Glad to share my firsthand experience and research into foster/adoption policies and history on Adoption.com, the world’s largest adoption website and adoptive parent platform. I hope it will make a useful guide for prospective foster/adoptive parents. Wish I’d known all of this going into the fost/adopt process years ago!
When considering adopting kids from foster care, prospective parents are usually concerned about childproofing their home, and completing the required classes and background checks.. . . What they might not be as well aware of is the complex legal landscape they are about to enter. This article, written by a foster/adoptive parent, presents an overview of public opinions, legal viewpoints, and legislative mandates which have shaped child welfare policies today. . .
Writing this article provided a deeply gratifying opportunity to share my personal experience as a foster/adoptive parent. And publishing it was a tremendously helpful experience of growth for me as a writer, a culmination of 6 months of intensive collaboration with a professional online content editor. Take a look!
Bay Windows, Boston-based LGBTQ newspaper and news site, appoached me asking to reprint “Raising Them to Be Strong: A Gay Dad’s Reflections on Parenting Daughters,” my Father’s Day article published earlier this year by Family Equality, the nationwide gay family advocacy organization. I gladly said yes and am delighted to see it both on the cover of the Oct. 7 issue of Bay Windows and online. The photo credit goes to Dakota Fine.
The upcoming #AWP22 (Philadelphia) has accepted my panel proposal for Where Every Voice Matters: Community College Literary Journal Showcase. I am thrilled to moderate a panel with such accomplished writers/teachers as Maria Frances Brandt, Joe Baumann, Omar Figueras, and Magin LaSov Gregg.
#AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) – a carnival, a marathon, a trade fair – is the largest literary conference in the US. I moderated a panel and participated on a second one at the last live AWP convention – in 2020 in San Antonio. And wrote about it too for California Writers‘ Club.
What we are going to present and discuss this time is the following:
Community college literary journals offer new and emerging writers, many of minority and underrepresented backgrounds, unparalleled access to publishing their first works, learning about journal design and production, and the literary world at large. Panelists from around the country (California, Florida, Maryland, Missouri, New York) will share strategies to engage community college students and other writers from local communities in practices of the literary marketplace and the nuts-and-bolts of running different journals. BIPOC, LGBTQ, and other underrepresented communities constitute a large segment and often a majority of student population on community college campuses today. For these students, the college journal is often the first opportunity to share their stories. The showcase will present a variety of formats in which journals are published – print, online, podcast, and even hand-sewn – along with the journal-related courses, contests, conferences, and other modalities for nurturing these new voices.
My recently published academic book chapter titled “Critical Ethnography and Dialogic Reflection in Student-Led Language Research” discusses critical approaches and self-reflection in language studies (see References below). I also presented a report about the study featured in the chapter at the 19th World Congress of Applied Linguistics (AILA 2021) as “North-South Dialogues: Critical Ethnography of Brazilian EFL Education.”
While the book itself (see left) is in the field of sociolinguistics, the concepts of contemplative writing and dialogism are relevant to many other areas. In this post, I am summarizing and re-interpreting some of the study findings from my book chapter to explain critical self-reflection in a broader context.
In 2017, teaching an Introduction to Linguistics course at Los Angeles City College, I assigned my students a special term project: based on the data they would collect from live interviews as well as theories studied in the course, they were expected to describe and explain language use and attitudes of university students enrolled in an upper-level English course at the Federal University of Mato Grosso (UFMT) in Cuiabá, Brazil.
The secondary goal of the project was to ‘turn the lamp inwards’, so to speak, and engage the students in the critical evaluation of what they learned about themselves from participating in the project.
Because my class had a lot more students than those in the English course in Brazil, I split my students into groups of 2-3 to interview a single Brazilian student live via FaceTime, Whatsapp, and other social media tools. In the end, we had 7 working research groups.
