People are People. Treat Them that Way

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I had just gotten back from China, when I found myself on a party bus with a guy I was seeing on my way to a formal when he said to me “I just feel like I really want to have sex with a Japanese girl.” Facepalm. I had a conniption fit. And in response to my conniption fit he said: “well don’t you have things you want to do, like hook up with a black guy?” Double Facepalm. No, I told this granola eating, long-haired, alternative religion having, white male, I don’t reduce people to stereotypes or treat them like things I can collect.

Just so we are clear, I have interracially dated, several times now. It never once occurred to me that it was abnormal or special until I had people tell me it was weird at Stanford. We all dated outside our race. But I would never and have never gone out looking for men of a particular race. Though I joke about my desire to not date privileged men (which, everyone please calm down, is a joke) that applies more to the cultural jumps I would have to make and tolerate to be around men who read a lot of Ayn Rand and don’t appreciate my trophy wife jokes. I interracially date because it would be really hard not to and not in fact, be racist, especially as a white woman, and also because I have been attracted to different people from different races, because people are attractive. Given that this is the norm in the community I’ve grown up and my parents aren’t racist bigots, it was a bit of a culture shock when I got to Stanford and it seemed like the only acceptable interracial couple was Asian Women with White Men.

I studied China, and like everything I study I fell in love with the place. So I lived there for three months while learning Mandarin and became really well educated in Chinese history. It gave me fantastic insight and perspective on the world to have such a wide range of knowledge. Now I knew American history, Chinese history, and European history. My undergraduate adviser could make connections between anything and everything and I wanted that too. I didn’t want to have just one lens to look at things, so it was paramount for my growth. I didn’t think about the problems with the white men/Asian female trope until I acquired a few Asian male friends and also went to China. My Asian male friends explained to me that they felt desexualized by American culture, which was true when I looked at mainstream culture, though in my community, which has a large number of immigrants, Asian men were pretty much treated like all other men (meaning they needed a car and couldn’t have a baby mama-standards that make perfect sense in High School). I started noticing that most of my classes on China were populated by white men and Asian women. And then I went to China.

In China, it didn’t take very long for me to realize that something was amiss. There were 22 of us in the program and 1 Chinese-American male and 4 white females. Within a very short amount of time ALL of the white men admitted, proudly, that they had “yellow fever.” Why anyone felt the need to say that to me in a bar is anyone’s guess, but I have a gift for making people comfortable enough for them to say horrifying things I can’t unhear. The thought of “yellow fever”, by which white men have a strong preference for Asian females, just seemed wrong to me before I knew why this was happening. I was actually one of two people, the other being the Asian male (who I remain good friends with to this day), who was studying to had studied China. The rest of the crew was there for future business reasons, because they liked Asian girls or because they were trying to explore their own roots in depth. No one knew as much about Chinese history as I did, which is fine because I was the only one with that major.

Since I was being my sassy self, I decided, why not ask the source? And I did. I asked all of the men I hung out with in China why they had a preference. Universal answer: Asian girls are skinnier, more submissive and more ‘appreciative’ of white men and more willing to do ‘exotic’ stuff. I can’t make this up. It was so horrifying for me that I started taking long walks around the Beida campus with the only Asian dude in the program so that he and I could escape and pretend we were 12 and living in a magical secret forest (the Beida campus is really beautiful). I stopped going to social events. I stopped talking to people. I’m very sensitive about this sort of thing, when I see people getting exploited, especially by people I know well, it makes it hard for me to stick around.

Here is what is wrong with this. For one thing: it is racist. I am sure that China has women that act on the full spectrum of human behavior, so saying they are all submissive is a weird colonial hold over from when we still talked about white man’s burden. Skinnier and appreciative are more on the line of sexism, where in this universe women are trophies, but not full human beings, they are there to serve the men. Skinnier is also racist and highly problematic, again because it eliminates the possibility for diversity in the whole human spectrum. I met women who fit that stereotype and women who didn’t, and women who were hurting themselves to meet that stereotype which doesn’t sound that different from being at Stanford. That those were the only answers means that these men, all of whom were my age, were looking for a shadow of a human being. The sexual exoticism is both, it is the idea that men are entitled to whatever they want sexually, and that a woman is “better” (to be weighed and measured) if she will do what he wants, if her sexuality is defined by his. The assumption that Asian women have a somehow different sexuality from any other race reduces them to objects. I am sure Asian women, like all women exhibit a wide range of sexual preferences from the vanilla to the more extreme, because that’s what human beings do, and they are human beings. It is ok as a white male to find an Asian woman attractive, you just can’t feel that way for racist and sexist reasons and you can’t impose hundreds of years of colonialism on the body of the person you spend your most intimate moments with, ever. For any reason.

The fact that this was so socially acceptable that we could casually and openly discuss this in bars sort of scares me. In fact, many men at Stanford told me I was insane for pointing this out and treated “yellow fever” as a sort of rite of passage. It is part of a more problematic line of thinking among young men, which is that they are entitled to a sort of bucket list of sexual experience before settling down with a “respectable” woman. Instead of finding partners with equal interest in their sexual preferences they separate women out into objects to be conquered or gained in life experience before settling down their desexualized and virginal wife. With this line of thinking, they think they are entitled to certain experiences and that wives are not supposed to want to explore their own sexuality, so they must do that first before marrying. Women get reduced to points on a score card. And the women they do marry find themselves in marriages where they are never truly equal and full human beings, and where they will have had their sexuality sold out under them as one of their roles as wife.

