Wednesday, September 4, 2013

FYI: If You're Blogging About How Other People Should Portray Themselves on Social Media

 This article about how girls should handle themselves on social media has been going around, and I read a response to it this morning- actually, before I read the actual article- that had some good thoughts, but I wanted to try to put my own thoughts and words down about it.

First of all, it's mildly weird and creepy that you, lady, and your husband, are going through facebook photos of people you aren't facebook friends with. When the photos are public, we refer to that as as 'creeping' or 'photo stalking'. And it's something people do but it's a little weird. If you're doing it by logging into someone else's account or looking over their shoulder, and they are photos you normally wouldn't be able to see due to privacy settings, it's even creepier.

Because, see, for instance, when I post a photo....oh, let's say of my kids, and I set the privacy settings to 'friends only', I am aware that others might see it- after all, the internet is the internet- but my *intent* is only to share it with my friends. If my friend in turn shares it (for instance, my facebook friends include an aunt who might share photos to brag to her friends about her adorable great-nephew), then it gets seen by others, yes. If, however, her friend breaks into said aunt's facebook account to see my kid's photos, that's a different thing, and weird. If said aunt is looking at facebook and says, "Hey, friend, come look over my shoulder at my my great-nephew," that's closer to the first scenario, but if said friend is insisting on viewing, then that scoots it back toward the more creepy end of the spectrum again.

That said, I do make the assumption that my kids' friends' parents supervise their internet use, and thus that they see anything my kids post, and I accept that, but it still makes my stomach feel funny to hear that you actively go through your kids' friends' photos.

Second, I notice you're starting right out by putting genders in boxes- your little girl points out the pretty rooms, girly details, boys smell like stinky cheese. Okay.

And then to the main point. You are concerned about how girls are portraying themselves on the faceybook.

And hey, how people portray themselves on social media, that's a thing that matters. I mean, we've seen people lose their jobs over things they posted on facebook. We've seen people do stupid things like admit to crimes on social media, or share photos of themselves abusing children or animals. Some of us have accidentally sent something to facebook from our phones that we meant to send to only one person. (Luckily when I did it, it was a pretty minor thing, both times, not something that endangered or embarrassed me, just something that I hadn't meant to make even semi-public.) And yeah, stuff you put on the internet, that stuff has a pretty high risk of not ever going away. That photo you change your mind about and delete, maybe five of your friends have already saved copies to their hard drives. Some of your friends get your statuses by text, so that post you delete is likely on several phones still (well, depending on how interesting you are and how many people get your statuses that way).

So let's talk to our kids about privacy, and about whether you want people who aren't on your friend list to see your posts (and if not, think twice about posting them, no matter what your settings are), and about whether you'd feel okay with so-and-so who is currently on your friend list still having a copy of that photo on his or her computer if the two of you have a drama and an unfriending next week. That's good stuff. Think about what you put out, whether it's on facebook or your t-shirt or your book cover or your spoken-out-loud words in public.

But then, well, the problem comes in because you're imposing *your* ideas of what's okay to share on people who just aren't *you*.

So, like, you don't think photos in a pajama top should be on facebook. What you get to do here is, not post photos of you in a pajama top, and even not allow your kids to do so (although I notice you don't have a problem with your own kids' shirtless photos on the internet, so clearly we have a double-standard going on to begin with.)

See, there are things I don't think should be on facebook. So what I do is, I don't put them on facebook. If you put them on facebook, I might hide it in my feed or comment on it or just choose not to look. Sometimes, I say, hey wait a minute, Steph, you're making a mistake here, you get to post what you like and so does this other person.

In fact, I'm going to admit something- sometimes I fall into the slut-shaming trap.

Sometimes, I think, "What is she thinking? Does she not know this is facebook?" and then I catch myself at that and I say, Hey, wait a minute, Steph, that's not cool. You get to choose what amounts of *your* flesh shows, but that flesh is not your flesh, it is her flesh, and she gets to decide what to do with it.

