesbian in the class, though I didn't know it at the time) pushed her husband (played by an extremely freckly ginger Republican named Riley) off the Titanic in order to claim Leo (I don't remember who played him) for herself.

2. I remember her quite clearly because she wore false nails, which had a new fanciful color each week. The first week she was with us they were pewter, a dark metallic silver color which I had never seen on anyone's nails before and instantly resolved to find for myself.
On one hand, I am very interested in the things I'm learning about special education and pedagogical methods. On the other hand, much as I appreciate sharing the classroom entirely with mature adult women in a variety of ages who are serious about this, every now and then I am still (in a disturbing flashback to secondary school) plagued by other people's slowness or incompetence.

For example, this week out of 5 short presentations on alternative pedagogical methods by my classmates, two talked for twice as long as I had done in mine while failing to present both the central tenets of the philosophy and what the method actually does, which are kind of the essential parts. It seems fairly basic and hard to mess up, but the girl who talked about Steiner schools babbled for a good five minutes about organic food, but at the end of her three-page powerpoint outline, we had learned nothing about what goes on in a Steiner classroom and the lecturer had to take over and give a mini-talk about it. The woman who covered Vygotskij gave an excellent summation of how his methods are applied, but failed to include the key concepts related to his theories.

One thing that's striking about the various alternative methodologies and theories (Montessori, Steiner, Vygotskij, Freinet, Reggio Emilia, John Dewey) is that they have a lot in common, and all focus on working with children's inherent curiosity and desire to learn, allowing them to direct their studies or set their own pace, and letting the teacher guide them instead of just reading textbooks out loud for them to then regurgitate in the form of a string of worksheets, unimaginative questions requiring in answer nothing but rephrased sentences directly from the book, and fill-in-the-blank and multiple choice tests (you can tell I'm still bitter: a better word might be traumatized). Practical applications, the real world, concretization... all of these are common ground probably because they're so close to the natural way children learn when given the chance, and as such are fairly obvious.

So why the persistent clinging to the "traditional" methods which are practically the worst possible way to teach anyone, not just children with alternative learning styles, learning difficulties, and above- or below-average intelligence? Why, when they've been empirically shown to suck for decades? I don't mean to imply that methods in school aren't changing, because I know that they had become more flexible already when I was in primary school compared to my mother's experiences 26 years prior (not enough to make school anything but exquisitely boring torture, but it was better than nothing), and in secondary school - in the classes aimed specifically and exclusively at "gifted" and advanced students - I was lucky to have more alternative learning methods than most, but usually on a small scale, nothing to the extent of student-directed independent studies or broad interdisciplinary theme-oriented units (with a few exceptions).

As a child I was often told by my mom that my paltry few hours a week of special "enrichment" classes, the sole interesting and exciting parts of my education (once exiled from Montessori paradise at age 6), were needed far more by my classmates who were excluded from them. It was her opinion that a determined and intelligent person can always learn if they try (projecting a bit there, Mom) and that the vast majority of "average" students are in need of help, and would be a more appropriate target for the better teaching methods and more personal attention. (I was never so self-effacing as to be able to wish to trade the saving grace of my school week away, however.) I always felt conflicted about this issue as a result, because my mom seemed to feel that I should feel guilty for benefiting above my classmates simply due to IQ testing - an arbitrary measure that doesn't actually measure intelligence blah blah Gardner being good at different things (already drummed into my head at a very early age) - and nothing to do with merit. My mom is nothing if not anti-elitist.

As an adult, though, I have seen through the conflict. Obviously there is still one considering the inadequate resources in most school systems which result in them having to undertake a kind of triage, so that it's not unbelievable that the question is either/or for "enrichment" or so-called "special education" (for learning disabilities, I mean, since provision for the physically/severely handicapped is to an extent mandated by law, and is less easily carved away - not that schools don't try. However, in my system, the physically handicapped or severely handicapped had no choice but to attend the one special needs school which was fully accessible, while children suffering from less visible disabilities like grave learning difficulties were frequently stuffed back into classes with everyone else to receive wholly inadequate help and attention and usually to fail and eventually drop out).

Morally, though, all students deserve to be taught with methods that actually are effective. Leaving aside the matter of extra resources, all children, the average, the high- and low-IQed, the learning disabled and the physically disabled, equally deserve to be taught in a way that makes learning interesting and fun, stimulates their own curiosity and motivation, and trains them to investigate and think critically - by which I mean with alternative pedagogical methods. I can't believe that there would be anything but improvement if all primary schools were Montessori, Steiner, or Freinet.
Last night's lecture (course for classroom assistants), the second from a Special Education teacher, was mostly about the national guidelines for building local and school-level curricula/course of study.

