Educators Reading Reading & Writing Teachers Woman Warrior Woman. Warrior. Writer.

Woman. Warrior. Writer. Devi S. Laskar

Meet December’s Woman. Warrior. Writer. Devi S. Laskar!

How did you come to author your life?

I credit my stubborn streak. I’ve been writing for a very long time. In 2010, through no fault of my own, I lost the bulk of my work. I had to start over. Although many people discouraged me from pursuing a writing life (in light of the real world problems that plagued my family and me) a few encouraged me to keep going — including my family. I have built back my writing life word by word, determined that no one was going to make decisions for me ever again.

Devi S. Laskar is a poet, novelist, essayist, photographer, artist, former newspaper reporter and TarHeel basketball fan. She is the author of award-winning The Atlas of Reds and Blues. Her second novel, Circa was published by Mariner Books and selected as the June 2022 Goop Book Club pick (founded by Gwyneth Paltrow). Her third novel, MidnightAt The War will be published by Mariner in  2024. She holds degrees from Columbia University, University of Illinois and UNC-CH. A native of Chapel Hill, N.C., she now lives in California with her family. You can learn more at and follow her on IG and Twitter: @devislaskar

Reading & Writing

Read & Write with Dr. Han: Educators, My Ninth Grade Teacher Mr. Regan, Phillips Academy Andover

This series of posts on my teachers was inspired by Steven Dunn’s social media feed asking people to comment if they had a black teacher. My previous post was about Ms. Witwer, my 8th grade Social Studies teacher I had at Northwest Jr. High in Coralville, Iowa.

I will now turn to Mr. Regan, my first English teacher at Phillips Academy Andover. I had quite a few. I entered his classroom at the age of 13 and maintain that he was one of the best English teachers I had throughout my years as a student.

Lessons learned in 9th grade English from Mr. Regan:

  1. Some people really like bow ties
  2. Pleasure is sitting around a big table and talking about books.
  3. Asking questions is good.
  4. Greek myths are amazing.
  5. Some people will write better than you do, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy reading or writing.
  6. Old books can be great to read.
  7. There is nothing wrong with popular fiction.
  8. Some boys think that they know everything, but you know something too.
  9. Close reading is hard, but it can be fun too.

I will slightly pivot in that this is a rough draft excerpt from a work-in-progress, a memoir from my years at Phillips Academy Andover, and so while it does not detail the lessons learned from Mr. Regan, I do discuss his class:

Knowledge from Mr. Regan: Some people really like bow ties.

Four days a week from 12-12:50, I hurried up the stairs of Bulfinch Hall to Mr. Regan’s 9th grade English class. A magical and inspiring teacher, Tom Regan was beloved by all students. He swung his long limbs over a Raleigh bicycle and pedaled on campus wearing a jaunty cap that covered his bald head and showed off his distinct ears and pointy nose, and his tweed coat and bow tie were the stuff of prep school myth. The quintessential teacher found in books or films through the ages, he bore a vague resemblance to Bert in the Mary Poppins books. He was enamored with words and he conducted class as a band leader to the chortles, guffaws and glee of his pupils. We were his instruments playing the song of literature and co-conspirators in his secret. He revealed to us his delinquency: he had played the bass, but had been obliged to fake his way through band. The tap and shuffle of boots and shoes on the wooden floor, sliding chairs and bags slung over the backs of chairs, a huge dictionary on a platform in the back of the room, a musty smell of books and earth, and windows edged in white that tracked the seasonal color shift of trees, grass and leaves were all props for Mr. Regan, who would perch on a chair, lean against the window seat to grandly gesture, and spring around the class.

On the first day, a group of boisterous and loud white boys jostled inside and discussed all manner of athletics I had never heard of:

What is a lacrosse?

I had never seen this lacrosse. I had carefully studied the catalog prior to applying and all I knew was that it was a team sport. Whatever it was, I knew that I should absolutely not ask any details about it because clearly everyone else knew about it and should I reveal I didn’t, I would be marked by my peers as terribly ignorant, uncool, and whatever else that would prevent me from fitting in. Months later, I tried lacrosse as a spring sport and enjoyed the look and feel of the leather and wood, but I never felt comfortable with a hard ball whizzing by my head, which prompted no desire to catch it, but rather the inclination to avoid a thrown ball at all costs.

Knowledge from Mr. Regan: Pleasure is sitting around a big table and talking about books.

