Saturday, 5 November 2011

This post.

I do not know how to say why I like this post:

Well, having children changes you. Jonathan Coulton likens it to becoming a vampire.

I was having a conversation with a friend who had recently become a parent, and she reminded me of something I had forgotten about since my daughter was born. She was describing this what-have-I-done feeling – I just got everything perfect in my life, and then I went and messed it all up by having a baby. I don’t feel that way anymore, but the thought certainly crossed my mind a few times at the beginning. Eventually you just fall in love and forget about everything else, but it’s not a very comfortable transition. I compare the process to becoming a vampire, your old self dies in a sad and painful way, but then you come out the other side with immortality, super strength and a taste for human blood. At least that’s how it was for me. At any rate, it’s complicated.

Maybe tongue in cheek, but not that far from the truth, honestly. Your children, they ruin everything in the nicest way.

Before Henry was born, I remembered Scott Hanselman writing this odd blurb about being a parent:

You think you love you wife when you marry her. Then you have a baby and you realize you'd throw your wife yourself under a bus to save your baby. You can't love something more.

Nuts to that, I thought. Hanselman's crazy. Well, obviously he doesn't love his wife as much as I love mine. Sniff. Babies, whatever, sure, they're super cute on calendars, just like puppies and kittens. Then I had a baby. And by God, he was right. I wouldn't just throw myself under a bus for my baby, I'd happily throw my wife under that bus too – without the slightest hesitation. What the hell just happened to me?

from Jeff Atwood. Read all the words!

That post: Sniff. [wipe tear]

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Gendered education

Coasting around some teaching resources I came across this blog post from an educator in Thailand who is connected to an international school.

The author has been looking into boys education and they're concerned with the way education seems to have been benefiting girls in the past few decades. He says:
...the evidence has been emerging around the world since the late 90’s showing that boys are struggling in school far more than their fathers’ ever did. The evidence shows that "girls on average outperform boys in school, when measured by report card grades, in most subjects and in all age groups."
I don't know if these grades are against criteria or against groups, but there are a lot of factors that could skew these results. For instance, in my father's generation, students who were typically non-academic would have left in Year 8 and gone onto (respected) career-specific training, thus removing themselves from the cohort who would contribute to this kind of data. These days non-academic students are kept in school and their contributions may create a lower average. There're also the changes in teacher education and possibly generational attitudes towards genders and how teacher might grade a student's understanding. Although I don't understand how this kind of skewing could be accounted for in statistics, I am trusting it's been absorbed and suitable allowances made.

Now, I've read a few things about gender and gender issues in education, but I haven't written much on the matter. So please bare with me as I bash out my gut feelings about this***. These are the areas that the author is discussing. They seem to be sourced from some texts on the topic. I'm going to group them into two areas: differences that can be quantified and differences that are hard to quantify.

