Monday, December 30, 2013

Kids Making A Difference: Girl Wants Handicapped Doll

This is Melissa Shang. She's ten years old and obsessed with American Girl dolls. In other words, she's me seven years ago. Except I didn't have a wheelchair. And I just fired off lengthy letters when American Girl did stuff I didn't agree with, like retiring my favorite dolls. She's written to the company's president and started a petition. Click that thingy if you feel like watching a video about it. What does she want? "I've read all the American Girl books and seen all the movies and I'm ready for an American Girl like me."
For those unfamiliar with American Girl, they have three types of dolls. Historical characters come with names, books, and accessories. The 'My American Girl' line are modern and you can do whatever you want with them. Then there's the Girl of the Year, a modern doll with a story, accessories, and usually a movie. That last one is what Shang wants.

The American Girl catalog already has toy service dogs, hearing aids, and yes, hospital style wheelchairs. But what Shang wants is a handicapped doll, with books, a movie, the whole shebang-and she wants it soon.
2014's doll is a dancer named Isabelle. Given how fast they pump out products, I bet there's something on the drawing board for 2015. If her doll comes at all it will take a while. The yearly dolls are usually athletic-they've had a gymnast, an ice skater, and another dancer named Marisol.
But then, American Girl has made a point of including dolls with different races/hobbies/backgrounds, etc. They want as many people to buy their products as possible. If people will buy a handicapped doll, why not?
I love how confident Melissa Shang is. She isn't demanding diversity or scolding the company for not representing every single group out there. She's a girl who believes in herself and her power to make adults in a board room somewhere listen. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Adults Aren't Real

Alleged adult photographed in his natural habitat. What do you think? Is this a real photo?
I've come to believe that adults aren't real. Though they often appear as characters in movies, books, and TV shows, I've seen a disturbing lack of evidence for their existence. I decided to conduct some research. Here's what I found.
1. Yesterday I went to eat at Sizzler. Like every other restaurant I've been in, there are two menus, called The Menu and The Kid's Menu respectively. What are the adults supposed to eat?
2. Next I took my research to the library. There are sections for Juvenile Fiction, Youth Fiction, and Fiction. No Adult Fiction. If these adults do exist they're clearly not expected to read books.
3. Flip open the Guinness World Records book. Sebastian Harris, 13, was the youngest person to visit the wreckage of the Titanic. Robert Ballard was the first person to do it. All the articles I can find focus on the ship rather than Ballard's age. If he was an adult, they don't find it worth mentioning.
4. Newspapers. When a group of children raise money for charity, the headline is Kids Help Community for Christmas. If a photo shows a group of alleged adults, it's Insert-Town-Name Residents Make a Difference.
5. At Target, you can walk into the Children's Clothing section, and from there, buy either Girls' Clothes or Boys' Clothes. Adults are confined to Men and Women, located in Clothes.
6. I did manage to find some TV shows labeled as Adult Programming. But something weird's going on with my remote. It won't let me watch them. I guess I'll never know. Hundreds of other shows feature adult characters. Often there are no children, teenagers, or babies in the entire cast. Yet they don't fall into the Adult Programming category.
It's kind of sad. If adults do exist, they'll turn on the TV someday and realize their entire demographic is neglected. All they can watch is porn. Children have the Kids Shows. But adults are left with Holiday Movies, Romantic Comedies, and Sci Fi Shows. How are they supposed to know if those programs are for them?
Conclusion? Adults don't exist. If they do exist, they can't eat food, wear clothes, or contribute to society. Kids can. People can. But not adults.
Perhaps I'm wrong. You can read a novel shelved as women's fiction but there's no section for men. Guion S. Buford was the first black person in space while cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was simply the first person. White men do exist. They're just as capable of reading and space travel. So capable that no one bother's to notice it. Gender and race, like age, affect our view of what it means to be a person.
Are adults really out there? Do they actually have influence on society-the restaurants, the newspapers, the stores-so much influence that we forget they're there? Are actors and Guinness World Record editors all adults? Have they taken their status as humans so seriously that they forget to recognize young people as anything but young?
Nah. I say it's an urban legend.

Monday, December 16, 2013


In eighth grade, I took U.S. History for the first time. Our textbook had around 900 pages counting the index.
One of those pages had a mini-bio on Sacagawea.
One of those pages mentioned Pocahontas.
One of those pages had a mini-bio on Joseph Plumb Martin, a 15 year old Revolutionary War soldier.
One of those pages talked about student protests during the Vietnam War.
One of those pages talked about education in the early colonial era.
One of those pages talked about the girls involved in the Salem Witch Trials.
Two of those pages talked about child labor in the Industrial Revolution. There would've been one, but the paragraph started at the bottom of the page.
Using the index, I looked up 'kids', 'children', 'child labor', 'teenagers', 'girls', 'boys', and 'youth' several times. I can say with absolute certainty that these are the only eight pages in the book that talked about young people. That's less than 1% of the book.
Nearly all of the book was devoted to what my sophomore history teacher would later call 'dead white males'. Oh, there were exceptions. The Civil War chapter. The women's suffrage chapter. And at the end of every normal chapter, they'd have this half-page to talk about black cowboys or Chinese gold miners. I called it the diversity page.
Granted, it's the adult white males who were presidents and generals. We only have so much class time. We can't focus on anyone who's less than monumental. But teenagers were there and we matter as much as any minority.
Southern schools put emphasis on the Civil War. On Indian reservations you'll learn tribal history. All-girls schools will find the women who influenced an era, the women who married those presidents and generals, and the women who were just there for it all. Why shouldn't an all-children school do the same?
Because women and blacks and Native Americans can be adults. They can complain and have their voices heard. We can't. And if we could, would we? We care more about passing the tests than the actual history. And that's a problem. History doesn't come to life for us. It's "them", not "us", it's stories, not lives. Why should we care if we're "the nation's future" when we can't find ourselves in the past?
We trekked along the Oregon Trail and labored in factories during the industrial revolution. We fought in World War II and Vietnam. We were there for the women's suffrage movement and the civil rights movement and everything else. Sometimes we shaped history and sometimes we just watched. But we were there.
And we have the right to know.