The students fit around a Harkness table, which is basically a long heavy wooden dining room table, thus, in its design, encourages conversation between students, the teacher acting as discussion facilitator. The boys quickly grabbed the places at the table that directly faced the chalkboard. I made my way to a chair, the least coveted space in the class. I would have to twist and crane my neck and move my chair to read the board. But writing on the board was a rare occurrence; almost all of class was spent in discussion. I once attempted to sit in the coveted place with a view to the board, but a few words from the boys intimidated me and I promptly slunk back to my seat. I recall that it felt strange to try to take the seat with the better view, but stranger still to have acted in such a bold way, with such bad manners as I should not have dared to assume that I could sit with a good view of the board, and that the boys should not only claim this place. I had logically deduced that there was no assigned seating, but yet I never sat where they did. A seat at the table requires people who usually occupy the seat, often bigger, shinier, whiter, and blissfully unaware, to move to another seat.

Habits are difficult to change.

This class was emblematic of most of the classes that followed over the course of four years. The Andover students were extremely motivated teenagers, eager to show off their academic prowess and bulldoze others down on their way to grabbing the golden ring of private university admission tickets—a group not to be trifled with. We came to class having read and ready to perform, to question, to excel, to captivate. There was a willingness to debate and admire the beauty of the words, to share and to silence through brilliance. There was hesitation and applause. There was squirming, humility and sweating. Wit was admired. There were winners and losers.

Andover was relentlessly competitive. The only escape from competition was sleep, but upon awakening one had to compare how little or how much one slept. Yet, despite all of this, a class with an expert teacher and students who wanted to learn was freedom from the self-consciousness I had felt in junior high where academic ambition was often viewed as a pretension.

The class made the obvious completely transparent, but I was in a fog of astonishment. Many students came from homes and families deeply familiar with literary classics. They moved from one feeder school to the next, with parents and backgrounds that fostered a knowledge of the necessary requirements of an East Coast education. While I was one of a handful of readers at my old school, I was now in a class where almost every student reveled in reading and stories, and excitedly compared favorite books.

Knowledge from Mr. Regan: Asking questions is good.

I was intimidated, fearful that my well-worn library card and Iowa public school education had not prepared me, yet Regan was an excellent teacher and by the end of the term I became more confident about asking questions about whatever reading was assigned. Regan borrowed words from Middle and Old English; some boys were “knaves” or “rascals” and some girls “saucy wenches”, and he declared himself “verminous” and deftly moved about the table, all the while guiding the conversation.

Knowledge from Mr. Regan: Greek myths are amazing.

Many students had read The Iliad at their old schools prior to The Odyssey. (More on that in another section–loved the myths!)  They had knowledge of Greek myths and gods, diagrammed sentences, and were comfortable writing in pen. My penmanship was a cross between lopsided cursive and print; I had only written in pencil; my vocabulary was limited, and while the reading became manageable as the term progressed, I was acutely conscious that I was leagues behind the others. As the year unfolded, I began to stay a few minutes after class for extra help to desperately try to learn grammar and when I faltered, nervously and I see now bravely, he assured me that I would be fine with or without knowing how to diagram a sentence.

To myself, no matter how much I did not understand, I declared that I would never quit. My pride was at stake. I was representing my family, myself, my dreams of belonging, and where I was from: Iowa. I couldn’t even tell anyone I was from Iowa, because if and when I did, they confused it with Idaho or Ohio, or made fun of the state. Prior to Andover, I had no idea that Iowa was viewed in such a peculiar light.

What was wrong with Iowa?

Knowledge from Mr. Regan: Some people will write better than you do, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy reading or writing.

When he read out loud Mary’s sentence, who wrote with acute literary precision, when Lane analyzed with deft insight, and others made connections in the text that I could only follow, but never add to, I concluded that whatever idea I had about my own ability to read and write competently was my own invention. I had never used a semi-colon; students were writing paragraph long sentences with multiple semi-colons; this, in itself, I reasoned, was why I would never again ascend to the top of the class. Yet English class became my refuge. Disembodied I could live in these times and places, imagine and become a character or watch the ones I loved and merge with their actions until I too was there, complete and whole. Regan’s class introduced the practice of close reading, the jazz and rhythm of seeing the words in a myriad of configurations, the beautiful and brutal task of reading as a way of discovery.

Knowledge from Mr. Regan: Old books can be great to read.

