Tag Archives: Education

Use Restroom, Wash Hands, Leave

I live in North Carolina, where Pat McCrory signed his name to legalize discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. Now several states have their own versions of HB2. The immediate target appears to be the transgender population and more specifically, public restrooms. It’s ridiculous, but amazingly, it’s also real. Sure, I’m outraged, incredulous, saddened. But I’m also puzzled. I just don’t get it.

Whenever I just don’t get it, whatever “it” happens to be, I go back to basics: my education. In college, I majored in psychology, preparing to become a therapist. I was fascinated by the progression of thinking in developmental psych, by the ways the mind can go off course in abnormal psych, by the dialogue between the individual and society in social psych. But I was equally drawn to the English Department for reasons I couldn’t articulate.

I began with a course on British poets: Chaucer, Milton, Wordsworth, Eliot. Then I moved on to a smorgasbord of seemingly unrelated topics — 19th Century American Writers, Medieval Plays, 20th Century American Poets, Greek Tragedies. I felt a strong internal pull, a compulsion to study literature. I was particularly drawn to the writings I found most incomprehensible.

I had fine professors who created classroom environments designed to build understanding from ignorance. Medieval plays made no sense whatsoever, until my teacher explained the lives of both the playwrights and the audience. Interpreting poetry felt awkward, even pretentious, until my professor invited us to react on a gut level – “Don’t overthink it; feel it.” Writing my assigned papers felt stilted, until I was advised that ideas were more important than perfect grammar and immaculate syntax; “Break the rules a little bit,” my professor smiled.

I began reading and writing differently – not only to understand material on an intellectual level, but also to experience learning on an emotional level. With each poem, each novel, each play, my learning and thinking changed. As I read Emily Dickinson’s poetry, I explored her inner world, vastly different from my own. I battled the sea, cold and hungry, clutching the sides of “The Open Boat,” as I wrote a paper on Stephen Crane. I forged my own pilgrimage into The Canterbury Tales, following Geoffrey Chaucer as his story wandered from beautiful, to bawdy, to funny, to arduous – mirroring the experience of The Middle Ages. To get it, I had to live it. Once I lived it, even for a moment, I understood it on a new level.

Years later, when I began working with psychotherapy patients, I discovered that my English courses were as useful as my psych courses. The psych theory helped structure my thinking; the English courses taught me to make sense of each patient’s unique voice. The words of every writer I studied, like the words of every client I treated, were the keys to their selves.

I wish Pat McCrory and his followers had shared my curriculum back in college. I wish they had felt my initial lack of empathy when I read Portrait of a Lady (Henry James); I was irritated by Isabel Archer’s self-destructive choices, until my professor spoke about her impossible dilemma, from a personal and societal perspective, and I found myself (to my adolescent horror) in tears in the middle of a lecture hall. I wish those  against transgender rights had experienced my professor of Greek tragedies whose lectures were so compelling I’m amazed I remembered to breathe; in one lecture which I’ll always carry with me, he transformed a Greek Chorus from contrived and ridiculous, into the collective mind of Ancient Greece.

As Pat McCrory and too many others sign away the civil rights of their fellow citizens, I wonder if they ever made the effort to learn about the experience of being transgender. I don’t mean memorizing a definition in a dictionary, or engaging in a mutual admiration society with others who are equally uncomfortable with the transgender population. I mean talking to someone who identifies as transgender – asking questions, sharing concerns, open to learning. If Pat McCrory is truly worried about what a transgender person does in a bathroom, then just ask. I’m quite confident that the answer would be something like: “Use restroom; wash hands; leave.” If people are frightened of how the transgender population behaves in public restrooms, then they need the guidance of a teacher.

I was in graduate school before I realized that during college, the specific subjects I studied were a means to an end. While I loved my courses, the heart of my education wasn’t English or psychology. At core, I was learning to learn, learning to think, and I still am.

How I wish Pat McCrory and his supporters would join me.

Amy Kaufman Burk is an author and blogger. Her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, was written in reaction to seeing gay teens bullied in high school, and follows a family’s journey after the daughter comes out. Amy’s second novel, Tightwire, includes a strong friendship between two men, one gay and one straight, as well as a lesbian couple (raising a son and daughter) who become role model parents to the main character. Amy’s blog has several posts in strong support of LGBTQ+. To learn more about Amy, visit her website and find links to her blog and to her novels on Amazon.