Areas that I think can be quantified:
  • Girls are born with more sensitive hearing than boys and this difference increases with age.
  • Girls develop a link between the amygdala and the cerebral cortex much earlier than boys.
  • There is apparently a difference in the anatomy of the eye in which the male retina is thicker than a female’s due to cell composition. This leads to preferences regarding colours and motion.
  • ... males and females navigate differently and will give directions using different words.
  • And one I'm tentative about: ...boys tend to be ready later for being introduced to the skills of reading and writing than girls. This is most probably due to the fact that boys and girls brains develop in a different sequence
Areas that I think are hard to quantify:
  • Boys and girls like to read different types of books because of the way their brain develops. Girls enjoy fiction, short stories and novels....Boys on the other hand prefer nonfiction, action books with strong male characters who often act as brave heroes.
  • Boys and girls have different perspectives about friendships. Girls enjoy spending time together, face to face, talking and sharing secrets and self disclosure. Whereas boys friendships tend to develop out of shared interest in a game or activity.
  • Males are innately more aggressive than females due to the hormone testosterone. Boys enjoy ‘rough and tumble’ play fighting as it releases aggression, whereas girls do not have this need.
  • Boys find risks irresistible, they admire others who take risks and get a thrill from physically risky activities.
So about half the differences of concern are, in my non-psychologically-qualified opinion, very difficult to measure. As far as gathering evidence goes, how these conclusions can possibly be separated from a child's training and cultural influence concerns me. So I shall go through these assertions with these disclosures*:
  • Types of books: In my class, on average, there are a few more boys than girls who enjoy war stories, and the Horrible Histories. The war stories ones are clearly pitched at boys, though, so it's hard to gauge what's causing that preference.
    However, series that are about child spies, or apocalyptic situations where violence or death are involved, are enjoyed equally by boys and girls. The girls love strong characters like Ellie Linton, or James Adams, just like the boys do.
    I had a new student start with us, from South Korea, and he was a fantastic person and quickly settled into the class, making lots of friends. His first books were The Baby Sitters Club, partly for the reading level and partly for the topic. It was two weeks before one of the boys pointed out it was generally 'a girls' book' but I did like the way he said "Just so you know" to insist that he wasn't teasing.
    The boys don't read the 'girls'' stories as much as the girls read the 'boys''. But I don't think this is an 'topic per gender' issue. Most of the stories promoted to us are male stories, and just as it's now OK for girls to wear pants, its more acceptable for a girl to read 'boys'' stories than vice versa. This issue is more complicated that individual preference.
  • Perspectives about friendship: The boys worry and care about friendships as much as the girls. Not every girl wants a 'friendship' with their teacher, and many of the boys do. Physical contact (or lack of) from a teacher has its place for all students, and whether and when it's used depends on the student and their needs at the time much more than their gender.
  • Boys being 'more aggressive': This is a gross simplification of the way boys play. Their play can be better characterised by contact and this is sometimes aggressive.
    When Year 5 and 6 classes move around the school there are often pairs of girls, individual girls and boys and one or two amoeba-like masses of boys. They're not fighting or rough-housing as such, but they like the contact. The way they seek contact with their female friends is different. (It's worth noting too, that there are fewer acceptable ways for them to do this, without people linking it to romance, even if it isn't there.)
    I suspect it would be hard to tell the difference between a desire for aggressive play and a desire for contact that can be justified with socially-acceptable aggressive play. This aspect relates back to the previous point of contact in friendships and contact when working with boys.
  • Boys find risks irresistible: If I say "Well, boys will be boys" is it clear that I'm using that phrase ironically? Boys are taught that risky behaviour is boyish. I just don't see it at school. Girls do risky behaviour as well, often during class, and both groups do it physical and socially.
With differences that are quantifiable, I believe these needs can be supported in the classroom with differentiated lessons and delivery. With the other points, there are simply too many contradictions to the rule to allow these trends to be guiding forces in large educational reform.

The author finishes with some questions, including these two, which I'll answer from my point of view.

Should boys and girls be subjected to the same set of discipline codes and procedures?

Yes, as we all should (and often do) in the rest of the world.

Biggest question of all, should boys and girls be educated in the same school?

Yes, if a family should choose it and they should have the right to decide this.

I think some boys and some girls would be suited to gendered education, but not all, and possibly not for their entire education. Consider this:
  • If men are so different to me, how would an "exclusive girls' education" prepare me to understand, work and live with them?

  • How many wonderful, enriching friendships would I miss if I couldn't meet all those male people?

  • How would a boys' school counterbalance the 'boys will be boys' excuses in the more damaging behaviours in our society. There are men who have an overblown sense of entitlement and are dysfunctional towards women**; how will a boys' education adequately and respectfully support equity and equality across the genders when one is absent and (possibly) silenced? How would an exclusive girls' education address this issue?

  • How would gendered education, which is basing itself on generally shared tendencies, cater for and support intersex or transgender students?
The author's ultimate suggestion is to seriously consider an education system that is completely single-sex (possibly with boys and girls classes within a co-ed campus, but this is me hoping). Shall I expect, then, a suitably divided society in the future? Shall I expect blog posts on "We need schools for slightly effeminate boys who may or may not be gay"?

