|The End of Molasses Classes: Getting Our Kids Unstuck—101 Extraordinary Solutions for Parents and Teachers
by Ron Clark
In his New York Times bestseller The End of Molasses Classes, renowned educator Ron Clark challenged parents, teachers, and communities everywhere to make a real difference in the lives of our kids, offering revolutionary and classroom-tested ways to uplift, educate, and empower our children. Read this book to find out why so many across the country have embraced these powerful rules.How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character
by Paul Tough
How Children Succeed introduces us to a new generation of researchers and educators, who, for the first time, are using the tools of science to peel back the mysteries of character. Through their stories—and the stories of the children they are trying to help—Tough reveals how this new knowledge can transform young people’s lives. He uncovers the surprising ways in which parents do—and do not—prepare their children for adulthood. And he provides us with new insights into how to improve the lives of children growing up in poverty. This provocative and profoundly hopeful book will not only inspire and engage readers, it will also change our understanding of childhood itself.
• Susan Eva Porter’s Bully Nation: Why America’s Approach to Childhood Aggression Is Bad for Everyone is far from just another “little shop of horrors” accounting of the deleterious effects of bullying and the stern discipline and strictures adults should apply to stem it. In fact, it’s just the opposite: a contrarian view of the universal and timeless realities of childhood aggression, the damage adults do by overreacting to run-of-the-mill social tussles and micro-aggressions that are normal, and the deleterious impact of reducing admittedly painful playground conflicts into just three blanket categories: bully, victim, and bystander (the latter now instantly guilty by association, or by inaction to intervene).
Filled with scores of revealing case studies she has witnessed, or counseled about as a child and school psychologist, Porter’s huge contribution is an attempt to reverse the dangerous trend she sees that oversimplifies, misreads, and over-amplifies much of what is now called bullying — such as exclusion at the lunch table in the school cafeteria, or from the pick-up dodge ball game on the playground, or the smarmy cuts on social media. Moreover, when parents of kids who are the target of teasing, unkind remarks, social exclusion, or more serious bullying want a black and white “crime” with capital punishment (“throw them out of school”), and schools adopt inflexible and unrealistic “zero tolerance” policies, we now teach some kids that they are incorrigibly bad to the core and others that they are helpless victims, lessons that are both over-reactions and examples of unhealthy adult “fixed” mindsets rather than “growth” mindsets.
What truly hurts, social pain, is just another in a long list of what seems, at the time, cataclysmic challenges pre-adolescents and adolescents face, and for which they need the opportunity to learn, grow, and develop the “grittiness” necessary to survive the turbulence of life. For those who truly want to understand the subtleties of what bullying is about, Bully Nation is an important contribution to the canon. Reading the book to learn how the parable of Buddha, the suffering woman, and the mustard seed apply is worth the time and effort alone. And considering that the new and wildly expanded definition of bullying “is more about today’s parenting than about child aggression” is a worthy counterpoint to conventional wisdom on the subject, because adults now “conflate desire for children to behave well with children’s ability to do so.” This book is a must-read for parents and educators, who will learn the truth of Mark Twain’s observation that “Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.”
• Catherine Steiner-Adair, school and family psychologist and clinical instructor at the Department of Psychology at Harvard Medical School, offers in her new book, The Big Disconnect, a compelling accounting of how technology has become for families “our new home page,” the central organizing factor of our lives, focus, and relationships (or lack thereof). While Steiner-Adair acknowledges the advantages of the wired world, she develops convincingly the observation by psychiatrist Gene Cohen that technology’s powerful stimulation, hyper-connectivity, and interactivity are, for children and adolescents, like “chocolate to the brain,” and argues that parents unwittingly have accepted technology not just as the digital babysitter, but more disturbingly, allowed it to become “the third parent.” This book would be a great assignment for faculty/parent book clubs.
• Abigail James’ The Parents’ Guide to Boys: Help Your Son Get the Most Out of School and Life is yet another tour de force entry in her pantheon of books on gender-specific insights on parenting and teaching, this one on boys, revealing that, to quote Plato, ” Of all the animals, the boy is the most unmanageable.” James’ work is Scout-handbook, chock-full of good guidance for parents of boys at all ages, “from 18 months to 90 years of age.” Given that boys are increasingly struggling at home and at school, this book arrives just in the nick of time for us to do something about the crisis. Nuggets include teaching your son that…
James’ List of 10 Things to Do for Your Sons:
With summer in full swing, lots of kids (and parents) are going online for ideas to keep busy. At Common Sense Media, we’re partial to activities that are a little, well, different. We’ve rounded up 25 unique things you and your kids can learn online (for free!) by a) watching a video, b) following instructions, or c) reading about a subject.
