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Tedra Osell

Ari Kelman’s new book, A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling over the Memory of Sand Creek, is a complicated and beautiful narrative about narrative, a series of connected and interwoven stories about history and histories. It is also a damned fine read, one that I savored slowly over several weeks (though I think reviewers are supposed to knock things out quickly) and will continue thinking about for a long time.

The book starts by recounting the story of the Sand Creek Massacre, although the massacre is not the actual subject of the book. Indeed, it becomes clear almost immediately that there is no such thing as “the” story of Sand Creek. Kelman introduces us to three characters—two perpetrators and one survivor of the massacre itself—through the primary documents, written by themselves, that describe what happened. And great characters they are. John Chivington, committed abolitionist, Union colonel, and inveterately racist Indian hater, led the attack and devoted himself to defending (and exaggerating) it in newspapers and official statements for years afterwards. Silas Soule, gold seeker, joshing mama’s boy, and Captain, refused to participate in it or order his men to, and blew the whistle afterwards in letters home and to Colorado patriarch Edward Wynkoop, leading to the investigation and condemnation of Chivington’s actions. George Bent, the son of a federal Indian agent and a Cheyenne woman, was a Confederate volunteer, captured by Union soldiers and released after swearing loyalty to the United States, who went to live with his mother’s people in part to protect himself from anti-Confederate sentiment in Colorado; he was wounded in the massacre, but survived, was ignored by the investigation but published his story in a six-part series almost forty years later, and died with his book-length memoir yet unpublished (it finally saw print in 1968).

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One Day at a Time

by Tedra Osell on October 10, 2012

So homeschooling is turning out to be kind of like sobriety? Which started as a joke—and no, I am not an alcoholic or addict, except for being a former smoker, which does, actually, count—but on thinking about it, I wonder if there might, actually, be a more than casual relationship between addiction and “giftedness” that’s like the one between “giftedness” and depression. Or for that matter, addiction and mental illness. At least, in my experience of the latter, a big part of the problem is the gap between conception and reality. One sees problems globally and is overwhelmed by realizing that you can only chip away at them in tiny increments, or imagines a fabulous project or goal but is frozen with anxiety by not knowing how to start, or by perceiving the enormous gap between starting and actually achieving the thing. [click to continue…]

I must make a Public Statement about Women Who Breastfeed While Teaching. Because I am a woman who used to teach, and I breastfed, and though I never breastfed my kid during class I did on occasion bring him while I was teaching. And I think I may have breastfed him during at least one faculty meeting.

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Home, Schooling

by Tedra Osell on August 19, 2012

So. On the advice of multiple therapists and after failing to get a transfer to the one in-district school that I thought might work for Pseudonymous Kid, and likewise failing to find a private school within reasonable distance that looked like it would work for him, I am becoming a Homeschooling Mom this academic year.

I know I said I was homeschooling PK before, but I wasn’t, officially; he was on what our state calls “home hospital,” which means that a teacher was coming in for a few hours a week to make sure he “kept up.” He and I were doing some stuff on the side, but he was still enrolled in the public system. This week, though, I am going to call and “unenroll” him.

The up side, from the purely selfish point of view: I’ve had about nine months of research time, and have found some awesome resources. Whether or not I can get PK—who is currently spending as much of his summer as I will allow him (which is more time than I care to admit) playing Half Life and Minecraft and Portal—to get interested in them is a separate issue, but they are there. If one wants to be optimistic and positive, one can easily see home schooling as keeping alive the flame of progressive education until the public system rediscovers it in a decade or two.
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PK is Charmed and So Am I

by Tedra Osell on March 5, 2012

A public thank you to Kieran for teaching PK two new vocabulary words—”diaphoresis” and “micturition”—which should come in very handy. And for the delivery of a package this morning that prompted PK to get out of bed before noon.

I May Have Been Wrong: Shorter Version

by Tedra Osell on March 4, 2012

A “bad teacher” named William Johnson talks about the problems we’re having from the other side of the desk.

my job can be extremely difficult. Beyond the challenges posed by my students, budget cuts and changes to special-education policy have increased my workload drastically even over just the past 18 months. While my class sizes have grown, support staff members have been laid off. Students with increasingly severe disabilities are being pushed into more mainstream classrooms like mine, where they receive less individual attention and struggle to adapt to a curriculum driven by state-designed high-stakes tests. [click to continue…]

I May Have Been Wrong

by Tedra Osell on March 2, 2012

So. That post I wrote about charter schools? Where I argued that liberal, educated, reasonably affluent parents (like me!) should keep our kids in public schools, advocate for public schools, not buy our way out of problems in the public schools, and so on? Dana Goldstein made a similar argument against homeschooling recently.

Only some things have happened since I wrote that post, and as it turns out, I’m homeschooling Pseudonymous Kid right now. [click to continue…]

Calling All Adjuncts

by Tedra Osell on February 7, 2012

Sorry, this isn’t a job posting. Instead, it’s a request for adjuncts or recent adjuncts to add their salaries to a database, intended to “recognize the schools that are doing a great job . . . [and to] expose those schools that have chosen to ignore the basic human rights of their employees and shortchange their students and their communities by devaluing the very education they pretend to celebrate.”

Having worked, for precisely one semester, at an adjunct job that paid about $2k, if memory serves, along with other indignities, I totally endorse this project.

