I recently bought a FitBit and when doing some research, I found an article which said, “The FitBit is just another device in the trend where we use fancy devices to quantify everything, but for most people, the numbers are useless.” This is true. A FitBit is useless if you don’t apply the data. You can track calories, steps, sleep, and even your heartrate. But if you don’t use the data to eat better, exercise more intensely, or find some quality sleep, it doesn’t mean anything.
Last week, I attended the Achieving the Dream (ATD) Conference in Atlanta. One of the primary goals of ATD is to gather data at community colleges to build and improve programs for a better student experience. After speaking with many other educators at the conference, I realized that most colleges fall into one of three categories:
3. The golden goose: Colleges that gather data and use it to improve the student experience. They realize that numbers fall outside of school politics and personal interests. Data can be manipulated at times, but numbers don’t lie. Schools utilizing data create more effective programs. Different departments work together to reach students. They increase student, faculty, and staff satisfaction, and are innovators in their field.
Are students reporting that they’re disconnected? Change orientation to be more personal, develop learning communities, hold workshops and professional development sessions for faculty to improve student-centered teaching strategies. Are older women with children dropping out? Develop solutions to provide childcare or connect with local services such as Head Start and free after school programs.
Author Wes Moore spoke at the closing session of the ATD conference, and while I love his book, hearing him speak in person was even more inspirational. He said, “It's not just about data. It's about using data to better connect with our students, and using numbers to build relationships.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Schenectady Community College is holding a series on the writings of James Baldwin during Black History Month. Last week, we discussed Baldwin's 1976 article "How One Black Man Came To Be an American: A Review of 'Roots'" (Click HERE to read). The discussion focused on the renaming of Kunta Kinte in the book and televised adaptation of Roots. (Click HERE to view the clip. Warning: For those who have not seen this, it is extremely brutal and violent).
The opening question posed was, "How did you get your name and what does it mean to you?" Some stories, like my own were humorous or innocuous. My parents, both teachers of Irish descent, named me Megan instead of Meghan because they wanted an Irish name, but believed that children struggle with silent letters when learning to read. Many people were named after relatives or family friends, also reflecting their parents' culture and values.
One student explained that her parents immigrated to the United States before she was born. In their language, her name is the feminized version of the name of God. However, in the U.S., people always mispronounce her name. She struggles with with correcting people who mispronounce her name because on the one hand, she wants to be polite (and it's annoying to correct people every day). On the other hand, in her culture, the name for God is important, and by mispronouncing it, people are disrespecting not only her, but also her faith.
Another woman added that her name is also reflective of her culture, and when she was younger, she changed her name to something that "sounded more white and more American." In my Children's Literature class, we're reading American Born Chinese this week, and her comment immediately reminded me of the brilliantly depicted scene where Jin changes his name to Danny. The name change alters his entire identity.
Our discussion moved from merely describing our names to examining what it means to be an American. There are an infinite number of cultures and experiences. Naming a child is just one way to reflect that diversity, but because names are personal and unique, names may be one of the most important ways parents attempt to retain cultural identity.
There is an interesting article on this topic by Jamelle Bouie from 2013 about African-American names and perceptions of difference (You can read it HERE. Warning, some adult language). And another short article HERE about young actress Quvenzhané Wallis and her insistence that reporters say her name correctly.
While some, like Kunta Kinte, and the many immigrants who came through Ellis Island, were renamed by those in power and stripped of their identity on the way to becoming more American, others have chosen to give up their names as a way of fitting in.
Beyond the discussion of heritage are questions of people who change their names for other reasons. Authors often choose pen names just as actors and musicians choose stage names, and in this way, they take on a new identity chosen by themselves instead of their parents. I heard a fascinating explanation about this by Dr. Drew who claimed that while some change their names because of SAG rules and name recognition, many have a dual identity to protect themselves. For example, while fans may call Jennifer Lopez J-Lo, her family most likely calls her Jenny.
I realize these thoughts are a bit rambling. I didn't want to draw any conclusions today, just open up more discussion. I'd love for others to contribute.
