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The Stinky Cheese Man Wants Guys to Read

By Ellen Bari

We’re all born psycho-sexual neutral. Isn’t that what we were taught in Developmental Psychology classes in college? How many times did you think back to those days while watching your baby boy or girl, and think: that teacher DEFINITELY did not have kids! No matter how hard we try to avoid buying into stereotypes for our children, at some point, most of them inevitably express gender-typical behavior. Unfortunately, reading has become one those behaviors where the gender differences are clear.

For Jon Scieszka (rhymes with Fresca), author of the Stinky Cheese Man and other hilarious, ground-breaking children’s books, the disparity in reading levels between boys and girls has become a kind of cause celebre. Recently, I had the good fortune to spend an intimate evening at a Women in Children’s Media  (WICM) Writer’s Workshop with the wildly funny and charming Scieszka.  For the past ten years, he has been studying gender differences in reading. He has learned the following: for the last 30 years, the U.S. Department of Education reading tests show that boys score lower than girls in every age group; eighth grade boys are 50 percent more likely to be held back than girls, and college enrollment is higher for girls than boys (60/40 ratio). Instead of simply sounding the alarm, Scieszka has devoted his creative efforts to addressing this issue, including developing a website resource to catch ‘em young, called Guys Read.

 Scieszka grew up in Flint, Michigan, one of six boys. His father was a school principal and his mother, a nurse. The brothers’ preferred method of communication was wrestling, although Scieszka learned early that, “if you could tell a story at the dinner table that made people laugh, you got more food.”  Growing up, he did not know anyone who was a writer, but was lucky that his father was a reader and a great literacy role model. It was only when Scieszka became a teacher in NYC, the lone male surrounded by females, that he saw boys avoiding reading. One of the problems appeared to be that all the book choices are made by women.

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Racing to Nowhere While Waiting for Superman

By Ellen Bari

There are two documentary films about our messed up education system that all mothers should see: Race to Nowhere and Waiting for Superman. Both end with a clear call to action.  

Race to Nowhere is directed by a mom, Vicki H. Abeles, who was so upset by watching the children in her family, and in her community, implode from external pressure to perform and unrealistic expectations, that she decided to make her first feature documentary. Her call to action is directed to specific audiences: parents, teachers, administrators, students.  In the director’s words, “childhood has become indentured to test scores, performance and competition. We face an epidemic of unhealthy, disengaged, unprepared kids trying to manage as best they can.”

In Waiting for Superman, the exquisite graphics that are the hallmark of Academy Award-winning director and producer Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth), make clear that the responsibility comes down to one person…you.  Waiting for Superman attempts to spell out the trajectory that has led our public education system into its current state of decline. The film condemns policies that insure tenure for teachers, no matter how ineffectual they are, as well as the polar disparity between schools in good neighborhoods and bad neighborhoods where the children continue to be grossly under-served by the system. The film also highlights a number of successful educational institutions led by a small number of visionaries in the U.S.  today, and implies that if these people were able to make miracles happen, salvation can come from any one of us.

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Career vs. Paycheck: The Working Mother Report

Working Mother summarized a recent study they conducted, in which they attempted to get a read on how working moms feel about their lives. The results may, or may not, surprise you.

By Melinda Dodd & Teresa Palagano

Working Mother asked working moms what they think about their lives. their spouse’s role in the family and all the rest. Our biggest surprise was finding out that how you think about work colors everything. If you consider your job a career then you seem to be happier with life as a whole. If you see it as a paycheck only, then you are less likely to be satisfied.  Maybe you agree or not...

...Now that more than half of the people on American payrolls are women, and moms are the primary or co-breadwinners in almost two thirds of all families, women like Alexandrea are transforming much more than open spaces. American families are under construction as we rethink who works, who stays home to care for the kids and why we work. To mark the 25th anniversary of the Working Mother 100 Best Companies initiative, we joined forces with Ernst & Young, IBM and Procter & Gamble to conduct a national survey that examines moms in the workplace. “What Moms Think: Career vs. Paycheck, The Working Mother Report’’ takes a hard look at how working moms are perceived—both how we see our own roles and how others see us. We heard from more than 4,600 people across the country, including working mothers, stay-at-home moms, working dads and singles in the workplace, who revealed the attitude adjustments that have taken place since our list debuted. The juggling, struggling, nurturing and negotiating that happen in our homes and in our offices are more complex—and important—than ever because how women in the workplace think and behave is reshaping our cultural landscape. Click here to read full article


All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting 

By Jennifer Senior

The title of an article in New York magazine, All Joy and No Fun, is followed by a sensational , and disturbing,  tagline:  Why Parents Hate Parenting. Is that really what’s going on? And if so, is this generation of parents any different from those who came before us? The article includes some fascinating international studies from the past few years, many of which have concluded similar results. One theory for this dissatisfaction is that the “experience of raising kids has fundamentally changed.” Maybe our child-centered approach, that has compelled some of us to view parenting as a competitive sport, is sucking the fun out of the experience.  While happiness appears to be the Mecca state of being we are all aspiring to, it would seem to me that there are tremendous variations in individual interpretation. And though most parents are probably not overjoyed with the minutiae involved in the day-to-day responsibilities of parenting, the experience still offers an overall sense of purpose. The rewards that parenting provides in the big picture, might be getting lost in the “Am I happy now?” question, especially if you’re checking your watch every hour for an internal status update.  