There are differences between girls and boys, but there is an significant overlap in that Venn diagram. I'm not suggesting we ignore the needs of boys or the needs of girls; I am suggesting that to treat them all as though they're two distinct and separate groups is risky for their education and disrespectful to their individuality.

*I teach 10-12 year olds in a co-ed government school in eastern Melbourne, Australia. We have a thriving and competitive sport program and a number of extension opportunities for academically strong students. On average the cohort performs at or above standard against our curriculum and on most competition tests. The community is very culturally diverse with families coming from Angelo-Saxon Australian, Indian, Chinese and many other countries. Last year I have 11 different languages spoken at home, this year, seven. Our families would be considered affluent, with a strong work ethic and value for education. We have girls teams for both soccer and Australian Rules Football.
** Need I mention the challenges presented in male sports?
*** Any tips? I've made an effort to keep the gendered language neutral but I'm unpractised - any advice welcome.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Choice and Other Tricks.

I watched Love and Other Drugs today, a second time. I cried again, because when the script gets sparse we're good at filling in all the words that you think they're thinking, creating the perfect script to make you weep. Also, there's lots of really good sex. By which I mean, they don't judge the sex, everyone's consenting, and it looks good. (They're such a handsome couple, with great chemistry, which helps :) )

At the end the guy's voice internal-monologues the epilogue and ties up ends.

And that's when I got frustrated - I realised I've been describing this as a story about two people, a woman who has a degenerative illness and doesn't want to watch someone look after her, and a guy with questionable self-esteem and a competitive, but good, nature.
But it's not: it's a story about him. And I realised that because it's his voice that finishes the story, which I thought was pretty crappy. The story in itself is as much about Maggie accepting an option as it is about Jamie accepting her future - they're both choose love over difficultly. They could've had both of them monologue together or alternating.

But then, really, they couldn't. We meet his family, his brother, his workmates, his workplace more often, his dilemmas. Yet she's the one dealing with the biggest thing in his life - being someone with Parkinson's.
And he's a hero for staying. She has no option to be a hero - coping alone looks tough but is not sensible; accepting help is sensible, but not 'tough' unless its facing-up-to-my-fear-of-helplessness. Either way, she has no choice, she just has to deal.
There is one point where Maggie makes a choice about him when she pushes him away. (This seems to be pretty much the only kind of choice she can make - its an extension of what power she showed when she clearly defined the relationship in its beginning: "This is escapism sex; enjoy!") The break-up is based on something like "You need to know that I'll get better for you to love me." They see a few other people, he drives after her bus and changes her mind. He gets to choose. The guys gets to choose, again.
But all of this is beside the point when spotting who's story this is. The screen time his life gets, over hers, is all it takes in this film.

My frustration is this: All I need was to see enough of her story to be under the impression that it was a story about them, not him. That's all it took - a bit of Maggie-solo screen time - for me to think it was her story too. But, on reflection, I think that those scenes (less maybe one, at a stretch) really served to show us what Jamie would be looking forward to, how awful it is, how hard it is, how much strength he'd need.

I suspect that this has been presented as a two-person story, not least because publicity has been with both leads (mostly) due to their great (thoroughly deserved) appeal. But I don't think its 'their story' at all, and I wonder if the leads thought it was a 'their story' too.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Customer Freaking Service

This, people, is customer service...
You are now chatting with *Customer Service Rep* (Returns & Exchanges)