My strongest recollection of reading Great Expectations was learning the definition of the word “countenance”. The idea of a person’s face, expression, or as a verb of what one accepts correlated with the Asian concept of face or saving face. The comportment expected as an Andover student was both foreign and familiar—there was what we were to stand for, what we were to be, and there was failure. Shame. Disgrace. Pip’s journey and desire for status and Estelle’s love would foreshadow my own yearning for acceptance and the hopeless adolescent crushes that would ensue over the next four years. By the end of the term, I occasionally raised my hand, and could follow the pace of the conversation without getting lost.

Knowledge from Mr. Regan: There is nothing wrong with popular fiction.

For student choice reading I chose The Bastard by John Jakes. A friend down my hall had the historical fiction series on her bookshelf, but I had bought the book one Saturday at the Andover bookstore along with Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the former due to the TV miniseries, the latter because I liked the cover art. Cool pictures of women. I had read Herland, an early feminist 20th century novel right after buying it, so I brought The Bastard to class, wholly unaware of the difference between popular and literary fiction, between high and low art, and therefore, how this choice marked my social, economic, and intellectual background as profoundly crass, illiterate, déclassé. Students steeped in a literary reading tradition have an unfathomable advantage over others as the validation of specific stories and narratives gives people a mandate to rule, to behave with authority, to operate and conduct themselves as ruthlessly knowing and superior—in their minds, to the misery of the rest. Stories were written for them and about them. I was, in effect, an interloper to the narrative without a story and did not understand I would have to create my own.

One of the boys scoffed: “You picked that because you saw it on television.” Television: the absolutely lowest of the low of any media form. One may clandestinely watch television, but certainly one never admits to being influenced by such a thing; one must never be swayed by such a populist medium!

It was true. I had watched and enjoyed the TV miniseries.

This had reduced me once again. My lack of narrative understanding meant that this usually meant I imagined myself as someone popping in from the movie Oliver wearing gray and brown rags and singing, or maybe sweeping and doing some kind of dance number from Mary Poppins. Even my stories of poverty and displacement were not informed by what I had witnessed and seen as a child in Korea, or that I had actually experienced, but were instead supplanted by bold images of people who bore no resemblance to me moving across the screen.

By now, I was more savvy. One never told the truth at Andover. One might attempt authenticity, but one absolutely never divulged what one truly felt, did, said, or believed. Too many consequences. The entire scenario was no longer about book choice, but survival, and so I responded: “No, I didn’t. That’s not why I picked it.”

The cute smart white boy did not believe me. He shook his head.

I would not believe me either. But I refused to surrender. Asking a Korean American child to surrender who was raised in Iowa by a father who had lived through the war and a mother from the pineapple plantations? I was many things. But. I. Was. Not. A. Quitter. And. I. Would. Never. Surrender. To. This. Guy. Period. EVER. EVER. EVER.

I was taken back to being six years old when I farted during story hour and the teacher stopped reading and demanded that the person who farted confess and apologize. I refused. People nudged me. The teacher stared. I refused. She waited. I didn’t say anything. It was probably the longest five minutes anyone had experienced. There was no way I was going to apologize for farting in front of the whole class just like there was no way I was going to admit to this guy that I had seen the mini-series.

Knowledge from Mr. Regan: Some boys think that they know everything, but you know something too.

I had watched the mini-series in Iowa which effectively served as a long television commercial for the book. How else did one learn where to find books without asking the librarian? Alarmed, I realized that I should absolutely never admit to having watched a miniseries or TV show associated with a book ever-ever-ever.

This included Roots by Alex Haley. My whole family had watched the TV series. While everyone across America watched Roots, it was clear that no one from Andover did and if one admitted one did it was probably only kosher to do so in a class that covered the history of American slavery. And well, there wasn’t one. So yeah, that didn’t come up ever.

What did this mini-series watching make my family? Did these people see it? I was afraid to ask. Everyone I knew in Iowa had seen Roots. I loved this book. I lugged it to church bell choir practice and read it during youth fellowship dinner rather than talk to my peers about God. I worried: what else had I read that had a TV show or movie or miniseries attached to it? Not only am I not a good reader, but I am reading the wrong thing? It was disconcerting.

Why didn’t I know any of this?

