Created Equal? Not Hardly

Thursday morning, not too long before I woke up, I had a teaching dream even though it’s been more than six years now since I entered a classroom. In my dream, I couldn’t find my class. I was frantic. I was late.

Yesterday morning I had my second art “class” with the kids. I was amazed I could have a teaching stress dream before THAT.

The plan for the day was we’d play the Drawing Game and then make a book to hold our Art Cards and the papers where we would write about the painting we’d chosen. The book was going to be two pieces of construction paper with pockets from a third piece of construction paper inside and everything stapled together. It was a pretty simple project, I thought. I remembered doing this in second grade when we’d struggled with the very tricky life skill of folding paper length and width wise. I truly remember LEARNING this. I figured since the kids make paper airplanes, this would be OK.

The first thing they wanted to do was play The Drawing Game — a game my dad made up where a group of people take turns saying what everyone will draw — and we have to make a coherent picture out of all these random drawings. Mine’s below. I’d have stolen the kids’, but they weren’t letting go. 🙂 It was the little girl’s turn first, and she wanted to draw Bear.

My Drawing Game sketch from yesterday

It’s important to note that I have no training in teaching kids. I taught college and university. I have no training in teaching art. I taught writing. I didn’t even HAVE kids, I’ve just been a kid magnet my whole life but no one knows why. I sure don’t.

I thought the best way to approach this project was to do it WITH THEM so I made one, too. The little boy followed along, made his book, had tremendous curiosity about the art cards that were turned upside down on our table. The little girl? I watched her very patiently fold five sheets of construction paper WRONG. She could SEE they had been folded wrong but couldn’t figure out WHY. She never got upset. She didn’t express any frustration. She just tried again.

I helped her see how to do it right, and showed her mine so she could see what we were trying to make. After another try, she folded the paper in the right direction but could not match up the edges.

Meanwhile my stapler wouldn’t work. The little boy set about fixing it, and succeeded.

Finally, the little girl got her book built. She began to write about her Art Card, one of Monet’s water lily paintings, and I helped her understand how to do this. I watched her write. It was extraordinarily difficult for her, not just spelling and reading, but the ACT of writing.

The little boy had finished his project, and I told him to find the country where the artist came from. I had flat maps and he wanted to know where Belgium was relative to Colorado. I said, “Dude, we need a globe.”

There was one on our table. He showed me all the countries he wanted to visit and how to play the “Globe Game” where you spin it and point at a country. His dream is a trip to Egypt to see the pyramids.

Meanwhile I’ve helped the little girl see that the name of the painting she’d chosen is Water Lilies, not Water Ladies. We learned to spell bushes.

Claude Monet Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies

When I left, besides all the stuff in my folder, I had a zip lock bag of Parmesan cheese because I’d told the little girl that Parmesan cheese was Bear’s favorite food. It was for Bear’s dinner. I promised to take a picture

The little girl is a year older than the little boy. I was stunned. I know these kids pretty well. The little girl is intelligent, but??? She has a physical malfunction that makes things difficult to do with the small muscles. and it affects her perception of spatial relationships. The simple task we were working on challenged everything.

I texted her mom when I got home saying I hoped it was OK that I challenged the little girl so intensely, that she seemed to have some serious problems with spatial relationships. Here’s what I got back:

How could anyone watch that and call it laziness or, as I suspected also could happen, “Not trying”?

I spent the rest of the day humbled, awakened to my great good fortune in the gifts with which I was born. When I walked Bear later that day, the kids were waiting with the drawing tablet I’d left behind. Bear sat so the little girl — who is only a little taller than Bear when Bear sits — could wrap her arms around Bear’s neck. You just wish you could freeze these moments of beauty, these perfect ephemeral moments.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/09/19/rdp-saturday-awaken/

Quotidian Update 305.a.iii

Well, here I am almost 2 hours earlier than normal because there was a draconian thunderstorm at 5:30 am. Thunderstorms are hard on Bear because she is afraid of thunder AND she feels she has to protect me. For Bear, that’s Gordian knot. I was fine until the power went off. If you’ve lived through a California wildfire, you might also be traumatized when the power goes off. To me it means, “Things are majorly fucked and you’d better get out.” Then there’s added terror of “what if I can’t make coffee?” When the power comes on, it’s “Thank you Whomever,” and the added gratitude for first world problems like scared dogs and no coffee.

