What is the connection between the fact that we score 39th internationally in math achievement levels and Honey Boo Boo, a graduate of “Toddlers and Tiaras” now having her own family reality show.  I propose that our focus on the lowest common denominator culturally is related to the fact that students don’t know what lowest common denominator means.  The first decade of the 21st Century, in addition to electing the first African American President will be known for the dumbing down of America.

As an educator and mother of over 30 years, I believe that Honey Boo Boo’s mother and other mothers who sexualize toddlers are abusive.  How much less responsible are those who watch them?  Aggressive relationships may show the scars, but are those of passive aggressive personalities any less damaging?

We ate out with our friends on Saturday and were joined by their 22 year old daughter and her boy friend.  We gave the waitress 2 charge cards and asked that she split the bill 1/3 and 2/3s.  She took 2 steps away from us and then asked, “1/3 and ¾?”  Help!

We are lazy physically and mentally.  “Upgrade” was among my late sister’s favorite words.  She was a master at getting a better room or on to the concierge floor of a hotel and did so politely, without any drama.  We need to upgrade what we read, what we watch and what we say.  And, no, I’m not an elitist.  I grew up in a small 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom house in a town of 500 in Sullivan County in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York.  We were lower middle class.  I attended NYU on a full tuition scholarship, and I still had to take out loans.  But I am particular.  Live in a trailer or a penthouse, but make it the best it can be.

So, why did “no problem” replace “you’re welcome?”  And when did “Handyman coming up at 8:30” replace “Is it OK if the handyman comes up now?”  America, it’s time to upgrade.



I’m angry.  Twenty years after “The Wonder Years,”  “Winnie” is writing another book trying to overcome girls fear, or at least discomfort, with math.  We still earn less than men for comparable work, are underappreciated in government and it’s still not cool for girls to be great in math and science.  A 2008 study shows that boys score 2% higher in the 4th grade.  By the 8th grade, the difference has virtually disappeared.  In college, there is no gap in ability, but males are highly over represented among math majors.  We are not attracting proficient women to the fields of math and science.   When women are underrepresented, we are denied female input into solutions to problems and innovation.  What is worse is that among wealthy developed nations, the U.S. (males and females combined) scores 31st in math and 23rdin science.  That is a national tragedy.


Whose fault is this?  Certainly not Danica McKellar’s, who is a very attractive spokesperson for getting girls to focus on the curves in Geometry rather than  those at Victoria’s Secret.


We need to make girls aware that math is a part of every minute of their day, from the clock that wakes them up to the discount on their favorite pair of jeans.  We need to do it early.  We need to make math girly.

Computer programs or extra worksheets are not going to be the program.  Having your little girl set the table for a tea party and asking her to get the right number of teacups for the two of you, plus her doll, is a start.  Going shopping for clothes with your 10 year old, giving her a budget and having her keep track of her spending will help.  The thing is it has to be personal, and it has to be fun.  And it has to be praised.  We need to focus girls’ attention on the Sally Rides and the “Winnies.”


A rose is a rose is a rose (Gertrude Stein).  A boy is a boy is a boy, except when he is not, except when he is a ‘pink’ boy.  Today’s New York Times Magazine article “Boy/Girl” raises the question of why it’s OK for girls to wear pants and Converse sneakers (even if they’re not pink) and, yet, wrong for boys to wear dresses.  Pink shirts for men are in.  Earrings and long hair are not shockers.

In fact, men have worn long wigs and ruffled shirts in different periods of Western Civilization.  And if you look at different cultures, even in 2012, men wear caftans and other items of dress that could be considered feminine.

I think there is a spectrum of gender identification somewhat influenced by culture (“Real men don’t eat quiche.” Now they make it) and definitely by hormones.

As a woman who was required to read Betty Friedan’s “Feminine Mystique,” the summer before her college freshman year, I have always been a feminist.  For me, that meant I wanted to have choices based on my interests, my talents and my ability to work hard.  I wanted the same opportunities and the same pay for exercising those opportunities that men received.  I wanted control over my body and my life choices.

I wanted choices for my children too.  My first born, a son, came home to a room decorated in primary colors, red, yellow and blue figures of toys on squares of white.  When he was a toddler he played with a grocery cart, dishes, a doll – “Joey” and grandma’s handmade Raggedy Ann.  He also had blocks, cars and trucks.  When his sister came along 3 years later, a stroller, Cabbage Patch Dolls and a fancier tea set were added.  Sara played with trucks, blocks, her brother’s friends and was in a play group with 2 other boys.

