Monday, September 1, 2014

The Only Road to Happiness

I'll warn you up front-- this is more about politics and culture than actual education, because apparently I'm having one of those days. But if you stick with me, I think we've got insights here about how a certain sort of reformster mind works.

This all starts with a GOP poll report leaked to Politico. The poll reveals that a whole lot of women, particularly single, educated ones, see the GOP as a party of old, white, right-wing, stuck-in-the-past, out-of-touch men. The report that came with it suggests some strategies to deal with that. Those strategies are pretty aptly summed up by Amanda Hess at Slate as "carefully explaining that women are wrong."

But Hess's article led me to this piece by editor R. R. Reno at First Things, a journal focusing on economic freedom and "a morally serious culture." And that article is valuable because it presents such an unabashed, unvarnished representation of a particular point of view.

Reno gets off to an interesting start, conflating women's feelings about the GOP with their feelings about "the conservative message.' That in itself deserves some attention because I think a pretty good case can be made that a broad swath of the GOP is miles out of touch with conservative values. But we'll save that for another day.

Responders like Hess have focused on the centerpiece of Reno's piece, a fully imaginary single woman who has been constructing with an impressive level of specificity. Reno creates her, and then explains why her lack of appreciation for conservative values has made her sad. The story of the sad straw woman, while impressive in its fictive inventiveness, is not nearly as interesting to me as a particular set of assumptions that run through the article.

They want a sense of belonging and a modest degree of confidence that their life-path will bring happiness. Both tend to be weakened as traditional institutions exercise less authority. 

Put somewhat more concretely, the single, 35-year-old woman feels “judged” when I oppose gay marriage, because she intuitively senses that being pro-traditional marriage involves asserting male-female marriage as the norm—and therefore that her life isn’t on the right path. She resents this implication.

As a result, people suffer from anomic disorders. (That means various kinds of personal unhappiness related to the lack of clear norms for how to live.)

The assumption here is that if people would just follow the path that traditional institutions and cultural values lay out, the people would be happy. They are not following that path because a more permissive society has seduced them into following various other paths, and now they both feel judged for taking alternate paths and are unhappy because they are not on the only road to happiness.

I have a smidge of sympathy for Reno. I agree that when people live as if they can make any choices they like and then get pissed off that those choices have consequences-- well, those people are asking for a life full of cranky. And I think it's a big group, including people who want to be an hour late to work every day and still keep their job as well as GOP candidates who want to be dicks to women but still get the women's vote.

But Reno is missing a huge part of the picture. People are abandoning traditional pathways because for many people, those pathways have ceased to work. Get a job + work hard at it is supposed to = become a self-supporting member of society. But low minimum wage + part time status + no benefits = member of the working poor. Economically, we have lots of people who did exactly what they were Supposed To Do, and now their college diploma gathers dust while they try to figure out how to make this month's rent with what they make bagging groceries. And our new world-class level of poverty means an entire generation is growing up in situations where following the traditional path does not get you jack. I suspect this has a great deal to do with the erosion of traditional values in our culture.

Of course, the difficulty today is in finding a source of “effective authority” that has currency in the public square.

Well, yeah. You know how an effective authority could gain currency? By saying things that seem to be related to the people actually live in. Telling poor people "It's your own fault for being lazy and dumb and morally suspect" or women "It's your own fault for not staying home and raising babies" does not earn currency.

But beyond even that is the underlying assumption that there is One, True Road to happiness, and that people who travel it end up happy, and everybody else does not. This is not true now, and there is no evidence that it has ever been true, ever, in the history of human beings. Yes, traditionalists like to point at some point in the past (frequently coinciding with their childhood) and say, "There was a time when everyone was on the same page and life was better." This says more about the failure of their memory than the success of the culture. There was never such a time.

People who believe there is One Right Way to live your life are a menace to society, primarily because what they really believe is that there is One Right Way to live your life and they know what it is. They believe that Happiness is located at one special place, and they have a map. And though I started with the GOP, that political party by no means has a monopoly on this viewpoint.

I don't believe I can name one thing that is required to make every single human being happy. A really great kiss is right up there, but there are probably people who are happy without one, or unhappy with one. I would say that is because human beings are different. Reno would say that's it because some people are right, and some people are wrong. For those of who believe that Happiness is a million little separate flowers in a very large field, the One Right Way theory just seems bizarrely wrong.

