I have become my mother’s keeper. I’m still surprised at how fast it happened. It was as if I had climbed up a steep hill and before I had a chance to catch my breath – the earth started crumbling underneath me; causing me to run like hell while trying to find solid ground.
Two years ago my then 83-year old mom was relatively self-sufficient and in good health mentally and physically. There were minor signs where she gave me moments of disquiet, but my mom and I handled them. Then in Spring 2016 she got dizzy and fell; resulting in facial and arm fractures. At the time I thought it could’ve been worse and that she would recover. She healed physically, but changed mentally and emotionally. She’s gone from being an independent person and I’ve become more than just her daughter who lives out-of-state. I’m now responsible for my mom’s custodial, medical and financial care.
For some adult children they may have more than two years before they find themselves taking care of an elderly parent or relative. Others wish they’d had two years instead of the few days, weeks or months before the caregiver role was thrust upon them. Most of us aren’t fully prepared for this role, even those who think they’re prepared discover that is far from the case.
Who are Caregivers?
According to a 2013-2014 Bureau of Labor Statistics Survey there are “40.4 million unpaid eldercare providers (caregivers of adults ages 65 and older) in the United States.” Along with the ever-increasing number of caregivers has also been a change in the role and responsibilities of caregivers, which has gone from simply checking-in on an elder to more complex duties.
A 2013 Pew Research Center survey reported that the role of caregivers “encompasses everything from buying someone groceries and managing their finances to helping them with bathing, dressing and other tasks of daily life.” In a 2012 survey conducted by the American Associate of Retired Persons’ AARP Public Policy Institute and the United Hospital Fund stated that the role of family caregivers “has dramatically expanded to include performing medical/nursing tasks of the kind and complexity once only provided in hospitals.”
Adjusting While Learning
It has been an unexpected transition for myself – since like most kids you expect your parent(s) to grow old, yet still be somewhat the same. That hasn’t been the case for my mother. I have watched my mom transition into various stages: from living on her own to post-surgery recovery then rehabilitation; acknowledging that she can no longer live on her own; not wanting to relocate out-of-state to live with her daughters to accepting that she will be in a senior care facility for the foreseeable future. In the interim, I have spent a lot of time with my mother while also interacting with her physicians, friends and business contacts on top of our family members. I have had to deal with a lot of information and make short and long-term decisions regarding my mom. Luckily family and most of my mom’s friends still live in the same city/state as my mom – so they’ve been my eyes and ears concerning my mother. At times it hasn’t been easy, but I’ve learned a lot on the way. Most importantly, I’m glad that I’ve been able to be there for my mom.
Below are some tips (NOT legal advice) for those who may find themselves having to take care of an aging or sick parent/relative. Keep in mind, there’s always going to be a new or unexpected situation that will arise when caring for your parent. However, these initial tips will save you some initial pain as you begin this journey.
1. Talk and Listen to Your Parent– If you have a decent-to-great relationship with your parent, then that’s half the battle in being a good caregiver. However, when you do talk to your mother or father make sure to talk to him/her about what’s going on with them day-to-day. Not just in generalities, but the details (i.e. what’s bothering them physically, emotionally, financially, their doctor appointments, prescribed medications, friends, activities, errands they usually run, etc). Find out who they talk to and spend time with when you’re not around or available. Don’t turn it into an interrogation; which may inadvertently put them on the defensive. Just make sure to be fully-engaged in the conversation, which means having your listening ears on, asking questions and being patient. If/when you have to step-in for your parent due to an accident or an emergency you will have a better grasp of what’s going on with him/her, which will be important when speaking with medical professionals.
2. Add Your Parent’s Phone Contacts To Your Phone – Your parent’s contacts are those individuals whom you have heard him/her mention more than a few times such as friends, doctors, acquaintances, former co-workers, physicians, organizations, and businesses. Your parent’s contacts may be listed in his/her personal phonebook or their cellphone/smartphone (if they’re a member of the digital age). Adding their contact information (name, phone numbers, home address, email) to your smartphone (or having them written down in a notebook) will make it easier to reach out to them, if necessary, concerning your parent.
3. Provide Your Parent’s Close Friends With Your Contact Information – Your parent’s friends will want to visit your parent, to check up on them and make sure they’re doing okay. It is important that they have your contact information (name, phone numbers, email address), especially if you live out-of-town. Your parent’s friends can let you know how your parent is doing or if something is amiss. They can be a valuable asset information-wise in helping you take care of your parent. Don’t wait for them to call you, make a point of calling them as well. They will appreciate that you care.
4. Keep Family Members In the Loop Regarding Your Parent’s Care – If you happen to live some distance from your parent, you will need back-up to help you take care of your parent. Your ‘back-up’ could be a family member, friend of your parent or members of her community – anyone who have expressed interest in helping you take care of your parent. Use phone calls, texts or detailed FYI emails to keep everyone updated regarding your parent’s care. This type of information exchange will make sure that everyone’s on the same page information-wise concerning your parent’s care, especially when interacting with medical staff.
1. Go to Medical Appointments With Your Parent – Meeting your parent’s general/primary care physician and specialists in-person (even if it’s only once) are golden opportunities to get to know your parent’s doctors, ask questions about your parent’s health and remain in-the-loop in regards to your parent’s medical care. Plus, once you’ve met the physicians and staff it will be easier to get updates and information via phone calls because they have met you, which is especially beneficial if you don’t live in the same area as your parent.
2. Take Notes When Meeting With Medical and Administrative Staff – Unfortunately, the medical profession has a bad habit of dispensing information and medical terminology much too fast to its patients, especially its elderly ones, for them to readily grasp. If you happen to be hospitalized it’s even worse because physicians and nurses sometimes fail to identify themselves (i.e. name, title/medical specialty) and tell you succinctly when you’ve been prescribed X or need to do Y. As your parent’s advocate it is important that you stop physicians, nurses and other medical staff in their communicative tracks with questions (i.e., what is your name, what is your medical connection to my parent, what medication did you provide my parent, etc.) and make sure you write it down and keep records (or get copies) of what you’ve been told.
3. Get A Copy of Parent’s Most Recent Medical Records – This information is important to have in case of an emergency or when you’re dealing with new physicians. If you’re in contact with your parent’s primary care physician you should be able to obtain this information readily. Also, if your parent is hospitalized make sure to get a copy of the discharge papers for your records as well. The discharge papers will include important information such as the names and contact information for the physicians who treated your parent, medications prescribed and the procedures that were performed (i.e. surgeries). Note: Some physicians – possibly those you haven’t met – may request a copy of your Power of Attorney document before releasing your parent’s medical records and/or be willing to speak with you about your parent.
4. Keep A List of Their Medications – You should know what medication (prescriptions and over-the-counter) your parent is taking, its usage and the prescribed dosage. You should be able to get a copy of your parent’s current medication from his/her primary doctor. Another option is to check your parent’s medicine cabinet (or wherever he/she places her medicine) and write down the information. It’s also important to know the name and contact information of the pharmacy your parent uses. This information could come in handy in case of a parental emergency if medical staff are in need of an updated prescription list.
1. Have Your Name Added to Your Parent’s Bank Account – You and your parent must be in agreement with this decision, plus you will both have to go to your parent’s bank to make the change to his/her account. Once your name is on the account it will be easier to manage your parent’s finances if/when they’re unable to do so (i.e. make online payments on their behalf, check for suspicious activity, etc.). This type of access is wonderful if an emergency arises and you happen to not live nearby or out-of-state from your parent. One of the things that will help your parent recover from an accident or hospital stay is knowing that their financial/business affairs are being taken care of while they’re temporarily incapacitated.
2. Get Copies of Your Parent’s Banking, Credit Card and Other Financial Statements – It is important that you know your parent’s monthly income (pension, social security, etc.), savings (bank account, CDs, investments) and expenses (i.e. credit cards, utility bills, mortgage/rent payments, life insurance, health insurance, burial plot, etc.). Knowing your parent’s income may be important in terms of how much your parent and/or yourself can afford when selecting a rehabilitation center, nursing facility, assisted living or in-home nursing care for the short or long-term. Also, some rehabilitation and nursing homes will have income-sensitive requirements in order for your parent to become a resident such as 1) financial limit to how much your parent can have available resource-wise (i.e. amount in checking and savings accounts, life insurance value, etc.) and/or 2) proof of your parent’s expenses in order to determine your parent’s monthly custodial costs (i.e. food, bed, medical care). Therefore, it’s important that you are aware and have an understanding of your parent’s financial status.
3. Know Where Your Parent Keeps Treasured Items and Important Papers – You need to know where your parent keeps her prized possessions or significant belongings such as their last will and testament, birth certificate, deeds, heirlooms, emergency funds or photos. Don’t assume that everything will be in one place or in an obvious location such as a safe deposit box, desk drawer or bedroom closet. Your parent may feel uncomfortable that you’re asking him/her about this because it reminds them that they’re getting older, but don’t let that deter you. You don’t want to be in the situation of trying to locate items on your own because your parent is no longer mentally able to provide you with any guidance.
4. Have Your Parent Complete A Living Will or Advance Directive – A Living Will allows an individual to give explicit instructions about when/how medical treatment is to be administered when he/she is injured, terminally ill or permanently unconscious. An Advance Directive pertains to decisions or instructions regarding a patient’s end-of-life care. It is important to have your parent complete a living will or advance directive while he/she still has the mental capacity to do so. Depending on the state, the process can be as simple as your parent filling out a form with a witness and then having both of them sign-it. Other states may require more of a legal step such as a notarized durable power of attorney for health care which names you as the person trusted to make health care decision on behalf of your parent. Check your parent’s state-of-residence statutes or guidelines for details and guidance.