This is what men my age tell me scares them about marriage, the loss of freedom and the fear of intimacy. And that is fine, that is human, I feel that too. But if they redefined the role of wife into one who is an equal partner, an equal explorer in this weird frontier known as life, then they wouldn’t “lose” their freedom and would experience greater and more secure intimacy because they would see the woman in this situation as less of a symbol of accomplishment. So in other words, gentlemen, you can be free when we are free. Human beings loving other human beings because of their beautiful humanity, that is what this is all about.

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Dude, Just Treat Smart Women With Respect

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I’d like to talk about two of my favorite Stanford men. Both of them are STEM majors (one is working at a start-up and the other is in his PhD program at MIT). These two individuals are two of the smartest people I have ever met in my life. Not only are they capable and amused by scientific and mathematical concepts that would made a normal person insane, but they can also both converse on history and culture, which is why I am their token fuzzy friend. I have a really scientific approach to my work, borne out of the way my brain works and also the excellent training I got from my undergraduate adviser. What I loved about history, and the reason I majored in that and not something else, was that history required evidence, research, piecing together data and constructing a larger narrative from the pieces of evidence. Or at least the history I was doing did. Either way, at Stanford the Techies seem to have a superiority complex about what they are studying as if majors should be chosen solely on the following criteria 1)How much money it will make and B) How hard it is. The two individuals in question are the kinds of people who love, sweat and breathe what they study, just like me, which is why we get along.

My field is one of the few that is still dominated by men on the fuzzy side of things, so I took a lot of courses with a lot of men over time (this was especially true because I studied Asia, which every white man apparently needs to carry out his colonial fantasies on at some point in their undergrad career). Some of the men I took classes with were great. They argued with me like I was another man they respected and we hung out on the weekends in a completely appropriate manner. However, there were classes where I got treated like I was a talking dog. I have been called aggressive, aggravating, bitchy, difficult, unfeminine and all sorts of other fun words for the crime of thinking I have the right debate about issues as an equal.

The high school I went to had some serious advantages. There were so few people who wanted to challenge me that I pretty much got used to being allowed to say what I want and do what I want. The few times the male students decided to be jerks the teachers schooled them quickly or they were embarrassed by me. I was raised with a woman who would have been really angry if she had gone to a parent teacher conference and was told by the teachers that her daughter was quiet and needed to speak up more. So before getting to Stanford I got inoculated with a shot to prevent me from losing my voice.

This has come in handy in weeding people out. I still have some male friends who tell me when and where and how to exercise my voice, I do what I want anyway. There is something more insidious than the name calling, however, and that is

mansplaining:

to delighting in condescending, inaccurate explanations delivered with rock solid confidence of rightness and that slimy certainty that of course he is right, because he is the man in this conversation

Mansplaining happens to me a lot because I happen to be in multiple fields where people think it’s perfectly acceptable dinner conversation to spout off their uneducated views about China, Education, Poverty, History, etc. etc. It’s incredibly frustrating when it happens, when someone with condescending tone and usually an over-usage of SAT terms tries to explain to me something I already obviously know. The reason I brought up the two engineers into this is even though I’ve known many engineers to be guilty of that, these two have not done that to me in the many years I have know them. This is despite the fact that they have knowledge I don’t have. But the true marker of intelligence and humility is knowing what you don’t know and being willing to learn from someone else. I don’t espouse opinions about things I don’t know about, and if my students stumble on a question I don’t know the answer to, I will tell them “I don’t know but I will find out.” The thing about my historical training is that I have the ability now to find out about anything, so I am confident that I can do that and then I report back. I understand that there is a lot of pressure on men to appear to be knowledgeable about all the things and that with some people it has resulted in some rewards to keep doing this, but when they encounter a woman equally well educated it’s just insulting. It shows a basic lack of respect for my intellect. I’ve actually seen the male version of me argue in the same way I do and be handed a cigar and entrance into the club. Nine times out of ten the dudes continue the debate even after I have clearly displayed my knowledge and then they continue it until eventually getting so angry they stamp off and tell me that I am “angsty” or some variation of a bitch. That’s how I know I’ve won, and usually I wasn’t even trying to play the game. For a brief and silly period in my life, I actually tried to moderate myself and “feminize” my tone and speaking style, but I decided that was a bad idea. I want don’t a seat as the trusty and adorable side-kick, I want a seat at the big table in my own right. And I want them to have to deal with my existence. Because I am here, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. And eventually, you are going to have to open the door because I am a relentless bitch.

Memorial Day

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Today is a day to honor the fallen soldiers who died in service to our country. We don’t stop to think about that anymore. It’s not a public holiday like it once was, military service being something that a small percentage of the population is touched by, we are comfortable with our disconnect from the wars that we are constantly fighting. This holiday has different meaning for me because I come from a long line of soldiers. People that I know fought because they loved so much. My generation has talked of soldiers and our military as if it glorifies violence. I am sure there are people in our armed forces who enjoy killing, there are sociopaths everywhere (CEOs, anyone) but the vast majority do it because of their love for something and their desire to take part in the American dream.