Then of course there’s this:  “More generous government policies, a sounder economy, a less pressured culture that values good rather than perfect kids—all of these would certainly make parents happier.”  Some of these issues were raised recently at a stimulating Momasphere/Park Slope Parents Career Networking panel discussion of Sharon Lerner’s book The War on Moms, which finds the overall well-being of mom’s in the US today sorely lacking behind most industrial nations.  The article is an interesting read, filled with lots of little gems like this one: “We’ve put all this energy into being perfect parents,” says Judith Warner, author of Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, “instead of political change that would make family life better.”

There was a day a few weeks ago when I found my 2½-year-old son sitting on our building doorstep, waiting for me to come home. He spotted me as I was rounding the corner, and the scene that followed was one of inexpressible loveliness, right out of the movie I’d played to myself before actually having a child, with him popping out of his babysitter’s arms and barreling down the street to greet me. This happy moment, though, was about to be cut short, and in retrospect felt more like a tranquil lull in a slasher film. When I opened our apartment door, I discovered that my son had broken part of the wooden parking garage I’d spent about an hour assembling that morning. This wouldn’t have been a problem per se, except that as I attempted to fix it, he grew impatient and began throwing its various parts at the walls, with one plank very narrowly missing my eye. I recited the rules of the house (no throwing, no hitting). He picked up another large wooden plank. I ducked. He reached for the screwdriver. The scene ended with a time-out in his crib.

As I shuffled back to the living room, I thought of something a friend once said about the Children’s Museum of Manhattan—“a nice place, but what it really needs is a bar”—and rued how, at that moment, the same thing could be said of my apartment. Two hundred and 40 seconds earlier, I’d been in a state of pair-bonded bliss; now I was guided by nerves, trawling the cabinets for alcohol. My emotional life looks a lot like this these days. I suspect it does for many parents—a high-amplitude, high-frequency sine curve along which we get the privilege of doing hourly surfs. Yet it’s something most of us choose. Indeed, it’s something most of us would say we’d be miserable without.

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The Creativity Crisis: For the first time, research shows that American creativity is declining. What went wrong—and how we can fix it.

By Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

Have you found yourself bemoaning the paucity of creative outlets in your life? Well, you’re not alone.  It probably comes as no surprise that research shows that as a country, our creativity, is declining significantly.  In fact, according to a recent Newsweek article, America is going through a creativity crisis. Two culprits seem quite obvious:  too much TV, and schools that don’t nurture creativity, but while other countries have become focused on the importance of creativity training, the U.S .lags far behind. Most people equate creativity with artistic ability, but the reality is quite different. Finding answers to our toughest questions requires creative problem solving in order to generate original ideas and effective responses to issues as diverse as the hideous oil spill in the Gulf to the war in Afghanistan.  

As moms, if we take the time to re-claim some space for our own creative selves, we will see incredible changes in how we feel  and the trickle down impact on our families, friends and colleagues will be palpable.  The article below talks about how left and right brains need to be working together to form a cohesive whole.  Momasphere is teaming up with creativity guru Whitney Ferre, whose Creatively Fit programs and book address that very challenge, helping you “get your right brain muscle ‘in shape’ so that you can realize your potential and create a fulfilled and inspired life.” Momasphere and Whitney will be offering an exciting 4-week online course that will culminate with a creative group activity led by Whitney here in Brooklyn. We’ll be including details about the course soon, and talking more about creativity and the benefits of tapping into that part of ourselves over the next few weeks, so if you’re not already on the Momasphere list, sign up here to find out all about it. In the meantime, the article below might serve as a wonderful wake-up call to each of us and the larger community.

The potential consequences are sweeping. The necessity of human ingenuity is undisputed. A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 “leadership competency” of the future. Yet it’s not just about sustaining our nation’s economic growth. All around us are matters of national and international importance that are crying out for creative solutions, from saving the Gulf of Mexico to bringing peace to Afghanistan to delivering health care. Such solutions emerge from a healthy marketplace of ideas, sustained by a populace constantly contributing original ideas and receptive to the ideas of others.

It’s too early to determine conclusively why U.S. creativity scores are declining. One likely culprit is the number of hours kids now spend in front of the TV and playing videogames rather than engaging in creative activities. Another is the lack of creativity development in our schools. In effect, it’s left to the luck of the draw who becomes creative: there’s no concerted effort to nurture the creativity of all children.

Around the world, though, other countries are making creativity development a national priority. In 2008 British secondary-school curricula—from science to foreign language—was revamped to emphasize idea generation, and pilot programs have begun using Torrance’s test to assess their progress. The European Union designated 2009 as the European Year of Creativity and Innovation, holding conferences on the neuroscience of creativity, financing teacher training, and instituting problem-based learning programs—curricula driven by real-world inquiry—for both children and adults. In China there has been widespread education reform to extinguish the drill-and-kill teaching style. Instead, Chinese schools are also adopting a problem-based learning approach.

Plucker recently toured a number of such schools in Shanghai and Beijing. He was amazed by a boy who, for a class science project, rigged a tracking device for his moped with parts from a cell phone. When faculty of a major Chinese university asked Plucker to identify trends in American education, he described our focus on standardized curriculum, rote memorization, and nationalized testing. “After my answer was translated, they just started laughing out loud,” Plucker says. “They said, ‘You’re racing toward our old model. But we’re racing toward your model, as fast as we can.’ ” Click here to read the whole article.


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