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Tedra Osell

Mad Science for Kids: A Book Review

by Tedra Osell on December 27, 2011

If I were smarter, I’d have written this before Christmas so that you’d have an excuse to buy the book I’m going to tell you about. That said, maybe you don’t need an excuse to buy good books, so if you are inclined to like comics, humor, feminist scienceish geekery, and/or all of the above–or if you know someone who is, and in particular if that someone is a young person–I recommend the totally awesome <a href=”″>Complete Narbonic Perfect Collection</a> , only recently published. [click to continue…]

I did warn you

by Tedra Osell on December 25, 2011

Xena the warrior princess wishes you a merry christmas

Minnie the tabby looks forward to the new year

Not Very Cheering

by Tedra Osell on December 22, 2011

My husband sent me this fascinating chart of atrocities throughout history, from the NYT. It’s an excellent chart as chart (Tufte would be proud), and despite the appalling subject it’s really engaging. It’s a nice visual representation of something a couple of us referenced yesterday in comments, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s ongoing posts about the civil war as the end of a great tragedy, rather than a tragedy in its own right. And it’s also incredibly, incredibly humbling: the only one of the most deadly events of human history I really know much about is WWII, and many of the others I’ve never even heard of. Clearly my education has been revoltingly Eurocentric; I think I had one half of one semester in high school devoted to the history of Asia, and the only thing I really remember is that we memorized a brief dialogue in Mandarin and I cheated on the test by writing the names and Mandarin characters of the major dynasties on my pencil. Poor Doc Langan; he had a PhD in Chinese (Asian?) history, and he had to deal with ignorant little jackasses like me. I owe him restitution in the form of learning something. Anyone care to recommend a couple of decent histories of Asia (or regions thereof) for the general reader?


Reading Coates Reading Eliot

by Tedra Osell on December 21, 2011

If you’re not following Ta-Nehisi Coates as he reads Eliot’s <i>Middlemarch</i>, you’re really missing out. It’s one of my favorite novels, so I’m having great fun reading someone who is really smart read something I’m familiar with for the first time. I love reading Coates, and in this case especially so. He’s no callow undergrad and he writes better than anyone I can think of, which means reading him is not merely the familiar pleasure of observing students’ first encounter with a familiar novel. His frame of reference is totally intellectual but not “academic” in the conventional sense: rigorous but really fresh. His go-to for beautiful language is hip hop, which I like just fine but am not particularly familiar with, so I’m getting new insights into Eliot along with a little mini-education in rap music, plus occasional comparisons to his research into the Civil War (which has anyone posted here about that yet? Because damn). Just so much fun.

<a href=””>’Greedy of Clutch'</a>

<a href=””>Shirley Chisolm, Cont.</a>

<a href=””>The Notorious George Eliot</a>

<a href=””>George Eliot’s Spellcraft</a>

<a href=””>George Eliot Conversates</a>

<a href=””>’All the Light I Can Command'</a>

<a href=””>Into the Canon: Middlemarch</a>

<a href=””>Into the Canon</a>

(Those are all the posts I could find. <i>The Atlantic</i> needs an easier way of searching their blogging archives.)


by Tedra Osell on December 16, 2011

<a href=””>This is huge</a>: medical homecare workers will start to be treated as actual workers, with overtime and minimum wage requirements, rather than volunteers. At some point perhaps other groups of workers excluded from that kind of basic protection–waiters, other domestic workers, farm laborers–will also overcome the racist legacy of not counting Certain Classes of People as “real” workers.

In the meantime, for god’s sake tip well and if you’re not paying the person who cleans your house or mows your lawn or delivers your newspaper or nannies your kids two weeks bonus wages at some point during the year (it doesn’t have to be during the Big Spending Season, but everyone is entitled to a vacation, and don’t give me this crap about how they’re “self-employed” and it’s “their responsibility” to budget for their own vacation), you suck.*

*Possibly not if you live in a country in which people who do this kind of work actually get the same benefits and protections as so-called “professionals.”

Schooling Anonymous Kids

by Tedra Osell on December 15, 2011

Commenter MS asked <a href=”″>what I think about charter schools</a>, which as it happens is something I have opinions on. (I know, go figure.)

I am a die-hard pro-public-schools liberal, in a nutshell. I wasn’t real keen on charter schools from the beginning: while I’m all for the idea that educators and schools ought to be allowed, dammit, to try innovative or new approaches, it was clear that demanding that “regular” public schools conform to the one-test-fits-all-and-here-is-THE-mandated-curriculum approach while setting up alternative schools that were magically freed of that bullshit while still being the financial responsibility of the school district was pretty much a recipe for trying to further siphon money out of public schools while beating teachers up for failing to educate 30-40 kids in a class with the change they could find at home in their couch cushions.

