August heralds the back-to-school season, which will probably mean a renewed debate about how public education can be improved. But instead of looking for the one big thing that might make public schools better, maybe we should acknowledge that the health of public education instead relies upon a hundred small things that, collectively, give students what they need to thrive.
Among the ingredients in my recipe for education success is something so simple that it’s easy to overlook: a fresh coat of paint for your local campus.
All of this came to mind a few years ago when we transferred my son to an inner-city public school in our home city of Baton Rouge so that he could participate in a stellar gifted and talented program. We welcomed the promise of quality instruction, but the physical condition of the school, as I quickly learned, left much to be desired. Only moments after walking through the front door for a tour of the campus, I felt a flurry of flaking paint landing on my head. The walls and ceilings seemed as if they hadn’t been painted in years – a dilemma, I know, faced by many public schools across the country. When school districts face budget cuts, spending on routine maintenance is often the first item on the chopping block.
But deferred maintenance on school buildings takes its toll. Brushing dried paint chips from my scalp, I thought about “The Experience of Place,” a 1990 book by Tony Hiss that illuminates a profound truth: The quality of our daily surroundings can deeply influence the quality of our feelings and thoughts. Hiss mentions a downtown Manhattan courtroom in which the wall clock has stopped, the paint is peeling, “and maybe a chunk of plaster is missing too.” Hiss suggests that the condition of the courtroom conveys the not-so-subtle message that what’s going on there isn’t really that important. Can jurors be expected to care about their work when the surroundings betray so much public ambivalence?
Poorly maintained schools must surely encourage a similar apathy among their students, the shabby halls and classrooms sending a message that learning isn’t a community priority. In such a campus climate, no one should be surprised when so many students fall behind.
Luckily, my story has a happy ending. Perhaps in response to some gentle prodding, our local school district found the staff and resources to have the outside woodwork of my son’s school painted. In conjunction with the exterior spruce-up, my family joined with other parents and City Year, a terrific corps of committed young volunteers, to stage a painting day for the inside of the building. In the space of a single Saturday, moving with the speed and energy of a military operation, we gave many of the walls, doors and ceilings a new lease on life.
I don’t pretend that we solved all or even most of public education’s problems that day. But perhaps the biggest enemy of education reform is the belief that because we cannot do everything to address the challenge, then we can absolve ourselves from doing anything.
Which is why, as my son progressed to another campus this year for middle school, I joined with other parents for yet another painting day at his school. The principal, returning to campus after running an errand, noted with satisfaction how much better the school was looking from her vantage in the front driveway.
She was doing what we should all do as another school year begins: Drive up to the front of your neighborhood school, and see it as a youngster might for the first time. If the picture proves sobering, get out your paint brush, and see what you can do to make it brighter.
Once upon a time, we might have complained that Disney Princesses set unrealistic beauty standards for little girls. You know, the slim Belle waist, the big Cinderella eyes, the suggestion that all of life’s activities take place in a poofy dress. Not to mention all those messages about waiting for the prince.
See, according to a group of Venezuelan plastic surgeons, whose ad featuring Ariel has gone viral on the Internet, the Little Mermaid, well, needed a little bit of “work.” And not just for her tail.
As part of Clinica Dempere’s “We Make Fairy Tales Come True” ad campaign, Ariel is shown swimming up to the operating table. Then she displays a new pair of long, skinny legs, a rather curvy backside, a full set of lips, and a chest that has been enlarged to the point that it would, I imagine, make any return to life under the sea quite difficult.
Yes, that’s right: According to the plastic surgeons, Disney Princesses just need to get sexier.
We’ve written a lot in the past about little girls and body image, as well as the ways the beloved – and omnipresent – Disney Princesses impact the way girls embrace sexuality at younger and younger ages.
