Updated November 16, 2018
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 been dumping its standard letter 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 will be 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 its rising 5th grade parents an overview of 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 (e.g., ’10’) and problems that the student solved/answered correctly (e.g., ‘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 at others schools in Montgomery County, I discovered this same numerical grading system/method was being used in their child(ren)’s classrooms as well.
Our son knew what the new grades meant (e.g., 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 A-E letter 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 ended-up only using 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 states and the District of Columbia) and Pearson is a PARCC test provider, who else but Pearson are Montgomery County and Maryland State Departments of Education going to use for their testing needs? Though Erick 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).
–(February 3, 2015) Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua Starr announced his resignation. His resignation was effective February 16, 2015.
–(March 8, 2016) Montgomery County Public Schools hires Jack R. Smith as its new superintendent. Smith has a four-year contract with MCPS.
–(September 2017) “Montgomery County school officials are switching back to a traditional grading scale for most elementary school students after four years of report card confusion.”
–(May 2018) “Potential conflict of interest derails curriculum rollout in Md. school system” MCPS put a ‘hold’ on its search to “overhaul its classroom curriculum” due to its concern about a potential conflict of interest. Two of its soon-to-be retiring employees (one of them being Erick Lang, Associate Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction programs) have been involved in the ‘new curriculum’ selection search though their future employer is one of the vendors/companies who are under consideration by MCPS.
–(August 2018) “Montgomery County Public Schools has renewed its request for bids for new instructional materials for English and Math to replace Curriculum 2.0 in elementary and middle schools and expects to present the school board with options by the end of the year.”
Notes: 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”, often credited to James Ferguson (governor of Texas) who in 1917, allegedly said those famous words 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.
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.
Today (November 21, 2013) is the last day someone can turn in their $16 million lottery ticket that they purchased at a food market in Florida. Today is the last day someone can change their financial life in a way that they never imagined was possible.
It has been 180 days since an unclaimed winning Powerball ticket was purchased at Carrollwood Market on Saturday, May 25, 2013. For whatever reason the winner has yet to come forward to bask in his or her multimillion-dollar windfall.
The Huffington Post states that if the lottery winnings remain unclaimed “about 80 percent of that share will go toward the state’s education enhancement trust fund [and] the remaining 20 percent [back into the] Florida Lottery prize pool to fund new games and promotions.”
Hardcore, occasional and first-time lottery players are imagining what it would be like if they were the one to have that ticket. There are those who have never played who are wondering as well.
For a few, your lottery dream might go something like this . . .
You’re running around your home, getting ready for work when you hear this story on your local news channel. You frequently purchase lottery tickets, sometimes at the Carrollwood Market. Suddenly you realize or think that you may have purchased a lottery ticket at that store on Memorial weekend.
Immediately you start digging through your clothes, wallet, purses, and bags. Since you need more time to look you decide to take the day off from work so that you can tear apart your home and car to find that ticket. Hoping and praying that maybe your ticket has the winning numbers. During your search you start imagining all the things that you could do with all those millions. Pay-off your family’s debt. Quit your job. Take early retirement. Leave the area or country. Buy a new home and car. Set aside money for your children’s tuition. Go on a much needed vacation. Donate money to your favorite charities. Start your dream business.
But as the day passes and you still haven’t found that lottery ticket, you start to question your search. Telling yourself that you’re wasting your time. Thinking about the long odds that you of all people would actually have the winning ticket. That something so wonderful would never happen to you. That maybe your luck has finally changed. That maybe having that much money would bring about more pain than happiness. Eventually you realize that you have looked everywhere, but can’t find the ticket. Maybe you lost it. Maybe you never had it. Anyway, it’s 12:10 a.m. – the deadline has passed for you to cash in on a new life.
The next day the Florida Lottery Spokesperson announces in an authoritative yet still surprised tone that no one has claimed the $16 million winnings – that the money would go back to the state of Florida.
A week later you’re cleaning under your refrigerator and notice a couple of lottery tickets underneath. For a second you forget about the unclaimed lottery winnings. But then you remember – and then debate whether you want to look more closely at the tickets. You ask yourself ‘Do I really want to know if one of these are the winning ticket?’ You tell yourself ‘I will only look at the store name and the date to see if I had a chance of winning.’ But then you wonder if you can stick to that promise, especially if it turns out the store name and purchase date are the same as the unclaimed winning ticket. What about the numbers? Would you be able to live with yourself if it turned out to be the winning ticket? Would you end up shortchanging the rest of your life because you would always be thinking ‘If Only I Would Have Found That Ticket In Time?’
Your back starts to ache. You have been standing in the kitchen for almost 30 minutes, clinching the lottery tickets so hard so that you’ve practically crumpled them. You drop the tickets to the floor as if they were on fire. The thoughts of what you could have done with that money run through your head again like a never-ending freight train, though you know that this train has passed you by.
The tickets are staring up at you, but you look away as you place them in the kitchen trash can. You walk back in the living room, seemingly pleased with your decision to discard the tickets. Maybe for some this act would have been enough. But as you sit on your couch you know that you have to destroy the tickets as if they never existed. You retrieve the tickets from the trashcan, grab some matches and burn the tickets until all you see are small flakes of ash. Though you shake your head at your actions your mind is finally at ease because the ‘what ifs’ have disappeared.
