Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Common Core, Standardized Testing and How We Got Here

There is a revolution of sorts underway in our educational system here in the United States, but it isn't one that everyone is excited about. This revolution isn't one that is coming at the urging of educators, it isn't coming at the behest of concerned parents, it is coming from the top down this time. This revolution is one that, if you have children in school, teach or have any exposure to the world of education, you are most likely already aware of, at least in some capacity.

This major shift is collectively referred to as Common Core...but what is it exactly?

I'm going to try to answer some of the most common questions that people have, address some of the concerns, and discuss how and why we ended up here in the first place. Then, I will talk about what we can do about it.

Before I do any of that, I want to give you all a little bit of background about myself. Before we left California, I was enrolled in a credential program to become an elementary school teacher. I had completed all the prerequisites and done some student teaching already. We moved in the middle of it, and the programs here in Colorado were completely different. Though I have not officially worked as a teacher in a public school district, I do have a significant amount of the background knowledge. I'm also looking at this as someone with a legal background and as the mother of several children currently in school. I have some unique insights into this subject as I have many friends working as teachers and administrators at all levels in several districts around the country. I've been working on this post for a while now, and I hope that I address the major concerns you might have, though due to time and space constraints, it's going to be virtually impossible for me to address them all. 

I also want you to be aware that much of what is in this post is my personal opinion, based on what I have seen. I'm not citing anyone I know personally, I'm not tying anything to the district we are in specifically, I'm not discussing any specific schools or teachers or curriculum issues. These are generalizations based on observations, and my opinions are mine. 

With all that out of the way, though my interest in this topic is certainly one from the perspective of policy and society, it is also one that I'm personally invested in. As I write this, one of my children is being used as a guinea pig in a standardized testing pilot program. They are taking three days of instruction away to pilot a computer based test that won't even count for or against the kids who are taking it right now. 

When I say he is being made a guinea pig, I mean it pretty literally. He isn't the only one of my children who is being subjected to pilot testing this year either. 

I mention the testing because reality is that standardized testing has become a routine part of school life for students, for teachers, for administrators. More and more time is being spent with each passing year it seems on these tests. When we were children growing up in California, we were subjected to a few days of standardized testing once a year, and California was, at the time, an anomaly. I know many people who never endured even the testing we were given back then.

How did we go from a system that spent a few days at most testing children to one that resembles what we have now?

It's not a simple answer, and it's something that has concerned people for quite a while now. For decades the only major tests that students had to worry about were the SAT and ACT, used in college admissions. Now, routine testing begins in our district at the kindergarten level, state testing begins by third grade.

The Department of Education didn't even exist until 1979 when it was created under the Carter Administration. Prior to that it was included along with Health and Human Services. At the time, schools were subject to state and local regulation only with no intrusion or interference from the federal government.  Under the tenth amendment,  the states are supposed to retain the right to handle all issues not set aside for the federal government, a contentious issue in many areas including education. Education essentially went from being a state issue to a federal one that year, though the issue has never been widely accepted by everyone and is still being challenged now, particularly in light of recent changes.

In 2002, President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act into law, which will still cause most veteran educators to cringe a bit. The law, with the intention of raising standards and creating accountability for failing schools, mandated for the first time that all students were to be tested. The results of those tests were to be used to gauge growth and select out failing schools. Couched as an aid program for disadvantaged students, it focused on setting high standards, creating measurable goals and forcing the entire education system to find ways to evaluate how much students were learning.

While the intention of the law might have been sound, the effect of it has been that schools have become increasingly focused on test scores. Curricula have been altered to concentrate on the topics that appear on the tests. Learning has been pieced out so that the students can jump through the hoops we decide they are supposed to jump through.  Under NCLB, the only way a school can receive federal funding is to test students and show Adequate Yearly Progess (AYP), though the tests themselves are set under state laws.

Around the time that NCLB was enacted, there was a huge public push, coming mostly from dissatisfied parents, for school choice. To really know if one school was better than another, there had to be some sort of objective criteria to use as a basis for comparison. Parents, in many ways, helped to create the testing beast we are dealing with now. 

The consequence of enacting school choice is two fold. First, and perhaps worst, is the truth that once it's out there, once you've given parents the opportunity to enroll in any school they choose, once there are other publicly funded alternatives, you can't put the rabbit back in the hat. Once it is out there, it is out there. 

The second issue with school choice (and vouchers and charter schools and every other incarnation of school choice that has been created in the past few decades) is that it takes away any personal investment in a particular school. If parents are dissatisfied, they can just leave. There is no incentive on their part to help work to improve schools. Compound that issue for a few decades and you can see that failing schools keep failing because they are losing students. Then they lose funding. Then their test scores might go down even more. If the scores go down, teachers may be faulted. Lower enrollment affects the number of FTEs a school has. And the cycle keeps spinning. 

So, as of the beginning of this decade, we now have a system in total disrepair. Parents are dissatisfied. The federal government, in an attempt to force accountability, has created an enormous testing burden that districts must pay for or risk losing federal funds. You might think that all this came with some tangible benefit to students, that we were doing a better job for them, right?

