<![CDATA[After Deadline - Blog]]>Thu, 21 Sep 2017 13:59:23 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[Oh, Ms. Starr (Not Me, Another One)]]>Sat, 02 Sep 2017 17:37:15 GMThttp://evvastarr.com/blog/oh-ms-starr-not-me-another-onePicture
In my memory, my fifth grade teacher, Ms. Starr, was good to me. She was challenging, which I liked, and rewarded me with straight A’s, which I really liked. But I only remember one specific moment in her classroom, and it was negative. I’m not sure why we tend to remember the bad stuff more, but it’s a good reminder to me of the power of teachers to do harm.

Ms. Starr gave weekly spelling tests and anyone who earned a perfect score was rewarded the following week by being allowed to skip the test and call out the words to the rest of the class instead. This honor was tremendously motivating to me. I am pretty sure I always aced the assigned words, but the two, never-before-seen bonus words sometimes tripped me up. One week, just before Ms. Starr read the final bonus word, she interrupted herself to announce to the class, waiting with pencils poised, “Evva, I’m sure you will get this one right.” Having my name called in the middle of a test was uncomfortable enough, but I almost burst into flames when she said the word: “Israel.”

You should know upfront that I got it wrong. Israel is a tough word to spell, considering it’s a proper noun and doesn’t follow the rules of English. And I was 10. As I sat there looking at my test paper, knowing I didn’t know how to spell it, all I could think about was how embarrassed I was – embarrassed to not know what she clearly expected me to know, embarrassed to have her know I was Jewish (how did she know?), and embarrassed by what the rest of the class must be thinking.

That year only three students in my class were Jewish and the other two were boys. I was just becoming aware of my own Jewish identity as different from those of my peers and being Jewish was not something I wanted others to talk about or even be aware of. I doubt Ms. Starr made that comment to hurt me but hurt me she did. I suppose she meant it as a compliment but it’s a compliment along the lines of, “You’re pretty for a black girl.”

The past week, in pre-service meetings for the upcoming school year, we spent a morning on Cultural Awareness training. A colleague shared the too-common experience of being a black student and having teachers always ask her to read the poems by black authors. I’m sure the teachers who do this are not coming from a place of malice, but the harm done is painful none-the-less. The colleague’s story took me back to that moment at Cresthaven Elementary in 1983. Ms. Starr spent a year teaching me, and I think she did a good job. But all I remember clearly is feeling pain in her room: A whole year of her work muddied with one off-hand comment.

As a teacher myself now, and a Ms. Starr myself now, the burden of one off-hand comment undoing a year’s worth of work is crushing. But it’s my job. I hope the Ms. Starr I am will do better than the Ms. Starr I had.

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<![CDATA[How We Can All Win at the Tracking Game]]>Tue, 29 Aug 2017 00:30:06 GMThttp://evvastarr.com/blog/how-we-can-all-win-at-the-tracking-gamePicture
​One of my favorite mental games is finding places where my theoretical beliefs don’t match with a practical application, and then figuring out why. For example, I believe patience is a tremendously important virtue, but then I find myself furious at the car that cut me off in traffic. I seem to forget, every single time, that the car is driven by a person, who might be in a hurry, or have had an awful day, or might have been in traffic far longer than I have. And that that person, cutting in front of me, won’t have any effect on when I arrive at my destination and is ultimately irrelevant to my own happiness. Losing my patience means I lose the game.

This past week I’ve been employing this exercise to the topic of tracking in education. You know tracking as your own or your child’s experience being put in a leveled reading or math group in elementary school or in an honors or low-level English or science class in high school. Probably because I reaped the myriad benefits of tracking throughout my own education, I never questioned tracking until I was a teacher.

When I saw in my very first courses as a new teacher that my honors classes has a higher proportion of white and Asian students, and my lowest level courses has a high proportion of black and brown students, and I knew that that race is unrelated to intelligence, I questioned the system. My gut knew something was wrong, but I didn’t have the research or education to know what that something was.