If you haven’t come across Jourdon Anderson’s 1865 letter “To [his] Old Master” yet, do read it; it’s marvelously pointed, far more rhetorically adept than its recipient deserved. Jason Kottke did a little digging—wait, is this some of that digital humanities stuff all the kids are doing nowadays?—and found out what happened to Jourdon Anderson and his family. The short version seems to be that they lived happily ever after.

someecards.com - Thank you for cutting off funding to cancer screening programs in order to prove that you are pro-life.
In case you hadn’t heard, the latest you-must-be-shitting-me news in re. lady parts is that the massive fund-raising organization responsible for all those pink mixers and spatulas at Target, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, has decided that preventing breast cancer is less important than Taking a Stand for The Babies. [click to continue…]

A Modest Proposal for Roe Day

by Tedra Osell on January 22, 2012

I challenge everyone who has commented in the “Do You Trust Women” post and considers themselves pro-choice to donate $2 to Planned Parenthood (or your abortion rights organization of choice) per comment to celebrate Roe Day.

That’s $126 for me, and I’ll round up to $130.

If you do it, leave a comment saying how much you donated. No checking people’s math, and obviously no one can check to see if you actually did donate; we’re on the honor system here.

Do You Trust Women

by Tedra Osell on January 20, 2012

Sunday is Roe Day [edited to add: and some good news to celebrate!]. I wrote this piece a long time ago, and I’ve reposted part of it since then. And now I’m doing so again because I still think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever read, let alone said, on the subject. [click to continue…]

I Propose a New Educational Mandate

by Tedra Osell on January 8, 2012

To wit, a mandate that educational mandates be in line with actual current research on education rather than pulled out of someone’s butthole.

So, for instance, some teacher(s) at this school in Georgia thinks that “Each tree had 56 oranges. If 8 slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick” and “If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in 1 week? 2 weeks?” are appropriate interdisciplinary math word problems. For elementary students.

Even if we agree to completely ignore the fact that these questions are blatantly offensive, have these educators never heard of stereotype threat? (See also.) The research on this has been around for almost twenty years, people.

Research also shows us that equality actually improves everyone’s performance; this nonsense may well be depressing white students’ learning as well as black students’. I can guarantee you that questions like that would make it a lot harder for me to get my kid to finish his math homework.

Speaking of whom, Pseudonymous Kid overheard me ranting talking about this earlier, and asked what stereotype threat was, so I gave him a brief explanation. Then he tells me that apparently the state mandated STAR tests have the students indicate race and gender on them. (And that “on the race question, “white” is separated from all the other categories—it’s right on top, and all the other options are underneath a dividing line.” God only knows what message that sends, but obviously PK finds it offputting.) Because apparently it’s important that we annually remind all students in California which of them belong to groups that stereotypically aren’t good at math/school/science/whatever. Before we have them take a test the results of which determine all sorts of things: what reading level a kid is at, school rankings (hm, maybe stereotype threat has a measurable impact on “failing” majority-minority schools?), whether kids qualify for certain kinds of programs, whether or not kids are “below basic, below basic, basic, proficient,  advanced,” at certain subjects, and god only knows what else.

I’m wondering, now, how many states have students fill in this kind of data on standardized tests. Does the SAT still do it? And for god’s sake, why haven’t we yet put demographic information (which yes, there are good reasons to collect it) at the end of the test or even have teachers fill it out so that we don’t emphasize this nonsense to the students themselves?

Obviously this pissy, difficult parent needs to file a complaint with the state department of education this afternoon.

If Your Holidays Aren’t So Happy

by Tedra Osell on December 31, 2011

It wasn’t too many years ago that I was suicidally depressed. Because this is a public forum, I won’t go into what finally got me to a psychiatrist (I’d seen psychotherapists for years, but hadn’t been diagnosed with clinical depression) and onto medication, and I had to try several different pills before I found something that worked. Recently I’ve switched meds again, and I’m really having a great holiday season.

But for a lot of people the holidays suck. Sometimes that’s temporary, but often it’s not. Please take twelve minutes to watch the video below, and please take the time in real life to listen to the people you love. I think one of the profoundest difficulties we have as human beings, despite all our ways of communicating, is that ultimately it’s horribly easy to hear someone say they’re unhappy but not really understand that they are deeply in trouble, especially if the things they seem unhappy about seem small or temporary or like minor fillips in a pretty great life.

It’s impossible to know how someone with depression feels if you haven’t been there. And if you are there, it’s impossible to realize that it really doesn’t have to be that bad. If you think you need help, please ask for it. And if you think someone you know needs help, please listen—because when you’re way down that well, it can be almost impossible even to whisper.

Tis the Season for Conference Wankery!

by Tedra Osell on December 28, 2011

Do you know what’s more boring than the insularity of academia? Bold Rebels Who Take Stands Against the Insularity of Academia by using minor players/subfields as weapons to bash someone who is mistakenly thought to be Really Important because he has a Column in the New York Times.

I so do not miss this kind of wankery. I had spent a few minutes feeling mildly wistful about lacking a reason to go up to Seattle this year, since I like and miss Seattle and would have enjoyed having drinks with some old friends and acquaintances, but dear god do I prefer sitting on my couch in 70-degree December weather thinking about taking a walk to the grocery store to having to listen to people preen themselves on their superior cynicism. If I’d stayed in academia I’m afraid my eyeballs would have gotten stuck staring at the ceiling and I’d be unable to walk anywhere.