5. Make Sure You Have Power of Attorney – A Power of Attorney (PoA) gives you the authority to operate on your parent’s behalf in regards to their medical, financial, business and legal affairs. These ‘affairs’ can range from selling your parent’s home, handling their medical care, canceling cable service, discontinuing utilities, or making monthly bill payments. Most companies will require a PoA from the caregiver in order to cancel any type of service, that is, if the parent is unable to so himself. Whether a PoA is needed to fully manage your parent’s affairs and what is required to process a PoA varies from state-to-state (i.e. simple letter authorizing PoA, notarized PoA forms, completed PoA forms submitted by a practicing attorney, etc.). It’s very important that you check the state’s statute of where your parent resides to find out what is legally required regarding PoA arrangements. If you are still flummoxed about the PoA process, most cities and counties have a Department of Aging that could be helpful. Another option is your local American Bar Association’s (ABA) Pro Bono Section which can help help you through the process. Of course you can also seek out a private attorney- via personal contacts or the ABA- who specializes in elder law to help you with this procedure. Note: Some financial institutions have their own PoA form (separate from the general PoA) that you and your parent might have to complete and have notarized in order to legally access/manage your parent’s bank account(s). Check with your parent’s financial institution regarding their PoA requirements. Banks generally don’t post its PoA form online, so you will have to get copy of the form at your parent’s financial institution.
6. Make Copies of Key(s) To Your Parent’s Home – Having access to your parent’s home will make it easier to take care of your parent during an emergency. The last thing you want to be doing is scrambling around trying to find her landlord, a locksmith or a family member to help you gain entrance to your parent’s home. If your parent has his/her own home then duplicating the key is a simple task. However, if he/she lives in an apartment and has a master key (which prohibits duplication) you might have to pay for a duplicate key via the property manager. If you live out-of-town from your parent it is probably a good idea to provide a trusted family member or friend with copies as well. Note: If your parent has other areas that require access (i.e. car, mailbox, home security) make sure you have the keys and codes to these as well.
Take Care of Yourself And Keep in Mind That This Is A Journey – When you find yourself on this road with your parent it will be hectic, tiring, aggravating and disheartening. Your parent will have good and bad days – and when the bad days come you might find yourself the recipient of their anger, depression or hurt. You will also feel like you’re not doing enough and too much for your parent logistically, financially, emotionally or spiritually. As a result, there will be times you simply don’t want to spend time with and/or talk to your parent because they’ve worn you down, made you feel depressed or even angry. These feelings are normal and you shouldn’t run away from them, though occasionally it will be hard not to beat yourself up over having them. For some, these feelings are connected to the fact that they miss the way their parent used to be or some of the things they used to do, even if it was just the simple ‘how was your day’ chats. In order for you to manage this phase of your life you can’t let it consume your life. Worrying about your parent will always be in the back of your mind, but it’s important that you do things to alleviate the pressure such as allowing others to help you, talking to an understanding friend, going to the movies, reading a good book, joining a support group, hanging out with family and friends or simply taking a day to spend time with yourself. You should also make a point of seeing a physician and/or counselor if you’re noticing a change in your physical and/or mental health (i.e. loss of appetite, lack of energy, depression, anxiety, resentment, etc.). Remember – in order for you to be able to take care of your parent you have to take care of yourself.
American Bar Association Commission On Law and Aging – Has toolkits and information on making legal and healthcare decisions on behalf of an aging parent or relative.
Caring for the Caregiver – PBS resource webpage specifically for caregivers. It includes links to finding support groups, getting started in the caregiver role, and a self-assessment test to help caregivers recognize symptoms of stress and how to take care of themselves.
Five Facts About Family Caregivers – Pew Research facts about “caregivers of older Americans.”
Family Caregiver Alliance Caregiving Across 50 States – Profiles contain each state’s background characteristics related to caregiving and aging as well as information on publicly-funded caregiver support programs.
Mayo Clinic: Living Wills and Advance Directives for Medical Decisions – Information and documents from Mayo Clinic Staff in regards to medical arrangements when “you’re not able to speak for yourself.
Power of Attorney Forms – This website provides ‘power of attorney’ (PoA) form templates for all 50 states. Note: You should only use these forms as a starting point, since the forms may not be current due to changing state PoA laws. Make sure to check 1) the statutes of your parent/relative’s residential state for the most recent PoA laws or 2) an elder law attorney to ensure that your form is accurate and up-to-date.
Propublica Nursing Home Data – Allows you review and compare nursing homes in a state based on the deficiencies cited by regulators and the penalties imposed in the past three years.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging – Links to information, resources and services regarding older individuals and their caregivers
Understanding the Rules: Medicaid Payment for Nursing Home Care – Booklet designed to provide family and caregivers with “information and answers to some of the [nursing home-related] questions [they] will encounter.”
It pains me to write this letter to you. We’ve had a wonderful time together, but it’s time for some honesty.
I’ve been struggling. Struggling to find a reason to watch Jessica Jones – yet another show based on a comic book character. I guess I shouldn’t have to find a reason, especially since shows with female leads, comic books or otherwise you normally treat like kryptonite. I know that as a comic book fan you’ve expected me to watch your comic book shows and movies – to critique, discuss and support them, even if they’re a bloated piece of crap like Avengers: Age Of Ultron. You’ve told me ad nauseam that Jessica Jones is a fantastic show, but something has been holding me back from watching it. I couldn’t figure out why until it suddenly dawned on me.
To paraphrase Samuel Jackson from his stellar work in Snakes On a Plane – “I’ve had it with these motherfucking comic book shows and movies on my motherfucking screens!”
My apologies for the expletives. I know that you prefer everything to be PG13 between us, especially in the movie theaters.
I’ve told you about my comics malaise and yet your response is always “I don’t understand! I thought all you comic book fans, nerds, geeks or whatever you call yourselves would be happy with all of the comic book stuff we’ve made!”
Well, I was at first. I still remember my preteen comic book years and your awkward forays (1978-1980) into our world with Superman, Heavy Metal and Flash Gordon. But you got better! Those halcyon days of the first Batman, Blade, Spider-man, and The Crow movies still make me smile. You made me so happy and thrilled to be a comic book fan. You were still hit and miss with most of your endeavors then, but I truly appreciated the effort.
Then came the Batman reboot, which was spectacular and I don’t even like Batman. I was so proud of you. I saw that you had finally find your path and knew that more good things were going to come. But I should have known that it wasn’t meant to be once you released the first Avengers movie. Once that movie made billions of dollars all you saw were dollar signs. You forgot about me.
You no longer cared about our love – our love for comic books. Hell, I’m starting to wonder if you ever read any of them. Maybe that explains why you thought cutting Cyclops and Storm‘s leadership balls off in the X-men movies was a good idea though it’s contrary to the their actual comic book storylines. Why do I still bother explaining these things to you?! You’ve never really listened to me. Maybe you just pretended to like me to get me to tell all my comic book friends about your shows and movies; to help you save money on marketing and promotions. I was so gullible then.
Instead of trying to do different types of films and shows you became obsessed with only making comic book-themed productions.
Wherever I turn there you are, constantly smothering me with your obsession. The Walking Dead. Daredevil. The Flash. Gotham. Arrow. Black Panther. Aquaman. Batman v. Superman. Justice League. Agents of Shield. The Preacher. Ant-Man. Agent Carter. Into the Badlands. Superman. Three Fantastic Four Movies. Three Thor Movies. Five Spider-man Movies. Five X-men Movies. Two Wolverine Movies. Three Captain America Movies. Three Avengers Movies. Eight Batman Movies. I can’t even name them all anymore. Can you?
It’s like you want to turn our lives into a live action Marvel Comics and DC Comics universe. Just because I cosplay doesn’t mean that I’m not a real person!
Sometimes I just want to see a good show or movie that’s not based on a comic book. Why do you think I went behind your back and renewed my Netflix subscription and accidentally joined Amazon Prime? These are the only places where I can find solace from your comic book mania.
You keep telling me that I’ll get over my unhappiness by all the money you’ve made. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve enjoyed your financial success, especially all the comic book-themed clothing I’ve been able to buy, though I’m still not sure about that X-Men Storm dress.
Though you have tried to hide it, it’s apparent that your feelings for me are now mostly box office-related. I’ve seen you looking at those new and clueless comic book movie attendees, making me feel like a starter wife you’re about to kick to the curb.
I just need some non-comic book time away from you. But I’m sure we’ll see each other again…probably once ‘Captain America: Civil War‘ hits the big screen. God help me.
A Comic Book Fan
Does iTunes truly reflect what we listen to on a regular basis? I decided to find out if that was truly the case.
I have had an iTunes account for several years. I almost exclusively use it to upload, purchase and play songs randomly. I don’t bother with much else regarding iTunes, which maybe it would be disappointed to hear (but I doubt it).
I am not much for playlists, since my patience level for such endeavors are minimal at best. As a result I have barely paid any attention to any iTunes self-created lists such as its Genius Playlist, Recently Played or its tracking of my ‘Top 25 Most Played’ based on my iTunes Library.
I finally decided to check my ‘most played’ list to see what songs iTunes data had determined to be my Top 25 versus what I thought would be on the list.
I was very surprised to see that a bunch of my popular artists were MIA from the list. Sade. Blind Willie Johnson. Depeche Mode. Maverick Sabre. Sam Cooke. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ Movie Soundtrack (don’t ask). Nneka. Tori Amos. Journey. Florence & the Machine. Marc Cohn. Note: I do listen to some of these artists outside iTunes through other apps such as YouTube, Pandora, Soundcloud and Spotify.
Even more surprising was that there are songs on the list that I had no idea that I listened to that much. Also, there were a few that I’m sure made the ‘most played’ cut simply because I just didn’t skip over it after hearing a song I had previously selected. All that being said, most of the songs on the list are ones that I do enjoy listening to regularly; some a tad incessantly.
Below are my top 25 ‘most played’ songs (ranked #25 to #1) along with commentary, links to artist profiles and songs for your listening pleasure.
FYI: I did my best to find videos that were free of advertisements. Initially I had planned to use music sharing app such as Soundcloud or Spotify or WordPress’ audio files set-up. Unfortunately, Soundcloud and Spotify didn’t have most of my songs in their respective catalogs (no surprise there) and WordPress’ system didn’t mesh with my desired visual aesthetics for this blog post.
Time to start the countdown or as Referee Judge Mills Lane from ‘Celebrity Death Match’ would say “Let’s get it on!”
25. ‘Hiroshima’ (2002) – Bryan Ferry
I am a big, big Bryan Ferry fan. I would have been absolutely shocked if one of his songs hadn’t made this list. This is easily my favorite song from his album ‘Frantic.’ I listen to a lot of Ferry’s solo music and a good portion of his work with his former group, Roxy Music. But this song is the one I play the most. It is spacey, oddly robotic, yet soaring at times. It doesn’t get its due from Ferry fans.