We’ve gotten rid of the draft and have a professional military and now we don’t have mass protests against our foreign adventures. We feel comfortable in some circles demonizing soldiers because “they have a choice” but every time I look at a social institution and see such disproportionality like our military I start getting suspicious of how much free choice we actually have. The professionalized military has allowed an elite to feel like their hands are clean of their choices. Like mob bosses, they can send someone in to do their dirty work for them and maintain the image of civility. I have a huge problem with this because it absolves the individuals responsible for our foreign actions and places the blame on people who don’t deserve it. It makes the elites (myself included) a bunch of cowards who never have to really stand by the courage of their convictions.

There are causes and people I would die for. I hope I never get asked to do that, but most of our poor is asked to do that on a daily basis in some capacity or another. If its not to fight wars, it is to survive with their dignity intact and their children safe in areas that we made unsafe. It’s a level of intensity that I feel and people I know with privilege don’t have and it is part of what makes me a little insane. But it also makes me very conscious, aware and alive. We seem to have a social structure that is engineered to make sure that the elites never face the consequences of their actions and as the last few years of the recession have that us, that is incredibly dangerous. I was told as a kid that in America, if you work hard and are talented, you can succeed, that we have a democratic meritocracy built to reward people for their work. I was told that if my family was poor it was our fault because we didn’t work hard enough. Never has the system been so rigged. I see it in the drug wars. I heard countless people at Stanford blame poor kids for bad choices only to watch them do drugs and be bailed out by mom and dad. People asked me why the poor have children so young and then no one batted an eye if a girl got pregnant in college and needed an abortion. The same people that are happy to say that the failures of the poor schools reside on the backs on the students and parents and teachers, are the same people who never allow their child to be treated like criminals and who have the cultural capital to ensure that their kids get kind treatment all of their lives. The same people who defended the Stubenville rapists, calling them kids who were growing, called the young girl in question a slut, responsible for the oppression these other “kids” had perpetrated. Sometimes I feel like there is such a giant gap between the rich and the poor that we are no longer a society or a democratic community. We are leading parallel lives, no longer part of one American culture. As an American, especially as one who has watched so many people sacrifice for their country it breaks my heart.

P.S. A huge thank you to my brother and sister, my great grandfather, and all the people from my high school have served. Your honor and dedication and commitment makes me want to be a better human being and I can never thank you enough for what you have done for our country and your families.

The Way Class Impacts Healthcare on an Individual Level

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I have a rare genetic disorder, I produce too much collagen and it makes my joints more flexible than they should be, in fact it messes up all connecting tissue in my body. I was born with it, but despite, having had numerous complications with it throughout my life they just found this year, when I got injured by a student while at work. I suffer also from chronic migraines. Despite this fact I managed to make it out of poverty to go on to graduate from Stanford twice and to become a teacher. I personally have never seen it as handicap, but as the little girl who engineered her way out of the crib, for me it was an obstacle to engineer around.

However, there are aspects that have made this a lot harder than it ever needed to be. The first is that mom, who possesses very working class beliefs about work, never wanted me to be able to use it as an excuse, so she pushed me to ignore it. Like she ignored the damage to her hands and gallbladder. The upside to that is that I am incredibly accomplished, the downside to that is that I may have made things worse by not setting limits sooner. My mom’s attitude is very in line with both my neighborhood and the school I attended. At Stanford, everyone is striving for constant perfection, so I felt pressured to do things I shouldn’t have been doing and I stressed myself out further by trying to morph into something I am not.

The other thing that has made this difficult is that I grew up poor. Of course, I didn’t know this until I got out of Stanford and realized my doctors were more thorough and caring when they thought they were dealing with a Stanford graduate instead of some trailer trash kid. So when I need medications, they fill them with no questions asked, when I was a kid they acted like I was drug seeking. When I say something is wrong they believe me and don’t automatically jump to the conclusion that I making stuff up. They take my words seriously and into account and they don’t talk down to my mom or me. The summer before I started Stanford my Aunt Carol died. She was the matriarch of my biological family and she was young. She died quite suddenly of late stage cancer. She had been telling doctors for years that her body and bones hurt, but instead of checking they just told her it was because she was overweight and exaggerating. My senior year, one of the most influential and important women in my life, my Grandma Amanda died of lung cancer, again it was sudden because of the lack of good care.

