Molly and I are running the Disney Frozen 5K this morning. She picked the costumes so I am Mulan and she is Mushu.
It’s early. It’s freezing! But we’re ready to run.
A few weeks ago the kids and I went to a family poetry workshop with educator and poet Mckendy Fils-Aime. During the workshop, participants paired up with each other to write collaborative poetry. The ultimate goal was to write a poem from two different perspectives about the same topic. JohnJohn was my partner. We wrote two poems. They are not quite Whistling Vivaldi, but Molly and Joseph keep asking me to re-read them to them anyway. Can you tell which author created which lines? Also, are we ready for our first poetry slam?
I play on my ninja surfboard.
A giant seagull circles.
I eat a sandwich. It tastes like salami.
The seagull spots my son.
I try to feed the bird some bread.
I start swinging.
I feed him food from my hand and he pokes me with his face.
I freak out, yelling and running and finally…
I feel like I want to pet him.
I knock my son down, tripping, we both fall away from him.
DESSERT AT NANA’S
I like to play my iPad in Nana’s basement.
Bellies full, we wash and dry.
Nana calls me for a snack – – flat cake.
We sip our wine.
Sweet and yellow, I want 5 pieces.
I cut up JohnJohn’s pound cake.
I yell. I DON’T WANT IT CUT UP!
I jerk my hand back, hoping he won’t see the first cut.
I CAN’T EAT THAT CAKE!
Why not? (ahhh. I should have known.)
IT’S IN PIECES!
I finish my wine and cut another slice.
I woke yesterday to an email requesting me to participate in a discussion on HuffPost Live on whether Homeschooling needs more regulation. I think this article in The New York Times prompted the segment.
By the time I got in touch with the associate producer who had contacted me, they had lined up their guests. Maybe next time!
If I had gotten the chance to speak with Nancy Redd, the moderator, here’s what I would have added:
Regulation of homeschooling is enacted state-by-state. The states vary in their level of regulation to a preposterous degree. So to ask the question “is there too much regulation?” lacks an understanding of the landscape of Homeschooling law. Some states don’t even require notification. Some require only notification. Some require notification of homeschooling, as well as test scores, and/or professional evaluation of student progress. There are still others that also require home visits, curriculum review, etc.
Here’s my moderate one-line answer to that polarizing question: I think some states (the ones with high regulations) over-regulate and others (the ones with no regulation) don’t.
The education of a child involves many competing interests: the child’s, the parent’s, society’s, school districts’ (including principals and teachers), and those of the education industry.
Society has a vested interest in how we parents prepare our children for citizenship. Ideally, our children will grow up to be law-abiding, productive members of their communities. If not, society pays the price via the criminal justice system or social services. I respect that interest. As a member of society, I share that interest!
Parents have a fundamental right to prepare our children however we see fit. Our right generally trumps society’s interest. I wrote about that here.
Children, of course, have rights to basic needs like food, universal state-paid education, health care and criminal laws appropriate for the age and development of the child, and equal protection of the child’s civil rights. Parents’ rights are important and deserve respect, but children’s rights are equal and deserve the same level of respect.
Schools and companies don’t really have rights either, but they do have interests, mostly financial. I personally don’t care about those interests. One of the reasons we homeschool is because we want our kids to be participants in an educational process rather than commodities in the education industry.
How do you deal with all these competing interests? My view is that there should be checks and balances. I know. Not very controversial. That’s probably the real reason I didn’t make it on to the panel!
In my view, homeschooling parents have a right to educate our children however we determine is best, using whatever method we deem appropriate. But I do think that states should 1) know that our children exist and 2) have a method to check up on a child if a valid concern is raised.
I do not believe that states can offer me a cadre of experts to tell me what “success” is for my children. If I did, I’d send them to school. I do, however, believe that there are some basic competencies that I have a duty to help my children achieve. I welcome support from the state because I am assuming and hoping that it has my child’s best interests at heart as well. Of course, if I find out that they do not, I will fight tooth and nail to protect my family.
How does this look? I think New Hampshire is a model state for achieving a balance between these interests and rights.
In New Hampshire, parents must notify the state once but then it is assumed that homeschooling will continue for the rest of a child’s education. The notice is simple and easy to do.
