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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Like last year, I missed Back Up Your Birth Control Day. However, it’s never too late to share some facts about back-up birth control, otherwise known as emergency contraception, or the morning-after pill. So, here are some (they may or may not be the same ones I posted last year.)

The most common form of EC is emergency contraceptive pills, which contain concentrated dosages of the same hormones found in daily birth control pills, meaning either progestin alone or a combination of estrogen and progestin. However, EC is not as effective as regular birth control.

People 17 and older can purchase EC without a prescription, and people under 17 need a prescription, except in a few states.

EC will not work if a woman is already pregnant and EC will not cause
defects if a woman takes it when she is already pregnant.

EC will not affect a woman’s chance of becoming pregnant in the future.

EC is not RU-486, otherwise known as the “abortion pill.”

EC, when used correctly, can reduce the risk of pregnancy by 89% after a single act of unprotected sex. Effectiveness declines as the interval between
intercourse and the start of treatment increases.

In the first 24 hours after intercourse, EC can prevent 95% of expected pregnancies.

EC can be used up to 5 days after unprotected sex, but the sooner it is used, the better.

Each year, there are about 3 million unintended pregnancies in the United States, and more than half occur among women who are using a regular method of contraception.

Back Up Your Birth Control Day has an entire section of the website dedicated to facts and information, if you want more. Mess-ups happen, and it’s important to remember that there are ways to deal with them.

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I’ve been meaning to watch if for a while, and this weekend I finally made time to watch MTV’s “No Easy Decision” special. Famous for the shows “Teen Mom” and “16 and Pregnant,” on December 28th MTV aired “No Easy Decision” (at 11:30 PM) to portray one of the alternatives to teen pregnancy: abortion. I’ve never watched “Teen Mom” or “16 and Pregnant,” but from what I’ve seen of MTV, I was initially expecting the show to be bad and melodramatic. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find it to be incredibly moving, informative, and pragmatic–and I would encourage everyone to watch it.

“No Easy Decision” is about 30 minutes long. The first five minutes introduce us to Markai Durham, a teenager previously featured on “16 and Pregnant” after giving birth to her daughter Zakaria. Pregnant again after missing her shot of Depo-Provera, she and her boyfriend James weigh their options–having another baby and struggling to raise, feed, and take care of two children, or having an abortion, something that they both are hesitant to do. (When someone suggests adoption, Markai immediately responds that she’d be too in love with the child by the time it was born to give it up–something that many people overlook when they push adoption on women with unwanted pregnancies.) After consulting with a women’s clinic (we watch the phone conversation, listening to the friendly and informative woman on the other end of the phone and watching Markai cry) and a close friend, and numerous tearful conversations with James, the two decide that having an abortion is the decision that would make most sense for them, Zakaria, and their unborn child.

Abortion is not portrayed as an easy thing to do. After the procedure, Markai struggles with her decision, wondering what it would be like to have another child. She and Mark go out to dinner, and she talks about how the counselor and argue after Mark refers to the unborn child (which Markai refers to as a bunch of cells) as a “thing”–she feels sensitive and defensive about her decision. Markai tells the camera that choosing abortion was the “toughest decision ever,” and that she wouldn’t choose it as a first option for anyone, but that “it’s not the right time” because she’d have to sacrifice so much of her life, Mark’s life, and her daughter’s life in order to raise another child. In a follow-up interview, Markai says that she feels sadness, but not regret.

The show concludes with an interview with three women–Markai, Natalia, and Katie–about how they feel after having abortions. I thought it was amazing to hear the three women’s stories because they were all so different–it showed how abortion doesn’t simply apply to one type of woman. Katie got pregnant the summer before her senior year in college (she had bad reactions to her birth control, and didn’t know that throwing up her pill meant she was not protected), two weeks before her 18-year old sister gave birth to her son. She chose to get an abortion after seeing how much her sister had to deal with during her pregnancy, and realizing that she did not want to go through the same. Natalia had an abortion at 17 after discovering she was pregnant. I found her story particularly moving because she had to go to court, alone, in order to get an abortion–she did not want to tell her parents, and because she lived in one of the 35 states that require parental consent, she had to plead in front of a judge in order to waive the requirement, something that she (similar to many girls) found to be necessary but emotionally trying. Her only assistance in paying for the abortion came from her ex-boyfriend; in order to pay the $750 dollars that her abortion was to cost, she sold back her high school prom ticket. That struck a chord with me, as a girl about to go to prom, because it was so raw and real–a girl my age had to go through that whole ordeal alone. All three of the girl’s stories were different, but they seemed to agree on the idea that their decisions were “parenting decisions”–that they made their decisions not just thinking about what kind of life they wanted for themselves, but also what kind of life they want for their children.

