What is my lane?

One of the most important things I’ve grappled with as a teacher is how to be empathetic, caring, and supportive to students while not crossing ethical boundaries. My work in Trauma-Informed Pedagogy (TIP) has been a big part of this, as have my studies of pedagogy, psychology, sociology, leadership, and ethics. But it goes back even further—when I was an undergraduate voice student and later a young professional opera singer, most of the voice teachers I interacted with were super fused with their students in one way or another. They gave relationship advice, screamed at us, critiqued our bodies, and in some cases, had intimate relationships with us. This happened across the field also with conductors, directors, and other people in positions of authority.

I sometimes joke (but not really) that I got a degree in leadership and ethics because my former career had none. This is an oversimplification—what we often had was leadership in the absence of ethics. The “artist temperament” was used to gloss over things like psychological abuse, sexual assault, and sexual harassment. I witnessed many instances of highly effective, but totally unethical leadership in my first career. A talented conductor can still be an asshole and a sexual predator. A seasoned director can produce an amazing show and also be a cruel sociopath. They’re not mutually exclusive and they don’t cancel each other out. But we didn’t have HR departments watching for violations of statutes like the ADA, or the Civil Rights Act, or Title IX. We should have—but we didn’t.

I left opera because something was deeply wrong with the field and my growing awareness of this wrongness made it impossible to stay. While some of my experiences with singing were transcendent, it didn’t change the fact that it was mostly dehumanizing and awful. Auditions just sucked. Singing for a bunch of people whose job was to disqualify me, over and over again, sucked the joy right out of me. Being in a field where it is perfectly acceptable to be discriminated against for your beauty, size, height, race, and many other things that have nothing to do with your voice and musicianship was just ugly and demeaning. Having to explain to my voice teachers that emotional abuse was 1) unacceptable and 2) ineffective, got really old after fifteen years. Don’t even get me started on sexual harassment. It was so normalized that it barely registered on my radar. Decades later, in the wake of #metoo, I had to take a hard look at many of my experiences and recognize that they were often coercive and nonconsensual.

So a good part of the rest of my life (age 30 on) has been centered around figuring out who I am, what I’m good at, and what my lane is. There’s a lot of crowing about “staying in your lane” on social media or directed at artists whose opinions differ from their fans or whatever, but I mean it in a different way. Here are the big questions I’ve been asking myself over the last 20 years:

  • What am I really gifted at?
  • What makes me feel fulfilled?
  • What are the healthy limits around my assigned roles (such as mother, wife, teacher, and friend)?
  • What do healthy boundaries look like when I have a lot more power than the people I work with? (What are the ethical limits to my relationships with students? To my child?)
    • How do I support my child without diminishing or parentifying them?
    • How do I support my students but not attempt to take responsibility for problems I am not qualified to handle (drug addiction, eating disorders, mental illness, traumatic events)?
  • Where is the line between support and caring, and crossing into territory that needs to be handled by someone in a different lane, like a therapist, or nutritionist, or doctor? How do I hold that line compassionately?
  • How do I hold space for other people’s emotions and experiences while making sure my own boundaries are healthy and not fused? (If I experience secondary trauma from hearing about a traumatic event, how do I manage that?)
  • Where do I have the right to speak authoritatively and where do I not? (I piss off a very small percentage of white dudes each academic year who think that talking about the developmental effects of family child separation or racism is somehow not based in the science of my discipline. It is, but I am not an authority on many things and should not speak to them authoritatively. )
  • How does my positionality—my privilege and place in society, limit or increase the ways in which I should take up space?
    • When am I ethically obligated to speak out?
    • When am I ethically obligated to leave space for others to speak out?
    • When should I give up my space to others so they can be heard?

All of these questions have come up repeatedly during my academic teaching career. I’ve done a whole lot of ranting about the empathy gap among my colleagues, but some of that comes from our utter lack of training. College teachers are not taught how to teach. We’re not taught the ethics of teaching (and grad school is at least exploitative and often abusive so we don’t have good examples). We’re not taught to recognize how our privilege affects how we perceive our students’ struggles. We’re definitely not taught how to handle student trauma or crisis. K-12 teachers do certifications and ongoing education, but we are assumed to have everything we need because we know a bunch of stuff about one area of scholarship. We’re not taught how the ADA, Civil Rights Act, and Title IX affect our students and our jobs, beyond surface-levelˆ mandated training. So it’s somewhat understandable that my colleagues balk when I talk about understanding and responding to student trauma. Nobody told them that was part of the job—but it is.

I’ve gone about finding the answers to these questions in a variety of ways. I’ve talked to my therapists about things like processing secondary trauma and holding healthy boundaries. I’ve studied psychological theories that help me understand how and when unhealthy fusion and transference happen and how to avoid it. I’ve studied and explored many spiritual paths to understand what makes me feel centered and fulfilled. And I’ve studied ethics and leadership to understand the responsibilities that come with power. Most recently, I’ve learned about social justice, intersectionality, and the history of oppressions in the US in an attempt to better serve my diverse students and community and to minimize the harm I can thoughtlessly cause with my privilege. I’ve also leaned on my TAs, who are often from different backgrounds and have different knowledge areas. I still have to be aware of power distance—because I am their pseudo-employer—but recognizing that people with less status may have more experience or knowledge than I do in a given area has saved my ass many a time.

This is not a checklist for perfection. In fact, I think humility is possibly the best trait to cultivate if you have the ability to influence others. If you are in a position where you teach or parent or treat or manage other humans, you need to cultivate humility. I have fucked up on all of these things many times. But if I had fucked up, rationalized it, and moved on, I would have continued to do harm and I would be an unethical jerk. Unfortunately, those of us driven to learn all the things, like academics, or be the best at things, like artists, often resort to defensiveness rather than recognizing that we don’t know everything and our power gives us many opportunities to cause harm. The challenge of fucking up is recognizing that it is also an opportunity for growth. I know one more thing that I didn’t know before, and I can choose not make that mistake next time.

Early in my teaching career, I was having adult undergraduates build personal websites for a career development course. I required that all of them put good headshots on their home pages. One student kept avoiding it. I tried to explain that it was really important, but she avoided discussing it with me. We became friends after she graduated, and one night over cocktails, she told me it was because her culture doesn’t think it’s okay for a woman to put her picture on the internet, and her family would judge her. It had never crossed my mind that it was a cultural thing. It should have, but it didn’t, because I am super white and just didn’t think to ask. Now I do. I have my students do LinkedIn profiles with photos, but I also give them a pass on it if they tell me they don’t want to include a photo for any reason. So for the low, low price of apologizing to my former student for being an idiot, I learned something that positively affected all my future students.