People pulled books from their backpacks and set them on the table. The cute smart white boy and his friend both chose to read Watership Down by Richard Adams. I had already read it. I tried to pull my book closer to the edge of the table; I wanted to crawl under the table. There were snickers. Regan did not laugh, took my choice seriously, and I went back to my dorm, and enjoyed every pulpy juicy second of the book. I got my first 5 or A in English on an in-class writing exercise, a paragraph that summarized the themes of our chosen book.

Knowledge from Mr. Regan: Close reading is hard, but it can be fun too.

Yet while my sheer perseverance was laudable, my comprehension remained perfectly average, if not below the Andover standard. I was baffled by the assigned poem Ode on a Grecian Urn by Keats and went down the hall to ask my friend about it, the one who had the John Jake series on her bookshelf.

“I don’t get it,” I said.

“This is about the pictures on the urn,” she said, perusing the poem.

“Really? How did you know that?”

“That’s what it says. Look, it’s the people in the scene what did you think it was?” she laughed.

“I don’t know.”

“Look at the title!”

“Oh. I just didn’t get it,” I sheepishly admitted.

Close reading, even of the title, eluded. I guess I had better read the title. Who knew? Had I known that Keats was a consumptive romantic who was never able to be with the one he truly loved, I might have paid more attention, but such authorial details were not supplied, as this was the era of the text, the reader’s response reigned supreme. A TV miniseries about the poet’s life? Would this have ensured my engagement?

Yes, but I would have never admitted it.


Mahalo, Mr. Regan, for making English literature come alive, for providing a safe harbor for a 13 year old Korean American girl from Iowa, for letting me know that I had worthy observations and for introducing me with grace and humor to the world of reading, literature, and the possibilities of the written word.




Reading & Writing

Read & Write with Dr. Han: Educators, My Eighth Grade Teacher Ms. Witwer, Coralville, Iowa

This series of posts on my teachers was inspired by Steven Dunn’s social media feed asking people to comment if they had a black teacher. My previous post was about Mrs. Cromarty, one of two black teachers I had during my K-12 years.

Ms. Witwer was my 8th grade Social Studies teacher at Northwest Junior High in Coralville, Iowa. Like almost all of my K-12 teachers, Ms. Witwer was white, good natured, and a dedicated professional. She was a superb teacher. Even now, I recall her ability to scaffold lessons, address diversity and difference in a predominately all-white student class. (It was just Ritu and myself. Aloha Ritu. Asian solidarity fist bump wherever you are!) Ms. Witwer taught to a wide range of abilities and yet, no one felt bored or lost. This is no easy task.

Below are some highlights learned in Ms. Witwer’s class:

  1. Beauty is Subjective
  2. Israel and Palestine: Listen to the Stories
  3. Women: Ms. Makes Sense and the Equal Rights Amendment is Good
  4. The Indian Caste System: Inequality
  5. Some People Have Six Fingers



We learned the idea of beauty as subjective in a fascinating way. She showed slides of all different kinds of people. I recognized one: a movie star. It was Marilyn Monroe. She did not elicit cheers from 8th grade boys in the 1970s. Boys did not like her and thought she looked yuck—too adult, too curvy with make-up. Instead, they liked the image of the young slender woman with the long 1970s heather hair, the kind of woman that looks make-up free and appears in shampoo advertisements wearing earth tone clothing with sunlight streaming down on her shoulders. There were many images that passed by, and I remember there was a moment of feeling tense—would there be someone like me? I can’t remember if someone Asian was shown. But I remember thinking that it was strange that everyone thought different people were beautiful: who they liked and who they didn’t and afterwards, I think that we thought, just for a moment, how difference was okay, and realized that some people would be found beautiful by some, and some by others.


I remember coloring in maps and making a video. We got divided in half and then were assigned roles to play. If you played an Israeli, you wore a yarmulke. If you played a Palestinian, you wore a keffiyeh. Students preferred to wear a keffiyeh which seemed quite exciting back then. Just remembering now: many years after Ms. Witwer’s class I wore a black and white keffiyeh when I went to university. Each student read out loud short monologues telling an individual story with the text declaring our reasons for our beliefs and politics and histories. There was excitement as we watched ourselves read from the podium in our costumes on the black-and-white video playback. It’s significant to note that both sides spoke. I recall being surprised in high school and in college that people were stridently anti-Palestinian. When I would hear this type of rhetoric, I would think back to Ms. Witwer.