The teacher talked about leveling and how it was abolished entirely in Finland in the mid-1980s, all the way from elementary school up to high school (where the Finnish system splits into entirely voluntary technical schools and academic high schools). Even reading and maths are integrated for the whole class and Finland also has no what she called "elite" (or inherently leveled) schools. There isn't money to truly provide special needs children with THEIR education all the way throughout the country, which has many rural areas dotted with tiny rural schools with as few as 2-3 teachers and 15-50 students. Imagine, then, how little provision is possible for children of above-average intelligence. The lecturer admitted to me that these children are frequently not provided for; the ideal is that the teachers are meant to look at each individual pupil's level and provide them with more to do (or less to do, and more help), but the only REQUIREMENT is that the basic curriculum be taught in a certain way to everyone (except for special-needs students for whom a formal process provides exceptions).

God, I mean, just imagine how boring (I suspect, though, given that Finland has some of the best education in the world going by tests and so on, that it's actually still less boring than my childhood was). I was bored, and many many people are bored even in advanced classes (even primary school classmates who IQ-tested into the special weekly "Gifted and Talented" additions, as they were called in Alabama, but then didn't make the performance-based cuts to the top advanced levels of English, History, and math in middle school at grade 6).

There is no question that a child of above-average intelligence is in less need of help than a child with learning difficulty. Of course, the resources of society should be aimed at the latter, because the former is just bored, and the odds are, has the intellectual resources to find something else to do, and keep themselves occupied. But that's not to say that the deeply-ingrained habit of utter boredom and superiority imprinted on these children by inadequate primary school doesn't harm them! I actually didn't realize until the last several years how much it harmed me, but I am starting to think now that it was a lot worse for me than I suspected.

I am so accustomed to boredom, so used to it from the first day I transferred from a private Montessori school in New York to the Alabama public schools at age 6, that it didn't even occur to me until last night's lecture that the AIM of schooling is actually not only to "challenge" every pupil (a platitude I've often heard and which, let's face it, is problematic and in many cases not actually meant) - but to keep them occupied. The infinite variety of ways to occupy yourself "After you finish your work" was so familiar to me that I sat dazed and confused for several minutes while the lecturer talked about the ways classroom teachers can and do try to provide extra material and assignments for the above-average so they don't just sit twiddling their thumbs! "Isn't thumb-twiddling an essential, indeed, the MAIN point of school?", I thought at first.

I estimate that from age six when I started reading my own novels in class (first with Babysitter's Little Sister, quickly on to Babysitter's Club and Nancy Drew and thence to YA and adult fantasy from my parents' library), I was never without several personal books brought to read per day in my extra time, and I typically finished at least one per day all the way up through 7th grade, which was the first time I encountered classes I couldn't get through even if I kept reading the entire time the teacher was talking. I still remember the staggering force of my epiphany, in 7th grade "social studies" (really world history) that not only could I be engaged if I listened to the teacher only instead of reading while listening with one ear, what she was saying was actually complex enough to require more than one ear's attention to understand! Through high school, I was still able to finish a novel in a day to a week reading only in the time after I finished my work; but in primary school, I probably spent a good 50%-70% of my school hours reading.

And, hey, I have just fully realized the magnitude of that. Because... that is wrong. That is FUCKED-UP. And that should be obvious - should have been obvious to a long string of teachers who kind of weren't doing their jobs, not that it was really their fault with the utterly inadequate resources given to public education in Alabama.
I didn't check the syllabus before taking the 1-hr trip to suburb Pargas yesterday for the weekly meeting of my course for teacher's assistants, and so didn't realize that it was, in fact, Multiculturalism (aimed at Extremely White Non-Academic People from Finland AKA A Country That's 98% Insular and Racially and Ethnically Homogenous).

I immediately correctly guessed that I should have executively exempted myself, considering that I studied Sociology through all the Bachelor's level courses and quit only when it was time to write an undergraduate thesis, and that I was raised Unitarian Universalist on my English professor grandmother's considerable collections of world folklore (not to mention educated in America where in school I learned more about world religions than the Finns, which is hilarious considering Finland has the best secondary education in the world and America places 14th) (of course, that isn't universal in the US, where considerable latitude is given to state governments, city governments, and individual schools).

When I saw the first Powerpoint slide said "WHAT IS CULTURE?" I was like, Oh shit, and started ripping up my handout to make a series of progressively smaller origami cranes, which has been my habit whenever reading a novel through a boring class isn't possible, starting in 9th grade. (I had seven at the end of the class, four of which had small allover patterns drawn in ballpoint on both sides of the paper, and the smallest of which I folded using the tip of the pen when my pinky nail could no longer fit into the folds. I threw them all away on my way out.)