Wrong. Compared to other nations, we are slipping and have been for some time now. 

In fact, there is growing criticism of our system by a unlikely source - college professors and the high school teachers that are issuing them the warnings about this generation of students. Professors are now being made to teach classrooms full of students who grew up in this test-focused, accountability driven system. Their test scores are fine, but everything else is lacking. These students might be well seasoned at filling in bubbles and answering the specific questions we tell them are on the test, but they've lost the ability to think critically, they can't brainstorm, they can't entertain complex intellectual discussions. All subjects that weren't on the tests were pushed aside, focused on less. Some schools cut funding for extracurriculars, for sports, for language arts, for anything that wasn't on the tests. The quality of student writing has gone downhill significantly. Schools aren't focusing on grammar and syntax anymore, they are more worried about reading comprehension because it's on the tests. Students can use a computer for anything in the world except adequate research. Even in the areas that we might think objective testing would suit students - math and science, we are slipping. These teachers are seeing first hand the effect of a decade of this system on students, but no one is listening to them.

Why? Why aren't we listening to the veteran teachers who are warning us?

They see it. They know that we aren't teaching kids to think anymore. We're teaching them to pass tests, because we're now tying teacher ability to the grades the kids get on the tests. We're focusing so much on getting the lowest level learners to pass so that we create the appearance of growth that we aren't pushing the highest level learners the way they should be, the way they need to be. We are laboring under this illusion that all students can and should learn the same things at the same rates, then testing them as though it could ever be true.

And we're doing it because if we don't, our federal funding will be cut. Teachers are doing it because their livelihoods depend on it. If they don't get kids to jump through the hoops, their jobs might be in jeopardy.

All this ignores the 500 lb. elephant in the room - which is this: in education, we cannot control the inputs into the system. The teachers, the administrators, the districts have no control over which students walk through their doors. Those kids bring their home life situations, their socio-economic statuses, their poverty, their hunger, their primary language, their learning disabilities, their mental health conditions, their intelligence levels, their parents and the level of involvement they are willing to put it, their realities. None of that is subject to the control of the school system, but we want to believe that we can hold the schools accountable for test scores in a situation where the vast majority of conditions contributing to how a child learns are entirely outside anyone's control.

The system is a mess, and instead of allowing individual districts discretion in how to best deal with the situations they face, instead of funding school lunches and providing transportation universally, instead of trying to eliminate some of the real-life impacts facing these students, and in turn the districts they belong to, we are focusing on outputs alone. Numbers.

And we're doing it more and more and more. 

Under President Obama, yet another federal input was enacted affecting education. This one, called the Race to the Top program is an incentive based program that gives districts money based on innovation, lifting restrictions on charter schools, test scores, performance reviews and compliance with Common Core standards. Districts don't have to apply for the money, states do not have to participate, but when faced with the reality that per pupil funding seems to go down almost constantly, most did submit applications. Only those with the most points were awarded money.

Don't comply = no money. It is sold as an incentive system, but it's really punitive in nature.

The program and its funding were a way to basically force compliance with Common Core standards. What is Common Core? I'm sure that most of you have heard the phrase, but there isn't a whole lot of information out there that presents it objectively. I'll do my best. Deep breath.

Common Core, in theory, is completely sound. It's the idea that all students, in every state in the nation should be taught and learn the same basic material at each grade level, particularly in math and English. It is easy to see how this idea is a logical one, particularly for students who have to move between districts or even states during their school careers. It makes more sense for all fifth graders to learn certain topics than for schools to pick and choose which grade those topics are covered in. 

Having said all that, just because it is sound in theory doesn't mean that the execution of the theory is working well. I'm also a born skeptic, so I always ask the question of who initiates something and who stands to gain. 

The standards were written, put out into the world and quickly adopted by most states, lauded as progress. Now that they are beginning to be enacted through changes in curriculum, teachers and parents are waving their hands in protest. 

The standards themselves were written by a panel of 27 people, including just a few teachers and composed mostly the representatives of the testing industry. Wait? What? The people who stand to benefit directly from the technologies being required wrote the standards? 

There was no transparency involved, something usually critical to education in particular. The Department of Education is expressly forbidden from writing or recommending curriculum, so the funding for the creation of the standards was all provided by private funders. The Gates Foundation footed the bill and invited many groups to evaluate the standards, except many of the evaluators weren't in the business of education or evaluation at all. 

Sold to teachers unions as a way to ensure that all students were being taught the same material, it was viewed by many as almost a civil rights issue, which garnered support from many within the educational world. Then the standards were adopted by legislatures sight unseen in most states. The vast majority of elected officials have no experience in education.

Anyone sensing who has the real motivation now?

If you guessed it was the testing industry, the curriculum industry, the tech industry, you'd be correct. If you guessed that major industries are the ones supporting it, that the Chamber of Commerce supports it, you'd be right too.

This year, many of the Common Core requirements are being rolled out in districts around the nation, now stuck with them as a condition of that Race to the Top funding they received. With no choice but to implement the changes, curricula have been changed significantly. 