Ms. Witwer was one of many teachers back then who reviewed to students the difference between Ms/Miss/Mrs.. By now, the 1970s were in full swing; the lesson of labels for women was introduced and Ms. was embraced. I am astounded by the number of students who continue to address all women teachers (of a certain age) by Mrs., and who fail to grasp the significance of this label. Women can be called whatever they want to be called, but it strikes me as strange given that it’s 2020. Then again, the US will achieve gender equity in 200 years, so it reflects our time.

Ms. Witwer discussed the position of women in our class across all cultures. Students I knew in Iowa, the 8th grade crowd of smart intellectual boys and girls all sported our ERA-NOW t-shirts. Ms. Witwer was a feminist teacher. My 8th grade spring triumph was winning the Optimist Club speech contest with my speech on why the Equal Rights Amendment should be ratified. I didn’t win the state competition. The winner wrote and spoke on diabetes. Mom said that was because the judges didn’t support the Equal Rights Amendment. She’s probably right. I wrote a damn good speech and was a serious debater in junior high. My speech was awesome.

I got to Andover a year later, in 1978. Every girl in my dorm laughed at me when I repeated my speech. There’s Steph, that WEIRD girl from IOWA—that backwards place! Equal rights for women was a subject that was to be avoided at Andover (still reeling from the trauma of co-education); we discussed Greek myths. Myths are cool; so is gender equality. When my dormmates laughed about my ERA knowledge, I thought about Ms. Witwer. She had my back as a girl. She had all of our backs, pushing us all into the light.


This was a brilliant teaching exercise. We colored a map of India. We drew slips of paper out of a box or a hat, and then were assigned a caste. I had thought, no problem, but then, surprise, surprise, I got ‘Untouchable’? But I have an A in class! I tried to trade with someone—a Bhramin. No one wanted to be an Untouchable (there were a few of us). Ms. Witwer said, “No, Stephanie, you can’t trade.” I couldn’t believe it. Me, an Untouchable? I clearly needed that label! That week as an Untouchable was spent sweeping, picking up the pieces of trash on the floor, and passing out papers. It proved, of course, to be a lesson about any class system, and yes, about myself and what my own feelings were about class.


Ms. Witwer showed us a picture of her baby at birth. Her baby had six fingers. Everyone looked quite closely; it was a picture of much interest to all of us. Ms. Witwer told us she had her child’s finger removed because she didn’t want her child to face difficulties due to this difference. I thought a lot about what it meant to chop off a finger! Wow. But then too, what would mean to have an extra finger. Would anyone bully someone with six fingers? Again, she was generous to share the complications of difference as it occurred in her own life with us.


There were so many other lessons: Apartheid in South Africa (this was also covered in my 6th grade classroom), Japanese American internment (first taught to me by my mother), the Vietnam War, and most significantly, the vocabulary words ‘prejudice’ and ‘ethnocentric’ — those we had to learn, study, and discuss. I had more formal instruction about issues of contemporary difference and tolerance in a single year of Ms. Witwer’s social studies class at Northwest Jr. High School in Coralville, Iowa than I had during my four years at Phillips Academy Andover! Never underestimate how a single teacher can impact a life and where that teacher may be found.

Thank you, Ms. Witwer, for prioritizing knowledge and difference, for letting the world into that classroom in Iowa, for introducing, in a small and big way, the globe to me.

Reading & Writing

Read & Write with Dr. Han: Educators, My First Grade Teacher Mrs. Cromarty, Seoul, Korea

Look for new posts MWF. This week, it will be posts on teachers. Audience: teachers, students, parents, educators, anyone who reads and writes…


I’m probably inviting students to roll their eyes, but I will state that even if I had a teacher who was less than inspiring, I reflect now and acknowledge there was some takeaway from that experience.

More later on Mrs. Martinez who carried a yardstick around and took the kids to the coatroom for a beating. Lesson learned there was that sometimes tension runs high in a classroom and you had just better shut up or you’ll get beaten. This was not an ideal lesson, but I suppose it has had some use in my life…


This post on Mrs. Cromarty was inspired by Steven Dunn’s social media feed asking people to comment if they had a black teacher.

I had two black teachers in my K-12 years: first grade and tenth grade. Both memorable. Mrs. Cromarty made a deep impact on my life. I am not sure if she is even alive now, or if I am spelling her name correctly, as Cromarty, may have been my childhood pronunciation of another name. Through second grade I proudly recited the Pledge of Allegiance “FOR RICHARD STANDS” instead of “For Which It Stands” figuring that Richard Nixon was the president, so Richard Stands was some other equally important fellow. Mrs. Cromarty’s name was quite long and written in black marker on a piece of heavy construction paper taped to the front of her big wooden desk. The few end letters were squished up. I’m not even sure if I am spelling the name right.