(Check out our cover story on this from last year – “Little girls or little women? The Disney Princess effect”)
We’ve also noted the rise in plastic surgery for kids. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, cosmetic surgery on teens make up 5 percent of procedures nationwide. And that stat is growing. The number of Botox treatments on teens rose 20 percent between 2010 and 2011; the number of breast augmentation surgery climbed 4 percent, and “chinplants,” or chin augmentations (I’m serious) skyrocketed 69 percent among teens during that same time period.
(See our article about this here.)
So ads like this? Not so helpful.
Sure, the Clinica Dempere ad is campy and, to an adult, a joke. But the message that not even the Little Mermaid is sexy enough adds to what little girls already absorb from clothing stores, music videos, celebrity magazines, television shows and their peers. They learn that “sexy” is desirable, and that young women should sculpt themselves into sex objects – long before they understand what “sexy” means.
In the five weeks we’ve had Albie, our half yellow Lab, half golden retriever rescue dog, I think I’ve met at least a hundred people I’d never have talked to before. To be with a dog, especially one as appealing and welcoming as Albie, is like wearing a sandwich board with blinking lights that says, “Come say hello and ask me about my dog!”
This is not an altogether bad thing. A week ago I was outside a grocery store in western Massachusetts waiting with Albie while my wife Judy shopped inside. Before I knew it, a rather attractive woman in a revealing top was talking sweet nothings in Albie’s ear and striking up a conversation with me. She was in the area spending a month at a well-known yoga retreat. I know Albie was the main attraction, but it occurred to me that during the lean, single years of my early 30s, my biggest mistake was not having an irresistibly adorable dog as my wingman.
As this woman admired Albie, Judy suddenly appeared with a bag of groceries. I was able to tell Judy that she and this nice stranger had something in common: a love of yoga. At the store for five minutes and I already knew a surprising amount about this stranger’s life, including the fact that she had a dog at home she missed terribly, that she’s a yoga instructor, and that she’s moving to North Carolina soon. Judy was very impressed with all the information I’d been able to collect in the time it took her to buy two tomatoes, a cucumber and a small assortment of cheeses.
Albie has inspired random acts of kindness from total strangers, as well. A few minutes before I met the yoga instructor, a woman who worked in the store came out with a bowl of water. She’d seen us through the window and thought he might be thirsty. I’m reasonably sure that if I’d been waiting there by myself in withering heat with sweat pouring off my brow, no one would have looked out the window, taken pity on me, and delivered a tall lemonade with a sprig of mint, or even a glass of water for that matter.
As nice as it is to meet new people, the conversations do have a certain predictability to them, and I think there’s a fortune to be made selling T-shirts that would make these conversations more efficient. For example, mine would say, “His name is Albie. He’s three years old. He’s half yellow Lab, half golden retriever. Yes, he’s friendly. Yes, you can pet him. Thank you for whatever compliments you have bestowed.”
Maybe I should call the Life is Good guys because life sure is good with Albie.
Some schools allow parents to stay for a while. Others forbid them to even enter the room. That usually moves the drama to the hall. I’ve watched teachers skillfully gather the group to a circle for a story and others deal helplessly with three or four crying 5-year-olds. Sometimes I have had to usher the crying 35-year-olds out of the room and to my office.
So many kids these days have had lots of preschool so the separation is less traumatic, but not for mom and dad, camcorder in hand and tears in their eyes.
For this event I’ve never been able to maintain that professional psychological distance we’re supposed to have. I’ve often shed a few tears even before the parents and the kids, so I took my own babes into this monumental transition wondering if I would fall apart when it was our turn.
I did – just a little. Some were tears of joy when a friend took my shy daughter under her wing (they are still friends 20 years later). With my son the tears quickly dried with shock when he introduced himself as a “junkyard dog." He was the happiest kindergartener you’ve ever seen. He saved all his tears for the last day of kindergarten when he clung to his beautiful young teacher and sobbed at the prospect of leaving her.
I have often thought that I should take my own camcorder and film what takes place 10 minutes after the parents leave, so they could see how quickly kids adjust. Instead I have made many phone calls reporting how well their child recovered to ease the heart of the parent suffering their own separation.