Think about it. If the same math books have always worked, then no one would need to buy a new one. If we change the standards, add some "new math" to the tests, force it onto the curricula, guess who needs to buy new materials?

What has resulted are math homework sheets being sent home all over the country that have parents scratching their heads. In some attempt to teach children to think critically, we are unnecessarily complicating even the simplest arithmetic. Well, it sells books. (Told you guys I am cynical)

Perhaps even more concerning than the changes to the curricula that are the most obvious so far, usually the math worksheets, are the early results of the tests being administered.

They are quite literally setting them up to fail. 

This program, being implemented for the so-called benefit of students, is setting them up to fail. On purpose.

The Common Core standards are supposed to set goals, based on grade level. They are not supposed to dictate curriculum, but the reality is that in many places they are being implemented almost word for word. The standards written by this group of 27 mostly-industry people, aren't even subject to revision or changes if instructors find fault with them. They just are what they are.

So then, what can we do?

If you're a parent who has sat at a kitchen table and tried to help your child with math homework this year, you know that this isn't working already. You've seen it up close and personal. 

What can we do?

We can approach our school boards with our concerns. We can write our representatives and request that states either reject Common Core or adopt standards that comply with the requirements of Common Core, but allow for modification and flexibility as well. We can urge funding for the arts and the extracurricular classes that enrich the lives of our students and provide some of them with the only real motivation to stay in school. We can become involved with what our children are learning and how they are being taught. We can talk to their teachers, we can ask questions. 

I know that with my children, the math in particular has presented issues already. What should be important is providing children with alternatives, with different approaches, with ways to solve the problems - then we should let them figure out which one works best for them. We shouldn't be forcing all of them to learn to do everything in the most complicated way possible for the simple fact that some of them won't be able to understand it. Some of them need the alternatives. Teaching isn't about dictating how to learn, it is about providing kids with the tools to find their own solutions. 

We need to push for adaptations in the testing and instruction for kids who need more help, who learn in other ways. We need to understand that children learn in different ways, at different speeds, and that it is okay. 

We also need to stop believing that all children need to hit the same goals for school in the first place. Not everyone will go to college. Not everyone should go to college. We absolutely need schools to teach all those children life skills, to teach them job skills, to give them alternatives that might come in the form of all the classes not tested - the auto shop classes, the wood working classes, the home economics classes, the personal finance courses, the family life classes, the arts classes, the music classes. You can't tell me that those are any less important than math and writing, when in fact the opposite is true.

Our education system is broken, but it can be repaired. It can be repaired only if we stand together and fight against this corporate intrusion, these mandates that serve to benefit no children, but line the pockets of the testing industry. 

This is our future, this is the future for our children. 

Let's do all those things that the federal programs promise. Let's refuse to leave children behind. Let's race to the top. 

But let's do it the right way. By letting teachers teach again. By giving districts the money they need without tying it to some artificial measure of growth. By supporting the people on the ground, the teachers in the classroom. 

Reach out to the teachers in your life. Tell them you support them. 

Then do it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Things That Piss Me Off Tuesday - The Boy Scouts and Game of Thrones edition

How's that for a bizarre pairing?

Welcome to my brain, you guys. Like last week, I'm just writing on two topics even though there are a million other things going on in the universe that I could include, and I'm doing it because I know that I'm going to have a lot to say about the two that I am covering.

Besides, I wrote about all the people asking the moronic question of whether Hillary Clinton could be a grandmother and the President at the same time over at Lefty Pop yesterday. That chapped my ass too.

Anyhow, off we go. I'm probably going to use the swears. Just warning you.

The Boy Scouts are "Saddened" by the gays
Just when you start to think that antiquated institutions might be capable of real change, just when there is a glimmer of hope that thinking can evolve, something like this goes and happens.

The Boy Scouts of America has revoked the charter of a Methodist church in Seattle, shutting down the Scout Troop and Cub Scout Pack they sponsor after a gay Scoutmaster came out publicly.

He was ousted by BSA in March, but the church refused to remove him from his position. The church explained that they stood by the Scoutmaster because they have a policy of non-discrimination. So, BSA did what it logically thought it had to do...revoke the charter entirely.

In a public statement, BSA has said that they are, "saddened by this development, but remain committed to providing all youth with the best possible scouting experience where the scouting program is the main focus. We are contacting the parents and leaders of the units to inform them of the chartered-organization change."

Right. Because the best way to provide all youth with the best scouting experience is to dissolve the Troop and Pack. And this made BSA "sad".

Bullshit. They painted themselves into a corner and are content to keep painting as their tiny space gets smaller and smaller. They created this problem when they made formal rules banning gay adults from leadership. They could make it all go away.

Bangs head on wall.

Seriously, you guys. I was SO pissed when I saw this last night. The fact that my oldest son had just come home from his troop meeting makes it even worse...because as much as I loathe the BSA right now, I'm stubbornly digging in my heels as a vocal advocate for change. Boy Scouts is a hugely valuable organization. It has been a part of my husband's life for almost his entire life. It has taught my son so much, given him so many opportunities, pushed him to try new things, gain new skills.