Yesterday Teddy and I took off for the river, a shady trail I like in summer, but can only walk from July 15 to March 1. Last time I was there it was February. It’s in a wildlife area and, this year, Colorado is requiring a hunting or fishing license for people who use these areas just for walking. I bought my fishing license a while back. The Rio Grande is very low. I saw a gold finch catching bugs above the river and a hawk took flight in front of me. Otherwise, it was a path between immense cottonwoods and the tired undergrowth of the end of summer. I told Teddy I like the Refuge better. I like being able to SEE. That might be part of why I like winter when the trees are bare.

In other news, a few months ago I bought a book for the kids, a book of “general knowledge.” It’s really cool with beautiful pictures and little flaps you lift to learn more. Around 5 o’clock I took it to their house because school starts tomorrow, and I wanted to make a big deal out of it.


They loved it. C helped me walk Bear to the end of the fence and Bear and I finished our walk. On the way back, the kids were waiting. We all went into the alley so M could keep working on her “courage” merit badge. There’s not really a badge, but one of the statements in the book Bear and Teddy — wrote for her is, “Smart people are brave. They get to pet and hug us.” She was a little scared as always, but Bear sat calmly and before long, all was well.

Their world is really small right now so even the alley behind their house is a kind of adventure. C has all kinds of questions about the house behind theirs — the blue house I came to Monte Vista to see so long ago. Then he noticed something unusual in the alley. “What is that?”

“Pottery, I think,” I said.

He got a stick and pried it out “like a jack,” he said using the stick as a lever. He got the two pieces of pottery loose. They were glazed dark brown and had two circles and some lines on them. I believe they are ancient (meaning maybe 60 years old) sewer pipes but I didn’t say that. I showed him how they fit together and he was amazed. He wanted to know how it was made, so I explained it.

“Maybe there used to be a pottery place here.”

“Could be. This is a pretty old place.”

“I’m going to take some of that clay you gave us and press it on this and maybe I can find out what the letters are.” He’s 7.

“Perfect,” I said. “Let me know what you find out.

“If mom would let us, we could walk Bear all the way to your house,” he said. “I don’t know why she won’t let us.”

“She loves you,” I said. I thought of the absurdity. They could walk with me to my house but I’d have to walk them back home. It would be an infinite loop.

“Yeah,” he said. “Maybe she thinks someone would steal us like they tried to steal our trailer and they stole your wood. Do you think it’s the same people?”

“Could be.” In fact NOT having that faded cedar fencing is kind of a hardship to the furthering of my garden sign business.

I headed home on cloud 8 or maybe higher, thinking of that adage, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” But ME?

Then I thought of my first student ever. Ramon Hurtado who wanted to learn to read so he could read to his daughter. He came to the then-new Adult Education Tutorial Program. I’d never taught anyone. It was the summer before I started grad school. We started with the alphabet! He wanted what I had; literacy. Just like Ramon, these kids want what I have and it means a lot in our Covid circumscribed lives. They want the world.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/09/01/rdp-tuesday-draconian/

More Racism…

I read a really horrible stupid illogical racist rant last night on my neighbor’s Facebook page. I got where the writing was coming from, but so much is wrong and inflammatory. I wrote a long response as a comment on my friend’s post, but I hate when people take over my Facebook with their rants, so I quickly deleted it.

I realized it might belong here. Race again… Sorry.

First of all when it comes to fundamentals, there’s no such thing as race. It’s pretty certain we all came from the same gene pool long long ago and, for us in the United States, far far away. What we call “race” is essentially skin color, though I remember as a kid in school, in social studies, we had a two page spread of the “World’s Races” and their pictures. I don’t know what was originally meant by the term “race” and the older I am the less I understand it.

Second, I think it’s probably true that a lot of white people don’t like darker skinned people. I don’t know why other than they were taught to mistrust darker skinned people or they are (as are all humans) afraid of what is unfamiliar.

OK. Here it is. I’m going to attempt to knock it down point by point. My refutation is in green (Kennedy, dontcha’ know). The “article” is in black italics.

