The Quotable Nerdy Chick: Michelle Rhee

File:Michelle Rhee at NOAA.jpgToday’s Quotable Nerdy Chick is someone I have admired for a long time. Michelle Rhee is the daughter of Korean immigrants who has become a force on the American education stage. Not everyone agrees with her positions — I can’t say that I always do, either — but it is impossible to deny her passion for school reform and her commitment to every child’s right to a quality education.

Michelle started her career as a teacher in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1997, she founded The New Teacher Project, a non-profit organization that has trained over 43,000 teachers to work in many of our country’s city schools. Between 2007 and 2010, she was chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public schools, and when she left that position, she founded StudentsFirst, an organization which is devoted to political advocacy on education reform issues.

Quotes from Michelle Rhee: 

  • “As a nation, we should get engaged and involved in changing laws that are not serving kids.”
  • “Are we beholden to the public school system at any cost, or are we beholden to the public school child at any cost?”
  • On the perceived failures of the public education system: “I have talked with too many teachers to believe this is their fault. I know they are working furiously in a system that for many years has not appreciated them — sometimes not even paying them on time or providing textbooks. Those who categorically blame teachers for the failures of our system are simply wrong.”
  • “My job is to hear all the input, and then as the leader, then decide which are the things that I think are going to move student achievement forward in this district. And I have to make those decisions. That doesn’t mean that I’m not listening. It just means I have to choose to take into consideration all of that input.”
  • On teacher’s unions: “People often say to me the teachers unions are here to stay, that they are big players, that I have to find a way to get along. I actually disagree with that. It’s important for us to lay out on the table what we’re willing to do, but what our bottom line is for kids. The bottom line is that if you can’t come to agreement then you have to push your agenda in a different way, and we’re absolutely going to do that.”
  • “Creativity is good and whatever. But if the children don’t know how to read, I don’t care how creative you are. You’re not doing your job.”

To learn more about Michelle Rhee, click HERE.

Dana Alsup: Co-Founder and first President of the Salisbury Quidditch Club

Dana Alsup is awesome. I’ve known that since the moment I met her, and now that I’ve interviewed her, I have empirical evidence. She is AWESOME. Listen to this: In college, she participated in a prison book club where she went to a medium security prison with other students to discuss philosophy and other topics such as race and even women’s rights. People talk about giving back to society in ways like that; Dana actually did it.

Thank you, Dana, for joining us today and being the newest Nerdy Chick. Let’s start with a speed round — tell us some awesome things about yourself.

I have a Bachelor of Arts in history from Salisbury University and a Masters of Library and Information Sciences from University of Pittsburgh.  I love libraries and think the world would be a lesser place without them.

Oh, we here at NerdyChicksRule.com definitely agree with that! But, do go on…

I have a very active imagination and am constantly creating scenarios in my head that will never happen.  Most are about how my skills as a librarian have been overlooked and every place that has ever rejected me as a candidate comes crawling back to me.

I’m a Mama’s girl.  I love my mom and think she’s the coolest lady out there.

My best friend and I dream that one day we’ll have a party planning business.

I’m an avid crafter but never know what I’m doing.  Every sewing project I’ve ever done has been made up as I went along.  Yes, I have given those sewing projects as gifts before.

Christmas is the best time of the year and I start planning and buying gifts starting in August.

Can I join your party planning business, too? What? Now’s not the time to ask? OK, well, then…next question: if you could give your middle school or high school self one piece of advice, what would it be?

Hooray for high school crushes!

I think everyone thinks the same thing when it comes to talking to your younger self: don’t spend so much time worrying about what everyone else thinks about you!  I spent far too much time doing that and not enough time actually caring about school.  When I was a senior in high school I only went to school until 10:30 every day.  I told the high school I’d rather work than take more classes so I got an early release to go to my job…my shift didn’t start until 3 pm.  I wanted to look the rebel and fit in, but I am far from a rebel.  I’m the one that always has a band aid in her wallet just in case someone in the vicinity needs it.  (And a side note on band aids, I currently have Cynthia Rowley themed and The Muppets themed band aids in my bathroom).  I was always terrible at math, but I think if I had just put more effort into really understanding it, I wouldn’t be freaked out every time I have to give a tip or figure out how much those shoes would be if they are 30% off.  If I had to write a letter to my high school self, it would go something like this, “Dear Dana, You turn out awesome.  Forget what they think of your style and embrace your love of all things British, books, dinosaurs, and history!  Love, Dana.  P.S.- you end up dating your high school crush.  Yipee!”