I had previously adjusted the content of the course to make it more relevant to the project, for example, a lecture on historical linguistics would focus on the historical development of Portuguese; regional dialectology would would use Portuguese dialects, including Brazilian Portuguese, as case studies; a special lecture was added on the university education system in Brazil, and the Mato Grosso region, and so on.
Leaving aside the first part of the project, which was to conduct the interviews and produce group research papers and class presentations, I’d like to focus on its final step, in which my students wrote free-structured essays evaluating their experiences. I provided them with the following questionnaire to stimulate their self-reflection.
What have you gained from participation in this project, for example, setting up and conducting the interviews, writing the research paper, and/or the PowerPoint presentation? Was it a new experience?
Can you relate your interviewee’s language learning experience to your own?
What have you learned about your own research skills, language learning, and language use?
What difficulties did you meet along the way?
Did the project highlight any areas you need to improve in?
What have you learned from being a part of a research team?
Where can you apply the knowledge gained from this project?
The resulting individual essays were surprisingly diverse, even in the same group. In other words, 2-3 students in the same group would see the same interviewee differently, and learn completely different lessons from the experience. Why? What happens when one contemplates an experience?
Educational psychology emphasizes that to learn something, we have to make meaning of it. But it doesn’t occur in a vacuum: “the way learners interpret and reinterpret their sense experience is central to making meaning and hence learning” (Jack Mezirow, 1991).
These meaning perspectives are central to Mezirow’s transformative learning theory. A person’s beliefs, cultural influences, discourses, feelings, ideas, and judgments shape the interpretation of an experience, and are embedded in beliefs and behaviors. From the psychological standpoint, the individual interprets new information based on his/her stages of moral, ethical, and ego development, as well as capacity for reflective judgement (Mezirow 1990: 2). Applying meaning perspective prospective analysis to language studies, for instance, can reveal, behaviorist, cultural relativist, Freudian, Marxist, positivist, or others biases influencing how the studies are conducted, how the conclusions are interpreted, but also how one is transformed through engagement in research experience.
Symbolic interaction in communication
Another critical framework useful to analyze reflection and self-reflection is dialogism, a theory put forward by the Russian linguist and philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin. Dialogism argues that the speaker is not an isolated entity participating in communication with other isolated entities, but an active representative of a culture, who produces speech in relation to and tension with other speakers. In other words, speech only exists in addressivity, that is when addressed to someone else (Bakhtin via Holquist 1990: 48).
To study communication and thought process, one needs to study both the speaker (or writer), the addressee of his or her speech, and the relationship between the two. Even when the addressee does not speak, he or she continues to actively participate in the co-construction of meaning. The presence of the addressee thus is critical to the production of speech and, in a broader sense, to the production of language. More often than not, the speaker is engaged in dialogic relationships with multiple addressees, as for example, when participating in a conversation with several people or writing the same piece for multiple audiences.
Just like Mezirow several decades later, Bakhtin was interested in how the speaker makes meaning within a culture, and acts based on those meanings. Meaning of speech, writing, and language at large – and here Bakhtin connects to critical sociolinguists like Jan Blommaert and Dell Hymes – possesses an inherent social value, that is it arises from within the individual, and in shared social experience through the medium of the sign, and “understanding comes about as a response to sign with signs” (49).
The transformative power of critical reflection
Meaning perspectives develop through reflection. Mezirow explains that “reflection involves a critique of assumptions to determine whether the belief, often acquired through cultural assimilation in childhood, remains functional for us as adults” (Mezirow, 1991). Through reflection, we are able to understand ourselves better.
Various forms of language expression, including speech and writing, allow the researchers to learn communicatively about and from their subjects. Mezirow suggests that in this process, the researcher focuses less on testing hypotheses, and more on “searching, often intuitively, for themes and metaphors by which to fit the unfamiliar into a meaning perspective” (3). Critical reflection evaluates the new information, but also re-examines it vis-à-vis existing ideas, judgements, and biases.