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For Those Who Love To Read…Or Not

Until age 7, reading was my secret.

Within the community of my ‘60s artsy elementary school, reading before 2nd grade was considered hazardous, a threat to free-flowing creativity.  The teachers loudly praised Willy’s talent with a paintbrush, Marsha’s coordination in dance, Jeff’s gift at charades, Lorelei’s ability to sing.  I wasn’t about to advertise my embarrassingly persistent craving for books.

Today there seems to be an unofficial Race To Read, with parents of preschoolers urging their toddlers to sound out Dr. Seuss. But decades ago, in my private grammar school, filled with film industry offspring, academic learning was viewed as a potential block to the artistic process.

My “unhealthy enjoyment” of math had already raised red flags in first grade. So I wrote my own math books at home, and stashed the worksheets in my T-shirt drawer. I had no difficulty hiding my admiration for the balance of numbers on either side of the equal sign, my awe at the concept of infinity.  I liked math and I respected math; but I wasn’t in love.

Reading was different.  I needed to read.  I grew up in a home with tens of thousands of books, and I tried (and failed) to read all of them. I raided my parents’ shelves for their cache of children’s literature.  I tread the paths of The Secret Garden, explored The South with Huck Finn, smiled through The World of Pooh.

Finally, I reached age 7, the magic number: I could officially learn to read at school. My teacher wrote on the chalkboard — “Cat” “Hat” “Bat” “Rat.” I reminded myself to reign it in. If I sat quietly, then maybe in a month, I could visit the school’s library. Maybe, if I got really lucky, my teacher wouldn’t get mad if I checked out a chapter book.  Nobody had to know I’d been reading for years.

Then Hope raised her hand. “How do you spell ‘girl’?” Before I remembered, I heard myself answer, “G-I-R-L.”  The class stared.

“How long have you been reading?” my teacher asked quietly.

My lower lip trembled, and I couldn’t speak, imagining the worst possible punishment: she’d forbid me from reading. But my teacher was kind. In spite of her concern that my creative potential had been compromised – a concern that would follow me through graduation – she hugged my shoulders.  “It’s okay,” she calmed me. “These things happen sometimes.” I melted into her arms.  I was flawed, but forgiven.

Over the next month, she fed me Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House On The Prairie series.  I forged ahead with Nancy Drew and her astonishing life, stumbling into a new mystery every day of the week – all with enviable blonde hair, two ever-present girlfriends who were unfailingly content in her shadow, and an uber-hunky boyfriend who worshipped her and then conveniently disappeared from the text until his presence was required for a date, a prom, or a moment of adoration. From the girl-sleuth, I launched into A Wrinkle In Time, The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes, and the list continues to this day.

I emerged from hiding. I could finally publicly admit my fascination with a curious phenomenon: black print on white paper could take me by the heart, or by the throat, and pull me into an intensely emotional journey, cover to cover.

As an adult, when I began to write my first novel, I was told that with the advent of texting, instant messaging, Snapchat, and All-Things-Tech, many teenagers were no longer interested in books.

I accept that as a challenge.

If I’m going to call myself a writer, then I’m responsible for creating a novel that compels people to read. It’s my job to write each sentence in a way that propels the reader into the next sentence. I wrote my book for adults and teens, for book lovers, and for those who have never made it through a novel. I hope all types of readers and potential readers will give my book a chance.  If you provide an open mind, then I’ll provide the story. Once you read the first paragraph, you can choose to try the second paragraph, or you can put it away forever. If I don’t catch your interest, the fault is mine, not yours.

Maybe you won’t like the book; maybe you will.  Or maybe you’ll fall in love, and step into a lifetime of literary journeys.  What have you got to lose?  The downside is a bit of your time; the upside is infinite.


Novels By Amy Kaufman Burk

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

Caroline Black, 15 years old, leaves her college prep academy for the local public high school, which opens her world. Written in reaction to witnessing gay students bullied in high school.


Caroline Black, a rookie psychology intern, goes through one year of training, working with her first patient – a young man who is stormy, seductive, complex and troubled. Written as a voice against the stigma of therapy, in support of Marriage Equality and same-sex parents, and as a voice against sexual assault.

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon


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