Sometimes I see photos and I think things like, "It really makes me sad that she obviously thinks looking a certain way is the most important thing she can do." Like, as in, here's this smart, funny, incredible person, and the most important thing she can think of to represent herself on facebook is how she did her hair or her makeup or how she looks in her new dress? Tsk. And then I give myself the mental slap in the face, and say hey wait, scroll scroll, oops, no, that's not the only part of herself she's sharing, look at this, she also talked about her day at school and her plans for the weekend. Just because the photo is what I'm looking at doesn't mean it's the sum total of what she thinks of herself or how she wants to portray herself. Her body, her face, and her hair are a part of her, and she gets to choose to share that part. In fact, even if she *only* shares photos, that doesn't mean she thinks that's the most important thing about her- maybe it's the part she doesn't feel vulnerable about and is comfortable sharing. Maybe she considers her *thoughts* deeply personal and private, but her outward appearance is a thing that people see all the time, so it's less so. Either way, the interesting thing is, *why* she shares what she shares is not actually any of my business.

Now, here's what you *do* get to do. You get to educate *your* kids on what you think is right and on how to portray themselves, and how to handle other people's portrayals. You get to teach your son to look at more than the photos. You get to teach him that even if some girl dances naked in front of him, she's not just a body but a human being with thoughts and feelings and humanity. You get to teach your daughter the same things! You get to teach all of them the same thing about guys, too, because an interesting thing is that this applies to everyone. You get to teach them how to look at a whole person, not just their skin!

I mean, you might have to learn it yourself first. But give it a try, it's actually really worth it.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Judging Intelligence on Small Factors

Once upon a time Skylar was not yet two years old and I took him in with me for a WIC appointment. Now, the WIC nurses where we were living at the time were mighty different from the ones in Columbia, so I'd like to emphasize that this does not imply anything about WIC nurses in general and that it certainly doesn't relate to the ones here. This particular WIC nurse was pretty short with people as a matter of course. She had already been nasty to me and to Skylar enough times that I thought of her privately as WICked.

On this particular day, she was angry at Skylar, because after she had told me that finger pricks don't hurt, and that only kids who are old enough to expect them to hurt even cry, and that Skylar would therefore not, he had cried upon receiving one. Now, he was gripping his bandaided finger while sitting in my lap. His bandaided middle finger. Well, this woman got into her head that he was quite deliberately showing her that particular finger- again, this child who was still not even fully verbal, was taking advantage of the fact that his middle finger was the one pricked in order to have an excuse to make a rude gesture.

So, she called him over, and took his bandaid off, and gave it to him, and told him to put it in the garbage. When he just looked at her, she repeated the order. She would not listen to me explaining that he knew the word 'trash', not 'garbage'. She just kept insisting to him that he must go put it in the garbage, it was only giving him an excuse to cry and be bad, he'd cried long enough, go put it in the garbage.

(I'll divert for a second to say, I should've gotten up and walked out and placed a complaint at some point during this, but I wasn't aware enough or assertive enough at the time to do so.)

So, anyway, she later informed me that he seemed to be delayed, because a child his age should be able to follow simple commands like 'throw it in the garbage'. Skylar normally threw trash away when told, but again, she refused to listen to the fact that he just hadn't been exposed to the word 'garbage'.

Anyway, my point here is not that the WIC nurse was an utter bitch.

My point is how easy it is, if you don't care enough to look beyond the surface, or listen for a second, to confuse lack of exposure to certain information with stupidity or slowness. How easy it is to decide someone is beneath you or lacking in some way, because they don't know some minor fact you personally take for granted. I've watched for this in people since, and it happens a lot- you see that I don't know the name of the new computer program, and therefore you assume I don't know how to go online, or you see that I'm not familiar with a certain book or movie and assume I'm ignorant of the whole subject. It happens an incredible lot to kids.

The funny thing is,Skylar is really bright. Like, not just I'm-his-mom-so-I-think-he's-smart bright, but honest-to-goodness exceptional, frighteningly exceptional. And yet, if I took him back and let him carry on a conversation with that same woman today, she'd never be able to see it, even if he talked to her about algebra and science and what he's been reading lately, because she saw that one word he didn't know, and she made up her mind.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Grumpy. Tired. Stuff.