Thereafter, we homeschoolers are expected to
1) keep a portfolio of our children’s work and progress (the portfolio can include anything and everything from reading lists, to workbooks completed, to photographs, to drawings, to tickets to museums, etc. It is simply meant to be a reflection of how they are spending their days in the event an issue arises); and
2) have the child evaluated annually either with a standardized test, an evaluation of the portfolio by a certified teacher or a teacher currently teaching in nonpublic school, or using a mutually agreed upon method with the appropriate participating agency.
Find more information about New Hampshire Homeschooling laws here.
The portfolio and testing results are the property of parents and parents do not have to share the results unless an issue arises.
I believe that if you are homeschooling with your child’s best interests in mind, you would welcome these regulations.
One of the gifts of homeschooling is that I know my children very well. I can tell you at any point in any day what their strengths and weaknesses are at that time. I know they are thriving. I don’t need the portfolio or testing to tell me this. And they don’t need it either.
Nonetheless, the portfolio keeps me on track and fills me with pride and happy memories as I see how we are spending our days and the standardized tests scores give me comfort in knowing that my children could get back into the murky waters of our public school system any time.
Public schools have checks and balances with parents and boards and the public scrutinizing every move. Private schools have checks and balances with parents and boards too. It is only fair that homeschoolers have checks and balances as well.
Regulation is supposed to be a means toward an end. That end, in my mind, in this case, is a child’s best interests. Any party to the situation can abuse their power, but that is a discussion for another day.
Congratulations to Rachel D., the winner of the Youth Digital Mod Design 1 Giveaway!
Thanks to all who participated. I wish everyone could have won!
They are already listed at $199.99. If you take the additional 20% off by adding the coupon code, each course comes down to $159.99. Not bad!
If you do take the 3D Animation course, I’d love to hear about it. We bought the App Design 1 (which, sadly, is not on discount) course for Molly, which she will be starting after Christmas.
This post is the second in a series in which I am responding to a reader who sent me this note:
I wanted to ask you what core curriculum you are using for Molly this year for 3rd grade specifically for Math and ELA. Also, my other child will be starting a bit of Preschool-Kindergarten work. Any recommendations for that age level for learning letters, number etc.? There is SO much out there for, which is a great thing. I am finding it overwhelming at this point, though, to narrow it down. Your recommendations in the past were great. Thanks for your continued help and support.
-Feeling a Bit Overwhelmed
Hello again, Overwhelmed! I hope my last post on math helped you.
Here’s the good news as far as ELA (English Language Arts) goes. As a Homeschooler, your child already has a ton of the most important resource needed for Language Arts: time.
In my opinion, if you want your child to be literate, she needs to read. And she needs to write. A lot.
Maybe it’s because I am more confident when it comes to the liberal arts or maybe it’s just that I have had the luxury of stepping outside the insane Common Core bubble, but I have never really worried that my kids would learn how to read, write, or express themselves rationally.
Remember, ELA is primarily a Common Core term, as it is used to define the standards for getting public school students “ready to succeed in college, career, and life”. As such, they are learning goals, whatever that means for millions of unique students. As I mentioned in my math post, I “don’t trust completion (or lack of completion) of a certain level of a curriculum as the last word on competency.”
Even with my doctorate and a great love of reading, writing, grammar, and research, I’d rather poke my own eye out with a fork than than try to parse out how to meet these 66 pages of COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS FOR ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS AND LITERACY IN HISTORY/SOCIAL STUDIES, SCIENCE AND TECHNICAL SUBJECTS. If that’s what you are looking for, you can stop reading now.
Also, there are many who believe that simply reading, writing, talking and interacting with others will teach a child what they need to know to communicate effectively. You can read more about that here and here. If you believe that, you can also stop here.
While I admire the Unschooling philosophy and think about it often, I think I am still not completely de-schooled. If you read this blog at all, you know I worry that, without the guidance of formal lessons, my children won’t master a subject or skill comprehensively.
We don’t use a text book per se, but I do use a bunch of resources for helping the kids to learn how to communicate.