Learning, therefore, has the potential to change the way we engage with the world. It can become a transformative experience for the adult, making his or her frames of reference more inclusive, discriminating, open, and reflective. What mediates this re-assessment of beliefs, feelings, and values is internal dialogue, similar to Bakhtin, in which the learner/researchers/writer draws on the information received from the speaker to make meaning of both the speaker and oneself.
Case Study: Carlos and Christopher (US) vs. Celso (Brazil) | Multiple dialogues, different meaning perspectives
Due to the publishing limitations, I could only profile 2 out of 7 research groups in my book chapter as case studies to illustrate the process of reflexive and self-reflexive critical inquiry in research writing. I am sharing one of them below.
Self-reflexive essays provided my students with a critical space to engage in multiple dialogic relationships, such as:
U.S. student ethnographer vs. the respondent: a Brazilian peer learning English
U.S. student ethnographer vs. his/her peers in the U.S. research group
U.S. student ethnographer vs. the professor
U.S. student ethnographer vs. his/her own prior experience
All these strands are present in Christopher’s essay. Early on, Christopher identifies the problems collaborating with his group project partner: “Carlos was extremely sweet and easy to work with, and he pulled his weight in terms of time and effort. However, the task of combining and communicating two people’s completely different thoughts, ideas, voices, vocabularies [was] very difficult. . . I felt I had a more firm understanding of the concepts in class and how to apply them to the prompt than my partner, as well as a more developed writing style. . . I struggled to find a possibility to enmesh both our voices and our knowledge in a way that did not seem inconsistent and scattered. . . I definitely learned that I can be more involved in a group or partner effort at every stage.”
Christopher’s conclusion exemplifies the transformative nature of his research experience. By reflecting on his group interaction, Christopher exhibits Mezirow’s final stage of reflective judgment – a perspective about his own perspective, and it is not surprising that Christopher’s critical experience takes place in an educational setting because “age and education are major factors in critical judgment. College graduates consistently earn higher scores on tests of reflective judgment” (Mezirow 2003: 61).
Sometimes, dialogic strands merge, as in another passage where Christopher, is speaking both to himself and, likely, to me, his professor, the only other reader of his paper: “This project brought a personal connection to the subjects and concepts that are central to the study of linguistics. . . Conversely, the lessons learned in class added an abundance of interest and understanding – not only to the research project, but also to the self-reflexive discussions about the English language and linguistics that I had with Celso.”
Carlos and Christopher had anticipated Celso’s difficulties in speaking English as they are “common in L2 learning at his age, at which it becomes virtually impossible to eventually sound like a native speaker” (Christopher A. and Carlos S., 2017). Thus, it was the fluent aspects of Celso’s English writing, which contrasted the phonological and lexical challenges in his speech, that surprised them.
Both US students were further impressed with Celso’s confidence and lack of embarrassment in speaking English with them. To Christopher, in particular, “the most fulfilling part of the project was the inspiration I gained from Celso. He was so fearless to speak to native speakers in a language he was not totally secure in, and so resolved in his goals at such a young age. To enhance and validate my own academic experience by engaging with an inspiring stranger about his academic experience . . . was an incredible, rare opportunity” (Christopher A., 2017). Here we also witness transformative discoveries, but of a different kind. Speaking with Celso makes Christopher re-evaluate his stereotypedattitudes about non-native language abilities (Celso’s pre-supposed second language proficiency) and non-native speaker behavior (Celso’s surprising comfort with using his imperfect command of English), but also consider his own academic experience
The only dialogic strand in which Carlos’s reflections on this project echo Christopher’s is his recognition of the value of the class and the project itself, which is the one addressed to the professor. The lessons learned, however, are vastly different.