When I taught people my own age, I would respond to overtures of friendship if I was interested and I was no longer their teacher. As I moved to traditional undergraduates, it became clear this would not work. There is too much power distance between a 45-year-old professor and a 20-year-old undergraduate. This doesn’t mean that my relationship with all my students ends when they graduate—I remain available to those that are interested, but in a mentorship role, not a friendship role. We chat over zoom about career stuff, they update me on their grad school admissions, or sometimes just ask for advice. While with adult undergraduates I had to prove my worth as an authority figure in their age range, with traditional undergraduates I have to break down some of the power distance in order to engage them fully in the material, but not to the extent that I pretend I’m one of them. I think of my role as “weird professor aunt” rather than “weird peer with specific knowledge.”

I figured all of this out on my own, and with the help of my own good professors, therapists, and friends. I learned by example, both good and bad, and I learned from my many, many mistakes. Parenting, too, is an endless exercise in humility, guilt, joy, pride, and frustration. Our society makes a huge mistake by discounting the experiences of parenthood on the workplace. I was a far less empathetic person before I had a kid and had to face my daily failures. I used to freak out every time I had to teach attachment theory because I was sure I had totally fucked up my kid. I was also far less forgiving of myself and others. Eventually, I realized that nobody does parenting perfectly because there’s no such thing. You’re different people and sometimes you don’t mesh. And sometimes you have to pass the ball to another person. When my kid was having anxiety after a couple of really scary life events, I got them a therapist because I knew that helping them work through the trauma was not something I could do on my own.

The same thing applies to my students—I’m a caring, responsible adult, but I’m not a doctor, psychiatrist, therapist, or nutritionist. I have a list of those people to refer them to when needed. And I have my own people for when I need the same help.

Anyway, I think this is the beginning of a larger body of work. I think knowing your lane is the heart of what I’ve tried to do and be in the second half of my life, and I think it can be helpful to others. How have you learned what your lane is? And how have you learned what it isn’t?

To my fellow educators at the end of another hard year of teaching

We all need grace, and that includes our students.

Education has always been a difficult field in the US. It’s underpaid, under-resourced, and underappreciated. This differs between primary, secondary, and higher ed, but less than we often think. We hear stories about elementary school teachers having to buy their own classroom supplies because of funding shortages (or lack of regard for their value). In higher ed, we don’t have to deal with that, but we are not tenure track, we often make significantly less money than our colleagues in k-12 (fun fact!). The pandemic has worsened all of this; as a result, many of us are seeking an exit from a field where the work itself is deeply fulfilling, but the surrounding support systems range from woefully inadequate to exploitative and abusive.

Financial stress is a special kind of hell, as is trying to parent while teaching during a time of upheaval and stress. My K-12 colleagues in red states are under increasing pressure to dumb down their curriculum and avoid discussing important social issues like systemic racism or recognizing and supporting the gender and sexual identities of their students. It’s a bit more subtle in higher ed, but we also face censure if we piss off the wrong people by talking about objective reality in our country. It sucks, it’s stressful, and many of us are burnt out and disillusioned.

But this is what we’re not going to do: We are not going to take this garbage out on our students. I’ve written about the empathy gap in higher ed, and I will be reiterating some stuff from that piece and others I’ve written.

I have become increasingly alarmed by the lack of empathy and flexibility teachers are giving their students. In my state, this often takes the form of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, and that’s just for starters. I know it’s been a rough few years. I know many of us are past our breaking points. But our students do not deserve to bear the brunt of our anxiety and frustrations. It is the systems that have failed us, not our students. They are often suffering worse than we are, if only we would stop and ask how they are.

It would take me half a book to catalog the stories of trauma I have heard from my students. And another quarter of that book to cover all the ways their teachers have ignored, debased, invalidated, or worsened their situations. At least in higher ed, where I talk to teachers regularly, there seems to be increasing rigidity and heartlessness when it comes to student trauma. So once again, I’m going to ask you some hard questions:

  1. What do you gain by assuming the worst of your students? Really think about it.
  2. What do you lose by offering students grace and flexibility? Does it change the nature of your class? (Hint: it shouldn’t if your class is accessible.)
  3. What do you risk by violating the ADA? (Hint – your job, your institution’s funding (especially in K-12), federal investigations, and lawsuits)
  4. How would you want to be treated by others if you were traumatized by the loss of a parent, or sexual assault, or chronic illness, or a cancer diagnosis? Are you affording your students the same level of care you would want from others? If not, why?

I’ve heard teachers claim that they can’t offer students with documented chronic illness the opportunity to retake an exam they missed because they were incapacitated. I’ve heard teachers say that they don’t offer flexible deadlines to students with documented disabilities because “it isn’t fair to everyone else.” This is the ableist version of “I don’t see color.” Yes, you do, Mary. We are all biased and prejudiced; that’s the point of the few laws that try to prevent rampant discrimination. Our brains are wired to generalize when we don’t have enough information to process something new. With our gigantic teacher brains, we can, in fact, ask questions and learn about what our students need and how to help them succeed. It just seems as if we don’t actually care.

We are all exhausted, and many of us are traumatized, many times over. Unfortunately, our field has it’s own brand of generational trauma that normalizes taking out our discomfort on our students and graduate students without any real thought about the ethics of such a use of our power. News flash: It’s not ethical. It’s just normalized.

So here are some things to consider as you wrap up the academic year.

  1. Flexibility is not anathema to rigor. I can not tell you how many times I’ve heard it framed as if it is. My students only get credit for the work they complete; I just give them flexibility on timelines if warranted and possible. It’s not rocket science.
  2. Accommodations are not unfair. Equity means giving all students access to the same resources, which means helping students who can’t access those things to get to them. A ramp for a person in a wheelchair does not make it unfair to people who take the stairs. Use your brain.
  3. Boundaries and empathy are not mutually exclusive. Many teachers have balked when I’ve explained the fundamentals of Trauma-Informed Pedagogy to them. “I don’t want students to tell me their problems.” You don’t have to invite students to share trauma (in fact, I don’t advise it because you are not a therapist), but you should know how to help them when they do. Which leads me to:
  4. Know your lane (and the law) and don’t take on stuff you shouldn’t. Sometimes students trauma dump because they are in distress. Have a list of good resources to refer them to for professional help, and seek it yourself if you experience secondary trauma. Compassion and empathy, however, are not therapy and are something you should be prepared to offer when possible. Your school’s Title IX office, ADA office, and Dean of Student’s office should have resources to help you navigate murky situations.

I recognize that this advice leaves out the lack of emotional, cultural, and financial support in our institutions and culture. We should not be expected to do so much with so little, but neither should our students. For me, while I am in this field, it is an ethical imperative that I recognize my responsibility toward my students as fellow humans. This does not absolve our institutions of their failures, but it also may help us break the cycles of abuse that have existed in our field for so long.

Anti-Fat Bias in Academia

The monetization of self-hate in science.