24. ‘Darshan’ (2001) – B21
Not surprised this song made it on this list. I first heard it while watching the movie ‘Bend It Like Beckham.’ It’s one of two songs that I really like from a solid movie soundtrack. Its exuberance will get your hips moving, even if you don’t know the Punjabi lyrics. It makes me smile, especially when I’m dragging my feet. The day when I will be able to sing the lyrics to this song successfully will be a good one.
23. ‘Murder’ (1997) – Alana Davis
I didn’t think that I listened to this song this much. Davis is most known for her song ‘32 Flavors‘ but to me she is much more than that. The lyrics and vibe (fingers snapping, simple guitar strumming) to this song are strong; soaked in feelings of dread and paranoia. It makes for a heady mix. Too bad she was a bit before her time musically. Davis probably would’ve made a bigger music mark in our current digital music age.
22. ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ (1995) – Radiohead
I like this group, but I wouldn’t have guessed that one of their songs would have made this list. Then again I do sing to this song whenever I hear it because of the poignant and quietly raging lyrics. I especially like when lead singer Thom Yorke’ voice starts to rise, then falls as he sings “But I can’t help the feeling. I could blow through the ceiling. If I just turn and run.” It is a great song from a solid sophomore album.
21. ‘Ruiner (Live, 2009)’ – Nine Inch Nails
‘Ruiner’ is a recent download/addition to my iTunes account, a song that I have played almost obsessively. So its addition to this list is a given. This is a live 2009 version that I recently discovered via YouTube, which has now become my preferred version of this song. Hell, it’s almost coming close to being my favorite NIN song, but I still enjoy ‘March of the Pigs‘ a bit more. Whenever I hear this version of ‘Ruiner’ my head and body rocks out hard while I sing the lyrics along with NIN founder/lead singer Trent Reznor.
20. ‘Rain On Me’ (2003) – Ashanti
I haven’t listened to this song in a while, so seeing it on the list was unexpected. I had assumed that ‘Only You‘ would have made the list, since I do prefer it over ‘Rain.’ Nevertheless, I can’t complain about this song making the cut since it is a good one. Plus you can’t go wrong with sampling The Look of Love‘ by Issac Hayes. Ashanti doesn’t have a strong voice, but she puts it to good use on this track.
19. ‘How Much I Feel’ (1978) – Ambrosia
There is no doubt that I play this song way too much, which iTunes has confirmed. Unfortunately, 1970s soft rock gets a bad rap, which has caused many to overlook some of the great songs that came out of the era and genre. This song has it all, harmonizing vocals, heartfelt emotion and lyrics that tell a love story starting from the middle to the end. I love the part when David Pack sings, practically laments “Then you both realize. Just how foolish you’ve been. And you try to make amends. But you’re better off as friends.” That is some serious songwriting.
18. ‘Rolling In the Deep’ (2011) – Adele
I thought this song would be in a higher slot since I ran it into the ground and then some. I had to deselect it from my iTunes Library so that I wouldn’t end up causing the song to wear out its welcome. Adele has had other hits, but this is still my favorite. I just love the 1960s vibe to it and the toughness of her vocals. She sounds like a woman, not a girlish pop star or some manufactured boy band singing and prancing obliviously about like show horses. Adele is simply fierce.
17. ‘Inner Smile’ (2000) – Texas
Definitely a ‘go-to’ song for me whenever I need a mood pick-me-up. It’s also another song from the ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ movie soundtrack. It’s simply infectious and should have been a big hit in the United States. Guess an English band named ‘Texas’ that sings pop/R&B was probably a hard sale in the States. That’s too bad because it’s a damn good song that you can sing and dance to and will make you feel better afterwards.
16. ‘Fallen’ (2003) – Mya
Not sure how this song made the list. I’m not saying that I don’t like it, but I don’t like it this much. I’m positive that this song’s addition to the list is pure happenstance in that it’s just been played randomly by iTunes. Nevertheless, it’s a nice song that has an atmospheric vibe to it, which sadly, isn’t a style you hear much of in the R&B/HipHop music world. Mya can sing, but really hasn’t been provided enough songs to show off her vocal pipes.
15. ‘Safe From Harm’ (1991) – Massive Attack
Another recent iTunes addition so I’ve had it in heavy rotation, therefore its mention on this list is pro forma. ‘Safe from Harm’ is a moody, sexy song – a Massive Attack specialty. This song is in a tie with ‘Joy Luck Club‘ as one of my top songs by them. I’ve had it on replay for quite some time. Shara Nelson’s vocals are strong and sexy and Robert Del Naja’s rap is crisp and hypnotic, both a perfect match to the music.
14. ‘Love Rears Up Its Ugly Head’ (1990) – Living Colour
I honestly can’t recall the last time I’ve listened to this song, yet it’s somehow in my top 25. This act was way before it’s time. Hell, they’re probably still before their time. People just couldn’t get their heads around a Black music group that played a mix of alternative rock, heavy metal and hip-hop. ‘Cult of Personality’ is still their biggest hit, but I don’t think it represents them well as this song does. When Corey Glover, the lead singer, starts wailing “Oh no, no, no, no. Not that again…” along with the loud and striking guitar work – you will recognize this group’s awesomeness.
13. ‘I Can’t Tell You Why’ (1994) – Brownstone
Another ‘high song rank’ surprise. Then again I do have a weakness for good cover versions (the 1979 original was written and sung by The Eagles) such as this one. What makes ‘I Can’t Tell You Why’ a stand-out is that Brownstone makes this song their own. If it wasn’t for the lyrics you would think it’s an original. There are various versions of this song, but this one (official video version – not on the album) is the best. I love when contralto Nichole Gilbert starts semi-scatting the lyrics then repeats in a deeper voice the line ‘Why don’t you please tell me why’ near the end. It’s too bad the original line-up of this R&B group (from their debut album ‘From the Bottom Up‘) didn’t remain intact. Brownstone would’ve put a lot of female group acts to shame. They were full-throttled, talented women (not sex kittens or wannabe adults) who could sing their asses off.
12. ‘Remedy’ (1992) – The Black Crowes
Was a tad surprised that this song by the Crowes made the list. I thought that ‘Sometimes Salvation‘ would have made the cut instead. However, after ‘Salvation’ this is one of my top songs by them. ‘Remedy’ is a bluesy, rock song that is stripped down to its basics: strong lead vocals, slinky backing vocals joined by a tough guitar sound. This song is from their should-be-considered-a-classic album ‘The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion‘ one of the rare albums I can listen to in its entirety.
11. ‘The Main Thing’ (1982) – Roxy Music
I absolutely knew Roxy Music would be on this list! ‘The Main Thing’ is from their ‘Avalon’ album. The album title/song was a big hit, but I gravitated more towards the quiet, brooding, techno sound of ‘The Main Thing.’ The song is short on actual lyrics but long on creating a sound that is eery, like a drug-induced Gregorian chant. People either get Roxy Music or they don’t. If you’re a member of the former you are lucky indeed.
10. ‘Gold Dust Woman’ (1977) – Fleetwood Mac
Of course this song made this list. If I had to pick a song that sums up what I love about Fleetwood Mac it would be this one. Stevie Nick’s scratchy and evocative singing. Lyndsey Buckingham’s crazy guitar work and backing vocals. Mick Fleetwood’s pounding drum work. John McVee’s deep bass strumming and Christie McVee’s harmonizing adding depth to Nick’s vocals. It all comes together on a distinctive song that keeps ramping up until the band just leaves it all in the dust (pun intended).
9. ‘Life’s What You Make It’ (1985) – Talk Talk
I simply like the lyrics and the piercing, soaring guitar work on this song. Therefore I listen to it a lot, hence its placement on this list. The lyrics aren’t that complex, “Baby, life’s what you make it. Celebrate it. Anticipate it. Yesterday’s faded. Nothing can change it. Life’s what you make it” nor lengthy. Yet, the way Mark Davis Hollis sings the words somehow adds more significance to them. Makes you pause and think after the song is over.
8. ‘Homesick’ (2009) – Ryan Kickland
This song is stark and beautiful and will stick around with you long after you’ve heard it, which is why it’s on this list. I was watching an episode of ‘Justified’ a few years ago when I first heard this quiet, twangy, fantastic song. I love Kickland’s haunting vocals and the simple, yet sad sound of the guitar. This is a woefully overlooked song that deserves a long moment in the sun.
I’m not a Minaj fan since she raps with too much manufactured braggadocio and not enough heat. Yet, I must really like this Minaj song since it made the Top 10. The best parts of ‘Moment’ is when she’s not rapping because then she is letting you know what she’s feeling. Hell, Drake out-raps her on her own song. Nevertheless it’s a jam that I like listening to, especially when I’m driving in my car with the windows down.
6. ‘Out of My Head’ (2013) – John Newman
I have become a John Newman fan over the past eighteen months. I would’ve been shocked if one of his songs hadn’t made this list. Though I did think that his acoustic/live version of ‘Not Giving In‘ would’ve beat out this song, but apparently I was wrong. Newman has a distinctive singing style which inexplicably have caused some people to assume that he’s a black guy. The ethnicity assumptions are a result of Newman’s music style, which is heavily-influenced by old school R&B. This song has a semi-epic orchestral feel to it that goes well with his mournful vocals. Love the song’s chorus: “To shut out feeling lonely; I get out of my head. Lost everything around me. Not dealing with it well. To shut out feeling lonely; I get out of my head. Why would you want to love somebody when love hurts in the end?” Hope he sticks around for a bit.
5. ‘Hide and Go Seek’ (1967) – Bunker Hill
Hill’s song gets me nodding my head every single time, which is why I listen to it almost daily. I just love the exuberance of the song, Hill’s energy and the back-and-forth response he has with the back-up singers. The lyrics are basic and goofy such as “Went down the road. The road was muddy. I stubbed my toe. My toe was hurting. Who all hid (yeah). If you ain’t hid. You better holler Billy goat (baaaa).” I’m forever thankful to the movie ‘Hairspray’ (1988 original directed by John Waters, not the 2007 remake) for helping me discover this freakin’ wonderful song.
4. ‘Love Me Again’ (2013) – John Newman
I have played this song so much that eventually my preteen son knew most of the words and came to like it. Therefore I had no doubt that it would be on this list. It was the first song I ever heard by him and turned me into a Newman acolyte. It starts out strong with the words “Know I’ve done wrong, left your heart torn. Is that what devils do? Took you so long, where only fools gone. I shook the angel in you!” and just keeps getting better. The Motown vibe and his throwback, yet original vocals makes for a very good song that you will have on repeat.