Funnily enough, that concern was founded on an expectation that charter schools, freed from some of the regulations that public schools have to adhere to, would, in fact, manage to offer better educations. It turns out that that’s not actually the case, though; by now we all know that the results comparing charters to public schools are mixed; there is no clear advantage to charter schools. My guess is that founding schools based on half-baked theories and ideologically driven philosophies, or as for-profit institutions, rather than oh, say, based on actual evidence about what works in education, isn’t the way to go.

The problem, of course, is that most of us aren’t experts in educational research; I’m highly interested in pedagogy, and know a lot more about what works and what doesn’t than most people, but it isn’t a field I’m trained in, I don’t read education journals regularly, and I would not claim to be an expert on this stuff. So we can’t, honestly, expect parents to pick schools based on their knowledge of what’s educationally beneficial.

That said, obviously parents in general can be trusted to know their own personal kid pretty well, and I think there’s a decent case to be made that parents ought to have the ability to send their kid to, say, a school with a heavy focus on the social aspect of learning, where there’s a fair bit of noise and chaos and no individual desks and lots of moving around the classroom; or to recognize that their kid is easily distracted and kinda likes the pen-and-paper model of learning and finds it easier to get stuff done while sitting in one of several rows all facing the teacher. (I have sent my kid to both kinds of schools, just fyi.)

There’s an even better case to be made that individual teachers should have the ability to try new ideas in their classrooms. After all, teachers, unlike parents, are actually trained in education, and they have a lot more experience than parents do of how things actually go in a classroom (and of what their own strengths and weaknesses are, and how much patience they have to deal with, say, a socratic approach where kids are encouraged to argue, or to put up with building materials all over the classroom for weeks while the kids construct some awesome physics experiment).

But right now the focus is entirely on parent choice, which, if nothing else means that the children of parents who are motivated to seek out schools that fit their kid or their beliefs about education are going to benefit, if there are benefits to be had, while kids whose parents are either less motivated or less financially able to move to a different neighborhood or afford the gas and time to transport their kids back and forth every day or research and follow up on what’s going on at school, are going to have to deal with what’s left over.

Which basically is my own personal bottom line, as well as–as we’ve seen over and over–<i>the</i> bottom line. The children of people who read academicish blogs are *going to be fine no matter what*. If my kid is going to a school that doesn’t have a librarian (which he did from grades 2-5), well, he has three six-foot bookshelves at home plus piles of books on his bedside table and floor. If his teacher isn’t super patient with his temper, he has a mother who is going to schedule meetings with the teacher to advocate for his emotional needs and then come home and figure out how to explain to him, in a way that he can sign on to, why he needs to manage his frustration and how we’re going to help him do that. If his school doesn’t offer music or art or science classes, and he is interested in those things or I think they’re important, I can arrange for those things privately.

Meanwhile, I’m highly aware that any system that’s set up to siphon money and ideas away from the base option is going to end up impoverishing the base option, right? If the problem is that the base option isn’t good enough or flexible enough, then we need to address that, not create some kind of parallel system. Especially if that parallel system functions as an implicit “alternative” to a default that “isn’t good enough.” If it isn’t good enough for my kid, it isn’t good enough for anyone’s kid. And if my kid is in a public school, then let’s be honest: I’m going to be far, far more proactive than I otherwise would about improving that school, and public schools in general (for example, I created a bit of a curriculum library at his last school, and at his current one I’ve been highly proactive in pushing the administration to deal with bullying).

And finally, the other really major reason for the kids of educated white folks like me to stay in public schools is that we are still a highly segregated society. As my own kid said the other day, “the easiest way to realize that poor people are not lazy or stupid is to have friends that are poor.” Substitute any group and stereotype that you want into that sentence (He also recently commented that he’s always had classes with kids who had “some kind of disability that makes them shout or act out or be really distracting in class” which led us to a conversation about how common learning/behavior/mental disorders are.) I think in our cultural push to “raise standards,” we’ve overfocused on traditional academic standards. Yet one of the things our society suffers most from–and the way we’ve approached academic standards echoes it–is the worship of extreme individualism. We need to keep in mind that our kids are not just my kid or your kid or the anonymous kids of “those” people over there: they are all <i>our</i> kids, and we have a collective duty and responsibility to model public citizenship to them. One of the best ways to do that is to participate in public institutions.

Fun with Statistics

by Tedra Osell on December 11, 2011

Old friend and former grad student buddy Lawrence White (not sure where he’s teaching these days–Lawrence, are you out reading? –pointed out that <a href=””>this</a> might be a useful teaching tool. Plus it’s just kinda fun.