Oh, that makes me smile!  How about this: do you have a personal “theme song,” perhaps one that speaks to your inner nerdiness?

I had three roommates in college and I love them dearly.  Whenever we would go to a party and introduce ourselves, I found that everyone would remember their names and never mine.  By the end of the night fellow partygoers would say, “Goodbye Lauren, Goodbye Sarah, Goodbye Corey, Goodbye….”  Then they would start guessing, “Diana?  Donna?  Dina?”  I did not like this.  I hate when people can’t remember my name.  It’s short and simple and two of the letters are the same.  So after a while when someone couldn’t remember my name I would say, “Forgettable Dana”.  I even turned it into a sad little tune when I would say it.  So it became my theme song.  I still sing it from time to time and my boyfriend enjoys teasing me about it.  We always say it would be the saddest sitcom in the world.

A real nerdy tune that always makes me feel good about myself is the Star Wars theme song.  I’ll put it on right now and explain how it makes me feel…I can take on the world!  To be more specific, the Empire.  It makes me feel good.  I really enjoy listening to it in the car because then I pretend that my car is the Millennium Falcon, which is the best!  I also feel like my brother is with me.  He’s a huge Star Wars fan and I can’t even count the amount of times we have watched the movies together.  So there’s a bit of nostalgia going on as well.

Here’s a secret: sometimes I pretend I’m on the Milennium Falcon, too. But usually that somehow involves Han Solo. But I won’t ask if that’s true for you, too…Let’s shift gears and get a little serious for a bit. You’re a professional librarian! What are your favorite things to read?

I am technically just trained to be a professional librarian.  My job title is Library Media Paraeducator.  No one knows what a “paraeducator” is outside of the school district I work in.  I’m the assistant in an elementary school library.  There is never a dull moment in an elementary school.  Nor a quiet one.

PANDA VEST!!!

I love reading so many things!  But my favorites are nonfiction, specifically history and biographies, and mysteries.  I studied history as an undergrad, focusing on Colonial and Revolutionary American history.  This does not mean that I get all American history trivia questions right, but it does mean that I can yell about how Ben Franklin is not actually a good man at all.  Yes, yes, he did lots of good things, but my history friends and I like to claim that he invented adultery.  I once said this to a tour group visiting Ben Franklin’s gravesite.  They were not amused.  My mom and I snickered.  Back to books, my favorite series is Harry Potter.  Those books changed my life an brought my nerdiness to a whole new level.  Looking at my bookshelf right now, I see Junie B. Jones, Bossy Pants, Candide, The Journals of Captain John Smith, a Choose Your Own Adventure, Man’s Search of Meaning, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, and Sherlock Holmes.  Sherlock is one of my all time favorite characters.  He is just amazing and I like to pretend that I am him sometimes.  My favorite book is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  I can never get enough of that book.  I also love The Great Gatsby.  I had to read that in high school and didn’t care for it at all.  Then I read it again in college for my 1920’s lit class and fell in love!  In my opinion, it is one of the best books ever written and I recommend it to everyone.

How do you see the books that are being published today as helping to empower girls to be smart (or, as we like to call it, nerdy)?

Girls and women in literature today are amazing.  There are far more role models and characters featuring women then there ever have been before.  Working in a library I see so many books that embrace who women are and who they want to be.  I see many more children’s books than I do adult, but that’s where we need to start when it comes to empowering girls.  I love seeing books that show it’s okay to be the girly girl, like Fancy Nancy.  Nancy is an amazing character that loves being girly and fancy and expressing herself through using fancy words, mainly French words, and actions.  If you feel fancy, be fancy!