The frustrating thing is that I do have a medical condition and it keeps me sometimes from being perfect but it hasn’t prevented me from doing what I want, going where I want to go and loving and living through my life. And if I had gotten adequate medical care as a child it would be even better. At Stanford, I had accommodations for my living situation and for extensions on the occasional class assignment. In STEP they used that fact to tell me I would never be able to teach, this was despite the fact that all of my instructors said I was excellent in class and I was doing fine in placement. I had graduated from Stanford as the first person in my family to go college and from a very poor background with substandard schools with an excellent GPA. I have never failed to eliminate obstacles. Not once in my life has that happened. When I really want to do something, I find a way to do it. Sometimes I don’t want people to know because I don’t want them to tell me what I am and am not capable of. I have always done exactly what I wanted to do. I don’t tell people because they make silly assumptions. Either they tell me that there are things I can’t possibility do, ignoring the reality that someone has been telling me that for all sorts of reasons (Class, gender, race etc) and I don’t really care. The other side is that they see me perform and think that because I perform well that I might be lying on the days I have a migraine, which ignores the fact that I am an overachieving kid and have had to learn to perform despite being in pain. Give what my life is like, if I failed to do what I want and can do because of pain, both physical and psychological I’d have to be a bedridden hermit, and I refuse to do that. I am tough, I have always been tough, you have to be to live the life I live. And someone as tough as I am with a record of performing in the way I do is going to hide from you when you are in pain because I don’t want anyone closing the gate to me because of their preconceived notions of health and gender and class. Fortunately, I am a good fence jumper, but still it makes my life more difficult. But the thing is that I love my students so much that it is more painful for me not to be teaching than it is for me not to work. So those words, “Are you sure you can teach?” hung in my ear last year when I sustained a really serious injury to my shoulder while protecting a kid. For months after my resignation, I sobbed, thinking that maybe they were right and maybe I was done and the thought of never teaching again broke my heart into a million pieces. It wasn’t until I saw my CT, who told me once she heard the story that it was something that could have happened to anyone, that I finally got past that thought.

In the past few months I’ve been getting the health care I should have been getting and I feel better than I have in years, so this year has taught me that my medical problems are completely manageable and that there is no reason why I can’t teach or do whatever I want to do because I am capable of that. I have a really good doctor, but it makes me so mad that I had to wear my Stanford shirt at the neurology clinic to get my migraines to be taken seriously for once and to get the treatment that I needed. I wore my Stanford shirt when I sprained my ankle and had to go to the ER, never have a had such a pleasant trip to the ER. I makes me upset because there are so many funerals in my past because my friends and family couldn’t get adequate healthcare. I think about the talents of kids like me that get wasted because no one gives them the medical treatment they need. I think about everyday that I spent sicker than I needed to be and how I can never get those back, even though I have learned how to manage it now. I think about how I just wanted to be a teacher and give back, and how my Aunt was a nurse and so was my grandma. And I can’t help but feel like there is blood on my hands because of the privilege I now hold. So I try to do my part by talking about my experiences, because I also know that the only reason I can is because I went to Stanford. I wake up every day and try to do the most kindness to others because otherwise it would be difficult to sleep at night knowing what I know. On that count, I am grateful because I know that I have the ability to choose that. And I know that it makes me human. All strengths and weakness, we talk about it like we are pieces of a whole and we hide the more difficult pieces and we try to mask them, but a human being is more than the sum of their parts. And our humanity, in all its strength and all of it weakness is so beautiful.

How I Got to Stanford and What that Means for Education

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When you grow up poor you face an entire social structure that has the same force as gravity. It is there to drag you down until you reach the center of the earth and know your place. I get asked a lot how I managed to escape gravity, and the honest answer is that I am still doing everything I can to process and figure that out. But the fact of the matter is that it requires a very special kind of intelligence to come from where I came from and to go where I did. I’d like to rewind and tell you the story of me as a little girl.

My mom has some really fabulous, I knew Heather was a weirdo from an early age stories. I am going to tell you my top three. The first involves me as a toddler. When we were little we lived at my grandma’s house, despite my mom’s best efforts to get out in her own right. That house had a staircase. Every day, my mom, just 19 and 20 at the time, would wake up bleary eyed and find me sitting with my hands at the table waiting patiently for my oatmeal. She couldn’t figure out how I managed to make it down the stairs, so one day she woke up early and waited until I woke up. I was still in a crib at the time. She watched as I stacked the pillows in my crib, hopped the “fence” of my crib through a force of engineering and physical strength and climbed down the stairs and up the big chairs in the kitchen where I would wait in silence until she came down the stairs. All through school anytime she offered to help with my school projects I would tell her to go away because I didn’t want to have to relinquish creative control.  My mom is really into crafts. So what I am saying here is that I was fiercely independent, already had a tendency to see obstacles as mere engineering problems, and was already used to being successful at carrying out my missions enough to trust my own intelligence better than I trusted my mother’s, who besides being working class and kind of messed up at the time, was a member of MENSA.

The second story takes us a few years later. They made the mistake of taking me to Disneyland. My mom wasn’t happy about it because she knew what would happen and I spent most of the time hanging out with her and refusing to go on rides and talking about my observations. At one point, my mom turns to me and says: “Heather,  look there is Mickey Mouse, don’t you want to go say hi?” and I just looked at her like she was an idiot and said, “that’s not Mickey Mouse, that’s just some guy in a suit.” I was four. So I was already the kind of kid who looked around and saw things for what they really were and called it out and asked real questions and refused to be lied to. This is a related but also short story. My grandma thought it was a good idea to take me to the circus. My mom had warned her, I was 6 at this point so she knew what was going to go down. We got there, walked past the tiger cage and I immediately had a complete nervous breakdown. We lasted 15 minutes because I was enraged about that tiger being in such a small cage. I kept asking my mom; “why are the tigers in such small cages, they shouldn’t be in cages, they should be free. They are big!” Epic tantrum ensued. So I also already had an incredibly strong sense of justice and was prepared to stop a whole family outing in order to get my answers about what is happening. To this day it’s a bad idea to take me to a zoo or Marine World.