Twenty years later, I have not only my own beliefs and experience, but decades of research to back me up. Tracking, whether through school choice or sorting of students within a school is bad, bad, bad. And it’s bad for ALL students, not just those at the lower tracks. Students in the higher tracks (white and Asian, wealthy) are taught to be racist. Students in the lower tracks (black, Latino, poor) suffer academically, and the results play out over their entire lives, and across our country. I’m making simplifications here, but tons of research bears me out. If you want to know more, I suggest Carol Corbett Burris’ book, On the Same Track: How Schools Can Join the Twenty-First-Century Struggle Against Resegregation. My department head gave this book to all 22 English teachers and it does an excellent job of explaining how and why tracking must be done away with if we truly want to fix racial and class disparities in America.

Back to that mental exercise I love so much. I believe in theory that race has no correlation to intelligence. I believe in theory that all children deserve the best teachers, the best curriculum, the best schools. In practical application, I believe tracking sorts students by race and gives disproportionate access to the best teachers, curriculum and schools. The only answer that feels right in my heart is the elimination of tracking. That means, at the simplest level, that there is only one level – no honors, no remedial, no college-prep. All students are held to a high standard, expected to succeed, and then taught how to do so. All means all.

This mental exercise has to be taken to the furthest extreme – what I would want for my own child. I want my child to have unlimited access to the best education to reach her full potential and live a successful, rewarding life. I would not want her in low-level courses because I know they would impose limits on her. If I don’t want that for my child, I can’t possibly want it for yours.

When it comes to tracking, my theory and my practice align. Eliminating tracking means I win the game. Eliminating tracking means we all do.

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<![CDATA[Would You Be an Ally to Me?]]>Wed, 16 Aug 2017 19:41:23 GMThttp://evvastarr.com/blog/would-you-be-an-ally-to-mePicture
I’ve read a lot over the past year about how to be an ally for people marginalized in America – including people who are black, Hispanic, Asian, Indian, Muslim, LGBTQ+, overweight, older, special needs and medically fragile. I’ve thought a lot about what I can do to support everyone in need of care. I’ve written and written about facing my own complicity in systemic racism and how I can do better.

Today I wonder if you would be willing to do the same for me.

POC (people of color) identify Jews as white. White supremacists (who invented the concept of race) say that Jews are definitely NOT white. The marchers in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not overtake us” definitely do not see us as white. So what are we? And when will anyone ever claim us?

Oh, right, that would be never. That’s the entire history of the Jewish people.

I’m fine with not being either. I’m fine with being a tiny, tiny minority of about 2% of the American population. I’m proud to be Jewish. One of our strongest principles is Tikkun Olam, which translates to “repair the world.” We are encouraged by every one of our leaders to fight injustice anywhere we see it. Jews lead organizations around the world that fight for the rights of all people and support the marginalized through tzedakah (acts of charity). I am incredibly proud that my heritage is founded on these principles.

So if I ask you to be an ally for me, would you consider it?

Of course, you say. Well, not so fast. Here’s what I’m asking: If your religion has, as part of its foundation, a prayer for others to accept your religion as the one true faith, as the entry into afterlife, as the only way to live rightly and justly, then you are praying for me not to be me. You are praying for Jews not to be Jews. If you really want to be an ally to me, and to other Jewish people, stop praying for the end of our existence.

It’s a lot to ask, I know.

I know you believe you are right. I know the core of your religion is helping others find the way to your God. I know you only want the best for me and for us all.

But I’m telling you, if you really want to be an ally to the Jewish people, stop praying for us to cease to be. 

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<![CDATA[I Disavow Racism, Starting With My Own]]>Tue, 15 Aug 2017 15:01:19 GMThttp://evvastarr.com/blog/i-disavow-racism-starting-with-my-ownPicture
Since the white supremacy march in Charlotteville last weekend, my social media feed has been filled with pleas for people to disavow racism. Despite how hard it was/is for President Trump to do so, it’s very easy, and can be very meaningless. I’ve been wrestling with how I can best use my voice to stand for what I believe in, stand up for who I believe in, and stand against what I do not believe in.

So here’s where I disavow racism, sexism, ageism, and all the hate-filled isms. And, as I always try to do, I start with me.

The scariest racist isn’t the one holding a torch and a Nazi flag in Charlotttesville, it’s the one inside me.

Scratch that, it’s not true at all. The guy holding that Nazi flag wants me dead (I’m Jewish) and wants lots of other people dead. He shows up at night, with a burning cross and a mask, drags people from their homes and hangs them from trees. He’s way scarier than the racist inside me.