I love seeing books now that have groups of kids where girls are the leaders.  So many books show boys as the one who knows what to do and they will get it done and aren’t you lucky, girls, that he was here?  Harry Potter would have been dead without Hermione.  She did all the research and had those boys ready to go in case of an emergency.  I bet she also carries band aids in her wallet.

You are absolutely right — nerdy chicks do awesome things. How about you — what is one of your favorite achievements that you can credit to being a nerdy chick?

Co-Founder and first President of the Salisbury Quidditch Club.  My friend Emilie and I started the club our senior year of college.  I had seen other colleges online and my brother said I had to do it.  It was the nerdiest thing I have ever done.  And the greatest!  It was amazing!  I would play again if I had a team to join.  It is just like the game in Harry Potter novels except for we never leave the ground and the snitch is attached to a person.  In fact, the snitch is a tennis ball in a tube sock hanging out of the back of someone’s shorts.  We run with brooms between our legs and try to get the quaffle through the hoops without being hit by a bludger.  I have my own broom still.  it hangs in my room above my closet.  I graduated college in 2009 and it is still a club.  It’s even on my resume.

Tell us a four-word descriptive phrase you would like people to associate with you.

Really Effing Awesome, Dude.

Umm, see above. Any other phrases?

Mrs. Justin Timberlake = Me.

Always a lady, sometimes.

Awesome answers, as expected. Now tell us this: if someone gave you $75 and you could only spend it on you, what would you do with it?

Shoes!  I love shoes!  I also have weird feet- I have bunions at the old age of 25 so now I have to buy expensive shoes that won’t hurt me.  I also buy shoes that are just for occasions where I’ll be sitting a lot, like gold glitter flats!

I’d buy shoes, too! I knew we were soul mates!  OK, last question. Are you ready? Yes?

Can you tell us one thing you buy at the grocery store that you cannot live without?

My first thought is tampons, but I can get those at Target, too.  The hardest part of the grocery store for me to walk by is the cookie aisle.  I love cookies.  Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster is actually based on me.  My favorite cookies are Lu’s Pim’s cookies, specifically raspberry.  I will not share them and they will be gone within 20 minutes of me having them.  I don’t even pretend that I can keep them for any longer than that.  It’s impossible.

Who doesn’t love cookies? And after this interview, who doesn’t love awesome Nerdy Chick Dana Alsup?

Thanks again, Dana, for stopping by. You get a cookie the next time I see you, unless of course I can’t find you or I forget. (Who’s nerdy enough to know the source of that quote?)

Tara Lazar: Picture Book Writer and PiBoIdMo Creator

In honor of PiBoIdMo (you do know what that is, don’t you?), have we got a treat for you. The fabulously nerdy and brilliantly fabulous Tara Lazar is joining us today for a special bonus interview. Let’s hear what this Nerdy Chick has to say…

 

I’ve known Tara for several years through NJ-SCBWI. Not only is she a great writer and a super person, she’s also as into shoes and fashion as I am. Tara’s first picture book, The Monstore is forthcoming from Aladdin in June 2013, with two more picture books following soon after. She has inspired hundreds of picture book authors with a program she created called PiBoIdMo or Picture Book Idea Month. Visit her blog (http://taralazar.com/piboidmo/)to read more about it… or to join up!

Thanks for joining us Tara! We’ll start off with a question we ask everyone: If you could give your middle school or high school self one piece of advice, what would it be? Baggy pants and permed hair is not a good look.

I remember that look! At least we can say it looked better on the chicks than the dudes! You’re a professional writer – can you share some of your favorite things to read? I love short stories. I subscribe to One Story and I buy the Greatest American Short Stories anthology every year. But I also read a lot of novels, both for adults and kids. I prefer quirky stories with a sprinkling of magic—nothing too fantastical or surreal, just enough magic so it’s still plausible. And who can forget picture books? I read at least two hours every day.