You promise yourself that you’ll never play the lottery again. You remind yourself wisely of the idiom ‘a fool and his money are soon parted.’ Weeks and then months have passed since you have purchased a lottery ticket. But one morning you hear that the Powerball is worth over $300 million. Self-promises are tossed aside easily because – well, you have broken them before. After work you swing by Carrollwood’s Market and then a nearby 7-11 store to pick up a few lottery tickets.
Your last stop is a hardware store to purchase a nice change box to keep your lottery tickets, just in case…because…you never know.
Update: On Friday, November 23, 2013 Florida lottery authorities announced that no one had come forward with the winning Powerball lottery ticket. The $16 million jackpot expired at 11:59 pm EDT Thursday, November 22, 2013. The ticket is now worthless.
If the GOP wants to recruit female candidates and attract more female voters it needs to make sure their communications director doesn’t veer off its politically-correct-we-want-diversity’ message.
Sean Spicer, the Republican National Committee’s Communication Director was interviewed (among others) by Real Clear Politics for its article, ‘The GOP’s Female Candidate Problem.’ The article discusses how the RNC is “work[ing] to close the gap with female voters” given that “the majority of the 2012 [female electorate] supported President Obama over Mitt Romney by a 12-point margin.” The piece also mentions that “no viable Republican woman appears inclined to throw her hat in the 2016 ring” amidst the “likelihood of Hillary Clinton as the Democrats’ standard-bearer, potentially making history as the first female presidential nominee from either major party.”
With the above information in mind, Spicer was asked to address the “Republicans’ strategy for attracting more female voters” and the GOP’s concern of not “fielding a more diverse presidential field” while dealing with the possible “optics of Americans watching a host of Republican men fighting it out against one another as Clinton marches to the Democratic nomination . . . ”
Spicer’s initial response was appropriate in that he says all the right things; not raising any flags, while expressing interest in having a more inclusive party.
“Obviously, diversity would be great, but the race is not going to be defined by whether we have a woman; people are going to judge candidates based on their agenda,”
Then he went off the reservation with his next statement.
“This isn’t a beauty contest,” he said. “It’s about trying to put candidates forward who want to run for the presidency of the United States. We have extremely talented women. If they want to run, that’s awesome. If not, there’s no control over that.”
Real Clear Politics added that Spicer was “quick to point out that the RNC and the Republican campaign committees recently held a seminar promoting the recruitment and training of female candidates within party ranks.”
Let’s go back to the phrase “This isn’t a beauty contest.” Did he not realize that he just implied that republican female candidates don’t take the campaign or election process seriously – that they might view it as an easy “contest” based on looks rather than skills and experience? The latent sexism in the comment is not exactly PR-friendly given that the GOP wants to attract female candidates and more female voters to its party. Maybe he didn’t mean what he said or what it inferred, though as a communications director he should be more cognizant of contextual metaphors.
Spicer continued his communication stumble with his “If not, there’s no control over that” statement when it comes to finding republican female candidates to run for office. Isn’t recruiting and support viable candidates – male and female – a primary directive of the RNC? Does Spicer think female republican candidates should just fall into the GOP’s lap (to use another inappropriate metaphor) for them to mold and champion?
Near the end of his interview a light bulb must have went off in Spicer’s head that maybe his statements didn’t come off well, hence the ‘seminar promoting recruitment’ statement.
What’s odd is that he has basically shifted the blame to republican women for the GOP’s lack of female candidates on its roster. He might as well had raised his hands and said “Hey, the Republican Party has done the best it could to find these women, but they just don’t want to run. What are we supposed to do?!”
Luckily for him most of the articles’ readers probably didn’t catch the semi-dismissive tone of his comments, though Real Clear Politics placed them in the top half of its piece. By the time most people have read or skimmed the rest of the article Spicer’s comments will blithely be forgotten.
In the end, I doubt the RNC apparatus will be mad at Spicer for discounting potential republican women candidates. They might be a tad pissed that he said out loud what most of the male-dominated party truly thinks about its female members.
As they say, the truth hurts and this one continues to hurt the Republican Party.
PSEUDO DISCLAIMER: The following post is about the author’s retail experiences with “old white people” who have mistaken her for being a store employee. For the record, the author isn’t stating that all “old white people” assume – erroneously or otherwise – that ‘shoppers of color’ are retail store clerks. Furthermore, the author’s blog post is not meant to disparage older persons or those hard-working individuals who are employed by retail and/or restaurant establishments. We at ‘You’re Entitled To Be Wrong’ do not discriminate against people based on age, race, sex, gender, class, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. We only have it out for those individuals who make stereotypical assumptions because they’re culturally lazy and myopic.
I’m not much of a shopper. The best thing to happen to me when it comes to shopping is the Internet. Being able to shop online is simply fantastic. However, I still do in-store retail shopping, whether it’s for health supplies, make-up products, clothing or household items. Like most customers when you do in-store shopping on occasion you may need help finding something – so you go in search of a store employee for assistance.
For most people, when searching for a store employee you look for something that designates that person as a store employee such as 1) a store uniform (i.e. shirt with store logo, distinctive clothing, etc.); 2) person is wearing a store nametag/nameplate or 3) someone who looks like they work there (i.e. you see them tagging items, lifting boxes, wearing an apron, etc.). Once you spot one of these indicators you approach that person then proceed to ask your question – makes perfectly good sense.