Here, broken down by specific skill-set areas, are some of the resources we use(d) for getting our kids to read, write, speak, listen, and use language effectively. They all overlap so you might find one more useful for a specific skill than another. Mix and Match.
For this post, I define “phonics” as the system of relationships between letters and sounds. Whether it is knowing that the letter B has the sound of /b/ or how to pronounce the digraphs ch, sh, or th, it’s phonics. If you can do that, you can chunk a word, which makes reading and writing a lot easier.
We also use Starfall for the early years.
Once my kids were ready to sit and do workbooks, we turned to Explode the Code, which has worked really well, especially for Joseph.
We read a lot. Together, at story time at the library, on our own and with any friend or family member who will read or listen.
We read every night with our kids before bed. And I have always kept piles of books on the floor, which looks messy, but which are also irresistible to little kids. Whether they are reading the book, browsing the book, or eating the book, I don’t care. I just want them to feel comfortable around books!
Back when we lived in Michigan, very far from our families, I had grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles read stories on camera so I could play the videos for my kids. My kids loved them! Not only did my kids love listening to the books, they loved seeing their favorite people every day, even when we were 1000 miles away!
My kids learn a lot of vocabulary just by talking with us! We do not use any major text, but in reading and writing and talking with us, my kids are always asking what a word means or how to spell it. For the younger ones I tell them. For Molly, I make her look it up. A dictionary is a good friend. It is outdated today, when you can look up any word on line or in an App but my Dad kept this copy of The OED in his office and to this day, I have such fond memories of using the magnifying glass to find the word I was looking for. I wish I had his copy.
I’ll admit it. I have an emotional attachment to Latin. My Dad, an elementary school teacher for almost 30 years, loved language and made Latin a part of his curriculum every year. Although I was never in his class, I was his sounding board and testing ground for many of the games and projects he used in his class, even after I left town to go away to school. I have a lot of happy memories of all those word games with my Dad.
Aside from those happy memories, I think Latin is important mostly because it builds vocabulary and grammar. If you know just one Latin root word, you can chunk all sorts of English vocabulary words.
So, knowing Latin makes understanding English vocabulary easier.
As 55% of all English words are derived from Latin (90% of those over two syllables are Latin-based) and about 80% of Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese words are from Latin, Latin is all around us! Latin matters.
Once every week or so we do a few pages out of Getting Started with Latin: Beginning Latin for Homeschoolers and Self-Taught Students of Any Age. The kids love it and it reminds us to look for roots out in the world.
Molly also keeps Scholastic Vocabulary Packets Greek and Latin Roots with her other books and every so often does a page or two.
If you don’t want to do workbooks but still want a reminder to think about words, try a 365 New Words-A-Year 2015 Page-A-Day Calendar.
You can also check out a Pinterest Board like this one for fun ideas on words.
Here also is a quick reference guide on word roots. It is free and shows you just how many roots there are!
Even though I was pretty successful in school, I did not take it seriously until I hit college. I just tried to pass tests and get A’s. Actual understanding didn’t matter. I just knew I needed to jump through hoops because that was what was expected and that was what everyone else was doing.
We homeschool because we don’t want that to happen with our kids. We want them to seek information because they are interested in it and we want them to have the ability to grapple with it, understand it, and make informed decisions with it. That is one of the best tools we could give them in their toolbox for life.
How do you measure understanding? Tests. Asking questions. Watching your kids work. Reviewing their work. Being with them and talking to them. That is how we do it. I am really baffled by the need to test kids so much because I can tell you where my kids are at just by watching and interacting with them. They do well on standardized tests but more than their understanding, I think those tests tell how well they take tests!
One of my favorite ways to have fun with comprehension is public speaking.
For public speaking, the Writing with Ease series cannot be beat. Written by one of my homeschooling favorites, Susan Wise Bauer (with Peter Buffington) Writing with Ease alternates between having the student do copywork and/or dictation on one page and then listen to a passage from a piece of literature and answer questions aloud in full sentences on the next. Its emphasis on reading comprehension and public speaking is invaluable. I can see the gears in my childrens’ heads working as they think through their answers.