I've decided to blame pregnancy hormones.

I woke up this morning angry. Angry at several layers and aspects of 'the system' for various struggles I'm having with it, and for the ones I'm avoiding. My kids are about to not have medicaid, because I can't get proof of child support because NC says that SC has to 'put it in the system' and SC says they don't have *that* system, and that they'll happily fax proof if NC will just fax a request, to which NC snaps, "I will not fax anything! It's YOUR job to get me this information!"

I'm angry at the school for bouncing back and forth between being the best and the worst. It's wonderful how they pull together a small community and make everyone feel welcome at the fifth grade picnic, and how all the parents brought food or gave their time to make it happen, and all the things the teachers did that are above and beyond what is required or expected of them. Not just with year-end stuff, but in general. So why does such a wonderful group STILL not get that school endorsement of religion equals [an aspect of] government establishing a preferred religion, and that, more importantly, it alienates those who aren't members of said preferred group, makes them feel less welcome, less included, less worthy? And how can the same school hold teachers who I would happily clone and put in every classroom, teachers who would make the world open up for every one of these kids, and monsters who should never be allowed around any child unsupervised, if at all?

I don't know whether to praise all they do so well- not just well, but beautifully, wonderfully, devotedly, or be angry at all the hurt they've caused, and I don't know how to reconcile the two opposite feelings toward the same institution.

And I'm angry at this whole custody thing that's still moving like snails through molasses when it should've been finalized in October of last year. And mad about a dozen details of it that I just cannot openly state online. And mad and sad that my kids are hurting. And I feel helpless because I can't stop it. Can't stop him.

And for a dozen related factors that I also can't state openly.

And at this job thing, which I'd've walked out on the second day if it wasn't my family.

And I'm TIRED. I can't deny my kids some basic fun things- company, time to ride bikes in town, etc- when I'm about to miss them for eight weeks. But two in the morning the big kids still making noise, and five in the morning the baby up, and six in the morning the girl up, up to stay, and eight in the morning the nephew here, and then this afternoon heading to work till eleven or twelve and then an hour's drive home.....I don't know how I'm going to survive it when I'm already so tired I can't think.

And I'm grouchy. I'm jumping on the kids for stuff that doesn't matter. And I can't make myself stop. And I can't take a nap or go for a walk or anything, because, you know, kids.

And I am reading WOT for what must be the eighth or tenth time, and scenes (where Faile comes riding back after Perrin sent her away and she's leading an army and the kid who told Perrin that another army was firing on the trollocs turns out to be a cousin of his after he thought he'd lost his whole family) are making me cry. Cry!

And so, that one is the final key, I think, that allows me to call it 'emotional because of pregnancy hormones' instead of 'I'm an angry mean bitch'.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Completely Pointless and Blasphemous Post

My kid says the most random things.

I was sneezing, and I said, "I'd give about anything to stop sneezing."

Harmony, age seven, mutters something about Jesus.

Thinking that maybe she'd said I should ask Jesus, or something like that, I asked her to repeat herself.

She said, "I said that I wished Jesus was dead so we'd have lots of money."

I was confused, understandably, and didn't even know what part of that to address- whether Jesus exists, whether she knows he already died, what she thinks his death means, or where the money comes in.

After a moment's thought, I asked her about the money. "How would Jesus being dead make us have money?"

She said, "Because, I'd go through his pockets for loose change."

Oh. Well, okay then.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

You were wrong! I can grow things!

Have you ever heard the term 'gaslighting'? I hadn't, until recently.

It's a scary idea. It's the thing where someone, usually an emotionally abusive spouse, makes someone else feel stupid or crazy by playing little tricks on them. Generally the idea is to gain more control by convincing the fooled partner that since he or she is stupid and crazy, the correct thing to do would be to defer to the other party's judgment in matters.

I guess there was a movie by the same name, and that's when the word caught on. I never saw the movie.