If what is going down in Seattle comes anywhere near his troop, though, I will pull him so fast that heads will spin.

The BSA is digging their own grave, again. Membership is way down, in large part because of their homophobic stance. I can think of at least ten families I know personally who have pulled their boys or refused to join at all because of the anti-gay position of the scouts. I know leaders who've quit over it, good leaders with so much to offer the organization.

People are fed up.

The church that sponsors my son's troop is an inclusive, non-discriminatory church. I know people in scouting who fit into every single banned criteria. Good people. Good leaders.

One day, not too long from now, either the BSA will have run itself into the ground through no one's fault but their own, or they'll have realized how wrong they were and done everything they possibly could to try and repair the damage they've already done.

Personally, I hope they figure this shit out in a hurry and do the right thing. I'd really hate to leave scouts over this, but I'll do it in a heartbeat.

Game of Thrones, Revisions and Rape
Two things. One, I am basically a superfan of the series, more of the books than the show. Two, what follows will contain specific information about scenes that have played out in both the books and shows, so if you are going to yell at me about writing spoilers, stop reading now.


I've written before about the books, and how I began reading them some time last year. We tried to watch the show at first, but were a little taken aback by the violence and couldn't get into it immediately. Instead, at the urging of a few devoted fans, we decided to read the books first and take it from there.

Though most of the books come in somewhere around a thousand pages, we found ourselves tearing through them. Then we started watching the show.

Initially, my reaction to the show was (and for the most part remains) good. The casting is spot on. The sets are unbelievable. The costuming is easily the most impressive I've ever seen for a television show. And, almost always, the creators of the show have done a good job translating the books for the screen.

Necessarily, they have to change pieces of the stories. It would be impossible to make a 10 episode season based on a 1,000 page book and not take some things out. I don't think that anyone out there is annoyed that all the little nuances and all the little back stories aren't included. Plus, in this particular series, the imagery in the setting is easier shown in pictures than it is described in the books. What can take ten pages of detailed writing can be shown far easier if it is done well, and it usually is.

Where I struggle, though, is where the fundamental pieces of the stories of major characters are changed.

In the first season, Daenerys, the child bride, is raped by Khal Drogo on their wedding night for no particular reason. In the book, he works to gain her consent (well, assuming that a 14 year old girl sold by her brother in marriage to a man twice her age could really consent anyhow) prior to consummating the marriage. She is reluctant to enter the marriage, yes, but she accepts her husband and she initiates their first sexual encounter. She ultimately falls deeply in love with Drogo and he becomes her sun and stars, a story that seems far less plausible if he rapes her violently the first night they are wed.

The rape of Daenerys is glossed over in the show, just merely a piece of that episode, and does nothing to alter the rest of their storyline as a couple or hers as an individual. So, then, why change it? It's a legitimate question to ask, even in the fictional world of Westeros.

Westeros isn't a calm and peaceful place. It is filled with violence, particularly sexual violence and objectification of women, as it is. So, then why do the show creators feel compelled to make it even more so on screen? Why?

It's a question that needs to be asked, and it is being asked again because it has happened again. Another storyline containing major characters has been altered.

This time, it's Jaime and Cersei. Twins and incestuous lovers, he is the father of her children, though they are held out to be fathered by the now dead King Robert. Cersei is, all the way through to her core, an evil character in the books. She is manipulative, she is vindictive, she is selfish, she is cruel. For whatever reason, one that escapes me, the creators of the show have tried to humanize her on a few occasions. The first occurred when she was consoling Catelyn at Bran's bedside in season one. We're all supposed to ignore that she played an active role in the child's injury, and that the story she tells about losing her own child doesn't even exist in the books.

I was a bit mystified when that scene played out.

I was even more upset when this week's episode aired. In it, Cersei finds herself alone in the sept with Jaime, alongside the body of their dead child, Joffrey. He has been back for weeks in the show (though in the books he had just now returned), and she had refused his attempts at showing her affection as she is now disgusted by the fact that he lost his hand.

In the book and in the show, they engage in intercourse right there alongside their son's dead body...but in the book she resists him only initially, and only because it's "not right" (whether she's referring to it happening next to a dead body or the incest in general...who knows?). In the show, however, she resisted far more vocally, never went along with it and screamed no throughout the scene.

It was filmed as a rape, not the sudden emotionally driven act that happens in the book.

I am greatly troubled by this for a few reasons. First, it again makes her the sympathetic character here, when the books by this point in the story have painted a very different picture. Second, Jaime has evolved greatly by this point in the story and the reader relates to him more, wants to understand him, even root for him by this time. His chapters are written from his perspective, and we have tremendous insight into what he is thinking.

Clearly, it is impossible to film a show from the perspective of a character, but what happened in this episode doesn't just fall short of showing his perspective, but it perverts it entirely and alters the viewers perception not just of her, but of him as well.

There is also the looming elephant in the room of why the creators of the show seem insistent on changing these particular story lines. These are not small and inconsequential changes done for time and story compression reasons, these go all the way to the core of these main characters.