We have also really enjoyed participating in “Book Wars” with a local homeschooling group this semester. Two other moms came up with idea: once a month any kids interested show up at a local coffee shop and take turns presenting reasons why the book that they read that month should win for best book. After everyone has a turn, each child is asked a few questions. Then there is a blind vote and the winner wins a prize, which is usually some yummy baked goods. Speaking in front of strangers is hard and thinking on your feet is even harder but Book Wars has made it fun. Plus, we’ve gotten some great book recommendations through the group. Even if you don’t have a homeschooling group, you could just have your child present a book to you out loud. It doesn’t matter if it is a chapter book, a picture book, or a comic book! It is a non-threatening way to work on these skills.
GRAMMAR AND PUNCTUATION
Knowing about grammar helps us understand what makes sentences and paragraphs clear and interesting and precise. You cannot communicate clearly without it.
This year we have gotten in the habit of using “Daily” workbooks because it allows us to work on each subject a little bit each day. Evan-Moor’s Daily Language Review series has been a great addition to the two mentioned above.
This post is not meant to be comprehensive but I hope it gives you an idea of some resources you can use for each skill set you may be interested in.
I am still planning to post a piece on resources for Pre-school and Kindergarten work. And I am working on a post of resources for critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills.
If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them!
If you are interested in entering the Youth Digital Giveaway for Mod Design 1 (value $250) click on the Rafflecopter link on the right side of my blog (the one that says “a Rafflecopter giveaway”). There are two ways to enter: you may visit Youth Digital’s Facebook page for one entry and/or follow them on Twitter for a second entry.
If you win, you will be emailed a voucher for the course that you will be responsible for redeeming for your completely FREE course from Youth Digital.
I will be drawing the winner on 12/12/2014. If you win, you’ll be contacted by email. If I do not get a response within 48-hours, I will draw another winner. Good Luck to everyone!
The Holiday season is upon us! I am beyond excited to share one of my favorite homeschooling experiences of 2014 with you! All of my children love Minecraft. When Molly started asking me to buy mods for her at the beginning of the year, I told her that if she wanted a mod, she would have to make one herself. As I looked for how to make that happen, I stumbled upon Youth Digital. Soon thereafter, Molly was lucky enough to take Youth Digital’s Mod Design 1 course. I have written about our experience with Youth Digital here and here. I am pleased to say that while completing of this course, Molly has made her very own Orange Bucky Mod! Plus, in addition to learning Java, Molly learned an exceptional amount of patience and self-discipline with this course. Invaluable!
Youth Digital represents all that I’d like in a learning experience for my kids: they are passionate and enthusiastic about sharing their expertise in a funny and understandable way. Moreover, their customer service is phenomenal. We will definitely be taking additional courses when the time is right.
In the meantime, I am giving away the $250 course that Molly took and loved and actually learned Java with this year (thank you, Youth Digital for sponsoring it!).
Get entered to win Mod Design 1 by clicking on the Rafflecopter link on the right side of my blog (the one that says “a Rafflecopter giveaway”).
If you win, you will be emailed a voucher for the course that you will be responsible for redeeming for your completely FREE course from Youth Digital.
I will be drawing the winner on 12/12/2014. If you win, you’ll be contacted by email. If I do not get a response within 48-hours, I will draw another winner. Good Luck to everyone!
I have not been compensated for this giveaway. As I mentioned in my first post about Mod Design 1, I contacted Youth Digital to ask if they would be willing to let us try it out in return for a review on my blog. They haven’t asked for any additional reviews, nor did they have any control over any content I have published. I just think this has been a great find and want to share it with you.
Happy Thanksgiving! As I sit here in my kitchen, waiting for my family to arrive from New York to start a new holiday season, I can’t help feeling a bit nostalgic. Things are changing this year. The Thanksgiving celebration on my side of the family has gotten smaller. The location of the Christmas Eve gala on my husband’s side is moving to the next generation. All of the grandchildren are out of diapers this year (thanks, JohnJohn)! And the first of the grandkids is getting married in May. Time marches on and torches are passed.
I wrote this piece about a year ago and still come back to it when I need a reminder of what is important. I hope you have a great Thanksgiving and that you make lots of meaning this year!
