Back to Hybrid

Our schools are planning to go back to hybrid on Feb 1 (both elementary/middle and high school), and parents are deciding whether to send their kids in person or not. I wrote up this for a community mom group, reposting it here, in case it’s helpful.

We’re staying remote. My husband and I are both professors, and have the luxury of being able to work from home this semester — much sympathy to those who are facing much harder choices. No judgement here for families who choose to go back.

A few additional thoughts (sorry for the length):

• Kevin and I are unhappy that teachers are being asked to go back before vaccinations, especially with community spread so high, the new more contagious strains arriving in America, and vaccinations around the corner for teachers

• we’re especially unhappy that communications seem really poor re: possible exemptions for in-person for high-risk teachers — just yesterday I was talking to some teachers at one of the elementary schools, and they said they hadn’t heard of anyone getting exemptions.

• I’ve also heard that there ARE some teachers staying remote, possibly because of high-risk, but it seems unconscionable to me that ALL the teachers (in both D97 and D200) don’t know exactly where they stand on that front.

• I know at least a few teachers have chosen retirement or leaving the profession rather than go back, which seems like such a tremendous loss to our community — it’s HARD and time-consuming, finding and training great teachers, and there’s a real cost, especially now, during a teacher shortage, to needing to try to find replacements

• it would seem to make much more sense to aim for third trimester, after spring break, when schools can start cracking windows for better airflow, when the warming air should help lessen the disease generally, when ongoing vaccinations should lessen community spread overall, and when teachers will hopefully all be vaccinated

• if I were on school board now, perhaps there would be more information I’d have access to that I don’t as a community member — I can’t say. I serve on the library board now, and board members read a LOT of reports that the general public doesn’t usually have in front of them, before making our decisions. Staff, I’m sure, read even more.

• but based on the information I have at the moment, I’m pretty sure I would have advocated for remote until the end of second trimester (I’m currently running for D200 school board, but even if I’m elected, I wouldn’t be taking office until May, when hopefully, this set of decisions will be behind us)

• especially since moving back to hybrid also means displacing Hepzibah and thereby forcing parents into sending kids back who might have chosen remote + Hepzibah [editing to note, per comments elsewhere, that I was mistaken here somewhat — there will be Hepzibah, including for full remote, but likely in a much more restricted form than what we’ve had up ’til now]

• I’m also concerned, on the community front, that the largest push for going back to in-person has been from white parents, and that Black and hispanic parents are much more likely to keep their kids remote (unsurprising, given how much harder hit those communities have been — one of my own Black college students had lost four family members in New Orleans by last April)

• I’m frustrated that some of the push for going back seems to have been motivated by concern for equity, and educational losses for Black and other marginalized students — it’s an admirable motivation, but going back now, with a much higher percentage of white kids returning, will only exacerbate those equity issues

• I’m concerned that teachers will find it exceptionally difficult to teach their remote students as effectively while also managing in-person students simultaneously

• for our own family, I’m a little less risk-averse than my husband; he’s very firm on keeping them home for the rest of the year, and I would probably be all right with them going back after spring break, especially my 8th grader, who is really having a tough time with the lack of socialization, struggling with motivating to do her work, get out of bed, etc.

• but Kevin’s probably right; he usually is on this kind of thing. (He’s a math professor, and statistical analysis is more his thing than mine.) Any academic losses our daughter should be able to make up in the fall, and if she spends some extra days in bed watching YouTube this spring, even if it makes ME a little stressed out knowing she’s doing that, that’s not as important as her health.

• I’m particularly concerned from talking to my pediatrician friend and doctor siblings about the long-term lung and heart effects of COVID on children. I don’t want to be a scaremonger, especially because mostly, we just don’t know. But that’s kind of the point — we don’t know, and just because kids are asymptomatic or have light symptoms (the sniffles), that doesn’t mean there aren’t some serious long-term effects.