How did you get your name? What does it mean to you? Would you or have you changed it? If you're an author or performer, do you have a stage or pen name? If so, how did you choose it? What's in your name and how does it reflect your identity?
I enjoyed this book. Celeste, Nanette, and Taviana narrate their stories of living in the Fundamental Latter Day Saints cult of Unity in this fictional tale loosely based on cults such as those run by Warren Jeffs in the United States and James Orler in Canada. The book has a few difficult scenes, but for the most part, the horrors that actually occur to young girls in these groups are softened for younger audiences.
The characterization is interesting, and the author depicts the difficulties of being entrapped in a child-bride marriage. The issue for these girls is not just black and white. Some like Nanette have been truly brain-washed, while others struggle to find a voice against precepts they are slowly coming to disagree with. However, at times, Nanette is put in the role of a "faithful daughter" while Celeste is a "rebel." I think this gives teen readers a point of reference, but it also simplifies the situations a bit.
Also problematic is the fact that the boys in these cults are kicked out once they reach maturity. At times, the boys in the cult are portrayed as runaways, a characterization I disagreed with.
While I think the book The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff better depicted the realities of FLDS cults for adults, I do think that this book was a good introduction to the subject for teen readers. The setting was filled with realistic details, and in the end, the author created a modern-day dystopia comparable to the types of science fiction stories most younger readers are familiar with. It could also be a great follow-up for any teen (or adult) who has caught an episode of Sister Wives or Big Love on TV and wants to know a bit more about how these groups are actually run.
Find it on Amazon HERE
This middle grade book by Lauren Myracle, the book is actually an astute study of eleven and twelve year-old girls.
A character-driven story with a lot of heart, Eleven nearly exactly mirrors my own experiences at that age. What do you do when you feel as if you and your best friend are drifting apart? When friends outgrow each other, can they still remain friends?
When I was eleven, my best friend and I were on different "teams" at school, just like Winnie and her best friend Amanda. Amanda wants to try out perfume and read Seventeen magazine, while Winnie wants to explore a quirky vintage store. This is the first indication that the girls are on separate paths.
What I enjoyed about this book is that Amanda is not turned into a stereotypical "mean girl." Nor is Winnie a typical nerd. Instead, the author sensitively depicts the process of growing up as subtle differences become larger obstacles to friendship.
I think so many of us go through this, and it's easy to get angry with the popular girls when they leave their old friends behind. Reflecting on this book, I remembered the fact that my best friend was more interested in makeup and boys than riding our bikes and playing outdoors meant that we quickly drifted apart. We went from best friends to strangers in a matter of weeks. In high school, she and I ended up working together, and we renewed our friendship almost five years later. Neither she nor I had fought the first time we parted ways. It was more like a natural progression toward the people we were becoming.
This is what we see in Eleven, and I hope to read the continuing story in Twelve and Thirteen.
Just Read: A Whole New Ballgame (Rip and Red) by Phil Bildner, Illustrated by Tim Probert (MG, Contemporary, Humor)
Rip and Red are best friends on their fifth grade basketball team. Their new teacher and coach Mr. Acevedo challenges the easy-going Rip to be more social with an angry differently-abled student. While Red, a boy with autism spectrum disorder, is challenged to play a game without the orderly rules he is used to.
I grabbed this book because I loved the illustrations and I was working on a book about boys who love basketball (Misadventures of Marvin Miller). Even though our books are totally different in theme and style, I learned a lot from Phil Bildner's novel.
His characters are well-drawn and have both humor and heart, a balance which is difficult to find. The illustrations are practically perfect and mirrored my visions of the boys and girls of the story.
As a teacher, I appreciated the story line of Mr. Acevedo as he struggled to creatively challenge his students while also fulfilling new testing requirements. As a reader and writer of middle grade fiction, I completely appreciated this book, particularly its accurate but sensitive depiction of pre-teens with autism... and of course the exciting and realistic basketball scenes!