These are not stuffed mushrooms. Well, they are. And so good that I ate almost ½ a tray by myself. But they are way more than bread, onions, mushrooms, garlic and spices. For, you see, I helped make them with my sister-in-law for our Christmas Eve feast just as she has been making them to bring to Christmas Eve for over a decade.
She’s been making them so long that I don’t really remember Christmas Eve without them. Just as my husband doesn’t remember Christmas Eve without at least seven fishes and dozens of family members of every age and sometimes friends coming together for the day. Like so many other families, my husband’s big Italian family holds Christmas Eve as the most hallowed of days. It is not just about the birth of Christ, although we are primarily a Catholic family. And it is not because of the presents even if the presents are pretty fun. And it is not really about seeing each other. Most of us see each other pretty regularly. It’s not even about food, although, admittedly, we do all love to eat.
OK. It is about all those things. But it is so much more than that. I have learned since joining my husband’s family over 15 years ago, and especially since having my three children, that it is really about the extra special effort that every single member of the family makes every single year to prioritize that time together and to hold it sacred above all else. No matter what.
They make that day and that time mean something special because of all of the effort that goes into it. It’s Nana and Grandpop, who start shopping for stocking stuffers for all 13 grandchildren in October, review and prepare menus in November, and set tables weeks ahead of time (OK, Mom, if you’re reading this, I know it is probably only a day or two ahead of time ;)). It’s the aunts, who cull Christmas lists to get their “something special” for each child, one of whom manages to find matching pajamas in every size from 24-months up to men’s medium. It’s the kids, who give up time on their “idevices” and really do try to look and behave their best for their elders, even if it means wearing a skirt instead of jeans. It’s the fact that every person there is there on purpose to be together and they prepare for it and look forward to it all the year through.
Sometimes I worry that Christmas is too commercialized and that as a parent I am a puppet of the major kids companies targeting my children. And sometimes I fret that I spoil my kids when we perpetuate the myth of Santa Claus even a little bit (we don’t really do it full tilt). And then I think of those crab cakes. And talking to my mother-in-law mid-December as she and my father-in-law are making pecan rolls, debating whether this year they are, in fact, the absolute best they ever made.
I remember how it was at Christmas Eve dinner when my father-in-law shared the news with the whole clan that my husband and I were expecting our first baby and I can still hear the raucous cheers that followed. I laugh at my son counting the kids and the stockings to see if they really match up as my daughter writes out each name in a neat list. And I reminisce about how, when I first joined this merriment, the oldest of the grandchildren in this family were still in diapers. Those babies are now in college. And last year, as I watched my oldest niece stuffing mushrooms with my own daughter, it finally dawned on me.
Whether you believe in Jesus Christ or Santa Claus or someone else or nothing, it is up to each of us to make the Meaning in our lives. And like every other good thing I am trying to teach my children, it takes work. It takes effort. We can do it alone but it is easier if you have other people to help you. If you are lucky, like me, you find people who work as hard (or harder) than you to do it. And if you are really, really, lucky, like me, those people will also happen to make a wicked stuffed mushroom.
It’s true. We get knocked down but we get up again. You’re never going to keep us down!
To see the video that inspired this message, click here.
In time for midterm elections, here’s an interview with my fellow University of Scranton alumna, Jean Sinzdak.
Get our an vote, ladies (and gents)! Better yet, think about running yourself!
Hello, Jean! The last time we saw each other, we were graduating from college. It’s been a while!! I know you went to grad school. What was that for?
It’s hard to believe it’s been almost (ahem) 20 years since college! After we graduated, I went on to get my master’s degree in social work, specializing in social policy and economic development.
Where are you now?
Now I live in Highland Park, NJ.
Can you tell us what CAWP is? And what do you do there? What is your title?
CAWP stands for the Center for American Women and Politics. We are based at Rutgers University and are the leading source for all things women and politics in the US. My title is Director of the Program for Women Public Officials, which aims to increase the impact of women in politics and make political women’s leadership more effective through national, regional, and local events and programs for women officeholders, candidates, and campaign operatives. Basically, I work on a lot of educational programs and initiatives to encourage more women to get into politics and government.
How did you end up at CAWP and how long have you been there?