• my kids aren’t athletic at all, but if they were passionate about athletics, I’d be particularly concerned, given the extra strain on the heart; pediatricians are now being asked to do screenings for heart issues that they hadn’t been asked to do before — to me, that’s a sign that there’s something to be careful about

• they’re testing a pediatric vaccine for 12+ now. And the testing for younger kids (5-12) is starting soon, hopefully this spring. I’m REALLY hoping that they have at least the high-school-age vaccine tested and approved before the fall.

So Much Work Left to Do

Relatively pleasant today (40F), and I needed to pick up some supplies at Holmes for Anand’s remote schooling, so I decided to walk instead of drive. I had time, so I walked by the high school first — I thought I might try to take a photo to use on my campaign web page.

At first, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get close enough to take a clear picture — the first gate I came to was chained closed. So I took a picture through the fence around the sports field, as best I could. I kept walking after that, and eventually did come to an opening in the fence, and a clear shot. I’ll use that photo, I think, on the campaign page. The school looks lovely in the winter light, and that speaks to a vision of education, and what it can do for people. From everything I’ve heard (my daughter starts there next fall), OPRF is really a terrific school in so many ways.

But if I were purely an activist, this is the photo I’d use. A great education, yes, but with so many systemic societal barriers still in place.

I was listening to Melinda Gates on a podcast as I walked, and she was talking about women, and how far we are from equality, according to all the metrics. Something like one hundred and sixty years, if we don’t accelerate the rate of progress. Our daughters won’t see it. Our granddaughters might not see it.

For gender, race, ethnicity, orientation, disability, and more — so much work left to do.

Governing Is Complicated

I’ve been struggling as I try to put my D200 campaign website together, because I feel a little…out-of-step, maybe, with my activist friends.

Most of the people I know locally are working really hard on racial equity, which I absolutely support. It is important work, and long overdue, and critically important.

But it’s not my only focus. It’s not even my primary focus. That’s why I hesitated to join a running-for-office working group centered around racial equity. I care about that — but I care just as much about LGBTQ+ concerns. I care about women’s issues (including trans women). I care about social class issues, and disability (and know I need to learn more on the latter front to do a better job with it).

And I’m not claiming those activists don’t ALSO care about those things. (I know they do.) But many of them remind me of Amy Gardner on the West Wing. She’s a great character, a great person. Women’s issues were her thing, overridingly, and she kept coming into conflict with Josh because it was her job to put women’s issues first, and his job to balance those concerns against others in the broader picture. (I don’t really want to be Josh. He’s too concerned with winning. Can I be Sam, or CJ? But anyway.)

There’s a strategic question there — if you center racial equity and make progress on that front, you might simultaneously be making progress on class issues, given the correlations in our society. Similarly, you can center class issues (fight for $15, for example), and make progress on the race front. So yes, absolutely, you can push one issue area while still making improvements in many. But it’s still not the way I tend to approach these issues.

I’m also not…um, not sure how to put this. I’m not so good at getting angry. I think anger is absolutely justified and warranted as a response to injustice. It’s just not where I go, emotionally or mentally. When I hear about someone doing something terrible, my impulse is often to ask ‘why?’ I end up thinking about their position, trying to understand it, which is good for a writer (we need to understand villains in order to write them well), but not necessarily great for an activist.

But it would feel false to write intense rhetoric stirring people up; I’m not sure I could.

Riling up the crowd to fight injustice is not my inclination or my strength, even though I think we definitely need that kind of work to be done, to help motivate progress, to press against inertia and all the societal impulses that are constantly pushing us to the most conservative position (as Delany once said). I am so appreciative of the activists who do that work. But it’s not my calling.

I’m a problem-solver. I think structurally. In another life, I’d probably be a consultant, or possibly an engineer, a psychiatrist, or a priest. I love looking at systems, seeing where they’re not working, and trying to figure out solutions. Ways to route around the problem, or even better, rewrite the code, restructure the entire system so it works better. In the case of society, revise the policy structures so they do a better job of taking care of its people.

