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Rachel Dolezal Isn’t “Transracial”: How She’s Hurting Families Like Her Own

Thursday, June 25th, 2015

When I first saw the Rachel Dolezal “transracial” stories pop up in my newsfeed, I figured it was just another wild story to fill the news channels’ insatiable appetite for the weird and unusual. But that was before I actually sat down and watched her Today Show interview. In it, she described the reason for her deception—to fit in better with her son, who is African-American: “When I got full custody of Izaiah, he said, ‘You are my real mom’…. and for that to be something that is plausible, I certainly can’t be seen as white and be Izaiah’s mom.” And that fired me up.

We are a transracial family: My husband and I are Caucasian, and our daughters are Asian. That doesn’t make my husband and me Asian by default, and that doesn’t mean that we have to darken our hair and change our eye shape in order to be our daughters’ “real” parents. (The fact that two countries gave their seal of approval to our adoption and that we’re the ones who kiss boo-boos and celebrate every milestone kind of makes it official.) By saying that she needed to look like her son in order to be his “real” parent, Rachel’s reasoning seems to be at complete odds with what she was striving to do in her role at the NAACP: She’s saying that a person’s exterior matters just as much (if not more) than the interior. And it breaks my heart that a woman who is so clearly focused on racial issues, and a fellow mom who adopted transracially, would actually make the statement that we can’t be “real” parents if we don’t look like our kids.

Transracial adoption isn’t always easy. There’s the stares and the whispering and the sometimes icky comments when you’re just heading to the grocery store or hoping for a nice family meal out. There’s the all-too-frequent questioning of whether you’re a real family, whether your kids are real sisters. There’s a need to develop new skills, like learning how to properly care for black hair and skin, and some new considerations you need to make, such as whether your neighborhood is diverse and open enough to truly welcome your family. And most importantly, there’s the essential task of ensuring that your children are in touch with their birth culture, and that they understand what it means to be Asian or African-American or Native American or Latino in our culture. But to co-opt your child’s heritage when it isn’t your own smacks of disrespect, to both your child and to her first family, who deserves to be represented as fully as possible in her life.

It disturbs me that the word “transracial” is being used for this story—a word that until now has been mostly used for families like mine. As a group of transracial adoptees have expressed in an open letter, it’s damaging to a group of people who are already have so many challenges related to race:

Dolezal and others have perpetuated the false notion that a person can simply choose to identify as a different race or ethnicity. As extensive evidence-based research and first-person narratives have shown, we do not live in a so-called “post-racial society.” Damaging forces like racism make it virtually impossible for those with black or brown bodies to simply “put on” or “take off” race in the same or similar manner that Dolezal has employed. For transracial adoptees, navigating and negotiating the racism in our families, schools, and communities is a regular and compulsory part of our lives.

Using transracial to describe Rachel’s behavior cheapens it for the kids and parents who live with the complexities of being in a transracial family every single day.

Lisa Milbrand is Parents.com’s In Name Only blogger, and the mom of two girls.

 

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Social Media Snooping: The Brave New World of High-Stakes Testing?

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

Girl taking testOver the past several months, I’ve become more and more concerned about the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test (AKA the PARCC) that’s being given to students in grades 3 through 11 here in New Jersey and in a handful of other states. So concerned, in fact, that after doing extensive research on it, I chose to refuse the PARCC test for my daughters.

And now, I’m feeling even more convinced that there are major issues with the PARCC. Just this week, news surfaced that test-maker Pearson has been vigilantly monitoring social media for mentions of its controversial new standardized test, then asking the Board of Education to step in and punish students who are tweeting about the PARCC in ways that they deem inappropriate. The superintendent of Watchung Hills Regional High School in New Jersey was the first to sound the alarm bell, after receiving a late-night call from the New Jersey Department of Education. Pearson claimed the student had posted a screenshot of a test question during the testing timeframe—but it turned out that the student hadn’t posted an image, and had tweeted about the test after school hours.

This whole social media monitoring scheme seems to be pretty unfair, given the fact that some of the schools in New Jersey have not allowed parents and students to refuse the test or have used pressuring tactics like making them simply sit and stare during the duration of the test if they refuse to participate. So now, these kids not only may be forced to take this test against their will, but if they are caught “revealing or discussing passages or test items with anyone, including students and school staff, through verbal exchange, email, social media, or any other form of communication,” Pearson will find out through their apparently eagle-eyed social media watching program, track down the student and their school district, and demand punishment. And at least one child in New Jersey is currently on suspension as a result. (I’m thinking that hardly seems legal to silence the students given the freedom of speech afforded by the First Amendment, and the fact that even though Pearson required all teachers and proctors to sign a nondisclosure agreement, the actual test takers are minors and can’t legally sign a contract.)