It also appears that Martin wasn't consulted on this change, a very significant one. He certainly never intended the scene to play out as a rape.

For those who didn't read the books, I can see how the show would paint an entirely different picture of them both. For those who have read the books, we are mostly just disappointed. We are seeing things in the scene that weren't there because we know how it should have happened. We are reading things into it that aren't present on the screen at all.

And why?

Why did Daenerys need to be raped on her wedding night? Why did Cersei have to be raped in the sept? Why are Daenerys and Cersei, arguably the two strongest women in the show, both now victimized on screen in scenes that either didn't happen at all or played out very differently in the books?


Sadly, my answer makes me even more uncomfortable, and I truly think that it is because of the sensationalism in the objectification of women, of the screen appeal (if one wants to call it that) of sexual violence against women.

Rape in this world is fine because she falls in love with him eventually. Rape in this world is fine because they've had children together. Rape is fine because they've already had sex. Rape in this world is just part of this world.

Rape is part of this world because it is part of our world, because we live in a world where we disbelieve women who have been assaulted, we let rapists off if they can throw a football, we worry more about their futures than the women they harm.

This is rape culture, and it's playing out on screen here now.

I'm disappointed, HBO. Very disappointed.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Prenatal Propaganda

It's been a long time since the last time that I was pregnant. I'm officially past the age cutoff to be considered advanced maternal age, but happened to pick a pretty good time to get old and pregnant since science has evolved to the point that most of the screening for genetic abnormalities can be done through blood work now, allowing the old moms like me some peace of mind without having to endure invasive testing that could put the entire pregnancy at risk.

Speaking of which, I got those blood test results back this week and they were all negative (which in this case means good) and so I can breathe a little bit easier now.

A little.

I'm still neurotic as hell, but you all knew that already.

It is a boy. :)

Since it's been so long since the last time I was pregnant and the internet has become an almost constant presence in our lives in that time period, a lot has changed, aside from science.

In the first weeks of my pregnancy, in an effort to pinpoint my due date, I visited a few websites that have calculators and such for that purpose. In the process, I must have given some of them my email address in order to access the information.

It's a two way street though, and now I am being bombarded with propaganda from all angles at all times of the day. I have several emails a day (not even including the ones that get routed to my junk folders). There are pop up ads all over my Facebook account and anytime I search anything online. Amazon wants me to enroll in their subscription services for diapers and wipes and all of the things already.

How the hell does everyone on the internet know that I am pregnant???

Anyhow, some of it is nice. I've already scored a few sweet deals with some of the ads that clearly are generated to draw my attention. I don't want to be a sucker for good marketing, butgoddammititworks.

There are other things I am being sent though, and they are the ones that are bothering me a bit more.

Like the email that I got when I was only 5 or 6 weeks along that promised ways to keep my tummy flat and how to regain my figure immediately right after birth. Or the ones that push super expensive creams and oils that are supposed to save my skin from stretch marks. Or any of the ads, for that matter, that are telling women who are barely pregnant that their bodies are about to go to hell and the only way to prevent that from happening is available on this site for the low one time only price of $49.99.

I'm being a little facetious, but not really.

It bothers me because I've never searched any of those things. This is just what they send to everyone.

My stomach hasn't been flat in decades. I've already had four kids and have the stretch marks to prove it. I can tell you that whether you are going to get stretch marks has nothing to do with what you slather on your belly or how much it costs, but whether you happen to blessed with super elastic collagen in your skin or not. Which happens to be genetic...meaning there isn't a damn thing you can do about it.

Your body is changing because you are growing a person. It's not supposed to stay the same. You aren't supposed to look the same. You are supposed to gain weight. Your hips are supposed to get wider. Your feet usually grow and often stay bigger permanently. You're either going to get stretch marks or you aren't, so save the money on the expensive crap and just buy a bottle of baby oil.

Your body is supposed to look like it just had a baby when you've just had a baby. It takes six weeks alone for your uterus to go back to its original size and all the diets and shakes and supplements and wraps and that in the universe can't force that process any faster than nature intends it to go.

We live in a twisted society that is so focused on body image that we expect women to look like they did before they were pregnant within mere hours after birth. It's just not realistic, and emails like the ones being sent out to people like me (and, I assume, every other woman who ever signs up on these sites for anything) serve to undermine what self confidence we have by taking the focus away from this miraculous life creation thing our body is doing and shining a spot light on whether we will fit into our skinny jeans immediately.

You aren't supposed to fit into your skinny jeans immediately. Honest.

You are supposed to be concerned with caring for yourself and your newborn. That's what you are supposed to be spending your time focused on. Honest.

It's not just the internets that harass the pregnant women of the world, it's everyone. Literally.

There is something about being pregnant that screws up the filters that the universe normally has and allows people to believe that whatever their opinions about you and your body and your pregnancy are 1)legitimate, 2)relevant, and 3)required to be proclaimed to the world.

It's a bit strange, and I honestly can't figure out where this societal compulsion comes from, why people think that just because a woman is pregnant that it is totally permissible to invade her privacy, ask questions they never would ordinarily ask, tell stories no one solicits and give advice no one wants.