Carlos’s essay is permeated by acute awareness of the class and economic aspects of language learning. Writing about “the challenges and difficulties foreign students face while learning a new language,” English in Celso’s case, French in Carlos’s, Carlos wonders if countries that are not “first world countries such as our United States” offer the same quality of language education because “the amount of resources in a foreign country is much less. . . Identifying these challenges . . . felt like an experience in real life to me” (Carlos S.). It is important to Carlos because contrasting Celso’s experience with his own, he notes that “the differences and challenges I have faced compared to my interviewee, [. . . ] have been overwhelming at times. For instance, I have had a few financial problems in order to pay for school in consecutive semesters,”
What complicates the situation further is that Celso, an anticipated representative of a developing country, is not what Carlos had expected.
For many years, the higher education system in Brazil has been the training ground for the country’s white, upper-class elite. To gain access to highly selective public universities, like UFMT (on the left), applicants have to pass rigorous entrance exams called vestibular, to prepare for which, they, in most cases, have to have graduated from a private college prep school (Stanek 2013, 4).
It hardly came as a surprise that in a random federal university English class, which provided the setting for this study, there were 5 white students and only 2 students of Afro-Brazilian descent.
Celso, as Carlos and Chris report in their research paper, is an example of how the system works. According to the information they collected, Celso, a white student, comes from a family of college graduates, who guide and support him in his higher education. Prior to admission to UFMT, he “received great schooling, relative to the rest of Brazil” (Christopher A. and Carlos S.).
Carlos, in contrast, represents the Los Angeles City College student. LACC is an urban community college, with a student body that is 68% African American, Hispanic, or ‘multi-ethnic’ (LACC Institutional Self Evaluation Report 12). 12 out of 17 students in the linguistics course itself, i.e., 71%, were Hispanic, 4 white, and one Asian American. Carlos’s “a few financial problems in order to pay for school” are also hardly surprising: 63% of LACC students receive financial aid.
No such references appear in Christopher’s paper, most likely due to the class difference between the meaning perspectives of Carlos, a working-class Hispanic, and Christopher, a middle-class white youth. This difference in their socioeconomic frame of reference affects what they recall as meaningful from their research experience.
Critical self-reflection can be a transformative experience for the researcher/writer. Embedded in research or writing, critical perspectives may activate reflection and re-evaluation of one’s own knowledge and identity and lead to belief correction and/or a shift in the researcher’s frame of reference such as stereotyped attitudes (Carlos), or habits of mind (Christopher). Critically-guided research and writing thus encourages the researcher, even a student researcher in an introductory linguistics course, to move from knowledge-telling to knowledge-transforming.
Researchers and writers engage in multiple dialogic relationships with their subjects and themselves. Those dialogic strands may converge and diverge in post-research self-reflexive writing.
Lastly, the reflective judgment of the same research experience may vary dramatically depending on the researcher’s sociocultural and psychological meaning perspectives, for example, in a focus on the economic implications of language learning (Carlos) vs. the emotive, motivational aspect (Christopher).
A., Christopher. (2017). Self-Reflexive Essay. Unpublished essay. Los Angeles City College, Los Angeles.
A., Christopher, and Carlos S. (2017). Second Language Acquisition by a Brazilian Portuguese Student. Unpublished research paper. Los Angeles City College, Los Angeles.
Cook-Gumperz, Jenny (ed.) 1988. The Social Construction of Literacy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Holquist, Michael. (1990). Dialogism: Bakhtin and His World. London and New York: Routledge.
Happy Father’s Day 2021! It’s been a deeply fulfilling, spiritually transformative journey for my husband and me. Our story, featured today on FamilyEquality.org, the nationwide LGBTQ family advocacy organization, recounts the joys and challenges of two men raising daughters since babyhood. So how do we do it?
Read “The Grass Eater,” my new personal essay as part of a live virtual reading organized by the AWP Creative Writing Caucus at the virtual AWP 2021 on March 4. At the center of the story is a devilish 7-year-old who wrecks his mother’s seaside honeymoon. The setting is the Republic of Georgia; the time is the disco era. The story was developed in a workshop led by Marion Winik. As of yet unpublished.