I teach in the human development department, in the school of human ecology, in a natural sciences college at a major university. Yes, that is a mouthful. University>College>School>Department. This will be important to my story so listen up.

During my first year of teaching at this institution, I encountered a couple of instances of discrimination or prevalent fatphobia. As the years have progressed (5 of them so far), and I became more engaged with faculty committees and such, I have encountered many more.

Before I start cataloging the shit I’ve seen (and experienced directly) I want to establish some evidence-based facts. Fat bodies are not inherently unhealthy. Fat people often live longer than thin people. While some diseases are correlated with (not caused by) higher weight, weight loss does not cure them. Intentional Weight Loss (IWL), otherwise known as dieting, does not last, and almost always results in regaining the weight lost, and often more. However, anti-fat bias in healthcare can affect your health through underdiagnosis or misdiagnosis of symptoms. Exercise and a varied diet are both very good for your health but do not necessarily make you thinner. Healthism, or the idea that healthy people are superior to unhealthy people, is based in bigotry and prejudice. The roots of fatphobia are in white supremacy and racism, both in culture and in western science.

In essence, one’s appearance and weight do not determine their health, happiness, or lifespan. This is all well documented and researched, but is only starting to make its way into the public consciousness.

So back to my job. In my first semester, I taught a class on the socioeconomics of families and children. It was my first sociology-based class and it was pretty fun. I inherited a good syllabus from the previous teacher, and it included a formal research paper. Working late into the night to finish grading at the end of the semester, I read a paper about childhood obesity written by a Nutrition major. She claimed that the Body Positive movement was bad—because diabetes. I was pretty upset by this, as a fat woman and the teacher of the class. It felt pointed. I learned not to grade papers late at night when my defenses were low. I also learned (from other students) that the Nutrition department had a lot of students with untreated eating disorders and pathologizing fatness was very common. Nutrition is part of the School of Human Ecology (remember my flow chart?) so this comes up again later. The other departments are Textiles & Apparel and Public Health.

Next up, senior theses. I gained popularity as a teacher pretty quickly and my classes filled up. I was also asked to be the first or second reader (supervisor) on a variety of senior theses (these are research projects like master’s theses but for honors students in undergrad). When I went to my first day of presentations of these works, almost every single one was about the horrors of obesity and how to make fat people less fat. It was deeply uncomfortable. I learned to show up for my students’ presentations and then leave quickly.

There were a few other incidents in my first couple of years. I had a TA whose research was on how parents could make fat kids less fat, and she told me, to my actual fat face, that she had to be thin because she had to set a good example for her research. Yeah, that happened.

I need to backtrack for a second. When I was finishing my Ph.D. and freaking the hell out about how to pay it off, I looked at think tanks as possible places of employment. I found many of them doing research on the so-called obesity epidemic, but not any particularly interested in fat discrimination. That was my first clue that funding research that problematizes fatness is big money in academia. I already knew that the diet industry made tons of money off of people’s insecurity and fears, and that patriarchy was all about social control, but I hadn’t realized how monetized the research was. I was long past the point in my life where I felt like I had to perform self-hate while being fat, so this was pretty discouraging.

Anyway, back to the saga. As I’ve written about (and published!) when COVID hit online support became really, really important to my mental health. I met regularly with my Trauma-Informed Pedagogy peeps, who were very anti-fatphobia and pro-eating disorder recovery. That was awesome. I also started going to monthly happy hours with other teaching faculty, and then committee meetings as I became more engaged in university service. I don’t remember any weird moments in the early days, but over the last two years, I’ve noticed some really toxic stuff starting to spill out in these non-student groups. A shortlist of weird shit I’ve seen/heard:

  1. A discussion of the best pies before Thanksgiving in a committee meeting led to someone commenting that the person who liked baking pies was so thin and them talking about how they used to be fat.
  2. A breakout room in a faculty meeting about how to support students where a Nutrition faculty member told the rest of us how they performatively eat salad and use their Peleton during Zoom student meetings to “set a good example” but they secretly like cheese.
  3. A committee meeting where a discussion of favorite Easter candy was ended by a white male faculty member asking how many of us had diabetes (two of us were visibly fat).
  4. The same meeting – a teacher said that students got “soft and flabby” during quarantine and that was why they had sports injuries.
  5. I observed a senior colleague’s class in my department who discussed the health risks of ob***y including a diagram of a “healthy” thin body and an “unhealthy” visibly fat and conventionally unattractive body (both female) without any discussion about the flaws or variations in this research.
  6. A lack of accessibility for both disabled and larger bodies in many classrooms, roads, and building entrances throughout the campus.

On the positive side, my students and grad students seem far, far more aware of the dangers of diet culture than in the past. I see and hear many more discussions of the problems with diet culture and eating disorders than I hear fatphobia from this population, which is an encouraging, welcome change. That said, I’ve had many students confide in me about their EDs and seek treatment, especially during quarantine.

I spoke with one faculty member in Nutrition who was combating diet culture and anti-fat bias. This was because she was assigned a large class with a syllabus that demanded students count calories for a week. While she admitted to me she was in eating disorder recovery, she didn’t rethink the calorie counting assignment until some of her students told her it was harming their recovery. She removed it and started including more Health at Every Size information. I don’t know if she made much progress or not on that front, but at least she was supporting a student-driven change.

To return to the funding issue, consider this: the US government is prohibited by Congress from funding research into gun deaths and injuries as a public health issue, but there is copious funding for why it’s bad to be fat. The reason behind this apparent contradiction is the same: money. The NRA funds a good chunk of the Republican party and has insisted on the block on funding research on gun violence, in spite of it being one of the biggest public health risks in our country (especially compared to other wealthy countries). Meanwhile, continuing to support research that upholds constructed ideas like the “ob***y epidemic” and uses made up and thoroughly discredited measures like BMI to assess individual health is a veritable cash cow.

We cannot change public perception if we continue to uphold and recreate biased assumptions in scientific research design. Anti-fat bias in research intersects and complicates false assumptions about women’s bodies, black bodies, queer bodies, and disabled bodies, all of which are well-researched and deeply harmful. I have a non-exhaustive but significant list of articles and studies on gender and race bias in medicine and research that I share with my students, many of whom will have careers in related areas. It is my hope that my students continue to unpack these biases and critically consume research that upholds inequity in medicine as they progress in their careers.

My students give me hope for the future; unfortunately, many of my colleagues do the opposite. We must stop upholding the hierarchy of bodies if we want academia to be a less toxic place to exist if you are not a thin, hetero, cis-gendered, white man. And finally, we must consider the ethics of research funding. If your funding requires or allows you to build on false assumptions about a marginalized group of people, it’s not ethical.

Disability, Discrimination, and Education in Texas: A Rant

This particular screed will be dedicated to K-12 and my experiences with my kid’s teachers, the school system, and its approach to disability. Mainly. Probably. With some references to Ru Paul’s Drag Race season 14 because it’s relevant, I promise.