For better or worse, I've become tremendously skilled in ignoring it, in nodding and smiling and disregarding. Then again, this is the sixth time I've been pregnant, so I've had a lot more practice than the average person.
  • We don't want to hear about the horrible birth story of your cousin's best friend's sister. 
  • We don't care about how much weight you gained or how fast you lost it.
  • We don't want you telling us that we have to have an epidural or not.
  • We don't care what you think about how many kids we already have.
  • We don't want you trying to tell us to breastfeed or recommending formula.
  • We don't care if you think we look tiny/huge/like we're carrying twins.
  • We don't want you touching us. Like ever.
We are humans, still as worthy of privacy and respect as we were when we weren't gestating another human. If we want your input, we will ask. If it is okay for you to feel the baby kicking, we'll let you know and guide your hand. If we are looking for options and alternatives, we'd like to know that we can come to you, but let us initiate the conversation. We got this.

We are judged enough as it is. By our doctors, by the nurses, by society's expectations of us, by the internet looming everywhere we are. We judge ourselves probably more than anyone else does.

Those of us with complicated pregnancies, myself included, can promise you (to the moon and back) that it is taking everything we have to stay focused on what we need to do to sustain and maintain a healthy baby and keep our own health in check. Everything is infinitely more complicated for us and we're already harder on ourselves than anyone else is. Honest.

It all compounds on one another.

In the rare spaces between all those times when I'm being hard on myself, judging myself, worrying about what I have to eat and when and what my blood sugar is and whether I had enough water and whether I have a protein rich snack and whether wherever I am has a source of simple carbs in case I crash and whether I have exercised enough and whether this is my allergies or a cold and whether it will throw off my numbers and whether I overslept and too much time has elapsed when I've been fasting and it will skew my between all those times, I am just grateful. Elated. Joyful. Still giddy over the fact that I get to be here again in the first place.

Thank you for coming on this journey with me this time.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Boy or Girl???

We will find out the gender tomorrow all together, but before we do, I thought it would be fun to go through all the old wives tales and other gender predictors to see how accurate they end up being.

This is the first time that we have done anything like this, and I have to say it is fun!

Heart rate - If it is above 140 it is supposed to predict a girl, below is a boy. The heartrate was 166 at the first appointment and 154 at the last one, so this goes for GIRL.

Cravings - If mom is craving salty food it is supposed to mean the baby is a boy. If she's craving sweets, it is supposed to be a girl. This one goes for BOY.

Morning Sickness - If mom is very nauseous, it's supposed to be a girl. If she's not too nauseous, it's a boy. This one predicts BOY.

Mood - If mom is moody, the baby is a girl. If she's happy, the baby is a boy. I'm going to say that I've been happy, though other people might answer differently! So, I'm calling this for BOY.

Sleeping - If mom is sleeping on her right side, it's a boy. If she's sleeping on her left, it's a girl. There's no option for if mom is sleeping on whichever side does not contain a five year old boy, but I'll go ahead and say right just because it is more comfortable. So, GIRL.

Headaches - If mom is having headaches, it's a boy. If not, it's a girl.  According to this, it's a GIRL.

Skin - If mom's skin is soft, it's a girl. If mom's skin is dry, it's a boy. All the way on this one for BOY.

Hair - If mom's hair is growing slower or it is thinning, it's a girl. If her hair is growing faster and thicker, it's a boy. Considering I could shave my legs three times a day and still look like a yeti...gonna go with BOY. (What??? It's true....)

How mom is carrying - If she is gaining weight everywhere, it's a girl. If it's all in front, it's a boy. Well, I haven't been able to hide the bump in front since about 8 weeks along, so BOY.

Mayan calendar - BOY.

Chinese calendar - GIRL.

The final tallies are......

     BOY                 GIRL
        7                        4

We'll let you all know!!!!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Marijuana - Truths, Lies and Misinformation in the Media

This is something I've been meaning to write about for a while now, and something that I've been asked to write about several times in the past year especially given the current pro-pot climate in the state I live in, Colorado. Instead of writing out a lengthy post, I'm going to try to hit some of the high points (no pun intended) in the questions people have asked me about safety, use, abuse and more. When the law first went into effect here in Colorado, I wrote a long post about what the law actually meant. You can read it here if you want. I've written about it in other contexts a few times, and will try to cite some of those posts as this continues.

First, let me preface everything that follows by saying two things. One, I have never used marijuana personally. I've been what I would consider marijuana adjacent, in other words, around people smoking, but not directly inhaling myself. In all likelihood, there wasn't enough in the air around me to ever experience a contact high (one of the great misconceptions about marijuana is the phenomenon of the contact high, which actually requires exposure to a whole lot more smoke than most people understand). Two, I am generally in favor of legalization of marijuana for a laundry list of reasons totally unrelated to any using I haven't done. To some people, I'm considered an anomaly because they can't understand why someone who admits to not using a drug would be in favor of legalization, but I can assure you that I have my reasons. Some of them are as follows:

- making drugs illegal doesn't make them go away
- people have used marijuana for thousands of years
- it is mostly harmless in most situations
- there are legitimate health benefits
- I object to the criminalization of possession and use of drugs
- I have worked in prosecution in the past
- our jails are full of non violent drug offenders
- if people need help to overcome addictions, they need help, not jail
- tax revenues

Having said all that, I want you all to know that I do my best to present the most accurate and objective information here, particularly when it comes to drugs. If you find something flawed with my reasoning or would like to disagree, please feel free to do so, just keep it civil. I'm going to thank you in advance for that.

