On International Women’s Day, Celebrating Women (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Me with my son, February 2016

Me with my son, February 2016

Life and life experiences bring many joys and challenges, successes and failures, jubilation and pain for all of us.  Of adults, women often seem to face many more challenges than men.  There are different familial, cultural, and societal expectations of women.  Women are portrayed differently (and often less respectfully) than men throughout the media. Women can be leaders or followers or somewhere in-between.  However, women are always women, regardless of the types of experiences and lives we lead.  There is so much that women embody, and there is so much that women do and say.  More often, I encourage women to be more supportive, understanding, and helpful toward each other. One never knows exactly what another person is experiencing, and just a simple smile or word of encouragement can go a long way.  On International Women’s Day, it is the perfect day to promote awareness of all of this.

In my own life, I have experienced many joys and challenges, successes and failures, jubilation and pain.  I recall some of the happiest times of my life being when I gave birth to my son, my wedding day, and each of the days that I graduated from school, college, and university.  Additional happy times have been in celebrating happy occasions and accomplishment of my son.  Some of the most painful experiences I have had have included my divorce, being unemployed, and having financial challenges.  I am thankful for the people in my life who I am closest to  and my faith for helping and supporting me through the ups and downs of my life.  I am thankful for those, whether female or male, who have helped me to become a better, stronger, more sensitive and compassionate person.  I am thankful for all those in my life who supported my life, growth, and development, as well as my beliefs in myself, my self confidence, and my self esteem.

There is so much expected of women.  We are expected to be wives, mothers, teachers, caretakers, bosses, employees, leaders, and followers.  We are expected to carry our religious faith and convictions over to our children, and even to others’ children.  We are expected to help others, to volunteer, to give of ourselves, sometimes until there is nearly nothing else left to give.  What is there left for ourselves, at times?  This is what we have to find, and this is often the balancing act that we have to play.  How do we get our own needs met while also fulfilling (or helping to fulfill) the needs of others?  For some of us, we have it all worked out; for others, it is a lifelong journey.

Some of the most important aspects of my own life have been the support and interactions of family, friends, and/or colleagues (emotional and/or financial); religious faith; education; and career.  Supportive people in my life are sometimes few and far between, however those who are supportive are those I highly value and cherish.  My religious faith has always been there, and while I do not support everything within my faith, I know where I stand with it.  Education has always been something I have supported.  Knowledge is power, and one can never have too much knowledge.  Regarding career, I am a woman who believes that working in a career position, such as a teacher or counselor, is as much a career as remaining at home and raising one’s children.  And, there are many of us who do both of those and do them well.

Therefore, these aforestated aspects of my own life have contributed to shaping me into the woman I am today.  While I am a woman who would like more work and career opportunities in order to be more financially independent and self-sufficient for my family, I am also a woman who is thankful for the opportunities I have had to be an involved mother, role model, and guide for my son.  I am thankful for being able to be personally involved in my son’s life.  I am not a woman who regrets being unable to spend quality time with my son because I am one who has done that.  And, it is my hope that it has contributed to his welfare and benefit, and that he has and will become a better and stronger person for it, as well.

As women, we are all intertwined with each other, whether male or female, girl or boy, woman or man.  I encourage women to be more supportive, helpful, and understanding of other women.  Our society so often encourages men and women to be hard and insensitive on our way to the top.  However, I question whether what society perceives as “the top” might sometimes actually be the bottom, based on my own values and perceptions.  We must all consider who we are and how our lives and life experiences has contributed to making us into who we are.  I would like to ask that, on this International Women’s Day, we all consider and take action toward being more supportive of women, and reflecting on who we are and what has made us into who we are.  I would also like to encourage that if there is anything in those perceptions and reflections that we dislike and/or can improve – in a values context – that we do so.  If all of us do this, it will have a positive ripple effect throughout our society, one that we can definitely use.