I want to acknowledge my experiences and my kid’s experiences are colored by the unfair advantage of a crapton of privilege. This means that the system doesn’t work at all for kids whose parents don’t have the status, time, or language to demand their kids’ basic rights under the constitution. The DOJ has come after Texas for violating disabled’ kids’ rights in the form of anti-mask mandate laws, among others, but this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the rights of disabled kids.

I have had to fight what feels like everyone, all the time, for my kid to get basic accommodations. It started in early elementary school. My kid has a condition called Hereditary Multiple Exostoses. It’s genetic and their dad has it, too. It basically causes them to develop bone growths randomly, all over their body, but particularly at major joints. Accommodations for this vary based on how debilitating it is. My kid has been fairly lucky so far, and the only accommodation they need is to be able to self-limit high-impact exercise because when it hurts like hell that means it’s stressing out joints that have these bone bumps in them.

Their first elementary school PE teacher would punish my kid for walking instead of running or sitting something out by not allowing them to do other activities that they enjoyed. This was the first of many times that I raised holy hell. I had to do it multiple years in a row, and I had to initiate 504 (disability accommodation) meetings before they were planned just to get this idiotic teacher to let my kid exercise in a way that wasn’t harmful to their joint development. My kid was also doing intensive martial arts at the same time, but this teacher assumed that they were just lazy and punished them. I literally sent the woman images of x-rays of the bones of people with HME to demonstrate how my kid’s joints likely looked. She didn’t care. Luckily, their 2nd grade teacher was a badass and watched out for them as much as she could.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that all children are entitled to a free, equal education under the law. Keep that in mind as we proceed.

Side rant via RuPaul’s Drag Race: This season there is a disabled person on the show and the producers have chosen to highlight their “struggles” and “bravery” when faced with barriers to competition from their disability. This violates their rights under the ADA, which also applies to employers and employees. It also demonstrates incredibly poor employment and advocacy practices to everyone who watches it. If you disclose your disability to your employer, THEY MUST PROVIDE YOU WITH ACCOMMODATIONS UNDER THE LAW. Regardless of what some reality show does. Just sayin’.

By the third grade, it was clear that my kid was very verbal and super bright, but was really struggling with learning to read. They kept falling farther and farther behind. In spite of their teachers saying it was unlikely that they were dyslexic, we got them tutoring and got them tested. Turns out they are moderately dyslexic and mildly dysgraphic. So more stuff got added to the 504. We also had some family traumas happen in 2nd and 3rd grade and found them a therapist, who diagnosed them with anxiety, which we also added to the 504. They were also bullied that year. More on that to come. Third grade sucked.

As we were working our way through my kid’s new diagnoses and accommodations it became clear that my kid’s ability to learn and thrive was very much impacted by the teacher, the classroom environment, and the school culture. For example, the school counselor decided that it was a great idea to work with the kids who were being bullied (rather than the kid doing the bullying because ¯\_(ツ)_/¯) When we met with her for my kid’s 504 meeting, she asked us if our kid had sensory issues. I asked why, and was told that when she put her hand on my child’s back FOR NO GODDAMN REASON my kid responded by saying “please don’t touch me without permission.” So I told the counselor, no, my kid did not have sensory issues, they had feminist mom issues and that was an entirely appropriate response.

Fucking hell.

Elementary school #1 was dual language, which was awesome. Unbeknownst to us, however, dual language is a special kind of hell for dyslexic kids. So we decided to transfer them to a smaller school with a good disability program for the remainder of elementary school. Or so we thought.

My kid’s fantastic main teacher at school #2 left a couple of months into the school year (4th grade) and was replaced by an older woman who got in trouble for cursing at the kids the first week. It went downhill from there. She tried to force kids not to go to the bathroom when they needed to, so I wrote a strongly worded letter to the principal about that and some other issues with her teaching stule. Some of it got handled, but she continued to be very combative with my kid, whose anxiety skyrocketed. Meanwhile, the kid was finally in a reading program for dyslexia and was thriving and catching up on their reading and writing skills. We made it through the first semester, and then met with the teacher and administration to update my kid’s 504. The teacher made some of the right noises and seemed willing to follow the rules we had agreed to, but then tanked my kid’s behavioral scores on their report card, likely in retaliation for our taking our issues to the principal.

We realized that this woman had no boundaries, and since she was the only ELA teacher in the 4th grade my kid was trapped unless we transferred. I pulled the district into the conversation and asked her to justify giving my kid vastly inconsistent behavioral scores compared to their previous and other teachers, and why, if these were real, the counselor, vice-principal. or principal was not made aware that my kid was suddenly disruptive on a daily basis. Basically, she either had to admit to lying or to violating my kid’s rights by not reporting behavioral issues properly. She had no good answers. The school did nothing.

We pulled my kid out of that school the next week and moved them to the neighborhood school. It was fine, but a month later schools shut down due to COVID for the rest of the year.

What. A. Clusterfuck.

At the end of the year (4th grade), we found out that the Math teacher at school #2 was going to move to the 5th grade with her class, and she and my kid loved each other. So my kid went back to school #2 for a year of online learning. I STILL had to initiate meetings with the counselor because of various insanity, including an ELA teacher who was, while not evil and conniving like the crazy from the 4th grade, inflexible and unwilling to accommodate my kid’s disability. Nonetheless, they made it through a weird year and managed to stay connected with their fantastic primary teacher and friends through gaming nights and compassion, and a teaching style that worked for multiple types of learners. Also a special shout out to their Dyslexia teacher, who kicked ass at online teaching.

My kid did a lot of Zoom Minecraft with their friends that year and the following summer, and it turned out after they left, the 4th-grade teacher from hell had done stuff like grab kids by the collar, called them “pussies” repeatedly, and trashed the grades of any kids who complained. She’s still teaching at that school. I talked to a friend about it and she said her kid had been in a kindergarten (in Austin) where a teacher had hit a kid – they were suspended for two weeks and put back in the same classroom.

Texas does not care about children’s rights, health, or well-being. Full stop. There are many wonderful teachers and administrators who do, but the system is set up to protect adults and victimize children. The more marginalized the kid, the worse it is for them. So while the new insanity around the rights of trans kids and their families may come as a surprise to those outside the state, it’s par for the course. Texas is ranked 2nd in GDP, 38th in economic well-being, 33rd in education, and 49th in health for children. But sure, let’s pretend that trans kids are the problem instead of a deeply, deeply corrupt state government and insufficient oversight from the federal government.

My kid is now in middle school. And yes, I have spent copious hours chasing down counselors and 504 coordinators and talking to teachers to try and get my kid’s basic rights respected. They are much happier in middle school than elementary school (thank God), read fluently now, and have some fantastic teachers. They also have some asshole teachers who spout unscientific garbage and they have to spend way too much time prepping for a thoroughly discredited standardized test.

