“Your numbers look great”: non-human solutions to very human problems

working-lifeWhen the twins were in kindergarten they were separated between two classes across the hallway from each other. Victoria’s teacher was a soft spoken, cardigan wearing woman with great patience and tenderness. Vanessa’s teacher was a loud, hostile, bitter old lady with no patience for little kids or the learning process. As the school year wore on, Victoria would come home happy, holding up a finger painting she’d done and talking about how she couldn’t wait for school again tomorrow. Vanessa would come home with her head bowed, somber and clingy asking if she can stay home and never return to that mean place again.

I thought Vanessa was simply having trouble adjusting; after all, some kids don’t take to socialization as well as others. But then the phone calls from Mrs. Bitter started to come in. Daily, I would get a call from a gruff, inpatient voice telling me how my daughter was hiding under her desk and refusing to come out or crying in a corner and cannot be swayed to move. Another time she called and said that Vanessa just wouldn’t stop crying, so Vanessa was separated from the group until she stopped being disruptive.

I finally had a meeting with the school and here is what they told me: “Mrs. Bitter can be a disciplinarian, but her numbers are through the roof; she forces her students to do the work by any means necessary, yes, she can seem a little harsh but she gets the job done.”

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The school cared not that my daughter was frightened out of her wits by this overbearing, unnecessarily harsh woman. Mrs. Bitter yelled at the children without cause and humiliated them by calling them names and getting the other children to join in. I knew this from witnessing it myself when I came into the class to monitor Vanessa’s behavior. Mrs. Bitter was horribly impatient and totally unqualified to be a kindergarten teacher – she had no patience for the job. But out of fear and harsh punishment, her students had the highest academic performance rate in the entire school.

After months of being a confused first time parents, my husband and I finally told the school that we wanted our daughter taken out of that class immediately. Yes, Mrs. Bitter squeezed out high tests scores but she also crunched the spirits of tiny kindergarteners and that was not okay. The school loved this lady because her numbers were great, never mind that she abused the students.

 

I find this mindset prevalent in America. The most successful are the most abusive. This mindset has to stop. Abuse is not okay, even if it gets the job done. The job can be done with compassion, levelheadedness, grace with respect for humanity. The twin with the nice patient teacher did just as well as the twin with the mean impatient one, so why are we rewarding destructive pathways to success?

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Our web-based lives further perpetuate this idea that cruelty as a strategy to produce perfection is okay. Increasingly our lives are maintained by algorithms, these complex applications choose our meals, mates, books, toys, fashion, schedules, careers, doctors, diagnoses, and prescriptions.

Technology is helpful and does create the feeling of ease and efficiency, hence my ability to post to this very blog right now. But computerized technology sends the message to its users that they can be as mechanically efficient both on line and off line. Educational systems are built entirely around the idea that pupils perform at the same scientifically established level. Exams transform human students into data elements that either successfully or unsuccessfully navigate algorithms.

We utilize computerized tools to demonstrate performance but the data is only half of the story. At work my performance is based on how well I navigate complex algorithms, not giving any thought to my humanity. If my report was done with accuracy, I’m good; no one cares that my grandma died, a colleague stole my idea, and I just found out that I have a serious medical condition. Human emotion is in play forever and always, yet our technological world turns a blind eye to the things that truly matter offline.

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Social media is thought to produce a layer of humanity for us but it is really insufficient. Our social media profiles are heavily curated advertisements of ourselves. There is really no humanity in our social media. There is really nothing authentically social about it. We post our stances, arguments, and position on issues but we are not really socializing. We are gathering data and arranging pseudo committees to further digitize our lives. I hear that some authentic friendships are made through social media and this is encouraging. Some people really do get married as a result of meeting online. However, speak to these people and they will likely tell you that their relationship was “set up” or “initialized” online but it blossomed offline. Therefore, our online activity serve as a tool to be used to live our lives not to be lived through

 

Bottom line: your numbers, on paper, on social media, on spreadsheets, on data reports, can look awesome, but you as a human being can be doing horribly. It is everyone job to continually remind each other that our “numbers” don’t represent us fully. It is fine to use data as guide but data will never replace humanity.

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SWB: shopping while black

Justice clothing store is apparently THE place where every eight to twelve year old must shop. My daughters bugged me for a month about this cool interesting store so I finally gave in and we visited this tween sparkled heaven.

 

Marketing executives did a superb job making all the products shiny in come hither gold and optimistic yellow.  Every tee shirt is a blindingly happy shade of neon green or smurf popping blue.  What the marketers hadn’t counted on was haughty racist counter staff who, with faux politeness, told me to step aside so she could help the woman behind me who looked more financially secure with her Burberry scarf, crisp brown trench coat and arms filled with long pants, shirts, a jacket, a bath robe, and so many other pieces that her credit card was either about to take a major hit, or she travels with a suitcase packed with cash; oh, and she was white.

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I am evil retail fairy. I keep social customs from advancing.

 

I only had three measly tiny toy thingies for my daughters, all braided and twisted and ethnic we stood in the line waiting for a little piece of glittery joy just like everyone else.

“This lane is closed and I think that woman was in front of you.”  Blondie said looking at me and my brood.

 

That’s when I turned to see Burberry lady who was miles away, her eyes glazed over with retail inebriation, arms overflowing with product yet she was hunched over looking at a key chain display not paying any attention to the line in which the sales woman insists that she is in.

“Okay?”  I said calmly as I watched the saleslady walk away pretending to tend to a stray dress someone left behind the counter, refusing to wait on me.

Burberry lady had walked away.  She was perusing the display of flipflops on a far off wall.

I stood there lips pressed, conscience of what was happening but keeping my back stiff and reminding myself to breathe.  My daughters were with me and getting mad at sales people isn’t something I want to demonstrate.  There are far better, worthier skills young black girls need to learn and emulate.

I stood there composedly and talked to my daughters about the fuzzy patterned diary with a lock that they wanted.  Maybe we’d come back another time and get those.

Finally, an African American sales lady called to me from a far off counter.

“I can take you over here.”

I went and got checked out by the nice young black girl.  I looked over and miraculously the unpleasant counter lady’s line was back open.  A customer to her liking had wondered over.

Undercover situations like these happen daily.  It is important that we not give them merit by attending to them but sometimes stupidity seeps into your pores and activates an unforgivable venom that must be purged.

 

With that we move onto better things and pray for God to open the eyes of the ignorant.