But I’ve never actually met that guy (white privilege) and the racist inside me is there all the time. I don’t like her, I’m ashamed of her, of course, but she keeps popping up, no matter how much I deny her.

I know she was there when I was small, because in my kindergarten class photo, I drew X’s over every person of color, which was about half the class. I asked my mom and she says she doesn’t remember that, but she does remember that I balked when she set up a playdate with the little girl down the street, who was black. When she asked kindergarten me why, I said the little girl was different from me, and I was scared of her. So much for children not seeing color.

I know she’s still there, because I catch myself thinking the slow driver in front of me must be Asian, or thinking I can talk about the n-word without including black people in the conversation in the school newspaper, or being frustrated by the old person taking so long at the grocery store. I often want to compliment (or even touch) the hair of a black woman. I still struggle with why Rachel Dolezal is so polarizing. (See here for why: http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/03/03/518184030/why-rachel-dolezal-can-never-be-black)

So, once again, I disavow racism by rejecting the part deep inside me that, despite the teachings of my loving, accepting, kind parents, has absorbed the institutional racism this country was built upon. Here’s how:
  1. I try to allow the racist inside me to come forward, so that I can see her thoughts and correct her. Sometimes I do this gently, for that part of me is weak (white fragility) and I want to always be kind to myself, but sometimes I do this with anger, as I wonder when I will ever have the love and wisdom to be the person I want to be.
  2. I seek to learn. Since the election last November, I’ve started following many new (to me) voices on social media. One is Luvvie Ajayi, a writer and blogger who writes about race (among other topics) from the perspective of a Nigerian-American woman. Another is Very Smart Brothas, two black male writers who cover race from their perspective. When they write about why white women are the worst, or the most racist things white people do, or why Rachel Dolezal is awful, I resist my initial impulse to say “but not me” and I read the comments of the large communities they have built, trying to understand. Always, trying to learn and understand.
  3. I try to broaden my circle so that I’m surrounded by people from outside my own perspective. When was the last time someone of color ate a meal in my home? How many of my friends on social media look different from me? How honest am I being about myself with the people in my life who have different viewpoints? This past spring I showed that kindergarten picture to a colleague of mine, a young black woman. I’m nervous about the conclusions she drew from it, but if I want to do better, I have to force myself to be honest about who I am and who I have been.
  4. I remind myself that these bodies we live in are just shells. Recognizing the standards of beauty I have been raised with in America, I try to remember that the size of a body, its shade of skin tone, the width of its nose, all mean nothing about the person who lives inside.
  5. I check my desire for a ribbon. I want to be a good person. I think all of us do. I fight against a part of me that wants people of color to applaud me, or thank me, for my efforts to combat racism both inside me and in our world. I remind myself that this is work I must do on my own, without any expectation of praise. James Baldwin, in his play Blues for Mister Charlie has a white person ask if he can march with black protestors. The white character is told, “Well, we can walk in the same direction.” I must learn to be content with walking in the same direction.

Despite the racist who lives inside me, I know that in my deepest heart of hearts, I believe all human beings are equal and are made of love. Because I know this about myself, I trust myself to do the hard work of confronting the other, awful beliefs that bubble to the surface. I trust that someday, I’ll be better.

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<![CDATA[The High is Worth the Pain (of Being Observed as a Teacher)]]>Sat, 29 Jul 2017 17:09:52 GMThttp://evvastarr.com/blog/the-high-is-worth-the-pain-of-being-observed-as-a-teacherPicture
I’m not sure what it feels like to be observed in another job, but here’s what it feels like for teachers, at least for this one.

I’m teaching a room of 29 seniors about existentialism. It’s my first year teaching honors 12th grade and my first time teaching existentialism. It’s also my first time teaching (and reading) The Stranger. I’m shaky in my understanding of existentialism and even less clear on the differences between existentialism, absurdism and nihilism. I’m not even sure where Camus falls on this spectrum, or if it even IS a spectrum.

My students have sat patiently through an introductory Powerpoint on existentialism, prepared by one of my colleagues and “taught” by me with mediocre insight but honest enthusiasm. We’ve spent three weeks on The Stranger, on plot and language and imagery and symbolism (oh, the blinding sun!) and tone. The day I’ve been dreading has arrived and I’m now leading a whole-class discussion on philosophy and where different elements (theoretical and plot-based) align on a huge chart I’ve drawn on the white board. In my mind, every one of the 29 students is actively engaged, questioning each other, me and themselves about their own beliefs and those of Camus, Sartre,  de Beauvoir and others, as I sort their ideas into the chart with sections for existentialism, absurdism, nihilism and “other” – those that can’t neatly fit into a category.