Note: Many videos include an advertisement at the beginning, and some websites might link off to other topics or sites that might not be appropriate for your kids. We suggest previewing or watching along with your kids.
- Test for bacteria
Easy science fun once you have a few supplies.
- Modify water guns
Tons of different ways to tinker with Super Soakers.
- Make embossed pendants
Cool craft for making badges, medals, or coins.
- Learn long division
Easy to master once you follow these instructions.
- Construct paper dolls
You can make these adorable dolls all by yourself!
- Teach your dog to roll over
Good for hours of rewarding fun in the backyard.
- Play the Star Wars theme on piano
Beginning pianists will love adding this to their repertiore.
- Concoct ice cream in a bag
It’s hot out, but this is cool — and tasty.
- Whistle with a blade of grass
The best nature trick ever.
- Build a house for fairies
These can be simple or super complex for fantasy-loving kids.
- Invest in stocks and shares
Soon, kids might be teaching Mom and Dad a thing or two about money.
- Set up your own Minecraft server
Minecraft masters will want to try this advanced project.
- Facepaint superheroes
Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, the Hulk, and more.
- Understand your prejudices
We’ve got a lot to learn about each other.
- Deal with feeling angry
A step-by-step guide to getting through strong emotions.
- Program software
Kids, this is your future. Learn it.
- Build Nyan Cat with Minecraft
Mix engineering with Internet memes for hours of fun.
- Decorate Angry Birds cupcakes
Candy birds and marshmallow piggies make cooking fun.
- Make a balloon animal
Start with a dog, and graduate to giraffes, rhinos, and more.
- Disappear a card or coin
Future magicians have to start somewhere.
- Construct a worm composter
Eco-minded kids will dig into this project.
- Grow a plant
So simple, and yet so amazing.
- Play “Ghost in the Graveyard”
Grab all your friends, go to the park, and have fun.
- Sew a tablet case out of jeans
Kindle? iPad? Whatever you’ve got, it could use some denim.
- Build a bird house
Got a hammer and a few nails? Perfect summer project.
By STEVE ALMOND
Published: June 21, 2013
A few months ago, I attended my daughter Josie’s kindergarten open house, the highlight of which was a video slide show featuring our moppets using iPads to practice their penmanship. Parental cooing ensued.
I happened to be sitting next to the teacher, and I asked her about the rumor I’d heard: that next year, every elementary-school kid in town would be provided his or her own iPad. She said this pilot program was being introduced only at the newly constructed school three blocks from our house, which Josie will attend next year. “You’re lucky,” she observed wistfully.
This seemed to be the consensus around the school-bus stop. The iPads are coming! Not only were our kids going to love learning, they were also going to do so on the cutting edge of innovation. Why, in the face of this giddy chatter, was I filled with dread?
It’s not because I’m a cranky Luddite. I swear. I recognize that iPads, if introduced with a clear plan, and properly supervised, can improve learning and allow students to work at their own pace. Those are big ifs in an era of overcrowded classrooms. But my hunch is that our school will do a fine job. We live in a town filled with talented educators and concerned parents.
Frankly, I find it more disturbing that a brand-name product is being elevated to the status of mandatory school supply. I also worry that iPads might transform the classroom from a social environment into an educational subway car, each student fixated on his or her personalized educational gadget.
But beneath this fretting is a more fundamental beef: the school system, without meaning to, is subverting my parenting, in particular my fitful efforts to regulate my children’s exposure to screens. These efforts arise directly from my own tortured history as a digital pioneer, and the war still raging within me between harnessing the dazzling gifts of technology versus fighting to preserve the slower, less convenient pleasures of the analog world.
What I’m experiencing is, in essence, a generational reckoning, that queasy moment when those of us whose impatient desires drove the tech revolution must face the inheritors of this enthusiasm: our children.
It will probably come as no surprise that I’m one of those annoying people fond of boasting that I don’t own a TV. It makes me feel noble to mention this — I am feeling noble right now! — as if I’m taking a brave stand against the vulgar superficiality of the age. What I mention less frequently is the reason I don’t own a TV: because I would watch it constantly.