Perspectives on Honor and Dishonor (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

There are many countries, particularly in Asia, in which honor is taken very seriously, even too seriously.  In Japan or Korea, for examples, there are many instances of men taking their own lives due to what many in those nations have considered to be failures, particularly if losses of innocent lives have been involved under their leadership.  In fact, it seems that it is even an expectation for men and/or women who have been viewed as failures, particularly when harm or death has come to others as a result, to take their own lives.  It appears that such people who have taken their own lives as a result of these particular instances do so because of their feelings of honor and dishonor.  It seems that there is the expectation that they should take their own lives as a result of actions that may have been considered dishonorable.

Pakistani Activists Performing Honor Killing Skit to Protest 2008 Honor Killings of Women (Retrieved on May 31, 2014 from http://www.rcinet.ca/english/archives/column/the-link-s-top-stories/pakistani-family-fears-honour-killing/)

Pakistani Activists Performing Honor Killing Skit to Protest 2008 Honor Killings of Women (Retrieved on May 31, 2014 from http://www.rcinet.ca/english/archives/column/the-link-s-top-stories/pakistani-family-fears-honour-killing/)

In several middle eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, for examples, as well as in countries such as India and Afghanistan, women and girls are expected to remain covered and/or virginal until marriage, according to cultural and/or religious dictates.  If a woman of such culture is raped, however, she is typically blamed and punished, often being disowned by her family, the very people who should be supportive of her.  When a woman is raped in such cultures, society places the burden on her and dictates that she has been dishonorable rather than the man or men who raped her.  Often, then, her family is unsupportive of her and/or may disown her because of her culture’s views that blame, punish, and even torture and kill women for being a victim.  Such killings are known as “honor killings,” however they only bring dishonor to those who have done the killing.  Little or nothing is heard, however, about the man or men bringing dishonor to themselves for perpetrating such crimes.  How often do they get away with it, only to do it again and get away with it again?

Afghan Qamar Jan Survived Attempted Honor Killing When she was Burned by her Fiance (Retrieved on May 31, 2014 from http://www.judiciaryreport.com/british_muslim_couple_murdered_in_honor_killing.htm)

Afghan Qamar Jan Survived Attempted Honor Killing When she was Burned by her Fiance (Retrieved on May 31, 2014 from http://www.judiciaryreport.com/ british_muslim_couple_murdered_in_honor_killing.htm)

Three hundred years ago, in the United States, questions of honor – at least among men of European descent who considered themselves “honorable” – may have been settled by a duel.  If one man believed he was dishonored by another, he could challenge that man to a duel.  In a duel, it was the accepted notion within society that the man who won the duel by killing his counterpart was, therefore, “the better man.”  To me, this is not necessarily correct.  That one man may have won a sword battle by killing another man reflects only that he may have been more skilled in wielding the sword.  To me, for anyone to challenge another to a fight to the death simply for believing he was “dishonored” does not value the other’s life.  Therefore, is it worth killing another or taking one’s own life in regard to questions or concerns about honor?  I think not.

Today, however, very different views exist in the United States about honor and dishonor.  One may even ask whether or not honor is a quality that is at all considered of high value in American culture and society.  In the United States (as in other countries, as well), there are those who dishonor themselves by having affairs.  There are those who dishonor, not only themselves, but their spouses and/or children when they divorce their spouses for situations and/or issues that they, themselves, contributed to and/or worsened.  There are people who dishonor their children by hurting and abusing them; in doing so, they also dishonor themselves.

Crime victims (particularly rape and sexual trauma survivors) are often quick to be dishonored by the harassment and/or bullying of others, which may, in turn, cause them to take their own lives.  In society, in general, women are not honored when they do not experience the respect, equality, and/or privilege that most men seem to typically give, unquestioningly, to other men.  Children are not honored when they have no voice and are simply told what to do, how to feel, how to act.  People with disabilities are not honored when parking spaces are occupied by vehicles that are not legally allowed to be there.  Female (and male) military service members and veterans are not honored when they seek treatment for PTSD as a result of sexual trauma experienced by their colleagues, and are denied such treatment, thus being blamed and revictimized.