I have often wondered about why Whites are racists, and no other race is……

Other races are equally racist. I learned this as one of the few whites in China in the early 80s. I became very familiar with the stereotypes of Americans, the images, the attitudes I was supposed to have. I experienced it every day, sometimes in expressions of surprise that I WASN’T like the stereotype. It was still there. I learned more about international racism teaching international students and hearing things like this which came out of the mouth of a Korean girl, “We don’t have racism in Korea. We all the same.” She didn’t mean “all the same” as “equal.” She meant they were all JUST LIKE HER physically, culturally, linguistically, a homogenous culture. She thought Koreans were better than Americans because Korea has no racism, but without the challenge of living with different ethnicities, how would they know?

Someone finally said it. How many are actually paying attention to this?
There are African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, Arab Americans, etc. And then there are just Americans..

“Just Americans” are, by this implied definition, white Americans. All these other people are referred to euphemistically by their nationality. If this idiot did the same with “just Americans” he’d have to describe us as “Irish Americans, German Americans, British Americans, Scandinavian Americans, Russian Americans” etc. which is, actually, what we are. We might have white skin, but we come from different places. These terms – Asian Americans, African Americans, etc. — are ways of emphasizing that though these people look different from “just Americans” they are Americans, just the same.

You pass me on the street and sneer in my direction.
You call me ‘White boy,’ ‘Cracker,’ ‘Honkey,’ ‘Whitey,’ ‘Caveman’… And that’s OK..

I have never experienced this and I lived in a ghetto, a barrio, in California for 17 years. After reading this, if I passed this guy on the street and knew it, I’d probably cross to the other side to save myself from getting into a fight. 🙂

you say that whites commit a lot of violence against you….

Which is evidenced on film and police reports.

So why are the ghettos the most dangerous places to live?

The problem in “ghettos” is less skin color than poverty. Please refer to the video at the bottom of this post. As I said, I lived in a ghetto as one of the few white people. I was always safe even though it was the second (or first sometimes) highest crime neighborhood in San Diego. It was a dangerous place to live FOR ALL OF US so we looked out for each other. Violence existed — too much of it — but it was perpetrated by a few and was usually related to drugs, the sale of drugs or guns, and gangs — all of which were related cause and effect to poverty. The vast majority of people in my “hood” were, like me, hard-working people trying to hold their shit together from one end of the month to the other.

There are PLENTY of white people living close to the edge, yet, we think of these neighborhoods as where minorities live. That right there is racist. My white friends and co-workers wouldn’t even come to my neighborhood to have dinner at my house. They were that afraid. White privilege might be coupled with white ignorance.

A police station was set up in our hood in the building that was once our Safeway. The cops set out immediately getting to know the people who lived there. They saw their job as law enforcement but also as becoming part of the hood. Their program worked. Violent crime went down without a single incident of “police brutality.” We residents wanted the police there. We wanted the crack houses gone. We wanted the gun violence gone. The police made a huge difference.

You have the United Negro College Fund. You have Martin Luther King Day.
You have Black History Month.
You have Cesar Chavez Day.
You have Yom Hashoah.
You have Ma’uled Al-Nabi.
You have the NAACP.
You have BET….

We “just Americans” have everything else. The United Negro College Fund was set up to provide money through donations to black kids who otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance. MLK day was established to honor an American hero who happened to have been Black. Cesar Chavez? Same deal, but a Hispanic dude. Yom Hashoah? Honestly, I was once on the fence about that, but having witnessed the reality that fascism is still alive and well in this world, I say we need MORE days remembering the Holocaust. Ma’uled Al-Nabi? For Muslims it is essentially the birthday of Mohammed, their prophet. Merry Christmas, dude.

If we had WET (White Entertainment Television), we’d be racists.

This is petty. TV is nothing but a way to sell products to a market. BET is an avenue to sell stuff to Blacks, stuff that they like and use.

If we had a White Pride Day, you would call us racists.

We have St. Patricks Day, we have Octoberfest. Columbus Day is a big deal in Italian neighborhoods, however you might feel about it. There is a HOST of other ethnic celebrations of our various European heritages. We have the Sons of Norway, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Sons of Italy, annual festivals at the Greek Orthodox churches — and more depending on the various regional concentrations of various European nationalities. All of these are “White Pride” events. It’s ALSO important here to note that every group of Europeans who came to this continent took shit from whoever was here before them. “Irish need not apply.” “Park closed to Italians.”

If we had White History Month, we’d be racists.

Black history month was devised as a way to help schools bring the achievements of black people into a curriculum that was absolutely Euro-centered. I think it’s fair to say that we have 11 White history months.

