I had been joking when I told friends and family that I would start Spring Break at precisely 11:37. But sure enough, that’s when (thanks to Catherine’s kind offer to make a final check of the middle school and lock up) I walked down the staircase from the kitchen and out the door by the maintenance office, crossing the parking lot to my car which was waiting to speed me down to Chatham, VA and the chance to spend a day with my wife before she left for a school service trip to South Africa. Four days after my wife’s departure, I would meet my son in Tampa and drive on down to Sarasota to spend the week with my father and stepmother. This meant for three solid days, I could do… exactly what I wanted.

In their excellent book Half the Sky, which our administrative team jointly read this year, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn describe Zainab Salbi and her work. Her father was Saddam Hussein’s personal pilot, and so she grew up in Iraq a somewhat uneasy child of privilege. She was inexplicably married off at age 20 to an Iraqi man living in the U.S. who proved to be abusive and distant, and would only learn some time later this was to save her from the likelihood of being chosen as Hussein’s mistress. Happily remarried some years later, Salbi was moved by the plight of Bosnian women in rape camps in Serbia to found a group called “Women for Women in Bosnia.” This group has expanded and renamed itself Women for Women International, working at the grassroots level to help female survivors of war around the world. (pp.216-219) My wife has met Ms. Salbi, who was the Leader-in-Residence at her school this year, and found her to be strong and personable and her story moving and compelling.

Monday, March 8 was International Women’s Day, and Zainab Salbi had called on people around the world to join her on the bridge in support of women and of peace. Bridge events were being organized worldwide, for example in New York City where participants filled the Brooklyn Bridge. Thinking to myself there must be something going on somewhere in Southside Virginia or northern North Carolina, I checked the website and found there was an event being held at noon at the Radford Memorial Bridge in Radford, VA. It turned out to be a small group comprised primarily of the Gender Studies Department of Radford University and a passing bicyclist who made a U-turn up the road and answered our invitation to “Come on up and join us!” The local authorities had been somewhat reticent to grant permits, so we weren’t technically allowed on the bridge itself. They had also stated they would not grant another permit next year. At least five patrol cars cruised past us in the first 10 minutes to check us out. However, despite this setting and even though we were somewhat quiet and few in number, we did attract a number of smiles, waves and friendly honks, and certainly felt part of something larger.

That night, I received a tweet from Ms. Salbi inviting people to read her blog at The Daily Beast. I clicked on the link, and found a well-written article detailing a plan of action to promote women’s rights in the world. Unfortunately, I also found a number of comments decrying Salbi as an obvious lesbian who hated men, asserting that men and boys are the true victims in this country today as the feminist myth has subverted national dialogue and repressed all differing views. Granting that I work in an all-girls school, it’s been a long time since I’ve come in contact with people who hold this belief. It was a sobering reminder of how much work there is yet to do to promote gender rights, and another example (as if we needed one) of the pointlessness of either-or thinking and competition to see who is the biggest victim.

The following morning, I woke up at 5:00 to drive south to the Raleigh-Durham area and observe Bill Ferriter, a friend of mine from Teacher Leaders Network, in his 6th grade classroom at Salem Middle School. I was listening to the radio all the way down, and was further sobered by a program that listed teachers as part of their daily outrages. The DJ’s first mentioned how a 4th grade girl (“Not a boy, but a girl!”) had tried to poison her teacher, then laughed over the supposed desperation of the 40ish teacher who sent nude pictures of herself to a 15-year-old student along with text messages offering sex. (Right. Whether she’s “hot” enough to attract men of her own age is the issue here.) Another radio program mocked a survey of teachers asking if they would like to have pay cuts, noting that 100% (“Imagine that!”) said “No.” despite the weak local economy. So teachers, it would appear, are insensitive, money-hungry child molesters who do such a poor job that their students want to poison them. I know these DJ’s probably don’t hold such a cynical and one-sided view of teachers, and for that matter they may well have a more nuanced and positive view of girls and women. But that is what they chose to bring out. There is indeed a lot of work yet to be done.

I wish these DJ’s could simply step into Bill’s classroom. My dominant image is of a room full of 6th graders literally on the edge of their seats, completely engaged in what they were doing for the entire 2’15” class period. It was a masterful lesson in every way, featuring Bill’s frequent exhortation to “Turn to the person next to you, beside you and around you and discuss…” followed by “Three… Two… One… Joey?” (Joey’s name, written on a popsicle stick, having been selected from the Skull of Doom to be the next student called upon.). Following group correction of a drawing they had been assigned comparing life in the West to life behind the Iron Curtain in the 1960’s, a “current event” on the pathetic state of the Latvian economy merged with a discussion of figurative vs. literal description, leading into a short video on the Cold War which provoked a discussion of main ideas, followed by Bill reading Dr. Suess’s The Butter Battle Book and asking them what Dr. Suess’s views were on the Cold War and how they knew it, after which they went to the library for book talks and silent reading… and so on. Inspirational work. Just before I left, Bill signed in to the website at http://www.kiva.org and sent my class a $25 gift certificate from his school’s Kiva Club to make a microloan to a woman in a developing country. We warmly shook hands goodbye, glad to have finally met in person after many months of developing friendship through Teacher Leaders Network and the work we do there.

As I write this entry, I am sitting in a Starbucks in Danville, VA, waiting for my car to be fixed before I continue on south toward Tampa and a wonderful return to family life. “Whatever I want to do” turned out to be pretty much what I normally do. How lucky am I?!

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