Wow. That’s a lot of reading, but everyone says reading makes us better writers. Since you are so well read, how do you see the books that are being published today as helping to empower girls to be smart (or, as we like to call it, nerdy)? When I was growing up, I only remember Judy Blume books as speaking to me directly as an adolescent girl. Now there are hundreds of books aimed at young girls’ unique experiences: having an autistic sibling, losing a parent, wanting to excel in a talent, being a super-genius, coming from a poor family, dealing with bullies… The choices are endless. There’s a book to ease concerns over every embarrassing and mysterious dilemma inside every girl. She can feel confident knowing she’s not alone, giving her the courage to be herself.

I didn’t look so good, so Tara started grooming me — I can always count on her to have my back!

I agree. Thankfully, there are more books than ever for girls these days. Besides reading, what’s something you like to do that might be considered a little bit nerdy, but is actually really fun? Teaching! I love to teach new writers; I enjoy sharing my knowledge. I get a kick when I see their faces light up in an “aha” moment.

I also love studying rocks and minerals, Hubble space telescope images, literature of the 1920’s, and Discover Magazine. I wanted to be an archeologist when I was a teen. C’mon, discovering buried treasure for a living? Awesome!

Do you have a favorite achievements that you can credit to being a nerdy chick? I was on the high school physics team. We even had a cheer: P-H-Y-S-I-C-S, physics, physics, yes, yes, YES! (OK, I didn’t say it was a good cheer.) I also scored leading roles in my HS plays and directed the senior year play. I was a drama geek, too. This was BEFORE “High School Musical” and “Glee”, when it was really uncool. But I didn’t care, I loved it.

Hahaha! There’s probably a reason the physics club isn’t the cheer squad, right? Thanks again for showing us your nerdy side! And may this be the biggest PiBoIdMo ever!

To find out more about Tara, visit her blog (taralazar.com), like her Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/authortara ) or follow her @taralazar on Twitter.

 

Rotem Moscovich: Editor, Bookbinder, and Jazz Dancer

Rotem Moscovich is brilliant. I know this for a fact, because as an editor at Disney*Hyperion she read a manuscript of mine and immediately saw its immense value and signed it up for publication. Also because she wrote her undergraduate thesis on Harry Potter, though only 5 books had been published at the time (and received the award for Best Thesis in the Comparative Literature Department that year! I mean, she’s supposed to flaunt being smart, right?).

Professionally, Rotem works primarily on picture books and middle grade novels. Privately, she loves to bake. She loves bookbinding. And she loves office supplies. (That last one may earn her the Nerdy Chick of the Week Award!)

Rotem admits that she was incredibly uncoordinated as a child (and still is very klutzy, according to her), but she did Jazz Dance for 8 years and by the end of it, in her own words, “I wasn’t terrible! Entering a dance studio now does induce a sense of panic, though…”

Rotem, we appreciate you joining us today, and as a thank you gesture, we won’t make you dance for us at all! Let’s start with your life as a PROFESSIONAL CHILDREN’S BOOK EDITOR. What are your favorite things to read?

Ohhh so many things, when I’m not reading submissions. I recently read Eva Ibbotson’s Journey to the River Sea with my book club and it was everything a middle grade novel should be, with incredibly drawn characters, an integral setting, and a narrator that you know will take you through this smart, nuanced story about what’s important in life and in the education of a person. But I also love to dip into trashy magazines, YA novels with social criticism (especially feminist ones), and I’m always checking out the latest picture books at the many wonderful indie bookstores in Brooklyn.

Here at NerdyChicksRule.com, we love independent bookstores, too! So, you do a lot of reading even outside your job…How do you see the books that are being published today as helping to empower girls to be smart (or, as we like to call it, nerdy)?

From picture books through YA, I think many books today try to invert the roles traditionally given to girls. I mean, think of Hermione! The thing is, it’s more complicated than one aspect or another (also, there’s book smart and there’s socially smart, and both are worthy and important), and girls need parents, teachers, and friends who can help them come to their own understanding of the girl characters presented to them. They might like one aspect of the portrayal, but have an issue with another. Being able to see media with a critical eye (as well as an appreciative one) is the key.