I have been at CAWP since 2005. My career has always been focused on women’s leadership and women’s policy, and I started that when I was in school – at the University of Scranton I interned at the Women’s Center, and while in grad school I did a field placement at the Penn Women’s Center. After school, I moved to Washington, DC, where I primarily worked at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a think tank focused on women’s policy issues. I did outreach and communications for the institute’s research initiatives, particularly the Status of Women in the States project, which measures how women are doing in this country on a variety of indicators, including economic well-being, health, and others.
Who is CAWP for? How does one get involved with CAWP?
CAWP is for scholars, students, journalists, women public officials, candidates, and the general public. We often have events with women leaders that are open to the public, and we regularly have students who intern for us. We do a lot of joint projects and work with community leaders all over the country to implement their own programs around women’s political leadership. The easiest way to get involved is to reach out to us!
Describe a typical working day.
The good thing about this job is that it rarely feels typical. Because we are a somewhat small organization, we all get involved in each other’s projects, and there is a true collaborative spirit. On any given day, I could be in a planning meeting about a new project, attending an event hosted by a partner organization, or chatting on the phone with a representative from a women’s commission in another state about getting more women engaged in government (this is how my Friday went last week.)
What is “Teach a Girl to Lead™”?
Teach a Girl to Lead™, or TAG, is our newest initiative to make women’s public leadership visible to the next generation. We want to inspire girls and young women to follow in the footsteps of women leaders, and we want both boys and girls to grow up with more inclusive ideas about who can lead. TAG provides the tools and resources to educators, leaders of youth-serving groups, media outlets and parents who want to help young people rethink leadership with women in the picture. On the TAG site, for example, you can find lesson plans on women in politics; games and activities to help young people better understand the workings of their government and the roles that women play in the process; and exercises to enhance the capacity of girls and young women for public leadership. You can also find great books and films about women leaders. The Programs & Places Resource Map features girls’ leadership programs, including those with a focus public leadership, as well as coed civic leadership programs; historic sites where women leaders made history; and field trip ideas to show girls and boys about women’s political history. And to make it easy for teachers or leaders to a woman public leader to speak to their class or youth program, we created the Leaders Lineup, a searchable map of women leaders, along with sample invite letters and discussion questions. We hope TAG inspires teachers and leaders everywhere to talk to kids about women’s public leadership and about civic engagement.
What is “Ready to Run®”?
Ready to Run® is our non-partisan campaign training program to encourage women to run for elective office, position themselves for appointive office, work on a campaign, or get involved in public life in other ways. We now have a national network of Ready to Run® partner programs committed to electing more women to public office. CAWP created the program with two main goals: to put a spotlight on how few women serve in office and to provide the “nuts and bolts” training women need to launch successful campaigns.
Molly, my 8-year-old daughter, my friend, and I had hoped to start a Girls on The Run program this Fall. Can you recommend any other programs for younger girls to get involved with that teach things like goal-setting, community involvement and self-care?
Girls on the Run is an excellent organization and program! I actually can’t wait until my oldest is big enough for it. Girls on the Run is one of the allies of Teach a Girl to Lead™. One thing I have been encouraged by is how many organizations out there are doing terrific work on girls’ leadership and community involvement.
There are the ones, like Girl Scouts and Girls, Inc. , that many people are familiar with. Both of those organizations have many terrific programs focused on helping girls discover their potential and grow their leadership skills. The Girls Leadership Institute offers parent and daughter workshops focused on raising resilient girls. Hardy Girls, Healthy Women’s mission is to empower girls with knowledge, critical thinking skills, and a platform to drive social change. The Eleanor Roosevelt Center has a Girls Leadership Worldwide Program focused on civic engagement, with the mission to “empower girls to be principled and socially conscious good global leaders.”
There are also a good number of summer camps dedicated to girls’ leadership. In my own backyard, for example, the Alice Paul Institute, which is dedicated to honoring the life of the noted suffragist, offers a Girlblazers summer camp focused on developing leadership and social action skills, among other great programs they offer.
And these are just a few of the programs I’ve found. Not to put in another plug for our Teach a Girl to Lead™ project, but you can find more of these types of programs on TAG’s Program and Places Map. We are constantly adding to it, so keep checking back!