A little while back, though, I saw the word in a discussion online, and looked it up, and was horrified.

And I thought of a cute little garden in the corner of a house.

Because one time, about eight or ten years ago, I decided to plant a garden for the first time.

I mean, I had never planted anything before, really.

And the house where I was living had this funny little inside-out corner- that is to say, a place where a corner was outside. And my ex, my then-partner, though I hesitate to use the word 'partner' as we were really far from partners in anything, said it would be a great place for a garden, that maybe I'd feel better if I had a neat little hobby like growing some flowers, maybe it would snap me out of my depression and make me feel better about myself.

I jumped on the idea.

He built a fence, just a little maybe 18-inch high fence that was semi-circular from one point of the corner to the other.

And I looked at the space, and saw, instead of a triangle or a square, a quarter-circle in the space, and thought it would be really pretty to make the flowers come out in rays from the center, instead of plain rows.

So I bought seeds and started planting, and he laughed at me. Flowers go in rows. Don't you know how to plant a garden? These will never grow that way. You're not going to grow anything like that. And so on.

Well, now, all logic dictates that flowers do not care whether they are in rows or rays or spell out initials or whatever- they grow if they have the right climate, light, and water, not if they're put in proper orderly rows.

So I didn't listen, but I did worry. What if my flowers didn't grow?

And they didn't. Nothing grew.

I went and bought flowers. Seedlings in flats, instead of seeds.

I put them in the ground. I watered them. My ex told me they wouldn't live like that. Flowers grow in rows.

They all died.

And when I read the term 'gaslighting' that's what I thought of. Him asking if I'd watered the garden yet today. Him commenting, "What's going on with your garden? Looks like the flowers are all dying." And looking at the garden, the dying space, and realizing he was right. I couldn't make things grow. I was too dumb to make things grow.

I have never tried to plant anything since. I accepted that I have two very brown thumbs and cannot make things grow. Until I read that word. Gaslighting. And I had these mental images of someone maybe pouring salt water on ground, or spraying weed killer on growing plants, or some other form of sabotage. I don't know that he did anything like that, only that he could've and that I would never have known....and that he was so smug about being right. Heck, maybe I watered them wrong. Maybe the ground wasn't good. Maybe they didn't get enough sun in that corner. But I do know he could have, and that it wouldn't surprise me any.

So, shortly after learning of the word, and the phenomena, of gaslighting, I bought some seeds and put them in the ground. Vegetables this time, not flowers.

And right now, less than two weeks later, I do not have any vegetables.

But I do have sprouts. They are sprouting. I have sprouts that can grow into spinach, and ones that can grow into zucchini, and ones that can grow into butternut squash. I don't have any that can grow into carrots or cherry tomatoes yet. But the thing is, two weeks ago, I didn't feel confident that I'd have any. I still thought maybe I just can't grow things, maybe I'm just broken, just stupid and crazy and can't make plants grow.

Yesterday when I saw the first three or four sprouts, I wanted to fall down in the dirt and cry from pure joy.

So there you are, dude. Once again, you're wrong. I'm not stupid or crazy. I can make plants grow. I can grow things. I'm not too dumb to turn seeds into plants. You are wrong, as well as being mean, manipulative, and hateful. You are wrong, and I am capable.


I mentioned yesterday that my son is studying the origins of the moon.

I had Cayman read the three theories offered by his non-science book, and the same book's dismissals of them all as obvious nonsense, and the final conclusion that only the Biblical account, a literal interpretation, could be correct, since all the silly guesses science made were wrong.

Today, I had him read another view: this article from the Planetary Science Institute.

I wanted him to reach a few conclusions.

1. Information on Giant Impact Theory was deliberately left out by the authors of his textbook.
2. The PSI article offered information about publication and peer review, gave supporting evidence, and gave sources so that an interested party could do more research; his textbook failed to do so.
3. Not all published claims are true. Sometimes information given is, intentionally or otherwise, misleading, and you need to consider what evidence is given, whether you trust the source(s), and whether you are missing information.

