Maclean’s piece on my School / Work Synchrony project

How day camps became summertime day care

By Meagan Campbell
Madness peaks on Wednesday at 7 a.m. Each March, when the City of Toronto opens registration for summer camps, parents go wild to secure their children’s spots. The city shuts down its call centres from 4 a.m. to 7 a.m. to prevent early attempts, and it staggers registration across the region to keep the website from crashing. “There’s a reason I’ve only got one son,” says Erin Filby, mother in downtown Toronto of eight-year-old Teddy. If she delays, Teddy might still get into piano or French camp, but if he wants to spend July riding a BMX bike or growing sprouts in High Park, his mother better have Toronto Rec on speed dial.

The rush is less a testament to the fun of summer camps than it is to parental desperation. The selection of camps swells each year—in the districts of the Greater Toronto Area, the so-called “FUN Guides” now list a combined 57-pages of camps —in part because the programs are the only affordable summer child-care option for many dual-income families. What children consider eight weeks of splash pads can mean months of un-fun planning for parents, who can spend more than $300 per child per week even for subsidized programming.

No surprise, then, that the release each spring of municipalities’ summer camp brochures is met with increasing debate between parents, teachers and governments about changing the school calendar. While some school districts have shortened their summers, and while full-day kindergarten in some provinces lightens childcare needs the rest of the year, critics argue that it’s time for radical change.

“This is the way they did it in the 1850s, and they still do it, when it makes no sense,” says Elizabeth Gregory, director of the women’s and gender studies program at the University of Houston. Gregory is writing a book arguing that a “rational school calendar” would help the economy, improve gender equality in the workforce and boost the birthrate. Her working title: “School/Work: How Synchrony Could Save the Future.”

Summer school, Gregory argues, should be public. Schools should hire different teachers for July and August, she says, and spend the warmest months doing sports and art with students, with the option for parents to pull them out if they wish. Currently, the closest such system is the “balanced calendar” approach adopted by about 100 schools in Canada, most of them in B.C. These schools spread vacation days over the winter and reduce the summer break to six weeks, meaning less planning for parents and less concern that children will forget their times-tables.

But chopping two weeks off the summer has drawn pushback from teachers—and from tourism interests, who warn that rescheduling vacations to winter would push Canadians to travel south, rather than within Canada. What’s more, the industry depends on high school students working summer jobs. “If you take some of those kids out of the workforce because they have to go back to school, that really impacts tourism operators,” says Walt Judas, president of the Tourism Industry Association of British Columbia.

Summers aside, Gregory also calls for governments to extend the school day to 5 p.m. In her proposal, teachers would cover curricula between 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., while more teachers would be hired to supervise off-hour music, art and sports for students whose parents opt for extra care. But more school is pricey; Ontario’s full-day kindergarten, which finished rolling out in 2014, costs $1.5 billion per year, while Newfoundland is currently spending $30 million to build classrooms to implement the system.

Even day care should be public, Gregory argues. “If the States or Canada said, ‘We’re going to extend public education down to [age] zero or one or two,’ you’d see a baby boom,” she says. Quebec’s universal low-fee day-care program, which began in 1997, has led to more women joining the workforce and encourages them to start bigger families, according to Pierre Fortin, an economics professor at Université de Montreal. “A dollar invested in preschool education,” he says, “has a higher return than an investment in any other year of education.” Filby, the Toronto mom, says free child care would directly lead her to have more kids. “I’m one of three children,” she says. “That seems like the perfect number to me. [But] I simply couldn’t afford it.”

Still, many parents worry about the “schoolification” of children, whom they fear already spend too much time in classrooms. “You’d want to be sure kids have time to decompress,” says Carolyn Ferns, president of the Ontario Coalition for Better Childcare. “After a school day, they want to be doing something different … they need to not just let energy out but just relax.”

Gregory argues her proposal wouldn’t “schoolify” kids because they would do camp-like activities in the summer months, at which point parents could pull them out for vacations as desired. During the regular year, if kids chose to finish homework in the after school hours, “you wouldn’t have to be fussing with your family when you got home. You’d have actual family time.”

Her plan, she asserts, is possible. Women don’t need to “lean in” at work; rather, she says they need to lean on governments and businesses to get on board. When she tells parents about her proposed calendar, she says, they’re reaction is unequivocal: “Yes, please. When does that start?”


