Arlene is on the SCENE

Archive for the ‘Thoughts…’ Category

Youth activism is alive and well and brazenly powerful. Check out Malala Yousafzai. Even Jon Stewart didn’t know what to say, other than, hey can I adopt you?

We’re drawn to courage. When we see it in children, it’s even more engaging. It is accessible, and contagious. We begin to believe that we, too, can be that brave. Soon, as Martin Luther King said, “righteousness like a mighty stream” splashes each one of us in the face, wakes us up to the possibilities, and now we’ve got change on our hands.

I think what stops us all in our tracks is the combination of Malala’s courage plus the so-called Golden Rule, do unto others… Malala not only pushes for change against the most fierce resistance imaginable. She also demonstrates the wisdom and once again, courage, of self-examination, ensuring that she also stays true to her principles and values.



Wow this article on “language prejudice” was really interesting. It comes from that great organization, Teaching Tolerance, which offers amazing educational resources for creating classrooms that fully appreciate and embrace diversity.

Dialect-MapIn both Arlene On the Scene and Arlene, the Rebel Queenwe poke fun at the accent that can often be heard in my home state of Rhode Island. Even in my author bio I say that Marybeth “fixed” my speech!

But according to this article, there really is no one way to speak, or accent, the English language. In fact, by acknowledging the rich dialects that exist in our country, we begin to connect language to culture. When we do that, we again demonstrate to students how to embrace differences, rather than “fix” them.

Teaching Tolerance offers some suggestions to incorporate language diversity into the classroom. First, we can expose students to language differences. We do try to recreate the Rhode Island dialect in the dialogue of our books, although it’s tough to do phonetically. Maybe it’ll help when the audio version comes out…:)

Second, we can address language assumptions as they happen. I have a distinct memory from my childhood being told by my New Yorker cousins that I “talk weird.” I also remember shrugging and saying, “No. YOU talk weird. What’s with all those RRRR’s??” But in our classrooms, when these kinds of comments are made, we can educate students about dialects, what they are, where they come from, and we can make the connection to cultural and geographic differences.

Finally, we can include language when we teach generally about cultural differences, particularly within our own country. When we learn about our own history or study different regions of the U.S., we can investigate the language as well, along with other customs and traditions.

Teaching about language differences is another way to model and guide students toward a perspective which allows for celebration of difference rather than one which focuses on defining the norm.

Just read a great post on overcoming resistance to emotional and social character development in schools. You’d think there wouldn’t be resistance, but ah, there is indeed.

I find with my own kids, as well as those I work with in schools, that social-emotional character development happens sporadically, unpredictably. Thus, I don’t think we can compartmentalize education to such an extent that we don’t address character development in our classrooms. We’ll miss too many opportunities! Character development, especially with those tweens and teens, is about NOT talking about it. Or talking sideways about it. It’s made up of planting seeds, which you may not be present to see blossom.

I can understand the resistance. I’m not ready to hand over character development of my own kids to their teachers. But that’s where home-school communication is key. Just as teachers have to earn the trust and respect of their students, there’s trust that needs to be built within the parent-teacher relationship as well. Unfortunately, I’m finding as my kids get older, there’s less interaction between home and school. Just when our kids need character development the most!

I like the idea of bringing back character development in schools for this new year. I’m going to try to visit as many schools as possible in 2013 to talk about Arlene and the social-emotional lessons within its pages. And maybe I should reach out to my own kids’ teachers. Start the new year building a better relationship with them so we can work together to combine intelligence and character within our schools.

We Don’t See Racism? | Teaching Tolerance.  This is a great post from a great project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. If you don’t already receive their newsletter, you might want to sign up, especially teachers and others who work with children. They offer incredible resources for teaching children about appreciation of the beautiful mosaic that is our world today.

This post gets at one of the fundamental challenges to opening our minds. Sometimes we don’t even see the problem, don’t even recognize racism. I grew up in a small, pretty homogeneous town. Once I moved away to the Big Apple, I had a shocking revelation: yes, I had a whole bunch of biases within me, attitudes that would be called out as pure racism in most circles. I really had no idea.

Oh, give me a break, some might say. How could you have no idea?

I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t experienced it myself. The first step to opening my mind was to admit it was closed to begin with. This is often the first hurdle to changing attitudes about race, religion, culture, disability. So many think they’ve arrived, they’re advanced in their thinking, it’s only those “other people” who are racist.

But we need to learn to recognize it and teach our children to do the same. How else will we eliminate it?

Maybe the word racism is just too strong, too loaded for people to bear. My son relayed this story to me yesterday, and asked, “Was this racist?”

Teacher was changing kids’ seats, getting ready for some activity in which he needed students arranged in the classroom differently.

Teacher: “Oh, look. I’ve got all my Indian kids in one row!”

Student: “Um, I’m not Indian. I’m from Pakistan.”

Teacher: “Ah, well, close enough.”

I looked at my son. Racist? Well…certainly doesn’t seem like an appropriate thing to say. Imagine: Oh, look, all my Italians in a row! Um, I’m from Greece. Ah, well, close enough.

As tough as it is to go there, I think we need to. Isn’t it racism for a teacher to label a group of children by their race? Within an activity that had nothing to do with race or even close to it? And even when you get it wrong, you stick to your erroneous, race-based label? We can’t possibly think that attitudes will change without our recognition of the problem.

Teaching Tolerance also reminds us that there is probably no finish line. Learning about others and learning to appreciate what they bring to the table is a life-long process.


I would have been glad for one mouse stirring in my house.  Instead I counted six.

Yes, six. All up in my Christmas ornaments!


Serves me right for putting all my precious ornaments into one of those cheap, cardboard ornament keeper things.

Anyway, we carry this box into the house from the shed, then head out to get the tree. Back again, tree is in the stand, and now for the fun part, uncovering memories sparked by nearly every ornament. There’s the paper Jesus made by my daughter in first grade, the popsicle stick cross carefully glued together by our son in kindergarten, the ceramic black lab with a red scarf in memory of the-best-dog-ever, Jasmine. And of course each growth stage is marked with the appropriate commercial product: Elmo, Clifford, princess castle, Luke Skywalker celebrating the holiday by brandishing a light saber upon Darth Vader. Finally, family travels are included: New Mexico, Key West, Brazil, Israel, China.

DSC_0712We lift the cover of this infamous cardboard box, and the dogs seem strangely attracted to the ornaments. We peer inside and see way too many mouse droppings to indicate a mere passer-by. Soon my dog Raydar (the smart one) has his head completely inside the box.

Raydar, with his big ears and big nose, always lets us know when there’s cause for concern. So we listen to him.

We drag this box outside, figuring maybe there’s a stowaway. I lift up the first layer of ornaments, and yes, indeed, there’s a stowaway. Plus his friend, his cousin, his neighbor, and his neighbor’s cousins too!

mouseAway they run! Off into the backyard, with Raydar at the window saying, please, please, let me chase them. What fun that would be!

This little colony of mice made quite a home for themselves in my box. With my ornaments! They destroyed anything paper, and chewed up anything yarn-related.

We saved what we could. Elmo and Clifford did survive, although they got a good scrubbing in the sink.

Lesson learned. I’m off to get myself a nicely sealed, plastic container for this year. Only question I’m left with is, did any of the group leave the box while we were out getting the tree? Let’s hope Raydar is on the trail!


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