As Lynn Harris of Salon writes, one of the best things about the show is that in addition to everything else, it includes medically accurate information about abortion procedures and the challenge of finding the right birth control method. It also makes it clear that abortion is not a rare, dangerous procedure: Dr. Drew, the host, explains that about 750,000 girls in the U.S. get pregnant every year, and that nearly a third of those teen pregnancies end in abortion. He says that abortion is “among the safest, most common medical procedures in the US” and cites an oft-ignored figure, the fact that 1/3 of all women in America will have an abortion at one point their lives.

At a time when few television shows are willing to openly discuss or portray abortion, MTV’s “No Easy Decision” is an incredibly important and engaging addition. The show made me cry, not just because the girls’ stories were moving, but because stories like theirs are so rarely told. Abortion can be and is the right choice for many women, and needs to be treated as such–bringing an unwanted child into this world is not good for the parents, the child, or society.

PS: If you want to show support for the three women who shared their stories (something many, many women are afraid to do), go to 16 and Loved, created by Exhale, and share your thoughts.

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A friend of mine sent me this article, a question and answer session with Kelly Valen, author of the new book Twisted Sisterhood: Unraveling the Dark Legacy of Female Friendships about female friendship, based on a survey completely by more than 3,000 women across the country. What interested me more than her actual book, however, was the story behind the book: the article links to a New York Times article back in 2007 that was supposedly her inspiration for creating the survey called “My Sorority Pledge? I Swore off Sisterhood.” It’s sad and somewhat disturbing: the author describes joining a sorority and being encouraged to lose her virginity, losing her virginity through the process of what was essentially public rape, and then being shunned by her sorority sisters until eventually being forced to leave. Because of this traumatic experience, she found herself avoiding female friendship at all costs, but having no problem with men, as the boy who raped her apologized and his frat brothers made his life miserable. The author lived her life this way, void of female friendship, until finally, one day, she ran into one of her ex-sorority sisters in a store and was faced with a smiling, friendly woman who wanted to laugh at the past as friends–and all of the anxiety, shame, and anger she felt at 18 came rushing back. While she had moved on with her life and become a lawyer, gotten married, and had children, the memory still hurt her, and forced her to think once again about cruelty among females, and inspiring her book.

Now, I find the article to be disturbing for a few reasons. First, the seemingly offhanded way that the author deals with what was really rape—she says that the offender apologized and the blame was put on him, and so she moves on, rather than attributing any of her shame to him rather than to the women around her. (And there is very little condemnation of “Ledge Parties,” the frat ritual of having public sex with an unknowing girl). More importantly, I think, is this: the fact that her story is real is disturbing in its sadness. It upsets me greatly that women do these cruel things to one another, or really, that anyone does these cruel things to one another. I’m part of the generation that grew up watching “Mean Girls,” I know, but it still gets to me (read it–how can it not?)

Besides simply caring about other women and their friendships, as I’ve blogged about before, I think a lot of my initial visceral disgust at reading about what happened to the author comes from the fact that it is so foreign to my own life. While for most of my life I’ve considered myself a “boy’s girl,” preferring to have male friends than female, I recently have come to terms with the fact that I have a group of very close female friends without whom my life would be completely different–for the worse. My grade in school went on a trip this weekend that ended up being emotionally trying and tumultuous, with half of the people there, especially the females, crying and revealing personal and intimate details about their lives (it sounds a little weird/cliche in retrospect, but so do a lot of things, after all.) After the weekend was over, I came home and realized that unlike a lot of the people there, my friends and I had, and really always do, have each other to turn to for anything and everything, from advice about boys to people to discuss politics with to people to hold our hands when we need someone–and for that we are incredibly lucky.

