#metoo

Since about mid-September, I’ve been thinking back to, “This time last year….”

This time last year, we were closing in on the US presidential election. I was not certain that Clinton was going to win. I knew nothing was a given. But I was hopeful. Having grown up in evangelicalism, I have as many conservative friends as liberal ones. I know them to be good people. Surely the majority of Republican America would not vote for this man.

And yeah, yeah, HRC got 3 million more votes than Trump. That is the tiniest bit comforting. But just the tiniest bit, because Trump still got almost 63 million votes.

This time last year, I was daring to believe that there weren’t that many people who would put up with his shit. I was wrong.

I’ve been debating whether or not to post #metoo. Because of course, #metoo. Reading the avalanche of #metoo stories, I feel as I did watching the second presidential debate, almost exactly a year ago, when Trump incessantly interrupted Clinton and paced menacingly behind her: I feel like I can’t breathe.

Over the years, I’ve heard people say, “There’s no need for feminism anymore.” I witness that is their reality, that they feel no need for it, but there are millions of us gasping for the air of autonomy. To not be interrupted. To not have our space taken away from us. To not have to contort our selves into ever smaller shapes to make room for others’ sprawling colonization of our space. And of course, to not be raped. To not be blamed and shamed.

It is part of my story, one that I tell openly, that I’ve dealt with depression since I was 13 years old. I don’t view it as a pathology so much as a completely appropriate response to having read a history book. An appropriate response to the feeling of fingers beginning to creep around my neck, squeezing my throat, threatening my breath. I was so young, but I was already experiencing the silencing of my girl voice and objectification of my girl body.

One might call what I was feeling grief. As I’ve grown older, as I’ve surrounded my self with friends and a life partner and poets and other authors who are witnesses, who get it, I’ve come out the other side of grieving. The depression has subsequently eased.

I have to admit that as I’ve read all of the #metoo stories this week, I have been scared of grieving again. So much grief. How can we bear it? Especially, how can we bear it in this world where even a man who claims to be an ally, joining our marches, has assaulted dozens of women? Where a man stalks a woman, openly, in front of God and everybody, and 63 million people say, “Yes, he should be the most powerful man in the world”?

I don’t know the answer. All I know is #metoo.

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I’m Doing the Best I Can

“I’m doing the best I can.”

I have repeated this near daily since June, when I took on a new job with more hours – more weekly hours, in fact, than I had worked since having two kids. It’s a good project, and I’m glad to be doing it, but there may have been one or two or ten days that felt like running a race with only one shoe on. Or without socks. Or maybe I had on socks but they were dirty because the laundry piles in this house are everywhere.

Today in the mail, I got this lovely Emily McDowell magnet from a friend.


“You are doing a *&^% great job.”

It was accompanied by a note, written with marker on brown construction paper, “I’m sorry about the icky brown construction paper, but my kid won’t use it so I have to….”

I’m not sure which I appreciate more, the magnet (which I promptly placed on the altar in front of my desk (yes, I have an altar, don’t you?)) or the note (because if using the brown construction paper isn’t a metaphor for motherhood, I don’t know what is).

I do know that I love my friend and that she thought to send this to me and the holiness of the space we humans-doing-the-best-we-can hold for each other.

And for you, in case you need to hear it: “You’re doing a *&^% great job.”

CCS School Board to Vote Thursday on Weighing Students, Taking Away Recess

Now’s the Time: Tell the School Board You Care About Weigh-ins & Recess!
Please consider coming out to the CCS School Board this Thursday, September 7, when the School Board will be voting on the issues of weighing students and of taking away recess as punishment, as part of an updated district Wellness Policy.

The School Board meeting begins at 5:00 at Charlottesville High School, 1400 Melbourne Road. Every member of the public is entitled to speak for three minutes. The public comment period will be towards the beginning of the agenda. You do not have to stay for the entire board meeting!

If you are not able to attend the meeting on Thursday, you can still email them. Click here for sample text that you could use in an email to the school board and for all of the school board members’ email addresses.

Two things I will be asking the School Board to do and would encourage you to consider asking for, as well:
1) Approve the updated Wellness Policy.
2) Given the persistent use of recess as punishment and the confusion about the legitimacy of the practice, send communication to ALL CCS stakeholders – parents, teachers, and administrators – announcing that recess is not to be taken away from students.