After being in the district for seven years, I know enough about who does what to make a concentrated stink to the right people at the right time. So far. But all of this centers around my privilege. I know how to wheedle and intimidate educators, and more importantly, I have the time to do so, as does my attorney husband. We make a pretty good team. Mostly because we are white, educated, and middle-class. If you don’t understand the system, don’t speak English, or don’t have time to advocate for your kid because you are just trying to survive, Texas will do nothing for you or your kids. I met one woman, an executive at a medium-sized local company, who literally hired an assistant to handle her kids’ disability needs with the school system. That is how much time, labor, and money it costs to get your kid’s “free and equal” education in Texas. It is neither free nor equal. Discrimination is systemic, rampant, and unchecked.

My kid was subjected to psychological abuse by their 4th-grade teacher and had an incident this year with a social studies teacher that was pretty messed up. (Follow-up rant about it here.) Nobody cares. But what really freaks me out is what is happening to all the kids who don’t have obnoxious, privileged parents. We see these occasional horror stories about forced hair cutting, or racially motivated arrests, or gender discrimination, but nobody is really looking. Nobody is doing what schools are supposed to be doing – protecting kids’ rights to an education free of abuse and discrimination. My best friend from childhood is a school administrator in California, and I swear I can hear her jaw hit the floor when I’ve described some of the shit we’ve encountered in the Texas school system.

There is no excuse for any of this. For targeting queer kids, for violating the rights of disabled kids, for destroying education with discredited testing, or for the systemic gender and racial discrimination in Texas schools. The measure of a society is how we treat our children, and Texas has failed.

Anti-Fat Bias in Academia: The Monetization of Self-Hate in Science

I teach in the human development department, in the school of human ecology, in a natural sciences college at a major university. Yes, that is a mouthful. University>College>School>Department. This will be important to my story so listen up.

During my first year of teaching at this institution, I encountered a couple of instances of discrimination or prevalent fatphobia. As the years have progressed (5 of them so far), and I became more engaged with faculty committees and such, I have encountered many more.

Before I start cataloging the shit I’ve seen (and experienced directly) I want to establish some evidence-based facts. Fat bodies are not inherently unhealthy. Fat people often live longer than thin people. While some diseases are correlated with (not caused by) higher weight, weight loss does not cure them. Intentional Weight Loss (IWL), otherwise known as dieting, does not last, and almost always results in regaining the weight lost, and often more. However, anti-fat bias in healthcare can affect your health through underdiagnosis or misdiagnosis of symptoms. Exercise and a varied diet are both very good for your health but do not necessarily make you thinner. Healthism, or the idea that healthy people are superior to unhealthy people, is based in bigotry and prejudice. The roots of fatphobia are in white supremacy and racism, both in culture and in western science.

In essence, one’s appearance and weight do not determine their health, happiness, or lifespan. This is all well documented and researched, but is only starting to make its way into the public consciousness.

So back to my job. In my first semester, I taught a class on the socioeconomics of families and children. It was my first sociology-based class and it was pretty fun. I inherited a good syllabus from the previous teacher, and it included a formal research paper. Working late into the night to finish grading at the end of the semester, I read a paper about childhood obesity written by a Nutrition major. She claimed that the Body Positive movement was bad—because diabetes. I was pretty upset by this, as a fat woman and the teacher of the class. It felt pointed. I learned not to grade papers late at night when my defenses were low. I also learned (from other students) that the Nutrition department had a lot of students with untreated eating disorders and pathologizing fatness was very common. Nutrition is part of the School of Human Ecology (remember my flow chart?) so this comes up again later. The other departments are Textiles & Apparel and Public Health.

Next up, senior theses. I gained popularity as a teacher pretty quickly and my classes filled up. I was also asked to be the first or second reader (supervisor) on a variety of senior theses (these are research projects like master’s theses but for honors students in undergrad). When I went to my first day of presentations of these works, almost every single one was about the horrors of obesity and how to make fat people less fat. It was deeply uncomfortable. I learned to show up for my students’ presentations and then leave quickly.

There were a few other incidents in my first couple of years. I had a TA whose research was on how parents could make fat kids less fat, and she told me, to my actual fat face, that she had to be thin because she had to set a good example for her research. Yeah, that happened.

I need to backtrack for a second. When I was finishing my Ph.D. and freaking the hell out about how to pay it off, I looked at think tanks as possible places of employment. I found many of them doing research on the so-called obesity epidemic, but not any particularly interested in fat discrimination. That was my first clue that funding research that problematizes fatness is big money in academia. I already knew that the diet industry made tons of money off of people’s insecurity and fears, and that patriarchy was all about social control, but I hadn’t realized how monetized the research was. I was long past the point in my life where I felt like I had to perform self-hate while being fat, so this was pretty discouraging.

Anyway, back to the saga. As I’ve written about (and published!) when COVID hit online support became really, really important to my mental health. I met regularly with my Trauma-Informed Pedagogy peeps, who were very anti-fatphobia and pro-eating disorder recovery. That was awesome. I also started going to monthly happy hours with other teaching faculty, and then committee meetings as I became more engaged in university service. I don’t remember any weird moments in the early days, but over the last two years, I’ve noticed some really toxic stuff starting to spill out in these non-student groups. A shortlist of weird shit I’ve seen/heard:

  1. A discussion of the best pies before Thanksgiving in a committee meeting led to someone commenting that the person who liked baking pies was so thin and them talking about how they used to be fat.
  2. A breakout room in a faculty meeting about how to support students where a Nutrition faculty member told the rest of us how they performatively eat salad and use their Peleton during Zoom student meetings to “set a good example” but they secretly like cheese.
  3. A committee meeting where a discussion of favorite Easter candy was ended by a white male faculty member asking how many of us had diabetes (two of us were visibly fat).
  4. The same meeting – a teacher said that students got “soft and flabby” during quarantine and that was why they had sports injuries.
  5. I observed a senior colleague’s class in my department who discussed the health risks of ob***y including a diagram of a “healthy” thin body and an “unhealthy” visibly fat and conventionally unattractive body (both female) without any discussion about the flaws or variations in this research.
  6. A lack of accessibility for both disabled and larger bodies in many classrooms, roads, and building entrances throughout the campus.

On the positive side, my students and grad students seem far, far more aware of the dangers of diet culture than in the past. I see and hear many more discussions of the problems with diet culture and eating disorders than I hear fatphobia from this population, which is an encouraging, welcome change. That said, I’ve had many students confide in me about their EDs and seek treatment, especially during quarantine.