I am familiar with situations in which wealthy American men of influence and power have traumatized women and girls by sexually harassing them and/or committing other acts of sexual misconduct against them for decades.  Such men may have performed such actions against various girls and/or women across generations, getting away with it because their wealth, power, influence, and privilege have always allowed them to get away with it.  Not only do they get away with it, but they discredit their victims, spread false information and ill repute about their victims, and do whatever they can to cover up their wrongdoing, cause their victims to be ostracized, and save their own skin.  Because of their powerful status in the community, state, nation in which they live, however, most people hold them in high regard and are unable to believe that any of them could possibly commit such acts.  These men have, therefore, dishonored not only themselves, but their families, their communities, their churches, and their businesses.

Say NO to Sexual Harassment Image (Retrieved on May 31, 2014 from http://anujamishraa.blogspot.com/2012/09/break-your-silence.html)

Say NO to Sexual Harassment Image (Retrieved on May 31, 2014 from http://anujamishraa.blogspot.com/ 2012/09/break-your-silence.html)

What is sad, then, is that most people seem to be unable to see below the surface of these situations, or even to care about them, and/or attempt to change them for the better.  When such situations are discussed, many avoid taking on these issues because they cause controversy.  This often includes legal counsel and/or the legal system.  How can a poor, albeit educated and intelligent woman be successful in bringing a lawsuit against men who have prominence and power in a state or nation?  Further still, what about a girl who has experienced such situations by men of wealth and power?  It just doesn’t happen, and if it is attempted, the female is discredited and portrayed as the liar, seductress, villainess, while the men are innocently reflected as having done no wrong.  While the men don’t realize it, and likely even deny it, as a result of these situations, they have dishonored themselves.

So, my remaining question is to wonder if it is, indeed, correct to believe that there is little or no recourse for victims and/or survivors of the above-described situations?  Those who create, provoke, and perform such situations are those who, typically, seem to get away with them.  While mainstream society may hold them in high esteem, and/or they may obtain success in defending themselves through the legal system, they have still dishonored themselves by being dishonest and by behaving dishonorably.

Ghandi Forgiveness Quote and Image (Retrieved on May 31, 2014 from http://rodarters.wordpress.com/2012/10/06/the-mechanics-of-forgiveness/)

Gandhi Forgiveness Quote and Image (Retrieved on May 31, 2014 from http://rodarters.wordpress.com/2012/10/06/the-mechanics-of-forgiveness/)

People who are honorable lead in the footsteps of goodness and righteousness.  They lead by example.  Honorable people place value in the lives of others; they do what they can to help and support those who most need it; they recognize where they have been wrong, and seek to correct and improve themselves.  People who are honorable are also forgiving, but also learn to protect themselves from those who are dishonorable as a result of their experiences.  It is honorable to be good and forgiving, though it is also honorable to help oneself so that he or she is not further victimized.

People who are dishonorable care only about themselves.  It seems that they, often, cannot see the harm that they create, nor do they care.  And, when confronted about it, they do not take responsibility for it, but instead do whatever they can to deny it, cover it up, and further harm, discredit, and dishonor their victims.  I have observed and experienced this reflected in people who bully others.  I have observed and experienced this reflected in those who sexually traumatize others.  I have observed and experienced this to occur in people who tend to be narcissistic, arrogant, and who believe that they are always correct, and that their way is the only way.  While these people may not realize it, they have dishonored themselves.  Contrary to their faulty thinking, it is not their victims who have dishonored themselves.

Globe and Figures (Retrieved on May 31, 2014 from http://heartofsigma.org/autism/)

Globe and Figures (Retrieved on May 31, 2014 from http://heartofsigma.org/autism/)

Therefore, it is important that people look below the surface of interactions, communications, and situations.  Sometimes, it is important to analyze, research, investigate, and become better-informed about people and situations before making decisions and/or judgments about others that may be incorrect.  It is important for society to realize and recognize that, just because people may appear “honorable” does not mean that they are.  Especially in the United States, where wealth, power, status, and privilege are held so highly by society, it is imperative for people to look below the surface, to recognize that people may not be as good as they seem.  It is also important for people to recognize that some situations, on the surface, may appear to be the fault of the victim, but were really created by the one in power, even years or decades prior to things coming to the surface.