The third story happened when I was about 7. My mom had a visitation agreement with my dad. I am not going to mince words, my dad died last year from a drug OD. He was a heavy meth addict and highly abusive to my mother and to us. Anyway, my mom dropped us off and about a half an hour later got a phone call from me. Hi Mommy, I am coming home, you need to come get me. Everyone is asleep here and there are bottles everywhere. It’s yucky. No, Amber is not coming. That’s ok, I will wait for you. No, now. K. I see you soon. When she got there I was sitting on the curb, with my little bag reading a chapter book. So by the time I was 7, I could look around and know that what surrounded me was messed up and that I needed to get out. I had the presence of mind to find a way out and I had enough intelligence to figure out what was going on. That’s an impressive level of meta-cognition for an adult, much less a seven year old. Did I mention that I started reading entirely of my own accord at 3?

So what is my point in all this? The problem is that our schools weren’t designed for kids like me. If you think with all of that that I just sailed through school, you’d be wrong. Academically I always did fine but most of my teachers thought I was a real pain in the butt. Some of them actively hated me, trying, even in elementary school, to embarrass me and find things I couldn’t do. By the time I got to junior high I was a nightmare in the classroom. Defiant, angry, lacking in all respect for authority. As an 8th grader I told my science teacher that if I were trying to take over her class I would have already done it, when she pulled me out of class to yell at me. I was starting to drink and smoke, having grown up in a house where both were plentifully available. I was absent all the time either because of my headaches, my home life, or because I simply decided I didn’t have it in me that day to attend. I started having sex at an early and dangerous age. So if you looked at me, you were looking at an incredibly high risk kid that you would have predicted would have multiple kids by now and would be stripping. I was frequently bored in school, but curious enough that I still read when I was home, and my mom made sure I read. This is one of the things that saved me. At 11 I was reading 1984 and having discussions about it with my mom, who as I have already mentioned is painfully brilliant. I would read my science books cover to cover, using that in class to torture the aforementioned teacher. She didn’t expect anyone to read the textbook. By junior high I was reading about 3 novels a week, in addition to doing my school work and getting in trouble in some of my classes. I hated school but I loved learning with a maddening ferocity.

Our schools aren’t currently designed for kids like me, especially not in the poor areas. If my mom had had money, I probably would have been in a magnet gifted program, but that wasn’t an option for us. With zero tolerance policies and the general attitudes towards poor kids that I keep encountering, my intelligence was seen as more of a nuisance than something that should be praised. When I was a freshman, my college counselor told me there was no reason for people “like me” to go to college. I had the highest test scores in the school by a huge margin. I watched, as time and time again, kids who were brilliant got treated in the same way, and I see it now on my interviews. I’ve been told that I am “too brilliant” to be a teacher. That’s ignoring the fact that I became a teacher precisely because I remembered the thing that saved me at the end of the day. It wasn’t a good school, that wasn’t an option. It wasn’t a testing regime, I rebelled every time they tried to implement those and still messed up the averages. It wasn’t technology, I had little interest in something I didn’t have access to at home and didn’t seem any more interesting to me than Orwell, Camus, Hurston, or my science books. At the end of the day, it was the few teachers I had who recognized my intelligence and differentiated to me, or at least emotionally supported me. It was those teachers who fought for me in the parent teacher conferences, and sent the message that I wasn’t made for this life. It was the teachers who spent the weeks before college applications were due and used their free time to talk out my essays and encouraged me to be painfully honest. It was the teachers, I saw, some of whom never formally taught me, that continued to throw books at me and have conversations with me at lunch. It was the last school I went to, that wanted nothing more than to set me free and loose. I went to Stanford and for the first time in my life, I wasn’t bored and most of my professors (except the few classist and sexist ones) loved what I brought to the table, because it was exactly what Stanford wants from its students. It was exactly what was required to reach that level.

We are so obsessed in education with maintaining order and the polite, easy kids that we forget about the kids like me, and that might be why so few charters working in the poor areas get their kids to the top tier. I wouldn’t have lasted a day in a place where I had to follow strict and arbitrary rules or get counseled out. Not that I couldn’t and shouldn’t have been tamed, but a much more effective way to do that was to have an honest conversation, like some of my teachers did, about how my continued good behavior would get me out. Because I did eventually “calm down” and “play the game” enough to stay out of trouble, but that was because of that conversation. I saw this in STEP too. Folks who shall remain nameless told me I shouldn’t be a teacher because of the way my brain works. They worried a lot about my ability to reach all kids despite my excellent track record with the SPED kids; they forgot that I had been translating my whole life. There were a few people who saw what I was and took me under their wing, fighting for me every step of the way. And for that, I am as always eternally grateful. But most of all, I grateful for the consciousness that I was born with and the people along the way that not only encouraged it but threw more wood into the fire. I hope to return the favor. And maybe if I am really lucky and work really hard, I will light some fires too. Because some of my kids come in with that already stomped out. But the wood is there. Be the match.