If we had any organization for only whites to ‘advance’ OUR lives, we’d be racists.

As the dominant culture, we don’t have to organize to “advance our lives.” WE ARE that organization for ourselves. That is the definition of White Privilege.

We have a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a Black Chamber of Commerce, and then we just have the plain Chamber of Commerce.
Wonder who pays for that??

Ah, here we go. The salient point seems to be that this guy doesn’t like spending his money on this stuff.

A white woman could not be in the Miss Black American pageant, but a woman of color can be in the Miss America pageant.

Again, petty. Beauty pageants are questionable at best, and the Miss Black America Pageant is a relic of black protests of the late 60s when an African American woman was very unlikely to be named Miss Anywhere.

If we had a college fund that only gave white students scholarships… You know we’d be racists. There are over 60 openly proclaimed Black Colleges in the US . Yet if there were ‘White colleges’, that would be a racist college.

Black colleges emerged because Blacks were not admitted to colleges anywhere.

Ok, now the rant gets really ugly. The guy wants us to believe that we need “white pride”? I’m not even “white”. I’m pink with brown spots, but I can’t even summon up “pride” for that.

I think many of us are proud of having come from this or that nationality. I am, but I know it’s absurd. I didn’t earn my Irish, Swiss, Scot and Swedish heritage. It’s an accident of parentage. That I think they’re all cool cultures is because I was taught to and because I took the trouble to learn about them. That’s WHY we have Black History Month etc. So kids from THAT background (gruesome though it is) can learn about their roots and be proud of the courage of their ancestors.

I can’t even refute the rest of this bullshit. Everything about the conclusion to this diatribe is illogical and wrong. Essentially, when some of the people in a culture have ALL of the rights offered by that culture, and some of the people in that culture are DENIED (palpably and demonstrably) SOME of the rights offered by that culture, those people are oppressed.

I’ve seen some of my Mexican friends treated badly by some white people. I’ve seen white people say to them, “Learn English. This is America” after laughing at a mistake the Mexican made in English. It’s totally possible for those white people to learn Spanish, too, and live in a larger world, but they’re busy being white. Because I speak Spanish well enough, I got to experience so much more than would have if I were “English only.”

I taught a class that was ALL black students and my first job was combatting their suspicion of me so they could learn during those three hours a week, succeed in my class and move on with their dreams of entering a university and finding a career. In that class, I taught a black girl whose last name was O’Shea. On learning that is an Irish name, she decided to embrace her Irishness. When I said, “You know how your family got it, right? Some slave owner or overseer back in the day…”

She said, “But I’m still part Irish, right? That’s an Irish name.”

I said, “Yes,” but I had tears in my eyes. Kennedy here, right? Lots of Irish immigrants ended up overseers in the South. It’s a big part of Gone With the Wind.

“I’m proud to be part Irish, like you.” Wow. I was full on crying at that point. It occurred to me then that it meant a lot to her — and maybe my other black students? — to find a concrete bit of commonality, a link to a white person that they liked. It happened several times over the years.

She came to class the next night with a big green shamrock on the front of her notebook and wore green for St. Patrick’s day.

Maybe a lot of white people haven’t had my advantages, you know, living in a ghetto and teaching in an inner city community college or a community college on the border of Mexico, or working three or four part-time jobs to hold life together. Maybe a lot of white people haven’t had their garage filled with fatherless boys from every racial group working together on their bikes with the Good X, or of teaching a little elementary school Mexican boy to draw every Saturday, then being taken to lunch by that boy when he got to be 15 and had his first job. Maybe a lot of white people have lived white lives and haven’t been able to experience the struggle of other people, people we identify by the color of their skin, the most superficial thing there is.

Here’s the video I promised followed by the guy’s bullshit rant, with its obligatory guilt trip at the end.

