August 3, 2012

Witness for Justice: “Deadheading and the Stars”

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Written by: marvin

By. Loey Powell | Executive for Administration and Women’s Justice
It is often while doing the most mundane tasks that we remember things learned from loved ones who are no longer with us. Like the other day when I was “deadheading” our neighbors potted flowers as part of taking care of their house and cats while they vacation. All of a sudden, my father was close by. Dad was an avid gardener and he was the one who taught me that snipping off the dead and drooping blooms made it possible for fresh new blooms to burst forth.

“Deadheading” (no, this has nothing to do with the Grateful Dead!) clears out what is past to make room for what needs to come.

I was thinking about this along with the recent death of Sally Ride, the first U.S. woman astronaut to go into outer space. Her death touched me for many reasons. We are the same age, and I know her sister, the Rev. Bear Ride, a Presbyterian minister who lives around the corner from my mother.

Sally Ride’s place in history and her dedication to inspiring young people, especially girls, to consider the sciences as a career through the Sally Ride Science Academy, is a tremendous legacy. I recently read a report of research conducted by Boston University journalism professor, Caryl Rivers, and Rosalind C. Barnett, senior scientist at the Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center, that shows definitively that girls are no less “hardwired” to excel in math and science than boys are. In their co-authored book, “The Truth About Girls and Boys: Challenging Toxic Stereotypes About Our Children” (Columbia University Press), Rivers and Barnett show that it is the early messaging that girls get about not being able to do math or science well which contributes to many girls scoring lower than boys in these areas.

In other words, if young girls did not get messages from parents, teachers and peers that they are inherently not suited for achieving success in math and the sciences, they would likely be entering into the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in equal numbers as their male counterparts. “Stereotype threat” can be a confidence-killing anxiety which can set in at very early ages. It is not good for either girls or boys.

Sally Ride and her sister, Bear, were both encouraged by their parents to follow their dreams and pursue whatever interests they had. God bless their parents, and all parents who give their children ample room to discover who they are meant to be.  A lot of old stereotypes need to be deadheaded. Girls should only wear pink. Boys should learn how to rough-and-tumble early on and never should cry. Girls can’t do math. Boys are best at building things. Men should not show emotions. Women are not suited for top leadership positions – unless they act like men.

Stereotypes kill creativity. They stifle the human spirit. Sally Ride reached for the stars and got closer to them than most of the rest of us ever will. Every child should have the same opportunity to dream, to reach, and to succeed. We adults need to deadhead old ideas so our kids can soar into their own heavens of wonder and possibility.

The United Church of Christ has 5,194 churches throughout the United States. Rooted in the Christian traditions of congregational governance and covenantal relationships, each UCC setting speaks only for itself and not on behalf of every UCC congregation. UCC members and churches are free to differ on important social issues, even as the UCC remains principally committed to unity in the midst of our diversity.


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