As a person of honor, I appeal to others to view and consider as many possibilities about a particular situation as they can, and then to also investigate to know and understand the true background of such situations by looking below the surface, prior to coming to a conclusion that may be incorrect, and before making a misjudgment that characterizes the victim as the offender, when it may really be the other way around.  I ask people in our society to consider the true nature of such situations so that they may be understood and revealed.  Only then will the honor of those who are truly honorable be known.

“Georgia’s SST Process is Supposed to Help, not Hurt Students” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Instructional Materials

Instructional Materials

In Georgia, schools have what is called “Student Support Team” or “SST” to assist students who are struggling with academics, behavior, and/or socialization in the classroom.  In my experience as a public middle school teacher in Georgia for six years, I found that the SST process was extremely helpful and supportive to students, especially when I was the teacher leading and/or otherwise participating in it.  My experienced education mentors in the DeKalb County School System near Atlanta taught me the process and ensured that open-mindedness was maintained in helping and supporting students with every possible intervention for which they qualified, based on their academic, behavioral, and/or social needs.  In public schools, one also had to maintain caution about not suggesting supports and/or interventions that the parent would not consider because the school system (as is true of all public school systems, to my knowledge) did not desire to pay for services that it was unable to offer.  In the private school setting, however, the SST process is extremely different and potentially much less supportive than that in public schools, which I will compare here.

“Georgia SST teams had their origin in a federal lawsuit known as Marshall vs. Georgia (1984). It dealt primarily with disproportionate placement of minority students in Special Education. While the state prevailed in this case, a shortcoming in Georgia education became obvious: there was no standard process for students to obtain individualized help in the regular classroom for learning or behavior difficulties.  Instead, the route to such help usually led to placement in Special Education, often involving removal from the general classroom.  As part of its commitment to federal court to remedy technical violations found in the trial, the State of Georgia mandated that a Student Support Team would be established in every Georgia public school, K-12. The court accepted this commitment, thereby making the SST mandate a permanent injunction” (Block quote from: State of Georgia Department of Education, 2011).

In my experience as a public school teacher in Georgia, I would estimate having led and/or participated in many dozens of SST process team meetings for my students.  Whenever any of my colleagues and/or I identified areas of deficiency and/or potential improvement for students, the students were referred to SST.  SST is a type of support for students that identifies and monitors areas and/or other characteristics of the student in the school setting that could be improved.  For example, a gifted student who has straight As in all subjects except for math – and who is failing math – can be referred to SST for support and monitoring.  Also, a student who has recently maintained average grades, but who has become withdrawn, is failing, and is at-risk (of dropping out of school) can be forwarded through the SST process.  And, a student whose behavior is inappropriate, unacceptable, and/or dangerous, and who is failing due to his or her behavior can also be referred to SST.  Additionally, a student who is pregnant and who is expected to be out of school for awhile due to giving birth can also be referred to SST.

In my experience in teaching public middle school students around Atlanta, Georgia, the SST process was always helpful on each and every occasion.  Public school educators are very interested in assisting and supporting students so that they will be successful, and/or so that they will improve in the areas in which betterment is desired.  I can say that the educators with whom I worked, including myself, were always consistently interested in helping and supporting our students as much as possible.  We went above and beyond in doing what we could, within legal guidelines for public school educators, in suggesting out-of-school supports, as well as in providing and implementing in-school aids to support increased success and learning. 