But Pearson is doing more than snooping on what your kid is tweeting. It’s getting quite a bit of data about your child through the PARCC test. That includes more than the basics, like name, birthdate, sex, and ethnicity. Pearson also knows what disabilities your child has, whether he or she has been labeled gifted and talented, and if she’s eligible for reduced/free lunch (so that gives them a clue about how your family finances look). And then, of course, Pearson is getting all sorts of data about how your child is doing on their test. (Though the actual value of that data is uncertain, given the concerns about the structure and style of the PARCC.)

The amount and types of data Pearson is collecting raises concerns about security breaches, as hackers could access this very personal information about children. And it also makes you wonder what Pearson has planned for this data. One potential clue is an Instagram image that’s been posted around, of a potential student data file of the future—it’s a screen capture from a video Pearson produced. For a kid that looks to be about a fifth grader, it suggests a single career path, five potential colleges, and a high school schedule. Should we really be trying to pigeon hole kids to a certain career before they hit junior high, based on a series of standardized tests? (I can assure you that my fifth grader’s current career aspiration, ballet dancer, won’t be among the choices offered by Pearson.)

If you’re worried that your child’s privacy may be compromised, there are steps you can take:

  • Contact your child’s school and ask them what private companies or third-party providers have access to your child’s data. There are two laws in place that are meant to protect your child’s data at school: FERPA and COPPA. Neither is perfect, but they will at least allow you to find out who has your child’s data, and start contacting these companies to request that they remove identifying information.
  • Refuse the PARCC tests. Even if your child took the first set of testing this March, there’s more PARCC to be had later in May. You can refuse the test and prevent Pearson from getting more of your child’s information.
  • Share your concerns with your school board, state legislators, and local media. The more voices that speak up with concerns about these possible violations of student privacy and freedom of speech, the more likely that the voices will be heard.
Lisa Milbrand writes Parents.com’s In Name Only blog and is the mom of two girls.

3 Things Parents Can Do to Help Kids Manage Homework
3 Things Parents Can Do to Help Kids Manage Homework
3 Things Parents Can Do to Help Kids Manage Homework

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I’m Saying No to High-Stakes Testing—And You May Want to, Too

Friday, December 19th, 2014

To test or not to test? At this point, that really isn’t a question for me. I’m refusing to allow my fifth grader to take the PARCC, the latest Common Core high-stakes test crafted by for-profit educational company Pearson. There are more than a few reasons to reconsider just going with the flow, if your child’s on tap to take these tests.

There’s little to no evidence that these tests actually mean anything. Study after study has indicated that the SAT (you know, the old gold standard for college admissions) correlates most closely with your family’s income level. (Higher income levels, unsurprisingly, meant  higher SAT scores.) And the PARCC test that my daughter is supposed to spend hours taking later this year is completely unproven to measure anything—other than that the student has been coached on how to take the PARCC. (In fact, our kids are serving as the guinea pigs for this, as Pearson is still “field testing” these assessments.)

Schools are being forced to stress test prep over more important subjects. My daughter’s teacher barely has time to squeeze in science (SCIENCE!) because he’s so busy ensuring they have enough computer time to be able to effectively type essay questions for the PARCC. And after school, they’re being assigned online test prep as a homework component, in addition to a pretty extensive workload. Our schools should be focused on helping children develop creative thinking skills and mastery of subjects that actually apply to real life, so they can go on to innovate and solve the myriad problems our world is facing. Instead, they’re being drilled on multiple-choice strategy—a skill I haven’t used since I took my last standardized test more than 20 years ago. (How about you?)

They’re putting way too much pressure on our kids. Schools want to do very well on these tests to get funding—and so they’re pushing the kids hard. My daughter’s school had special workbooks dedicated to learning the NJASK (the PARCC’s predecessor), which they completed in full. And that probably explains how they scored third in the state for their NJASK scores last year. They began harping on the PARCC in earnest as soon as the NJASK was over,  more than a year before the kids would even take the test. My kid’s the kind who cried for two hours when she received her first non-A on her report card—so it probably wasn’t a surprise that she was freaking out about the PARCC over the summer, when her biggest worry should have been whether she should ride bikes or run through the sprinkler. If I continue to subject my daughter to this level of stress, she’ll be needing therapy before we even get her through junior high.