CSR: hi there
Me: Hello!
CSR: how can I help?
Me: I ordered a tea set and it arrived with damages.
Me: Do you do replacements or refunds? What's the best thing to do next?
CSR: oh no!
Me: I know! It's cute as too.
CSR: what is the order number?
Me: *typed in number here*
CSR: I can look into what I can do for you
Me: That would be great! I was half way through writing up a ticket and attaching photos, but wasn't sure if it was the right way to do it.
CSR: what/how was it damaged?
Me: A cup was broken, one had lost a handle, the spout of the pot broke off, a saucer was broken and another was chipped.
CSR: wow!
CSR: I'm so sorry
Me: It's ok. It's just that it's not really a 'set' any more...
CSR: would you like me to try to get another set out to you? or would you like a refund?
Me: I would like a replacement set, at best (a refund is my second pref), but I'm wondering about the packaging.
Me: I know it travelled a long way but the boxes - both the delivery box and the set box - don't look very beat up. I'm wondering if there's any point in replacing the set if the product packaging doesn't adequately protect the new one any...
Me: Would you like any photos?
CSR: no, it's ok
CSR: I will go ahead request a new one sent to you.
Me: That would be fantastic!
Me: Is there anything you need me to do for that to happen?
CSR: nope. I will take care of it
CSR: Also, don't worry about sending back the broken set.
Me: Really?! That's it? There's nothing I need to fill out or email?
CSR: you can discard of the damaged pieces, and keep the unbroken ones
CSR: :)
CSR: no, I can handle it from here.
CSR: I don't want to cause you anymore trouble
Me: Far out. That's fantastic!! Thank you so much! That's some of the best customer service I've ever experienced :D
CSR: Thanks!
CSR: If you need anything else, please let me know.
Me: Shall do! Thank you!

In twenty minutes. You rock ModCloth. Rock on.


Update: I received the next set in very good time. Parts of it were broken but I had enough for a full set. Delight!!

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Ha-ha - Love this!

So, when I heard that baby cry, I thought to myself, See what you are not missing out on? High up in my castle on Planet Smart Single Lady. Well, guess who’s the sucker here? Me. Because even though I don’t have the baby, and all the benefits of having the baby (including, but not limited to, a deep, emotional connection with another human being, the joy of parenting, plus a brand new stream of pictures to post to Facebook), I am still living with the crying baby.
From babble, via feministe.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Why can't I lie?

Oh, don't worry - I don't presume myself to be some noble saint who cannot utter a fib. I'm not going through some voodoo honesty spell.
I do lie, but its useless lying. It's to embellish stories, or to make things sound better. Occasionally I lie to get my own way, or to make myself seem less wrong. I'm pretty sure I keep those lies to errors that affect only me* and to protect my pride. I'm usually afraid of being wrong.

But there is a kind of lying that I haven't mastered and I am shitty with myself for it. I think it's the most useful - nay, benevolent & generous - kind of lying there is. Why I, with my gloriously paltry drama background, cannot master this, a gift of friendship and affection, is beyond me.

Sometimes, I can't lie to be nice.

Don't get me wrong - I don't think I'm heartless - I can easily, willingly, happily, without any effort at all, find positive or complimentary things to say about gifts, situations, and such, or ask relevant questions about the topic at hand to show I'm listening and I care. None of that is lying. I laugh, smile, nod etc to politely play may part in a conversation. That's 99.5% of the time. Of course, I always say thank you, ask how people are - I don't think I'm dysfunctional or challenged in regular everyday interactions.

But there are a few times when I find it really hard to simply look pleased when I'm not. There's a part of my brain that says "That just isn't true. You don't like this gift. It's well made, and alright quality, and it's [insert good quality here] - say those things, remember the thought counts - but don't say you love it or like it because, right now, that's a lie and lying is wrong."
Now, I think I might be getting better at this. (Does this mean I'm regularly getting not-very-good gifts? Hmm...) When I get buttons made of stone, quirky dust-catchers, or something that actually suits the buyer more than the receiver, I can usually make a generic positive sound that says "You thought of me/my birthday when you were far away! I love that! How lovely!" (which I truly mean) while a little teeny part of my brain says "This made you think of me?"

Similarly, sometimes I fail to convincingly keep eye contact, raise eyebrows or nod when people tell stories. This happens when I'm thinking "This is not a nice/interesting/funny story", "This isn't something I want or am supposed to hear" or "This sounds untrue."
I tend to do this mostly in the company of people I've spent too much time with, or people I don't respect (which I suppose means I'm not worried if they're put out for a while).
I'm sure I've seen people do this, or something like it, to me. My first thought is "I'm talking about myself too much again." (No! Really? Gee, Blogger, that's uncharacteristic!) But really, it could be anything - they're thinking of something else, something they've forgotten, who knows. I suppose, the people I do this to might assume the same thing, but I could make it so they needn't have to imagine excuses.