I spoke with one faculty member in Nutrition who was combating diet culture and anti-fat bias. This was because she was assigned a large class with a syllabus that demanded students count calories for a week. While she admitted to me she was in eating disorder recovery, she didn’t rethink the calorie counting assignment until some of her students told her it was harming their recovery. She removed it and started including more Health at Every Size information. I don’t know if she made much progress or not on that front, but at least she was supporting a student-driven change.

To return to the funding issue, consider this: the US government is prohibited by Congress from funding research into gun deaths and injuries as a public health issue, but there is copious funding for why it’s bad to be fat. The reason behind this apparent contradiction is the same: money. The NRA funds a good chunk of the Republican party and has insisted on the block on funding research on gun violence, in spite of it being one of the biggest public health risks in our country (especially compared to other wealthy countries). Meanwhile, continuing to support research that upholds constructed ideas like the “ob***y epidemic” and uses made up and thoroughly discredited measures like BMI to assess individual health is a veritable cash cow.

We cannot change public perception if we continue to uphold and recreate biased assumptions in scientific research design. Anti-fat bias in research intersects and complicates false assumptions about women’s bodies, black bodies, queer bodies, and disabled bodies, all of which are well-researched and deeply harmful. I have a non-exhaustive but significant list of articles and studies on gender and race bias in medicine and research that I share with my students, many of whom will have careers in related areas. It is my hope that my students continue to unpack these biases and critically consume research that upholds inequity in medicine as they progress in their careers.

My students give me hope for the future; unfortunately, many of my colleagues do the opposite. We must stop upholding the hierarchy of bodies if we want academia to be a less toxic place to exist if you are not a thin, hetero, cis-gendered, white man. And finally, we must consider the ethics of research funding. If your funding requires or allows you to build on false assumptions about a marginalized group of people, it’s not ethical.

A Tweet-Delineated Rant in Many Parts

So much crazy, so little time.

I don’t have the mental capacity to write individual articles about all of the crazy going on in the world, particularly in Texas right now, so I’m going to rant in response to tweets. Enjoy.

WTF

White professors: DO NOT DO THIS. This is called tokenism and it assumes that a person who shares superficial traits with a group (such as race or gender identity) must be expected to represent that group, explain all their actions, defend them, and generally expend untold amounts of energy for no reason or compensation. Your job as a professor is to first, I don’t know, GOOGLE IT? Wikipedia? TikTok is choc-full of creators talking about the Black experience (trans, nonbinary, disabled, indigenous, and the intersections of all these identities) for free. Read a book. That’s a thing we are supposed to be able to do. And don’t assume that you know someone’s race, culture, religion, history, or experiences based on how they look. Or their health (re: fatphobia), socioeconomic status, or nationality. Just. Freaking. Stop. Also read the comments for a whole slew of just bad, bad learning experiences experienced by minorities.

Disabled people are not less deserving of not dying from Covid.

Freaking THIS. Yes, Mary, I know that you’re tired of being scared and wearing masks and dealing with the Rona. But having the freedom to pretend it’s all over and risking the lives of immunocompromised and disabled people is a crock. It was true two years ago and it’s still freaking true. It turns out people get sick and die even when the numbers are lower than at the peak of a variant surge. We did, and my husband came within about 15 minutes of a very possibly fatal heart attack. Fucking wear your mask and maybe don’t kill a kid in chemo. You know, like a human.

Get a Hobby

Give @fatnutritionist a follow. Bullying fat people is like a national pastime, and yes, Helen, it’s intersectional. I’m all for body positivity/acceptance/neutrality, but pretending that just bucking up and being less sensitive to people telling you to kill yourselves or amputate your stomach will make everything better is nonsensical. We have to live in this world, and, as previously noted, looking at someone does not mean you know anything about them, including their health or lifestyle, and it’s none of your goddamn business. Find something better to do with your time.

Maybe rethink police budgets? Maybe?

I’m just going to leave this right here. Read the thread.

High-stakes testing has ruined US education. Don’t believe me? Look at our rankings.

Read the thread. This is why I haven’t considered working in k-12 education, despite the fact that it pays more than teaching full time at a top university (I shit you not). Even if my state hadn’t muzzled teachers who want to talk about, oh, I don’t know, OBJECTIVE REALITY, I would still have to teach to a test written by people less knowledgeable than me so somebody somewhere can cash in on taxpayer dollars. Not a vibe.

Hahahahah. Hah. Ha.

I love the anti-intellectual set who thinks academics are rolling in dough. A few are; most of us, not so much. Tenured profs at private colleges make about what I make as a non-tenured prof and it is very, very little. Adjunct professors make a fraction of that. So think about it this way: A tenured prof (if they make it through all the bullshit and debt that it takes to get a PhD and get tenured) might make 100k+ at a top research institution, but not many other places. Full-time lecturers will make maybe half that, and adjuncts, about half that again (But with no benefits! Whee!). Academia, bless her rotted soul, gaslights all of us into thinking that unending intellectual and emotional labor doesn’t need to be compensated fairly, and then encourages us to exploit our students. It’s a shell game, which really sucks for those of us who love learning and teaching.

Trauma makes it hard to think.

PTSD can be short-term from a bad year or a really catastrophic experience, or it can be long-term because you were subjected to abuse and/or extreme danger for years or decades (cPTSD). We’ve been in a hell spiral from Covid for 2+ years now and everyone has some trauma (and possibly triggered -retraumatization), and many people have a whole lot of trauma and it’s not ending. Please find a soul and some compassion, and if you have these symptoms, talk to a counselor if you can.

In “Why is Texas?” news…

Criminalizing the parents of trans kids and denying them treatments that prevent suicide to boost your cred during an election year is not classy. 1 in 5 trans and nonbinary kids attempt suicide. Trans inclusive healthcare is suicide prevention. I hope Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton get their asses handed to them by the DoJ and lose their elections. In other news, why isn’t Ken Paxton in jail like three years ago?

Academia is exploitation masquerading as public service.

I see you, grad students. You don’t deserve to be abused and exploited for five years. Most of your profs and advisors stuffed down their own grad school trauma and now take it out on you. Professors: get therapy. I promise you will be happier and less destructive.

What’s for dinner? Word salad!

Um. This GenX leftist totally remembers the cold war and because my dad was a science nerd I knew exactly what would happen after I stopped, dropped, and rolled. A slow painful death from various cancers. Asshole. Also, how drunk was he when he tweeted this? The comments are gold though.

The patriarchal bargain is not cute.

Did I mention you should follow @fatnutritionist? Because you totally should. Patriarchy doesn’t just create hierarchies of race or gender, it creates hierarchies of bodies. Credit to Sonya Rene Taylor for an amazing exploration of this in her book, The body is not an apology. So every time you performatively diet, especially in front of your kids, you’re telling them that they must align themselves with thinness (by either being thin at any cost or by attempting to be thin at any cost) in order to maintain superiority over fat people. Maybe try to not to?

