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cj-hirschfield

In a world of tablets and screens, wooden toy blocks may get passed over as quaint or boring. But as I recently learned, they remain one of the best ways to encourage children’s imaginations and spatial skills. In fact, playing with wooden blocks started the career of one of our nation’s most renowned architects – and he wasn’t shy about crediting the blocks’ creator, who also invented the modern kindergarten.

While recently touring Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West home and studio, I admired the compound’s creativity and whimsy as well as the groundbreaking techniques for which the architect is known.

Because I work in a place dedicated to the pre-K and kindergarten crowd, my ears pricked up when our guide informed us that Wright’s life was forever changed when his mother gave him a set of maple-wood blocks designed by Friedrich Froebel that she purchased for him in 1876.

Prior to Froebel, very young children were not educated. He was the first to recognize that significant brain development occurs between birth and age 3, something of which we’re now acutely aware.

His teaching method combines an awareness of human physiology and the recognition that people, at their essence, are creative beings. Both Maria Montessori, who developed the Montessori education system, and Rudolf Steiner, who founded the Waldorf schools, acknowledged their debt to Froebel.

In the 1830s, he also developed the educational toys known as Froebel Gifts, which included blocks that introduced children to the elements of geometric form, mathematics and creative design. These geometric designs were everywhere you looked at Taliesin West.

Frank Lloyd Wright was not a modest man. He once said, “Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose honest arrogance and have seen no occasion to change.” But even this self-proclaimed genius never stopped paying homage to the sense of form and feeling that came from handling Froebel’s blocks. At age 88 he said: “The maplewood blocks are in my fingers to this day.”

Froebel was right. Play is the engine of real learning; it’s not idle behavior, but rather a biological imperative to discover how things work.

With a Perspective, I’m C.J. Hirschfield.

C.J. Hirschfield is executive director of Children’s Fairyland in Oakland.

Richard Swerdlow new

It’s that time of year. Holiday shopping is on everyone’s to-do list. But I will not be among those estimated one fourth of shoppers who wait until the last minute to start. I’ve made a list, checked it twice, and already wrapped all my gifts.

I hope everybody likes their presents. In fact, I hope they like them better than I did, when people gave them to me last year.

I admit it. I am a re-gifter.

And I’m not the only one. In a poll, 67% of respondents admitted re-gifting: passing along an unwanted gift to someone else. Re-gifting has become so popular there are actual rules, such as never re-gifting food items, freshening up the present with new wrapping paper and – duh – not gifting it back to the person who gave it to you in the first place.

Although re-gifting a present seems a little naughty, not nice, I feel merry knowing I’m part of a national holiday trend. In such a busy season, it’s certainly a time and money saver. And it’s environmental, too. All of us have received something so awful it’s just sitting in the back of a closet. Although re-gifting has a Scrooge-like reputation as an underhanded, lazy gift strategy, re-gifting is actually good for the planet, saving gas for shopping trips, as well as the resources to needed to produce and transport some other gift item. Joy to the world!

Re-gifting, like the gifts themselves, needs to come out of the closet. Why is re-gifting tacky, but recycling is cool?

Attention Christmas shoppers: That gift you are hanging onto but will never use is just cluttering up your life. Gift or otherwise, we all have too much stuff. Moving it along is a gift to yourself. Someone else may honestly love it.

When it comes to re-gifting holiday presents, let nothing you dismay. Reduce, reuse, recycle, re-gift. If your friends are like my friends, you’ll probably get it back next Christmas anyway.

It’s the gift we keep on giving.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow works for the San Francisco Unified School District.

scott-hoshida

Never again.

That’s what Japanese Americans declared as they fought for an apology and redress from the government for the mass incarceration of Japanese and Japanese Americans during World War II. That same feeling animated the speakers at a candlelight vigil in San Francisco’s Japantown just before Thanksgiving. One speaker declared that if the government were to create a registry for Muslims, she would sign up in solidarity. The crowd cheered for her, but when she asked if we would do the same, my conviction wavered.