My brothers and I were so devoted to television as kids that we created an entire lexicon around it. The brother who turned on the TV, and thus controlled the channel being watched, was said to “emanate.” I didn’t even know what “emanate” meant. It just sounded like the right verb.
This was back in the ’70s. We were latchkey kids living on the brink of a brave new world. In a few short years, we’d hurtled from the miraculous calculator (turn it over to spell out “boobs”!) to arcades filled with strobing amusements. I was one of those guys who spent every spare quarter mastering Asteroids and Defender, who found in video games a reliable short-term cure for the loneliness and competitive anxiety that plagued me. By the time I graduated from college, the era of personal computers had dawned. I used mine to become a closet Freecell Solitaire addict.
Midway through my 20s I underwent a reformation. I began reading, then writing, literary fiction. It quickly became apparent that the quality of my work rose in direct proportion to my ability filter out distractions. I’ve spent the past two decades struggling to resist the endless pixelated enticements intended to capture and monetize every spare second of human attention.
Has this campaign succeeded? Not really. I’ve just been a bit slower on the uptake than my contemporaries. But even without a TV or smartphones, our household can feel dominated by computers, especially because I and my wife (also a writer) work at home. We stare into our screens for hours at a stretch, working and just as often distracting ourselves from work.
Our children not only pick up on this fraught dynamic; they re-enact it. We ostensibly limit Josie (age 6) and Judah (age 4) to 45 minutes of screen time per day. But they find ways to get more: hunkering down with the videos Josie takes on her camera, sweet-talking the grandparents and so on. The temptations have only multiplied as they move out into a world saturated by technology.
Consider an incident that has come to be known in my household as the Leapster Imbroglio. For those unfamiliar with the Leapster, it is a “learning game system” aimed at 4-to-9-year-olds. Josie has wanted one for more than a year. “My two best friends have a Leapster and I don’t,” she sobbed to her mother recently. “I feel like a loser!”
My wife was practically in tears as she related this episode to me. It struck me as terribly sad that an electronic device had become, in our daughter’s mind, such a powerful talisman of personal worth. But even sadder was the fact that I knew, deep down, exactly how she felt.
This is the moment we live in, the one our childhoods foretold. When I see Josie clutching her grandmother’s Kindle to play Angry Birds for the 10th straight time, or I watch my son stuporously soaking up a cartoon, I’m really seeing myself as a kid — anxious, needy for love but willing to settle for electronic distraction to soothe my nerves or hold tedium at bay.
And if experiencing this blast from the past weren’t troubling enough, I also get to confront my current failings as a parent. After all, we park the kiddos in front of SpongeBob because it’s convenient for us, not good for them. (“Quiet time,” we call it. Let’s please not dwell on how sad and perverse this phrase is.) We make this bargain every day, even though our kids are often restless and irritable afterward.
Back in the day, when my folks snapped off the TV and exhorted us to pick up a book or go outside and play, they did so with a certain cultural credibility. Everyone knew you couldn’t experience the “real world” by sitting in front of a screen. It was an escape. Today, screens are the real world, or at least the accepted means of making us feel a part of that world. And they can no longer be written off as mind-rotting piffle. “The iPad is an educational tool, Papa!” Josie declared last month, after hearing me grouse about Apple’s efforts to target the preschool demographic.
Her own experience learning to read is a case in point. We spent a year coaxing her to try beginner books. Even with the promise of our company and encouragement, it was a tough sell. Then her teacher sent home a note about a Web site that allows kids to listen to stories, with some rudimentary animation, before reading them and taking a quiz to earn points. She has since plowed through more than 50 books.
Josie never fails to remind me that “the reading” is her least favorite part of this activity. And when she does, I feel (once again) that I’m face to face with myself as a kid: more interested in racking up points than embracing the joys of reading. What I’m lamenting isn’t that she prefers to read off a screen but that the screen alters and dilutes the imaginative experience.
It is unfair, not to mention foolish, for me to expect my 6-year-old to seek redemption in the same way I did, only at age 25. Her job is to make the same sometimes-impulsive decisions I made as a kid (and teenager and young adult). And my job is to let her learn her own lessons rather than imposing mine on her.
Still, I can’t be the only parent feeling whiplashed by the pace of technological changes, the manner in which every conceivable wonder — not just the diversions but also the curriculums and cures, the assembled beauty and wisdom of the ages — has migrated inside our portable machines. Is it really possible to hand kids these magical devices without somehow dimming their sense of wonder at the world beyond the screen?