Race is constructed to maintain a hierarchy of bodies. See above.

Fantastic thread on the western construction of “orientalism” and how it affects AAPI actors and Asian and Asian mixed people in general. Get amongst it.

That’s all for now, folks.

Supporting Trans Kids is not Abuse

EVER.

In this week’s edition of Why Is Texas

I live in Austin, Texas. It is not a perfect city. We have a long, long, shameful history with segregation. But it is known as a bastion of liberalism in a red state. In reality, all the major cities in Texas are majority liberal (but the Texas leadership doesn’t want you to know that). Texas’ recent history includes passing laws to limit voting by mail, passing a law to keep trans kids from playing sports, and banning abortion at six weeks and paying a bounty to turn in healthcare providers who don’t comply. And now, a nonbinding but super transphobic proclamation by our ghoulish governor encouraging people to flood our already critically overloaded child protective services with false claims of abuse for gender non-conforming kids’ parents, doctors, teachers, and therapists.

It’s easy to feel protected from all this madness in Austin. Especially if you are white. We have a crap record with police violence and discrimination, so this is only going to make it worse for already vulnerable queer kids and their families. But this also hits really close to home. If my kid’s teachers start to feel uncomfortable or unsafe using their pronouns, my kid will get misgendered a lot more. If their doctor feels that way, we may not get the right medical advice. We may not be able to find them a gender-affirming therapist if they become depressed because they live in a state that is hostile to their mental and physical well-being. And my kid is a less vulnerable (nonbinary), highly-privileged case. Travis County (in which Austin resides) has already stated it will not investigate these false claims of abuse. But what if we travel? Am I going to get ratted out to CPS for my gender non-conforming kid if I leave Austin? And how much worse is this for families far more vulnerable than mine? A whole hell of a lot worse:

In Travis County, Black children account for 7 percent of the child population but a stunning 27 percent of removals, according to the same state data. Further, we found in our maternal health policy research that CPS’ disproportionate removal of kids from Black families is one reason that many Central Texas moms are scared of asking for help for mental health and substance use when they need it. In Dallas and Harris counties, Black children make up 21 percent and 17 percent of the child population, respectively, but 48 percent of removals in each county. — Texans Care for Children

This is unconscionable.

I am so, so tired of the Texas government sacrificing its citizens on the altar of individual political aspirations. And I am even more tired of their dog-whistle politics making vulnerable kids more vulnerable. All scientific evidence (and major scientific organizations) agrees that gender-affirming care saves lives while forcing a child to suppress their gender identity causes major mental health issues, including a significantly increased rate of suicide. But since Abbot doesn’t care about the 85k+ death toll from unchecked COVID in Texas, it is unlikely that he cares about the kids who will kill themselves because he just made an already hostile state even worse for them. This will affect us all.

Even if you think you don’t know any gender-nonconforming people, you do. You cannot make a queer kid straight or cisgender, you can only make them hate themselves for who they are. This is not a nature vs. nurture debate — it’s a do you want your kid to live to grow up or not debate. That is what you are really deciding if you think you can choose your kid’s sexuality or gender for them. Support gender-nonconforming kids in every way possible. Full stop.

And if you are like me, you’re white, straight, cis-gendered, or some other combo that means that you can shield yourself and your kids from this insanity, please do something to help those that can’t.

Resources:
Lambda Legal Texas
ACLU Texas
Contact the DoJ

TIP and CRT: What they are and why they matter.

So this happened:

Trauma-Informed Pedagogy:
“Trauma-informed pedagogy adapts the trauma-informed care framework from health and human services for the practice of teaching. Trauma-informed approaches to teaching strive to understand how various forms of trauma may have impacted the lives of learners and use that understanding to accommodate learners’ needs, prevent further or retraumatization, and promote resilience and growth.” — ACRL

Critical Race Theory
“Critical race theory is an academic concept that is more than 40 years old. The core idea is that race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.

The basic tenets of critical race theory, or CRT, emerged out of a framework for legal analysis in the late 1970s and early 1980s created by legal scholars Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and Richard Delgado, among others.” –Education Week

Critical Theory is a foundational piece of the discipline of sociology. Sociology studies how and why we organize and relate as humans and looks particularly hard at systems of hierarchy that claim to be “natural.” To be a trauma-informed educator, I must understand systems of power and oppression and how they create trauma in the populations I work with. There are a lot of types of trauma. Some are generational. Some are social. Some are related to natural disasters, war, and disease. As an educator, it is my ethical duty to recognize how trauma affects my students and take it into account when I design courses, classroom interactions, and policies. That includes systemic trauma.

If you have taken a course on Gender studies, African American Studies, Latinx Studies, Queer Studies, Disability Studies, or Feminist Studies among others, you have interacted with critical theories. If you have taken a course in critical thinking, you have interacted with critical theories. If you have studied history, psychology, sociology, anthropology, the arts, law, or science, you have interacted with critical theories.

At the intersection of critical theories and TIP, we must be educated, open, humble learners who are willing to unpack our assumptions and strive to not assume we understand other people’s lived experiences, especially if they are different from us. TIP demands that I am a learner first, and an educator second.

Simply put, if I think I know all the things, I’m not going to be very empathetic or flexible. If I assume that I don’t know all the things, I am open to recognizing, learning from, and repairing my mistakes. TIP is not about perfection, it’s about jettisoning ideas of hierarchy and power and really committing oneself to the heart of education.

Education changes the world. It is often the one thing that pulls historically oppressed populations out of poverty. Education improves human rights, economies, and public health. But if we pretend that historical oppression doesn’t exist and that it doesn’t affect the ability of students to access education, then it is not education. It is a system for maintaining parasitic class systems that ultimately harm everyone. It’s the Tragedy of the Commons, y’all. And we are on the brink

The amount of trauma I have witnessed in my student population over the last two years is staggering. It’s not getting better; it’s getting worse. If the Texas government, in its infinite wisdom, decides that I can’t talk about racism, or sexism, or transphobia, or the legacy of slavery, or medical bias, or homophobia, it will compound already dire situations for my minority students. It will also be totally impossible since I teach in a multidisciplinary department that studies the wellbeing of children and families, WHICH INCLUDES MINORITIES.

One thing I really want to point out to those still susceptible to the dog-whistle CRT pearl-clutching is that understanding how systems of power and oppression affect minorities does not negate the trauma of my white students. It is not a competition. Trauma is trauma. Recognizing that I come from a privileged background does not negate any of the shit I have been through or the challenges I have faced. It just means that none of them are related to or compounded by the color of my skin. Sexism is alive and well in America and I have faced more than a little of it, but it wasn’t affected by my skin color. That’s why Kimberlé Crenshaw developed CRT: the law, at the time, left no room for the experiences of discrimination faced by black women. Discrimination was determined based on race or gender, but not both. Which is nuts, because of course they intersect. Hence, intersectionality.