3. ‘I Know There’s Something Going On’ (1982) – Frida
I was really shocked to see this song on the list – let alone ranked this high – though I did play the hell out of it for a while. This was Frida’s (Anni-Frid Lyngstad), formerly of ABBA, big solo hit. I have always loved the vocals and drums (courtesy of Phil Collins from Genesis) on this song. This song popped into my head out of nowhere a year ago, so I downloaded it. It definitely has a 1980s song vibe, but don’t let that deter you. When Frida sings the words “I know there’s something going on” and you hear the drums banging along with her, you will think ‘This is a cool song.’
2. ‘Dying For Your Love’ (2011) – Frank Ocean
I thought that this song would have topped this list because I have yet to get enough of it. I have played this song so many times back-to-back; just leaving the repeat button on to make it easier for me to listen to it almost continually. It has a gorgeous, dreamlike sound aided by Ocean’s soporific vocals. The song’s hooks are so personal: “On the same side of the battle. I’m on the front line of disaster now. All make sense, I’ve put it together. Guess what we have doesn’t matter. You have me dying. Every night, just because. You have me fighting. Every night, to prove my love. Cause we never get enough of fighting. In the club, I’m dying for your love. I don’t know what you want. You got me fighting. Every night, to prove my love.” This is his best song though he has other strong, potent and more well-known contenders.
1. ‘Earned It’ (2015) – The Weeknd
My number one Most Played Song’ according to iTunes! As much as I like this song the fact that it’s my ‘most played’ has me flummoxed. I haven’t listened to it regularly in months. I can only deduce that its placement on this list is because of its heavy play rotation; some of it purposely, most of it by random. This song is from the movie “Fifty Shades of Grey’ which I haven’t seen nor do I own the soundtrack. The first time I heard this song was on Pandora and the rest is history. I like the overlapping orchestral instruments, the soft and emotional vocals with a mild techno/auto-tune sound. Not sure if this song has long enough music legs in that I won’t eventually discontinue listening to it. But for now iTunes has spoken about its musical hierarchy and tenacity.
So – that’s my list. What’s on your iTunes ‘Top 25 Most Played’ list?
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Black History Month is a wonderful time in February (though it shouldn’t be the only time) for people to increase their knowledge and awareness of the significant and ongoing contributions African-Americans have made to American society and its culture.
Unfortunately, celebration of the month has become stuck in the mud topic-wise for quite some time. The same historical facts and biographies are trotted out time and again ad nauseam. Martin Luther King. Civil Rights Movement. Malcom X. The Civil War. Thurgood Marshall. School Desegregation. Frederick Douglas. The Voting Rights Act. Rosa Parks. Slavery. I Have A Dream. As a result and not surprisingly, important African-American figures, historical events and legislation that have had an impact on Black Americans and the United States have become muted or an afterthought.
Of course there will always be those, young or old, who learn something new during the month which will resonate with them. However, there are others who find Black History Month (BHM) no longer interesting because for them it has turned into a form of ’28 Days of Trivia’ instead of it being a deeper dive into the ‘Black History’ knowledge pool.
For those individuals who need a history recharge or just want to learn something new, YETBW is here for you. Below is a list of articles, audio/interviews, books, documentaries and movies that is off-the-BHM-beaten-path. Learn and enjoy – not just during the month of February.
AUDIO & VIDEO
WWII Black Soldiers In Europe. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum interviewed several U.S. black servicemen who served throughout Europe during World War II. The soldiers discuss their experiences dealing with racism from American white soldiers and those soldiers who served under Nazi Germany. As historian Stephen Ambrose has said “[Black] soldiers were fighting the world’s worst racist, Adolph Hitler, in the world’s most segregated army…[t]he irony did not go unnoticed.” Besides instances of racial conflict, you also hear about the soldiers’ combat experience, serving under General Patton, the impact of seeing German labor and concentration camps and even the mundane such as trying to line up a date. More than half a million Black Americans served overseas in various parts of Europe but their stories aren’t mentioned as much as they should be in WWII lore. Hearing these oral histories is more than worthwhile and keeps their history alive.
‘I’ve Been To the Mountaintop.’ Yes, it’s a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. but it’s one that is shamefully overlooked. He made this speech on April 3, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee in support of striking sanitation workers. It was also on the night before he was assassinated. It is such a personal and powerful speech; more like a sermon. It’s not uplifting and hopeful like his most famous speech ‘I Have A Dream’ which he gave in 1963. By 1968 he was on a different path and you can hear it in the words and tone of this speech. He is contemplative and tired; not sure how long he has to keep fighting, but he hasn’t laid down his gloves. The words in the last part of the speech are eery in hindsight, yet joyful given the fact that he was speaking on the eve of his death. When he loudly proclaims “I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!” it will make your hair stand on end.
Voices From the Days of Slavery. During Black History Month you hear about the topic of slavery, but you don’t hear much from or about the people who actually lived it. The Library of Congress’ ‘Voices From the Days of Slavery has “almost seven hours of recorded interviews [that] took place between 1932 and 1975 in nine Southern states. Twenty-three interviewees, born between 1823 and the early 1860s, discuss how they felt about slavery, slaveholders, coercion of slaves, their families, and freedom.” Unfortunately, the quality isn’t top-notch, but it’s still worth a listen. Not everyday you get a chance to listen to people who lived through one of the harshest and inglorious periods of American history.
BOOKS & ARTICLES
Bloods: Black Veterans of Vietnam War: An Oral History. Unfortunately, the history of Black Veterans is woefully minimal and marginalized, as if they weren’t part of America’s military or war efforts. The twenty veterans in this book (from private first class to colonels, poor to middle-class, all parts of the U.S.) tell their stories of what is was like fighting in Vietnam and the impact it has had on them. You also hear about how they dealt with being a Black American in the U.S. military while living in a country that was going through major racial and cultural upheaval. You can feel their pride, pain, confusion, cynicism and disillusionment concerning the war and themselves. Their stories and experiences are sad, dark, humorous, violent, insightful, and poignant. Terry did an amazing job of putting these stories together without getting in the way of the storytellers. This book is a classic and will stick with you long after you’ve finished it.
The Bluest Eye. Morrison has written other well-known books, but this Nobel Prize-winning title shows her at her writing best. It’s the story about an 11-year-old African-American girl named Pecola, growing up in 1940s Ohio who feels inferior because of her skin and eye color. She’s constantly being told she’s ‘ugly’ so she keeps wishing she had blue eyes so that she would be deemed worthy. Controversy has followed this book since its 1970 publication because it deals with racism, pedophilia and rape, all experienced by the main character. The story isn’t just about Pecola, but also her parents – their marital fights, their frustrations living in a mostly white community; her dad’s volatility, her mom working as a servant to a white family. Sometimes the various stories are told matter-of-factly, in a childish tone or in a harsh, painful or surreal manner. Morrison deals with the uncomfortable issues surrounding black vs. white beauty and the bitter reality of Black Americans in early/mid-twentieth century America. It’s a complex book, that at times can be a challenge to read, but it’s worth the effort.
An the Walls Came Tumbling Down: An Autobiography. Ralph Abernathy played a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement in that he worked closely with Dr. King and was viewed as his successor after King’s death. Yet Abernathy, like many others involved with Dr. King saw their involvement in the Movement overlooked and sometimes forgotten. When this autobiography was originally published in 1989 many African-Americans, Black leaders and other activists were apoplectic about Abernathy airing Dr. King’s ‘dirty laundry’ (i.e., he regularly cheated on his wife, used expletives, wasn’t always a nice person, FBI was spying on him) instead of simply writing about King’s humanity and his tireless civil rights work. Many thought Abernathy had an ax to grind; that he was finally showing his jealousy about King and bitterness over his limited post-Movement success. Maybe some or all of the accusations are true, but this book is still a must-read in that you get an insider view, warts and all, about the people within King’s circle, the actions and decision-making process of other well-known black leaders, the roles played by politicians, governmental actions and the struggles and triumphs of the Movement. As a result of this book future publications on King and the Civil Rights Movement stepped back from the deification of both by providing more insight than reflexive accolades, which is a good thing.
‘The Case for Reparations‘ by The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates is a ten-part, heartbreaking magnum opus of an essay about why African-Americans should receive reparations from the United States. Coates argument is not based on slavery (which he doesn’t discuss as much given the article’s title) nor on how much money is ‘owed’ to Black Americans (which isn’t mentioned) but the long, cumulative effect of discrimination on generations of African-Americans. The article makes it case by interweaving the generational story of African-Americans and the obstacles they’ve faced (white supremacy, inequality, governmental discrimination) by way of Clyde Ross, a sharecropper’s son who escaped the Jim Crow South who ended up in Chicago fighting for black homeowners. Coates 15,000 word piece is dense in that you might find yourself having to revisit it after the first read, because there is so much interesting information, history and emotion in the piece. Whether you’re an opponent or proponent of reparations this article will give you a better and more complete understanding of the reparations argument.
DOCUMENTARIES AND TV SHOWS
Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin. The title of this documentary sadly sums up Bayard Rustin‘s life as a key member of the Civil Rights Movement. Besides being the chief organizer of the March on Washington and a major influence on CORE and SNCC activists he was also a leader in other movements such as socialism, non-violence and gay rights. It was that latter stance and the fact that he was gay that has kept Rustin out of most history books. Brother Outsider rectifies that mistake by giving viewers the opportunity to learn about a major civil rights player who was marginalized by most of the black civil rights community though they were more than willing to make use of his knowledge and planning skills. In 2013 President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The White House Press Release regarding Rustin’s award said he was “an unyielding activist for civil rights, dignity, and equality for all. An advisor to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he promoted nonviolent resistance, participated in one of the first Freedom Rides, organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and fought tirelessly for marginalized communities at home and abroad. As an openly gay African American, Mr. Rustin stood at the intersection of several of the fights for equal rights.” Rustin should be more than just a historical footnote in the fight for civil rights and social justice. Note: The documentary is available at the above link free-of-charge until February 2016.
Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson. Johnson didn’t act the way black people were supposed to act in the early part of the twentieth century. He didn’t know his ‘place’ and he eventually paid the price for it. But at one point in time Johnson was the most fierce and dominant boxer that America had ever seen. He was the first African-American heavyweight champion who annihilated black and white opponents, the latter of which caused major debates amongst whites regarding black superiority and led to race riots. Add to that his unrepentant flashing of his success and riches while cutting a sexual and marital swath through a string of white women, Johnson was too much for many whites and blacks to handle. This documentary (based on the same-titled book by Geoffrey C. Ward) really digs into Johnson’s personal and professional history via archival film, photographs and interview with boxing experts. You don’t have to be a boxing fan to appreciate this film.
The Boondocks ‘Return of the King’ When ‘Boondocks’ (an animated show on the Cartoon Network) first broadcast ‘Return of the King’ the outrage came high and fast. Mainly because Aaron McGruder, the show’s creator and writer had Dr. King dropping the n-word several times while raging against ‘shiftless Negroes.’ But the brouhaha obscured what the episode was really about – the reimagining of history. What if Dr. King wasn’t assassinated in 1968? What if he had just been shot; remained in a coma for 32 years and woke-up in 2000 America? The episode shows an aged King trying to adjust to the new media and culture that is just too loud and fast for him. Huey Freeman, Boondock’s 10-year old, socially-conscious main character sees King’s return as an opportunity for African-Americans to start a new revolution, but King and Huey soon realize that they have their work cut out for them. The episode is full of cynicism, along with anger, disgust and sadness, yet still hopeful. It is an enlightening, ballsy and fierce take on a historical icon and U.S./African-American culture.
Cooley High. Teen movies have been around for decades, but most film buffs say the genre really started with American Graffiti (1973). Since then Hollywood has been producing teen movies like they’re going out of style. Unfortunately movies about black teens are still MIA, which is what makes ‘Cooley High’ (1975) still so special forty years later. Plainly, it is just a movie about black high school students in Chicago during the 1960s or as its screenwriter Eric Monte described it “a movie without a plot.” It may not have a storyline but a lot happens in the film such as dating woes, failing grades, carjacking, drugs and the joys of cutting class along with a killer Motown soundtrack. The teens in the film were the usual suspects: jocks, jokesters, nerds, pretty girls and bullies but instead of it taking place in white suburbia the setting was south side Chicago in the rough Cabrini-Green public housing projects. It’s considered a black cinema classic, but it also ranks up there as one of the best high school movies.
A Soldier’s Story. This 1984 movie is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning, Off-Broadway play, a tone and feel which shows up in the film on occasion. However, the work of the actors such as Howard Rollins, Jr., Denzel Washington and Adolph Caesar (nominated for Best Supporting Oscar for his role) is natural and fits the atmosphere of the film. The plot centers around a black officer who is sent to Louisiana to investigate the murder of a black sergeant who was killed during the end of World War II. The film chronicles the racism and Jim Crow South that the black military men have to deal with on and off the army base, but also the intra-racism that they have amongst themselves based on speech, education, class and geography. A provocative film set inside a whodunnit scenario with a strong cast.
Do you have any off-the-beaten-path suggestions regarding Black History and/or African-American culture? If so, feel free to leave them in the comment section.
Was it a good idea to have women technology CEOs and coders pose in their underwear as a form of empowerment? Dear Kate, a company that sells “performance underwear for high performing women” has been dealing with this question since pics of its latest advertising campaign showing women techies in their undergarments were first released.
Some are not pleased with the campaign such as Elissa Shevinsky, CEO of the startup Glimpse Labs and author of the Business Insider article “That’s It—I’m Finished Defending Sexism in Tech.” She stated in Time Magazine that “[women] posing in [their] underwear undermines the message that [women] aim to be taken seriously as a technologist.” She added “This ad is like a parody,” and concluded. “I’m struggling to believe it’s real.” Natalie Matthews of Elle Magazine seems to disagree stating that “[t]here’s certainly no reason we should freak out over tech professionals embracing their feminine, sexual side…”
Dear Kate Founder and CEO Julie Sygiel came up with the campaign idea to help launch its Ada Collection, named after Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer. Sygiel sees these ads as part of its continuing efforts to promote real women, in this instance women in the tech industry.
Sygiel told Time “I think a lot of traditional lingerie photo shoots depict women as simply standing there looking sexy. They’re not always in a position of power and control” hence the ads showing the women coding in a tech/work environment. “In our photo shoots it’s important to portray women who are active and ambitious. They’re not just standing around waiting for things to happen.”
That may be true, but it doesn’t negate the fact that women have had a tough time in the technology industry, let alone reaching managerial echelons in the field. In the past few months several tech giants such as Google, Apple and Facebook finally released their employee demographics in response to grumblings regarding the tech industry’s lack of gender and racial diversity. As was expected the majority of tech employees are white and male (see side charts; other charts available at Fortune Magazine).
Combine the gender disparity with the ongoing misogyny in the field, women techies rightfully feel as if they are overlooked, underestimated and sometimes mistreated by their male counterparts in the industry.
But are these ads the right way to raise the issue of the lack of women in the tech industry?
When I first saw the ads the words ’empowerment,’ ‘awesome,’ or ‘sexist’ didn’t come to mind. I was mildly flummoxed about why these women were posing in their underwear with laptops. I was immediately reminded of commercials where I’ve seen young women talking about how they’re taking college classes online while in their pajamas. However, my bewilderment regarding the campaign turned into incredulity once I saw the other ‘Dear Kate’ images (where the women techies were still in their undies) with block quotes in which the women pontificated on the tech industry. This is where the campaign went off the unintentional deep end.
How can the quotes or thoughts of these women be taken seriously when juxtaposed with them in their undies? Sadly, it actually makes them seem vapid – like listening to a not-so-bright beauty queen discuss world hunger – which is exactly the opposite of the goal of the campaign. It’s as if the ads were trying to do a two-for-one-deal in showing that women should be proud of their bodies no matter what shape or size and that there are women breaking barriers in the tech industry.
But the problem regarding women techies hasn’t been about their actual bodies, in a general sense, but about the small number of women employed in the industry or in leadership positions. Also, why do women have to take off their clothes to show that they’re comfortable about their bodies as a form of empowerment? No one is expecting tech CEOs or leaders such as Apple’s Tim Wise, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Larry Page, Twitter’s Dick Costolo or Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to drop down to their skivvies to show the tech industry that they are a force to be acknowledged and reckoned with.
Nevertheless, Matthew has a problem with the need or requirement that women should remove their sexuality from their professional lives. She says that the “idea that if women want to eliminate gender biases in STEM fields, they must first separate their sexual selves from their “serious,” professional ones” is a “double standard” that she views as “backward.”
Adda Birner, Founder of Skillcrush, and one of the women featured in the Dear Kate campaign, said to Time “I speak to a lot of women who ask, ‘Is it possible to be a woman in technology and be happy and like your work and not be sexually harassed every day?’ And showing more images of the women who are working in tech and love it and are kicking ass and taking names is a really good thing.”
Maybe we’re over-thinking Dear Kate’s ‘Women In Tech’ Ada Collection campaign in that it’s not about empowerment, sexism or exploitation. Maybe it’s just about showing women who happen to work in technology, looking comfortable in their underwear while working.
Sygiel seems to think so, stating to Elle “I believe women should be taken seriously regardless of what we are wearing, and this should hold true for all professions.”
What Matthews, Birnir and Sygiel have said sounds nice, but the fact that we’re still primarily discussing seeing these women in their undergarments, and not their professional accomplishments in the tech industry is telling. It’s just another example that women still have a ways to go when it comes to optics not being the determining factor in how they are viewed by men and women, no matter Dear Kate’s female empowerment intentions. Then again, the company is in the business of selling underwear so they may have accomplished their goal, if not anyone else’s, involved in this campaign.
What do you think about the Dear Kate underwear campaign? Below is a one-question survey to voice your opinion.
As my 11-year old son prepared for his first day as a sixth grader, I had begun to think about what I’ve done as a parent to get him to this stage. Though I’m not a fan of sports metaphors, I can’t help but think of my parental ups and downs as home runs, doubles, foul balls or woeful strike outs. Luckily I’ve had more successes than failures.
There have been prospective, new and overwhelmed parents who have asked me for general parental advice, like how to handle situation X or prevent incident Y from happening again.
I never attempt to pass myself off as a child psychologist or a licensed counselor when giving advice. Furthermore, I don’t pretend to be the Martha Stewart of parenting and have found those who act as such arrogant and pretentious. I always listen closely before I dole out advice nor do I take umbrage if it’s not followed.
Though my journey as a parent is not complete, there are rules that I have discovered and followed that have served me well, which I’ve passed on to others.
So here are my ‘Top 10’ Parenting Tips that have helped make my preteen son a responsible, observant and thoughtful individual (when he’s not driving me semi-bonkers by bouncing between ages 7-17 without giving me prior notice):
1. Make sure your child knows he/she will face consequences for their actions, no exceptions. If your child figures out that you’re what I define as a ‘serial warner’ (i.e. someone who gives their child constant and repetitive warnings with little or no follow through on their ‘threats’) then you’re setting yourself up to be challenged by your child regarding every request or demand you make of them. The last time I’ve had a major challenge from my son was when he was 5 years old. He was giving me a lot of backtalk because he thought it was funny. I wasn’t sure if the backtalk was just a phase or something that would become a bad habit, therefore I decided to play things by ear. Unfortunately, it only got worse, which is when I threw down the hammer. I told him that if he did it one more time I was going to take away all his toys for a week. He didn’t believe me so he ended up watching me bag up all of his toys and remove them from his room. Afterwards I taped a calendar to his door with a big ‘X’ over every day he would be without his toys. He was stunned. Sometimes he would sit on his bed and just stare at his empty floor. When the seven days were up I returned his toys without saying a word. Drastic? Yes. Successful? Most definitely. He finally learned what consequences meant and that I meant what I said, which improved our relationship significantly.
2. Show respect for the body and its bodily functions. I cringe whenever I hear parents and their kids use cute nicknames for body parts such as calling a penis a ‘wee wee’ or a vagina ‘little girl parts.’ How are you going to teach your child to respect their body and the bodies of others if you mystify it so much that they inadvertently don’t value its importance? I’m not saying that you should use the word ‘excrement’ or ‘sh*t’ instead of ‘taking number two.’ However, using proper names for body parts, explaining how they work and the similarities and differences between the male and female anatomy will go a long way in helping your child understand proper and improper body boundaries and most importantly his/her sexuality when the time comes.