In the course of mulling this question, I stumbled across an odd trove of videos (on YouTube, naturally) in which parents proudly record their babies operating iPads. One girl is 9 months old. Her ability to manipulate the touch screen is astonishing. But the clip is profoundly eerie. The child’s face glows like an alien as she scrolls from app to app. It’s like watching some bizarre inverse of Skinner’s box, in which the child subject is overrun by choices and stimuli. She seems agitated in the same way my kids are after “quiet time” — excited without being engaged.
As I watched her in action, I found myself wondering how a malleable brain like hers might be shaped by this odd experience of being the lord of a tiny two-dimensional universe. And whether a child exposed to such an experience routinely might later struggle to contend with the necessary frustrations and mysteries of the actual world.
I realize the human brain is a supple organ. My daughter may learn to use technology in ways I never have: to focus her attention, to stimulate her imagination, to expand her sense of possibility. And I know too that most folks view their devices as relatively harmless paths to greater efficiency and connectivity.
But I remain skeptical.
Because aren’t we just kidding ourselves? When we whip out our smartphones in line at the bank, 9 times out of 10 it’s because we’re jonesing for a microhit of stimulation, or that feeling of power that comes with holding a tiny universe in our fist.
The reason people turn to screens hasn’t changed much over the years. They remain mirrors that reflect a species in retreat from the burdens of modern consciousness, from boredom and isolation and helplessness.
It’s natural for children to seek out a powerful tool to banish these feelings. But the only reliable antidote to such burdens, based on my own experience, is not immersion in brighter and mightier screens but the capacity to slow our minds and pay sustained attention to the world around us. This is how all of us — whether artists or scientists or kindergartners — find beauty and meaning in the unceasing rush of experience. It’s how we develop empathy for other people, and the humility to accept our failures and keep struggling. It’s what grants my daughter the patience to wait for the cardinal who has taken to visiting the compost bin on our back porch.
I imagine the iPad Josie receives at school next year will have access to a vast archive of information and videos about cardinals, ones she’ll be able to call up and peruse instantly. But no flick of the thumb will ever make her suck in her breath as she does when, after five excruciating minutes, an actual cardinal appears on the porch railing in a flash of impossible red. I hope Josie remembers that all her life. I hope we both do.
A version of this article appeared in print on June 23, 2013, on page MM44 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: ‘The iPads Are Coming!’.
The New York Times The prevalence of dangerous strains of the human papillomavirus — the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States and a principal cause of cervical cancer — has dropped by half among teenage girls in … Continue reading
by WENDY KAUFMAN
Harvey Mudd College President Maria Klawe talks to a group of newly admitted students on the campus in Claremont, Calif. Klawe has had a great deal of success getting more women involved in computing.
Courtesy of Harvey Mudd College
This story is part of our series The Changing Lives of Women.
There are still relatively few women in tech. Maria Klawe wants to change that. As president of Harvey Mudd College, a science and engineering school in Southern California, she’s had stunning success getting more women involved in computing.
Harvey Mudd President Maria Klawe often uses her longboard to get around campus and chat with students like senior Xanda Schofield.
Klawe isn’t concerned about filling quotas or being nice to women. Rather, she’s deeply troubled that half the population is grossly underrepresented in this all-important field. Women aren’t setting the agenda and designing products and services that are shaping our lives. They’re getting only about 18 percent of the bachelor’s degrees in computer science, and in the workplace their numbers aren’t much higher.
Seated in her modest office on the Claremont, Calif., campus, Klawe, 61, reflects on the stereotype of computer scientists as anti-social nerds, saying it’s out of date. But she is quick to add that women often face barriers spoken and unspoken that discourage them from entering the field.
She recalls her own experience growing up in Canada, where she was a top university math student.
“Professors would say to me all the time, ‘Why do you want to be a mathematician, Maria? There are no good women mathematicians.’ And it just really bugged me,” Klawe says.
And that helps explain a career choice she would make decades later. Back in 2005, Klawe was thriving as dean of the engineering school at Princeton. But when Harvey Mudd College approached her about becoming the school’s president, she was intrigued. She saw an opportunity to change science and engineering education.
“We’re not attracting and retaining enough talent, and especially in areas like computer science. And I think what I recognized was this might be a place that could actually make a difference with that,” Klawe says.