Who’s the Bogeyman? SB6

Houston Chronicle

Yes, Texas, there are bogeymen in the bathroom lately. But they don’t aim to rape you, just to rob you blind. In fact, they’ve been doing that for years, and they don’t discriminate by gender or sex, just income. If you’re rich, they hand you tax breaks; if you’re middle- or working-class, they steal your services and infrastructure to pay for the tax breaks for the rich. They throw in some homeowner tax benefits, but those are undercut by the loss of basic community services. To cloak their perfidy, they concoct imaginary monsters and distract us with offers of “protection,” as with Senate Bill 6, which its sponsors say aims to “protect” women and children. But the Legislature is the real threat to our well-being, and the well-being of our families.

The great state of Texas comes in 40th among states in national education rankings in 2017. Although our children – our state’s future – are full of potential, the Legislature underinvests in schools and funds them inequitably. This failure connects directly to our shameful claim to the seventh-highest per-capita imprisonment rate. Our Legislature apparently prefers the pay-later approach, over investing now.

Gov. Greg Abbott’s rejection of federal funding to expand Medicaid sent federal tax dollars paid by Texans to other states, and it means that Texas has the lowest rate of insured people in the U.S. This underpins the recent doubling of our maternal death rate, to third-world levels, and it means Texans suffer and die from ailments that could have been prevented. That’s no imaginary horror. For many Texas families, the bogeyman that has robbed them of basic health services is quite real. So is the loss of reproductive services because of the Legislature’s unrelenting assault via restrictive policies and laws that have reduced health-care access for women, especially poor women.

Our child-welfare system is horribly broken (though, fingers crossed that an overhaul may occur). And while we have strict laws against human trafficking, our state offers few services to sex-trafficking victims, nor do we systematically punish the “johns” who exploit them. Last year, Texas officials cut needed special-ed funds. Mental health services are woefully underfunded. The short of it: The state’s social safety net is full of holes. Even if state residents don’t use some of these services directly, a solid safety net protects the whole community, and this is what needs the Legislature’s attention.

So while lawmakers dither or altogether ignore our state’s most vital needs, we get distractions like the bathroom bill that Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, is pitching and which has been endorsed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. This bill actively attacks transgender people – denying them the basic right to use a public restroom and opening them to harassment by a newly appointed gender police. Empowered busybodies could demand birth certificates from people in line for the toilet. Who is the bogeyman in this scenario? They won’t limit their intrusions to trans-people – if they don’t like your haircut or your fashion choices, expect nasty questions.

It should matter that there has not been a single report of transgender people attacking cis-women inside or outside restrooms (and if they or anyone did that, the act already is illegal). But 27 transgender people were murdered in 2016, and many more were attacked and harassed just for being themselves. We do have real gender issues in our community, but bathroom bogeymen isn’t one.

Texas business leaders know that Kolkhorst’s and Patrick’s scare tactic will discourage new businesses from coming to our state, and they firmly oppose the bill. This pro-discrimination bill copycats the controversial North Carolina bill, but it has a homegrown pedigree. Houston voters’ revocation of the Equal Rights Ordinance in 2015 put this issue on the national stage – with the aim of denying state protection to the LGBT community in jobs and housing, and forcing any one who wants to bring a discrimination suit (including vets and people of color) into the more-difficult-to-navigate federal court.

Under pressure from loss of business, North Carolina is working to repeal its bathroom law. Why would Texas pursue the same outcomes? Only if voters, convinced by Kolkhorst’s and Patrick’s smoke and mirrors that they are under threat of bathroom bogeymen, press their representatives to endorse it.

The truly scary stuff isn’t fake bogeymen, but the real outcomes of our Legislature’s mismanagement. That underfunding of public education? It ultimately will slow and turn backward growth of our state’s economy. The stubborn refusal to expand Medicaid? Preventable disease and death will mark immeasurable loss of our state’s human potential. Methodical erosion of women’s reproductive rights? More abortions and more maternal deaths.

We don’t need SB 6. We don’t need our restroom choices policed. It’s clear who the bogeymen are, and they’re not in bathrooms. Legislature, we’re looking at you.