3. Don’t run from questions because you feel that your child isn’t ready for the answer or you didn’t see it coming. Most of the times it seems parents are the ones who don’t want to deal with a question. I ended up having my first serious talk about sexuality with my son when he was eight-years old. I was watching a Boondocks episode when two male rappers/characters on the show admitted they were attracted to each other and started kissing. My son happened to walk in on the episode and asked ‘Why are those guys kissing?’ I could’ve said something to the effect of ‘I’ll talk to you later about it’ or ‘you’re too young right now for that conversation’ but I didn’t. I somehow knew that this ‘talk’ was going to happen now so I answered his question, which led to other questions and discussions about heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality and transgender relations. As a result he is receptive to all forms of expressed affection and to those who are part of the LGBT community. Most importantly, my son realized that he could ask me anything without being prejudged or shutdown. I’m not advocating that all parents should be as forthcoming because obviously each child’s emotional maturity is different. However, before you go into deflect mode on topic X make sure you feel it’s necessary and not because you simply don’t want to deal with the topic yet. Remember – it’s not about you – it’s about your child.
4. Know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em. This lyric from Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler’ song is also apropos when dealing with your child. You have to figure out what battles are worth fighting. Are you trying to teach your child a lesson or are you just standing your ground to prove you’re the one in charge? For example, when my son hit fourth grade we used to battle over what he would wear to school. I would try to make sure that he went through most of his wardrobe so that he wasn’t wearing the same combinations all the time or clothing combo nightmares. We locked horns regularly which started to drive my husband up a wall. I eventually realized that by forcing my son to wear what I picked out put us both in a bad mood. We eventually came to a compromise where he could pick out what he wanted, but if his mom and dad didn’t like his wardrobe selection he had to change. In this instance, my decision to ‘fold’ made things better for mom, dad and son. As a parent you will find yourself having to re-learn this lesson with your child so don’t be surprised that you will be traveling this road again several more times.
5. Sometimes you have to let your child struggle in order for them to learn how to accomplish things on their own. As a parent you want to help your child at all times, especially when they’re young. But at some point you have to let them figure things out on their own, even when they’re not successful at it (ideally without allowing it to turn into a meltdown). Whether it’s looking up a word in a dictionary; opening a container or getting dressed. It’ll teach them to keep trying instead of immediately running to you or others for help.
6. Don’t overschedule your child with activities. We all want to keep our kids active so that they remain physically and emotionally healthy and hopefully have a good time. But think about the many things your child does on a regular basis: school, homework, childcare, extracurricular activities, hanging out with family and friends, tutoring, afterschool clubs and much more. Your child has a very busy life. But just like adults, kids need downtime as well. Don’t look at it from the viewpoint of you being a bad parent for allowing your child to occasionally to sleep in late on weekends, chill out in his/her room or watch television zonked in the family room. Look at it as allowing them time to rest, which they will always need.
7. It’s not too early to assign chores/responsibilities to your child. By the time I was twelve I was assigned several chores, including cleaning the bathroom. I’m not one of those old-school parents where I think today’s children are completely infantilized. However, I do think that parents are waiting too late to assign their kids regular chores to do. As a result, their child doesn’t handle responsibilities well – or worse, you end up doing it yourself. Just start small such as having them cleaning their room, helping to unload/reload the dishwasher, putting their dirty clothes in the laundry bin, taking out the garbage or placing dishes in the sink after dinner. This will get them in the habit of doing things for themselves without prompting from their parent(s).
8. Sleepovers and playdates are great for children and parents. When you have your child’s friend over for a playdate/hangout or sleepover it’s a win-win for the child and the parent. Your child has someone to play with, and it gives you time to do other things. If your child goes over to someone else’s home then you have that much needed quiet time for yourself or with your significant other. Therefore strive hard to connect with the family of your child’s close friend(s) so that you both get in the habit of having hangouts and sleepovers at each other’s homes. Besides it being a good idea for your child’s social and emotional development, it will save you a lot of money on babysitters.
9. Do your best not to fall into ‘assigned’ parenting roles. This is sometimes hard to do. Depending on the set-up of how your family works (i.e. single parent, working parent with stay-at-home parent), this can dictate the parental dynamics of how you interact with your child. Nevertheless, don’t allow how you interact with your child to be determined by your gender, your preferred interests or disciplinary ideology. You don’t want to be viewed as the no-fun, no playtime, always-make-me-do-stuff-I-don’t-want-to-do or ‘drill sergeant’ parent. Mix-up your roles from time to time; do things that you don’t normally do with your child so that he/she sees you in different a light. For example, if you’re the ‘homework parent,’ maybe next time when you go to the park you should seriously hit the jungle gym with your kid. If you’re the ‘basketball coach,’ take a detour and hang out at the library with your kid on occasion. Going outside the box a bit will bring more parental balance in a two-parent household. And for single parents, your child will be more aware and hopefully appreciative of the many hats that you can and do wear.
10. Don’t inadvertently put them in a bubble in your effort to protect them from what’s happening in the world. As a parent you don’t want your child to experience any bad feelings (i.e fear, hurt, pain, embarrassment, etc.) until they’re able to handle them. But sometimes things don’t work out that way, so you have to prepare them to handle these emotions when that time comes. My husband and I have had talks with our son about life and death; we’ve also talked to him about racism/racial bias, driving while black, and police brutality because we know that it may be just a matter of time when he will have to deal with these issues as an African-American male. He has seen videos, news, movies and documentaries about the black experience in America (Roots, Fruitvale Station, Central Park Five case, civil rights movement, death of Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin, etc.) to help him understand his history better. If I had a daughter I would’ve added gender bias to the conversation as well. Kids need to know that the world isn’t always so wonderful, which is possible to do without scarring them. Start slowly by picking a movie or program for you to watch together and make sure to allot time afterwards to discuss it with them, to answer any questions they may have. It’ll be a teachable, bonding moment for both of you.
Not all children are alike so don’t push them down a path that they’re not ready to take. However, don’t hold them back just because you’re not ready to take that journey with them. Yes, the advice sounds simple, but following through on it will be hard. You must always keep in mind that your job as a parent is to help your child grow so that he/she is eventually able to take care of themselves.
Anything less than that then you’re not doing the one job you should be doing as a parent.
Suggested Parent Resources:
Mr Nussbaum: A wonderful website has extensive reading, math, social studies and science tools for grades K-8 that are fun and challenging. Lessons can be done individually by the child or in concert with a parent.
Khan Academy: If you find yourself flummoxed by math, science, history or any other academic questions that your child asks you this is the site for both of you. It’s a free site full of straight-forward information (standard videos, interactive videos, etc.) for students, parents, teachers or anyone who wants to learn.
Library of Congress: Their ‘Kids and Families’ page is chockfull of online information on books, history, geography, music and much more.
Scholastic’s Parent and Child’s 100 Greatest Books: List contains classics and other well-known books grouped by age and genres.
50 Multicultural Books Every Child Should Know: Books for ages preschool to twelve that have main characters who are people of color.
YouTube: A great place to see and hear music (full albums, videos, etc.) which you can share with your child. A lot of the music downloads have lyrics to them to aid in any sing-along efforts. It’s a fun, easy and informative way to spend time with your child while sharing and learning about a wide variety of music genres.
Common Sense Media Best Documentaries: Good list of documentaries that are educational, uplifting, serious and funny and can be viewed by the entire family.
PBS American Experience: Great learning tool for kids in that its documentaries are straightforward and handle sensitive material in an appropriate manner.
As an African-American woman and television viewer for over thirty years there haven’t been many opportunities to see positive, let alone well-rounded portrayals of Black women on network and/or cable television. As I got older when I would see a black female character on a television show I would keep my fingers crossed and hope that she wasn’t poor, pregnant, ignorant, stoic or in an abusive relationship. Most of the times my wishes went unanswered, but that was just the way it was in Hollywood and for American television.
However, the past ten years has been sort of a watershed moment for black actresses and and television in that more black women haven been on television in leading or prominent roles including Nicole Beharie (Sleepy Hollow), Uzo Aduba, (Orange Is the New Black), Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead), Angela Bassett (American Horror Story), Gabrielle Union (Being Mary Jane), Chandra Wilson (Grey’s Anatomy), Raven-Symone (That’s So Raven), Jada Pinkett Smith (Hawthorne) and Regina King (Southland). No one has had a bigger role though than Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope in Scandal. Combine that with scripted or reality shows that have a significant or mostly black female cast such as Girlfriends, Soul Food, Real Housewives of Atlanta, Love and Hip Hop – black women are more visible than ever on our televisions and computer screens, but also in our movie theaters.
Yet, even with the variety of black female roles on television Hollywood still traffics in obvious stereotypes of black women when writing black characters.
Below are some those stereotypes and imagery that still rear their ugly head in portrayals of black women on the small screen – no matter our evolving educational, cultural and economic impact on American society:
1. They are noticeably loud. Everything they say is said in such a booming and emphatic manner in comparison to others around them. Are they suffering from a debilitating auditory condition? Is their loudness due to a fact they don’t care that their voice is dominating the conversation and causing heavy wincing? The American Medical Association has yet to commence research regarding this ‘Hollywood’ medical condition though the problem still exists.
2. They browbeat their loved-ones as a sign of affection. They will tell their husbands, siblings, sisters and friends how much they’ve screwed up their work life, relationships or financial situations in sometimes amusing but mostly painful and humiliating fashion – all because they care about them. They’ll eventually express how much they love the person, but not before making them feel really bad about themselves.
3. They are born with Southern accents no matter where they live. Whether they were born in New York, California or somewhere in-between, they will eventually sound like they were born and raised in the Deep South. Maybe it’s something they have picked up subliminally from their mythical great aunt or grandmother while hearing their mythical tales of the how glorious the mythical South was for blacks back-in-the-day as long as they worked hard and lived right.
4. They are addicted to cleaning. Nothing makes their day like having a clean home, especially a spotless kitchen since that’s where they love to spend most of their time (more on that later). Sniffing the air of a clean home and smiling happily when their family comes home and acknowledges their hard work is the highlight of their day. Because of course every black woman has had a grandmother, mom or aunt who used to clean white people’s homes for a living.