I thought about the knowledge I acquired that first grade year, or the first part of that first grade year while she was my teacher in Seoul before my family relocated back to the US. As an adult who has been an expatriate, all I can say was that she was a brave warrior woman because any non-Korean woman, and especially a black woman in 1970 Korea would have been treated, at best, as if she had descended from Mars. As an adult I would have loved to have gotten to know Mrs. Cromarty. Even now, I am impressed with her very existence.


I believe that the single lesson Mrs. Cromarty taught me about VOTING was probably one of the most important lessons that any teacher I ever had taught me. I mean, EVER. And I was in a lot of schools. I have two master’s degrees, countless workshops and programs under my belt, and a PhD. So when I state that she taught me one of the most important lessons I have ever learned–and when I was only 7 years old–well, that is saying quite a bit. I had to keep relearning it, but I feel now, decades on, I’m in the swing of what Mrs. Cromarty would be proud of.


I tried to catalog the lessons I learned in first grade. I am sure I learned certain academic skills—but the academic skills escape me and are simply too far away for me to parse. Such a recounting would never be accurate because as an educator and a parent, I know that certain skills are acquired during first grade. I have no idea if I made the mark during that time.

In no particular order, the year’s lessons (some had nothing to do with Mrs. Cromarty) boiled down to the following:

1. Make sure you have an extra set of clothes, especially underwear.

Mrs. Cromarty told everyone to bring an outfit with an extra pair of underwear to school. I did this. My mom had me bring one.

2. When someone borrows your underwear you should not ask for it back.

Sonya did not have an extra outfit. She wet her clothes. Mrs. Cromarty informed me that Sonya would be using my outfit. A few weeks later, she told me that her dad was washing the clothes and she would give the underwear back. I told Mom. Mom told me to tell Sonya not to return the underwear. So she didn’t. I got the outfit back, not the underwear.

3. Mothers may or may not have anything to do with extra underwear.

Sonya’s mother had died. There was some discussion that this was why Sonya did not have an extra pair of underwear in class. Apparently mothers were associated with ensuring the child had underwear. If your mother dies, you have no extra underwear! Who knew that this was the case! A lesson, I now see, in default gender attribution to childcare issues.

4. Sometimes treats can make you feel better.

Mrs. Cromarty had a stash of candy. This was completely exciting and there would be certain times when we might have the opportunity to earn a piece of candy. Sugar free parents, I know, this is not such a great practice, but as a kid, it’s awesome.

Confession: I was that drag of a parent who was horrified by my precious homemade squeezed orange juice non-TV watching before age 2 son getting sweets at school. Note that it’s amazing how we can lighten up about that stuff. He probably has a pile of plastic in his stomach from ramen noodles. Although I wish the food court at the mall did not have every fast food franchise in the US, I still let him eat that stuff. Plus, he loves gaming, but whatever. I digress…

5. Koreans can have wavy hair.

Like William, my true love of first grade. William, where are you?

6. Chasing can be more fun than catching.

The boys chase girls, girls chase boys game meant that usually someone was caught, but the kissing part that followed the chasing, was a somewhat uncomfortable encounter—often the chaser did not want to do the kissing after catching someone! Peer pressure ruled. You HAD to kiss the person. I know there are certain discussions now that are had to prevent this kind of thing. Before, admittedly, sometimes you really didn’t run so fast to catch the person. Yuck, who wanted to end up kissing or being kissed? Gross! For example, I did not want to kiss Victor. My best friend did. I only wanted to kiss William! Unfortunately, I never caught William. Victor was apparently OK with getting caught and kissed. William didn’t want to kiss anyone ever.

7. Don’t let anyone touch you if you don’t want him/her/they to touch you.

Russell. I am not sure what happened to Russell, and looking back I wonder, of course, about Russell’s home life. Russell frequently inappropriately touched girls when they did not want to be touched. His hands would touch your knee during story hour. He would do it even if you were not signaling you wanted to be touched.