This was a new performance format for me to learn – I’d taped myself reading the essay “The iPad Wars” for City Tales, the annual storytelling reading by LACC students and faculty, and sent it to the organizers for post-production. The show went live on YouTube June 4. Previously published in The Citadel, “The iPad Wars” is about 7 minutes long, and comes first in the show. It’s about a parent confronting his budding 11-year-old tech wiz about her flourishing, yet potentially dangerous social life online.
A man named Simon, captain of the Temple, had a disagreement with the high priest . . . , and when he could not prevail, he went to Apollonius, governor of [the region]. He reported to him that the treasury in Jerusalem was full of untold sums of money, so that the amount of the funds could not be reckoned, and that they did not belong to the account of the sacrifices, but that it was possible for them to fall under the control of the king. When Apollonius met the king, he told him of the money [at the Temple]. The king chose Heliodorus, who was in charge of his affairs, and sent him with commands to effect the removal of the aforesaid money. Heliodorus at once set out on his journey . . . to carry out the king’s purpose.
The Book of Maccabees II, Ch. 3
In early 2007, a large stele with sections missing at its base was provided on loan to the Israel Museum by Birthright Israel co-founder Michael Steinhardt and his wife.
This 178 BCE stele – cut 11 years before the Maccabean Revolt – contains 28 lines of Greek text with the instructions from Syrian-Greek King Seleucus IV, who ruled Judea from Antioch, to his chief minister Heliodorus appointing one Olympiodorus to begin collecting money from all of the temples in the region.
The king’s order marked a significant shift in the Seleucid policy on Jewish autonomy. Until that point, the Seleucid Empire had not taxed the Jews of the region. The Jews of Jerusalem had welcomed Seleucus’s father, Antiochus III, by opening the city gates to his army in 200 BCE, in return for which he had given them a charter that allowed them to live according to their ancestral ways, exempted the priests from taxes and even made royal contributions to the Temple upkeep and sacrifices. The Book of Maccabees concurs: “the kings themselves honored the place and glorified the temple with the finest presents” (Mac. 2, Ch. 3)
That policy change recorded on the stele culminated in a vicious Seleucid crackdown on the Jews of Judea and the looting of the Temple ten years later in 168-167 BCE, which prompted the Maccabean Revolt as memorialized in the Hanukkah story.
The Beit Guvrin Volunteer Digs
Southwest of Jerusalem, in Judean hills, lies Tel Maresha – the site of a once prosperous large town. In 2019, I visited this area, part of the Beit Guvrin National Park, dotted with caves and underground passages, as well as with the columbaria to raise pigeons and doves for, most likely, sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem.
The Israeli Antiquities Authority has been offering visitors participation in “Dig for a Day,” helping the archeologists excavating the caves. In December 2005, a lucky “Dig for a Day” participant found there a broken stone piece which bore a Greek inscription of 13 lines. “The find was distinctive because it was written not on local kirton stone, but on higher-quality Hebron limestone,” the “Dig for a Day” head, Dr. Ian Stern of Hebrew Union College, told The Jerusalem Post.
The following summer, two more stone fragments with Greek text were found at the same Maresha site, and excitement about the potential significance of the finds mounted.
Studying the three pieces found at Beit Guvrin digs, Dr. Dov Gera, a Ben-Gurion University researcher of Jewish history and Greek writing, recalled seeing a similar inscription on a stele exhibited at the Israel Museum.
When the stele was placed together for the first time with the three fragments found by volunteer diggers, they matched perfectly. Furthermore, based on its patina and the soil remnants still attached, the stele itself must have come from the same chalky cave area where the other three pieces were found.
The stele’s full text, presumably meant to be seen by the residents of Maresha – informs local citizens of the Olympiodorus’s appointment to oversee the collection of taxes from all of the major sanctuaries within the region, including – explicitly – the Temple in Jerusalem.