At the same time, however, I do know that for a lot of women and girls, what the author describes is a reality; perhaps not necessarily involving the same gruesome details, but definitely involving the same feelings of isolation, loneliness, and anxiety. Women can be incredibly cruel to one another. But a part of me, and this is just my own personal instinct, feels uncomfortable simply saying that women can be cruel–people are cruel. Men hurt women, and women hurt women, and men hurt men, and women hurt men; to me, at least, it seems that the author was particularly hurt by the women because they were the people she expected support from–not necessarily because they were women. It seems that what hurts the most, more than female gossip or exclusion, is betrayal by the people you consider your friends. I’m not trying to argue with the author (she’s gotten a lot of negative feedback from a lot of people, and her pain is certainly legitimate); I’m simply putting it out there that instead of emphasizing how we can become better girls, perhaps we should focus on how to be better friends–that rather than talking about “Mean Girls,” we should talk about fake friends and backstabbing, and teach children of both genders the importance of loyalty and trust.

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In a way, I think I’m lucky to be writing about “Living the Legacy” as a student. It’s a new free online curriculum created by the Jewish Women’s Archive to explore the role of American Jews in the Civil Rights Movement, including both the men that are usually studied and women who are sometimes overlooked in order to create a “gender inclusive history.” Looking through the website, the lesson plans and teaching strategies look completely familiar to me: jigsaw discussion groups, a mix of Jewish and secular primary sources, and use of technology to enhance learning, among other elements. Having attended a Jewish day school for my whole life, “Living the Legacy” seems to me to be another unit in Jewish history class.

Not that that should belittle it in any way–I think that “Living the Legacy” is an incredibly rich, thorough resource, and one that teachers, especially in schools like mine, should consider taking advantage of. It is clear that Rosenbaum put immense effort into the planning of lessons, as she has succeeded at creating a diverse curriculum that encourages analytical thinking rather than portraying Jews as consistently benevolent and without fault.

Take Unit 3, Lesson 2: Growing tensions I: Black-Jewish Relations, about the tensions that began to sprout with the inception of the Black Power movement as many whites, and therefore Jews, were forced to leave many civil rights organizations, and Jews accused blacks of anti-Semitism and began to resent affirmative action, for example. The lesson plan starts out with a discussion about the similarities and differences between black slavery and Jewish slavery in Egypt. Next, groups of students in the class are assigned primary sources to read and discuss, followed by a class discussion about the similarities and differences between Jewish and black involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. Following this, the class watches a clip from PBS’ Jewish Americans about slavery, immigration, the Ocean Hill/Brownsville school boycott, and Julius Lester’s radio show, and then discuss a long list of questions. Finally, the lesson concludes with students participating in a poetry slam. Ignoring the fact that this seems to be a lesson plan long enough for three classes, what I like about this lesson is the fact that it encourages students to empathize with both Jewish and black people rather than simply Jews.

I guess what I like best about “Living the Legacy” is that even after attending a Jewish school for 13 years, I’ve never really spent time studying specifically Jewish and black relations, so this is a topic that I can honestly say I’d be interested in learning about. Which I think is a good sign, seeing as the curriculum is aimed at students in grades 8-12. Overall, I’d say that “Living the Legacy” is definitely worth exploring, even if you’re not an educator or student, because of the vast quantity of primary and secondary sources it has on file and the thought-provoking questions it raises. And, of course, the fact that it brings up a lot of female figures who are sometimes overlooked in other curricula.

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This post is cross-posted at JWA

An interesting article popped up on the side of The New York Times today–an article about the lack of knowledge among Americans about religion, including about their own. The article discussed the fact that on average, Americans were only able to correctly answer 50% of the questions on a recent survey by the Pew Research Center on the teachings and history of major world religions.

The first thing that stood out to me was the fact that even after controlling for differing levels of education, atheists, agnostics, Jews, and Mormons answered more questions correctly than all other religious groups. The results gave no explanation for this, but I speculate that perhaps fringe groups are forced to think more about religion since the religion they belong to is not the norm–that for many people in this country their religion is not what differentiates them from the majority, and so religion in general is not a frequent topic of thought or discussion. However, I know that for me, at least, being Jewish is something that differentiates me for other people, and so I spend time thinking about my Judaism and relating it to other religions (this blog is a good example of that.)