Jean, from my experiences with you, you could have really done anything you wished. Why women and politics?
Wow, what a nice compliment! I always think the same of you. To be honest, it’s not as if I made a conscious decision that this was what my career was going to be. It just…felt right to work on women’s leadership and women’s development issues. It’s something I’m passionate about, so I followed my passion and was lucky enough to find jobs that fulfilled that passion. In terms of the politics side of it, I am fascinated by the idea of power – who has it and how they use it, and how power can be used effectively to further social and cultural change. So women and politics pieces all that together for me. I’ve been lucky and am grateful to be able to spend my work life focused on something I really care about.
What do you mean by politics?
When I think about politics in terms of my job, I mean everything that has to do with government and the way government works, including elected officials, government staff, policy development, and infrastructure. So when I talk about getting more women into politics, I want more women to think about being at the table when policy decisions are being made – as an elected official, as a staffer, or as a lobbyist. Be part of the conversation, not outside of it.
Can you give us a snapshot of where you think the U.S. is right now for women and politics?
The US has made strides in recent years – we now have a record 20 women serving in the US Senate. That’s incredible when you think that as recently as 1991, we only had a maximum of 2 women in the Senate. So a pretty dramatic rise in the past couple of decades, although we are nowhere close to parity. Overall, there are 99 women serving in Congress , which is 18.5% of the members of Congress. Women make up about 23% of statewide executive offices in this country (such as governor, lt. governor, treasurer and other statewide officials). There are 5 women serving as governors out of 50, and 24.2% of state legislative seats are held by women. At the local level, just over 18% of mayors of cities with population over 30,000 are women, and 13% of mayors of the 100 largest cities are women. So we have a long way to go before women are equally represented in public office, although we can be proud of recent positive trends. I am optimistic about the future, but we still have work to do. For reference, you can always find the current numbers of women serving on CAWP’s web site.
You have three daughters and a husband, right? What is it like, for you, being a working mom and spouse?
It’s a busy life, that’s for sure. But my husband and I are really a team in everything we do, and we always make our family the priority. And my girls are the best! Not that I’m bragging or anything.
I vividly remember reading The Second Shift with Dr. Harris back when we were at Scranton. Do you remember it? Do you think there is still a “second shift” (basically, the labor performed at home in addition to the paid work that a working woman does)? Is it good, bad, neither?
I remember that as well! By the way, I have been working with Dr. Harris for the past few years – the University of Scranton is one of our Ready to Run® partners. It’s been really neat to close the circle in terms of my experience as a student and now a professional. Generally, yes, I think there is still a second shift, but I am hopefully that we are moving in the right direction. My mother, a recently retired pediatric nurse, always comments on fathers she sees today, including my husband, doing so much more than they did when her generation was raising kids. My father freely admits he never really changed diapers, which blows my mind. I think cultural perceptions are changing, and fathers today do much more, at least in some places. Women still bear the burden of the second shift overall, though. Change is coming, but it will take some time. What we need to continue to do is focus on how to give support to families. US society has traditionally undervalued or ignored creating policies aimed at supporting healthy and productive family lives. Other countries are way ahead of us on that front, on issues like maternity/paternity leave and living wages.
I remember a while back you posted a picture from when you attended The White House Research Conference on Girls. What was that day like?
That was a great day – informative and inspiring. I learned so many fascinating things from the researchers who presented, and I really didn’t want the day to end. One thing I keep thinking about was a panel focused on girls and STEM. In particular, Dr. Jo Boaler of Stanford University presented a research study about how girls learn math. There is a lot of evidence that suggests that changing the way math is taught will help girls, and also boys, learn and stay engaged in math. It’s so important because girls are just as good at math as boys are, but our culture believes they aren’t. I also learned about so many other organizations and initiatives that it made me hopeful for the girls of our country and for the future. There are lots of exciting initiatives going on.
Also, you crowdsourced a toast for your brother’s wedding via Facebook. That really cracked me up. What did you end up saying?
It was fun to see what people said about marriage. In the end, I talked about my brother’s best qualities and how his wife was his match in every way, and I talked about her amazing qualities. They are perfect together, and it was nice to celebrate who they are as individual people and as a couple. I ended it with a quote from the author AA Milne, which perfectly sums up their relationship: “If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day, so I never have to live without you.”