But that's their premise, and if you're still here, it's the same premise behind Common Core and high stakes standardized testing and national teacher evaluation systems. There's just One Right Way to do things, and the People in Charge know what it is, and so they have labored to create a system that puts everybody on one path to the same destination instead of a system that fosters a gazillion individual searches for a gazillion individual people.

One size does not fit all. Not everybody in the world needs to travel the same path in the same time. I can't believe I live in a time in which that idea has to be argued, let alone even stated.

How To Spot Lies

It is easy to get caught up in the wrong conversation. If someone locks you in a room without food and tells you, "I'm doing this to make you a better person," it's easy to get caught up in a whole argument about how this will actually hurt you and why would going without food make you a better person, anyway?

But let's not have that conversation. Instead, let's reverse engineer the premise. You've said that the objective is to make me a better person? Let's start from there and ask this question:

If we were going to try to make me a better person, what would we do?

It's this same process that so often leads me to conclude that many reformsters are simply lying (or, at best, confused). They present a misguided, distracting or destructive policy and then at the end, tag it with a noble or worthy rationalization, like stapling a lion's tail onto the butt of an ugly donkey. What happens if we just look at the tail and ask, "What animal would this have come from?" Let's look at some reformster classics. that students aren't the victims of their zip codes.

This is used to justify charter programs, particularly large clusterfinagles like Newark.

But if we wanted to make sure that no child went to a lousy school just because she grew up in a poor community, we would make sure that no schools were terrible, regardless of the neighborhood. We would demand that state and local governments found ways to fully fund each and every school. We would make sure that no zip code anywhere was victimizing any children. That way there would be nothing that anybody needed to escape. that we know how well our children are progressing in their education.

If we wanted to have a really effective measure of student learning, we would have a long and difficult task to undertake.

First. we'd have to come up with an effective measure of all learning, which would be hugely challenging on a large scale. We would have to be relentless in making sure that we were designing instruments that measured what we wanted to know, and not basing them on what we can most easily measure. I'm not sure exactly what it would look like, but I expect that 1) there wouldn't be a multiple choice question anywhere in it and 2) it wouldn't be economical to do it on a national scale.

Then we would have to decide how to use the data that we gathered. We'd need long conversations about where to put the various dividing lines (cut scores. etc) and how to package the data in a way that was meaningful and useful to teachers and parents.

And we would have to decide whether our goal was to provide teachers with information to inform their teaching, students and parents to make their own choices and decisions, or suitable for government functionaries to make state and national policy decisions. Instruments that did one of these would be hard; instruments that did all three might be impossible. The easiest approach is the one we're currently using--instruments that do none of these things. that all students are taught by a great teacher.

If we want to do this (and why wouldn't we), there are several problems that have to be tackled.

First, we would have to identify the best teachers. This would require multiple instruments and some broad judgment. We would have to test, pilot, check, test again. And if experts in the field of these sorts of measurements said, "Hey, this thing you've come up with is crap," we would not ignore them.

We would have to recognize that all teachers start somewhere, so we would want to have considerable training and support through the first several years in the classroom. We would also recognize that most teachers hit tough patches now and then, and at those times they need support, not condemnation and threats.

And we would want to come up with ways to attract and retain the best people. And, because we know that stability in school is important, we would want to hold onto good teachers for their entire careers.

To that end, we would offer job security, solid career pay, autonomy, resources, and support to do their job. We would foster school atmospheres that treated teachers like managers, not flunkies. We would treat them like valued professionals, experts in their field, whose knowledge and insights would be a valued element of how the school functioned.

You can play this game with pretty much any reformster proposal (it works in the rest of life as well). If they say, "By doing this, we can get to X" just ask yourself, "If I wanted to get to X, what would be the best way?" Of course you're answer isn't the only one. This approach can be used badly (beware anyone who says sentences that start with "If you really loved me..."). But if you find your ideas about getting to X are wildly different from what you're being sold, something is up.

A Great Labor Day Story

If you live in New England, or were paying attention to supermarket labor news this summer, you already know this story.

Almost a hundred years ago, Greek immigrant Arthur Demoulas founded what would become the grocery chain Market Basket. For the last few decades, the company has been run by two grandsons-- Arthur T. Demoulas and Arthur S. Demoulas.

The chain had grown to 71 stores with 25,000 employees. But there was a constant struggle between the cousins. Arthur S. pushed hard to get more golden eggs out of the Market Basket goose, but Arthur T., who did the actual managing of the operation, provided holiday bonuses, hefty retirement packages, and a career ladder that reached all the way down to baggers. He was personable and pleasant and well-known to his customers and his workers.