What I find particularly interesting about the results of the survey is the lack of knowledge that Americans have about the role religion plays and is allowed to play in regards to governance. While 89% of people knew that a teacher cannot lead a class in prayer, only 36% knew that a school can offer a comparative religion course. To me, a comparative religion course seems innocuous, at worst, and incredibly useful, at best, so it’s rather surprising that people expect it not to be allowed. In addition, only 23% of Americans knew that a teacher can read from the Bible as an example of literature in a classroom; that seems to me something that people should be aware of, especially so that people can make sure that there is a line drawn in school between a reading of the Bible as literature and as a holy text.

It worries me how little people in this country seem to know about religion. I’m no expert, but I think it is important to understand at least some basic things about other people’s religious beliefs, especially when dealing with politics. The recent Park51 fiasco exemplifies the visceral reactions people have in relation to religion, and this survey shows how those reactions are very often based on little knowledge or facts. Consequently, often instead of having educated discussion, people simply devolve into having shouting matches–and nothing ends up getting fixed.

A recent opinion piece in The Washington Post makes a really good point about this, and suggests at least a partial solution: the author argues that all political candidates should be forced and expected to talk about their respective religious beliefs, and how their beliefs will affect them as political leaders. In an age when people know very little about each other’s religions, including their own political leaders (you’ve all probably heard about Obama the Muslim), the American people should try to change that and not leave their knowledge of their political leader’s religious views up to chance–it’s too much of a risk. Asking candidates about their political views may not change the fact that Americans are not particularly educated about religion, but I believe that doing so could prevent Americans from buying into unfounded religious claims about their political leaders. Moreover, it has the potential to encourage dialogue predicated on the idea of increasing our knowledge about religion rather than the assumption that we all know everything, which, the survey shows, is definitely untrue.

We live in a multicultural world full of different religions–it’s time to openly talk about religions, their differences and their nuances, rather than ignoring them, so that people can actually become knowledgeable. Religion has a huge effect on people’s lives, and I believe that just as part of being an educated citizen is having an understanding of the demographics of our country and the ideals it was founded on, so too should be having at least a basic of religion and the role it plays in this country and its people’s lives. Doing so has the potential to make us all more tolerant and understanding citizens.

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This morning I woke up and was greeted by the Washington Post Magazine, whose main article today is called “Separate but Equal: More Schools are Dividing Classes by Gender.” The article discusses how many public schools across the country are popping up with single-sex classrooms in an effort to tailor education to boys’ and girls’ distinct needs, partly in response to the “boy crisis” in reading scores (boys trailing behind girls), discipline issues (boys having more of them), and college aspirations (boys again with less) that people have been discussing for a while, and because laws passed in 2008 making it easier to open single-sex schools legally. It features the Imagine Southeast Public Charter school, and discusses how different teaching methods are used in the separate boy and girl classrooms to make the children more comfortable and engaged.

The article discusses Leonard Sax, a leading proponent of single-sex education and author of Why Gender Matters, bases his belief in single-sex education on studies that show that girls are easily distracted by boys, and that the two sexes have differences in hearing ability and response to teachers who yell. Lise Eliot, a neuroscience professor at Chicago Medical School and author of Pink Brain, Blue Brain, says that there is very little evidence from scientific research that gender differences are biological rather than societal—that a study in which parents were supposed to put their babies on an incline and crawl showed that parents expected their girls to perform worse than boys but that when girls were given the same climb they performed the same.

I was still curious after reading this article, so I was happy to see that in 2008, the New York Times Magazine did a feature on single sex-education. It discusses Sax more in-depth, and in doing so also contrasts the two reasons why people believe in single-sex education: the idea that gender causes inherent differences in learning style (such as Sax), and the belief that children of different genders have different social needs and experiences (such as Ann Rubenstein Tisch, founder of the Young Women’s Leadership School).

Much of what Sax, who created the National Association for Single-Sex Public Education, bases his belief in single-sex education on is research showing differences in the rate of brain development and development of motor skills and differences in hearing ability, as the Washington Post article mentions. However, many people (like Eliot, above) have criticized him for citing these studies, as the study about hearing shows that girls and boys have hearing that is actually more similar than it is difference, exhibiting what many believe to be his tendency to selectively interpret studies to prove his point. Jay Giedd, chief of brain imaging at the Child Psychiatry Branch at the National Institute of Mental Health, argues that gender is not an very effective way for sorting children: “Yes, you’ll get more students who favor cooperative learning in the girls’ room, and more students who enjoy competitive learning in the boys’, but you won’t do very well,” since “there are just too many exceptions to the rule.”