To read the updated Wellness Policy here, click this link, then select the third hyperlink on the page, under File Attachment (see screenshot below): http://esbpublic.ccs.k12.va.us/public_itemview.aspx?ItemId=6241&mtgId=605
Screen Shot 2017-09-05 at 1.50.32 PM

If you have any questions at all about speaking to or emailing the school board, please email me at christa.v.bennett@gmail.com

For more information on the updated policy, keep reading….

The Updated Wellness Policy
The Wellness Policy has been updated by the School Health Advisory Board. It contains numerous changes to the existing policy. The two issues that my petition has been focused regard student weigh-ins and taking away recess as punishment.

The changes to the policy of weighing students include the following:

  • Students will be weighed in third through tenth grades (whereas they used to be weighed beginning in kindergarten).
  • Parents have the option to opt out their child from being weighed AND students have the option to opt out themselves.
    • PE teachers’ training in conducting the weigh-ins will include how to talk to students about opting out and their right to do so.
  • PE teachers will be trained in how to conduct the weigh-ins, using modules from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • An additional teacher will be assigned to the PE class while the PE teacher is weighing students.
  • Students’ weights will not be recorded with their name or other identifying information.
    • The purpose of the weigh-ins are for “surveillance” instead of “screening.” In this case, surveillance means collecting data, without identifying information attached. The data will be used in application for grants that will benefit Charlottesville students.
  • Students will not be told their weight, even if they ask what it is. (This is not yet in the Wellness Policy, but Patrick Johnson, CCS Coordinator of Health and Physical Education, indicated that he intends to include it in the final draft of the Wellness Policy.)

The change to the policy of taking away recess as punishment includes the following:

  • It can’t happen!

In a very clear statement, the Wellness policy says that taking away recess, PE, or other physical activity as punishment is not permitted. Additionally, the use of physical activity as punishment is not permitted.

My Take
I am very pleased with the changes to the Wellness Policy.

Regarding the practice of weighing students, my original preference was that it wouldn’t happen at all. However, I am intrigued by one of the changes that is really innovative and could be a powerful experience for a student: that they can opt themselves out. There is a shift towards teaching kids in school about consent, that they get to decide what happens to their bodies. Being able to say no to being weighed could be an empowering experience for students. I will be watching how this plays out.

Regarding recess, I am very happy to have such a clear statement against taking it away as punishment.

I was surprised that at the school board meeting last month, no one pushed back on the second prohibition, i.e., the use of physical activity as punishment not being allowed. I am sensitive to the limited resources teachers often face, and I am concerned that they have adequate alternatives to respond to disruptive behavior in their classrooms. Some teachers do have kids walk laps at the beginning of recess, as a consequence for poor choices. While this is not ideal if it is happening every day – the numerous studies indicating the importance of recess in child development highlight its utility in social development as well as physical and academic – I wouldn’t necessarily balk at a teacher using it occasionally.

Weigh-ins and Recess Excerpts from the updated Wellness Policy

(p4)

  • Reducing or eliminating time for recess, physical education or physical activity as a punishment is not permitted.
  • The use of physical activity as a punishment is not permitted.

(p5)

  • BMI (height and weight)assessments surveillance will be conducted collected for students in K3-10 yearly, however, parents and students will have the option of opting out. An opt-out form will be provided to all parents prior to the start of the BMI assessment. BMI assessment will be taken without using student’s names and will be done in a private area. PE teachers will be trained and provided with an additional adult to assist with the PE class while assessments are being taken. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/obesity/BMI/BMI_measurement_schools.htm

*****

Read evidence supporting our request to end weigh-ins and taking away recess here and here.
Sign the petition to end weigh-ins and taking away recess here.
Read my May 4 statement to the CCS School Board here.
Read my June 1 statement to the CCS School Board here.
Read all posts related to this issue here.
Read about media coverage of our campaign here.

Sample Email Text to Write the CCS School Board

If you are unable to attend the September 7 CCS school board meeting but would still like to let the board know how important it is that they pass the updated Wellness Policy, you may email them. Below, I have pasted sample text that you could use to write board members an email. I have also posted the email addresses for all board members.

If you have any questions, you may email me at christa.v.bennett@gmail.com.

Sample Email Text to the School Board
Dear School Board Member,
Please vote to pass the updated Wellness Policy at the school board meeting on September 7.

Parents and children in our school district should be informed that students will be weighed during PE class and that they have a right to opt out.

Taking away recess should not be used as punishment. Numerous organizations, including the US National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Pediatrics, have released studies emphasizing the crucial importance of physical activity in our students’ academic, physical, and social development.

Please communicate the updated Wellness Policy in a way that will ensure all parents, teachers, and administrators are aware of these changes.