Yet, it appears that ‘old white people’ (age range 50 to elderly) don’t go through these steps. They have their own steps which amounts to 1) they can’t find something and 2) they ask someone – usually a person of color – if they “work here” – no matter whether that person looks like a store employee or not. These particular ‘old white people’ steps normally occur in general, specialty or department store retail establishments such as CVS, Payless, The Body Shop, Target or Macy’s.
I could be magnanimous and say maybe some of these ‘old white people’ are just being impatient because they haven’t been able to locate their desired item quickly enough. Time is of the essence to them since most of them have been around the block many times or at least “since the birth of Christ” (to borrow a phrase from my mom). Therefore they will ask the first person they see for assistance, which is a reasonable assumption.
But what about all the other examples which aren’t so simple? Where a person of color sometimes have to question the assumptions of these ‘old white people’ such as when the following occurs:
- A black woman in business attire (black pants, red jacket, white shirt and pearls) at Macy’s is shopping for pantyhose. She is surrounded by white women dressed in casual to business wear. Older white woman, age 60+ weaves through the crowd of women to ask the black woman where the shoe department is located.
- An Asian woman and her Black female friend are trying on shoes at a Payless Shoe Store. An elderly white male (55+) enters the store. He then walks up to the two women and asks them if they work there and proceeds to tell them he is looking for sandals.
- A black male is standing near the front lobby area of a restaurant, waiting for his girlfriend who is in the restroom. A senior white female (60+) asks him for a copy of the menu because she wants to look it over while she is waiting to be seated.
- A black woman in a pants suit in Rite-Aid is looking at make-up. Near the woman are three black female store employees who are stocking the store shelves. The employees are wearing burgundy smocks with the word ‘Rite-Aid’ on the back. Older white woman (65+) walks down the aisle. She sees the women, but walks up to the pants-suit clad woman and asks where she can find aerosol sprays.
The above examples are incidents that have happened to a few of my friends and myself just this year. Unfortunately, it is a microcosm of incidents that I have dealt with for the past twenty-five plus years. My usual response to these ‘old white people’ is a firm “No” or “No – I don’t work here.” Other times my response is semi-sardonic in which I’ll say “Wait – did I forget to put my nametag on today?” while looking exaggeratedly confused. It really depends on how I’m approached by these individuals.
Some would argue that since these ‘old white people’ ask the question “Do you work here?” it therefore negates their accidental assumptions or cultural ineptness. That particular argument is besides the point. What is also besides the point is the fact that people of color are primarily employed at retail establishments.
What is and should be the point is that there are ‘old white people’ making stereotypical assumptions in retail settings without allowing their eyes to do a bit of homework for them before they step into a possible ‘I am about to offend someone’ zone.
Is it really that hard for them to look for indicators to see if a person is actually a store employee before posing their ‘I need help’ question? Are ‘shoppers of color’ asking too much for this basic courtesy?
I could be ageist and make jokes or snarky comments about the deteriorating eyesight of ‘old white people,’ but somehow I think they see what they want to see just fine.
Now where did I put my Target staff shirt again?
Yahoo! Incorporated has been all over the news these past of weeks due to its decision to ban telecommuting. Its CEO, Marissa Mayer stated in an HR memo to its employees, which was leaked to All Things D, a tech industry blog, that starting in June staff will be required to work in a Yahoo office – a move that appears to be a part of the company’s rebooting efforts.
Of course this news has not gone over well with its 11,000+ employees or those in favor of work-at-home. Proponents of Yahoo’s decision have decried the removal of this type of work flexibility; claiming that it’s demoralizing or harmful to families, especially working mothers. While opponents have supported and applauded Mayer’s tough-but-gutsy decision, saying that it’s about time that Yahoo! employees, in fact all employees, stop abusing this benefit and realize that work is done best in an office; interacting with colleagues. In the midst of this brouhaha has been comments about how Mayer doesn’t understand the financial and familial benefits of working-at-home since she a) has an estimated net worth of $300 million; b) might receive close to $60 million from Yahoo during her tenure and c) paid to have a nursery built in her office so that she could bring her infant to work.
What has become lost in the midst of the work-at-home battle has been one major question that has not been asked of Yahoo. What does it say about Yahoo, a multinational internet corporation, that it apparently can’t manage its employees who work-at-home?
It should seem obvious, maybe not to Mayer, that if you have slacker employees (i.e. unproductive, unreliable, unable to adhere to project or work schedule, etc.) who are partial or full-time telecommuters they will more than likely continue to be slackers, just now they’ll be working in the office instead of at home.
What will Yahoo’s supervisors/managers do to combat these employees’ bad work habits? Do these managers have the training and experience to deal with these type of employees? Keep in mind, if the managers were unable to manage these unproductive employees as telecommuters, what makes Yahoo think that they will be able to manage these individuals in-person while simultaneously turning them into collaborative and responsible workers?
I’m sure Mayer’s actions are also Yahoo’s way of getting rid of ‘dead weight’ and/or reducing costs by forcing employees to quit due to location or commute hardships. However, I doubt every bad WAH employee is going to resign from his/her position as a result of the ban. Again, how does the ban help Yahoo deal with its apparent or perceived culture of crappy telecommuters? Also, will Yahoo have to secure additional office space to accommodate these now in-office employees? This could add to Yahoo’s bottom line, thereby defeating somewhat the goal of supposedly cutting costs by eliminating employees via the work-at-home ban.