5. They are genetically pre-disposed to suffer hair loss. They appear to become follicly-challenged once they enter their early teens, hence the heavy usage of wigs, weaves, braids and extensions to supplement their thinning hair and/or to protect what little hair they have left. By the time they’ve entered their forties full-fledged wigs have become the norm for most of them.
6. They are biblical scholars. They can pull a quote from the bible as fast as Dirty Harry can draw a gun. Old Testament. New Testament. Revised Standard. King James Version. They keep one around at all times on the rare occasion that they have to reference it as a refresher or to fend off evil spirits.
7. They have unstable necks, resulting in excessive circular head movements. On occasion their heads become unusually heavy when they experience a bout of emphaticism (aka making a strong verbal point to their conversation partner). When this situation occurs their neck can no longer support the size of their head, hence the head-nod-to-headroll-in-a-counter-clockwise physiological anomaly.
8. Enjoy being sidekicks or third-wheels to white women. This is mainly due to their innate shyness that they cover-up by being extremely bossy towards their white BFFs. However in the rare instance that their white BFF decides to give them a wee bit of limelight the black woman will scurry back to the sidelines because that’s where she is obviously most comfortable.
9. They are always financially-challenged. They are constantly worrying about how to pay their bills because they never have enough money to pay their bills. It’s not because they blow money fruitlessly, but that they never seem to have enough money to do anything due to working one or more crappy jobs because they’re a single parent or have to support a sick mom, a deadbeat husband or a lazy boyfriend.
10. Love to cook jumbo-sized, down-home meals no matter the occasion or time of day. Black women are true believers of their own axiom that ‘All problems can be solved over a home-cooked meal.’ Accordingly they will break out their pots and pans for Thanksgiving-styled meals throughout the year, whether the problem is big or small, or even if a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of soup would suffice.
11. Their life goals are very exacting. It seems that their dream jobs are to own a hair salon, be a nanny to a precocious white child, a talk show host, music video vixen or to get married. Nothing else is remotely acceptable to them.
12. There is a correlation between their weight and their behavior. If they’re skinny they are mean and vain. If they’re plump they are warm and sassy. Average-sized black women seem to have low survival rates, hence they’re rarely spotted beyond their teen years.
13. They have infinite amounts of wisdom no matter the topic. Whatever the situation they will find a cliche, parable or homily for the moment in an attempt to make you feel better or to sum up the situation in case you have no clue what’s going on. Like your own personal ‘Gone With the Wind‘ Mammy.
Black women are not asking for Hollywood to portray them as flawless human beings or, as some sort of uber black female that is attractive, strong and respected. Cinematically, that has always been the demand from African-Americans and civil rights organizations because of the decades-long onslaught of negative imagery of black people, especially black men.
However, having black female characters who have ‘made it’ professionally, academically or financially but still act stereotypically ‘ghetto’ is incongruous and frankly asinine, yet it still happens (see ‘Angela’ in Why Did I Get Married movies).
Black female characters should run the gamut just like their white female counterparts. Hollywood producers should portray us as rich, poor, upper class, lower class, smart, clueless, serious, sassy, tough, scared, healthy, sick, overweight, sexy, nerdy, beautiful, ugly, friendly, deadly and any other social, emotional and economic variations. Why? Because black women are not a monolith or part of some collective Borg where we have the same thoughts, ideas or experiences. We are individuals with similarities and differences – imagine that.
Maybe one day Hollywood will put this particular conversation to rest, but I’m not going to hold my breath. Because for every Olivia Pope Tinseltown will always have black maids waiting in the wings.
As they say, the more things change the more they stay the same.
Related YETBW Blog Post: Learning About White Women From Watching Television.
For more information: The Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism describes itself as the “premiere research think tank in the world dedicated to addressing issues of inequality in entertainment.” It may be a slight exaggeration, but not by much. They do extensive research on diversity and the lack thereof in the entertainment industry. Their work is highly cited by those interested and concerned about the issue. You can read their annual reports and other research here.
Jay Paterno is still mad and he’s not going to take it anymore. The former Penn State University Quarterbacks Coach and son of the late Coach Joe Paterno is suing PSU to get what he thinks is owed him by those who have done him wrong.
In his $1 million lawsuit against the university which he filed last month with another former PSU coach, Jay Paterno is alleging, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he was “improperly terminated” when [he was] retained as an [assistant coach] by [former] Penn State coach Bill O’Brien in January 2012″ and that the university has [engaged] in civil conspiracy against [him]” which has made him “unemployable for other football coaching positions.”
In other words, Jay Paterno has been unable to get a coaching job since PSU cleaned its football house in early 2012. As you might recall, Jay Paterno’s dad, Joe Paterno and other head administrators were fired by the university in light of the 2011 child abuse scandal in which Former PSU Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky was accused and eventually sentenced to 30-60 years for 45 counts of child sexual abuse against ten boys.
Once the Sandusky case rocked the university and his dad’s less-than-stellar handling of one reported sexual assault by Sandusky came to light, Jay Paterno should’ve known his coaching days at PSU were numbered, especially once his dad died from the stress of it all or of a guilty conscience.
Yet he seemed shocked by the termination. I guess having been employed by your father for seventeen years; twelve years in a high profile position means never having to experience the ‘new coach = possible job termination’ phenomenon. Therefore when it happened to Jay Paterno courtesy of O’Brien it was probably a major kick-in-the-gut moment for him though he did receive a severance payment given to ‘Paterno Assistants’ who weren’t retained by O’Brien.
It would be hard to argue that the Sandusky scandal hasn’t been an impediment to Jay Paterno’s post-PSU coaching career. What university would want a coach on their team who might have turned a blind eye and/or deaf ear to Sandusky’s sexual assault of young boys (though it has never been alleged or proven that Jay Paterno had knowledge of the incidents)? Of course Jay Paterno’s last name has probably proved more of a hindrance than a help–which isn’t normally how it has worked for him. Hiring him might bring unwanted attention to a school regarding a topic or coach that they don’t wish to discuss.
However, there is another question that hasn’t been fully vetted regarding Jay Paterno’s lack of coaching offers. Is it solely because of his ‘connection’ to the Penn State/Sandusky scandal that he hasn’t been hired or could it also involve something else, such as his own coaching history?
Underwhelming Coaching Achievements
Most of Jay Paterno’s college football experience has been playing and working for his dad. He was a member of the Nittany Lions football team for four years (1986-1990) though he was never a starter. In his final year he was a reserve quarterback for the team.
After he graduated from PSU he was a graduate assistant for the University of Virginia football team for a couple of years (1990-1992). Next up, he was the Quarterbacks and Tight Ends coach at the University of Connecticut for one year (1993-1994). His final stop before returning to PSU was a one-year term as the Quarterbacks Coach at James Madison University (1994-1995). From 1995-1999 he was PSU’s Tight Ends Coach and Recruiting Coordinator then became their Quarterbacks Coach in 1995 until he was terminated in 2012.
His football coaching experience amounts to 19 years with 17 of them at Penn State working under his dad. Not exactly a prolific coaching road he’s traveled. Nevertheless, Penn State’s bio of Jay Paterno lauds his quarterback coaching work at the university.
[Jay Paterno] has been instrumental in the development of Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin, both of whom have delivered school record-setting performances. Paterno was influential in the development of two-time first-team All-Big Ten signal-caller Daryll Clark. Co-winner of the 2009 Big Ten Silver Football (MVP), Clark was 22-4 as a starter, breaking Penn State records for season (24) and career (43) touchdown passes, season passing yardage (3,003) and season total offense (3,214), among others. Under Paterno’s guidance, Clark gave Penn State a 2,000-yard passer for the fifth straight year. Paterno was instrumental in the development of record-setting quarterbacks Anthony Morelli and Michael Robinson, the 2005 Big Ten MVP. Robinson broke Kerry Collins’ Penn State season total offense mark en route to finishing fifth in voting for the Heisman Trophy. Paterno also coached Zack Mills, who owned or shared 18 school passing and total offense records, including the game passing (399 yards) and total offense (418 yards) marks.
Sounds like he’s done some solid work molding successful quarterbacks, but I doubt any of the above QB names beyond Collins (whom he only worked with for one season) rings much of a bell to most NFL fans and with good reason. Yes, some of his quarterbacks broke a few Big 10 Records and two of them finished in the Top 10 of the Heisman Trophy Race during their PSU years (Kerry Collins and Michael Robinson). But if you’re a well-known football program what you hang your hat on is how many of your players make it to the NFL.
Under Jay Paterno’s coaching tutelage only three of his QBs have made it to the NFL, with one of them playing as a wide receiver. Also PSU quarterbacks during his tenure didn’t exactly do a lot of passing during their games, with only Zack Mills and Matt McGloin cracking the 150 yards per game average. Yes, PSU has traditionally been known for its running game and producing linebackers. However that doesn’t mean PSU wasn’t interested in putting up large QB numbers, especially since it was in the Big Ten. For the eleven quarterbacks whom he coached at PSU during his 12-year period they only averaged 144.4 passing yards per game. You stack up that data against other well-known or Big Ten quarterbacks during that time period (Kyle Orton, Tom Brady, Chad Henne, Drew Brees) Penn State’s signal callers suffer woefully in comparison, let alone their QB Coach.
Neither Penn State or Jay Paterno attracted big-time quarterbacks and they definitely didn’t produce them. Is it any wonder that college football programs haven’t been clamoring for his quarterback coaching services?
Grasping At Career Straws
Due to a lack of college coaching offers Jay Paterno had to find another career path. Maybe he could’ve stepped back a level and done some high school coaching or become an athletic administrator at a smaller school, sensible decisions to most people, unless you’re a Paterno.
Instead, he decided to run for public office. In a somewhat ‘go big or go home’ political move he announced in February 2014 that he was running in the Democratic Race for Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania. As to be expected, his campaign was practically over before it started. The validity of the 1,000 signatures his campaign collected to have his name officially put on the ballot became a legal sticking point. In addition, he had zero political experience, was running against six other politically-seasoned candidates and the issue of him being accused of trading off his family name for votes was a salient one. Inevitably, on March 28, 2014 he dropped out of the race.