We Aren’t Doing Right by our Soldiers

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My brother is being deployed. Could be Korea, could be the Middle East. We know his training grounds are in a desert so we expect desert. This is difficult for me. It’s difficult for me because I know so much about history and global politics. It’s difficult for me because I spent so much time at Stanford hanging out in coffee shops and arguing about conflicts that I would never see. It’s difficult for me because I know who the people are that will be sending my brother in. It’s difficult for me because I know he doesn’t have a choice. It’s difficult for me, because I know he didn’t create that mess. Is not the history of humanity a tale of privileged men using the less privileged to fight their battles for them?

My nephew is starting school soon. He is so beautiful. You pray that my brother will get to watch his son grow into a man. My brother is thinking about signing his GI bill benefits to his son. He doesn’t expect to benefit from those, but if he can set his son up, he will sign up for four more years of active duty. My brother is a strong reader, but he doesn’t consume the news like I do. How many hours have I spent reading the Times and talking about our foreign adventures? I studied China undergrad. I know the history of Communist guerrilla warfare, I can talk about strategy with the best of them. I will never have to execute anything.

Who will my brother be fighting against? Will it be people with a choice? Or will it be men and women hoping to give their sons and daughters more than they had themselves? How many times have we failed to make good on that promise? We come into the poor areas and recruit promising social mobility and the true tragedy is that except for extreme outliers like myself, it really is the most realistic way to get out. Killing other countries’ poor is the best way to get out of poverty in our own country.

Growing up I heard my friends say: “I have to be a soldier.” I still use the metaphor often. People at Stanford were weirded out when I said it, “How can you glorify violence?” they wondered. I don’t. I just want us to acknowledge the strength and power of the men and women you use like pawns to get more power and shiny things. What is wrong with glorifying someone who loves their family so much they are willing to risk their life to fight another man’s battle? Is that not the purest, most beautiful form of love? But mostly I think we say it because we know what we are really being trained for. What our real purpose in this country is. We know that our job is to serve as canon fodder. We know that very few of us have a choice.

I had a choice. I am so grateful for that choice, but if I used that choice to demean the people who didn’t I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. And for me, after all I’ve been through, that’s what I hope for; sleeping soundly at night.

Friends are Friends and You Should Keep Them

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My oldest Stanford girlfriend is someone I love dearly. She is a thin, blond who speaks 5 languages and is working on getting her PhD. Her family is very privileged. Her dad pulled himself up and has done very well for himself and she enjoyed the trappings of this experience (I am keeping details vague to protect both her and her family). Every time I talk to one of my working class friends, educated or no, they are surprised to hear this, especially because she is politically conservative. We’ve been friends for a long time, and she has been really important to me over the years. There have been times where she said things that were problematic but it’s always been easy to move pass it, and so we do.

The reason we’ve been friends for so long is because she is a good friend. She always checks in with me, supports me unconditionally, is there when I need her, is profoundly loyal. These are the traits I look for in the people I bring into the inner circle of my life. These traits are more important than education, intelligence, or humor by a significant margin. She has shown me over the years that it is entirely possible for me to have cross-cultural relationships. She’s not the only one. This post is for her, but it’s for the other privileged people I have in my life who have done many of the same things she has.

Here are some of the things my friends have done over the years that are particularly exemplary.

1) Listen without judgment

I have friends who grew up relatively sheltered who listen to my life story without a hit of judgment, pity or even amusement. They trust what I tell them, and they empathetically respond with interest and kindness. They show they respect my intelligence by trusting what I say. They also show mad love and respect when they acknowledge that what I’ve been through is difficult and that it indicates strength and intelligence that I not only survived but made it to Stanford. That’s respect.

2) Understand that I have legitimate reasons to be angry, be willing to listen to those reasons

I am a verbal processor. That’s my excuse for why I talk that much. I also see much in the world that needs to change if we are going to be a truly equitable and kind world. The privileged friends I have accept my reasons for anger, assume I am being both honest and fair, listen to it without taking it personally, and don’t try to tell me they understand. They know they don’t understand but that doesn’t stop them from loving me.

3) When I say there is a cultural difference, they believe me and unpack their end of it

This one is hard. Privileged people grow up in a world designed for them that reinforces their world view, so when they encounter someone who has experienced something different it is a complete challenge to everything they’ve seen, heard and experienced in their lives. Its takes a great deal of intelligence and kindness to listen to someone who sees the world differently from you and be able to assess how your existence in their shared world changes their world view and to change their world view from that.

4) Respect my friends and family.

My close privileged friends are not only respectful of me because I went to Stanford and am therefore technically part of their world, but they are also kind and respectful to my family. They are also kind to all working class people they encounter. Because they are decent human beings and this is basic decent human being behavior. They respect that my family has made choices different from them and theirs and they understand that they were under different pressures to do so. They act like good guests on the rare off chance they see my home, meet my parents, or have the pleasure of being brought somewhere I don’t normally bring privileged people.

5) If they are confused, they ask questions and then accept the answer given

I don’t expect people from privilege to get it right every time. They are just discovering the world too, and they might say something stupid, offensive or bigoted. It’s hard to grow up in a world that trained them to do just that and then to not do it at an age when we are all still unpacking the world. My privileged friends get schooled sometimes by me, and usually I don’t code-switch when I do it (I don’t think I should have to code switch in the company of friends) and they might not like it but they understand it and talk it over with me. There are ways to ask that won’t land you into the land of unforgivable bigotry. Best case scenario is that you ask in a way that shows that you think my culture is just as valid as yours. For example: I noticed that you have a different way of dealing with friendships and I was wondering why? If you don’t manage that, there is still a way to come back. Listen to the response you get and assume it is honest and fair and accept it. Ask follow up questions. Apologize if you do say something offensive. Don’t do it again.