These tests are extremely flawed. The very first practice question I read over my daughter’s shoulder was grammar related, requiring the student to choose the correct way to connect two separate sentences. While two of the four answer options were definitely wrong, the other two were technically correct. (As a professional writer and editor, I know my way around a sentence—but my copy-editor husband and a slew of editor friends also agreed that there were two correct answers.) My daughter selected the one that Pearson apparently deemed “incorrect.” After that experience, I decided to take a full-on PARCC practice test on my own. I have a master’s degree in magazine journalism, a Mensa-level IQ and a long and storied history of rocking standardized tests, but I did not answer every question on the fifth-grade English test correctly. How can we expect our 10-year-olds to do better?

The school systems are often required to administer the tests to children who can’t do them. A special-ed teacher I know is supposed to administer the PARCC to autistic and developmentally delayed children. They can’t read and they can’t communicate—do you really think they’re going to write an essay about the themes in a complex reading passage? You can see how one Maryland mom expressed her concerns for her special-needs son. (She appears at 1:41.00.)

The tests require significant investments in technology, and the states aren’t ponying up the cash. PARCC tests are taken online, which means that the school district needs to have enough computers to allow every student in a grade to take the test simultaneously. Our school has been grossly underfunded by the state for the past decade—and yet we had to make some pretty significant investments in new computers to ensure that they had enough to test our students. But that money had to come from somewhere: We lost foreign language teachers, and my daughter’s  social studies book is older than her college-aged babysitter. What did the kids lose out on in other school districts?

There’s something rotten about the whole deal. Pearson not only makes mediocre textbooks—they are now in the business of testing whether our kids are learning anything from those books. Shouldn’t one part of this equation be independent of the other? There’s also some concern that Pearson may be in cahoots with technology companies like Apple to get some lucrative business for both parties—and the FBI has launched a criminal investigation into it. And the federal government is even pulling funding from the Common Core, just as our state is making the decision to commit to it more fully.

I’m writing my letter right after winter break to refuse to allow my child to take the tests, and I’m fortunate to live in one of the only school districts in New Jersey that is officially allowing children to opt out and have other educational experiences during test time. (Last year, many school districts forced kids who were opting out to remain in the classroom and “sit and stare” for the duration of the test—something bordering on child abuse, in my book.) I’m exercising the parental rights afforded by the Supreme Court ruling in Pierce v. Society of Sisters, which protects my fundamental right to direct the upbringing and education of my children. The Court declared that “the child is not the mere creature of the State: those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right coupled with the high duty to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” And I hope that you’ll consider fighting against these tests, too.

Learn more about the Common Core—and what it means for your child.

Lisa Milbrand is a contributing editor to Parents.com and the blogger for In Name Only.

The Parent's Role During School Years
The Parent's Role During School Years
The Parent's Role During School Years

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How Joining a Rock Band Made Me a Better Mom

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

I “Clark Kent” my way through volunteering at the Home & School and my day job, with my dark-rimmed librarian glasses and my sensible shoes. But for the past couple of years, I’ve spent many a Monday evening sweating in my friend’s basement—and more than a few nights playing out at local bars—as the bass player for Whatserface, an all-girl (all-mom) cover band.

It’s never going to be my career (unfortunately)—I won’t be the next Gwen Stefani rocking out with a baby on my hip. But my girls and I have a ball whenever we’re playing, and we’re getting better with every practice. (Which is very good, as I hadn’t ever picked up a bass guitar until I was asked to join the band. The first few practices were pretty ugly, at least on my end!)

There are a few aspects of moonlighting as a rocker that aren’t going to earn me Mom of the Year awards. We’ve been known to overindulge occasionally when we get together, which leads to pretty evil wakeup calls the morning after. It took me a while to finally invest in some good earplugs, so when I’m old and senile, I’ll be contending with hearing loss, too. And of course, there’s the fact we spend some Saturday nights in darkened bars while our kiddos are home with the sitters.

But taking time out of my week to be something other than mom, wife and writer helps make me better at all three of those roles. Here’s why:

I’m building new friendships that have nothing to do with my kids or my work. Once you become a mom, it feels like the only places you make new friends are on the school playground or in the office. Granted, I was close friends with Kara, our drummer, before she asked me to pick up the bass and join the band, but I had only met the other gals once or twice before our first practice. And now, I count them all among my closest friends.

I’m getting some of that much-exalted “me time.” When I’m playing music, I don’t have much time to mentally run through my to-do list or worry yet again about how we’re going to afford college for my kiddos. For just a few hours, it’s just me and my music. And I come home refreshed, re-energized, and ready to scale that mountain of laundry sitting by the washing machine.

I’m learning something new. Studies have shown that music education can boost IQ, increase the brain’s neural activity, and improve language skills in kids—and I can only believe that I’m getting some of those benefits myself. Playing bass challenges my brain in ways that nothing else does. And I’m hoping that if I keep on playing until I look older than Keith Richards, I might actually keep my mind sharp later in life.

