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Image Source: New York Times

In six years as an urban educator, I have met exactly two white parents. Two! So I was surprised when I first heard the New York Times podcast “Nice White Parents” claim that white parents are the most powerful force shaping public schools. Created by NPR host Chana Joffe-Walt and Serial Productions, the 5-part series explores the contentious sixty-year relationship between white parents and public schools by observing a neighborhood school in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. …


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A stable of New Year’s celebrations, Aud Lang Syne translates to “old long since”. The Scottish folk-melody begins with a rhetorical question, “should old acquaintance be forgot and brought to mind?”. The answer is certainly not — for the literary device functions to bring the listener’s attention attention to the events and pleasures of the previous year.

This year, I’ll be raising a glass alone to 2020, not thinking of acquaintances or “the seas between us braid hae roar’d” for three vacations had to be cancelled. …


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I understood the sandwich criticism generation: I have received participation ribbons since preschool and received stickers for a B+ (which I am convinced stands for “BUT you could do better”).

“I really admire your hard work on this project…” Then, there’s that excruciating looooong pause. You know that the next statement is going to be targeted feedback that is long overdue — “but we expect you to use updated metrics instead of recycling last quarter’s presentation file”.

These “admire your hard work” niceties are the bread of the sandwich model of criticism — which you are probably familiar with, where criticism is “sandwiched” between two compliments. It follows this format: Dear [feedback recipient], I wanted to point out that [insert compliment here] but [add criticism here]. In conclusion, [compliment]. The premise of the technique, used by everyone from urban educators in Philadelphia like myself to Tim Ferriss, is that people will be more receptive to criticism once they have been primed with platitudes. …


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Like the author of the Psalms, Kanye’s proclamations are embedded with his identity as a speaker in a distinct time in place. Kanye’s gospel isn’t generic, our cultural conscience makes it deeply personal.

It was a story of and for the underachiever. Kanye West’s album “College Dropout” changed the face of hip-hop forever. Dressed in a pink polo, Mr. West sang over the sample of a Harlem choir, “Jesus walks / Jesus walks with me”. The Rolling Stone Magazine would name “Jesus Walks” one of the greatest hip hop songs ever created. Los Angeles Times would remark, “Its pulsating drums serve as the perfect backing for West’s reflections on his own mistakes as well as hip-hop’s tendency to focus on negative subject matter”. Somewhere between the pink polo and his coveted knitted sneaker release, the pendulum swung in the other direction. Mr. West released his fourth album, unabashedly proclaiming “I am a god, Hurry up with my damn massage / Hurry up with my damn ménage.” While “Yeezus” received rave reviews and was nominated for the Best Rap Album at the 2014 Grammy Awards, critics were not slow to point out its contrasting heresies. Chris Richards of The Washington Post described the album as “West at his most wasted, stumbling through rubble”. In 2019, Kanye returned to the podium from the pew with his album “Jesus is King”. While Kanye describes his artistry as “gospel with a whole lot of cursing”, there is certain unmistakable veracity to the album that other faith-filled albums lack. It’s not just Kanye’s multi-faceted lyricism, brilliant sampling, or state-of-the-art production that makes the album powerful. Rather, what makes the album both authentic and authoritative is the omnipresent reminder of who Kanye is and was — from echoes of his early catalog in the album to his positionality in our cultural consciousness — his presidential bid, his coveted collaboration with Adidas, and his recent interview with Joe Rogan. One moment he is proclaiming he is a “ghetto pope” and a few months later, he is headlining youth conferences. Our inability to divorce Kanye from the album’s lyricism mirrors the tradition of inner-biblical allusion. …


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“Gaines’ popularity testifies to the continued patriarchal cult of domesticity in contemporary suburban placemaking practices.”

“So, you like shiplap, then?” That is the frequent question I get when people find out my husband is a real estate developer. “You’re like his Joanna Gaines?” Why is my relation to my husband’s occupation so damn interesting? As a high school English teacher who would like to think that she practices what she preaches, I don’t have an operable television and have never watched a session of “Fixer Upper”, the HGTV show that skyrocketed Joanna Gaines to fame. Until a few Google searches ago, I did not know what shiplap is (verdict: hate it). However, it is impossible to not know who Gaines is. I recently made a trip to Target and was inundated by the amount of Gaines-themed merchandise. Striped Burbank poufs blocked my accesses to the Yogurt case while branded pumpkins were strewn about the seasonal display. Last year, Gaines’ Magnolia Journal sold over a million copies. A self-described lifestyle publication with editorial features such as wardrobe capsule collections and dinner plate settings, Magnolia seeks to “offer fresh inspiration for life and home in each new season, and encourages readers to create or improve the space — and the life — they love.” Be that as it may, once you get beyond the occasional article about “intentional living” and eco-friendly cleaning, it is evocative of the Ladies’ Home Journal that your grandmother read — full of recommendations for designing a kitchen, savoring the holiday season, or reusing holiday greens. …