I wanted to write this because I complain often, but I’ve seen some really good people in my time, and I don’t think I appreciate them enough. So this is for the crazy-artist coder who always unpacks her culture, for the man in med school who was always patient and kind, for the engineer that never stopped talking things out with me, for the history major who respected the implications of my background, for the fellow teachers and the urban planner who drew on my knowledge to do right by their students and constituents, for the Germans who often had my back in public and thought my culture was beautiful and for the professors that supported my strengths and helped me navigate Stanford. You give me hope.

I Hate Caltrain

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I used to get really annoyed with the environmentalists at Stanford. I love the environment, especially because my people are disproportionately affected by failures to regulate (see ENTIRE CITY OF OAKLAND), and we benefit from better public transportation and efficiency. I started to hate them because they kept telling me how proud of themselves they were for driving a fuel efficient car and turning off the lights. That sounds like just being poor to me. Because we can’t really afford to waste anything. So I was less than impressed.

Every time I have to travel to the Peninsula someone has to listen to my Caltrain rant. This usually happens on a rotating basis and some people have to listen to more involved speeches than others because I code-switch based on my audience. But it does happen every single time. There is as far as I can tell, and I have talked to several people, no logical reason in the world why Caltrain exists and why BART doesn’t just go down to San Jose. Its not cheaper, more efficient, or more eco-friendly. It doesn’t hold more people. It doesn’t to places BART can’t go. It runs at times that seem to be appallingly inconvenient for me.

It is however, a very pleasant train ride, and it does by-pass every area of poverty. I knew something fishy was up when I started taking it. I am a pretty big fan of BART. It’s efficient and cheap, and convenient and I love how you see all walks of life and everyone feels like they are all in it together. This weekend I saw a really cute junior high couple and I gave them my seat so they could sit together. Playing match maker with perfect strangers and winging very polite little boys is my idea of a perfect Saturday afternoon.

So, being that I am a history major I started asking around and looking through the archives. Apparently BART doesn’t go down to San Jose because certain neighborhoods (and you can guess which ones) keep blocking it because they are concerned about bringing the “East Bay” element in. So basically there is no real public transportation for the people that all of us Stanford kiddos build our wealth on the backs of because the people of Atherton are bigots. Everytime I get on Caltrain I think about how evil that is and then I feel like I am supporting evil.

Did that sound harsh? Yes. Well, I meant it. It’s also true. So I am instituting a new policy. If you really are conscious and consider yourself an environmentalist or someone who actually wants to make the world a better place you have to stop defending Caltrain and start advocating for BART. Every time I have that discussion with someone who self-identifies in either of those two categories they don’t like it when I say that, and then I call them a hypocrite to their face and then I can’t return to Kairos or the Dead houses until I get invited back by someone who finds my antics highly entertaining.

I have a personal, and very strictly enforced policy about lying. I don’t do it. I would rather not hang out with the majority of people than to have to pretend like these policies and practices that are clearly built to screw the poor who built the Bay are somehow justifiable. I hate hypocrites. I don’t intend on becoming one. I implore you to choose likewise.

Thanks to everyone who continues to have to hear this rant every time.

How We Are Fucking Over Young Men in the Schools

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I have a long standing affinity for and good relationships with smart alleck-ey male students. If you know me, you know why I have that affinity. Mostly it’s because I was/am far worse than any of them could hope to be. I had a lot of really brilliant male friends growing up. Few of them made it out and those that did are not as successful as their female counterparts. I took a lot of gruff from my colleagues last year for being concerned about the boys in my care. Considering that boys are far less likely to graduate from high school and college (poor boys-this applies to the working classes only) and far more likely to end up in a desert or a jail cell, I felt it was a completely valid concern.

We need more male teachers, sure, but we also as female teachers need to think about what we bring into the classroom and how that affects our students and our boys (we ALL need to think about what we bring into the classroom always). If you don’t have a good relationship with men chances are fairly decent you will bring those biases and issues into the classroom, and I’ve seen it happen over and over again.

One of the smartest men I have ever known was drinking by the time we were 5th graders. He was also failing every class. He had already been labeled as a problem, and I met him in my reading group. Considering his test schools and in class performance, I am not sure why no one said, “hey this kid is brilliant, maybe he’s bored?” His pool game is ridiculous because he can calculate the angles in his head and has been able to do so, as far as I know, since we were 14. The fact that someone can look at an 8 year old (or even a 5 year old, I’ve seen this happen to really young kids) and decide that they are “bad” and stick them with that label is sort of beyond me. But it happens, with appalling frequency. I am always shocked when a kid tells me that I am the first teacher that really believed in them because I teach high school. So by my calculation, assuming I am teaching freshmen a minimum of 28 adults prior to me really dropped the ball. By the time they get to me they already have an attitude and I can’t say I blame them; I had an attitude at their age too. I’ve said this once already, but I always assume that there is a valid reason for student behavior. I’ve never been proven wrong on that count and I doubt I will be. My group of GATE students at Don Julio Junior High was reportedly the most difficult and most intelligent group several of my teachers have ever seen. We also had the most problems and were incredibly high risk (Yes, me too. Perhaps especially me). I watched as each of those kids drowned. For a huge percentage of them they were done before we even walked into the doors of junior high. Another percentage was done before freshman year. We were difficult because we had rough home lives and were intensely aware of the fact that we were getting an unfair shot. Why participate in a system and structure that had alienated us and that we didn’t stand to benefit from?