I’m discovering new music. Deciding which songs to learn can be a bit challenging for our band, as we have six members with wildly divergent taste. Band members have suggested everything from old-school grunge to country to current pop songs. And yes, we’ve had some really out-there suggestions, like “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” (That was met with resounding nos!) I’m at an age where I could contentedly listen to classic rock stations or stick with my favorite bands, who have mostly reached Hall of Fame eligibility, but I’m now constantly on the prowl for something new and interesting to bring to our next listening party.

The kids love it—mostly. It’s inspired some of the other band members’ kids so much that they started their own rock band, and I’ve started teaching my own kids piano. And the girls really enjoy going to our occasional kid-friendly gig. Still, once in a while I get grief on a Monday night when I’m heading out to band practice. But after I told them I’d quit if they quit all their extracurricular activities that take them away from me—their ballet and tap and Girl Scouts and gymnastics, the complaints magically disappeared.

My husband loves it—mostly. Yeah, it means he flies solo a few nights, and he’s probably had to sit through the same setlist a few too many times. (His musical taste tends more toward obscure Scandinavian metal bands than the White Stripes.) But I think he’s proud to say his girl’s in the band, judging by the gifts I’ve gotten over the past year (which included cool black boots and a gorgeous new Gibson bass).

And I love it. Playing bass makes me happy. And playing bass on stage with a few of my best friends, with your friends and family in the audience? There are few things in life better than that.

Tell us: What do you do in your life that makes you happy?

Mom Confessions: If I Could Spend a Day Without My Kids I Would¿
Mom Confessions: If I Could Spend a Day Without My Kids I Would¿
Mom Confessions: If I Could Spend a Day Without My Kids I Would¿

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Which Age Is Hardest to Parent?

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

I used to think that babies and toddlers were the hardest to parent, with all the sleep deprivation, bodily fluids and baby proofing that come with that age range. It felt like my children were trying really hard to get themselves killed, and we spent our waking hours standing sentinel and worrying that all that stood between my daughters and certain doom was a flimsy plastic cabinet lock. Those were the days of guacamole in the hair and 3 a.m. wakeup calls, but at least we got nap time to recover and get our groove back.

Now that I’m the mom of a tween and an almost tween, I find myself dreaming of those days. Because while the really physical days of parenting are done—no more bending in half and hunching my back for hours over a struggling-to-walk-toddler—parenting an older kid requires tremendous mental fortitude. And I’m not sure I have the skills necessary to survive the next few years. Here’s where I’m falling short:

Scheduling Prowess I need military-level precision to keep track of all the school projects, teacher meetings and extracurriculars—something a girl once voted most disorganized by a jury of her peers simply can’t muster.  I used to be horrified when I read stories of moms using their minivan as a traveling office/dinner table/living room, until my daughters began to fill every day with their various extracurricular passions. And now, my car comes stocked with paper towels, an array of snacks (and used wrappers), and is my regular conference call spot (thank God for Bluetooth!).

Mind Reader My daughter has developed a split personality, as she straddles the precarious line between childhood and adulthood. One minute, she’s begging me to let her watch The Fault in Our Stars—the next, she’s saying that she’s not too old for Sophia the First. And I’m never quite sure whether I’m talking to the grownup or the kiddo, which makes it hard to determine whether any suggestion I make is going to be greeted with a dramatic eye roll and sigh or excited exuberance. It’s hard to find that happy medium, where I’m allowing her to learn and grow, but not learn too much, too fast. So, despite the fact that I hear that every other parent in the fifth grade lets their children Snapchat on cell phones and watch Walking Dead marathons, we’re sticking by our guns.

Peace Maker I simply don’t have the negotiation skills necessary to get my girls to stop the battles and bickering and actually be the loving sisters I know they are, deep, deep (deep) down inside. I’d love to just tell my children to work it out themselves, but that often leads to tears and pain (and not just for me).

Book Smarts I was a straight A student when I was in school, but apparently I killed a lot of brain cells between then and now, or they decided to rewrite the curriculum just to make me look like the village idiot. Either way, there were things in fourth grade math that had me stumped, and I’m frankly a bit nervous about what comes next. I hope my daughters can teach me.

I’ve talked a bit about my struggles with tween parenting with my mom, and she just chuckles. “Wait until they hit the teens,” she says, ominously. “That’s when parenting really gets tough.” I hope I can survive it.

Tell us: Which age was the toughest for you as a parent? Why was that? Keep up with your kiddo through every age and stage through our Parents.com newsletters.

Mom Confessions: My Latest Parenting Fail
Mom Confessions: My Latest Parenting Fail
Mom Confessions: My Latest Parenting Fail

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