(LOL. This was entirely my own fault, by the way. Some of the class probably DID need the lecture and all of the lectures are optional.)

My dad, 3/4 Jew and 100% naturally and genetically irreligious, was raised in the Ethical Culture Society and UU congregations because his parents wanted people to have dinner parties and nature hikes with, and summer camps to send their children to. My mom was raised Catholic and didn't like it, and my parents were happily sleeping in on Sunday until they moved to Alabama when I turned 6 and I was plunged head-first into the Alabama public school system, and consequently exposed to Christianity enough to notice it for the first time.

At age five, I was impressed by Buddhism and used to tell people when asked that I was Buddhist based on children's books on the subject. But everyone (everyone vocal at least) in my new school was a Southern Baptist. They were all talking about Jesus all the time, as well as telling so many stories from Bubble Camp (their accents were very thick and it was several years before I realized that "Bubble Camp" was actually Bible Camp) that I wished to take part. When people asked, I said I was Baptist for a while. Even though it was clear I didn't know what it entailed, my parents decided I needed a positive influence, so they joined the local Unitarian Universalist group - today a Congregation, back then a Fellowship - which, at the time, was renting space from the local synagogue.

For the first few years, there were few volunteers to teach Children's Religious Education (CRE), which takes place during the service for UUs and thus denies those volunteers adult company. The debate raged on the CRE Committee over which UU CRE curriculum to use: the one based on Bible stories that we did my first year, or the World Religions one. For a while I think there was a time-share policy in place, but somehow I managed to almost completely miss any Bible-story learning. Most of my childhood Sundays were given over to World Religions. I also went to the adult services because I felt like clinging to my parents' arms a fair amount in the years my mom wasn't teaching, or whenever the topic of the sermon looked interesting. The adult "sermons" were usually not actually sermons; our group didn't hire a full-time minister until I was in high school. They were generally on current events, philosophy, science, civil rights, or history, and the last quarter to half hour or so would be given over to a congregation-wide open debate.

By the end of my third year in Alabama public schools (3rd grade, 1992), I had learned all the salient features of trying to argue about religion with crazy Christians (aka the futility of arguing with trolls, even though I didn't know the word 'troll'). This isn't to say that I completely stopped, but I put more effort into, for example, contradicting the Bush Sr propaganda perpetrated by Weekly Reader and the American History propaganda about Washington and Columbus perpetrated by our textbooks, and pro-choice arguments when my 4th grade teacher tried to preach anti-abortion during math lessons, and campaigning for Clinton on the playground.

There were gay couples, Hindus, practicing Jews and recovering Christians in the congregation when we joined. Over the years, my home congregation has had a handful of practicing Buddhists and Native Americans and provided a meeting place for the local university's pagan group (my mother took me to several meetings in middle school, but they weren't as exciting as fantasy novels had led me to expect, even if I did get to jump over a burning candle). None of these acquaintances were very much more than superficial, but at least they were there. Tokenism, privilege, Nice White Ladies: it's practically my native culture. True inclusivity often (usually?) starts with the well-meaning majority being accidentally insensitive (it took my parents and the practicing Canadian Jews several years to part the fellowship from its "Thanksgiving Seder" in favor of a truly multicultural Thanksgiving that made factually correct references to Sukkot and none to Passover, which is about freedom and fighting for it, and thanks for, you know, the plagues as opposed to for the HARVEST. Although this concept was not too difficult to get across to a congregation of college-educated former Christians, they still held onto it for several years because it was "fun" and "everybody liked it").

The guest lecturer was a MA in Psychology who teaches World Religions in secondary school (hilariously - or maybe it's just me - Wax's good friend Sofia is a Doctor of Religion who teaches Psychology in secondary school). She was highly animated, and included a number of anecdotes from her international travels, so the class wasn't mind-numbingly boring, even if the only new information I learned was that no other books may be placed on top of the Qur'an (but this applies only to the Arabic; translations aren't holy); Indians throw dead bodies into the Ganges; in the Orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem high-rise elevators stop on each floor automatically on the Sabbath so residents don't have to push any buttons, and men can't go before the Wailing Wall with their heads uncovered; and that Hare Krishna used to be the Swedish government's #1 Threatening Religion because they encourage people to cut off all ties.
Right now among H&M's sweatshirts with fake vintage logos is a mauve pullover that says "Tornado Alley". Even though I laughed when [personal profile] morningfine pointed it out at the Chav H&M in the mall (newly converted to a departmentful mini-store with signs in the window that say SORRY, GUYS, THIS WON'T BE YOUR FAVORITE STORE ANYMORE and HI LADIES, WELCOME TO YOUR NEW SECOND FAVORITE STORE or something like that which is like, even if the 2-story H&M directly across the street from you were in fact someone's favorite store, would the mini-branch that doesn't have any unique stock be the second favorite? No. Surely the second would be some other store like Zara, Vero Moda, Seppälä, or Lindex, depending if you're a posh totty, a mall-variety femme, a teenie, or a dowdy middle-aged person)...