Luckily for him he had another career back-up plan. While he was running for office he had been working on his first book Paterno Legacy: Enduring Lessons from the Life and Death of My Father, which was released this summer. The books’s purpose in so many words is to remind others that they shouldn’t allow the Sandusky issue to define Joe Paterno’s life and football legacy. Jay Paterno has always defended his dad’s actions surrounding the Sandusky child sexual assault scandal, stating that “in no way shape or form would Joe Paterno have put anybody in harm’s way” though the Freeh Report which investigated PSU’s actions regarding the Sandusky matter stated otherwise. Nevertheless, the book will probably do well among PSU Alumni who still strongly believe that PSU should honor Joe Paterno for his service to the university, if no one else.
Jay Paterno must think being a writer/author will be a good career move. Besides his bi-monthly column for StateCollege.com his official website (formerly his campaign website) mentions that he is working on a second book tentatively titled ‘School Colors’ that will “take readers inside a year of big-time college football.” Guess he’ll be speaking from personal experience.
Jay Paterno may believe that Penn State has sabotaged his coaching career because the university is trying to run as fast as it can from all those who were employed by Joe Paterno and/or connected to Jerry Sandusky. Given the fact that Jay Paterno has never been accused of having knowledge of Sandusky’s actions it would seem that maybe the scandal hasn’t tarnished him as much as he alleges.
What seems to really be at play in Jay Paterno’s post-PSU work history is good, old-fashioned nepotism. He worked twelve years as the quarterbacks coach for his dad churning out mediocre talent at best with a couple of bright spots. Given his coaching record with his quarterbacks he wouldn’t have lasted nearly as long if he was at another college football program. The only reason why he did is because of his last name. He knows it and so does the college football coaching community. His short-term dive into politics (which was probably his first truly obvious attempt to trade on his family’s name) was, to be blunt, a vanity-filled, waste-of-time. In this instance, nepotism and politics weren’t on friendly terms. As for his writing career, maybe he will become a successful author, but given his track record it seems unlikely.
In the end Jay Paterno might be good at only one thing – being the son of Joe Paterno. Can’t blame Penn State, Sandusky or O’Brien for that – only himself.
Since the dawn of the Republic (well maybe not that far back) letter grades have been the standard in most public and private schools in the United States. Generations of students grew up with the A-E (or A-D and an F) grading system to help them determine how well they were doing in school. It was a simple, comprehensible but exacting way for parents, teachers and school administrators to track a student’s academic progress (or lack thereof); to determine their strengths and areas in need of improvement.
Sadly, school districts across the nation have dumped its standard A-E grading system for its elementary and/or middle schools like a first wife whose husband traded her in for a newer model due to a midlife crisis. In the case for Maryland’s Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) in 2013 its elementary school grading system was replaced with the convoluted ES-P-I-N-M-NEP version (see chart).
The new grading system is part of the implementation of Montgomery County’s Curriculum 2.0 – based on the Common Core education standards. (Note: MCPS began rolling out the new curriculum on a grade-by-grade basis in 2009-2010 with some kindergarten classrooms at participating Curriculum 2.0 pilot schools). At the start of the 2014-2015 school year grades, K-6 will use Curriculum 2.0 and grades 7-12 will continue with its previous MCPS standard curriculum (aka ‘Curriculum 1.0′ ). Therefore by Fall 2020 Curriculum 2.0 will be used by grades K-12 in Montgomery County.
MCPS’ adoption of its version of the Common Core curriculum hasn’t phased most Montgomery County parents. It’s the new K-5 grading system – designed by MCPS – to work with the new curriculum to better measure elementary students’ knowledge and academic aptitude that has parents flummoxed.
Luckily for us and other 5th grade students and their families at our former elementary school we only had to deal with this hair-brained grading system for one year (2013-2014) since MCPS will still use the A-E grading system for its 6-12th grade students. But there are many current elementary school parents and families with incoming kindergarten students who will be tortured for several years trying to figure out MCPS’ elementary school grading system, that is, if they ever do.
New Curriculum = New Grades = Confusion
In June 2013 our son’s elementary school administration gave the rising 5th grade parents an overview of the Curriculum 2.0 and the new grading system. The parents didn’t have questions about the grading system, but some were up in arms over the elimination of ‘gifted/accelerated’ classrooms (not surprising since helicopter parents have been jockeying for better placement for their kids since they were fetuses).
My husband and I weren’t pleased with the new curriculum. We definitely weren’t thrilled with the new grading system, but decided to abstain from an opinion until we had an opportunity to see both in practice.
When my son started his 5th grade year in Fall 2013 I immediately noticed the lack of grades on returned assignments. As to be expected we weren’t seeing the A-E grades, but we also weren’t consistently seeing the new grades (ES-P-I-N) either. Grades on assignments were numerical in nature, for example “8/10” or “15/20” based on the number of questions the student was asked (i.e. ’10’) and problems that the student solved correctly (i.e. ‘8’). Since the fifth grade teachers were learning and incorporating the new grading system and Curriculum 2.0 simultaneously I wasn’t surprised by the primary usage of numerical grades. However, when I spoke with parents with children in other grades at our elementary school and others schools in Montgomery County, this same numerical grading system was being used in their child(ren)’s classrooms as well.
Our son knew what the the new grades meant (i.e. ES = exceptional, P = proficient, etc.), but we were pretty sure that he didn’t truly understand how MCPS interpreted the grades. As a result, my husband and I got into the habit of translating his numerical grades into the standard grading system and the new grading system so that our son would have a more solid understanding of his academic progress.
For many parents the new grading system primarily existed on their child(ren)’s report cards for them to attempt to decipher, with one Montgomery County parent Chuck Thomas wondering if ‘ES’ stood for “elusive secret.” Was this what MCPS had in mind for its state-of-the-art-allegedly-more-honest-and-accurate new grading system?
Old Grades vs. New Grades
So, what was wrong with the A-E grades? According to Ebony Langford-Brown, MCPS’ Director of Elementary Instruction and Achievement it’s because when students used to get an ‘A’ grade it was for “[a recollection] of facts” but that the new grading system now shows that “proficiency means that [a student] can use the facts in some way and use them differently — synthesizing, analyzing and making value judgments.”
Yet, If MCPS is so gung-ho about the new grading system and curriculum why haven’t they implemented both for all MCPS students? Why the grade-by-grade roll-out? MCPS knew that implementing a new curriculum and grading system throughout grades K-12 would cause a serious parental riot, especially among high school parents. Could you imagine high school kids trying to explain an ES-P-I-N transcript to potential college recruiters? Middle school parents wouldn’t be too pleased with the change either given their children would be entering the pivotal high school grade years.
As a result, MCPS decided it would be easier to take a hit to the face than a kick in the balls (metaphorically speaking) which is why they decided to use elementary school students and their parents as guinea pigs for its new curriculum and grading system. Maybe they thought elementary school parents would be more receptive (nee malleable) to its new curriculum and grading system. If things worked out then MCPS would have data to support its curriculum and grade system changes. If it doesn’t do well then they’ve only caused academic and administrative problems for elementary schools and their students respectively. No big deal.
Who really is profiting from the new grading system?
If you answered ‘students’ then you’re either a strong Common Core Curriculum supporter, an idealistic person or a resident of fantasyland. The people (ahem ‘company’) that are truly benefiting from the new grading system is the Pearson Company – Montgomery County Public School System’s official testing company. Education Week describes Pearson as an “education provider with worldwide reach” who “[develops] test-items, test delivery, reporting of results, and analysis of student performance for a group of states that are part of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, one of two main consortia designing tests linked to the common-core standards.”
If MCPS intends to spread Curriculum 2.0 throughout all grades then it will need a proper testing procedure to accurately capture a student’s progress with its new curriculum, which teachers will record via the ES-P-I-N and A-E grading system. Since Maryland is now a PARCC state (one of 14 and the District of Columbia) and Pearson is a PARCC test provider who else but Pearson are Montgomery County and Maryland State Department’s of Education going to use for their testing needs? Though Eric Lang, MCPS Associate Superintendent for Curriculum and Instructional Programming, would probably beg to differ, the decision was a fait accompli. He said that MCPS selected Pearson for the following reasons:
[it] would be mutually beneficial to collaborate on the development of this unique curriculum. The partnership, and the resulting resources, provided MCPS with the opportunity to expand [its] staff, resulting in a more robust curriculum, including more assessments and online professional development. (EdTechDigest.com, Jan. 31, 2013)
Maybe Pearson was interested in working with MCPS, but I’m sure the fact that grades K-5 (Curriculum 2.0 users) and 6-12 (non 2.0 users) MCPS students will be tested using PARCC played a significant financial part in Pearson’s desire to saddle-up with MCPS, the 17th largest school system in the United States with over 150,000 students.
It will be after 2020 when MCPS will be able to assess whether it’s new curriculum has been a good thing for Montgomery County. Furthermore, the elementary school’s new grading system which generally has not been well-received will be lucky to last five years.
Whether you’re a proponent or opponent of the Curriculum 2.0 and/or the ES-P-I-N grading system it’s hard to believe that MCPS truly stands behind either given the piecemeal way both have been installed. Nevertheless it appears MCPS’ Curriculum 2.0 is here to stay and elementary school students, parents, teachers and administrators will continue to be MCPS’ test subjects for the immediate future.
On this issue, the Montgomery County Public School System deserves an ‘N’ for execution (that’s a ‘D’ to everyone else).
Note: 1) The ‘If letter grades were good enough for Jesus’ title is a paraphrase of the quote “If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it ought to be good enough for the children of Texas” is often credited to James Ferguson (governor of Texas) allegedly spoken in 1917 in reference to the issue of bilingualism in Texas schools. 2) I want to thank Donald Earl Collins for providing me with feedback and clarity concerning MCPS’ educational policies.
Update: On February 3, 2015 Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua Starr announced his resignation. His resignation was effective February 16, 2015.
I know it’s been awhile since I’ve published a blog post on You’re Entitled To Be Wrong (YETBW). I apologize to my subscribers and those of you who have been checking in regularly to see if/when I would return from the writing and blogging abyss. I’m not going to make any big writing promises such as ‘I’ll post a blog at least three times a week’ because I don’t want to put that much pressure on myself – at least not yet. However, I will post a blog by July 11, 2014 and will take it from there. Thank you for your patience, ‘blogging consistency’ suggestions (very subtle hint) and blog compliments. It’s truly appreciated.