At one school, the PTA has a coffee-and-rolls event in the auditorium with lots of tables for signups and information. It is the grown-up version of gathering them for a story and usually eases the parental transition.
I really treasure this little part of my work. To be present at such a significant moment for so many families is a gift. When called upon I try to help parents send their child into the big world with the message, “I will miss you too. I know this is a little scary, but I know you can do it. I believe in you, and I can’t wait to hear all about your day.”
Life is short: childhood is shorter. I believe we should honor this precious time and its painful and joyful steps.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Susan DeMersseman blogs at Raising kids, gardens and awareness.
I can’t be the only one to have read the news of the massive Bumbo Baby Seat recall with just a twinge of sadness.
This isn’t because I don’t believe in stringent safety standards for baby products – quite the contrary. Surely it’s no good to have consumer goods out there that injure kids, and thank goodness some part of government is standing up for our little ones. As Monitor business editor Laurent Belsie reported yesterday, the South African company Bumbo International and the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) had received around 100 complaints of injuries related to the baby seat, including more than 20 skull fractures.
Even if that’s a tiny percentage of Bumbo users, it’s a clear sign that there’s a problem.
But the Bumbo – that weirdly shaped and brightly colored foam contraption that allows a young baby to sit like a big kid – was pretty darn cool. We didn’t have one ourselves, mostly because we were clueless and didn’t know for months they existed, but after being introduced at a friend’s house we were enamored. And Baby M loved it.
So, apparently, did many, many other babies. Bumbo International has sold 4 million seats in the US alone, all of which they are targeting in this safety action.
And, well, it’s just kind of a bummer that it is unsafe, although the company says consumers can install a new harness system that will help fix the problem.
(As an aside here – it’s hard not to wonder what people in South Africa, home of the Bumbo, think about this. The common attitude when I was living there was that the US was a strangely rule-loving place and that Americans needed to relax. It wasn’t unusual to see kids of all demographics riding joyfully in the back of pickup trucks, or dashing down impossibly steep playground slides that perched over cement. But I digress...)
The recent Bumbo news, of course, is just the latest in what seems like a never-ending report of danger lurking where you least expect it.
Some of the recent recalls:
- On July 24 CPSC and Peg Perego USA Inc. announced a voluntary recall of two versions of their strollers, the Venezia and the Piko-P3, due to risk of entrapment and strangulation.
- That same day the safety commission announced a recall of Kolcraft Enterprises Inc.’s Contour tandem strollers, for fall and choking hazards. Apparently the wheels and basket support screws can easily detach in some models.
- Folding beach chairs made by Downeast Concepts Inc. are a laceration hazard, according to the CPSC, as are Toysmith’s Animal Snap Bracelets.
- A group of safety advocates have launched a campaign to raise awareness of the strangulation risk connected to baby monitors.
And that’s just a sample of what happened in July.
It’s great we have these alerts. The regulatory structure and attention of official organizations such as the CSPC, as well as a slew of nonprofit safety groups, save lives. But as a parent, you kinda wish that you could just buy a stroller, say, and not worry that in a few months you’ll hear that you’ve been putting your little bundle of joy in grave danger.
At least we have Buckyballs, those small magnetic spheres that are a clear hazard to small children who might eat them, and which are now at the center of a new safety lawsuit brought by the CPSC.
Those, at least, parents should know are dangerous.
Here’s something I don't hear about very often in the school standards debate: the tone of teaching.
To this day, what I remember most vividly from my own middle school years is the tone of voice of my teachers — not what they taught me (though that certainly paid handsome dividends), but how they taught me (quadruple dividends).