Okay, so let's get to the actual subject matter at hand. If anyone has additional questions or concerns, please feel free to add them in the comments or on my Facebook page and I will try to get to them. I've sort-of become a resident expert on the topic just because I have a legal background and live in CO.

Classification of Marijuana
Marijuana defies classification unlike many other drugs because it has such a wide range of effects. It is considered both a depressant, meaning that it decreases transmissions in the nervous system and a hallucinogen, which means that it can alter perception, thought, emotions and consciousness.

Under the DEA, marijuana is a Class I controlled substance, which is reserved for the most dangerous substances in the nation. You'd probably be interested to know that cocaine is a Class II. Tell me how that makes sense exactly? The classification of marijuana has been a highly politicized event, and there really isn't much evidence to support lumping it in with the other substances considered Class I. This classification also dramatically limits medical research, as does the fact that marijuana is derived from plant sources that cannot be patented (essentially giving Big Pharma no incentive to do exhaustive research because they can't be assured patent protection down the road...welcome to our jacked up system). There is talk of possibly having it reclassified given the current trend of legalization.

Benefits of Marijuana Use
The conventional wisdom tells us that it mellows most people out and causes increases in hunger.

There is a large and growing list of medical benefits associated with use as well, which is why marijuana is legal in many more states for medical usage than for recreational usage. Use has been long recommended for cancer patients in particular as it can alleviate pain and increase hunger in patients whose appetites have been diminished by treatment. It reduces nausea and vomiting as well. I'll vouch for the awesomeness of this first hand as it made the final weeks of my father's life much more pleasant and manageable. Plus, he ate a lot of peanuts when he was high.

Many people with AIDS and other conditions benefit in the same ways as cancer patients, as can anyone with a condition that gradually worsens over time. Patients with chronic pain, glaucoma, nerve and muscle disorders can benefit from use as well. One of the most exciting new developments is in the treatment of seizure disorders, particularly in children. The cannabidiol is extracted, most of the THC removed (which is what creates the "high") and children who were out of other medical options are able to resume normal seizure-free (or at least severely enhanced) lives because the seizures stop entirely or decrease in frequency and significance.  Parents are now moving to Colorado from all over the country to seek this treatment for their children. It is also being used in some patients with multiple sclerosis.

This article cites some of the lesser known, but documented benefits of marijuana.
- can stop HIV spread in the body
- slows Alzheimer's
- slows cancer spread
- pain reliever
- can help with opiate addiction
- can help depression, anxiety and adhd
- can treat epilepsy and Tourette's
- can help with neurological damage
- can prevent blindness from glaucoma
- can lower insulin levels in diabetics

There are probably a heap of other potential medical benefits that we just don't know about yet because it is an area sorely lacking in adequate research.

Risks of Marijuana Use
In most medical cases, the benefits of marijuana use far outweigh the risks, and so we tend not to worry about them as much. Much concern has been raised, however, over the safety of marijuana use in the recreational community. Some of these concerns are legitimate, some are unfortunately fueled by misinformation in the media.

First, marijuana is a hallucinogen, and people can and do react to it differently, even people who use it frequently. The nature of the drug is to be heavily varied, and shops here locally sell countless different varieties, all with slightly different concentrations of the compounds that make the drug a drug. Some people can become delusional and paranoid on it and their behavior can be altered as much as their minds. It does not work as just a depressant in all situations, and users should be aware of the potential it has in this capacity. I know quite a few people who had horrible experiences with it, particularly on their first try.

There is a case here locally of a young man who recently consumed six times the recommended amount in the form of an edible, then began shaking, screaming and throwing things before jumping off a hotel balcony to his death. As quick as the media is to tie his death directly to marijuana use, it needs to be emphasized that he used far more than he should have. It also bears mention that consuming six times the legal limit of alcohol could kill someone, as could consuming six times the recommended amount of several other legal prescription drugs. Even Tylenol is lethal in amounts we wouldn't ordinarily consider that dangerous.

There is another case here locally where a man who consumed a joint and an entire edible shot and killed his wife. Again, quick to blame the marijuana, many are overlooking several important issues: he had violent priors, he was taking other medications at the time which could have interacted, the police took over 15 minutes to respond (she was on the phone with them saying he was tripping and threatening for 13 of those minutes). But, yeah, let's just blame the pot.