For everything I have gone through, nothing was more painful that watching the squandered brilliance of my friends as they headed down darker and darker roads. Part of me lives with profound guilt over the fact that I can’t do anything about it. I realized I couldn’t save them, so I started saving the kids who looked, talked and acted like them. I’ve wanted to be that kind of teacher. The kind of teacher where smart alleck and obnoxious kids would excel. The kind of teacher where artsy kids would have a protected space in the confines of my walls. The kind of teacher that loved kids unconditionally and got up every morning prepared to give them a new chance, a new start, because I firmly believe everyday that they have a chance to turn it around, and it’s my job to be patient and waiting and open for the day when they do.

We waste our brightest poor men, and then wonder how they end up in jail. We tell them they can’t be successful in school and then are confused when they stop participating in school and go out into the world where they can find something to be successful at. We tell them they are “bad” and then are confused when they do exactly what we said they would. For me, it’s really simple. All of my students are automatically innocent until proven otherwise. All of my students are good even when they can’t show that in the way I would like. All of my students can redeem themselves at any point on any day.

When you talk to working class kids who got out, there is always this origin story about there being a teacher that loved them and believed in them. I am no different; my story starts with my 7th grade science teacher, Mr. Kroes. Mr. Kroes loved me at my worst, held me to a high standard when I didn’t believe I could meet it, and protected and fought for my particular brand of intelligence. This chain continued. I’ve always found a teacher prepared to go to war for me. The only way for me to repay that is to be prepared to go to war for my kids. My job is to protect and reach all kids.

Boys in working class areas are drowning. They are fighting a battle they shouldn’t have to fight and that they can’t win on their own. The gap is huge and frankly makes my social life and teaching that much harder. I want more male teachers in the classroom, but we have to get them through high school and college first.

I want each of my kids to know this simple truth: I will love them not matter what. I will have faith in them, always.

On Why You Can Never Really “Get Out”

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I’m one of the few and the proud from my neighborhood to accomplish the feat of “getting out.” If you are poor and went to Stanford, I don’t need to explain what that means, but it has a particular meaning. Getting out means leaving the neighborhood and escaping poverty. It means that you assimilate into the middle or upper class and it’s a very American dream. The fact that I went to Stanford matters. I know it matters because I know how I was treated before I went to Stanford. Everything from the way clerks in stores to the way my doctors treat me are impacted by my having gone to Stanford. My intelligence didn’t change, but it’s the ultimate “get out of jail free” card with everyone with authority and power. I know that the only reason I can write and be heard is because of the school I went to. I know that my healthcare is better when I go to the doctors in my Stanford gear. I watched several family members die because of substandard health care. When my cousin killed himself the summer before I entered Stanford, the therapist at Stanford told me that it was expected given his demographic information, as if demographics made it easier to mourn the death of someone I cared about, as if his life was worth less. Because I have two Stanford degrees, I can promise you that if I died tomorrow people would make a huge deal out of it. No one would have cared outside the individuals who loved me when I was 15.

I am grateful I went to Stanford but I encountered so much bigotry there, directed at me, directed at my friends, directed at my family. Directed at the people who backed me no matter whom I was or where I was. People who sacrificed so I could do the thing they knew they couldn’t. People whose love was imperfect but incredibly real. I was never angry with my parents for what they couldn’t give me. I knew that if they had the choice they would have given me everything, but my parents didn’t have the choice. My success was built on a community that to this day is incredibly grateful to have been part of building something. This knowledge is never that far from my mind or from my heart, it propels me in ways I don’t even notice.

My childhood was hard, but I’ve known the kind of love that is forged in blood and sweat and hard labor. I know that kind of love that makes you say with the utmost sincerity that you would die for someone. I would. There are people in my life that I love enough to take a bullet for, so taking the heat at Stanford felt like a completely fair burden. How else could I possibly repay the love I have known?

I got out. The proof is in this blog. The proof is in the way I now eat salads with weird cheeses which are delicious but which were completely foreign to me when I got to Stanford. The proof is in the number of languages I speak and the places I’ve traveled to. I can’t deny that reality. But, part of me can’t or won’t leave, and maybe that’s because the place where I still feel the most love is the place where I experienced the deepest pain. Or maybe it’s because I still owe a huge debt. To my big sister who sacrificed for me in ways I will never be able to pay her back for. To my mom, who gave me the best of herself at the sacrificial alter. To my little brother and sister who taught me how insignificant my life was in the face of the love of a child. You never leave. You just carry that part of you everywhere. Balancing the two is hard and a testament to how divided our country is, but I am both. I was born both. I lived as both no matter where I was. Someday I will die as both. I can no sooner let go of that piece of me than I can give back my years at Stanford. I can only move forward, as a complex and a deeply loved and loving human being.