They grew up seeing their father vacuum and do his own laundry.  I went back to work full time when Sara was 3, but I had a very busy schedule as a community and political activist before that.

My son was definitely a boy, now a man, and my daughter was definitely a girl, now a woman.  It was hormones.

A story is told of Nick, a 10 year old who has 36 Barbies. (I wouldn’t let any child, boy or girl have 36 Barbies) who likes to design gowns for them and himself, and has had no play dates since a friend stopped by unexpectedly and saw his collection.

Why do we look at Nick as a she/boy rather than, perhaps, a future famous designer?  Why do interests have to be gender specific?

If we can’t let children be true to their core- even if that core is sometimes in a middle space- we will all lose.  As a parent and as an educator of children with over 30 years of experience, I know that children are unique.  It is our job to love them and teach them and to make sure that they feel loved and that they learn.  Most importantly, they need to love themselves whether they are girls wearing auto mechanic’s overalls or boys wearing pink dresses


Curiosity on Maris – great.  I’m more curious about how the greatest city in the world has 17,619 homeless children living in shelters.  That’s not counting those living 3 in a bed at relatives’ houses or some that may live in a car or a truck.


Priorities?  In a national budget – yes.  In a municipal budget – absolutely.  Mayor Bloomberg, it’s beds before bikes (On the Upper West Side where I live, the street bike lanes are barely used.)  Maybe every co-op or condo that sells for over 2 illion dollars should have homeless child tax.


The mayor is concerned about our health, and so he wants to limit the size of sugary drinks we buy in restaurants.  I know that we all pay for people who develop diabetes and other weight related health problems.  But, Mike, have you crunched the numbers on what a homeless child costs us – more years of food related health problems, lack of academic skills, maybe drug use.

We focus on our greatest at the Olympics.  While NBC/Universal has tried to force us to watch by eliminating all other programs and showing reruns on its cable stations, let’s pay attention to those who face a challenge every day of their lives.  Each child who survives being homeless deserves a gold medal.







I designed a room for a pre-teen that would last until he/she leaves for college and would even see your student through law school.

Yes, drawers turn into a mess, but, still, you need to put the stuff someplace.  Choices are only limited by your creativity.  Of course, you can just go into The Container Store pr Staples and buy different kinds of containers from ones that turn and hold everything to round metal mesh holders or square/rectangular ones, all of which  can hold writing tools, rulers and scissors, but you and your child may choose to be more creative and allow for changing taste through these school years.

How about tin cans, held together with different colored duct tape?  Duct tape has gone wild – hot pink, neon green, even leopard and zebra prints.  Kitchen drawer organizers have gone designer as well and now come in bright colors.

Thinking further outside the box – oh, wait, actually in a box – what about Chinese food containers.  These can actually now be bought in different colors.  Whatever your student chooses, the idea is to be able to have them attached or be arranged on a tray so that they can easily be removed if more flat surface is needed for project work or research books.

For some reason, a standing lamp with adjustable lights Is better than a desk lamp.

To continue with our “In Your Face” these, bulletin boards are good to hold a calendar (I know they have them on their lap tops and phones, but this way they are in his face and yours too.)  Homework can be posted here too until all of it is done and is ready to be put in a notebook, folder or whatever system your student is using to transport work.

Bulletin boards can be bought framed or make out of cork squares or Homasote, purchased at Home Depot or a similar store.  Obviously, carpet squares provide a wide variety of color and pattern, and your child can go as crazy or conservative as you allow.  Other options are pasting or stapling scrapbook paper or wallpaper to the board.  Duct tape can divide the board into sections – homework, research, papers to be signed.

Your students can label the tabs with days of the week or subjects.  If there is a big project or research paper assigned, another one can be bought to handle these papers.  At $14.99, this is a real bargain.

Wow!  Your “grown up” student is ready to start a new year – organized and living in an “up-graded room.”  In September, I’ll guide you through the executive functioning skills your student will need.  In the meantime, enjoy the summer.

If you have any questions or need help implementing these ideas, please leave comment or e-mail me at

Remember, your younger child needs to be organized also.   Buy a School Doodle and have fun buying the items that fit in the pockets.  Get them reading now by buying a new book to place in the “Messenger” pocket.  And remember, right now when you purchase a School Doodle, we will send you a free book to get the reading started.