That’s what government should be, after all — a set of agreements we make, so we can take better care of each other.

All of which means that when I enter a conversation, I feel like I have to be careful. I’ve actually seen it happen more than once, that I offer my analysis of the situation and some suggestions towards improvement, and even if I do a good job with that, sometimes my inserting my voice there will…suck the energy out of the room? Everyone falls silent, nodding their heads.

I mean, that can be a good thing, when you have a lot of people in conflict and no progress is being made. Sometimes the mediator is helpful.

But it can also be a bad thing. My mother once said, very frustrated, that I was winning the argument we were having because I’d gotten very good at arguing (while I was away at college), and that didn’t mean I was actually right.

If I put forward a persuasive argument that convinces a lot of people, but isn’t actually right? I might win community support, but I’ve lost the real fight.

It’s a problem when you move too quickly to practicalities and making improvements, when what your community really needs is a fuller rousing of their outrage. Sometimes you need real consensus-building that no, putting kids in cages is not okay, is never okay, and we are going to get every PTA mom in America enraged about it. Black people being racially profiled is not okay. Denying breastfeeding women food (in the form of SNAP benefits) is not okay.

I don’t really have conclusions here. Just feeling hesitant, about the kind of candidate I am, the kind of politician I am, and how exactly I should be using my voice. There’s a reason why I considered running for our local Village Board, and then stepped back, telling Represent Oak Park that if they found qualified Black candidates, I’d rather throw my weight behind them. (They did. Chibuike Enyia, Anthony Clark, @Juanta Griffin.)

I think I can be helpful on the high school board. That work should be very congruent with all my experience in education over the last few decades. But I’m going to have to keep biting back my impulse to get things done quickly (even if it means settling for less). Or at least questioning that impulse, asking whether I’m compromising too much.

Governing is complicated.

More on how we have these conversations generally here: https://medium.com/…/towards-a-more-welcoming-war…

Bio for Campaign Website

Working on bio page for campaign website (very raw version is here: http://mohanrajforoakpark.com). This is too long, right? I should cut a bunch of it, maybe the publications? (It is hard figuring out what voters want to know.)

(NOTE — have trimmed publications, also edited to put in bullet points, to make it more readable, but now it feels more like a resume, hm.)

*****

Campaign Bio:

Mary Anne Mohanraj is a writer & artist, English professor, and parent. She’s been blogging her life since December 1995, so is possibly the most transparent candidate you’re likely to run across. She’s lived in Oak Park for about 10 years, with her partner, Kevin, two children (currently attending 8th grade Brooks and 5th grade Holmes), and assorted pets.

***

Since she’s running for school board, you might care about Mary Anne’s educational background and teaching experience:

EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND:
• University of Chicago B.A. English
• Mills College MFA in Creative Writing

• University of Utah Ph.D. in English Lit. and Writing

TEACHING EXPERIENCE:
• Mills College (all women’s undergrad institution)
• Salt Lake City Community College
• University of Utah
• University of Vermont MFA (remote distance learning)
• Roosevelt University Visiting Professor
• Northwestern University Visiting Professor

• University of Illinois at Chicago (10+ years), Clinical Associate Professor of Fiction and Literature

***

Mary Anne has a long history of community service spanning decades:

COMMUNITY SERVICE:
• was elected to local office in 2017 and currently serves on the Oak Park library board; her four-year term will be ending this spring
• serves as Executive Director of both DesiLit (desilit.org) and the Speculative Literature Foundation (speclit.org), and directs the Kriti Festival of Art and Literature (kritifestival.org)
• has served on the futurist boards of the XPrize, Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry and the international Plurality University
• founded the Hugo-nominated and World Fantasy Award-winning speculative literature magazine Strange Horizons
• served for ten issues as editor-in-chief of Jaggery, a South Asian literary journal (jaggerylit.com), which she continues to publish (2013-2019)

• has served locally on the board of the Oak Park Garden Club and moderates three large community Facebook groups (Oak Park Area Garden Club, Oak Park Area Cooking Club, and Oak Park Area Neighbors)

***

Her publications will give you a sense of her interests and accomplishments:

PUBLICATIONS:
• A Feast of Serendib (a Sri Lankan cookbook)
• Bodies in Motion (HarperCollins)

• The Stars Change (Circlet Press), and twelve other titles.