Mrs. Tapley, Mr. Williamson, Mr. Stevens – they all had perfect pitch. The effect of their pedagogy and curriculum shows up to varying degrees in my adult writing, math skills, spelling, or geographical literacy. OK, long division still confounds me, but I have a good working knowledge of the earth’s important physical features; I can spell pretty good. But what I learned from them is not necessarily what I most remember – a clue as to what matters in schools. It was their tone – attitude and feeling, for me and for their academic subject – through which my teachers created an expectation for learning and a sense of aspiration. And this goes to the heart of the difference between standards and standardization.
Good teachers create a positive tone by making children feel cared for, understood, challenged, appreciated. Of course we also remember their moments of righteous indignation, mock ire, and withering glances. I can still hear Mr. Stevens, my fourth grade teacher, scolding Vicki Johnson for making a sixth trip to the pencil sharpener, in order to drop yet another note on Caroline's desk, instead of paying attention to his lesson on the apostrophe. I do not remember his lesson, per se. But Mr. Stevens somehow made it personal, and that is why I can form the possessive singular. I do not know if Vicki Johnson can say the same. His tone, though, conveyed its value.
I knew from their tone that my teachers were powerful, or not; knowledgeable, or faking it; sincere, or going through the motions; secure, or insecure. Looking back, I know that learning occurred most spontaneously, deeply, and lastingly for me when the tone was in sync with my developmental timing – and allowances were also made for the unique tenor of the given day. It was then that I allowed myself to be taught and conspired with my teachers to learn.
This is the fundamental transaction of good schools: students who can learn because their teachers know them intimately, have their trust, and ingeniously adapt information and skills in a way that is authentic.
I would like to think that my experience as a teacher and administrator includes some successes in effecting these transactions. I can be certain of precipitating many individual breakthroughs (“So that’s what that poem means!”); confident of training young writers in some key skills (even punctuating the possessive plural!), and hopeful that I’ve recruited, hired, and supported teachers whose gift for getting the tone right assured some future grateful memories of joyous learning. It would be my tribute to Mr. Stevens to think that I had, in fact, struck the right tone for just a few of my students and colleagues, just as he did for me.
Todd R. Nelson is head of school at The School in Rose Valley, PA.
A couple of weeks ago, a young woman named Lauren reimagined the white Disney Princess characters as women of color, posting recolored images of them on her Tumblr blog. Her inspired designs quickly made their way around the blogosphere.
Responses ranged from supportive (“I love this!“) to perplexed (“This was done because…?"); from grateful to critical (including requests for more inclusivity); and, sadly, from defensive to exclusionary (people of color “should come up with their own princesses and heroes“) and clearly racist.
I wrote a little about the Disney Princess franchise and race earlier this year, when I noticed that in the Disney Store’s 2012 redesign of their Disney Princess dolls, Disney westernized Mulan’s dress and lightened Pocahontas’s skin. So when the Huffington Post Live asked me to be their expert guest on a segment called “Black and Brown Princesses” about the reimagined Disney Princess characters from Lauren’s Tumblr, I was happy to oblige.
Although I have my criticisms of the Disney Princess franchise in general, I do think it’s important for young girls to see characters on screen and elsewhere in popular culture that look like them. I’ve been doing academic research on the Disney Princess phenomenon for a while now, and I’ve heard about the heartbreaks caused by Disney’s predominant whiteness: The little black girl who came home from first grade in tears because her classmates said she couldn’t be a princess. Their reason? She wasn’t white. (This was pre-Tiana.) The little Latina girl who would brush and brush her tightly curled hair, completely frustrated that she couldn’t smooth it out so that she would look more like a princess. (New princess Merida is the only one without silky smooth straight hair.)
While conducting field research for my book, "Growing Up With Girl Power," I also saw firsthand how important diversity in dolls and other products is to pre-adolescent African-American girls. For example, the racial diversity of Bratz dolls was really important to the African-American girls in my study. For them, the diversity was often much more important than the dolls’ skimpy fashions, which have resulted in a lot of negative publicity for the brand. The girls also cared tremendously about whether popular characters like Dora the Explorer and those from "The Proud Family" were represented on toys and other products with the same skin tone as they had on television. (I remember that a beach towel depicting Dora with the wrong skin tone had been a serious affront.)