Most importantly, what about those WAH employees who weren’t abusing this perk? Who were actually productive and reliable? What about future applicants who might (or were) interested in working for Yahoo prior to the ban?
Yahoo has been so busy banning WAH to get rid of bad employees (and create a work community atmosphere possibly similar to Google or Facebook) that it appears they weren’t really thinking about the good employees who would be hurt by the ban or potential applicants who might go elsewhere because of it or what the ban signifies about Yahoo.
As many managers can attest, just because an employee shows up for work doesn’t mean that he or she is actually working, let alone being productive. Yahoo’s WAH problem isn’t just a telecommuter problem, it is also a managerial and human resources issue as well.
Slashing the work-at-home option may have immediately shown Yahoo’s investors, financiers and employees that it’s serious about turning the company around, in that it plans to become a major internet player again.
However, when a company makes a decision that will have a long-range impact, the last thing it should want is that decision to bring about more questions than answers. As it stands, Yahoo’s work-at-home ban seems to have created more of the former than the latter.
Not exactly a great way to ensure everyone that you really mean business.
On Monday, February 4, 2013 in Midland City, Alabama a 5-year-old boy was finally returned to his family after being held captive for a week by Jimmy Lee Dykes, a disturbed 65-year-old man. What? You didn’t hear about this story? Well, here’s what happened according to Marcus Gilmer, a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times:
An armed man [stormed] on to a bus loaded with school children and, at gunpoint, [demanded] that the bus driver turn over two children. The bus driver [refused] and [tried] to stop the armed man. The armed man [shot] the driver, killing him, then [grabbed] one of the children as the others [fled]. The armed man [took] the 5-year-old child, who is autistic, to an underground bunker on his property where a week-long crisis [began]. As negotiators try to convince the man to release the boy, they are allowed to deliver toys and medicine to him via a pipe to the bunker. Finally, after managing to lower a hidden camera into the bunker, officials are alarmed by what they see and storm the bunker. The kidnapper is killed, either by agents or by his own hand, and the boy is miraculously rescued, unhurt. (February 5, 2013)
Normally, such a dramatic, television-ready story would be all over the network, cable, print and online news. Neighbors, friends, family and co-workers of Dykes would’ve been interviewed to ‘flesh out’ Dykes’ character. Psychologists, whether they had met Dykes or not, would have assessed his mental state and reasons for his actions. Other psychologists would’ve provided us with various medical descriptions of childhood autism and its possible impact on the boy’s situation. Hostage crisis experts would’ve passed along information about what the little boy is going through and how Dykes should be handled. Police officers with stoic visages would’ve appeared on screen with ongoing updates, mostly repeating themselves. All the while, family members and friends of the little boy would’ve been seen crying and begging for the little boy’s release as numerous photos of the boy smiling, laughing or playing flashed across our television screens. This media scenario would have went on for days until the boy was rescued and Dykes was either captured or killed.
Well, none of that happened. Maybe because the hostage crisis took place in a town which according to the latest U.S. Census has less than 2500 people. It is also 104 miles from Montgomery, the state’s capital and 192 miles from Birmingham, the state’s largest city. So it’s probably fair to say that Midland City can be easily overlooked, even with a hostage crisis occurring in its backyard.
Not Just On Our Radar
The old real estate adage “location, location, location” seems to have applied to this story as far as mainstream media was concerned. I’m not saying that the media should’ve or needed to provide wall-to-wall coverage similar to the Sandy Hook Elementary (Newtown, CT) or Virginia Tech shootings. However, its coverage of this SEVEN-DAY hostage crisis was pretty anemic. It was almost groundhog-like, news would pop up for a a minute or two a few times a day then would disappear for one or two days.
Maybe more than a few media bosses were thinking ‘Does anyone really cares what happens in Alabama?’ Gilmer seems to agree somewhat with this assessment, but still questions it:
Part of the fact that so much about the Midland crisis was ignored either as a second-tier story or completely was because of where it happened. Trust me. I’m from Alabama. I know how people perceive of my native state. Sometimes, I can’t blame them. But in this instance, it was somewhat frustrating given the aforementioned universal issues at play here. This was not just a typical redneck incident….[t]his is larger than any regional bias; this is a national issue and we have to be willing to look past stereotypes, to be willing to accept both the smaller, hyperlocal context as well as the larger, national one. This is not some case of a drunken redneck brawl gone awry; this was a very real crisis with a larger social impact. (February 5, 2013)
Yet, it wasn’t just the location that played a significant part in the muted coverage of this story – it’s mainly because of what happened in Newtown.
Newtown Media Aftermath
It has been over two months since the December 14th shootings in Newtown, Connecticut claimed the lives of 26 people, 20 of them children. The live and ongoing news coverage of that story was fast, furious and a journalistic-fail on many accounts. Television and online media made a host of errors such as the name of the shooter (naming Ryan Lanza, the older brother, instead of Adam Lanza); posting the Facebook page of a Ryan Lanza from New Jersey alleging he was the shooter; claiming the shooter had killed his dad; that the mom was a teacher at the school, etc. Maybe the media’s limited coverage of the Alabama hostage crisis was also due to journalistic fear that it would go overboard like it did with Newtown – where unsubstantiated and non-fact checked information put the news media in a seriously bad light. So the media pulled back on the Midland story and may do so on several others for awhile as it continues to lick its wounds and genuflect on its ‘Newtown News’ behavior.