When I was in college and learned about my grandparents’ detention, I grew angry that no one had stood up for them and that they had not stood up for themselves. But that night in the cold, as I thought of the crescendo of fear and hostility after Pearl Harbor, a feeling that seems to be growing now, I wasn’t so sure if I could have resisted.

What would it have been like to see an Executive Order nailed to telephone poles or to wait for soldiers going door-to-door with a list of our names? Did fighting seem like a possibility? I worried that my courage had left me, that I could not stomach my name on another registry.

As the vigil came to a close, I watched my children play, oblivious to the speakers or the moment. I knew that I must summon my bravery for them, but from where and from whom?

And then, I thought of the cast of ‘Hamilton’ requesting that Vice President-elect Pence work on behalf of all of us, or the protesters in North Dakota protecting their sacred land with their bodies, or Colin Kaepernick creating a “Know Your Rights” platform inspired by the Black Panther Party. Here are three:

You have the right to be free.

You have the right to be brilliant.

You have the right to be courageous.

I realized that fear had caused me to forget the power of our collective beliefs. I thought of those who fought for Redress and how they fought for a world that they wanted for me and that I now want for my children, a world that deserves and needs our courage.

With a Perspective, I’m Scott Hoshida.

Scott Hoshida is a 4th generation Japanese American, a novelist and member of the faculty of Berkeley City College.

judy-auerbach

There’s much to be encouraged about the ongoing fight against the AIDS epidemic.

Ambitious targets set up by UNAIDS have galvanized the world: 90% of everyone infected with HIV will be tested and know their status, 90% of them will receive effective medications, and 90% of those will see their virus so suppressed that their health is better and they’re unlikely to transmit to others.

We’ve also reaped the rewards of three decades of AIDS research – a remarkable array of effective HIV prevention, treatment, care and support strategies. These are responsible for real progress in saving lives throughout the world, and especially here in San Francisco, which has always been a leader in developing these strategies. 72% of San Franciscans living with HIV have lowered the amount of virus they carry to an undetectable level. That’s real progress toward the 90% goal.

But the good news isn’t all good. To truly ‘end AIDS’ we have to address the 10% who are left behind by the 90/90/90 approach. That 10% includes the most vulnerable among us: trans females, Latinos, the young, the homeless, injection drug users, and especially African Americans and women, who don’t meet that 72% level of viral suppression. They are the 10% who very likely won’t be reached by the 90/90/90 targets.

Elections have consequences, and we face the likelihood of reduced federal support for medical and social services. But we must stay committed to adequate and easy access to culturally appropriate HIV services. We must continue to invest in community-level programs that we know work, such as addiction treatment, syringe exchange, housing, and sexual health services.

90/90/90 is a good bar and a high bar. But if we don’t address the other 10/10/10 we will not ‘end AIDS’. Instead we will be left with a continued HIV epidemic increasingly concentrated among those already most underserved and, at this moment, highly vulnerable to being left behind.

With a Perspective, I’m Judy Auerbach.

Judy Auerbach is a sociologist and Professor of Medicine at the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies in the UCSF School of Medicine.

LarryLee

My son was arrested protesting the Dakota pipeline at Standing Rock. I was quite anxious as I waited to hear from him and to know he was okay. I second-guessed whether I should have talked him out of his road trip. I wasn’t really aware of potential risks, because I’ve never practiced civil disobedience on this level.

I was raised by Chinese immigrant parents who held the belief that the nail that sticks up gets hammered down. They lived their entire lives focused on putting their noses to the grindstone and working hard to insulate their livelihood with achievement, not activism.

It has always been my intention to raise my children differently, to have strong convictions and to be critical thinkers. Some of this just happened by osmosis. I am very proud with the way they both turned out, possessing a strong commitment to social justice. I have witnessed my children grow to be socially responsible members of society. Each of them has discovered their own voice.