As these girls and I talked and talked about how few characters looked like them, I found myself remembering being a young girl and wanting nothing more than a doll that had brown hair and brown eyes, like me. Unfortunately, in the late 1970s/early 1980s, these were almost impossible to find, as my mother can attest: She had to hunt high and low to find a single brown-haired doll whose eyes were brown, not blue. When I shared this memory with the girls, they were surprised. “How rude!” one said.
That’s one of the brilliant things about the “My American Girl” dolls. Although they are prohibitively expensive for most families (sigh), girls can customize the dolls to have whatever skin tones and hair colors they’d like – just like Lauren did with the Disney Princess images on her Tumblr blog. Of course, there’s little diversity in actual facial features, which is an ongoing problem in the doll business. Even when racially and ethnically diverse dolls are available, their facial characteristics typically reflect white beauty norms. In the essay “Dyes and Dolls: Multicultural Barbie and the Merchandizing of Difference,” scholar Ann duCille famously criticized such dolls for being merely “dye-dipped” – brown versions of their white counterparts.
In this context, a new experiment from Disney is fascinating. As of this week, children ages 3 to 12 who are visiting Walt Disney World’s Downtown Disney Marketplace may order custom-modeled 7-inch Disney Princess figurines made to look like them. Just like them. As in modeled after images taken via 3D scans of the children’s own faces. (Some reports have stated this service is available at Disneyland, but a Disney rep on the Disney Parks web site has clarified that the D-Tech Princesses are only going to be available in Walt Disney World in the Downtown Disney Marketplace.)
The price is about the same as an American Girl doll, but thanks to the 3D technology, these new “D-Tech Me” princess figurines won’t just have the children’s eye and hair color, they’ll also have their noses, cheekbones, lips.
The service is being offered for a limited time, and the characters available are Ariel, Aurora, Belle, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White, and Tiana. (Sorry, Mulan, Pocahontas, Jasmine, and Merida!)
I have to agree with the Business Insider that the samples images Disney has shared so far look pretty creepy – a little too “uncanny valley” for my taste. And I’m not sure why three of the four characters of color from the Disney Princess franchise are being excluded as choices in the first place; it seems a little insensitive. (Anyone have thoughts on that?) But I don’t agree with Marketplace that the figurines are a sign of the apocalypse.
Although the Disney Princess franchise teems with stereotypes about girlhood, femininity, physical appearance, and race (and although I strongly dislike that the girls’ heads will be as large or larger than their waists on these figurines) the reality is this: Little girls are growing up in a princess-obsessed girls’ culture, and feeling excluded hurts.
By letting any girl see herself as a princess – well, at least any 3- to 12-year-old girl whose parents can bring her to Disney World and afford to pay $99.95 plus shipping and handling for a figurine – Disney has taken another small step in the right direction. I’ll be curious to see whether the experiment catches on.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Rebecca Hains blogs at rebeccahains.wordpress.com.
Chelsea Clinton’s interview with Vogue suggesting she’s changed her mind and may be open to running for public office is hardly a surprise. All the presidents' children have always been a magnet for public fascination and attention, and plenty of them end up in – or on the periphery of – politics. (Think of those children of presidential politics who have not faded into obscurity: Caroline Kennedy and her brief flirtation with running for the US Senate and her endorsement of President Obama; Mary and Liz Cheney who have been active in Republican politics; not to mention "W" son of the first President Bush).
White House families are the closest thing to American royalty. Presidential family-watching can be great relief from partisan politics if you’re not a hard-core political junkie. The Obama girls – the oldest of which, Malia, is already sparking speculation she'll be stumping for dad – are as interesting to watch as Prince William and bride Kate.
Likewise, in 1993 when Chelsea became the first child to reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue since 1981 when another frizzy red-headed kid in braces, Amy Carter, left the White House, she was as fun to read about as Princess Diana was at the time.