Second, there are long term risks that are fairly well documented. Long term exposure can affect memory and concentration, particularly when used long term by children and adolescents. It can also affect growth in children and adolescents. Though many people believe that marijuana is not addictive, it can be for approximately 10% of those who use it. It can trigger or worsen certain mental health conditions, namely psychosis, depression, suicidal thoughts, and possibly schizophrenia. Some studies have shown that frequent use tends to result in people having poorer job outlooks throughout life as well as higher obesity rates.

Third, it can be associated with certain cancers, though the connection isn't solid in many cases. Many components of marijuana are considered carcinogens and in some ways they are even more dangerous than the compounds in cigarettes because people tend to inhale deeper and hold it longer than with cigarettes, plus joints are not filtered. Smokers tend to use cigarettes more frequently and consistently than users smoke marijuana though. Far more common than cancer diagnoses are chronic lung problems that develop simply because of the damage that inhaling smoke repeatedly can do.

Fourth, the risks of marijuana use during pregnancy and the effect on the fetus aren't as clear as we would like to think. Many women continue to use it throughout pregnancy, particularly for the benefit of nausea suppression, but there do appear to be slight risks of developmental problems. It does seem clear that marijuana use during pregnancy is safer than cigarette smoking or alcohol use, but it is not without risks.

Misconceptions About Marijuana Use
There are many people who make the argument that marijuana is a gateway drug, meaning that it pushes individuals to try other, more dangerous drugs, many of which are far more addictive. It's not, and this has been documented time and again, yet the argument still keeps being raised.

There were fake reports all over the internet within days of legalization here that several people had died over overdoses. It's just not true. There has never been a documented death from overdose. Ever.

Some here insisted that legalization would dramatically increase the crime rates. The opposite has happened, and crime rates have actually gone down.

Many cases in the media discuss marijuana as a factor in crimes without addressing other contributing factors, one of the biggest of which is that marijuana can be laced with other substances, particularly in areas where it is still illegal. I draw the parallel here between a person who consumes an alcoholic beverage intending to consume alcohol, but is unaware that someone has slipped something into it. In these cases, the person is intending to smoke pot, but not intending the expose themselves to whatever else might be mixed in.

Another issue that arises frequently is that people are concerned with users driving under the influence and wanting to know what the criteria are for declaring someone unable to drive. As with literally any other substance that people use to alter themselves in any way, driving under the influence is illegal. It has always been illegal. It is illegal to drive on prescription medications, on cough syrup, after alcohol use, after using any substance, legal or not, which impedes your judgment. The fact that marijuana is now legal doesn't legalize driving under the influence. That law remains the same, and in fact is probably even stronger now in this respect because they are looking into setting specific limits to determine intoxication, as exist currently with alcohol.

One area that is discussed frequently in the media, and misunderstood by many people, is whether use can result in you losing your job, even now that it is legal here (and in several other states for medical usage). The answer is, so far, yes. Employers can drug test you and can demand clean tests as a condition for employment, regardless of whether the substance is legal or not. The issue of whether medical marijuana users can lose their jobs is actually being litigated now in the state and the results of that case could have far reaching effects because it involves not just the issue of employer rights, but of health care privacy. 

Other Miscellaneous Topics
I was asked if there is a difference between vaporizing and smoking marijuana. Vaporizing marijuana isolates the chemical components that create the high but eliminates many of the toxins that one would be exposed to during smoking. At least one study has shown that vaporizing elicits the same level of benefits while dramatically reducing the risks. 

The issue is a bit complicated by the presence of e-cigs on the market now, but those work differently  than marijuana vaporizers do. E-cigs are considered a replacement for regular cigarettes, but still can trigger nicotine addiction and may expose users to harmful inhaled metals. They are not currently regulated, so the facts about safety aren't as clear as they should be.

Another question came in about my personal views on marijuana, namely whether I would use it now that it is legal and how it's legalization has changed what I will teach my kids. First, I have to say that I might use it in the future. I might not. I can't honestly say what I will do. I'm not necessarily opposed to trying it, but I haven't found a compelling enough reason to in the past (even though there were plenty of opportunities). I don't know. I know that there are specific medical conditions that would push me to try it faster if I developed any of them, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend using it to other people in those circumstances.

As for my children, they already know what marijuana is and have known for many years. They know that my father used it. We did not hide his pipe or supplies, though he did smoke it outside (as he did with cigarettes). They were told from the beginning that it was just like any other medication he took related to his cancer, that there was a reason he needed it and that it helped him. I never saw it as more complicated than that. Now that it is available recreationally here in the state, I am fully aware that my kids will likely be presented with many opportunities to try it. My perspective as a parent is this (and it hasn't changed with legalization): treat it as a drug, understand that it is a drug, that it is not guaranteed to be safe, that it can affect you differently than other people. If they want to try it, I wouldn't necessarily tell them not to, but would not seek it out on their behalf (outside of medical reasons). Once they are of legal age, I hope that they treat it like alcohol, with an understanding that it can be abused, that they need to ensure that they are in a safe place to try it, that they may not drive while under the influence, that they need only try a little at a time if they choose, and that they can call me 24/7 and I will be there without question. Marijuana doesn't concern me nearly as much as other drugs do, and those will have far more caution attached to them.

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