Here’s the Whole Absurd Mess

I have often wondered about why Whites are racists, and no other race is……
Someone finally said it. How many are actually paying attention to this?
There are African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, Arab Americans, etc.
And then there are just Americans.. You pass me on the street and sneer in my direction.
You call me ‘White boy,’ ‘Cracker,’ ‘Honkey,’ ‘Whitey,’ ‘Caveman’… And that’s OK..
You say that whites commit a lot of violence against you….
So why are the ghettos the most dangerous places to live?
You have the United Negro College Fund. You have Martin Luther King Day.
You have Black History Month.
You have Cesar Chavez Day.
You have Yom Hashoah.
You have Ma’uled Al-Nabi.
You have the NAACP.
You have BET….
If we had WET (White Entertainment Television), we’d be racists.
If we had a White Pride Day, you would call us racists.
If we had White History Month, we’d be racists.
If we had any organization for only whites to ‘advance’ OUR lives, we’d be racists.
We have a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a Black Chamber of Commerce, and then we just have the plain Chamber of Commerce.
Wonder who pays for that??
A white woman could not be in the Miss Black American pageant, but a woman of color can be in the Miss America pageant.
If we had a college fund that only gave white students scholarships… You know we’d be racists.
There are over 60 openly proclaimed Black Colleges in the US .
Yet if there were ‘White colleges’, that would be a racist college.
In the Million Man March, you believed that you were marching for your race and rights.
If we marched for our race and rights, you would call us racists.
You are proud to be black, brown, yellow and orange, and you’re not afraid to announce it.
But when we announce our white pride, you call us racists.
You rob us, car jack us, and shoot at us.
But, when a white police officer shoots a black gang member or beats up a black drug dealer running from the law and posing a threat to society, you call him a racist.
I am proud…… But you call me a racist.
Why is it that only whites can be racists??
There is nothing improper about this post. 
Let’s see which of you are proud enough to send it on.
I sadly don’t think many will.
That’s why we have LOST most of OUR RIGHTS in this country.
We won’t stand up for ourselves!
BE PROUD TO BE WHITE!
It’s not a crime YET…. But getting very close!

I Get my Gold Watch

I don’t have much contact with former students and don’t much want it. Most of my students were OK, some of them were fun, some were astonishingly great, some of them were unspeakable monsters. But teaching is a kind of transactional relationship. It’s a calling for many people. For me it was a calling, but in reality it’s a bunch of people (remember I taught college and university writing and business communication) who pay some money to learn some stuff they hope will help them earn a living when they’re finished. They pay. The teacher is paid in turn to teach them something useful to their future lives.

What that might be, however? That’s a big question especially when you aren’t teaching hard skills but soft ones.

You sign up for “a world of pain” when you sign up for this. Last night, for some reason, I thought of all the really horrific experiences I had as a teacher that included being pushed up against a wall with a student’s hand on my throat. I wondered why I was remembering this of all things in a world that’s scary enough as it is. Then I realized that it’s because a student emailed me a couple of days ago.

She is from Iraq. Her family refugeed to the US during the GWB war. She was young, 19. She was in my critical thinking class at a community college. She was aggressive and arrogant (defenses?). One day, as we were starting Fahrenheit 451 she said, “Why do we have to read this? It’s boring.”

Her whole strategy for going to school and approaching life, her whole feeling toward existence, all of that was encapsulated in that question. She was going to endure life by rejecting it out of hand. That would teach it.

I looked at her, kept my composure, and said, “Because it changed the world. You need to know what it says or you’re going to live in a future just like that. How far are you?”

“Two pages.”

I laughed. “Keep reading. Every book is boring two pages in.”

She kept reading and her attitude changed. Her attitude toward EVERYTHING changed. She never stopped challenging things, but she didn’t challenge me in that way again. She needed someone to stand up to her. She loved all three novels we read and saw herself as Milo in The Phantom Tollbooth, driving her car out of The Doldrums to conduct the orchestra of Chroma the Great.

We’ve corresponded off and on since I moved here. She finished her degree and has done a lot of traveling. I think for her, now, life is a journey. She wrote about her most recent trip which was to Iran;

“What I enjoyed the most, was the fact that I was walking on land where the Persian Empire started. Every step I took was a step in history every building I entered some famous scholar once sat their to conduct their studies. That to me was so powerful. It is as if you are walking in the past but right now. I don’t know how to really explain it. If you have ever stepped in a historical place you might know what I mean.”

And that, folks, is why I put up with everything for so long.

And, as I post this, this song plays on Mohammed’s Radio:

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/05/06/rdp-wednesday-composure/

Charmed

Any of you who’ve had kids and grandkids probably know what it’s like to watch a little kid learn how to read. Until yesterday I had not had the experience.

When they arrived to set up the deck, Connor told me he was Hobbes and Michelle was Calvin. I said, “How come you get to be the tiger?”

“We played for it and I lost.”

Personally, I think it’s better to be a tiger, but that’s just me.