A story I wrote at the time about the obsession with Chelsea quoted Bill Trice, a Little Rock attorney and a Clinton family friend whose son was close to Chelsea since preschool: "Chelsea is not newsworthy. Even positive press is, in a way, an intrusion into living a normal life."
But the fact is, White House kids – and the kids of those who aspire to the White House – are newsworthy. Any parent knows that their families are a reflection of them in some way – their tastes, values, and character are symbolic, fair or not. Fortunately the eyes of just our small civic circles are on us and our families - but a president simply can’t avoid public interest in his or her family. As a parent, I like watching the first families – the Obama girls seem poised and worthy of holding up to my own daughter as examples of tasteful dressing (no bare bellies and bra straps there), Michelle Obama's anti-childhood-obesity campaign is a genial model for our household (we keep the McNuggets to a minimum); I liked Laura Bush's seeming calm through her kids' teen years (there's something soothing about literacy advocacy).
As Barbara Kellerman, a leadership consultant who wrote the book “All the President’s Kin” told me when I wrote that 1992 story: "We don't have a royal family, but this man and those closest to him are the focus of all the intellectual, spiritual, and political energies [for the nation]... The lines between political, rock, and Hollywood star roles are blurred, and the first family takes on the vestments of political stardom."
A president can, on the other hand, bring all his powers to bear on drawing a ring around the child. Often the press lays off – the press was generally soft on the Bush girls until they came of age and did what kids coming of age generally do.
Chelsea, it turns out, is quite newsworthy. Now an NBC news correspondent, granting a lengthy interview, and glamorous photo shoot, with Vogue is clearly a calculated publicity move – to what end, she has a long career ahead to show us.
For those who love to read about White House families, here are some links to some enlightening coverage of presidential families past:
* Whatever happened to Amy Carter?
* Liz Cheney: More political dynasties?
* Political kids: Legit news or tabloid topic
Now that the thrill of watching the Olympic Games is over, my 17-year-old son and I sat down to witness the predictable mayhem inherent in the premier of the Lifetime TV series "The Week the Women Went," where it seems natural to root for the men to fail and provide entertainment after all the women of the town have gone on a seven-day mass vacation. However, as the parent of four boys, I have to root for these hapless men left holding the kids and family businesses to rally and show us men can parent, albeit in their own spray-paint-the-pageant-dress and feed them Ramen noodles fashion.
I know this series has all the hallmarks of playing to the cheap seats as a feel-good marathon for the Lifetime female audience, but I think men are much more capable and resilient when put to the test. If they fail, it will be more attributable to the one-week “experiment,” which was previously produced for TV in England, Canada, and Morocco.
Because if you give the men much longer than a week, they will find a work-around and then the whole feel-good format is gone along with the women. I tell you this as a mom who went away for a week last year and came home to controlled hysteria, but after having to leave again the next week, returned to the male version of Martha Stewart and felt superfluous. Week one was a train wreck, but the second time my husband found his feet and reinvented himself, our family structure, and my workload in a meaningful and lasting way.
So it’s possible that we could see shades of that in the unscripted Lifetime series narrated by comedian Jeff Foxworthy and billed as a “social experiment of Biblical proportions.”
The show opened with two fiery sermons: one delivered by a man and the other by a woman in the town of Yamassee, S.C., population 1,000.
“Women! Can’t live with ‘em and can’t live without 'em," the male preacher quipped to his congregation.
While the female pastor cried out, “It was God’s idea that every man needs a woman. Woman was not created as an afterthought, He had something in mind!” My suspicion is that this plan was not a reality TV show, but who am I to say I know the mind of the Lord?
So the men are left holding the kids and the bag on everything from a coffee-drinking toddler to a beauty pageant. In two cases, young girls are left to run their mothers’ businesses, which should be a whole series in itself.