Bodies in Motion was a finalist for the Asian American Book Awards, a USA Today Notable Book, and has been translated into six languages. The Stars Change was a finalist for the Lambda, Rainbow, and Bisexual Book Awards.

Mohanraj is a recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Prose, has received a Locus Award and a Breaking Barriers Award from the Chicago Foundation for Women, and has been Guest of Honor at numerous conventions.

***

More on Mary Anne:
Her writer’s website: www.maryannemohanraj.com

Brain-Fried

As I put my campaign website together, I’m mostly thinking I should link to places where I’ve already done political writing, in one form or another. Of course, I have to remember those places first. If you happen to think of any pieces of mine you’ve read along those lines, and can drop a mention in comments, it would help! I am feeling particularly brain-fried this week.

Heh. There’s a campaign slogan. Vote for Mary Anne! She is very tired, and will ask you to help her brain remember things.

http://mohanrajforoakpark.com

(Thank you to Tyler Tork for volunteering his time to help set up the tech aspects of this, and Darius Vinesar for working on it. Now I have to fill it with content, and then we’ll tweak it some more.)

My Federal Priorities

I’m still exhausted. I slept well last night, finally, but I didn’t actually get to bed until close to 2 a.m., because my sleep schedule has been really wonky for weeks.

I’m hoping that we have a nice, quiet couple of months where government just does a lot of sensible things that make people’s lives better. My own immediate federal priorities would be:

• pandemic (still an immediate crisis)
• protect voting rights (otherwise everything they do will be rolled back in four years)
• climate change (also a pretty immediate crisis)

• education (the actual silver bullet for long-term societal change

If that happens, maybe I can get myself back to sleeping normally.

Biden is mobilizing the Defense Production Act today to ramp up pandemic response, and while this should have happened LAST MARCH, I am glad it’s happening now.

I’m feeling…weirdly guilty. There are community projects that I worked on last year, but I feel like I should’ve done more for — Oak Park Mutual Aid, my own SLF. I did my duty on the library board, at least, and I think overall, I probably did as much for the community as I had the energy and capacity to do. But I’m sad I couldn’t do more.

I admit, I’m not eager to start actively campaigning for school board, because it’s going to involve a lot of difficult conversations with unhappy people. I’m pretty clear on where I stand on most general issues, and I can hopefully speak clearly to those.

On the specifics — it’s harder, because one thing I learned on library board is that I just didn’t know enough before getting into the room and reading the reports that gave me the data and the perspectives of the people who had been actually doing the job.

I’ve been meaning to write a post, something like 5 Things I Learned While Governing, but that’s feeling intimidating and hard too. Maybe I’m just tired. (If there are any electeds reading this who want to chime in, I’d love to hear what the top things are that *you* learned while governing, so I can steal them for my piece.)

Well. I have a meeting in half an hour, and another this afternoon; my day is otherwise unscheduled. I failed to do anything other than my teaching yesterday — I spent the rest of the day in bed, watching the inauguration, scanning Facebook, reading fluffy books. I’m cranky with lack of accomplishment, EVEN THOUGH I think it’s totally reasonable not to accomplish much yesterday. I contain cranky multitudes.

Today, I’m going to mostly try to get through some urgent work-related e-mail, and hopefully that will settle me enough that I can start circling back around to some of these larger community concerns, trying to figure out how I want to talk about them.

I took a photo of a flower this morning, and that made me feel better, so I think checking through lots of little tasks is probably the way to go today. Amaryllis Doublet, for your pleasure.

