A teacher made a student cry in a good way — by telling him test scores aren't everything.

His mom cried when she read it, too.

When you're a kid, kind words from a caring adult can make such a lasting impression.

That's exactly what happened to Indiana third-grader Rylan as he was gearing up for something most kids dread: standardized testing week.

His teacher, who has asked to remain anonymous, gave each of her students a letter and a cookie before the big test. The letter is touching, but it's the video of Rylan's reaction to it that really gets me (you'll see that at the end).


Rylan got in the car today and told me he was embarrassed because he cried at school. I asked him what upset him, and he told me he cried because he was happy about a letter his teacher gave his class before they take ISTEP. Needless to say, when I read it, I cried too. We need not just more teachers like her, but also more people like her in this world. "These tests do not define you. There are many ways of being smart. YOU are smart! YOU are enough! You are the light that brightens my day and the reason I am happy to come to work each day. So, in the midst of all these tests, remember that there is no way to "test" all of the amazing and awesome things that make you, YOU."
A photo posted by Abby Martin (@absmarti) on

Schools can have so much at stake with their testing results, they often inadvertently transfer that pressure onto the students.

Whether you think the amount of testing being done in public schools is great or if you wish it were reduced dramatically, one thing we can all probably agree on is that it's important to not send kids the wrong message — that their entire worth is wrapped up in whatever score they get.

The need for kids to hear this stuff is real. School pressures are waaaayyy different from when most of us were kids.

I'll never forget when I drove my daughter home after results came in from a three-day marathon of fifth-grade testing. Usually she was bubbly and happy on days like these because she often got the highest score in her class and was proud of herself — she worked hard and did her best to beat her own scores and loved feeling like it was paying off.

This time she was salty. Her friend had bested her, and though she congratulated her sincerely and effusively, she couldn't help but feel a pang of disappointment that her "winning" streak had been broken.


My daughter exercising her love of learning: on her way to Battle of the Books (L) and learning photography basics (R).

A lightbulb went off in my head. Her self-worth is all wrapped up in this, I realized. This is all she's ever known as a measure of who she is and where she ranks.

I pulled the car over and we had an instant talk because it was that important. My speech went something like this:

"You know that if you never achieved another thing in your entire life, you would still be loved and valued in our family just for who you are, right? It'd be disappointing if you stopped trying to reach your potential, but even if you did, we'd still love you.
Who you are isn't proven by your track record of achievements — it's the moments when you're sad but are kind to others anyway, when you have a good reason to be a jerk but you choose not to be, and it's when no one is looking and you don't have to be a good person but you are anyway.
You will achieve amazing things in your life, and I will always be happy for you when you do, but not because it's proving anything about who you are. I already know who you are."

I saw a lightbulb go off for her then too. I hope it was a pivotal moment in how she will orient herself when going after lofty goals throughout her life.

Here's Rylan and his mom talking about what it meant to get his teacher's letter.

Hearing and seeing Rylan's face and his mother's gratitude as they share the letter is all the proof we need — a little kindness can go a long way.

If you're not completely sure a kid in your life totally knows how to separate their test scores from their self-worth, this is a great thing to share with them right now.

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Whenever someone's words or behavior are called out as racist, a few predictable responses always follow. One is to see the word "racist" as a vicious personal attack. Two is to vehemently deny that whatever was said or done was racist. And three is to pull out the dictionary definition of racism to prove that the words or behavior weren't racist.

Honestly, as soon as refers to the dictionary when discussing racism, it's clear that person has never delved deeply into trying to understand racism. It's a big old red flag, every time.

I'm not an expert on race relations, but I've spent many years learning from people who are. And I've learned that the reality of racism is nuanced and complex, and resorting to a short dictionary definition completely ignores that fact. The dictionary can't include all of the ways racism manifests in individuals and society, and the limitations of dictionary definitions make it a poor tool for discussing the topic.

Since "racism" is such a loaded term for many people, let's look at such limitations through a different complex word. Let's take "anxiety." According to Merriam-Webster, "anxiety" is defined as "apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness, usually over an impending or anticipated ill."

Now imagine thinking that you understand everything that encompasses anxiety from reading that dictionary definition. Imagine thinking you could recognize the signs of anxiety in someone based on that definition alone. Ridiculous, right? The dictionary doesn't explain that some people's anxiety manifests as anger, even though it does. It doesn't say that anxiety sometimes manifests as withdrawal or aloofness. It doesn't say that you often won't see obvious signs of fear or nervousness in someone experiencing anxiety.

The dictionary doesn't offer anything close to the reality of what anxiety is or looks like. It would be silly to say that someone isn't experiencing anxiety because they're not clearly showing signs of nervousness like the dictionary definition implies. Just as the dictionary definition of anxiety is not comprehensive, neither is the dictionary definition of racism. Yet people keep using it to "prove" that something or someone isn't racist.

Fox News analyst Brit Hume just pulled that trick on Twitter to try to back up his claim that Donald Trump's "go back to" statements to four Congresswomen of color weren't technically racist.


The first Merriam-Webster entry for "racism" reads "a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race."

Merriam-Webster

First of all, I'm not sure how this definition actually makes Trump's statements not racist. A belief is not always conscious, so even assuming that his racism is unconscious, a white man telling four women of color to "go back to" their countries of origin—despite three of them being born in the U.S. and the fourth being a naturalized citizen of the U.S.—is pretty objectively racist. No one knows exactly what is going on in the President's head, but such statements only being made to women of color would certainly be consistent with the behavior of someone with a belief in white people's inherent superiority.

But that simple definition isn't truly definitive, either. Shortly after Hume's tweet, Merriam-Webster pointed out a usage note for the word "racism," which clarifies that dictionaries do not provide the be-all-end-all definition of words.

Anti-racism advocates have tried time and time again to explain that racism is not as straightforward as someone saying, "I think I'm superior to people who don't share my skin color." Racism is almost never that blatant, and yet oodles of Americans refuse to call anything less than that kind of bold statement "racism." We have a long history showing exactly how white supremacy—the origin of racism in the U.S.—exerts itself in both strong and subtle ways, and thousands of hours and pages of education from experts describing how racism works on an individual and societal level. But people still insist on the simplistic narrative of "Racism=hating people of a different race."

I've seen many people, including Brit Hume, argue that the word racism has lost all meaning. Frankly, that's a copout. Racism—as both a conscious or unconscious belief of racial superiority and as a system of racial prejudice blended with power dynamics—has a broader meaning than one person hating another person for the color of their skin. But that doesn't make it meaningless.

I've also seen people complain that "everything is racist these days," but no, it's really not. We simply understand more about racism now, thanks to the field of race studies and to people of color offering their time and energy to explain it, so it's easier to identify in its various forms. In my experience, when someone's understanding of racism reaches a certain stage, they start recognizing it in places where ignorance or unconscious bias may have caused them to miss it in the past. That's not imagining racism where it doesn't exist or "calling everything racist these days"; that's simply seeing reality more clearly.

When you really dive deep into the historical, psychological, and sociological reality of racism in America, it becomes painfully obvious that racism is far more prevalent and enmeshed in our society than most people think. Until defensive, mostly-white folks stop automatically denying racism every time the word is used and stop throwing around dictionaries to avoid having to do that deep dive work, we're not going to make real headway on this issue.

Let's stop pretending that the definition and supposed overuse of the word "racism" is the problem, when the problem is racism, period.

Democracy
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