As a systems theory nerd, it is impossible not to see COVID as both a result of and a cause of systemic problems, which are inevitably be worsened by systemic inequalities. This plays out for my students every day. As a trauma-informed educator (or as Dan Patrick prefers, a Looney (sp) Marxist Professor), I must recognize that my own experiences are not enough to inform how I view my students’ traumas. I must actively seek out more information, read new research, and listen deeply to the words of my students. And no matter how many times CRT is dragged out as some kind of white middle-class bogeyman, I must not compromise on the foundations of my discipline and the health and wellbeing of my students.

It’s still trauma, Mary

I wrote quite a bit about a month ago about my tween’s experience with an abusive teacher at their school. While we finally got their 504 accommodations updated, and I’m guessing that teacher got a talking to, they continue to be unpleasant. They have continued to tell their students that they are emotionally underdeveloped because of their year (ostensibly slacking off and not dealing with any trauma or stress whatsoever with their perfectly stable and unstressed parents) off from in-person school due to Covid.

Recently this teacher decided to ask their students why they thought they were so emotionally impaired. (Who does that?) My kid raised their hand and said, we’re not impaired, we’re traumatized. This gave the teacher momentary pause, but then they responded by saying that all the students can’t be traumatized.

Really, Mary? In pandemonium? In a panorama? Two fucking years into a constantly mutating, killing people every day pandemic from hell? Just the fact that you said that indicates trauma. Our number one defense mechanism is usually denial. We ignore or minimize things that we can’t deal with. It’s the “This is fine” syndrome. And no shade to defense mechanisms — they help us function when everything is weird or horrible. We really do feel like everything is fine — until we don’t. Long-term trauma has long-term effects. We are less resilient. We have memory and sleep issues. If we have diagnoses like depression or anxiety, they can get harder to manage. When we inevitably encounter additional stressors or traumas, we don’t have the bandwidth to deal with them as well as we would during a time of relative peace and calm.

When my husband was hospitalized, people commented on how well I kept my shit together. And I did. Until I didn’t. We get this blast of hormones during emergencies that allow us to dissociate from the immediate horrors that we are dealing with and just function. But this is a temporary fix; afterward, you have to deal with all the emotions that your body helped you stuff down. I had an epic meltdown a few weeks after my husband got out of the hospital that was totally expected, and my resilience is still low while my anxiety is high. This is normal. But if you don’t understand the trajectory of trauma (and compounded trauma) you may think you are functioning because you are a superior life form and everyone else is weak. You are not and they are not.

This applies to EVERYONE. We are all living through collective trauma. Some people have been devastated by the effects of Covid, and some have just been inconvenienced, but nobody can ignore how terrifying and confusing and disruptive it has been.

However, Teacher of the Year, just because you haven’t experienced compounded, impossible-to-deny-trauma, doesn’t mean that your students haven’t. Kids have fewer defense mechanism tools in their psychological toolbox, even though they may seem super cool on the outside. Kids rely on adults for survival, so when we are unstable they often compensate by over-functioning or functioning for us. This does not make them extra great kids or mature beyond their years, or old souls. It makes them traumatized. Kids adapt because they have no choice. Adults have a choice. You can get therapy, scream into a pillow, journal, hike, whatever helps you get back into your body and your feelings, and then just fucking deal with the pain and fear and insecurity that comes up. Or you can blame your middle-schoolers for your own stress and make them feel like shit about themselves. Because apparently, that’s an option.

Once again I find myself saying to adults who parent or teach or take care of other people: unpack your shit. Your kids (and students) are an extremely convenient screen upon which to project your problems, issues, and flaws. Doing so is an abuse of power and you need to stop.

If you want to know more about how trauma passes through generations and how it plays out, I highly recommend learning about Family Systems Theory.

Why is white fragility?

Book Bans in Texas Suck

My husband and I caught the last segment on This American Life today, titled The Farce Awakens and I highly recommend it. It discusses how a Black children’s author found his books banned from school libraries in Katy, Texas. This horseshit is going on all over Texas and the south and it’s harmful and insane. But today I’m going to address specifically what the “concerned white moms” had to say in this segment because there is only so much I can yell at my radio.

Their argument was that exposing white children to the multitudes of microaggressions that black children face is harmful because it will make them feel guilty. (They also claim that there is no way that Black kids experience this much aggression. They do.) Let’s unpack this.

White guilt, of which I have had a good amount, is when you realize that you have been taking part in or advantage of oppressive social and institutional systems that make things easier for you and harder for Black people. I was raised believing that as a good Californian white liberal, I couldn’t be racist. It just wasn’t in my DNA. So when I said or did incredibly stupid things, I reacted with confusion and dismay. When I was forced to recognize the actual gulf between my experiences and my peers of color, I realized that I was full of shit and that I had no idea what they were going through. It was deeply uncomfortable and I did a lot of bullshit rationalizing of things to make me feel better about myself. Eventually, I realized that my sensitivity to terms like White Fragility WAS ACTUAL WHITE FRAGILITY. That was a start.

Why is this important? Because one of the most basic things you need to help your children learn while they develop is the difference between discomfort and danger. Guilt is uncomfortable, not dangerous. Shame is uncomfortable, not dangerous. Racist systems and racism are physically dangerous to short and long-term health and wellbeing.

So to the white moms in Katy who want to spare their children guilt for oppressions that they didn’t create (but are likely propagating because their parents can’t grow a pair of ovaries and woman up), I say GROW THE FUCK UP. It’s you who can’t deal with your guilt and discomfort. Your kids still have a chance to become more resilient, humble, and compassionate without a fuckton of therapy. You, my ladies, do not. You need to start learning to tolerate uncomfortable feelings and thoughts instead of trying to control everything your little angels come in contact with. Instead of banning books, get you a therapist and work on your shit.

In Transformative Learning Theory, we call this the Disorienting Dilemma. When a learner is faced with new knowledge that calls into question their sense of self or reality, it causes stress and discomfort. As educators, we can help them process it, but we can’t do it for them. Y’all need to take several seats and start thinking about whether or not you want your kids to be as easily disturbed as you are.

I want my kid to be more resilient than me. More ethical. More compassionate. More humble. I want them to outshine me in every way possible, not reflect back my own limited view of the world so I don’t have to have any uncomfortable feelings. I want the same for my students. If you can’t even imagine your child learning to empathize with a Black kid who gets picked on, harassed, and gaslit for being Black (or gay, or trans, or Asian, or Latinx, or Muslim, or disabled…), you are not living in reality and you are doing your children exactly zero favors. Learning to tolerate discomfort like guilt, anxiety, fear, and shame are the building blocks of adulthood and good-personhood. I really want the next generation to be less fucked up than mine, and y’all are not helping. Do better.