In June, Arthur S. gathered enough board votes to put a stop to all that touchy-feely crap, and Arthur T. was canned. When eight executives in the company tried to protest the ouster, they were canned, too. And as any qualified website headline writer would say, nobody could predict what would happen next.

What happened next was that the workers and customers of Market Basket shut the place down.

The workers walked out. The customers started boycotting. The suppliers stopped supplying. If you walked into a Market basket in July or August, you felt like you'd wandered into an abandoned building or perhaps time-traveled back to the saddest supermarket in Soviet Russia.

And the workers didn't just walk out. They held pep rallies. They walked with signs of their former fired CEO and demanded his return. Arthur S. threatened to fire them all, replace them with scabs, and the workers felt the pressure. Many of them are part-timers who depend on that check, and even those who didn't walk saw their hours cut dramatically as the stores ground to a halt. And yet a scan of news coverage finds no real signs of backlash-- even the workers who didn't walk did not call for the job action to fold.

By the end of August, it was over. Arthur S. and his cohort sold out to Arthur T. who was restored to leadership of the chain. It's a story so special that the link you just read past connects to coverage in the LA Times.

What are the lessons of the Market Basket story?

For folks in the big offices, the lesson is simple-- treat your people well, run your company fairly, and operate moral, ethical and just plain decent human being management, and there is no limit to how hard your workers will work and fight for you.

For workers, the story is a reminder that people do have power and that, pulling together in the name of a decent cause, they can create enormous pressure for management to do the right thing.

Happy Labor Day!

Squeezing Labor For $$$

If your goal is to get rich in business, labor is a problem you must solve.

I mean, there's that big stream of money. You can see it, right there, fat and full and flowing right toward you and then BAM-- it suddenly gets diverted because you have to pay workers their wages.

Early in human history, rulers established the ideal base level for wages-- $0.00/lifetime. But most countries (even the US-- though not first as we like to believe) eventually recognized slavery as a Bad Thing, and so the scramble was on to see what creative ways could be discovered to drive wages as low as possible.

Unions emerged as a way to exert counter-pressure, and while it will be repeated many times today (Labor Day), it can never be stated too many times-- everything that American workers take for granted from minimum wage to a defined work week to safe work conditions was fought for by unions and not given freely and voluntarily by management. And that most definitely includes the workers' share of that big stream of money.

In education, the financial pressures were traditionally different. There were certainly plenty of pressures to keep costs down, and I get that. As a taxpayer, I'm not inclined to write the school district a blank check, either. Those fights could get plenty ugly. I remember when Cleveland City Schools would shut down in October or November because they were out of money and the taxpayers had voted down the levy. And once upon a time, I was a local union president during contract negotiations and a subsequent strike. Believe me-- I know exactly how angry taxpayers when they think their taxes are going to go up.

But these we're seeing something new. Folks in the financial sector have noticed that the river of money running through education is huge. Huge! And they want a piece of it.

That can only mean one thing. Because that river flows mostly toward personnel. In fact, in runs toward personnel in a way that business people can find absolutely shocking. I remember a local board member who operated a concrete business and who was absolutely stunned by the percentage of the school budget that went to personnel costs. In his whole tenure, he never stopped talking about it, and always in tones that suggested he saw it as proof that the district was completely screwed up from a business standpoint.

But schools are a service sector, and personnel have to be a huge portion of the budget. Yes, there's money to be made in infrastructure and supplies, but that's easy-- you just insert your own business in that particular pipeline.You can't easily bring more money in by, say, raising prices. No, if you want to squeeze real money out of schools, you'll have to squeeze the personnel.

So when you hear reformsters talking about restructuring teacher pay, they're really talking about one thing-- "how do we divert some of that river of money from teachers to us?"

Proposals that follow the same template as TNTP's bogus plan talk about increasing pay for teachers, but they are really about the overall costs of a teaching staff. The basic principle here is pretty simple-- schools can afford to pay beginning teachers a bit more if they can convince them not to stick around. There will be some savings in not having to pay them a top career-level master teacher salary, but the big savings will come from not having to provide them with a pension, ever.

Merit systems are even easier to stack in favor of the school operators; the technique is already well-known in the private sector. You budget a set amount of money for merit bonuses, and that's it. It doesn't matter how many merit bonuses you award-- they are all going to be a slice of that pre-determined pie.

