Archive | May, 2012

East Palo: Dreams of a City

31 May

Here’s another video link for you…

Today I just wanted to pass along a short documentary about East Palo: that provides historical and social perspective on the evolution of the city and its current circumstances, which include only having K-8 in-district public education, since 1976 when Ravenswood High School was closed. Being bused to attend high school at Woodside or Carlmont has had a precipitous impact: “The dropout rate of Ravenswood [district] students attending public high schools west of U.S. Highway 101 is about 65 percent” (

Dreams of a City sheds some light on how the growth, politics and economics of the whole SF Bay Area have impacted one city and the opportunities of its residents.

Boys: digitally rewired for change

30 May

“Boys’ brains are being digitally rewired for change, novelty, excitement and constant arousal. That means they’re totally out of sync in traditional classes, which are analog, static, interactively passive.”

—Philip Zimbardo

Yes, that Zimbardo. The one who engineered the Stanford Prison Experiment ( He’s back. This time, his subject is boys.

Why does it matter that boys brains are being “digitally rewired”? According to Zimbardo’s research with colleague Nikita Duncan, the mismatch between digital boys and analog schools is already having disastrous consequences: “[b]oys are 30 percent more likely than girls to drop out of school. In Canada, five boys drop out for every three girls. Girls outperform boys now at every level, from elementary school to graduate school.”

You can catch some of Zimbardo’s argument in his TED talk “The Demise of Guys?” ( or the full thesis in his collaboration with Duncan, The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It (

I haven’t cracked my Kindle open on this one yet, but I’m interested to read what Zimbardo and Duncan may have to say about the different risks and protections for subgroups of boys, based on race, class and other social identifiers.

The kings of the Geobee

29 May

The other night, I happened to tune into the National Geographic GeoBee, which is exactly what it sounds like: a geography version of a spelling bee, in which students, grades 4-8 compete for college scholarships. The students’ level of geographic knowledge is, well, global (and oh so local at the same time).

What immediately struck me as the camera zoomed out from the 6 remaining contestants was that they all appeared to be boys. A quick search on-line came up with this list of the 10 semi-finalists:

  • Raghav Ranga, Arizona
  • Varun Mahadevan, California
  • Anthony Stoner, Louisiana
  • Adam Rusak, Maryland
  • Karthik Karnik, Massachusetts
  • Gopi Ramanathan, Minnesota
  • Neelam Sandhu, New Hampshire
  • Rahul Nagvekar, Texas
  • Anthony Cheng, Utah
  • Vansh Jain, Wisconsin

Of the 10, 9 are boys. Neelam Sandhu was the last girl standing. The success of boys in the GeoBee is striking, given all the current statistics and research about how girls are dominating in school. Interestingly, the bee seems to require some very specific old-school (if you will) academic skills: rote memorization, chief among them. Successful in general though girls may be academically, they didn’t seem to be able to transfer their success to this $25,000 academic competition. The reasons for this might include the very fact of the occasion: I have no idea, but the GeoBee makes me wonder if and how competition might facilitate some students’ learning–yes, boys, but not necessarily only boys.

Returning to the 6 students I saw when I tuned into the GeoBee, I also noticed that all of them appeared to be of Asian heritage: going by names, 1 seemed to be Chinese-American, while the other 5 seemed to be Indian- or Pakistani-American. Looking at the top 10, the trend was already set, with only 2 non-Asian finalists.

I wondered about the thoughts running through the heads of all the parents sitting in the audience, as well as the people watching from home: what did they think about the racial homogeneity of the top competitors? Who was thinking, “Well, of course…” And who was actively not going there, adamantly seeing the kids just as children (of no particular race or sex)?

I also wondered why the top contenders were Asian-American. The tiger mom theory presents itself all too readily. (I couldn’t help thinking of the Indian-American tiger family portrayed in the national spelling bee documentary Spellbound, which is worth seeing for the familiar racial and ethnic narratives that the directors use to frame the stories of the individual young competitors they follow.) And as these were all boys, I started wondering about how tiger parenting may differ for male and female offspring, and in families with mixed versus single-sex siblings.

Because it does seem, at least in this GeoBee (and I’m curious about the finalists in past years), that more than one aspect of identity matters in the making of top GeoBee-ers.

Can education make liberals less tolerant?

28 May

Following up on May 18th’s post on Jonathan Haidt’s TED talk, Haidt was on KQED’s Forum yesterday talking about his book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (

One snippet that caught my attention: Haidt suggested that well-educated conservatives are more likely to encounter and therefore have to learn to engage with people who are ideologically different from them (read: liberals) in their social and professional circles, than are well-educated liberals. In other words, educationally elite liberals are more likely to remain within-group ideologically, and are more prone to lacking the experience, skills and practice of getting along with people who don’t think like they do (read: conservatives).

Of course, we’re all more complex than just our political orientation, but it’s interesting to consider the privilege of being ideologically liberal as an educated person in the US.

(In)equity in education

27 May

* Thanks to my colleague BB for this comic.

Saturday quote

26 May
“I [try] to make my mind large, as the universe is large, so that there is room for paradoxes. ”

― Maxine Hong Kingston

Volunteer to help make sure it gets better

25 May

The It Gets Better Project has a simple message: “Everyone deserves to be respected for who they are.” Encouraging each of us to stand up against prejudice and hate wherever and whenever we see it, the project strives to eliminate bullying of LGBTQ and other teens.