Lots of stuff happened in kid time while the project went on. At one point,
Michelle sat in front of me with a well-read Calvin and Hobbes comic book. She read slowly, not totally getting the essence of what the words said, but pointing at the words and sounding them out old-school.

One of the new words was “garden.” I commenced the Socratic method almost instinctively. “Where do flowers grow?”

“Yard?”

After a couple failures (this is not university) her mom said, “Sound it out, honey.”

“Gar-den.” She jumped up in delight! “GARDEN!!!”

Then she said down and kept reading to me. I had tears in my eyes at the beauty of this. I looked over at her mom who was kind of teary, too. In my mind I saw the WHOLE WORLD OPEN for Michelle.


P.S. Obviously I’m not a stickler for writing to the prompt.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/04/26/rdp-sunday-stickler/

Whim

19th century writers used a lot of words. It would be another hundred years before a different style of writing would catch on. Emerson is wordy. There’s no way around it. It’s an incontrovertible truth. When I taught “Self-Reliance” I did it by making a worksheet that had one question per paragraph. The idea was if the student could answer the question, he/she had the jist of the paragraph.

My students hated it, or, anyway, I thought they hated it. When I wrote my thesis advisor, who had edited the Emerson’s Essays we were using, and told him I was teaching it, he said, “Find out who likes it. Get their names and I’ll send them autographed copies.”

The next time I went to class I asked, “Do any of you like ‘Self-Reliance’?” 3/4 of the class raised their hands. I said, “It doesn’t affect your grade. I just haven’t tried this before.” No one put their hands down. Dr. Robert D. Richardson had to send 25 autographed copies of the book.

The message of “Self-Reliance” is that through self-knowledge, a person can learn to act and live in harmony with his/her true nature. The essay is full of beautiful passages buried in the labyrinth of Emerson’s prose. One of the loveliest, densest and (to me) truthful passages of “Self-Reliance” is very dense, but the message contained within it strikes home for me. It concerns “Whim.”

I shun father and mother and wife and brother when my genius calls me. I would write on the lintels of the door-post, Whim. I hope it is somewhat better than whim at last, but we cannot spend the day in explanation… Self-Reliance” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Whim” in this case is essentially following your heart. You don’t know where it’s going to lead, but the thread to which it attaches might be the heart’s goal. It might not, but, as Emerson says, “…we cannot spend the day in explanation.”

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/04/18/rdp-saturday-whimsical/

“The Truth is Out There”

One of the chapters in Beyond Feelings, the Critical Thinking book I used for years and years, was titled “What is TRUTH?” It was a very hard chapter to teach because it went against most of what my students had learned in their lives about Truth. It was fun, though, provocative and engaging.

The author of Beyond Feelings — Vincent Ryan Ruggiero — made the case that:

  • Truth is not a matter of opinion
  • Just because we don’t know what it is, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist
  • Truth is not personal
  • Belief doesn’t make something true

The search for truth is the essence of curiosity. Its best friend is humility.

Ruggiero’s objective was to stimulate students to question, and they did, sometimes loudly and fervently. “No! That’s my truth and you can’t change it!” My job at that point was to help them understand that what they were defending wasn’t truth at all. It was their belief about something. It’s a threatening idea that can leave a person — especially a student who’s worried about his/her GPA — feeling like they’re standing on the sand by the ocean while the water pulls the sand out from under his/her feet. Students who had been penalized for saying, “I don’t know,” had a hard time with the fact that “I don’t know” is a valid answer when they, uh, don’t know. In my class it was never a wrong answer.

Those who understood (and most did after a while) felt a sense of liberation. They didn’t have to waste any more time defending anything.

Personal taste and personal belief, however, are always true. A person can speak for him/herself in that dimension and always speak the truth. An example:

“Does God exist?”
“I believe so.”
“But do you KNOW he does? Can you prove it?”
“No, but I can’t prove that God DOESN’T exist, either.”

The pure essence of belief. One endless (and easily escalated) argument bites the dust. Belief is a choice and requires no defense. Truth, however, is an objective reality and needs defense through demonstrable evidence.