Some of the actions that were implemented by public school teachers for students through SST to aid them include moving the student’s desk closer in proximity to the teacher to better assist in maintaining the student’s attention; providing extended time to complete assignments and/or assessments; giving individualized verbal and written instructions and/or directions (in addition to addressing them to the entire class); breaking up larger assignments into smaller parts; providing more positive feedback, incentives, and reinforcements; providing increased follow-up, monitoring for progress, and/or redirection to students for whom it is needed and/or helpful; pairing students with those who are good mentors and/or role models; etc.  There are a great many more interventions that can be provided in the classroom, as well, including giving the student leadership opportunities in class; providing the student with more opportunities to speak and/or ask and answer questions; calling on the student by name; maintaining a positive, nonjudgmental tone with the student; not “guilting” a student because he or she is unable to understand and/or complete work; and giving students opportunities to be more mobile in class.  All of these interventions and more are those which my colleagues and I implemented for students with whom we were involved in the SST process.

In contrast, I can also describe a perfect example of how the SST process has broken down and has seriously emotionally and/or academically-injured and/or failed a student, including the generation of risk to their health and life.  I believe that because educators, administrators, and/or counselors and psychologists in private schools are unfamiliar and inexperienced with the SST process in Georgia because they have not been required to utilize it and/or there has been little to no oversight or enforcement of it in their school systems, that it is not nearly as effective as the process implemented in public schools.  Or, perhaps school employees in private schools may deliberately mishandle the process, purposely jeopardizing students’ health, life, and/or academic success.  Public school teachers in Georgia utilitze the SST process to assist students all the time; private school teachers and other school personnel appear to perceive the SST process as a last resort and something to avoid at all possible costs.  Even for those students who may need, require, and/or benefit from the SST process in private schools, there is a great lack of it’s utilization in the private school environment, as I have observed.

In relation to the particular student whom I will call Carl, he is an elementary school (grade 3) aged child who has regularly achieved high grades and is an honor student, academically, behaviorally, as well as in character and values.  Carl’s standardized test scores are extremely high, with his average academic functioning ranging between grade 5 to 7, and his overall academic functioning ranging between grade 3 to grade 10.  Carl’s socialization might benefit from more positive interactions and opportunities for positive, small group cooperative work with his peers, however he has had prior experiences that have understandably-caused him to be cautious of his peers and others.  Carl could also benefit from increased follow-up, attention, reassurance, and positive reinforcement from his teachers, as well as greater open-mindedness toward utilizing and implementing supports that will better aid in Carl’s academic success, reduction in stress, and increased happiness and confidence at school.

For Carl, it would have benefited him for his teachers and/or school to have instituted the SST process immediately upon their observation of him requiring additional time to complete his assignments and/or assessments.  They provided accommodations to Carl for a period of six months prior to nearly all of them being removed by the school psychologist, against the many suggestions and evidence provided by an outside professional who completed an outside evaluation of Carl.  It’s not that Carl is unable to perform extremely well on all of his work, it’s that he simply needs some additional time to complete it.  Therefore, what happened was that extended time was provided for some time, and following an outside assessment, nearly all extended time was removed, even though the professional who completed the outside assessment repeatedly recommended continuing the extended time accommodations, and identified – through a valid evaluation – that Carl’s processing time was lower than average.  Basically, the evaluation that was completed addressed only reading and math, and not language arts or writing.  Simply based on the reading and math results of the evaluation, the school psychologist of the private faith-based school removed nearly all of Carl’s extended time accommodations, without having any concrete evidence to do so in his other subjects. 

School Books and Assignments

School Books and Assignments

In my experience, removing accommodations already in place without evidence to support the need for their removal is simply not done and is unethical.  To remove nearly all of six months worth of accommodations placed Carl at significant peril in many areas of his life and development.  In all of my experience, accommodations are only removed when the student shows progress in being able to be successful without them in place.  Accommodations are never removed if they will hurt the student in some – or any – way.  In Carl’s situation, nearly all of his extended time accommodations were removed, and it was literally like the rug being pulled out from under him.  Again, the professional who completed Carl’s evaluation repeatedly stated that the extended time accommodations was needed and warranted.  The school psychologist who interpreted the professional’s evaluation removed nearly all of the accommodations that were in place to help support Carl in maintaining success. 