The tier system that some propose is a matter of PR and recruitment. You get one or two Master Teachers per building making a hefty salary. Those allow you to say, "Look at the huge salary our Master Teachers make!" (It also helps with the average salary numbers for your building.) You budget for the number of high-paid Master Teachers you can afford, and never exceed it. For extra savings, promote teachers to the Master slot after six or seven years, wash them out before a decade, and still avoid pension costs.

None of these plans are about making teacher compensation better for teachers. No reformsters are out there proposing to attract teachers with offers of better lifetime career earnings, nor are reformsters talking about how to keep the best teachers around for thirty-five or forty years. The idea is simply to reduce labor costs as much as possible, so that the river of sweet, sweet money can roll on, unimpeded.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

PDK & Marketing for the Core

One of the features of Common Core has always been the ability to market materials on a national scale. A national set of standards should help edubizes get away from having to marker fifty different sets of materials, but it only partially solves the problem of millions of individual teachers who think they have the professional expertise to think and choose for themselves.

We've already covered the creation of EdReports, a site intended to be a Consumer Reports style recommender of education materials. But here comes a puff piece in the Phi Delta Kappan that read likes the advertising insert in a glossy magazine.

"Support the Common Core with the Right Instructional Materials" authors Rachel Leifer and Denis Udall both have nifty education pedigrees. Leifer did stint with TFA in DC ("where more than 80 percent of her students advanced at least 1.5 years in academic skills annually")and is now a program officer for the Helmsley Foundation. Udall graduated from Harvard's Graduate School of Education and went on to found a charter school; these days he works for the Hewlett Foundation. So, big fans and supporters of public education.

Leifer and Udall open with an anecdote about a school in New York that used EngageNY materials and -- whoosh!-- for the first time in years "test data show that nearly every student at Ripley is making substantial learning gains." Or at least test data show that students are generating better test data. But it wouldn't be another day in Reformsterland if we didn't blithely assume that test scores = learning. The conclusion Leifer and Udall reach in this introductory anecdote is that having the right materials makes all the difference!

So advertising point one-- you need good materials.

Point number two-- the good materials are essential, but they are scarce.

Well, damn. If only there were some expert organization that could direct me to the Right Stuff!

CCSS supporters "realized early that they would need to prod the marketplace to respond to the standards." So "working with educators," the Student Achievement Partners (the non-profit profiteering group founded by CCSS writers David Coleman, Susan Pimentel and Jason Zimba) decided they would whip something up.

Instructional Materials Evaluation Tool (IMET) is a product of SAP. It is

a set of rubrics designed to support educators and administrators tasked with developing, evaluating, or buying full-year or multi-year curricula. The rubrics distill the standards into non-negotiable criteria for alignment with tangible metrics.

Doesn't that sound grand and technical and like the kind of thing you'd need experts for-- real smart experts and not just classroom teachers? And so we consider the process of suggesting that classroom teachers are not knowledgeable enough to select classroom materials. I know that's not a new idea, but the CCSS marketing plan requires it.

Educators Evaluating Quality Instructional Products (EQuIP) is from our good friends at Achieve.

This rubric evaluates a lesson or unit on four dimensions: alignment to the depth of the standards, key shifts required by the standards, instructional supports, and assessments. Scores for each dimension classify materials as exemplar, exemplar if improved, revision needed, or not ready.

Achieve has trained a boatload of teachers to use this (because, again, the poor dears certainly couldn't have mastered it on their own) and has a cadre of fifty evaluators ready to give materials a look-see and the stamp of approval (or not).

It's about here, in a small-print paragraph, that Leifer and Udall note that both of these groups being advertised here get grant money from Helmsley and Hewlett.

The author's cite two benefits of using the rubrics. First, they will create "smart demand." In other words, these rubrics are a way for the rubric designers to coach the market, to encourage the market to want what the rubric designers think the market should want. Second, the rubrics will make everyone who uses them more familiar with the Core. Presumably not in the "Now that I understand what the Core is, I do not support it" manner documented in recent polls.

Two shining lights

Leifer and Udall go on to discuss two states that have had super-duper success with this sort of thing: Louisiana (where Leifer worked for a while) and New York.

For Louisiana, they talked to John White as well as touting the use of materials from some of the same folks who helped write EngageNY's lesson plan straightjackets. At any rate, they claim that LA reviewed textbooks so rigorously that only one each for math and ELA made the grade. White is proud of judging publishers transparently. The article does not in any way address that giant regulatory clusterfinagle that is currently LA education.