Well, I helped him a little- I hinted that he should check the date of his textbook, and reminded him to pay attention to dates as he read the PSI article. He said, "This was already around when they wrote my book! They just didn't put it in because it would've made it sound like science might be right!"

I asked him specifically about sources, peer review, and publication. He said that his book only gave 'these are silly, so science must be wrong', and that the PSI article told about researchers who had worked on the idea, and where they had published it, and how they had come to the conclusion.

Then he got up and wandered off into the kitchen, and changed the subject a little. He wanted to know how books like this textbook could even be published. He was really shocked at the idea that basically anything written down can be published- there's no requirement for it to be true. And you know, that's what our kids go to school thinking. If it's in my textbook, it must be true. If my teacher says it, it must be true. They wouldn't teach us lies, misinform us, or even accidentally be wrong. I remember an argument with my own mom, when she and my science teacher disagreed on something, and I remember yelling at her that  Ms. Manning was the one who was right, "...because she is a SCIENTIST!" I don't remember the topic, and maybe Ms. Manning was right. Maybe she wasn't. Either way, I had the wrong reason for believing her view over my mom's. Instead of 'because she showed us evidence' or 'because there are a lot of scientists working on this, and they haven't been able to prove it so far' or 'because it's the view that makes the most sense', my reason was basically that Ms. Manning was my science teacher, therefore she was right, and what she said was right, and that was that. I've been trying hard to teach my kids that this isn't the case. You have a good teacher, her intentions are good, she always teaches you what she believes is right, but she is human, just like you and I, and so she's capable of making mistakes too. And when she does, it doesn't mean you stop listening to her, it means you accept that all people make mistakes, and you move on to the next thing. It's really hard for kids. Teachers are such absolute authority figures, they just have a hard time believing one can be wrong.

So yeah, I was really pleased that he seemed to get the lesson that sometimes a source that looks like it should be trustworthy isn't.

But then, then came the part that has me absolutely giddy.

He said, "Let's check NASA, mom, and see what they have to say about the matter."

He didn't just accept PSI's information either, even though we had discussed reasons that it was more trustworthy than the textbook. Instead, he thought, on his own, without prompting, of a source that he already knew he trusted on the subject matter, and he asked to check with them.

NASA's website, of course, confirmed PSI's information, mentioning the same scientists, same conferences, same publications, and much the same supporting evidence. We didn't read all NASA had to offer- it was long, and he was getting antsy- but he skimmed it, and pointed things out- "Mom, that's the same scientist from the other article!" "Oh, look, this is the computer simulation of how it could've happened!" and so on.

I don't expect every lesson to be as exciting and as rewarding as this one, but this majorly perks me up about the prospects of teaching these kids myself.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Some of you may be aware I've pulled my 9yo son out of the public school and am homeschooling him for the rest of this year. I could put up a pretty major rant about that, but I'll save it for a day when I'm bored and have nothing better to write about- or for if the situation that led to the decision isn't rectified.

Today, I want to talk about homeschooling my son, and about schooling information and textbooks that are out there. 

We picked this for our science book. (And yes, I forgot to crop the scanned edges out. Oops.)


 Right now, most people reading this are confused. Some of you are thinking, "Wait, Christian schools? Why would she buy that?" Some are thinking, "I'd never expose my kids to that crap. She's crazy." Some are thinking, "Oh boy, Steph found some more Christianity to mock. She is such an asshole atheist, she sure loves to make fun of other people's beliefs."

So okay, let me clarify:
#1. Yes, I'm an atheist. No, I'm not raising my child with Christian beliefs.
#2. I know you wouldn't. Mine are exposed to it every day, and I choose to arm them against it by showing them what they're up against.
#3. This book is, I hope, not representative of Christianity. It's representative of an extreme, anti-science, anti-reality subset of Christianity. A dangerous group. And yes, it is worthy of much mockery, but we didn't buy it for mockery- at least not mostly. We bought it because I thought reading a mix of false claims and truths, and learning to differentiate between the two, would be as valuable to my son as the science itself.