The fact is, we are now in a post-Newtown world when it comes to gun violence stories. Cynically, all incidents of violence and their deemed noteworthiness will be compared to the Newtown shootings. Grandparents killed at home by a robber – well, that’s only two deaths; plus they were stabbed not shot. Crazy person enters a clinic and shoots 30 people – not that big of a deal because no one died. Five college students shot on campus – they’re not kids like Newtown and it’s not as bad as the Virginia Tech shooting. Group of teens shot while standing at a bus stop and one dies – that’s only one death, plus it happened in an “urban” area (code for ‘residents are primarily people of color’). These stories would more than likely fail the ‘Post-Newtown News Test’ which sadly appears to be more deaths + innocent-looking, mostly white victims + near major news city/market = more news coverage. Therefore one death and a week-long hostage crisis in Alabama versus the death of over twenty kids at a school house in a suburban town near a major news metropolitan area just doesn’t make the media sensationalism grade.
Then again, hasn’t this always been the case?
Updated May 25, 2018
On the Hollywood food chain it seems that Asian actors are “lint” or maybe “less than lint” – to borrow a line from the 1998 movie Dave.
Like Asian actors, Black actors and actresses always lament, with good reason, the lack of roles that are offered to him. They complain about being pigeon-holed into the usual stereotypical roles such as street thugs, sexy divas, loudmouths, wife abusers and the religious matriarch. Sometimes they’re offered good roles because the casting people, fortunately, came down with a case of color-blindness
But compared to what is offered to Asian actors (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, etc.) Black actors have a plethora of acting roles. Asian actresses are mainly cast in subservient roles such as the quiet, dutiful wife or sexually-submissive girlfriend or prostitute. Sandra Oh’s strong and complex character “Dr. Yang” from the television series Grey’s Anatomy being one of the few exceptions to this rule.
Asian actors may, arguably, have more work opportunities than compared to their female counterparts, but the acting stereotypes are still there. Asian males are chosen to play roles that require them to be martial art experts, lords of wisdom, honor-bound samurais, extremely-strict fathers or stressed-out, academic over-achievers with nerd-like qualities. Mostly they’re cast as what I refer to as the “Five O’s”: obstinate fathers, omnipotent fighters, overly dutiful sons, obsequious man-servants or old wise men.
But for a brief moment in 1993 there was an Asian actor, Jason Scott Lee, who could have become a major star. Within a two-month period of that year he was in two films – a romantic drama as a WWII pilot the other as the iconic actor and martial arts expert Bruce Lee (no relation). The latter film did cast him as an Asian playing a famous Asian, but he was so much more than that as an actor. He should’ve been so much more.
Unfortunately, Hollywood just wasn’t ready. Hell, it still isn’t ready, though Asian actors keep trying. But sometimes I’m sure they feel like Sisyphus with that damn rock – constantly pushing at it, only for it to roll down and over them time and again.
In the Not So Distant Beginning
Most of us have seen one or more racist Asian stereotypes in movies and films during our lifetime. I can’t recall the first one that I saw, but there are some I haven’t forgotten. Mickey Rooney’s visually and stereotypically buffoonish and obviously myopic Chinese servant in Breakfast At Tiffany’s. Gedde Watanabe cringe-worthy role in Sixteen Candles as the Chinese exchange student whose English and social skills are child-like and idiotic.
Of course there was also David Carradine in the television series Kung Fu as “Kwai Chang Caine” an Amerasian shaolin monk skilled in Buddhism and martial arts spreading his mysticism throughout the American West. “Kwai” was originally written to be Chinese and was to star Bruce Lee who had cut his teeth in television as martial arts crime fighter “Kato” in the Green Hornet. Not surprisingly, Lee ended up going overseas in order to become a ‘star’ in Hollywood, albeit a posthumous one.
It has still been a very tough road for Asian actors since Bruce Lee. Over the past twenty to thirty years a select few East Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc.) actors born in or outside the U.S. have entered the entertainment mainstream via television and/or feature films with various levels of visibility and success. Actors such as Chow Yun Fat (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Jackie Chan (Rush Hour films), Jet Li (Romeo Must Die), Daniel Dae Kim (Lost, Hawaii Five-O), Russell Wong (Joy Luck Club), Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai) and John Cho (Harold & Kumar films)
However, most owe their career livelihood to the martial arts and/or action-film genre. Asian male actors who can’t, won’t or don’t do martial arts exclusively – who primarily just ‘act’ seem to be few and far in between.
Back in the late 1980s Jason Scott Lee (JSL), an American actor of Chinese-Hawaiian descent was probably aware of the Hollywood odds. He started with small roles in television series such as Matlock and Wolf. He lucked out with a few television movies and small-to-major films such as The Lookalike, Born in East L.A. and Back To The Future II.
According to Internet Movie Database, JSL had acting gigs in only nine television and movies between 1987 and 1993, with 1993 being his breakout year. However, things were about to change, at least they should have changed, according to every happy-ever-after story in Hollywood.