A version of this piece appeared in the Houston Chronicle on March 4, 2017.


Resistance Is Fertile! Keep it growing 💥🗽🌸

HMW signs

“I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change, I am changing the things I cannot accept.”

“Thanks Trump, for making me an Activist!”

“The Future is Nasty!”

“Liberty & Justice for ALL.”

“Keep your hands off the Lady Bits”

“All oppression is related!”

“Run girls, run–for office!

“Viva la Vulva!”

“You tried to bury us — we are seeds!”


Just a few of the inspiring signs at the Houston Women’s March (and one from Moscow, Idaho) — echoing sentiments expressed across around the globe in protest against the inauguration of Dontrump – and his agenda of exclusion and distortion.

His hallucinatory address painted a portrait of an unknown land that he kept calling “America” — a world of misery, division and joblessness, so unlike our own it felt confusing, and sad.  But, not our problem!  His installation has set off the backlash that can now lead to positive change.  If we stay woke.

What a relief and inspiration to see so many people in the streets, taking up their participatory role in democracy.  So smart and funny!!!!

The world is emerging from the recent darkness, to the realization that we only really lose when we stop participating.  Time to move past the gridlock, to positive change that benefits the 99%. America’s strength lies in our diversity, and in our ability to innovate, to harness the skills and talents of all races, genders, classes, sexualities & religions to invent the better future, not to turn back the clock.

Next step: INNOVATE !  and Build toward Progressive majorities in 2018.

To Start:

Get political in your home district & pledge to vote in the primaries & the general in 2018!

Work your friends and neighbors to do the same.

Talk to your leader-ly friends about running for office — and listen if they talk to you!

Join a service organization if you’re not already in one, and be an active force for good in your community, in small ways as well as big.

Find ways to be in touch with people outside your circle, regularly.  Connect.

Smile at people around you, known & unknown — share a sense of appreciation your community!

Fight sexist, racist oligarchy, wherever you see it.

Resistance is fertile!  Keep it growing…


When Gender Matters in an Election: Check Your Misogyny


This essay first appeared in the Houston Chronicle.

I teach Gender Studies, and there’s never a shortage of material. It turns out life is a Gender Studies course, and we’re all in this class together. But lately, even more so.

Take this election – please!

For the first time ever, we have a major party female presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, and her opponent, Donald Trump, can’t resist performing a burlesque of old-school woman-bullying techniques. For instance:

Interrupting and talking over her (51 times in last week’s 1.5-hour debate),

Complaining about her “not presidential” looks,

Rating all women on looks (“not a 10,” “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?”) and fat-shaming them (“Miss Piggy,” “disgusting!”) – with a clear double standard for himself,

Playing on old-lady stereotypes with talk about her lack of “stamina” (she’s 68; he’s 70!),

Blaming the wife for her husband’s past infidelities (“If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband, what makes her think she can satisfy America,” he really tweeted) – convenient for a self-confessed serial adulterer,

Asserting that women who have abortions will face “some form of punishment,”

and so forth.

Too bad for him, laying this behavior on thick won’t send his target home crying anymore; everyone now recognizes these moves as attempts at intimidation.

But plenty of voters support him anyway. Some like his policy agenda and either choose to disregard the super-boorishness or, worse, they really like it.

And then there are some still on the fence, often for reasons not so much to do with policy, but because they don’t “like” Hillary.

If you’re one of those voters who prefers Hillary on policy but still has qualms – before you vote against her on reputation, could you be under the influence of some old-fashioned misogyny yourself?     Consider this checklist:

Do you question whether women can lead? (Should we give one a chance before we decide, as many other countries already have done? Angela Merkel, Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi and Golda Meir come to mind.)

Are you willing to cut the male candidate slack for his behavior as a person and/or in business, but you hold the female candidate to a higher standard?

Do you think that 68-year-old women are less vital or less interesting than 70-year-old men?

Do you think women are too emotional? (As you ponder that, consider, too, which candidate most often has displayed the thinner skin.)

Does your feeling that you “just don’t like her” link to a sense that women shouldn’t be assertive?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, then misogyny, which Merriam-Webster unflinchingly defines as “a hatred of women” – recast here as a doubt about women’s capacities (and by contrast, a sense that men are just better and more worthy) – is in play.