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John F. Kennedy once observed, “when written in Chinese, crisis is composed of two characters. One represents disaster and the other opportunity.” Educational reformers have historically took advantage of crises to serve their capitalist aims. In a recent report, the Heritage Foundation observed, “sometimes it takes a natural disaster to catalyze meaningful education change. That’s what happened in New Orleans, where one of the nation’s most vibrant school choice districts has arisen from the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina.” …


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A grocery store in the Parkside neighborhood of West Philadelphia after 15 hours of looting. Photo: WPVI Philadelphia

“Riots are the language of the unheard” is a line that has been getting a lot of traction in recent months. The line comes from Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech “The Other America” where the civil rights leader addressed the causal effects of structural racism. The line has recently been used by some commentators to rationalize the destruction of property and looting by a small number of opportunists. As an urbanist, I am concerned that this oft-shared explanation fails to examine the lingering effects on the “unheard” people of color in urban communities. After all, there are unintended consequences to even rightly motivated actions. Many neighborhoods that have been most affected by looting and property destruction, from Kensington in North Philadelphia to Oakland in California, have overwhelmingly been disenfranchised due to blatant racist policy-making as well as decades of disinvestment and economic changes following the post-industrial decline — this phenomenon has been well-documented by scholars like William Julius Wilson and Richard Rothstein. …


During the last few months of social distancing, I have been getting to know my plant-friends a little too well. Notorious F.I.G, the fiddle leaf fig, has a leaf that I watched steadily turn from green to banana-yellow in the last week (much like my social life). Pot-roast the pothos has a 47 degree tilt on the right which will result in him catapulting off my plant wall in the next two weeks.

While they are no substitute for human contact, caring for a plant does relieve stress and promote a positive well-being. Finding Insta-worthy large leafy plants is not always easy when you’re not near a suburban greenhouse. To help your search, we have compiled a list of the best plant stores in Philadelphia to adopt a green friend when quarantine subsides. Lugging them on mass-transit? …


Freshmen year is one of the most exhilarating times of your life and sets the tone for the rest of your college experience. While the jury is still out on university life during COVID-19, here are recommendations to help you navigate your first year.

Above all else: Immediately buy “They Say: We Say: Moves that Work in Academic Writing” by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein. This book is full of sentence stems and academic writing templates that help you construct an exceptional paper. Many university writing programs now include it as required reading! Peep this sentence stem from the book for introducing an argument: “As I asserted earlier, defenders of __________ can’t have it both ways. …


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Doyle picks up where her previous memoir “Love Warrior” left off — reflecting on her relationship with soccer star Abby Wambauch, sudden divorce, sobriety, and child-rearing in the age of Trump.

I once passed graffiti that read “our heads are circular so our thoughts can change direction”. Such is the nature of “Untamed” by activist and best-selling author Glennon Doyle. With rich prose and intimate reflection, Doyle picks up where her previous memoir “Love Warrior” left off — reflecting on her relationship with soccer star Abby Wambauch, sudden divorce, sobriety, and child-rearing in the age of Trump. “Allow me to rewrite my own description,” implores Doyle, “I am forty-four years old. With all my chin hairs and pain and contradictions, I am flawless, and unbroken.” Describing her actualized self as a “spark [that] was always inside me, smoldering”, the memoir is wildly chaotic and jumps from her childhood to child-rearing in the digital age in a matter of pages. In this way, Doyle’s ruminations of her past are left beautifully incomplete — “We want to be forgiven. We cannot forgive. We don’t understand God. We believe. We absolutely do not believe. We are lonely. We want to be left alone. We want to belong.” Rising actions, such as her conflict with the Evangelical church aren’t fully resolved — she remains tentative, confessing “I don’t know if I would call myself a Christian”. This chaos proves to be the true gift of “Untamed” — Doyle refuses to tie up loose ends or rationalize her decision-making. “Let your ideas mature gradually, implored the famed Jesuit Priest Teilhard de Chardin, “let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste.” With great restrain and resolve, Doyle resists the troupe of other emerging “self help” memoirs that seem to have it all together — conflicts of faith, family, and love cannot be wrapped in pretty parchment paper. …

About

Lydia Kulina

| Urbanist | Place-maker | Seeker |

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