I had mixed feelings, however. I think I wanted them to not step out too far where they would be in harm’s way, to be safe activists. An oxymoron? Could it be possible to raise them to be both sheltered and free-range individuals?

I didn’t consider that my son would take the less traveled Chinese American cultural path, where he would drive straight through the states of Nevada, Idaho, Montana and North Dakota, parts of this country where he would be seen as an outsider or a foreigner, even a target. Although I didn’t write the story line of the Dakota pipeline for my son, I know that this is a very pivotal time for him and people of my son’s generation to be empowered to use their voices. This can start with dinner table conversations where a budding activist can arise.

As I reflect on my son’s decision to follow his heart and conviction, would I have wanted him to do anything different? Would I want to suppress his pathway to discovering his strength? I wouldn’t want it any other way.

With a Perspective, I’m Larry Jin Lee.

Larry Jin Lee is a psychotherapist. He lives in San Francisco.

Clyde Wadsworth

“I’m not unisex. I’m a boy.” To Gavin Grimm, a transgender teen, it’s transparent why he wants to use the boy’s restroom at his Virginia high school. For a time, school administrators allowed him to do just that, with barely a stir among his classmates. In fact, girls had objected to Gavin’s presence in their own bathroom because they perceived him as male.

But the transpositive solution prompted complaints from some parents, so the school board adopted a policy that limited students to the bathrooms for their “corresponding biological genders” or a separate unisex restroom – leaving Gavin to use the girl’s room or a separate facility that he feared marked him as a “freak.” He sued the school district, and an appellate court agreed his case could go forward.

Now the Supreme Court has taken up Gavin’s case, with a decision expected by next summer. Along with a dry procedural issue, the transformative issue facing the Court is whether the school district’s refusal to allow Gavin to use the boy’s restroom violates the federal law that bars sex discrimination in public schools.

To translate: Gavin’s school tells him only boys can use the boys’ room, and Gavin can’t because the school considers him a girl. He’s treated differently from other boys who identify as boys solely because of his perceived “biological sex.” That’s quite literally sex discrimination.

The lawyers defending the school board’s policy don’t see it that way. They say Congress didn’t outlaw gender identity discrimination, and to hold otherwise would transgress federal rules allowing sex-segregated bathrooms, locker rooms and shower facilities, and in the process threaten other students’ privacy rights.

But Gavin isn’t trying to abolish sex-segregated facilities. He just wants equal access to the boy’s bathroom, where separate partitions help preserve privacy for everyone.

That should be transparent even to a Supreme Court in transition.

With a Perspective, I’m Clyde Wadsworth.

Clyde Wadsworth is an attorney practicing business and civil rights law.

katy-byrne

These are stressful times. And once upon a time I would have handled my stress by eating. I remember when I couldn’t stop eating. People who have never eaten compulsively really can’t understand what it’s like. I thought about food all day. When I couldn’t stop, I’d get up in the middle of the night, throw on my coat over my pajamas and run to the grocery store for more food, even when I’d just eaten three pizzas.

What caused my breakthrough from being a voracious overeater to someone with a normal desire for food? I finally understood that the little girl inside me was crying, like a baby who needs milk. That little kid was an innocent being, emotionally starved, desperate to be soothed, held and seen.

Most people don’t understand that obsessive overeating or starving ourselves is not done from laziness or lack of discipline. We hurt ourselves with food to dull our pain or give ourselves a treat.

For me, speaking up and being my own advocate took the place of stuffing. I started asking for what I needed. Free speech set me free.

Oh, I remember the diets, hiding in restaurants, people looking at my plate as I ate. But I don’t eat boxes of cookies anymore. I still gain and lose weight. But those 100 pounds are gone.

Life’s not always a piece of cake, but it’s a lot more fun.

With a Perspective, I’m Katy Byrne.

Katy Byrne is a psychotherapist in Sonoma.