What do you look for in a story when you are acquiring books for girls?

I look for a girl with agency, and a girl with courage (even if that’s something that she must acquire over the course of the story). Or if the main character is not a girl (not all books for girls have girls as their main character!), then I’d look for the female characters to be multifaceted. And of course, inspiring writing.

Oh, so I need to learn to write well? OK. I can work on that. 🙂

Let’s shift gears a bit and get away from all that work stuff…I was pretty nerdy in middle school and high school (I won’t make you tell us whether you were, too). But those years can be tough for anyone. If you could give your middle school or high school self one piece of advice, what would it be?

Stay the course! You’ll know who your true friends are.

That’s really great advice. It isn’t easy to do, but worth it in the end. Another gear shift: As our newest Nerdy Chick, what is one of your favorite achievements that you can credit to being a nerdy chick?

Well, gosh, this is going to sound extremely nerdy, but it’s my master’s degree in Children’s Literature from the Simmons College Center for the Study of Children’s Literature. It was an intense, incredibly rewarding two years where much time was spent engaging in discussions with other wonderful nerdy chicks. I worked my butt off.

Wow! Even more brilliant than I initially gave you credit for! But no more work – what’s something you like to do that might be considered a little bit nerdy, but is actually really fun?

Is sewing still considered nerdy, or has that passed over into hip? Well, either way, I like to sew and make stuff—the satisfaction of creating a thing when said thing did not exist before . . . I can’t get enough. Also, I love being read to. Why should small children get all the fun?

I agree! I think we should be read to as adults – and get nap time. Nap time would lead to fewer wars, I think. This has been such a great interview. I just have one more question, and it’s very important:  if you could rewrite the ending of a favorite fairy tale, which one would you change, and why?

Yikes, this is a tough one! I guess Snow White—though really it’s the whole premise of “the fairest one of all” being the most important thing, not just the ending (though it is rather creepy that the prince wants Snow White in her glass coffin so badly. What for?!).

Thank you again, Rotem, for joining us here on NerdyChicksRule.com — you are truly a Nerdy Chick of Note!

What Happens in High School…Driving and Crying (and Aging)

In the state of New Jersey, children have to be 5 years old to enter Kindergarten. The cut-off date is in the fall and it varies, but generally, the kid has to be 5 by December 31st at the latest to start Kindergarten in a given year. If you extrapolate that out over time, you realize that by December 31st of his or her senior year of high school, all students have reached the age of 17. Which happens to be the age one can get a driver’s license in New Jersey.

All of this is true for most kids. But not for the super-nerdy! If you’re super-nerdy (like me), you may have skipped the fourth grade.  And you may have a June birthday that happens to fall after the school year ends. And that throws everything off.

If you’re super-nerdy (like me), you may have been the reason that your eighth grade wasn’t allowed to watch that PG-13 movie at the end of the year — because you were still 12.

And if you’re super-nerdy (like me), you may have had the distinction of being the only graduating senior who needed a ride to graduation because you hadn’t turned 17 yet.

This seems like it would totally not be a big deal, right? Except, if you think about it, there is no milestone greater in high school than getting that driver’s license. Add to that some mortifying extras:

  • Most of the classes I’d taken that had mixed grades meant I was in with kids older than me (because I was, you know, so advanced) — until driver’s ed. Where senior me got to be with juniors.
  • I’d pretty much raced to success at everything in high school faster than at least 95% of my peers — except this.
  • I got my driver’s license on my 17th birthday — which was a good few days after graduation. Meaning I did not get to show off my new license at school.

I won’t lie. In the realm of totally cool things about high school, being the youngest one was really not one of them.

But…there’s always a silver lining to being nerdy. Really. And in this case, like many of the other ones, it just gets silverier (is that a word?) with time.

You see, I turned 17 after all of my high school classmates, sometimes over a year after. But that also means when all my former classmates are stressing over turning 40….

I’ll only be 39.