To me, he looked really strange, mostly because he had this buzz cut, and rather large bulgy sort of green eyes. He probably ended up being quite handsome, who knows, but he seemed peculiar to me. Now if Russell was an adult and engaging in this type of behavior he would be a ‘creep’, or something more, but he was a child. He got so bad with certain girls, myself included, that Mrs. Cromarty had to tell him once during story hour: “RUSSELL. Stop bothering Stephanie, Russell! Keep your hands to yourself! No touching!”. I can see now I was unable to stop it because it was a combination of not knowing how to stop it, and being uncertain if I should say something. It was likely that I had tried to move away or say something, but he persisted. After that time Mrs. Cromarty called him out, he never did it again to me.

8. A certain kind of voting transparency can be a good thing.

There was a drawing contest: What it was for, now escapes me. But the students raised that they wanted to vote with their heads up and see. Mrs. Cromarty agreed that we could do this instead of having our hands down. The winner was going to get a chocolate candy bar. Maybe a Snickers bar from the base. I never got candy bars at home.

My idea of a wild snack was going to my dad’s lab and him popping open a can of sardines. I lived for canned fish. I loved sardines as much as those sickly sweet orange and yellow peanut shaped marshmallows.

Everyone was pleased to be able to understand something about who people might vote for and why. A good many lessons were learned. The dodgy gerrymandering and all sorts of nonsense people currently engage in is really not in anyone’s educational interest.

9. Good friends usually vote for each other over what is truly best for the group as a whole.

We were able to vote several times. The picture was supposed to represent the class on some level. It was to be the best work of such and such, and in this way, we were to all be invested in this picture. But what happened? People voted for their friends. I was shocked, I tell you. Just shocked. And probably, because I was decent at drawing at that age, I was upset to find out that it came down to friendship over skill. And this came down to even some of the worst drawings. For example, there were two boys, great friends. Neither one of them had nice drawings, as they were more of the stick figure variety. And they voted for each other and only for each other. Maybe their third wheel friend also voted for them, but really, the two drawings each got only a few votes. They didn’t care. It was about loyalty, not the drawing.

Then came the turn for my drawing and my best friend’s drawing. Ours were the two best drawings in the class. Was this friend’s name Diane? Let’s say it was Diane. She and I were neck and neck in most things, including our mutual loves for both Victor and William. I loved William and she loved Victor. Diane was half Korean with lighter brown hair and ran fast. I was full Korean with black hair and ran medium and if chased, very fast. We were both good students.

My picture was displayed. Everyone voted. I had around 16 votes. I even remember, vaguely, the number. Diane voted for me. I’m pretty sure William did. Victor was in another class. I did not vote for myself, of course. In my mind, that was inappropriate. In my mind, one did not vote for oneself. I had many votes and was fully confident of my win.

Diane’s drawing: 17 votes. She won! I voted for her too. She won by one vote because she voted for herself. I was really surprised she voted for herself and remember looking over and thinking, wow how embarrassing, how shameful that she is voting FOR HERSELF. One did not put oneself forward like that. I was confused. Diane went to the front and got the Snicker’s bar.

10. Always vote for yourself.

Mrs. Cromarty later pulled me aside: “Stephanie, you always have to vote for yourself. If you don’t vote for yourself, why would anyone vote for you? You have to vote for yourself. Always!”

It took me many years to understand the depth of the concept that she was trying to convey. Over the course of my life I have learned to vote for myself, but in many past instances, did not vote for myself in a metaphorical way. To vote for yourself is to fully believe in what you are as an individual, and the act asserts your claim to occupy a particular position. To vote for yourself is an exercise in confidence; it requires an understanding of your worth as a person. You must believe that you can do whatever task that is set before you. Too often, we fail to vote for ourselves, especially girls. Do I vote for myself now? YES. But truthfully, it took a long time to do so with a deep knowing of all that voting for oneself symbolizes and implies.


Last fall, an assignment was handed out to my 11th graders. One of the choices had to do with asserting yourself as president of the United States. Out of nearly 55 students, only one girl put herself forward and wrote a paper on her possible agenda or priority. You can imagine how many boys freely imagined themselves as President. I tried, as best as I could to channel Mrs. Cromarty in my comments to the girls, but it is unlikely I did it as well as she did.


Mahalo and warmest thanks to Mrs. Cromarty. My first black teacher. My first African American teacher. My first grade teacher. The woman warrior who was in Korea in 1970 defying everyone’s idea of place, race, and geography, the woman who first taught me, a young Korean American girl, that voting for oneself was neither rude, nor wrong, and that if I didn’t vote for myself, no one else would.