Susan Dix Lyons

I’m rolling the dough in the kitchen, listening to Pandora as my life moves around me: my husband talking on the phone to a colleague in the other room; the boys playing video games; my daughter’s dress-up heels clomping against the floor as she pushes her mini grocery cart down the hallway. I hear all of this and don’t hear it. I’m stretching and rolling the dough, hands bathed in flour, listening to the music. The tomato sauce is cooling on the stove-top. It’s Friday and it’s Pizza Night.

Fridays have changed.

Every now and then I have an urge to flee. To un-tether. Bust out. Not for good, but for a moment. To travel back to a Friday night when I was a girl, a woman, swiping my path through the world to all the lavish noise of freedom.

I have loved my life. I loved that life. But here’s the odd and fantastic truth: It’s Friday, I’m in my kitchen, and there is no other place more wildly wonderful than right here.

As a woman, this is the course traveled. We throw ourselves out there, trying to grab what life places before us — the things desired and the returning hope to be desired — and we arrive, if all goes incredibly well, with this:

Pizza Night.

A man on the phone in the other room, who — in a stroke of the heart’s mad genius — we were lucky enough to choose. Children downstairs and upstairs who exhaust us, drain and vex us, and fill us with more riotous love than we ever dreamed possible. Everything we didn’t really know we so entirely wanted.

I am no longer young. All of my massive yearnings have brought me to this place. I have a husband, two sons, and a daughter. I listen to music that is both new and old. I stir in ways no lesser than earlier days when my movements were bigger, less hinged. It’s Friday night.

I’m rolling out the dough while the music plays.

Life is so quietly, so commonly, complete.

With a Perspective, I’m Susan Dix Lyons.

Susan Dix Lyons lives in St. Helena.

steve-torgenson

We were on our way to Garner State Park. It was after church, so my wife packed a lunch for the drive out. Everyone was enjoying each new treat until my youngest daughter discovered the Mint Milano Cookie she was eating would be her last. Her wail was heartrending. At two and a half-years of age, she knew the decibel limits allowed in the car, but she was distraught. Her sorrow knew no bounds.

As I turned to reason with her I was astounded to discover her mouth was full of cookie. It’s hard to cry with your mouth full of cookie. I thought, “What’s this? Your taste buds are slathered in scrumptiousness while your mind is roiling for want.” Weekly sermons make me mindful of illustrative material. I knew human nature was unveiled – we spoil good moments fearing future events.

During this time of National Thanksgiving, we can miss the pleasure of a thankful heart. Like my daughter we can miss joys of the moment worrying about the future. Likewise, past regrets can spoil good times. I’m speaking now in the comfortable offices of KQED. Most of you are listening from comfortable homes or comfortable modes of transportation. Our moments are mostly pretty good. I will return to a household where preparations are being made for a Thanksgiving celebration with family and friends. I have helped others to obtain rich fare for their tables. I live in a country of magnificent abundance and a spirit of giving that blossoms especially well in this season.

These examples are just a few of the blessings afforded to us as Americans. Abraham Lincoln was right to establish the 4th Thursday of November as a National Day of Thanksgiving. In the midst of a horrible Civil War, he knew life is made worse by failing to recognize the gifts we do possess.

We shouldn’t miss simple pleasures worrying about the future, regretting things that will not change or being caught up in frustration. So if that line at the supermarket gets you down, take out some Mint Milano cookies, share them with those around you and let everyone know how glad you are to live in a country where store shelves are full.

With a Perspective, this is Steve Torgerson.

Steve Torgerson is a retired Air Force chaplain. He served in Iraq and was wing chaplain at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield.

ingrid-rojasnew

In thinking of immigration stories most people imagine a simple route, a person travels from point A to point B. Maybe you imagine danger in point A. Maybe unemployment. Decisions to leave one’s homeland are never simple. It seems this needs saying in our country.