With just 800 students and an emphasis on teaching, Klawe believed that Mudd would be an ideal laboratory.
Finding A Passion In Computer Science
More than 100 students are paying rapt attention in Colleen Lewis’ second-semester computer science course, and a lot of them are women.
“A lot of universities have this kind of weed-out class,” says Kate Finlay, a student at nearby Scripps College who’s taking Lewis’ course. “The first class you take is a weed-out class, and they are shocked by the fact they don’t get any women at the end. But the only people at the end are the people who have been in computer camp since they were 5.”
Kate Finlay, a student at neighboring Scripps College, got hooked on computer science after taking classes at Harvey Mudd.
Courtesy of Kate Finlay
What Harvey Mudd recognized and explicitly addressed were ways to get women interested in computer science, so students like Finlay who’ve never been to computer camp have their own introductory classes. The kids with experience have theirs. Know-it-alls in any section are told to cool it so no one is intimidated. As for the content, Finlay says it’s designed around problems they can relate to.
“They had all these really fun assignments — sound editing Darth Vader’s voice; every single answer on the quizzes was 42, in a reference to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” Finlay says. “It was so much fun; it was so much fun.”
Finlay, who had planned to study art and psychology, found a new passion in computer science.
Along with changes to the introductory courses, Mudd works hard to keep women interested in the field. First-year students attend a giant conference for women in computing. There are research opportunities and coursework that involve solving real problems for major companies. Technology experts like Alan Eustace, a senior vice president at Google, are applauding the initiatives.
“I think they’re fantastic,” Eustace says. He also cites Mudd’s rigorous academics and the critical mass of women studying together.
“They also have great female instructors, and I think that makes a big difference. … Harvey Mudd is an example of what I consider a model for the future,” he says.
Much of this might sound pretty basic, but the approach is highly unusual in higher education, and the efforts have paid off. At Mudd, about 40 percent of the computer science majors are women. That’s far more than at any other co-ed school.
As for the male students here, they seem to appreciate and value having more women in their computer science courses.
“Women and men work through problems in very different ways,” says Luke Mastalli-Kelly. “Men will oftentimes just try to pound through a problem, and then one of the women will be, ‘Wait, hold on, how about if I ask this question?’ ”
Jess Hester, a senior at Harvey Mudd, says she wants to write software for spaceships when she graduates.
Courtesy of Jess Hester
Their questions can lead to further exploration and perhaps a more elegant solution. Indeed, technology companies say they want more women because diverse teams often do a better job of solving problems and creating things.
‘I Want To Do That’
Senior Jess Hester was one of several female computer science students who offered their views on why there are so few women in their field. They bemoaned middle and high school math teachers who didn’t engage or inspire. They recounted conversations with adults who told them, “Men are better at this.” And they shared some apprehension about working in a male-dominated environment.
“If you fail, it’s not just you. It is you as like a sacrificial lamb for your whole gender. It’s just like a bucket of stress that we don’t need,” Hester says. “But I also want little kids to look up and be like, ‘Awesome. I want to do that.’ ”
And that would be music to Klawe’s ears. She says if you can make computer science interesting to women, empower them so they believe they can succeed, and then show them how their work can make a difference in the world, “that’s almost enough to change everything.”
Klawe is now working on a new project — a massive open online course, or MOOC, aimed at 10th-graders. It’s just one more way the president of Harvey Mudd hopes to get more women at the technology table.
Editor’s note: Susan Wojcicki, called by Forbes magazine “the most powerful woman in Advertising,” is senior vice president of advertising and commerce at Google, where she has worked since 1999. This open letter to the girls of the world is part of the “Girl Rising” project. CNN Films’ “Girl Rising” documents extraordinary girls and the power of education to change the world.
(CNN) — Dear Girls of the World,
The technology industry needs you.
Around the world, people are watching movies on laptops, buying goods online and connecting with friends and family through mobile devices. All of these experiences are powered by technology, created by people just like you.
Girls of the world, the tech industry is waiting for you. The skills you learn in your math and sciences classes today are the foundation for building technology that will touch nearly every aspect of our lives in the future — your future. If you invest in learning technical skills, soon you won’t just be consuming technology, you’ll be defining it, creating it and sharing it with people all over the world.