Thank you for your support of our students.

Best,
[Your Name]
[Your Charlottesville address]

School Board Email Addresses
School Board           SchoolBoard@charlottesvilleschools.org

Dr. Adam Hastings hastina1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Dr. Sherry Kraft        krafts1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Amy Laufer   laufea1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Jennifer McKeever mckeevj1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Ned Michie   michien1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Leah Puryear           puryeal1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Juandiego Wade wadej1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Superintendent Dr. Rosa Atkins Rosa.Atkins@charlottesvilleschools.org

This Is 36

Last night, I erased the past week from our dry erase five-week family calendar and filled in the dates for five weeks from now. I gasped when I wrote October 1 on the board. It’s hard to believe that I’m nearing the last couple of months of being 36, with a birthday in November.

I am amazed and comforted and excited about how my sense of self has continued to grow so much stronger and deeper in the past year.

During #thisis36, I left a job and waited for the just-right next job to come along. I broke up with a bad therapist. For the first time ever, I pulled off my shirt in the middle of hot yoga class to move in just my sports bra, something I thought I could never do five years and twenty pounds ago. That is, when I weighed twenty pounds less but wasn’t as fully at home in my body. The image in the mirror has grown older, but I’ve grown kinder towards her. Not that the process has been seamless. There were about two weeks over Christmas when I was aghast and ashamed of a large new wrinkle that seemed to appear overnight. I was thinking about all the ways I could fix it, then suddenly, like a ribbon above my head, appeared “Or…” Or, I could accept it. It is hard to adequately convey in words how that Or shocked my body. The power of acceptance rippled through me and propelled me through a doorway, set me free in a place that I hadn’t been before.

To feel my increasing sense of agency and power makes me happy to be alive. This is 36.

A Red Jordan Sneaker

Red Jordan

As the whole world now knows, yesterday in Charlottesville, a man plowed his car into a crowd of people. Several people quickly posted videos from the scene. I watched in horror. As I viewed the video of the Charger speeding in reverse from the scene, I noticed something red caught in its front fender. I watched the video several times trying to figure out what it was and finally realized it was one of the red Jordan sneakers being worn by one of the victims. In the picture that has been posted by numerous newspapers of two men flying in the air after being hit, you can see one of the men wearing these red Jordans.

My daughters and I went to the downtown mall to place flowers at the site of the murder. There was already a memorial there. At the back were several of the victims’ shoes left at the scene, including a red Jordan.

This small detail continues to stick with me. A piece of this person, dragged off by the speeding car.

What the racists, fascists, white nationalists cannot take, what no one can drag away, is the dignity and value of any of God’s children.

* * * * *

The gathering at the mall tonight sang, “This Little Light of Mine.”

And the darkness will not overcome it.

I’m Not Angry. I’m Awake.

I’m not angry. I’m awake.

Today I’ve been thinking a lot about the manipulations that are used to keep people – especially historically disenfranchised people, such as women and minorities – out of places of power. This happens in systemic ways, and it happens in every day personal interactions.

A few years ago and again this week, I had an experience where I was, open-heartedly and with great vulnerability, sharing my thoughts and feelings with other women. What I was telling them weren’t my edicts on the world. They weren’t even feelings I would share publicly, as they were thoughts-in-process. I was searching, to sort through them and pick out conclusions that were good and useful.

The women cut my process short by leveling an accusation at me: I was angry.

This stung me, the pastor’s daughter. This stung me, the authority pleaser. This stung me, the woman who didn’t locate my nexus of control inside myself until my mid-20s.

An extra layer of hurt was added because both were women who would have described themselves as feminists, and because they were older women whom I looked up to.

Anger is a word lobbed at those-with-less-power to discount our experiences: “You’re just angry.” I don’t think the women I was talking with meant to invoke this historical context of the anger accusation. I think what we were discussing triggered their own feelings. It was still an arrow that hit an old, scarred-yet-tender mark in my heart.

I’ve been sitting with this today. I lit a candle. I said a prayer that I would find the truth I needed from this situation. The words just came to me: I’m not angry. I’m awake.

I am a gentle, kind, thirsting-for-righteousness woman who has taken back (from history and society and specific experiences) my power. I am human and imperfect, so sometimes I say the wrong thing or act the wrong way. I am always willing to apologize. In fact, I find peace and healing in saying, “I’m sorry.” I see injustice and powerlessness and pain, and I recognize it and I often use words to express my witness of it.

I’m not angry. I’m awake.

Amen.