Point A for me was Colombia. I was thirteen. My father was kidnapped. Then he was let go. Then he lost his job. My mother put food on the table by asking her friends to donate produce and meats. We ate like this, by the grace of others, for months. When our phone began to ring again with kidnapping threats, this time for my sister and me, we panicked.

You’d think this is when you seek asylum. But this is Colombia, and in the scale of horror, the danger we faced did not qualify us – not even close.

Instead my mother attended a party knowing the boss of an international company would be there. She zeroed in on this stranger. She took up his hands, and with no command of English she looked into his eyes. She let her eyes tear. “My daughters,” she told him. “My daughters.” He needed no other words. He gave my dad a job in neighboring Venezuela. Venezuela was point B for us. I waited until I was alone and then I kissed Venezuelan soil. The solid ground on my lips, I thanked it for saving us. But in a year, we would be back at point A again, then a point C, then A again, and finally I made my way to the U.S.

Ever since the election I keep thinking of our immigrants, who have against all odds escaped realities that are unimaginable and impossible. How many letters of the alphabet did they go through to reach safety?

This is me taking up your stranger’s hand.

This is me looking into your eyes.

This is me telling you, “Our immigrants. Our immigrants.”

With a Perspective, I am Ingrid Rojas Contreras.

Ingrid Rojas Contreras is a San Francisco writer currently working on a memoir of her grandfather, a Colombian medicine man.

daniel-zaheer

President Elect Trump has said he “absolutely” believes every American Muslim should register with the government. One of his senior advisers has said that every person with a “Muslim background” should be forced to take a test and if they do not pass, be subject to deportation. I’ve been thinking lately about whether members of my family will have to register. Or whether I will.

I was raised in the Islamic faith by a father who only recently stopped fasting for Ramadan. I am not deeply religious but Islam permeates my blood, my culture and my values. So, I have a choice: disclaim my heritage and hide it in the shadows. Or, I could stand up, be counted and declare my fellowship with the three million other Muslims living in this country–the vast majority of whom face graver threats and have much more to lose than me. I choose the latter. I am a Muslim-American. The descriptor on one side of that hyphen does not in any way detract from the other.

If you are feeling threatened right now–perhaps because you are an immigrant, a person of color, a member of the LGBT community or a woman–I urge you to stand up and be counted too. Ignorance begets bigotry. It is very hard to hate someone or fear them–or to blame the country’s ills on them–if you actually know them.

This goes both ways. Sixty million Americans voted for Donald Trump. Among them are many people that I know and love. I sincerely believe only a small minority of Trump supporters are bigots. But they still voted for a candidate who openly campaigned on hate and fear.

Mr. Trump’s election is an assault on my family’s dignity and security. Perhaps if people like me had reached out before the election to share these feelings the outcome would have been different. But it isn’t too late. If we speak openly of our fears and fight to ensure that they are not realized, then perhaps Mr. Trump’s actions will not match his rhetoric. Not because he will do the right thing, but because the People will ensure that he cannot do the wrong thing.

With a Perspective, I’m Daniel Zaheer.

Daniel Zaheer is a lawyer living in San Francisco.

patricia-riesta

I was born in a country and a family where women were not treated the same as men. My father never let me do certain things simply because I was a girl. My brother got a car when he was a teenager and went to a private University. I used public transportation and went to public school. He said I was going to marry and have children soon, so why waste his money.

He always put my mother down. He gave nicknames to my boyfriends and was rude to them. After a few drinks, he would grab women’s behinds and breasts. He said women couldn’t drive or park, and he would “joke” about how women should always be pregnant, and in the kitchen. He also had a bad temper. He would yell and scream in public places if he didn’t get his way.

Painfully, I know now that my father was a misogynist, a bully, and a sexual predator. I felt relieved when he passed away. I would never have to be seen next to him with sorrow or horror, as he was having a temper tantrum or disrespecting someone.

When I came to this country, I realized I didn’t have to attach a picture to my job application, or to wear makeup and high heels to an interview. I didn’t have to give them a urine sample to prove that I wasn’t pregnant in case they considered me for the position.