The tech industry is growing faster than nearly all other industries today. In fact, computer programming jobs are growing at two times the U.S. national average. And it’s still very early days. Google, for example, is only in its teenage years. The opportunities for a career in technology will only continue to grow as an additional 5 billion people around the world come online.
Yet despite being a ripe career field, the tech industry is losing women. In the United States, according to one report: “young women earned 37% of computer science degrees in 1985; today, the number has plummeted to 18%. Some 22% of software engineers at tech companies are women.” It’s a deficiency we see mirrored around the world.
If this trend continues, fewer women will have the skills necessary to participate in the tech sector. As a result, fewer women will hold leadership positions in tech, and we’ll miss out on the opportunity for women to shape the world around us. This isn’t a problem just for women, but for everyone. Innovation thrives on diversity, and we simply can’t afford for the future of technology not to represent women or people with different backgrounds and experiences.
That’s why it’s so important for tech leaders to reach out to girls with encouragement. We need to share our enthusiasm and show them all the amazing opportunities available today. Getting girls excited about technology isn’t just a job for educators, it’s a responsibility for all of us.
We also need to create more opportunities for girls to learn technical skills. We have a great start with programs such as theKhan Academy and Code.org that give people access to computer programming education. There are also fantastic local programs that connect girls with communities of other like-minded girls to learn together.
For example, Google supports a program called Girlstart that provides science, technology, engineering and mathematics education to girls through afterschool programs and camps. But there are also many girls out there struggling to find access to even the most basic education. The Google RISE Awards helps to bridge this gap by funding science and technology education for primary and secondary school students around the world. And initiatives such as Girl Rising put a spotlight on just how powerful access to education can be for young women.
For girls who don’t benefit from support early on, it’s also important to remember that it’s never too late to get started. I was finishing up my senior year of college, studying history and literature, when I decided to get into tech. I wondered if it was too late to change paths, but I decided to do it anyway. Years later, I joined a new startup — Google — and I’ve never looked back. For all the girls out there who think it’s too late to get into tech, know that it’s never too late to pursue a good opportunity, even if it means taking a different path.
So, people of the world, let’s help girls rise up in the field of technology and support them with the programs they need. If you’re in technology, talk to your daughters, nieces and friends about just how cool it is to work in tech. And we can all help them find internships, encourage them in their studies and foster their creative spirits.
The future of technology affects us all. Let’s all work together to build it.
— Susan Wojcicki
Heather Arnet was escorted into the Abercrombie & Fitch headquarters in New Albany, Ohio, flanked by her contingent of 16 teenage girls. It was late 2005, and they were there to voice their discontent about a series of shirts that the company had unleashed on the market with text celebrating skinny blonde teenage girls while deriding brunettes and less-slender figures.
The shirts in question: “I had a nightmare I was a brunette,” “Blondes are adored, brunettes are ignored,” “Do I make you look fat?” and more.
Once inside, the group of protesters walked through a sea of cubicles and past towering images of men and women locked in embraces. The girls looked around in awe, wondering how strange it would be to work each day permanently surrounded by such images. Then, they entered a windowless conference room to plead their case that the fashion brand not demean people who do not fit its version of cool.
Arnet left convinced that their mission was futile.
“What we witnessed in that room that was so tangible was how deep the culture really is at Abercrombie,” said Arnet, reflecting on the experience nearly eight years later. “The only person who seemed empowered in that building was white and male.”
In recent weeks, Abercrombie has been thrashed by consumers, activists and the media for refusing to stock larger sizes for female customers and for controversial remarks made by chief executive officer Mike Jeffries in a resurrected interview with Salon in 2006. Jeffries said at the time that his brand targets the “attractive all-American kid,” forcing the company to issue an apology.
“A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong,” he told Salon. “Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”
For Arnet, the chief executive officer of a Pennsylvania-based independent advocacy group called the Women and Girls Foundation, the current controversy feels familiar. In an interview with The Huffington Post this week, she described her own efforts to persuade Abercrombie executives to reexamine their values as a new set of activists are now heading to New Albany to discuss the retailer’s latest brush with protesters.
Abercrombie does have women in powerful positions at the top of its corporate hierarchy. Three of the four executive vice presidents at Abercrombie are women, along with two of the nine members of the company’s board of directors.
“Diversity and inclusion are key to our organization’s success,” reads a quote from Jeffries on the Abercrombie website. “We are determined to have a diverse culture, throughout our organization, that benefits from the perspectives of each individual.”