A Double Film Slam Dunk
In April 1993 a small film called Map of the Human Heart was released which was followed in May by Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. Both films happened to star JSL in lead roles.
Map of the Human Heart was a romantic drama that takes place in the 1930s in which JSL played Avik, a Canadian Innuit who joins the Royal Canadian Air Force as a bomber pilot. The film revolves around his childhood then adult love for a French-Indian girl played by Anne Parillaud and the impact of his WWII actions – especially the firebombing of Dresden, Germany – had on his emotional well-being after the war. In the film you get to see JSL in various stages of his life, as a cocky pilot, man in love, shell-shocked war veteran and a despondent alcoholic. One of the stand-out scenes in the film is of Jason Scott Lee and Parillaud naked, making love on top of a barrage balloon. Seeing an Asian male actor in such an obviously romantic film scene is a rare occurrence.
Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert said that JSL ” brings a joy and freshness to the early scenes, and makes a good contrast to the older Avik, who has lost his way.” Ebert concluded that ‘Map of the Human Heart’ was “one of the year’s (1993) best films” and gave it four stars. The film only made little over $2 million, but it was critically-acclaimed and JSL received excellent reviews.
A month later JSL was on the screen again in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. The film was based on the book Bruce Lee: The Man I Only Knew by his widow, Linda Lee Caldwell. The semi-biographical film chronicled Bruce Lee’s childhood and young adult years in Hong Kong (though he was born in the U.S.); his move to San Francisco, going to college, meeting his wife and having a family, creating the martial art Jeet Kuen Do and his television and film work up until his death after filming Enter the Dragon, a marital arts classic. Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story had an epic Hollywood biographical tone that played a bit loose with the facts (i.e. he hurt his back lifting weights, not in a battle defending his martial arts creation). However, it also delved into the racial hardships Lee faced as an Asian-American trying to become an American success story.
JSL struck the right tone for the movie which showed his physical prowess (he learned martial arts for the film), comedic timing, dramatic skills all while handling a love story. The film did well, pulling in $35 million at the box-office – a much better haul than Map of the Human Heart.
Roger Ebert said JSL was a “gifted young actor” who like Bruce Lee “use film to give them power over time and space.” Desson Howe of the Washington Post said it’s “[JSL’s] acting that makes “Dragon” so watchable – that “[w]ith a personality like firecrackers, he charms and crackles his way through this movie.”
One can’t help but think that parts of Jason Scott Lee’s portrayal of Bruce Lee in Dragon reflected his own experiences dealing with racism. Yes, the movie wasn’t completely accurate in its telling of Lee’s story, but JSL made you believe you were watching Bruce Lee. Jason Scott Lee is powerful and electric in the scene (video below) in which, as Bruce Lee, he rages against Hollywood’s racist treatment of him and Asian actors. You can’t help but wonder if some of JSL’s experience with Hollywood helped him bring such anger, passion and hurt to the climatic scene.
Pete Rainer of the Los Angeles Times summed up what most movie critics and film goers thought of JSL at that time”:
“What’s exciting about “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story” is that, in Jason Scott Lee, the movie has created a new star out of an old star. The film is a tribute to Bruce Lee but it’s also a tribute to the transforming powers of performance. Lee does justice to Bruce Lee while, at the same time, creating a character out of his own fierce resources. He is, quite literally, smashing.”
After I saw both of these films I kept my eye on Jason Scott Lee, hoping against hope that he would blow-up, big-time on the silver screen. I remembered how Daniel Day-Lewis in 1985-1986 had an actor’s year similar to JSL. Daniel Day-Lewis played played a working-class, gay man in an interracial relationship in My Beautiful Laundrette and then followed that up with a role as a proper upper -class gentleman in Room With A View. Hollywood definitely took notice of Day-Lewis’ diverse acting skills. Maybe the same could happen to Jason Scott Lee.
In reality, I knew it wasn’t going to happen. Jason Scott Lee probably knew it too.
Sound and Fury – Then Nothing
After the banner year of 1993 things were pretty quiet work-wise for Jason Scott Lee. Between 1994 and 2013 he was cast in approximately 25 roles, mostly small parts in television shows (The Hunger, Hawaii Five-0), voice-over work (Lilo & Stitich), low budget-films (Tale of the Mummy) and straight-to-video films (Timecop:The Berlin Decision).
He had some screen time in four big-budget films during this period; two of which he was the lead actor – 1994’s Rapa Nui and The Jungle Book. He played an Eastern Island warrior finding love amidst a civil war and a jungle boy raised by wolves, respectively. Not much of a casting stretch for Hollywood. As for the cinematic quality of these films – the less said about them the better.
After Rapa Nui and Jungle Book he didn’t work for three years. Whether this was on purpose or not, it’s hard to determine. Maybe Jason Scott Lee had simply had enough. In between his sporadic television and film work JSL kept busy with local Hawaiian theater, personal documentaries and working on his martial arts skills
Unfortunately what happened to Jason Scott Lee happens to a lot of actors, Asians and non-Asians, so it’s nothing new. But it’s still a shame nonetheless, given his talent.