Supporting It Gets Better can be as simple as signing their pledge to stand up ( And on Sunday, June 24th in San Francisco, you can also volunteer to hand out It Gets Better stickers and take photos to share online to show LGBT[Q] youth that they are not alone and it will get better. Dates in other cities include:

  • Washington D.C. – Saturday, June 9th
  • Boston – Saturday, June 9th
  • St. Louis – Sunday, June 24th
  • Seattle – Sunday, June 24th
  • Chicago – Sunday, June 24th
  • San Francisco – Sunday, June 24th
  • San Diego – Saturday, July 21st

For more info (and are 18yrs or older), you can sign up at:

How the Oppression Olympics work

24 May

A new, landmark study [by the Applied Research Center] on the relationship between racial justice organizations and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities finds… [that t]here are damaging perceptions about LGBT communities and racial justice groups, specifically that LGBT identity and politics are for white people and that communities of color are disproportionately homophobic (

As a consequence, two parallel social inclusion and equity movements are effectively exclusive of each other. Ironic and ineffective, no?

The ARC study concludes, “When racial justice groups, including those focused on LGBT people, take on the intersection of race and sexuality, they can build enduring political power to make the policy and practice changes that improve communities nationwide.”

Intersectionality studies the relationships among social groups and issues in order to address the forest of social injustice, rather than hacking away at a single tree of inequality.

ARC locates critical resistance to intersectionality in misperceptions and “myths” between race and sexuality justice groups, and I’d underscore or add a particular myth: the notion that the social justice movement is better off as a competition of special interests (aka the Oppression Olympics).

I’m going to go out on a limb and speculate that despite the popularity of intersectionality (anyone who wants you to know that they know something about social justice will drop the “i” word), it’s still more of a concept than a heartfelt and practice-proven tent of social justice. In a culture of “I,” it is tough to cultivate an authentic, valued sense of the “we.” As an example, just the other night, I spoke to some middle schoolers about social justice, and one of their takeaways was that I was a Communist. I totally understand the impression, because when you start with capitalist “I” ideology, the notion of equitable access for unequal people sounds suspicious. (And granted, these were sharp 8th graders, but the distinction between equity and equality can be hard for most adults to grasp). Conversely, if you start with the lens of social justice, then capitalism, communism… all of these social systems -isms begin to look both possible and limited.

Fundamentally, thinking as “we” (aka thinking through the lens of intersectionality) is a challenge because of the fundamental fear that there’s only so much to go around, and if you get some, I must lose some. But, of course, social justice is not like a pie. There’s not a fatter or thinner slice to be had. There’s either social justice or there isn’t. “Some” social justice isn’t justice–it’s just privilege.

So I’m glad to read more on the push for intersectionality, and I hope to learn more about the reasons such an obvious concept is such a hard sell to the social justice community.

Spitzer’s apology to the gay community

22 May

If you missed yesterday’s NPR piece about psychiatrist Robert Spitzer’s work on sexuality, I encourage you to take a listen:

In brief, Spitzer is the doctor who got being gay removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1973 and then conducted a study of reparative or conversion therapy in the late 90’s, asking the question:  What was the effect of the therapy, if any?

His conclusion, published in 2003, that “[t]he majority of participants gave reports of change from a predominantly or exclusively homosexual orientation before therapy to a predominantly or exclusively heterosexual orientation in the past year” became the cornerstone of the movement to “cure” people of being gay. While Spitzer has said that his work was misinterpreted and even actively manipulated, he did believe in the research he conducted–until now.

In the upcoming issue of the American Psychological Association’s journal, he writes, “I believe I owe the gay community an apology.”

What I find inspiring about Spitzer’s apology is that he doesn’t hide behind claims that the effect of his work wasn’t what he had intended. He accepts the impact it and he have had, regardless.

As for us, we don’t have to get mired in whether or not he’s a good scientist or an evil homophobe: we can also accept the work that he has done and its polar effects. And hope that his example doesn’t encourage censorship of science, so much as socially and scientifically responsible rigor (he himself regards his conversion therapy study as “poorly conceived”).

If you’re interested in reading more about Spitzer’s work and impact on the gay rights movement, you can read more here:

Resetting the bar for hate

21 May

Dharun Ravi, the former Rutgers student convicted of second-degree bias intimidation in the Tyler Clementi aggravated suicide (my term) case has been sentenced to 30 days in jail, plus $10,000 restitution to a program to help victims of bias crimes (

AP News reports that Ravi-supporters believe that he “should not have been convicted of hate crimes because he does not hate gay people and that prison is too harsh a  punishment for someone who did not mean to hurt anyone.”

And I think it’s time to reconsider the bar for hate.

Does hate have to wear a white hood and burn flags in order for us to recognize it? Does it need to scream epithets and get physically violent before we take it seriously?

While this is a real form of hate that we need to recognize, I think there’s also a widely prevalent, much more subtle and socially accepted kind of hate that lives among us every day is. It hides under the guise of jokes (“I was just kidding”) and misunderstanding (“That’s not what I meant”), but it’s hate all the same. It’s the kind of hate that manifests in a fundamental lack of compassion. It’s the hate expressed in the denial of respect for someone else’s identity, by which I mean how they see themselves, how the world sees them, the status and experiences they have as part of our society, and the freedom they have to live their lives without ridicule, isolation or persecution simply because of who they are.

It’s an easy hate born of bias that we don’t examine and put too much stock in. It’s a hate that comes about because we indulge in the belief that we’re normal and other people are weird, different or wrong.

It’s the hate that we encourage when we look at what Ravi did and claim that his actions do not demonstrate hatred of gay people.