In New York, we just go ahead and declare EngageNY a success, based on anecdotes from a couple of administrators. This alleged success is due to three factors:

         1) Using the EQuIP rubric real hard
         2) Training many educators
         3) Facilitating adaptions instead of requiring scripts

Because EngageNY is just famous for its lack of scripting and its enormous freedom for teachers. Which, given what I've been hearing for the last year or more, will come as real news to some folks.

The Five Main Steps

So what does it take to come up with great materials? Five steps, it turns out.

1) Build on previous efforts and existing resources. By which they mean, use the techniques that have already worked for places like Louisiana and New York.

2) Make sure educators are involved and trained. The training is important because, remember, teachers are not sufficiently knowledgeable or professional to select their own classroom materials without first being properly indoctrinated trained.

3) Have non-negotiables. In the dating world, these are called dealbreakers. In this case, it means don't try to make your own revisions to the rubrics-- if the rubric says no go, then listen tot it. Remember, teachers and principals and curriculum directors-- you are not professionals and these sorts of decisions are beyond your ability to make unaided.

4) Provide detailed feedback. To textbook companies, that is. It's your job to help them make the sale.

5) Enable teachers to supplement and adapt material on their own. By which they apparently mean to allow teachers to go to "online libraries of vetted materials" (EQuIP and SAP both have them), not actually write or adapt materials themselves. Good lord, they're only classroom teachers-- how could they possibly do that?

It's a pretty little advertising insert and really, what better message to send out to the members of a society of professional educators that they can relax, because education is in the hands of people more capable than professional educators.

7 Reasons To Send $$ To Teachout/Wu NY Campaign

Why contribute to a New York gubernatorial campaign when you don't live in New York?

Zephyr Teachout is challenging Andrew Cuomo for the Democrat position on the ballot. While a victory is unlikely, it's not impossible. And you, dear reader, are probably not even a New York resident. Here's why you should support Zephyr Teachout and Tim Wu anyway.

Send a message to the Democratic Party

The Democratic party has taken to defining their traditional constituencies as "those people whose interests we don't have to represent because they will vote for us even if we punch them directly in the nose."

"Vote for us," Democrats tell teachers. "We're the ones who like teachers." And then they punch teachers in the nose, and trash education. The Democratic party of New York is so sure they don't have to reach out to Democratic voters that Cuomo has barely pretended to be a Democrat at all. If being a Democrat were a crime, I'm not sure Cuomo could be convicted.

Bottom line-- people will take you for granted just as much as you let them. The Democratic Party needs to stop taking education voters and labor voters and not-actually-rich-guy voters for granted.

The race has national implications

See above. New York is not the only place where Democrats have decided they can turn their back on education. The Obama administration has been as anti-public education as any Bush ever dreamed of being. And since Cuomo has his eye on the White House, lessons from this governor's race are also lessons about 2016. If the lesson of this race is that being a pro-corporate, anti-public ed tool will cost you at the polls, that's a lesson that will affect any Democrat running in 2016.

Teachout doesn't have to win

It would be great if she did. And she still could. But she doesn't have to. Cuomo is supposed to be invincible, untouchable. This supposed to be a walk in the park.

This is like one of those stories in which somebody is pretending to be a god. To bring him down, you don't have to outright kill him-- you just have to make him bleed. He's already showing strain and a hint of flop sweat.

There's another race, here

Quick-- name Cuomo's running mate! Yeah, I can't, either. Tim Wu, on the other hand, is the father of net neutrality. There are two races here, and since only about twelve people in New York pay attention to the Lt. Governor race, mobilizing voters could let Wu walk off with that office, thereby handcuffing Cuomo to his own opposition.

This is what rich people do

Looking across the country and picking out people who stand for your own values is a rich person's game. Thanks to the Supremes, we don't even know how many gazillions of dollars have been spread around the country into various races, but based on what we can see, we know it's not peanuts. Rich individuals like the Koch brothers, advocacy groups like StudentsFirst-- this is what they do. Swoop in, bankroll a guy who Sees Things Your Way, and hope it helps.

So here's a chance to live like a rich person and support candidates in races you won't even vote in. Maybe your contribution will be more Grey Poupon than beluga caviar, but you can still feel fancy.