In December 2010 Jason Scott Lee was interviewed by Guy Aoki, writer for Rafu Shimpo, a Los Angeles Japanese News Daily. Aoki asked JSL if he had been too “selective” in the mid-1990s about the type of roles he wanted. JSL said:
“Back in the ’90s, my effort was to do films with meaningful content, which I believe is still the goal of many artists in Hollywood. For an Asian American actor, it’s that much more difficult. I had a tough time back then accepting the redundant action hero opportunities that were placed before me. It now makes me realize that ‘Dragon’ was somewhat before its time, and trying to find a challenge that would capitalize on that performance was completely non-existent. I’m hoping to find positive challenges in the current situation of movie making.”
I have watched Map of the Human Heart and Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story several times over the years. I still shake my head at Hollywood’s missed opportunity. It almost makes you want to keep your fingers crossed for every ‘person of color’ actor and actress trying to make it in Hollywood because the opportunities are few and the chances for success are even fewer.
Most don’t make it or if they do, they end up catching fire quickly or only for a moment. But then the embers don’t last and the smoke eventually goes away. Just ask Jason Scott Lee.
Notes: 1) You can watch Map of the Human Heart in its entirety here and Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story here. 2) In this 2016 CGTN America video, Jason Scott Lee talks about whitewashing (casting of white actors in Asian roles) in Hollywood. 3) See articles/links below to learn more about racial stereotypes, whitewashing and ethnic assumptions in Hollywood casting (and beyond).
Actors of Color on Racial Stereotypes (Film Courage) – A seven-part video series in which you hear from Black, Latinx, Asian, and Native American men and women discussing their journey, frustrations, surprises and heartaches as they navigate being an actor/actress of color in Hollywood whose default casting is always white.
Black Actors Are Too Often Overlooked. It’s Even Worse for Other Ethnic Minorities (The Guardian) – A British/Asian perspective on the difficulties actors of color in England have in getting work, especially since, according to research by the British Film Institute “[60%] of British films made in the past 10 years [2005-2015] featured no named characters portrayed by black actors. Just 13% starred a black actor in a leading role.”
11 Stereotypes Black Actors Must Play Laid Out in One Scathing Takedown (IndieWire) – “Mamoudou N’Diaye has no need to make an audition reel; the actor has perfected every role he will ever need to play in Hollywood. In a hilarious and scathing parody for Mic, N’Diaye runs through the offensive and reductive stereotypes that too often pigeonhole black talent.”
For Older Actors of Color, The Movement for A More Diverse Hollywood Has Come Too Late (Washington Post) – Jenifer Lewis (Black-ish) discusses being an older actress of color in the era of Hollywood’s trumpeted march towards diversification. The noteworthy comment in the article is when Lewis is asked if actresses like herself “feel reflected” in such diversity efforts. She said “not particularly” because nonwhite actresses of her generation have “no real voice.”
Forget Playing Terrorist No. 3. Middle Eastern Actors Seek Roles Beyond Hollywood Stereotypes (Los Angeles Times) – “Actors, especially those from Africa and Arab states, often contend with Western screenwriters and studios that have reduced a complex world to cursory and at times racist story lines that seldom differentiate between a Shiite or a Sunni Muslim, much less between a Pakistani or a Kuwaiti.”
From Breakfast At Tiffany’s to Hellboy: The Ongoing Problem of Hollywood ‘Whitewashing‘ (Independent) – “Whitewashing is not new. It was a common practice in classical Hollywood, where some of its most egregious examples include John Wayne as Genghis Khan in The Conqueror and Mickey Rooney as Mr Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Audiences know instinctively that whitewashing is bad – hence the criticisms of other whitewashing films and the resulting hashtag #StarringJohnCho that went viral in spring 2016. As a cultural practice, having white people play, replace and stereotype characters of colour obscures and erases their history, agency and power.”
Hollywood Movies Still Stereotype LGBT Characters, Depict ‘Gay Panic Scenes’ (The Wrap) – Article discusses how lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender characters are mostly missing-in-action in films, and when they do appear it’s for laughs or fear of gay people or being viewed as being gay. “Leaving LGBT people out of the picture — or including them only as a punchline — keeps old prejudices alive and creates an unsafe environment, not only here in America, but around the world,” said GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis in an introduction to the annual Studio Responsibility Index.”
Negative Racial Stereotypes and Their Effect on Attitudes Toward African-Americans (Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia) – Concise and digestible research paper that “[identifies] seven historical racial stereotypes of African-Americans and demonstrate that many of these distorted images still exist in society today. Additionally, strategies for intervention and the implications of this exploration into racial stereotypes will be presented.”
‘We’re the geeks, the prostitutes’: Asian American Actors on Hollywood’s Barriers (The Guardian) – “While much of the recent debate around Asian representation in Hollywood has centered on whitewashing – when white actors are cast to tell Asian stories – working actors said a lack of opportunity was only one part of the problem. Asian American actors said they rarely, if ever, got auditions for leading roles, and when they did get parts, they were frequently secondary to the plot or portrayed offensive tropes.”
Why I Won’t Wear War Paint and Feathers In A Movie Again (Time) – Actor Brian Young (Navajo) discusses his experience in Hollywood and the industry’s racist history when portraying Native Americans.
Yellowface is a bad look, Hollywood (Vox) – The video provides a nice overview of Hollywood’s history of casting whites as Asians in its movies. As the video states “Scarlett Johansson’s casting in ‘Ghost in the Shell’ is just one of the latest examples of a white actor playing an Asian character, a practice that goes back to the earliest days of Hollywood. These casting decisions have made Asians invisible at best and, at worst, the butt of a cruel joke.”