That’s my ideal. But I’m aware of the principle that “If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t really understand it,” and I know I don’t really understand these philosophies.

Almost 10 minutes into this activity, in walks the head of the English department, who is not only my boss, but also a fellow teacher of seniors with almost a decade of The Stranger under his belt. With him is the new administrator overseeing the English department. Every teacher knows their department head will almost always try to find the best in your lesson, but a brand-new administrator will be looking to prove themselves by pointing out your flaws. Woe to the teacher in an observation year with a first-year administrator.

As those two silently and unsmilingly enter the room, without prior notice to me, they take seats in the back, open their notepads, click their pens and turn their blank faces to me.

My adrenaline immediately spikes and my flight or fight instinct, for a fraction of a second, makes me want to run from the room. My brain reminds me that’s not an option so I do my best to block out my observers and focus on my students. I know that’s the only way I’ll come off well anyway. But my mind skims through what I know they’re looking for. Am I using equitable calling practices? Am I explaining the material correctly and clearly? Am I enthusiastic and warm but also firm and in control? Am I monitoring for attention and cell phone use? Is my voice loud enough but not shrill? (I was once told this by an administrator when I was a new teacher and it has worried me ever since.)

My mind skitters between my shaky grasp of the content and the quality of my pedagogy. I am later told that during the 15-minute observation, nine different students asked questions or otherwise contributed verbally. That’s a very strong involvement number, but I could not have given that information myself. I enter an almost dream-like state where I am laser-focused on my every gesture while trying to block out the existence of the other two adults in the room.

At some signal between them, the observers click their pens, close their notebooks and leave the room, without smiling at me once. As the door shuts behind them, and I allow myself to think that it might have gone well, I realize my entire body is shaking, slightly, like a wire pulled taught. I realize I need a moment. With all 29 sets of eyes on me, all seniors well aware that the observers were watching me, not them, I do the only thing I can to have a moment alone – I turn my back on the class, exhale deeply and then turn back around. That’s all the privacy I can get, and even that was probably too much to take.

I look out at my class, apologize for needing a moment, and then turn them back to our discussion, still needing resolution. Their sympathetic faces stare back at me and one sweet young man calls out, “You did great, Mrs. Starr.” The rest of the class nods sympathetically and I have one of those transcendent moments that teachers get maybe once or twice a year, but that is so wonderful that we stay in the profession for a lifetime.

That love between a class and a teacher, that knowledge that I’m doing my best for them and these young adults appreciate it and maybe their minds grew a little because of it – that’s a high teachers chase every day.

Being observed is nerve-wracking, but it’s necessary, enlightening and absolutely worth it.

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<![CDATA[Yes, High School is Harder Than It Used To Be. That's a Good Thing.]]>Tue, 25 Jul 2017 20:56:12 GMThttp://evvastarr.com/blog/yes-high-school-is-harder-than-it-used-to-be-thats-a-good-thingPicture
Way, way, way back when I took AP Lit (1990-‘91), the exam was pretty similar to today’s. After all, how we analyze literature hasn’t really changed in centuries. We are still looking at language and style and theme and author and context. What has changed, is who gets to do that.

Back in the 1980s and ‘90s, Advanced Placement courses were for the elite, which schools defined as mostly white, and mostly male (more true in STEM courses). My high school in Silver Spring, MD, had only two sections of Lit for the 2,200 or so students. We did very little direct test practice and of the 55 or so students, only the top were “invited” to take the exam. Schools reported data on the percentage of 4’s and 5’s, so only students the school expected to achieve those scores took the test, even after taking the course.

Then, in 1997, along came Washington Post education reporter Jay Matthews, who “invented” the Challenge Index. This measure divides the number of graduating seniors by the number of AP or IB (International Baccalaureate) tests taken by all students, to arrive at a score that he maintains measures how challenging a high school is. At first he only reported data from DC-area schools, but quickly his measure became the national standard, and it’s now how all American high schools are judged.