I was now in a country where women can make their own decisions about their reproductive systems, where they can be independent and strong, where they can run to be the President of our nation.

I became a U.S. citizen in 2007 and voted for President Obama. I admired his prudence and tolerance, his calm when others were issuing threats and screaming. I’ll miss his voice and eloquence, which seemed so reassuring. But mostly, The way he treats his wife and daughters gave me hope and helped restore my view of men.

That’s his legacy to me.

That’s what I’m holding on to.

With a Perspective, this is Patricia Riestra.

Patricia Riestra is a medical interpreter. She lives in Berkeley.

Michael Ellis

The other day I was having dinner with a friend, Leona. Something was definitely bugging her. She was feeling antsy, uncharacteristically wolfing down her food. She wouldn’t tell me what was wrong but I kept badgering her. Sometimes she is just as stubborn as a mule.

Finally she confessed that it was her work. She just left IBM for a job in a small company, now she was a big fish in a little pond. But one of her fellow workers was getting the lion’s share of assignments. He was always nit-picking about her work. A real snake in the grass he was. But finally the straw that broke the camel’s back was when he rammed his own proposals right through without going through the proper channels. He had wormed his way into the good graces of the boss.

Just then our waiter appeared with a rather dog-eared menu. He had been hounding us about the daily specials but I had a whale of an idea. Let’s just share a vegetarian burrito and a diet coke. I had really been pigging out during the holidays and my physique was nothing to crow about. Besides I am no spring chicken and I have been squirreling pounds for years now.

Anyway. Leona is normally as timid as a mouse but once she gets a bee in her bonnet then watch out. I told her what is good for the goose is good for the gander. I suggested that she not horse around with this, that she get to work and find some stool pigeon in the company who can ferret out this skunk’s weak spots.

She told me that the old coot is proud as a peacock and most probably crazy as a loon, but he is real foxy in the business world so it may be hard to get to him. But if she worked hard and got real bearish about pointing out his weaknesses then he would soon be singing his swan song.

Finally the waiter brought the bill but there was something fishy about it. I hate to grouse about checks but it was too high. They had charged us for two burritos. I was mad as a wet hen. After he corrected it, I went ahead and ponied up for the tab. Leona and I said our goodbyes as we always do: See you later alligator, after a while crocodile.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

Michael Ellis is a naturalist who leads trips throughout the world. He lives in Santa Rosa.

noel-anaya

I was put into foster care when I was two-years old, and I’ve been in the system ever since. The moment I stepped into a group home when I was 12, I felt like it was a mistake. There I was, with about a dozen other teen boys.

On my very first day, I got into a fight during a basketball game. I was physically restrained by a staff member and put on “lockdown.” That meant except for school, I had to stay in my room, eat alone, and keep apart from the other kids for seven days. I didn’t feel like a kid in time out. I felt like an inmate.

Even on a regular week, our lives were super-regimented.

At night, staff walked the halls with flashlights, looking into the rooms. In addition to heavy security, I met regularly with a therapist who prescribed me medication. I remember almost all the kids there were on something. We lined up for our medicine, which was given out in those little, paper condiment cups. The drugs made me feel like a zombie.

After a year, because of good behavior, I was eventually returned to my foster family. It took me a long time to adjust to normal life, because for so long I couldn’t rely on anyone and I was always afraid of getting in trouble.

We were sent to the group home to turn our lives around. But for some of us, we ended up worse off than when we started. That’s the problem: Group homes are supposed to be a safe haven for kids. But often, they’re not. Our adolescent behavior was penalized harshly.

New California law requires that starting next year, the state move away from placing teens in foster care in group homes. I have my doubts. But it’s a step in the right direction to rethink how we treat kids in foster care.

With a Perspective, I’m Noel Anaya.

Next week, Noel Anaya turns 21 and will officially be out of foster care. His Perspective comes to us from Youth Radio.

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