Buy it HERE on Amazon
I have Joan of Arcadia on DVD because it isn't currently available on Netflix. I don't always plan on posting what I'm watching, but I always felt that this was an unfortunately short-lived series that summed up nearly everything it meant to be a teenage girl.
The characters are sensitively drawn with subtle intricacies and back stories which are slowly introduced. Each character begins as a stereotype: the jock, the nerd, the outcast, the caring mother, the tough-guy father, the artist, the rebel... and then they move away from these archetypes into rich personalities as true to life as I have found in the best young adult books.
A mixture of fantasy, philosophy, and the realities of teenage life, Joan of Arcadia is the definition of film as literature... if only there were seasons 3, 4, 5, and beyond.
I finished Fan Girl, which I loved and grabbed up Attachments as soon as I was able. Lincoln works for a newspaper as an Internet Security Technician. Part of his job is reading personal emails flagged by the computer system. While working mostly alone at night, Lincoln begins reading a series of emails between best friends Jennifer and Beth who work for the paper. Jennifer’s emails are mostly filled with anxieties about her husband Mitch and his desire to have a baby, while Beth’s emails comment about her younger sister’s upcoming wedding and her commitment-phobic boyfriend Chris.
The story is set at the end of 1999 and the beginning of the year 2000, and has some older pop culture references and a very minor subplot about Y2K. I found this extremely odd because the book was only written in 2011. Does technology really change so fast that we have nostalgia for something that happened only 10 years ago? I think this book could have easily taken place at a company instead of a newspaper and could have been told through email, texts, or office instant messaging without losing any of the character development or story.
In terms of character development, I felt that Jennifer and Beth had too similar personalities. Unless they were talking about their significant others, it was difficult to tell them apart throughout much of the book. One major plot line involves Lincoln becoming infatuated with one of the women, but since the characters were so similar, it was hard to determine why he would fall for one and not the other. It didn’t help that the messages were labeled: << Beth to Jennifer >>......<< Jennifer to Beth >> instead of just having Beth: or From Jennifer: It sounds like a minor detail, but this small change could have made a huge impact.
Lincoln himself was a complex man who seemed very realistic as a late-twenty-something who is still lost and trying to find his path in life. But I believe this is because we get third person narration when describing Lincoln, and we learn a lot more about his past, his family, and his feelings than we ever find out about Jennifer or Beth.
Without giving too much away, while reading the book I thought, “Wow. They are really codependent. That does not seem like a good idea”
Even with these issues, I enjoyed the story as a mostly quick and light read that had a few touching moments, and hope to read a young adult book by the author Eleanor and Park soon. If you like this style of writing, I also recommend the Holly’s Inbox series by Holly Denham (another epistolary novel told through emails) or I’ve Got Your Number (a novel told primarily through text messages) by Sophie Kinsella.
Find it on Amazon HERE
And on Audible HERE
America Singer lives in a future dystopian America in which everyone has been divided up into distinct social castes. Social pariah Eights are at the bottom of the spectrum, while the elite Ones rule the nation. America is dating Aspen, a man below her caste, but then has the opportunity to vie for a position as a princess and a One through a Bachelor-like reality competition designed to win the heart of Prince Maxon. Political unrest threatens the selection process and the country, while America finds her heart frozen between two men.
Like the Matched series I read previously this year, the first book in this trilogy has a wonderful premise, but while the tension holds up in book two, the plot comes to a confusing and then rushed conclusion in book three. I think it could have been better if the final decision for princess was made in book two. Then, book three could have focused on life outside the palace, political changes, and the dual revolutions taking place to the north and south.
If you love The Bachelor and you have a hankering for more dystopian lit, then check out the series. I did enjoy the novels. However, by book three, the love-triangle was unnecessary and the passion and love between the prince and princess did not seem as genuine. I also think that the author missed an opportunity to fully explore the political and social themes she set up in the first two novels. I haven't read the fourth book yet, but I hope to soon.
Buy The Selection on Amazon Here!