I heard him speak in 1998 and as I went into his presentation, I was skeptical. I knew that high schools should be judged on a wide range of criteria, from the drama and journalism programs, to athletics, to teacher quality, to parent engagement. I was dubious that this one piece of data should make so much difference. I left his speech a convert. Once I saw how the AP programs were inaccessible to students of color and poor students, and how this simple change in data reporting would change that, I realized the potential to “bridge the gap”, as the effort to get students of color to achieve at the same rates of white students is now called. I also realized how exposing the course skills to as many students as possible benefits them all, regardless of race or any other factor.

Very quickly, through the late 1990 and early 2000s, schools began to not only encourage, but to push students into their AP courses, and all students in the courses are now encouraged to sit for the exams. If the number of 4’s and 5’s no longer matter as much, but the raw number of tests taken does, then of course schools want students taking as many exams as possible.

This is a boon for the for-profit College Board, the company that produces the AP program (and trains the teachers). Critics of the AP program point out the dangers of making any part of education for-profit, and those are valid concerns. Parents have also pushed back, questioning why we are working kids so hard, with hours upon hours of homework. Movies like “Race to Nowhere” ask what it’s all for, when the result is stressed, depressed, sometimes suicidal teenagers. Again, a valid concern.

But as a teacher of AP Lit (on and off since 2000), I can vouch for both the content of the course, and schools’ push for many students to take the course.

Imagine you are planning your senior year activities. Your friend is encouraging you to run cross country and you are intrigued but you have concerns. You are worried that it will be too much work, that you won’t be any good at it, that it will take up too much time. Your friend reassures you: the coaches are invested in helping you get better, running is a skill that you can enjoy over your lifetime and it’s so good for you, and it looks good for college. Most of all, your friend says, you will be surrounded by other people who enjoy running as much as you do, who understand how hard it can be and will support you through the hills, and it will be fun.

That right there is the best reason I know to take AP Lit: It will be fun. You will be surrounded by other students who enjoy reading as much as you do, and who enjoy talking about what you read as much as you do. You will learn how to read and think about what you read in a deeper and more enjoyable way, and that is a skill for a lifetime.

The academic challenges students face today are different from those of 20 years ago, and there are certainly concerns, but for students of color, students from low-income families and communities, and for those who simply think learning is fun, these increased challenges are all good.

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<![CDATA[I Vow to Do Better. Again.]]>Sun, 23 Jul 2017 14:51:35 GMThttp://evvastarr.com/blog/i-vow-to-do-better-againPicture
Because I wrote a blog asking why we can’t all be friends on Friday, and because the universe is awesome, on Saturday I was tested when one of my friends liked a post on Facebook that praised the murder of three Israeli Jews in their home by a Palestinian. I was so disgusted, and so offended that my stomach rolled and clenched.

My first instinct was to unfriend her. My second instinct was to quit the organization through which we have become friends. My third instinct was to passive-aggressively write my own FB post condemning what she had “liked,” hoping that she would see it.

It wasn’t until my fourth instinct that I did better. I waited and decided to think about it.

After a day of thought, I realize that I need to ask questions, and listen and think, all with an open mind and an open heart, just as I wrote in my blog on Friday. My friend is entitled to her beliefs, based on her experience, and I know I have much to learn from her. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but my heart tells me it’s the right, and therefore only, path to peace.

I ended my blog reminding myself that it starts with me. I was quoting one of my mantras, a song written by Jill Jackson-Miller and Sy Miller in 1955. It seems I need to remind myself often how to be the person I hope to be. Yesterday was one of those days. Today I vow to do better. Again.

Let There Be Peace on Earth

Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me;
Let there be peace on earth,
The peace that was meant to be.

With Earth as our Mother
We are family
Let us walk with each other
In perfect harmony.

Let peace begin with me,
Let this be the moment now;
With every step I take,
Let this be my solemn vow

To take each moment and live each moment
In peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me
 

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<![CDATA[Why Can't We Be Friends]]>Fri, 21 Jul 2017 21:10:22 GMThttp://evvastarr.com/blog/why-cant-we-be-friendsPicture
When I was in college, when Bill Clinton was president, I was awed by the marriage of Democratic operative James Carville and Republican political consultant Mary Matalin. They were (and remain) a couple deeply involved in politics, but on opposing parties. They seemed to have so much love and respect for each other, and see their differing ideologies as just a quirk that gave them lively conversation.