I had a colleague at one of the colleges in which I taught who HATED the idea of objective truth. He said it was fascist because it insisted everyone believe the same thing. He absolutely didn’t understand it. First, objective truth is not an idea. Second, it has nothing to do with personal belief. This guy also hated it when I subbed for one of his classes and presented a PowerPoint (1998!) on Kafka’s life. “What does PowerPoint have to do with Kafka?” This teacher never saw the show, never saw the streets of Prague in Kafka’s time or photos of Kafka “writ large” and projected to the class so they could SEE a world that, in space and time, was completely alien to them. (Because, really, what did Kafka’s world have to do with Kafka? Or the fact that he was a real person not a concept?)

No point arguing personal belief. I shrugged and avoided him from then on, not so much because of his opinion about truth, but because he dismissed a technological tool just because he didn’t want to learn it, even if it was relevant to the world in which his students would live.

Here is an interesting analysis of the “truth vs. belief” phenomenon.

Why Smart People Believe Coronavirus Myths

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/04/12/rdp-sunday-truth/

Thoughts on NOT Having to Go to School Tomorrow…

Martin Luther King day still makes me a little stressed. I woke up this morning thinking of all the things I needed to get done (basically NOTHING) then realized I’d had another teaching dream. You see, spring semester begins tomorrow. You can’t walk away from 35+ years of habit.

Spring semester was always my least favorite. The best part of it was the advent of daylight savings time which meant I no longer drove home in the dark. Spring semester was endless where fall semester was always a neatly packaged 12 week travail that slowed down gracefully after Thanksgiving. One Spring semester was 16 weeks long broken in the middle by Spring Break from which no one recovered. One year I had such denial about spring semester that I forgot to go to my first class on Tuesday. My schedule had been flipped and flopped a couple of times by THE POWERS and I forgot I had a 1 pm class, not a 2 pm class as per usual. Anything to throw those part-time teachers off balance… I showed up late, but I showed up.

In the wee hours of this morning I dreamed about setting up my Blackboard online materials without knowing my new login. This is not cool as it’s now been 6 spring semesters since the last one. I doubt I will ever recover 100% from teaching. The flame on the torch I carried so long wavered, sputtered and went out, but the memories…

I’ve learned a lot about myself as a teacher since I retired and have had the chance to look back on those years from a little distance with more knowledge of myself. When we have to earn a living, and we only have ONE marketable skill (or believe we do), we might tell ourselves we’re passionate about what we’re doing, but what we’re passionate about is having a roof over our heads and food in our mouths. Still, I loved the classroom. I enjoyed reading essays. Business Communication, when it arrived in my life and I got a handle on it, gave me the chance to learn so many skills I wouldn’t have. I learned a lot about my personality from those relentless extraverts.

The biggest thing I taught my students I was not doing myself, and that was knowing my audience. At the end of my career — for the final four or five years — I just knew I didn’t like it any more, but I didn’t know why. I did not know how tuition had gone up, the pressures on my students financially and the pressure from their families. I didn’t understand why parents were suddenly so involved. I didn’t know what was going on in lower levels, elementary and secondary school, how that was changing from something that nurtured independent thought and problem solving to test-based curricula and no recess.

I think I was also tired from teaching so much for so long. I wanted a life of my own, but I had no time or resources. Back then, in the spring of 2014, I wrote;

I don’t know how other people feel when they reach this point of life. Maybe the way I feel is universal. Maybe all teachers teach to the point at which they are no longer effective; for some, I’m sure, this would be two semesters. For me it’s been more than 35 years. I wonder if all retiring (or quitting) teachers feel like a failure, because I definitely do. I can see that — as with my writing — I’ve missed the “zeitgeist” completely and that all around me is taught, and valued, what I regard as complete bullshit. I’ve even reached the point, the moment, that I can say, “I’ve been wrong all along.”

Teaching is really about maintaining society. Writing is really about Introduction, body paragraphs and conclusion. It’s not about the expression of ideas; it’s not about learning the skill that will best serve that task uniquely every single time. It’s not about patience and discipline and the joy of discovering a thought. Helpful criticism given to students garners furious emails; students furious at themselves, students furious at me, bosses upset that I was not more “supportive” (what is not supportive about “let me know if you want to talk this over. I’ll let you revise it”?). 

I was aware how my attitude had changed, and I wrote about that, too. By the time I retired, writing textbooks were formulaic and teachers’ editions had directions as piss-ass and nit-picky as, “Now tell your students to pick up their pens…”

I now not only cringe when my students say, “But what about my body paragraphs?” I get actively infuriated. “What IF it’s not body paragraphs? What IF it’s something important you have to say?” It is not about that for them. It is about body paragraphs. They are so bonded to the five paragraph essay that they will write them even if the entire essay is 10 pages long… Five long ass meaningless meandering paragraphs. Who taught them this? Who taught them this way? I no longer understand the people I work with and I am pretty sure I don’t share their values. 