However, many students, such as those at the Young Women’s Leadership School in Harlem, or at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School in Seattle, have benefited significantly from single-sex education: a rise in test scores, and in the case of TYWLS, an incredible college acceptance and attendance rate. However, when contrasted with single-sex classrooms that have not shown any identifiable improvements in education, many people attribute the successes of these classrooms to teacher quality, curriculum, etc.

One problem with research assessing single-sex versus co-ed education that many people have openly admitted to (even the principal of one of these schools) is that the parents and children who choose to be in the classrooms are self-selecting, for better or worse. In many cases, the highest achievers choose to be in the single sex classrooms, and in some cases, a school will put their lowest achievers into the classrooms in the hopes of motivating them; the selection process therefore makes it difficult to assess the single-sex classrooms in comparison to similar co-ed ones.

In 2005, the United States Department of Education, along with the American Institute for Research, tried to weigh in, publishing research comparing single-sex and co-ed schools. Of the 40 studies they analyzes, 41 percent favored single-sex schools, 45 percent found no positive or negative effects for either single-sex or co-ed schools, 6 percent were mixed (meaning they found positive results for one gender but not the other), and 8 percent favored co-ed schools—showing how difficult it is to come to conclusions about single-sex education. Cornelius Riordan, the Providence College professor leading the study, says that the lack of conclusions is not surprising because “so many variables are at play in a school: quality of teachers, quality of the principal, quality of the infrastructure, involvement of families, financing, curriculum — the list is nearly endless.”

So, I’m still not really sure what to think. I’ve always wondered what happens to these kids after they graduate—they have to go into the real world, which is clearly co-ed, and how well do they adapt? I don’t have the answer, clearly, but I’m not so sure that it will be so good for kids to raise them in an environment that is so different from the outside world. That being said, for the girls in Harlem, escaping the outside world served to turn their school into a kind of refuge and helped them to achieve much higher than kids in co-ed schools in their neighborhood, which points towards single-sex education providing a benefit that is not biological but social and societal, and that can help kids overcome sexualized classroom environments and societal pressure to perform a certain way. So there could be some benefits there, especially among populations that struggle with things such as teenage pregnancy, etc.

I’m also still a little skeptical of the idea of single-sex education because, as both articles mention, there is a risk that having single-sex schools will perpetrate gender stereotypes if they are not taught properly. And because there is little research to prove inherent biological differences based on gender to merit separate schooling, I’m not sure that teaching boys and girls differently is the way to go; perhaps there should be more of an emphasis on teaching to children’s individual learning styles in general, rather than just based on gender. I guess as more and more of these programs pop up, more research will be done and hopefully we’ll be able to see what the benefits are, if any; for now, I’m going to hold onto my skepticism but try and keep an open mind until I see more scientific proof that separating education by gender works.

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Women, do you have to ask your father/boyfriend/brother/husband/uncle/distant-male-cousin to travel/study/work/go to court? If so, there are others who have to do the same. There are others who want to work with you to allow for independent decision-making. There are others who want you to have these rights. If this is not the case and you are not required BY LAW and by social codes to seek male validation in all walks of life, then please join the fight to have the rights of fellow women recognized as well.

In all the fundamental ways, there is very little that separates us from women across the world. The devastating inequality is due to the little differences – the differences in culture/religion, but even those differences become similarities when we think of how the international community is able to interact in the 21st century. Through social media especially, similarities override differences in a fight to end oppression. In Saudi Arabia, all women (of every age) are required to have permission from male guardians to complete rudimentary tasks that are essential in living a full life. Unfortunately, there are many people who support this patriarchal system of oppression and utter male dominance.

There is a new Facebook page, Women Don’t Need Guardians, that seeks to create a virtual community of people with one thing in common: the desire for independence and universal human rights. Become a fan of this page by clicking the “Like” button in the corner and become an ally because there really is not that much that separates us (Jewish, Muslim, Middle Eastern, American, etc.); there is far more that draws us together.

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