As a young adult, I looked at them and wondered how they could be married, with such different philosophies. That wonder seems quaint today, in our current political climate, where Democrats call Republicans “deplorables” and Republicans call Democrats “snowflakes.”

This Washington Post article https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/07/20/half-of-liberals-cant-even-stand-to-be-around-trump-supporters/?utm_term=.1a8047a7fee1 reports on a Pew Research Center survey that says “almost half of liberal Democrats — 47 percent — say that if a friend supported Trump, it would actually put a strain on their friendship.” We are at a place in our country right now where Democrats and Republicans can’t even be friends, much less be married. I find this one of the saddest parts of our political climate.

Just last week I had dinner with one of my dearest childhood friends, one of the sisters of my heart. We are on different ends of the political spectrum. I’m pretty much a “not my president” kind of gal and she’s worked inside a Republican White House and for current Republican leaders I do not like. On most major issues we vote differently – abortion, health care, immigration – if it’s hot button, we disagree. Her life work is in politics, fighting against causes I celebrate. In our open, warm, honest conversation, like the thousands we have had since we met at the seventh grade bus stop, we asked questions, and spoke our minds, and listened and agreed to disagree.

In sharing that conversation with various people since, the reaction has uniformly been, “How can you even be friends with someone who votes that way, and thinks that way, and works that way?”

I’m saddened by that question. I love her. I know her heart and she knows mine. I trust her to have difficult conversations with me, to listen and answer my questions with respect, and to still love me, even though my beliefs are counter to hers. My beliefs are based on 44 years of experience, reading, discussion and thought. I’m confident that what I believe is right. But my friend has her 44 years as well.

I certainly do not think I have the answers. It’s very possible I’m wrong. What I’m most sure of is that refusing to listen to each other because we think we are enemies is the wrong way to truth. The right way, the only way, to arrive at truth is through free and open discussion. Socrates said that.

Socrates did not think he knew the answers to all questions. But he saw that no one else knew them either and so his questions where open to debate for all people. If we start with the premise that we don’t have all the answers, and neither does anyone else, and we really listen to each other as we debate the questions, we can hopefully find truth.

What that requires is a willingness to listen, an openness to being wrong, and trust. My friend and I can have these conversations because we trust and love each other. Now that I’m older, I realize James Carville and Mary Matalin can be married because they love and trust each other. As Dionne Warwick sang to us in 1966, "What the world needs now, is love, sweet love." Less name-calling, less anger, less defensiveness, and more love. As always, it starts with me.

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<![CDATA[My Mother Gave Me Wonder Woman]]>Sun, 04 Jun 2017 21:20:13 GMThttp://evvastarr.com/blog/my-mother-gave-me-wonder-woman
My mother didn’t give me everything I wanted in my childhood. She didn’t give me sugar cereals, or a Cabbage Patch doll (even though every single girl-child in America had one), or her full attention. But she did give me Wonder Woman.

On my sixth birthday she gave me a book that included the first 13 comics with an introductory essay by Gloria Steinam. The comics were within my reading skill level and, despite not knowing a thing about Greek mythology or World War II, I loved them, reading them over and over, as children do. I tried mightily with the Steinam essay, but it wasn’t until my pre-teen years that I had the vocabulary (“gynocratic”) and context to understand what she was saying about the importance of a powerful female superhero in the psyche of a girl growing up in America.

Steinam’s essay, written in 1972 says, “Wonder Woman symbolizes many of the values of the women’s culture that feminists are now trying to introduce into the mainstream: strength and self-reliance for women; sisterhood and mutual support among women; peacefulness and esteem for human life; a diminishment both of “masculine” aggression and of the belief that violence is the only way of solving conflicts.

These are the values my mother taught me, both through her direct instruction (“Never depend on a man. Always be prepared to support yourself and any children you create.”), and her model. Wonder Woman herself says this in the 1943 comic, “Battle for Womanhood.” She rescues a young woman named Marva who asks her, “What can a weak girl do?” Wonder Woman responds, “Get Strong! Earn your own living! Remember the better you can fight, the less you’ll have to.”

These early lessons of empowerment fueled my childhood, and I absorbed all that I could about Princess Diana. I have cleared rooms boring people with trivia about the Amazons, costuming changes and what those bracelets symbolize.