That’s for babies.  Your 12 year old might be right.  If your child is starting high or middle school, it might be time for an upgrade to his/her room.  Most likely, they will now change class rooms and have more teachers.  Acknowledge change and new responsibilities in your child’s life by making physical changes to their room environment.  You can do it easily, and you can do it on the cheap.   Take advantage of college sales.  I tend to be conservative about having kids be kids, but I think your guy has probably outgrown superhero sheets if not the posters and the movies. I tend not to recommend desks with a lot of drawers because things tend to get lost in the mess that will form.  Although I generally believe in having good furniture, the teen years are one time I don’t think it is necessarily wise.  Target advertised a Home Essentials Parsons black or white desk for $34.  You can choose a 6 drawer dresser for $119 or a 4 drawer for $89, depending on which fits his/her floor plan better.  There is even a night stand on sale for $49.


If your son is on the preppy side, TJ Maxx had Ralph Lauren blue and white mattress ticking or red and blue plaid (they could be used together) bedding.  Pink and green plaid for girls with a white Target desk is great.  There is a pink or green round hamper and other accessories as well.  Girls would like a white framed bulletin board for notes or use it to hang jewelry.  Boys might prefer a magnet strip (available at The Container Store or use a knife rack). An area rug or a bean bag chair make great spaces for entertaining friends or reading.  Bed Bath and Beyond has bean bag covers and the beans so you can make your own.  Bed Bath and Beyond has a 5 light floor lamp, as does Target for $18 or go more traditional with a white drum shade and a chrome base.  Bed Bath and Beyond also has a 5 shelf black tower with a peg board back (10” wide x 11.8” deep x 69.5” tall) or black with a nickel finish (16.4” X 11.8” X 62.66”).  It can go in a closet or next to a desk. An upgraded room is a signal to you and your child that they are starting a new period in their lives.  My next blog post is going to help you and your student keep their school life and study environment organized before school even starts again. (Yes, it can really happen.)




Most of my friends don’t know what staging is.  Okay, some know now because I , an HGTV junkie, told them.  I watch HGTV .  What would you expect from a woman who, at age 10, used a black and white composition notebook to tape pictures from her mom’s HOUSE BEAUTIFUL magazine?

True, I’ve moved more than a lot of people I know, not all close friends.  But I am always amazed that people don’t realize that their environment affects them, even if they are not interested in “decorating.”  Really, why do you think so much money is spent on designing cereal boxes?  They influence how we feel, therefore, they influence our choice, even if you’re not a member of the visual mob squad like I am.  Sorry, just like Lady Ga Ga, I was just born that way.

This blog post was inspired by my long held conviction that we should live well where we are living and my last Sunday New York Times article on staging in the real estate section.

As reported in the article, sometimes staging can be so effective a seller decides to “buy” their own apartment and take it off the market.

Obviously, if you are not selling your apartment or house, not all staging tips will apply to you.  You are not going to remove all family photographs.  On the other hand, having too many surfaces – tables, bookshelves, pianos – cluttered with too many pictures of too many different sizes in too many different frames doesn’t work either.

So, here are 5 tips to stage to stay.

1, Try things – it’s not permanent.  I sometimes consult long distance with my daughter.  She’s in Miami.  I’m in Manhattan.  She’s chosen wonderful furniture for her first married apartment, but now it’s time to add the details and place

some of the wedding presents.   I suggested that she move the shiny stainless steel bar tool holder and shaker to the bottom of the bar cart and put her beautiful martini glasses on a tray (try a baking sheet first for effect).  She tried it and

agreed.  She doesn’t always, but she only lost 10 minutes, and nothing is permanent.

2.  If you’ve had the same window treatment for over 12 years, try something new.  Bed Bath and Beyond and Home Goods allow you to buy things more on the inexpensive side, and you can always return them.  Use Velcro to hold things

up so you can get the effect without doing anything permanent.

3.  Attack just one bookcase or table surface.  Remove everything and look at the objects critically.  Women don’t wear the same dress to every party or dinner.  Why should your bookcase look the same for 10 years?

4.  Declutter.  Look around your living room or dining room and take away 5 things.  Donate them or put them in a closet to be used for a future staging.  I bet, in 2 weeks, you’ll find another

items that could “party” someplace else.
5.  Move one or 2 pieces of furniture.  You don’t have to do a whole new floor plan. (Maybe later)  Sometimes, shifting a couch  just 2 feet opens up space.  Switch the chairs  that are on either side

of the table.

Small changes can sometimes have significant impact on a room.  Try it.  If you don’t like it, you can always change it back.  Happy staging.  Happy staying.