Heliodorus, the Mysterious Rider, and the “Gloriously Beautiful” Young Men
Seleucids were Hellenistic kings, who ultimately sought to Hellenize the Jews, to deprive them of their religious autonomy. Moreover, the royal treasure had essentially run out of money and was deep in debt, in particular, to Rome.
As stated above in the Book of Maccabees, King Seleucus IV received the information about “untold sums of money” stored in the Jerusalem Temple, and sent Heliodorus to raid the treasure. Meeting Heliodorus in Jerusalem, Maccabees II continues, High Priest tried to dissuade Heliodorus, but he wouldn’t listen.
He then headed to the Temple treasury, but couldn’t enter.
For there appeared to [him] a magnificently caparisoned horse, with a rider of frightening mien, and it rushed furiously at Heliodorus and struck at him with its front hoofs. Its rider was seen to have armor and weapons of gold. Two young men also appeared to him, remarkably strong, gloriously beautiful and splendidly dressed, who stood on each side of him and scourged him continuously, inflicting many blows on him. When he suddenly fell to the ground and deep darkness came over him, his men took him up and put him on a stretcher and carried him away. (Maccabees II, Ch. 3: 25-28)
It is much more likely that it wasn’t Heliodorus, but Olympiodorus, who attempted to enter the Temple and was rebuffed, but most people never heard of a minor figure like Olympiodorus, while Heliodorus was the widely known and hated ruler of the area. Thus, when the word got out about an aborted attempt by the Seleucids to raid the temple treasure, the population assumed it was Heliodorus himself who went in.
From the Failed Burglary to the Lights of Hanukkah
The temple was not raided this time, and Heliodorus’s quest failed. Three years later, in 175 BCE, Heliodorus murdered Seleucus IV and took power, only to be quickly overthrown by the king’s brother Antiochus IV. In 169/168 BCE, Antiochus turned the Temple into a shrine to the Greek god Zeus, the Temple treasury was robbed, the Holy of Holies was desecrated, and all Jewish religious customs were outlawed.
Around 167 BCE, revolt broke out in Judea. Hearing of the uprising, the king marched his army into Judea in an attempt to suppress it. As described in Maccabees II, “raging like a wild animal, [Antiochus] took Jerusalem by storm. He ordered his soldiers to cut down without mercy those whom they met and to slay those who took refuge in their houses. There was a massacre of young and old, a killing of women and children, a slaughter of virgins and infants. In the space of three days, 80,000 were lost, 40,000 meeting a violent death, and the same number being sold into slavery.”
Ongoing violence culminated in the Maccabean Revolt against the empire, led by Mattathias and his five sons, Judah, Eleazar, Simeon, Yohanan and Jonathon. By 164 BCE, the revolt had ended in success, and the desecrated Temple was liberated and cleansed on the 25th of Kislev – the first day of Hanukkah to this day.
You can now view the reconstituted Heliodorus stele, including the three new pieces, at the Israel Museum. With these new additions, the stele places of the beginning of the Hanukkah story in its historical context.
In July 2019, touring the caves of Tel Maresha in Beit Guvrin National Park (Israel), we came upon a columbarium.
What is commonly known as a columbarium is a cemetery structure for the storage of funerary urns, holding cremated remains of the deceased, usually rows upon rows of mailbox-like openings in the wall. So it was here, except, the mailbox openings were strangely small.
This was an example of the columbarium’s second meaning – from the Latin ‘columba‘ (‘pigeon’) – nesting boxes or perches for pigeons and doves. Thousands of them were neatly carved in the soft, chalky limestone of the Maresha caves.
So far more than 60 columbaria have been found in the Maresha region. Why so many?
Pigeons and doves often appear in the Bible as animals fit to be offered to God. For example, as described in Leviticus, they were one of the options for an atoning sacrifice for those who committed several types of sin or who had become impure. Moreover, a mother was required to bring a turtledove after completing her purification period following childbirth.
The article focuses on the research in the bird remains around the Temple Mount from the pre-Babylonian exile period.