Now, you may have seen some of this book's content floating around the internet- if you've seen the picture of the little girl blow-drying her hair, and the text underneath describing how we don't know where electricity comes from, that's this book. So, for the purpose of reading claims and evaluating them for viability, I knew this book would be a great choice.

Today, we started with the first lesson, and I was not disappointed.

 Can you read that? In the left column, we're told that this first lesson is our opportunity to teach our kids that science is limited, and that what people believe about the origins of the earth, the moon, the solar system, and life, must be based on faith alone, not science.

The student text page, in the top right corner, explains that science can't teach us about the moon's origins, because science can deal only with what is observed by the senses, and no one was around to observe the moon's creation.

The lesson goes on to describe some of science's theories ('guesses') about the origins of the moon, and what creationists know- that the moon was made by God, just like He wrote in His book, the Bible.

We're directed to do a lesson by making 'break-away bread' (which I've only ever known before as 'monkey bread') and asking our kid to make observations with his senses- it is sticky, smells like cinnamon, is sweet, soft, gooey, etc.

Then we are to ask him what the ingredients were in the refrigerated biscuits used in the bread. (If you don't know, monkey bread is basically made by cutting packaged biscuits into quarters, dipping them in butter, sugar, and cinnamon, piling all the quarters into a bundt pan, and baking. The pieces pull apart easily and it is delicious, especially if you frost it with an icing made from milk and powdered sugar.)

Obviously, the kid is flummoxed. How would he know what goes into canned biscuits? So you go get the can and you let him read the ingredients, and he learns that if he trusts the company, trusts whoever wrote those ingredients, he can learn the origins of the biscuits by reading the can. If he has faith in the creator, then he may trust the creator's word about where biscuits come from. And he can learn about the moon in the same way, obviously- by reading the original account written by the Creator Himself.

This is the last page of the lesson plan, with (some of) the discussion questions. (Since this is the teacher's edition, the answers are listed in parenthesis.)

Note the excellent lessons here: no one knows any science about the origins of the moon, no one could know about the origins except someone who observed its creation, or its Creator Himself. And there were no observers, so the only way to know is to read the Bible.

Also, Evolution Theory is man's idea about how things might have begun by themselves. (It is not. The theory of evolution by natural selection is specifically a model of how life changed, from first organisms to current life forms, and specifically humans. It does not touch on the beginnings of the earth, nor does it guess how that first living organism came to be. There are other theories to cover those.)

Furthermore, teach your child that a theory is just an opinion. It is not. A hypothesis is a guess, a theory, in science, is a set of explanations for something, that have been thoroughly tested and are supported by the evidence.

So, onto our version of the lesson, and the bragging.

We read everything the pages offered. My son offered corrections frequently. He disagreed that science couldn't teach us about something unless we observed it happening. We discussed how else a person might figure out the ingredients of the canned biscuits, besides reading the package. He didn't know. I asked him if he knew anyone else who might be able to make a good guess about the biscuit ingredients, and he lit up. Justin! Justin would be able to! I asked him why, and he said because Justin is a cook, and so Justin knows about the things that go into biscuits. What if we were eating a cake, instead? Could my son tell me the ingredients? No, but Justin could probably even tell us what ingredients we used wrong, if the cake came out badly. Sometimes he might make a wrong guess, because maybe I used unusual ingredients- maybe I tried that thing where you substitute mayonnaise for eggs, or something- but he could make a good educated guess, and could further investigate to be sure he was right. So can science. Science doesn't just guess, it guesses and tests. Science says, gee, if this guess was right, then these things would all be true, let's test if these things are true, and then we can either test some more stuff, or discard this guess. And then, science only calls a guess a 'theory' after it's done a lot of that testing, and all the evidence points to the guess being true. We talked about the differences between guesses and theories- or 'theory' in common use and 'theory' in scientific use.

The most important thing here is that my son was able to evaluate claims for himself, and tell me where he saw flaws. This is the main thing I hope he will continue to get as we go through this book.