My son’s favorite quote came from an unidentified man who moaned, “A washing machine is an intimidating machine!” To which my son Ian shouted at the TV, “Amen!”
I looked at him and said, “You just used the washing machine to wash your jiu-jitsu gi. What are you talking about?”
He had the decency to look embarrassed when he said, “Well, come on, men are expected to be idiots when it comes to that stuff. It’s funny when they are.”
It’s funny in a movie or Bill Cosby routine, but not in a real life “documentary.”
Everybody loves the Bill Cosby comedic moment when he, “Dad,” is asked by the kids to give them chocolate cake for breakfast when Mom sleeps in. His brain looks up the recipe for chocolate cake and returns with: eggs and milk and flour. “You want chocolate cake?” he asks the children. “You got it!” All’s well, the children are singing songs of praise to him, until the mother comes stalking down the stairs and demands to know who gave them the cake, and they all rat on Dad.
Yes, in the first episode of "The Week the Women Went," kids ate corn dogs, Ramen noodles, and lollipops. Some dads actually formed alliances like on the show "Survivor" as a means of coping.
It’s painful when life repeatedly imitates sitcoms and a grown man can’t buy proper food, cook the meal he worked to provide for his children, or cope with the common use of a machine he can probably take apart and rebuild, but not operate to wash a load of laundry.
I don’t want to raise my boys to be unable to live without me. As Tammy Lane, the domineering mother of a 21-year-old son still living at home, told the camera, “I still do everything for him except wash him, and if he asked me to, it might be a different story.” She said that last bit implying that she would consider it if asked.
The man, Justin Lane is the town’s fire chief, the guy responsible for many other lives in that town, yet his mother is still working hard to make him incapable because she needs to feel indispensable.
We expect our men to lead the world, care for their children, their wives, and others. And to do that, we need to teach them to use the washer, buy more than peanut butter, bread, and beer and know more about the washing machine than how to rewire it.
Yet it is because they can take the machine apart that I believe these men can rebuild our image of them and their potential. Whether Lifetime takes us there remains to be seen. I, for one, will be watching.
We’ve been keeping an eye on all the facts and figures coming out about the great Back To School migration. (Was that really $700 that the National Retail Federation said was the average cost of back-to-school spending for kindergarten through 12th grade?) After all, this is a big time of year for parents and their kids, whether they’re dreading the end of lazy summer days or counting down the minutes until someone else will help entertain (I mean teach) Junior for a good chunk of the day.
So when we saw a new collection of back-to-school stats from the US Census Bureau, we decided we needed to share.
Because check this out: The amount of money spent at family clothing stores in August 2011? $7.7 billion. Yes, billion. And this consumerism could take place at a wide variety of locations. According to the Census Bureau, there were 28,520 family clothing stores in 2009, along with 7,092 children and infants clothing stores, and 26,651 shoe stores.
But don’t forget the books. August is the strongest sales month of the year for bookstores (flashback here of making my way through the maze of paperback piles at the campus book shop) with purchases totaling some $2.4 billion. And you can get your copy of "The Catcher in the Rye" at some 9,390 bookstores nationwide (as of 2009).
All of this might seem crazy until one considers another stat: More than a quarter of the population age 3 and older is enrolled in school. Sixteen percent of college students are 35 and older, and 72 percent of children aged 3 to 6 are enrolled in full-day kindergarten. All together, that’s 79 million people as of 2010 who are heading back to school – a lot of demand for textbooks and color-coded binders. (Do kids still use binders? Or is everything on an iPad? Help me out here.)
But if this all has you aghast, the Census Bureau also reminds us that staying in school is worth it financially. Although this figure has been sliced and diced, and ends up being more complicated than it might appear (sorry, but humanities graduates just don’t make as much as the engineers), workers with a bachelor’s degree had median earnings of $56,000, compared to the $33,000 of those with a high school diploma. Workers with less than a high school diploma had median earnings of $25,000.
So go forth and shop for back to school. It is, apparently, the American way.