But this is all I'd need to do:
  • say "Wow! I love it! Thank you so much!"
  • nod or raise my eyebrows and smile
  • occasionally say 'Huh!"
Pretty simple, yes?**

And I would be a much nicer, although slightly less honest, person.

Stay tuned for my next post: "Why am I neurotic? One woman's suspicion that she's having normal social interactions"

* And possibly my husband. For instance, "I meant to do that this morning!" (no, completely forgot, but I don't care to be in trouble for that thanks) or I'll make up a reason that didn't exist at the time. I think it's because I think he's really smart, and I don't want him to think I've done something silly, which is stupid because people should be allowed to forget and make mistakes sometimes. I'm usually very defensive if he is patronising or jokey about me being 'dumb'. He's not being mean, just not-very-funny at a not-very-good time i.e. when I'm not in the goddam crapping mood.

** God willing, matching the response with an appropriate situation. Wouldn't be opening a present and saying "Huh!" too often... oh, God, I hope I haven't....

Ire is annoyered.

Recruitment processes seem to suck.*

When I was shifting from uni to (hopefully) a classroom teaching job, I sent out 48 applications, got three interviews and one job offer. The job offer came from an interview that was a kick-on from the second interview. Teaching job applications are, to say the least, overwhelming - 5 to 8 questions that required a page-long response each. (Can anyone tell me what other industry does this? Having to read those is a reason I'll probably never aspire to principal-ship. )
I wondered: how on earth can you tell from these convoluted responses**, a few referees and AN interview whether I'm a good teacher, or even a teacher with potential? If I were them, I would put an awful lot of weight on the referees contribution, and hope that the applicant had used people who were not nuts. Even now, when people say "Oh, but you're a great teacher?" I think, how would you know? You've never seen me teach. Clearly, "no blood or tears" = I know what I'm doing. :
I've seen recruitment happen in an office environment, too, where resumes are pretty easy to interpret. Those gloriously overblown positions like Documentation Manager (I file stuff) and Public Liaison Officer (receptionist). Everyone knows what they mean. Really, all that's left is to find out if they're a complete odd-bod via an interview.
Strangely enough, I used to LOVE interviews. LOVE love loved them. Not sure why. I can only assume I thought I was awesome. (Was I the odd-bod?)
But then, I'm probably known as a somewhat extroverted person - not all the time, but I can be - and I did to a drama degree so I suppose I have what would be called a "flexible demeanor".

Now. My gripe.
Some of my friends are in IT - programmers, engineers, nerds. (I consider myself a nerd with pride! But its prolly only coz I like to think I know obscure, lofty, superior crap.)
These are people who are stereotypically known as 'socially challenged', especially if you consider current telly types from shows like The Big Bang Theory.
I suspect, too, that of all the careers that people with any ASD or even seem simply 'quirky' or eccentric, some sciences/IT would seem very attractive to them. (I'm basing this completely and solely on the high ratio of eccentric vs non-eccentric scientists I know.)
I know a few cases of very good scientists who aren't the greatest socialisers, or sometimes not-that-excellent at representing/promoting themselves. I know of an excellent programmer who needs specific behavioural support from his workmates, but he's one of the most effective and skilled engineers in the business. The benefits completely outweigh the challenges.

So, what I want to know is this: when you start incorporating Human Resources into recruitment processes - groups who aren't going to work with these employees, won't see them day-to-day, and don't have to manage these employees - what kind of person to they expect to see? What characteristics do they want to hire? What share do they have in these choices?

For the few people I know who are job hunting in science and IT fields, I trust their searches continue for good reasons. I trust they're missing out because genuinely better applicants were successful. But that those decisions had better be coming from the recruiting scientists, and not the freaking HR department.

* I write this as a completely biased, emotional stakeholder in a particular aspect of this process, as well as someone who's experienced it from the pointy end, and a little from the fat end.
** I have to say, I know people who blatantly copy/pasted other people's responses and for lots of reasons: a lack of time, a lack of respect for the process, being overwhelmed by the questions, and/or being unable to answer them.