Women We Read This Week

Meredith Broussard’s “Why Poor Schools Can’t Win at Standardized Testing” on The Atlantic

Forget for a moment the irony of an article critiquing financial biases in public education leading to a pop-up ad for a $50,000 Masters of Education program at USC. Meredith Broussard‘s work of investigate journalism digs into the flawed system of standardized testing that has come to drive US public education. She exposes how low-income schools are placed at a measurable disadvantage in the test prep process: they lack the funds to purchase textbooks that contain the answers. She uses this very tangible discrepancy to reveal how, in our society’s test-taking zeal, “we forget that data and data-collection systems are created by people.”

Rachel Aviv’s “Wrong Answer” in The New Yorker

Paired with the above piece, Rachel Aviv’s exposé reveals the less measurable, more insidious effects of the standardized testing culture. She depicts how pressure to raise test scores led one group of dedicated educators to cheat, leaking test questions and even changing student answers: “they viewed the cheating as a door they had to pass through in order to focus on issues that seemed more relevant to their students’ lives.” While Aviv does not excuse the perpetrators, she reveals the deeply flawed biases inherent to linking funding and measurements of academic success solely on test scores. This story will sadly not be news to those in the field of public education, but hopefully the pieces together will start to expand a critical conversation around our standardized testing culture.


Rebecca Traister’s “I Don’t Care If You Like It” in New Republic

I’ve spent a lot of time since Sunday thinking about and discussing the recent NYT feature on a college student’s rape and the subsequent institutional handling (and, so it appears, bungling) of the heinous crime. The student attends Hobart William and Smith Colleges, where I taught one blissful summer in my mid-20s and where my father currently teaches. The horrific tale has left me feeling utterly dejected, in small part because of my personal connection to the school but more because there are only so many horrific stories a person can absorb before wanting to wail in the streets and rend her clothes.

Exhausted? Sad? Angry? Frustrated? Yes, I have been feeling all of this. But not until Rebecca Traister came along with her current New Republic piece did I really get a grip on my precise state:

I suspect that a lot of this irritation over the small stuff right now is directly related to the fact that we’re mired in a moment at which lots and lots of women are not good, for reasons far graver than anything having to do with Esquire, Jimmy Fallon, John Legend, or Hillary Clinton’s Bitchy Resting Face.

Yes, precisely. I feel mired. The peg for her takedown of our cultural predilection for assessing and judging women is the utterly ridiculous Esquire piece about “how today’s 42-year-old women are hotter than ever before.” However, she uses the way women are relentlessly scrutinized in the media as a springboard to discuss (for of course the two are related) the way we women and our bodies are judged, assessed, and violated in the real world. She discusses the HWS rape and others and provides as compelling an analysis of the ongoing struggles of feminism as I have read in a long time. And she doesn’t fucking care if you like it.


Rebecca Solnit in conversation with Anisse Gross in The Brooklyn Quarterly

This ticks all the right boxes for me: a smart conversation between two women – the brilliant Rebecca Solnit interviewed beautifully by Anisse Gross – on the meaning of maps (which are “literally documents of our common ground” but also highly personal), attachment to place, change and gentrification in cities and the fact that “the exact shape of change is far from inevitable”, the power and the danger of nostalgia, the importance of coexisting across differences, surveillance and privacy, and so much more. Solnit and Gross cover a lot of important ground in a relatively short space of time, and every line is like a poem. As in so much of Solnit’s writing, the thread that runs through everything is about the importance of place in our (personal and political, public and private) lives – the way a sense of place informs who we are, as we too impact and reinvent the places on our maps:

I wanted to suggest that cities are inexhaustible, infinite, that they can be mapped in innumerable ways, and that each of us is a walking atlas, full of mental maps that are not quite like anyone else’s, and that they are places of coexistence.



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