Suddenly it all makes sense

Speaking of teaching, this is one of two seasons of the year in which I feel quite gleeful that I no longer have that responsibility. You people really shouldn’t be surfing the web unless your grading is done, you know.

Fun with Anti-Science

by Tedra Osell on December 6, 2011

Okay, this is too easy to pass up.

The WaPo reports that Teva Pharmaceuticals has applied to the FDA to sell Plan B over the counter. W00t! No more worrying about when the pharmacy closed or whether or not the pharmacist is gonna pull some conscience-clause bullshit on you, shy teenagers with broken condoms or forgotten birth control pills can sneak it into a shopping basket disguised with a magazine just like they do their tampons, things will be just a little easier from here on out.


<blockquote>“When anybody can buy an emergency contraceptive like this over the counter, you open the door for all sorts of abuse, and especially so when it comes to child abuse and child exploitation,” said Janice Crouse of Concerned Women of America.</blockquote>

Yes! If children who are being raped  or forced into prostitution prevent themselves from getting pregnant, then they are destroying valuable evidence, and that would be wrong. Or at least I assume that’s the reasoning here; surely Ms. Crouse doesn’t think that potential child rapists hold themselves back only for fear of not being able to force-feed their victims Plan B after raping them. Does she?

She’s also concerned that over-the-counter Plan B will make it harder for parents to be, um, “involved” with their children. Poor choice of words there, but let’s ignore it.

<blockquote>”When you are talking about selling something like this over the counter, you are opening up a can of worms when it comes to parental involvement in their children’s lives.”</blockquote>

Again, this is a TOTALLY VALID objection. It’s vitally important that parents have the power to force their underage children to bear them grandchildren, or at least to make them have to get an abortion rather than preventing the pregnancy in the first place.

Ah, but wait.

<blockquote>“It’s not a drug that prevents life — it’s a drug that destroys life,” said Jeanne Monahan of the Family Research Council, a conservative advocacy group. “If we define life as beginning at fertilization or conception, then this drug can be an abortifacient.”</blockquote>

This is my favorite part of the whole article. Let’s redefine “life” so that we can classify things as abortifacients! I’ll start:

If we define life as beginning at the moment a man first sets eyes on a woman, then not putting out for every dude on the street is an abortifacient.

If we define it as beginning the moment the ring is on her finger, then every business trip is an abortifacient.

If we define it as beginning with ovulation, then menstruation is an abortifacient! MENSTRUAL PADS MUST BE PRESCRIPTION ONLY.

Your turn!


by Tedra Osell on December 6, 2011

Those of you who don’t already “know” me might well be wondering “who the hell is this bitch?” Or actually probably not: CT readers aren’t known for being vulgarians, I don’t think, unlike many of the commenters at the Chronicle (dear god, poor Clare). Thank god I haven’t read the Chronicle in years.

If you had been thinking that, though, it would be a reasonable question, inasmuch as I am, in the world of academe, absolutely no one. (Which frees me from having to read the Chronicle, among other perks.) I left the ivory tower something like five years ago–I no longer remember, exactly–for the exalted position of housewife and PTO mom (did you know that the PTA is a national organization that collects dues, which means that a lot of school parent-teacher orgs now call themselves PTOs? I didn’t). That was fun, and I got to do a lot of teaching because my kid’s public school was kinda run like a co-op and required ridiculous amounts of parental involement, so I developed lesson plans for reading and writing and chemistry and put together a PTO library of sorts and did all sorts of other things, as PTO moms do.

Now, though, said kid, who unlike me shall remain pseudonymous, is in a “regular” middle school, meaning that I’m not actually allowed on campus during the day at all (!). So mama needs to get a job. Adjuncting is Right Out, as is getting a credential and teaching K-12 in California; I’m bored, but not insane. So my shiny new 2012 iteration is gonna be freelancing: I’m thinking academicish editing and hopefully the odd opinion piece somewhere.

Which means I’d been mulling over this whole “writing and being public again” thing lately, when lo, John Q. asked me “hey, would you be interested in writing at CT ever?” And I said, “you know what? Yes, that might be kind of fun.”

So here I am.

There is a certain irony in appearing on an academic(ish) blog as myself only now that I’m no longer an academic. Talk about imposter syndrome. Which maybe I will at some point, who knows.

Until then, though, you can expect me to talk about education, definitely: both higher and k-12. Academic and general writing on- and offline, probably. Popular feminism, most definitely. Politics and culture, inevitably. The weirdness of transitioning from “academic” to “entrepeneur,” as my business workshop kept calling us, no doubt (has anyone besides me ever noticed how insufferably pretentious both those titles are, especially when self-administered?). And if you’re really really lucky, cat videos.

Feel free to toss me links, topics, or photos of your kittens.