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I was twenty-three years old, naïve, and ready for my first full-time teaching position. I had just spent twelve weeks in a long-term substitute position for a fifth-grade classroom. It was the end of Spring, and I knew that I might be called in for interviews for the upcoming school year.  I had been a substitute teacher for a year and I was ready for my own classroom.

I decided it might be beneficial to get advice from the principal at the school where I did my long-term substitute position. I scheduled to meet with him after school. I let him know that I was looking for a full-time job and if he could give me some advice about interviewing and what I should expect. I don’t remember him giving me any helpful information. He said a few things, laughed a little and said, “Really, all you need to know is just look pretty.”

Yup, that was it, folks. My four years of college and all my efforts to become a credited teacher were summed up in three words- Just.Look.Pretty.

I remember turning a bit red and embarrassed at his response. I chatted a bit more but I realized he had no advice for me and THAT was his answer.

Now the present-day-forty-something-me would have probably got in my car and drove to the School Board office to kindly let them know Mr. Principal was a misogynist pig— or something to that effect. But my twenty-three-year-old-self lacked self-confidence and boldness. I didn’t know how to respond.  I just wanted a teaching position.

After that, I knew that I didn’t want to work in that school. Mr. Principal’s comments made me uncomfortable, but I really couldn’t pinpoint why. They weren’t harmful, but they were disrespectful. I started to think about all the teachers in that school, and I noticed there was a common theme. Most of them were thin, pretty, and all female.  In fact, I remember the interactions many of those female teachers had with Mr. Principal. They flirted and they stroked his ego. It was an environment that I often felt uncomfortable and out of place in. It was like High School all over again. I wasn’t going to be making out with any football players, so I wasn’t a part of the popular crowd (or some other High School cliche situation).

I tell this whole scenario to say this; we are all responsible for creating an atmosphere of respect. In a society where sexual harassment in the workplace seems to be a disease, let’s acknowledge that sometimes it starts with women to set the standard. Mr. Principal was a jerk. No question about that. But I watched many other female teachers laugh at his crassness and flirt in the most inappropriate way. They helped to create a climate where he was very comfortable in being unprofessional.  Now I don’t know if anything was going on besides flirtation and ignorant behavior, but it was enough to make me feel devalued in my role there as a teacher. I have often wondered, would he have made those comments if the other teachers held him to a higher standard?

I learned a valuable lesson from that experience. Respect begins with me.

Looking back, I wish I would have been able to respond to Mr. Principal and put him in his place. He needed a lecture on respect for women, especially young women.  But I don’t put this story in the context of men verse women or equality. It’s simply about treating everyone with respect.  We (men and women) all have the choice to set our standards high in the workplace. We can enable a disrespectful atmosphere just as much as we can directly show disrespect. Our actions or failure to act have consequences. We can complain and point fingers, or we can set the standard for how we ALL want to be treated.

Now my story did have a happy ending. I taught in another school with an admirable male principal who helped me become a better teacher. He valued me as a young teacher, and I respected him for his leadership and experience. It’s amazing what can happen when respect begets respect.

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The gay marriage debate is front and center right now and if you are like me you are probably tired of all the equal signs and posts from either side of the argument. I have my own religiously held views about gay marriage but that’s not what I want to write about here. If you step back a little about the bigger picture of this issue than it’s important to look at exactly what is being discussed – Marriage!

What is marriage is the question being posed before the Supreme Court. What is marriage is the question we all need to ask ourselves. Quite frankly it is a bit hypocritical for the Christian believers to uphold the sanctity of marriage when the divorce rate among Christians is almost as high as with in the secular community.

I don’t have some great theological definition of what marriage is or should be. I only have my life experience of being married for almost 17 years. What I do know is that the equal sign has nothing to do with marriage. Early on in my marriage I bought in to society’s lie of equal partnership and that 50/50 equation of love and respect. The more I tallied up my results in my marriage the more I came up with an uneven score. I realized that keeping score is exhausting in a relationship and the more I did the more unhappy I was in my marriage. When I decided to let go of the equality equation, I began to feel what the sanctity of marriage was all about.

It is basically all about faith. It is the belief that even in the most difficult times my marriage will stand and live up to the vows we both made to each other. What a reflection of my faith in God. Like my marriage, I too have made a commitment to Christ. I have not always been the most faithful contributing partner in my union with Christ. However, God is always there to forgive and love me when I have broken that love and respect. I don’t hold score in my faith with God and I shouldn’t in my relationship with my husband. Marriage is a mirror of God’s love in an earthly form. It’s a daily reminder that among the ups and downs of life God is there loving me and devoted to me even through my marriage.

I don’t think the reflection of Christ in marriage is spoken enough with in the Christian community. Perhaps it is lost in psychological methods and reasoning. In the marriage debate in society it is all about equal love and respect. However, it is easy to love and respect someone just as easy as it is to break it. If our expectations of marriage are so equally calculated than it is understandable why so many people don’t live up to them. For me, understanding God’s depth of love for me has helped me to realize what exactly the sanctity of marriage is. It is a holy vow that cannot be put into any mathematical equation because faith cannot be calculated.

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character-that is the goal of true education.”    –  Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have always wondered what Martin Luther King, Jr.’s opinion would be regarding affirmative action. I think if he were still alive today he would agree that racially we have come a long way in this country. However, as a man who fought tirelessly for others to judge on the basis of character and not color, would affirmative action be his idea of racial progress?

My daughter recently filled out an application for a “specialty” high school. This school is extremely competitive and the requirements to apply are supposed to be based solely on academic performance. We both went to an introduction to the school and I was very impressed. Those of us sitting in the auditorium were of various races and cultures and I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of excitement. If my daughter was accepted she would have the opportunity to go to school with not only students who are committed to their education but with diverse cultures.

She began the application process and was filling out her paperwork and asked me what she should fill out for the race question. I told her (like I do myself on all forms) to leave it blank. “I can’t, she explained. It says I have to fill it out or the application will be considered incomplete.” Sure enough on this form the race question was not optional. In fact, she had to find her code to fill in. There were over 20 options you could fill out depending on your ethnicity with up to three combinations of your blending cultures. My daughter had one option…white. I guess her Irish or Slovakia heritage didn’t count because the color of her skin is simply white.

My disappointment about this application is not because they require you to define your specific ethnicity or even that they don’t bother to realize that the white race is also diverse. My frustration is that now no matter who applies to this school whether it be my daughter or any other student of any ethnicity, race is a factor. That simple box with that specific code tells me that education, character and intelligence are not the primary focus of that school. A student may or may not be accepted to that school but the question of whether race was a deciding factor will always be an issue.

My generation grew up on the pendulum upswing of the Civil Rights Movement. We were taught the injustices of inequality and we were raised to not view people based on the color of their skin. Yet almost fifty years later, we still have to fill out that race box for almost every application process whether it is for a job or an education opportunity. Has Affirmative Action really balanced out the pendulum swing or is it just swinging back the opposite way? Why is the color of a person’s skin still a factor in our society? I know one thing. Martin Luther King Jr. understood that character and intelligence are not tied to the color of one’s skin. I am teaching my daughter that principle even if our educational institutions cannot think critically beyond their own reasons for racial preferences.