For ages, the world embraced this set of perceptions. But the old gender rules don’t make sense in the modern economy. As women have become educated, our nation has expanded its talent pool. We now look for the best person for the job – mostly. That opens up doors for millions of young women and men who can now flourish in occupations formerly barred to them.

But in some spheres old biases still rule, the realm of leadership in particular. While middle-management jobs split evenly, the gender gap persists among leaders in business and government. Women are 51 percent of the population, but only 4.6 percent of CEOs, 19.4 percent of Congress, and zero percent of our presidents, ever.

We’ve heard lots of ideas on why women haven’t trickled up into leadership, including: active harassment, old-boy exclusivity, systemic family unfriendliness, lack of ambition and lack of role models.

Whatever the reasons, the leadership gap is a bottleneck to positive change and to the unrolling of democracy. Without more women in leadership roles, you’ll never know what insights and positive innovations they could introduce, both as individuals and as members of a group with a different perspective. Young women will be less inclined to even make the effort to lead, or to learn how to prepare to lead, when they see capable females rejected time and again.

If the female candidate loses this election only because we as a society decide we still don’t feel comfortable with female leadership, our daughters and granddaughters, sons and grandsons will feel those negative ripple effects for years.

Whatever your politics, unless actively keeping women out of leadership is your goal, take time to make sure you vote for whoever you think is the best-qualified candidate, with the best ideas for our nation – without gender bias. Whatever your views, and especially if you’re on the fence – check your misogyny, at the polling place door.

This essay first appeared in the Houston Chronicle.


Birth-Timing Wave Ripples On in 2015


The CDC reports that the overall birth rate fell a little less than 1% after a slight overall rise in 2014.  The timing pattern remained the same as it has generally since 2008, with births to women under 30 continuing to fall, and births to women 30-44 continuing to rise.  For full details, see:

When younger women put off having kids, it makes sense that they start having them later.  They report:

  • Teen birth rates fell 8% to 22.3 births per 1,000 women, rates for women aged 20–24 fell 3% to 76.8, and rates for women aged 25–29 declined 1% to 104.3 (Figure 2).
  • The birth rate for teenagers declined 46% since 2007, when a brief uptick was observed for this age group.
  • In contrast, birth rates for women aged 30–44 rose from 2014 to 2015. Rates rose 1% to 101.5 births per 1,000 women aged 30–34, 2% to 51.8 births for women aged 35–39, and 4% to 11.0 births for women aged 40–44.
  • Since 2007, the largest increase was for mothers aged 40–44, up 15% compared with rises of 9% for women aged 35–39 and 1% for women aged 30–34.

After younger women delay having kids, to finish their schooling and establish at work, among other things, it’s not surprising that they start having them later.


Texas has highest maternal mortality rate in developed world

From the Guardian (Aug 21, 2016):

“The rate of Texas women who died from complications related to pregnancy doubled from 2010 to 2014, a new study has found, for an estimated maternal mortality rate that is unmatched in any other state and the rest of the developed world.

The finding comes from a report, appearing in the September issue of the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, that the maternal mortality rate in the United States increased between 2000 and 2014, even while the rest of the world succeeded in reducing its rate. Excluding California, where maternal mortality declined, and Texas, where it surged, the estimated number of maternal deaths per 100,000 births rose to 23.8 in 2014 from 18.8 in 2000 – or about 27%.

But the report singled out Texas for special concern, saying the doubling of mortality rates in a two-year period was hard to explain ‘in the absence of war, natural disaster, or severe economic upheaval’.”

For the full article:

How will Texas avoid even more horrors in this realm if/when Zika hits the state and the need for good maternity care rises precipitously, given the cut in clinics across the state?  How is the state preparing to help the populace?

From the NY Times (Sept. 8, 2016):

The rate at which women die during pregnancy or shortly after childbirth has fallen sharply in many nations as maternal care has improved. The United States — and particularly Texas — is a glaring exception.

In Texas, for instance, according to a study in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, the maternal mortality ratio — maternal deaths per 100,000 live births — doubled to 35.8 in 2014 from 17.7 in 2000. Compare that with Germany, which had 4.1 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2014.