The school psychologist would rather remove accommodations already proven to help and support Carl, and require additional evaluations, rather than keep supports in place that have aided in his success.  The school principal also likely prepped the school psychologist for the outcome that was desired, and that is what occurred.  Further, school leaders always speak of wanting a partnership between home and school, however when situations such as this occur – when accommodations are removed that have been proven to assist the student in his success – it reflects that there is no partnership, and instead, there exists an adversarial relationship.

Following the removal of nearly all of Carl’s accommodations by the school psychologist, he began failing many assignments and/or attaining low grades on them – not because he was not capable of doing them well, but because he was unable to complete them.  This, therefore, placed extreme and unnecessary stress on Carl, and led to a crisis situation.  It, therefore, appears that the school psychologist and even perhaps other school leaders are more interested in removing supports to assist students, rigidly adhering to curriculum requirements that students may be unable to attain without extra supports, and essentially and literally placing a nail in a student’s coffin by removing supports that have assisted them. 

Rather than understand and support an outstanding student such as Carl as much as possible, why would a school psychologist remove supports for him that have been proven to assist him in his success?  Why would a school psychologist prefer to create a crisis situation for such a wonderful and outstanding student, when there is no evidence to support the removal of accommodations already in place?  Does the school psychologist prefer that Carl fail?  Does the school psychologist intend for Carl to experience a crisis or worse?  It appears so.

In this situation, the SST process at this private, faith-based school has failed Carl, and caused risk to his health and life.  Worse than negatively affecting his grades, assignment completion, confidence, and mood, it caused a crisis situation that could have led to Carl not being here today.  Is curriculum of greater importance than a child’s life?  Is educational rigidity and a lack of understanding of students more important than supporting and helping them as much as possible to be successful and happy in school?  Are private schools not to be held accountable for assisting students with success through positive (rather than negative) endeavors of the SST process?  In this particular situation, this certainly appears to be the case. 

When a related issue of parentally-requested school support of Carl be completed for him – and it was not – the issue went before the school system’s superintendent, who cited her support for curriculum, policy, and the privatization of the school system, preferring those areas to the support and well-being of Carl.  When school leaders succumb to intellectual blindness related to denying support, success, well-being, and lives of their students, such school leaders cease to be effective.  School leaders who are also unable to cope with constructive criticism and honesty, and who are either unwilling or unable to provide simple support, understanding, and compassion to students – particularly children – have the potential for being more destructive than constructive. 

In order to be productive and progressive, schools and school leaders must be open-minded to all perspectives and philosophies – even the ones they don’t like to hear – in order to improve and in order to best-serve and benefit the students.  School leaders, particularly those in upper administration, must also use their intelligence and insight in order to model, understand, and believe what is true and correct – as well as remain ethical – rather than allowing themselves to be poisoned by inaccurate or false information provided to them by those whom they manage. 

There are some school leaders who are open-minded and effective because they listen to and consider the issues of their customers, however there often seem to be many more who do not listen to, nor consider serious issues because they do not approach the issues with open-mindedness and without prejudgment and bias.  Leaders of the former-type are most effective because they always have the best interests of the students in mind.  Regarding the latter-type leaders, their purposeful ignorance and/or “fix” to the issues may only contribute to further problems and a worsening of the issues.

Students in all schools in Georgia – not just those attending public schools – must be afforded the positive support that they need through SST and the SST process.  Removing supports that were put in place to assist the student, and doing so with no evidence that the student is able to perform as well without the supports, unnecessarily injures the student, placing the student at risk for further injury.  Hopefully, people who have been entrusted to support and help students will do so, rather than playing with their intellect, emotions, and lives as if they are unimportant and unvalued.  Hopefully, such people will do so before it is too late.  But, then again, some people never change.

References:

State of Georgia Department of Education, 2011.  “Student Support Teams (SST): Structure and Process” (p. 4).  Retrieved on March 3, 2013 from   http://archives.gadoe.org/DMGetDocument.aspx/SST%20Guidelines%20Final%209-16-11.pdfp=6CC6799F8C1371F62BDB7AD6F76A3052D9E5ABE36C978EDD135479A5CF0628D1&Type=D