Oh, I can’t help myself. The Amazons are descendants of Aphrodite. The early skirt was too hard for William Marston to draw. The bracelets are worn by all Amazons as a reminder of their enslavement by Hercules and his men. If you want to know more, I warn you, I can go on for hours.

So seeing the new movie starring Gal Gadot made me nervous. I was doubtful that the creation myth would be left intact. I worried that Gadot would not fully embody the warrior princess. I was nervous that she be portrayed as yet another object for the pleasure of the men – sexy and strong, but also demure and subordinate.

I was wrong on all accounts. The creation myth is pure and accurate. Gadot is all that Wonder Woman should be – strong, kind, good, peaceful by nature but willing to battle and kill to protect those weaker than herself. And never once does she or any other character view her as lesser. She (and all the Amazons) also speaks over 200 languages, which is not in the original comics, and also my most-desired super power. Her conclusion is that the only thing that can end the world and save humanity is not some super-weapon, but love. I couldn’t agree more.

I may have spent a good part of my childhood hungry for actual food, but never did I hunger for the knowledge of my own power. I was raised to know that I can accomplish anything, that I don’t need to rely on anyone, and that it is my duty to help others. I know that I myself am a wonder woman. My mother told me so.
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<![CDATA[The Soft Sciences Aren't Easier, They're Gentler]]>Wed, 24 May 2017 21:19:24 GMThttp://evvastarr.com/blog/the-soft-sciences-arent-easier-theyre-gentlerPicture
had the great honor of being the guest speaker at the Wootton High School Humanities and Arts graduation ceremony on Monday, May 22. What follows is my speech.

Hello friends. My name is Evva Starr. I’m an English teacher and the newspaper adviser here at Wootton High School. I am honored to be here with you all today – parents, teachers, administrators and most importantly, the Humanities students of the Class of 2017.


I was told that my speech today should be about what the humanities mean to me. Humanities are the “soft” sciences, and that’s often said disparagingly, as if the “hard” sciences – math, engineering, chemistry, computery stuff – are harder intellectually. Soft doesn’t mean easier, I believe it means gentler. What we study in the humanities – literature, history, psychology, sociology, art – is humanity. Nothing is harder than the study of humans and why we do what we do. It takes the study of all the branches of the humanities to try to understand human motivation. And it takes gentleness most of all. To understand each other, we must try to empathize with each other. And to have empathy, we must make ourselves soft. This softness, this gentleness, this openness, is the hardest task I know.

But what I really want to talk to you about is not what the humanities mean to me, but what they mean to you.

Each of you decided, four-ish years ago, that the regular course of study here at Wootton High School, just wasn’t enough for you. You decided to do more – to challenge yourself with specialized, more challenging courses, to write a lengthy research paper, often with a creative component, which would require over a year of dedication, and to sit with a panel of teachers and subject yourself to excruciating critique. You did this not for glory, or praise, or money, but for the love of the humanities. You probably didn’t even know what that meant when you signed up, but you knew somewhere deep down that studying our species was a worthy pursuit. You were right, and you now know that the reward is your own satisfaction that you pushed yourself and you rose to the challenge. That reward might not buy you a Unicorn Frappuccino, but it’s also the only reward worth anything at all.
 
But what humanities really means to you, is Mrs. Hanson. I’m not sure if you all know this, but Michelle Hanson made up this program, and she runs it entirely on her own, not for glory, or acclaim or money, but because she believes that teaching you how to study our species is a worthy pursuit. Her reward is seeing you each rise to that challenge. Her reward is you.

It is said that being a parent means forever having your heart go walking around outside your body. I know you don’t understand that yet, but you will, when you are parents someday. The inverse is also true. As your parents’ child, you forever walk around with a piece of their heart inside of you. Kind of like a phone tracker, but a lot less creepy and invasive.

Being a teacher is like that too. I know I speak for Mrs. Hanson, and for the dozens of teachers who have guided you over these past four years, when I tell you that we have given you a piece of our hearts, for you to carry forever inside of your own. Our own study of the humanities has always started with the study of you.

To the Class of 2017, as you go forth in your study of the humanities, remember that to try to understand each other, we must make ourselves soft. When you feel yourself stiffening under the burden of hard work and disagreement, I hope you will think back to today and remember that you already know how to do this. You know because you’ve already done it. Congratulations and best wishes.

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