Teachout/Wu stand for the right stuff

Teachout is Not a Politician in all the best ways. She's not ignorant or naive, but savvy and knowledgeable, and she gets it. This is not a protest campaign or a stunt campaign-- this is a campaign of substance and thought. For public education fans, she sees what is going wrong with public ed in this country, but she sees it in the context of larger issues.

People are out of power now, not just in their politics where they feel that their voices don't matter, but in their workplace and in the marketplace. I want to revive the old American belief -- exemplified by Jefferson (who wanted an anti-monopoly clause in the Constitution), Teddy Roosevelt and FDR -- that concentrated private power threatens democratic institutions.

If you don't ordinarily contribute to political campaigns because it's all political crap and the candidates are all bought and paid for by Big Money anyway, here's a chance to support the kind of politician you wish were running. Here's your chance to say to The Machine, "This is the kind of thing I want to see."

Politics are a free market of sorts. Much of the market is driven by advertising and entrenched power, but the consumer always has the power to demand certain choices, and we exercise that power by standing up for those choices when they appear.

Celebrate Labor Day

I live in Pennsylvania, but I have contributed to the Teachout/Wu campaign, and I will do it again. I will not contribute much, but every reader of this blog chipped in ten or fifteen bucks, it would add up to some real money. Teachout has a real chance to make a real difference, but she is up against fully entrenched and well-financed power. There's just nine days left till the primary, and lots of phone calling, flier distributing, sign posting, and general campaigning to do.

So what better way to celebrate Labor Day than by supporting someone who is trying to put the voice of regular citizens back into the political conversation.

Click on this link, contribute some money. Do it in the next 24 hours. Step up and help out.

Why Aren't More Women in Tech? Here's One Thought...

If you need a reminder just how bad misogynistic behavior can be in our current culture, there is news this week to remind you.

Anita Sarkeesian is someone you should know. Her vlog series "Tropes vs. Women" has over the last few years dissected and explained the sexism of the video gaming world. Her videos are thoughtful and scholarly. Situated on the website Feminist Frequency, they provide an intelligent, considered look at how the tropes and traditions of video games reinforce some of the worst sexist attitudes of the culture. Sarkeesian's presentations are calm, clear, and non-ranty; were it not for the subject matter, you could easily imagine her videos running on PBS.

So, of course, she has received constant threats. The level of harassment is stunning, a degree of ugliness that makes you want to just powerwash your computer after you look at it. Beyond the standard fare of trolling (known in the meat world as Being an Asshole) Sarkeesian has been the threatened with violence, rape and death. Trolls created a video game "Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian" and sent her screen shots of herself being assaulted. All this, I'll remind you, because she is a woman daring to point out sexism in video games. Video games.

Sarkeesian has put up with this since Day One, but last week, things took a turn for the even worse when someone let her know that they had tracked down her home address, as well as the names and address of her parents, and threatened to kill them all. Sarkeesian called the police and moved out of her home.

When discussing the shortage of women in the tech industry, it's standard to observe that the frat boy atmosphere can make them feel unwelcome. Frankly, saying that the tech industry makes women feel unwelcome is like saying being mugged makes people feel uncomfortable. We have example after example-- the launching of the app "titstare," the tinder lawsuit, the endless tales of Comic Con misbehavior. And every example of tech world sexism and harassment comes with its own second helping of "How dare you call us sexist, you ugly woman who probably can't get laid."

The culture in general and teachers in particular have got to update our image of what sexism looks like. The classic sexist stereotype (macho, strutting, physically powerful and confident) is being replaced by a new harasser-- the smart guy using his techy device to blast his ideas and images out into the world, never having to even look his victim in the face, and demanding that no women enter his domain without submitting to him.

It doesn't have to be that way. My son-in-law works in the tech industry, and he and my daughter make a fine feminist couple. But somehow we've raised a whole host of young men who think that it's okay to threaten women with rape and death.

I've taught Kate Chopin's The Awakening for years, and it always sparks some important and revealing conversations among my students. But lately I'm feeling that a discussion of the subtle and powerful ways in which society can pressure women into certain roles hardly prepares us for a world in which women who dare to call out little boys for their misogyny can expect relentless threats of death and rape-- how the hell did we end up with that world?? I should have done it before now, but this year we'll be upping our game when it comes to talking about gender in American lit.

One thing's for sure-- in that world, providing women with access to STEM education is only a tiny part of the solution. We like to think of ourselves as far more advanced than countries where women are threatened, harassed and assaulted for trying to get an education. I wish we were separated from that kind of thinking by a far larger gulf than we apparently are.