What’s your favorite thing about being married or in a long-term relationship, and what piece of advice do you have for a couple about to tie the knot?
It’s a cliché, but definitely marry your best friend. My husband and I still love to talk to each other, even in the midst of all the craziness and busy-ness of our lives. We just had our 10th wedding anniversary, and I couldn’t imagine hanging out with anyone else. He is still the person I most want to see and talk to about my day.
I love to talk with my kids about their “roses” (best things) and “thorns” (worst things) each day. What are three roses and three thorns in your life right now?
We do “peaks” and “pits” at our house, too! It’s a nice thing to do over dinner. Hmm, three roses: my family, my health, and my job.
Thorns: can I say “lack of time” for all three thorns?? That’s the biggest challenge I face, and I think most people face, these days is finding the time to get everything done and also not get overwhelmed and pulled in every direction. I have been working hard on asking myself, “is this important or can it wait?” or “can I say no to this request?” without feeling guilty. You need to say no sometimes, right?
Who should run for office?
Anyone who wants to make a difference in their community. One thing that tends to hold people back is that they feel like they need to learn everything about every policy or issue before they run for office. Or they think they do not have enough political experience. But what you really need is passion for helping your community and the commitment to do the hard work. Everything else you can learn.
What are the barriers to women running for office? How do we get around them?
CAWP’s research has shown that the biggest barriers for women running for office include: family and work commitments, lack of a roadmap for how to run, concerns about privacy or negativity, and – the biggest one – no one asked them to run. We know that women need to be asked, but we also know that they are far less likely than men to be asked to run, particularly by other elected officials and party leaders. So one thing we can all do is identify women in our communities who would make great public officials and encourage them to run. It could make all the difference.
What would you say to someone who is jaded by our current political climate? Why do you think politicians can make a difference?
It’s understandable to feel that way. I think Congress’s approval ratings have been at an all-time low, and nobody thinks anything is getting down in this polarized climate. It’s hard to feel like politics or government is useful. But two things I would say: Congress is high profile and gets a lot of media attention, but government starts at home. And despite media attention suggesting otherwise, government accomplishes so many good things that we as a society would be lost without. So don’t be discouraged — whether you want to change something in your town, your county, at the state level, or beyond, there are many places and many ways to have an impact. Focus on your own goals and the things you want to accomplish, and then start to plan the best way to participate to get your goals accomplished.
If I wanted to run for office, where should I start?
Do a personal inventory: do you have the time, family support, and the drive to campaign? Do a political inventory: what seat do you want to run for? Is there an open seat, or will you need to run against an incumbent? Are you aware of the basic issues? Are you willing to fundraise? There are more questions like this to consider. But it’s a good idea to make a list and see if you feel strongly one way or another. If you are ready to run after considering all the factors involved, then try to attend a campaign training if there is one in your area. Seek out other political leaders who can help you get started. Build your network and start laying the groundwork for your eventual run. There are a lot of practical steps that you can take, and it feels less overwhelming if you take it step by step.
What are 3-5 of your favorite books right now?
Right now I am reading Sarah Waters’ The Paying Guests, which I cannot put down. Waters is a master at historical fiction that is morally complex and suspenseful. I just finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things, which I absolutely loved. I also have Bruce Feiler’s The Secret of Happy Families on my nightstand. I not necessarily big on self-help books, but I was completely drawn to this one because it promises practical strategies for organizing your family’s life, and one of the strategies touted on the cover was ways for making mornings easier. I was a sucker for that idea – we’ve got a lot of people to get out the door in the morning, so any ideas that make it smoother are welcome. I just started reading it but already enjoyed the tips on how to handle kids’ allowances – that day is coming soon for me.
We also read with the kids constantly, and their current favorites are: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Yoko, and The Very Busy Spider.
Any questions you wished I asked that I didn’t?
Hmmm…can’t think of any. I’d love to ask you, though: are you as surprised as I am that it’s been almost two decades since we were in school together?? And, if you could tell your 20-year-old self anything, what would it be?