Saturday, December 14, 2013


This is my favorite trivia tidbit. No one I know has been able to answer it correctly. Who is the youngest person to appear on a U.S. coin?
Thinking...thinking...thinking. Time's up! His name is...Jean Baptiste Charbonneau.
Wait, what? Some French dude? You've seen him, but you've never heard of him.
Little Jean
He's been incorrectly identified as the only child to appear on U.S. currency. You can't tell from this picture (or most pictures) but his mother was seventeen. Yes, that's right. Lewis and Clark found the Pacific Ocean thanks to a teenager.
Sacagawea had a rough life. When she was twelve, she was kidnapped during a battle that killed several Shoshone. At thirteen, she was married off to a fur trapper from Quebec. By sixteen she was pregnant. At seventeen she lead the Lewis and Clark expedition across the West. And after that? We don't know too much. She could've died at twenty five or maybe ninety.

Sacagawea guided the most important expedition of the 19th century. If Lewis and Clark had failed, how long would it have taken to map the Louisiana Purchase? She shaped our country. She's one of the few teenagers (not to mention women and Native Americans) who gets mentioned in most textbooks. And yet they never tell you her age. None of these depictions show her as seventeen. Most people only know her from the coin so they have no idea.
We may not know what Sacagawea looked like, the correct way to pronounce her name, or even when she died. But we know she was born circa 1788 and the expedition began in 1804. She was young.
Why are we so reluctant to admit that teenagers have changed American history?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Fun Facts About Abortion

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Fun Fact #1: We have laws against killing birds, fish, and trees, but not babies.
Fun Fact#2: In 37 years, over 53 million legal abortions have been preformed in the United States. The combined number of military deaths from the Revolutionary War to Iraq is 1.2 million.
Fun Fact #3: In the state of Montana, a teenage girl can get an abortion without parental consent, but she needs a permission slip to take Tylenol at school.
Fun Fact #4: Female fetuses are more likely to be aborted than male.
You don't become a person when you turn 21, 18, 16, or one minute old. You become a person the moment you are. Equal rights for unborn women.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Dear Future Generations,

So you've just got out of class. Your teacher told you to write an essay on How Social Media Shaped the World of the 2010's. I, as a citizen of the year 2013, have your answer.
Not in the way you think. You've talked about the riots organized on twitter, the facebook campaigns, the political scandal rumors that spread via youtube. You've read about how the brightest minds of this world met in philosophy forums to ponder the great ethical questions facing humanity. How 4chan did for us what coffee shops did for Isaac Newton and Voltaire.
That's not what happened. Twitter is dirty jokes, instagram is people taking pictures of their food, facebook is where people go to whine about their lives, and youtube? None of these people who drop comments can spell. Or think, for that matter. You click on a video that has nothing to do with government or America and the top comment is about the American government. Every word is spelled wrong. And right below that is a lengthy response with proper grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure. The last line is, "I apologize for any grammar errors. I'm Brazilian."
You've talked about the viral videos. We hate those. Especially anything featuring cats.
Those essay prompts your teacher gave you. The posts that generated thousands of responses within the hour. The ones written by social media mavens. They don't exist. Or at least, they might as well not, because they're outnumbered by the millions of other posts. The ones that will be nameless, faceless, and forgotten by the time you're born. Posts like this one. Blogging is the digital equivalent of ripping a page from your diary, stuffing into a bottle, and tossing it into the sea.
The ones that make it survive not because of quality or intelligence, but luck. A cat video goes viral not because the owners happened to catch something cute on camera. It's because msn or yahoo picked it up, declared it news, and put it next to the latest devastation report from Syria.
As a blogger, it's frustrating to know that I'll be forgotten in your time. Nothing I say actually matters. The sneezing baby panda on youtube, however, will live on forever. Those famous twitter excerpts in your textbooks-if you still have textbooks-do not tell the whole story. And be grateful for that. There is more stupidity on the Internet than could ever be imagined or comprehended by any one person. More people take to the forums to mock Stephenie Meyer and Justin Bieber than to discuss philosophy. Shipping wars are more intense than political debates. People just aren't happy unless they're arguing.
We live in a rapidly changing world. I am well aware of that. Some good change, some bad change, but most of it not important at all. History is deeper and wider than you can imagine. There are so many voices you will never hear.

P.S.: When your teacher scolds you for not spending enough time on your essay you can tell her I wrote this in eighteen minutes.