Oh to Be an Early Bird Again

My dad called early this morning, waking me up (he’s an early bird, and I used to be too, so it’s not his fault for assuming I’d be up, just to be clear — I’d like to be an early bird again!), but since I was up, I figured that was really the universe telling me that yes, I wanted to throw on some long underwear and brave the cold (and snow!) to get my kids some rainbow bagels, just to prove what a nice mom I am. Happy Friday!

It’s National Bagel Day, and the The Daly Bagel is offering rainbow bagels in celebration, while supplies last. Any parent who’s made a rainbow cake knows that it’s basically 7 times as much work as a regular cake, and rainbow bagels are the same, but oh, they really are pretty charming, especially when you cut them open and the vibrant colors really pop!

The line wasn’t too long (and I was plenty warm with my long underwear, regular clothes, and a jacket), and I ended up having a fifteen minute conversation with the guy behind me about local politics, so that was fun.

We started out talking about the schools and distancing with the hybrid model — he works for another park district that’s been doing aftercare, so there some concrete things to discuss and commiserate over. Hard decisions to be made, weighing lots of complex factors.

Then I got to fill him in on some what’s been going on with the local village board elections, such as the incredibly frustrating petition challenges that Chibuike Enyia and Anthony Clark
have had to deal with, the fact that village trustee and village president candidate Moroney chose to go on a white supremacist talk show, which led to threats against trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla, etc.

I think that’s one vote Moroney won’t be getting, based on his response, so a good reminder that it’s really worth having these conversations in the community, and I suspect standing in line waiting to get into socially distanced stores is going to be part of local politics this spring. I admit, it was also so nice talking to another person, IN PERSON, which I think I haven’t done outside my family in a month or so, I may have been speaking a little too enthusiastically and a little too fast. He didn’t seem to mind, though.

Anyway — I’m home again now, with whitefish spread and their pickled red onions on my own open-face sesame bagel, a delicious and healthy breakfast that I feel I earned. 🙂 The rest of the day is basically e-mail, teaching, etc. but with little breaks for garden and cooking stuff, I think! We’ve also started setting up my campaign website (I’d hoped to have it up by today, but I think Monday is more realistic), and I am going to try to write up and/or record some political stuff sometime soon.

And oh, we’ll be adding the Jump Space RPG to Patreon today, so more on that soon!

I will NOT go bury myself in reading Courtney Milan novels, as tempting as that is. Not until after 5 p.m., anyway!

L!ve Café and Creative Space Vigil

I don’t know quite what to say about the vigil at L!VE Café and Creative Space tonight (in response to the racist attack two days ago). Or maybe I have too much to say, too many thoughts and emotions to be able to be coherent about them right now. A few scattered bits:

  • Reesheda Graham Washington is one of the brightest lights I’ve ever met in this life; it hurt to see her in so much pain tonight, and I am in awe that she still managed to speak brilliantly and incredibly compassionately despite that. I’ll come back and link to her speaking when it’s posted, and I encourage everyone, especially locals, to listen to what she had to say tonight. Bear witness. But also, sit with your discomfort, your confusion, your emotions.
  • I am very glad that the street was full from one end to the other in support of her and L!ve. And I’m seeing a lot more conversation in local groups now, people asking what was happening, getting filled in, and saying, oh, I would have gone and brought my family if I’d known. I believe they would have. There are a lot of good people in this town.
  • I wanted to bring Kavi, but when I asked her, she didn’t want to go. I almost pushed, but I’m glad I didn’t. It was a long, cold event; she’s been under the weather, but more than any of that, I think what happened hit her pretty hard already. It’s a lot for thirteen, confronting this kind of violence and hate. She doesn’t have to take it all in at once. She’ll have a lifetime to try to make sense of it.
  • I wasn’t involved in organizing this event; big kudos to those who did. It was very well done — it’s not easy, getting speakers and microphones and luminaries and all of that on short notice, in the midst of a pandemic. I had a box of IKEA candles on hand for my tiny contribution, mostly because I remembered how short we’d been on candles at the Black Lives Matter vigil I attended this summer. Part of me thinks I should order some more now, just in case. Part of me is exhausted and angry at the thought.
  • It was so windy, we lit match after match that went out; eventually, we managed to get them to catch, and stood there, cupping the flames, trying to keep them alight. Then clever Dima Ali went inside and got paper cups and constructed shields for the candles, making all of our jobs easier. There’s a metaphor there. Dima was responsible for the heart messages too. Some people just shine.
  • It was a cold, grieving moment. I mostly didn’t cry, until Gina HarKirat Harris said something, and honestly, I don’t even know what it was, but it tipped me over the edge, and I kind of lost it for a bit there. Only appropriate, really.
  • It was so good, seeing these people again. So many activists. In the midst of all the terribleness, just seeing their sweet faces — or at least, their eyes and foreheads, above the masks — was a real balm. So many generous members of the community, who pour out their time and energy to help people in a variety of ways.
  • This pandemic has robbed us of so much community, and while I still plan to shelter-in-place until the case numbers are really down, tonight reminded me of yet another cost. When some of us are battered and under attack, not being able to come together to support each other is just cruel.
  • I lingered afterwards, blowing out luminaries, carrying tables, wishing there was something else useful I could do. I donated to the campaign for L!ve Cafe, of course. They set a $20,000 goal, last I looked. I hope they blow through it. I’m going to go grab the link for the GoFundMe, and come back and paste it here.
  • I came home, ate some takeout from Grape Leaves, a restaurant a few doors down (they must be shaken too, after this), and then just collapsed on the couch for a few hours. I….don’t usually do that kind of thing. Kavi was watching TV, and I curled up with her, periodically trying to motivate to get up, and failing. Finally, finally I managed to get up, do a little cooking, and then went to take a LONG, hot bath, with bubbles. I feel a little more like myself again now, but I’ve climbed into bed. Huddling under the covers feels about right.
  • There’s a moment in West Wing, when there’d been an attack. Some white supremacists shot at the presidential party at an event — the president was shot, and one of his staff was critically injured, but thankfully pulled through. The shooters were actually aiming for the young man who was aide to the president, a young black man, who was dating the president’s white daughter. Afterwards, maybe a few episodes later, they’re talking about what happened:

“Toby Ziegler : Why does it feel like this? I’ve seen shootings before.

President Josiah Bartlet : It wasn’t a shooting, Toby. It was a lynching. They tried to lynch Charlie right in front of us, can you believe that?”

Like that.

At the Capitol yesterday too. That’s why we feel like this.

*****

Rough Day in America

Hey, how’s everyone doing? Rough day in America — I stopped even trying to do any work that required thought at 2 p.m., and have been grateful to have sewing and cleaning work to spend my time on instead, in between compulsively checking the news. My writing group was supposed to meet tonight, and we rescheduled to next week, which I think is for the best. I spent a little time working on my school board campaign; it felt good, doing a little something *for* democracy on a day like this.

I just checked in with Kavi; she’d already heard some of what was going on from her friends on chat, but she hadn’t heard about the racist message on the brick thrown at L!VE Café and Creative Space. She was pretty upset about that. “People suck!” Yes. Yes, they do.

She asked what I meant when I said it was local, and I told her where it was, and she said, “I know that place! I’ve been there!” Yes — L!ve has generously hosted several events we’ve been at, including the benefit we organized for Puerto Rican hurricane relief. It’s a special place. Kavi’s right to be outraged and upset about this terroristic assault.

Watching Heather Cox Richardson (I linked a few posts back in my feed) is reassuring and informative. I adore her.

I texted my sister, the infectious disease doctor, in D.C. to check on her family, and they’re fine — the kids are safe at home, and her hospital is on the other side of town. She doesn’t need to walk past any big government buildings on the way home. It makes me quietly furious that she has to deal with any of this. As if a pandemic weren’t enough to have to fight.