But the way Arnet recalls her experience, that official message is quickly undermined by the reality inside the company’s headquarters: At her meeting, the men in the room did nearly all the talking, while dismissing the protestors as people who couldn’t take a joke. The two women present sat mostly silent, Arnet said. After the meeting, Arnet took away a clear message: Abercrombie was not interested in broadening its consumer base to those deemed uncool.
“The girls tried to push them to say whether they would move forward with this idea for a girl-empowering line,” said Arnet. “The A&F team declined to say anything specific or committal.”
Arnet’s visit to Abercrombie was the outgrowth of a “girlcott” she and her teenage volunteers had organized against the company five weeks earlier to protest several shirt designs they viewed as offensive to women. Abercrombie decided to pull the shirts, and then said the company would meet in person with Arnet’s group to discuss what happened and hear a proposal for a new line of shirts that would empower girls.
Abercrombie declined to comment for this story. But sources inside the company, who spoke on condition they not be named, said executives justified the controversial shirts on the grounds that they sold very well, reflecting that they were merely satisfying the tastes of their customers. At the time, it was simply the trend, sources said.
Once inside the conference room, the girls readied a laptop connected to a projector and beamed a PowerPoint presentation on a screen. They were nervous, Arnet recalled. This was a real boardroom, and they were about to come face-to-face with a throng of executives from a massive, multinational retailer. Abercrombie’s chief financial officer was going to be there, they were told.
The girls and their chaperones had talked at length about proper business etiquette, and they had all dressed in professional attire — suits and blazers — seeking to be taken seriously, said Arnet.
But when the cohort of Abercrombie executives sauntered in and took their seats, the girls were taken aback. The men mostly wore T-shirts, and some had on flip-flops, including then-CFO Michael Kramer.
According to the Salon story, nearly everyone at the Abercrombie headquarters wears flip-flops, Abercrombie jeans and a polo shirt or sweater, as part of the company’s easygoing culture. Jeffries wears the outfit around “campus” — which is what employees call the complex.
According to Arnet, the executives asserted that the designs at issue weren’t malicious, but merely humorous, effectively suggesting that the protestors should just lighten up. The shirts had gone through focus groups, and no one had a problem with them, they said.
Arnet stressed to HuffPost the lack of involvement by the two female executives in the room. Only one of them spoke, and all she did was “reiterate and confirm” what the men said, according to Arnet’s account. The fact that the women didn’t add to the conversation struck Arnet as bizarre, she said, given that the discussion was focused on the empowerment of women.
“It was clear to all of us that the white men in the room in corporate director positions were ‘in charge’ and that they had the alpha dog status,” said Arnet.
Zoe Finkelstein, one of the leaders of the girlcott, asked Vice President of Conceptual Design Meredith Laginess what she thought about the shirts. Laginess said she “agreed with Mike [Kramer],” who had defended the designs and had done most of the talking at the meeting. When pressed about her personal opinions, Laginess did not respond, according to Arnet.
The group presented their ideas for a new line that would empower girls — not divide and degrade them. Arnet said one of the teens, Maya Savage, told the executives bluntly: “I have never seen anyone who looks like me in your stores, or in any of your ads.”
The man in charge of diversity at Abercrombie, Todd Corley, had remained silent in the meeting until that point. He was asked by a colleague to address Savage’s gripe, so he pointed the teen to the company’s website, which had a link to a page where she could read all about Abercrombie’s commitment to diversity.
“I’m sorry, but I should not have to dig to find a link on your website to find a person that looks like me,” answered Savage, according to Arnet.
At the end of the meeting, the executives thanked the girls for coming in and assured them that they were taking the issue seriously. But in follow-up conversations, Arnet said the movement was largely dismissed.
“They ended up saying that it didn’t fit with their brand to have a girl-empowering brand of T-shirts,” she said.
Several months later, Abercrombie released a shirt that said “Brunettes have brains.”It was a far cry from the systemic change the girls were hoping for, said Arnet. After all, Salon published Jeffries’ now-infamous quote about the exclusionary nature of the Abercrombie brand less than two months after the girls’ visit.
“Ultimately it was disappointing that there wasn’t a sort of long-term change that happened,” said Arnet, as evidenced by the current uproar over Abercrombie. Instead, they offered nothing more than “vague promises for change.”
Some interesting information on the importance of learning computer programming. Sacred Heart Middle School students learn coding in grades 5-8!