...anyway the point is that, as I told Chi and Bell at the time, I miss tornados. I mean, not tornados themselves - I've seen enough funnel clouds up very close forever probably - but I miss tornado weather.

I grew up in tornado alley, northwest Alabama, and my extended family in the Kansas City area are at the other end of it. Tornado weather is old hat, and so is tornado damage up close (although it's never happened to my parents' house, it did happen to various friends, churchmates, and Girl Scout troop members). There's something cosy about squeezing into the crawlspace with the family, even though the crawlspace, dating as it does from about 1910, is a literal one, dirt-floored and not quite tall enough to stand up in. Tornado warnings were times to huddle down there with radios, books, blankets, card games and pets on top of isolated islands of carpeting like picnic blankets, surrounded by boxes and old bits of broken furniture and mutilated bicycles and ancient portable radiators left there by the previous tenants of the house.

There's no interior route to the crawlspace at my parents' house. When the tornado sirens sounded, we'd grab things up and rush outside to the back deck, down the stairs and around under it, to the door built into the foundations of the house. The opening to the little tunnel behind the wooden deck leading to the crawlspace door is only four feet tall or so, easy to bump your head, and in the thunderstorms that sometimes precede tornado weather, the grass and dirt might turn muddy and slippery. The sirens are overbearing, loud and urgent, and the pitch in combination with the electrical zing in the air and the incredibly strong wind is enough to raise goosebumps on your arms. The air in a tornado warning - which means a funnel cloud, lowering, has been spotted in the vicinity, as opposed to a tornado watch, which means only that conditions are ideal for funnel clouds to form - is sizzlingly electric, sharp and ionized, windy and biting, often hot air with cold-edged wind almost strong enough to knock you over, blowing gusts of damp that don't fall directly from the solid masses of low-hanging dark clouds. Stumbling outside, down through the dark tunnel to the crawlspace barefoot, wrapped in blankets and whatever you grabbed and carrying a panicky cat or a dog, shouting back and forth to people still in the house with the sirens and the wind drowning the words out before they made it back to the door.

The fizzy crackle of the radio reception from under the house. The damp, mildewy, dusty smell of the dirt. Driving in the car, watching the funnel cloud lower to the ground on Skyland Boulevard. Once I was in Kansas for the summer when a tornado hit (actually hit, not just threatened). My cousin had a brand-new kitten. Her mother and sister were across the street at the neighbor's house when the sirens started. It wasn't near evening, but the sky was the blackest I'd seen that time of day. My favorite aunt and uncle's old house had a finished basement, with, unfortunately, a high-up narrow window at one end, which made it not completely safe. My uncle shooed me and my cousin downstairs with a pile of comforters and pillows each, and stuffed us in the tiny utility closet, packed in on either side of the hot water boiler in the dark, surrounded by pillows, with the kitten on our laps, and closed the door after us. There was barely room for feet, knees, two pubescent girls and a cat. He ran back upstairs after one more thing - about five times, in between tacking a blanket over the window at the other end of the basement, trying to push the pinball machine in the way. He ran upstairs looking for batteries. Then he remembered a window that was left open, and another. The funnel cloud passed directly over their house, close but not touching down. It sounded like a freight train on the ground floor of the house, but it didn't destroy anything.

I'll probably buy the sweatshirt later this week, if they still have it in my size.
Classy grownup sneakers for once! For those of you who like to dress your age and not like you're on your way to an emo concert or rock festival, which is generally not me (although one of my five pairs of sneakers does fall in this category...). I tend to prefer teenie shoes myself, but there's also a strong appeal in classic sophistication. For one thing, I like to, as Cher said in Clueless, wear "my most grownup outfit" when subjecting myself to the review of government agencies and, most importantly, when flying on airplanes. I think of it as a costume: a yuppie costume.

Skechers "Flair" and "Delany" by Anne Klein.

(My high school peer group were yuppies and my childhood social support network - Unitarian Universalists - were the pinnacle of earnest, mildly organic higher education liberals, so I'm pretty good at passing, though I'm natively sf geek/blue-collar Midwestern & NYC immigrant stock. It's as easy as slipping in that subtle, reassuring tinge of Alabama when I say "Ma'am", "Sir", and "Y'all" at home. I do it, too. When I feel like it. I feel far more comfortable in my Docs, striped stockings, a pair of Converse, though: feels more like truth in advertising.)


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