In California, that figure fell from 21.5 in 2003 to 15.1 in 2014, but in the remaining 48 states and the District of Columbia it increased from 18.8 in 2000 to 23.8 in 2014. The United States as a whole had the second-highest maternal mortality ratio among 31 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Only Mexico had a higher figure.

A Heavier American Toll

Unites States maternal mortality rates are among the highest of members of the O.E.C.D.

Mexico 38.9

Texas 35.8

48 states and D.C. 23.8

Turkey 15.2

California 15.1

Britain 6.7

Maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, 2014.*

Canada 5.7

Germany 4.1

Japan 3.3

Netherlands 2.9

*Canada figure is from 2012, the latest available.

A big part of the problem is the inequality embedded in America’s health care system. The 2010 Affordable Care Act made health insurance more available, but millions of families still cannot afford the care they need. And lawmakers in many states and many Republicans in Congress have repeatedly shortchanged reproductive health programs because of ideological opposition to contraception and abortion.

The surge in maternal mortality in Texas defies easy explanation. Such increases typically happen during war, natural disasters and severe economic distress. State Republican lawmakers sharply reduced spending on women’s health care in 2011 in an effort to eliminate government funding of Planned Parenthood. The cuts, which took effect at the end of that year, don’t account for all of the increase, but they certainly don’t aid maternal health.

The biggest killers during and after pregnancy in Texas are cardiac problems and overdoses involving prescription opioids and illegal drugs, according to a recent report by a task force created by the Texas Legislature. It also found that maternal mortality was much higher for black women in Texas than for white and Hispanic women.

Texas lawmakers could address some of these problems by investing more in health clinics in minority communities and in mental health and addiction treatment. Expanding Medicaid to cover 1.2 million more poor people would also be very helpful. Texas is one of 19 states that have refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, despite the law’s generous terms, with the federal government picking up nearly all of the cost for low-income families.

Texas can also learn from California, which has organized doctors, hospitals, insurance companies and public interest groups in a collaborative to focus on maternal mortality. The group has developed state-of-the-art treatments for causes of maternal death like hemorrhages and pre-eclampsia, a condition characterized by high blood pressure and organ damage.

But even California could go further. Despite some improvement, its maternal mortality ratio far surpasses that in nations like Germany and Britain, where it is 6.7 per 100,000. One reason for Britain’s low figure is a mandatory system of confidential reviews, in place since 1954, of every maternal, newborn and infant death to determine what went wrong and how doctors and hospitals can improve. That’s easier in Britain’s single-payer, government-run health system, but it should not be impossible for state governments to develop something along these lines.

One of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals was to reduce global maternal mortality by three-fourths between 1990 and 2015. The world missed that target but still reduced maternal mortality by 45 percent. Set against that progress, America’s record is unconscionable.


2015 Births Down Overall: Historic lows among younger women; rates up among women 30+

Births by Age of Mother, 2002-2016The CDC has issued its preliminary report on US birth data for 2015.   Birth rates are down overall, driven by historic lows among younger women.  But rates among women in their 30s and 40s continue to rise.

Breaking it out by age:  the birth rate for teens fell yet again — decreasing by 8% since 2014, to 22.3 births per 1,000 women, another all-time low in a series of those.  Looking more granularly, in 2015 the rates declined 9% among teens 15-17, 7% among those 18-19, and 10% among those 10-14.  The teen birthrate (15-19) has declined 46% since 2007 (the start of the recent recession), and 64% since 1991.

Among women in their 20s, the rate decreased 3% for women 20-24 in 2015 (with a fall of 27% since 2007); the rate decreased 1% for women 25-29 (with a fall of 8% since 2007, including a less than 1% rise in 2014).

Among women in their 30s, the rate increased less than 1% for women 30-34 (with an overall increase of 5% since 2011, when what had been a downturn since 2007 turned up).  The rate increased 1% for women 35-39 in 2015 (with an overall increase of 13% since 2010).

Among women in their 40s, the rate increased by 4% for women 40-44, for a total gain of 13% since 2007; the rate among women 45+ was unchanged (though the number of births in this age group increased by 5% [from 8443 to 8876], due to an increase in women in this age group, which includes all women 45 and over).

Birth Rates by age of mother 2004-2015

The report did not include preliminary break outs by age at first birth or by race — that data should arrive with the rest of the deets in the Final report in the Fall.