I normally don’t read the Education Section on many mainstream news sites because the articles are anemic and pro forma at best. Unfortunately, the ‘education news beat’ has taken a major hit as newspapers have cut staff and costs to save money.
Yet, I found myself perusing the education news section on the Huffington Post website. The article “Teen Pregnancy Study: Students Need Better School Support” (11/26/2012) caught my eye, because the topic of ‘teen pregnancy’ and ‘education’ doesn’t pop up much in the news cycle. Also because the article ludicrously states the obvious though a good portion of America’s public education system would beg to differ. Below is an excerpt from the article discussing a teen mom’s plight and how schools have dealt with the issue of teen moms:
When 15-year-old Kali Gonzalez became pregnant, the honors student considered transferring to an alternative school. She worried teachers would harass her for missing class because of doctor’s appointments and morning sickness. A guidance counselor urged Gonzalez not to, saying that could lower her standards. Instead, her counselor set up a meeting with teachers at her St. Augustine high school to confirm she could make up missed assignments, eat in class and use the restroom whenever she needed. Gonzalez, who is now 18, kept an A-average while pregnant. She capitalized on an online school program for parenting students so she could stay home and take care of her baby during her junior year. She returned to school her senior year and graduated with honors in May. But Gonzalez is a rare example of success among pregnant students. Schools across the country are divided over how to handle them, with some schools kicking them out or penalizing students for pregnancy-related absences. And many schools say they can’t afford costly support programs, including tutoring, child care and transportation for teens who may live just a few miles from school but still too far to walk while pregnant or with a small child.
Though we live in a more enlightened age, the stigma of teen pregnancy (one of the scarlet letters of the teen set) still exists. Parents/soon-to-be grandparents are pissed that their daughter is pregnant or that that their son ‘knocked someone up.’ Pregnant girls feel shocked and ashamed and soon-to-be teen fathers are stunned, depressed or angry.
Schools, parents, friends, doctors, non-profits, other family members, etc. can preach abstinence and safe-sex until they’re blue-in-the-face. It doesn’t change the fact that teens are still having babies.
Ostracizing teen moms to special schools for ‘girls in their condition’ is not the answer. Also, schools need to stop equating the ‘acknowledgement of teen pregnancy/assisting pregnant teens’ with the idea that the school is somehow promoting teen sex. Providing school support systems to help pregnant teens and teen moms stay in school will help them finish high school and maybe pursue post-high school education. Most importantly, having their peers see these pregnant girls and their babies’ fathers in their classrooms will cause some teens to think twice about having unprotected sex. Nothing like seeing living, breathing examples of how your life would change by having a baby.
I’m not saying that schools should serve as some type of defacto parent, though some already do whether parents like it or not. However, schools need to stop putting their heads in the sand when it comes to teen pregnancy and other student issues (i.e., racism, bullying, sexuality, sexism, etc.) that they’re not comfortable dealing with because these issues will not go away. In the end, schools are supposed to educate all students and help them graduate, even pregnant girls and teen moms.
A couple of days ago Sandra Fluke spoke in primetime at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. I made a point of not watching the Fluke in action. I admit it, I’m tired of seeing and hearing about her and from her.
I’ve taken to calling Fluke ‘Mary Magdalene‘ America’s latest reincarnation of special womanhood. She can do no wrong – she must be defended 24 hours of day, 7 days a week and 365 days of the year.
Yet, there is something strangely patronizing about the Fluke bandwagon. She’s treated like a young girl who requires knights (male and female) to protect her from the mean, bad men. Seriously, this woman is over 30 years and just graduated with a Georgetown University law degree! I’m sure that she is able to defend herself without her unofficial squires running to her assistance.
Fluke’s infamous, remote dust-up via talk radio with that idiot RushLimbaugh (he called her a ‘slut’) galvanized American women in regards to their healthcare and the upcoming presidential election, which was a boon for the Democratic Party. Probably one of the few times a woman being called a “slut” is/was a good thing.
However, the happenstance of her celebrity combined with her limited work as a “women’s activist” (as she’s been described) makes for a strange combination that I find bothersome.
It’s kind of like a reality television star with little to no acting experience who wants to be viewed as a serious actor or actress.
Also, let’s be honest about the real issue surrounding Fluke’s celebrity. If Fluke was Black, blonde, had acne or big tits or looked like a cheerleader (god-forbid) we wouldn’t know who the hell she is. Limbaugh could’ve called her a host of names (feminazi anyone?) and that would’ve been it. The public and the media are very fickle over the types of women whom they hand out the ‘deserve to be defended’ crown.
I’m sure Fluke’s flunkies (as I sometimes call them) would say that I’m being mean, jealous or hateful towards such a ‘strong, dedicated woman.’ But the fact is women are viewed and treated differently based on their looks and ethnicity.
We can’t be ugly or no one wants you. Can’t be too attractive or no one will take you seriously. Fluke falls right in the middle, which has made for a perfect media and political confluence. Mary Magdalene indeed.
I just wish the media, politicians and others would keep in mind that Fluke is just one woman and that she doesn’t represent ALL women – though my cynical, pessimistic side sarcastically tells me “Good luck with that!”
Sigh – I guess we’re stuck with Fluke. Thanks a lot Limbaugh.