Trust me, Nerdy Chicks, that is totally worth it.

What Happens in High School…The True Distance Between Things

Me, then

I’m sure you’ll find this impossible to believe, but when I was in high school, I was NOT a cheerleader, or a basketball star, or on the homecoming court (in fact, to this day, I’m not entirely sure what homecoming is all about). Don’t get me wrong — I did plenty of things. Orchestra. National Honor Society. French Club. Class Valedictorian. But those things that most people consider cool? Not so much. And because of that, I often felt like I was on the outside, looking in — like there was an insurmountable distance between me and the kids who were the stars of high school. That I would never — could never — be just like them.

When I left for college, one of the things I was excited about was that I wouldn’t have to face the reality of that insurmountable distance any longer. (Out of sight, out of mind, right?) What I wasn’t prepared for was the realization that the distance I despaired over was really less about reality than about perception. And yet, that’s exactly what has happened.

Something happened a few months ago that really drove this home for me. I was standing in the security line at the Philadelphia airport, about to fly out for a speaking engagement. Up in front of me, I saw someone who looked familiar. It took a minute, but then I realized I was looking at a blast from the past.

Me, now

Years ago, back in high school, there was a guy who was the consummate high school star. He was good looking, played three different sports, had been recruited by a gazillion colleges long before his senior year. And he was even fairly smart (I remember that he cheated off me in a few classes, which means he was in my advanced classes). I didn’t have a real crush on him, but it’s probably fair to say that neither I nor any other girl in my class would have said no if he wanted a prom date (for the record, he didn’t ask me). And that guy — who was the furthest away of that distant crowd of stars — was standing right in front of me.

And you know what? He looked completely normal.

I remember he was with his family, a wife and a gaggle of kids. They had on a bunch of Disney gear and were probably on their way to Florida for a family vacation — the same vacation I’ve taken my family on. If I hadn’t looked twice, I would never have noticed that he had been one of my classmates. And even looking twice, I couldn’t tell if he was a doctor, or a plumber, or a teacher, or a contemporary sculptor. He just looked like a regular person. A regular person, just like me.

As cool as it was to realize that the distance between me and Mr. High School was nonexistent, do you know what was cooler? This ordinary-looking guy — with kids tugging at his rumpled T-shirt, with wrinkles and slightly thinning hair, who looked like he could use an extra hour of sleep and an extra hour at the gym — this guy looked happy. Really, really happy.

Somehow, Mr. High School and I ended up in the same place. Because I’m pretty ordinary. I’ve got wrinkles and slightly thinning hair. I could use an extra hour of sleep and a couple extra hours at the gym. And I’m happy. Really, really happy.

Maybe I was never on the outside in high school. Maybe, just maybe, the circle was bigger than I let myself believe it was. Or maybe, it doesn’t matter, because life is long, and we all get there.

Quoteable Nerdy Chick: Wilma Mankiller

Wilma Mankiller (b. 1945) made history when she became the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1985.   She strove to improve health care, the education system and the government of her people. She served for a decade before deciding not to seek re-election because of poor health. Mankiller still advocates for  Native American rights and women’s rights.

Wilma Mankiller Quotes

  • The secret of our success is that we never, never give up.
  • A lot of young girls have looked to their career paths and have said they’d like to be chief. There’s been a change in the limits people see.
  • Everybody is sitting around saying, ‘Well, jeez, we need somebody to solve this problem of bias.’ That somebody is us. We all have to try to figure out a better way to get along.
  • I don’t think anybody anywhere can talk about the future of their people or of an organization without talking about education. Whoever controls the education of our children controls our future.
  • I’ve run into more discrimination as a woman than as an Indian.
  • Prior to my election, young Cherokee girls would never have thought that they might grow up and become chief.
  • One of the things my parents taught me, and I’ll always be grateful as a gift, is to not ever let anybody else define me; that for me to define myself . . . and I think that helped me a lot in assuming a leadership position.

Wilma Mankiller must have had some wonderful parents. I try to teach my children the same thing that she mentioned in that last quote.