The scariest and most prescient thing I find in this old blog entry is this:

“I think the world today — in my life time — has undergone or is undergoing a revolution as cataclysmic as any in human history. We might not look at it (I don’t look at it) but people and/or their souls are dying all over the world all the time for the progress of this vague dark thing that is the future.”

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/01/20/rdp-monday-torch/

Boomer

I just got insulted on Twitter by being called a “Boomer.” Like I had anything to say about that? And where did that come from?

I’ll admit that, overall, I didn’t enjoy the last generation I taught very much. I didn’t “get” them and they didn’t get me. Raised in the world of “No Child Left Behind” and Obama’s equally egregious “educational” policy that focused on testing, this was a generation that grew up viewing teachers as adversaries and open questions as sadistic tricks. I left teaching 3 years before I’d planned because I no longer respected my students.

No teacher who feels that way should be in a classroom.

I’m very aware of the divide between the “young” and the “old” these days. It’s flamed by the media and in the eyes of the “young” we “boomers” are often equated with others who happened to have been born when we were — creatures such as Old 45 (known here as Offal, acronym for our fearless leader). The slam came when I agreed with Nancy Pelosi’s wise remark that the Democrats need to focus on winning the upcoming election, the presidency if possible, and seats in the Senate.

Nothing matters more. Right now the race is between Democrats competing for that slot on the ballot against Offal. When the primary circus is over, it will no longer be progressives vs. centrists. It will be Democrats vs. whatever the heck Offal is. I do not think he will be removed from office. The Repubs are viewing his selling out to a foreign power as “Just the way Trump does the Presidency.”

His machine is relentless and unyielding. It is completely subjective and not responsive to the rule of law. Behavior that should have had the Repubs shocked and dismayed seems to have had no effect at all. I truly (naively) expected them to turn around and say, “Offal, you can’t do that. That’s a crime. That’s a felony. That’s being a traitor.” But no. Politics trumped (ha ha) ethics. Whomever the Dems end up with will have to defeat Trump; they will have to get the Electoral College votes. Pelosi is completely right.

Pelosi made the point that what works in San Francisco won’t work in Michigan but what works in Michigan will work in San Francisco. Her focus there was workers rights. She was flamed by the young as being “over” and a closet Republican. She is making a case for strategy which is the right direction for any underdog.

What many young people don’t seem to understand is that 1) none of the progressive agenda can or will happen as long as Offal is in office; 2) once he is out of office and a transfer of power is made, the damage he’s caused will have to be repaired; 3) THEN the government can focus on the progressive agenda. None of this “boomer” stuff obviates the progressive agenda; it just very wisely points out that that agenda will not win enough votes in many states to get the electoral college vote.

So how do I, a Boomer, feel about the key progressive questions — ie. Medicare For All, the green new dal and free college? Well, since THIS is my bully pulpit, I’ll tell you. I think the Affordable Care Act — with all its flaws — is/was meant to be a step in the direction of health care for everyone. The “green new deal”? We’ve made more progress toward green technology than any shrieking 16 year old can possibly perceive. Can we do better? We have to. I support anything that will work. As for free college? I think high school should be better. I think elementary school should be better. Once people can graduate high school and go into the work force, then we can talk about free college, but as it is, high school is graduating people who cannot do anything. In my opinion, that’s a huge problem and one I’m very familiar with. I taught what was sixth grade English back in 1964 to college students in California in 2012. Truth. Our educational system is broken and it’s not, to me, about free college. It’s about returning power to teachers, getting parents out of the teachers’ faces, about nurturing curiosity and the willingness to try (and possibly fail). It’s about an end to constant standardized testing and an end to publishers determining curricula.

As for you young people? I’m not dismissing you with a label. I suspect that you are all individuals and, as you are young individuals, you’re going to learn a lot as time goes by.

We all do.

Rage

Long long ago I was accused of having a hot temper. I was told that it wasn’t charming and would get me in trouble as I got older. I guess as a little girl, I was quickly infuriated by things. I don’t remember it that way, but I do remember being in trouble — and receiving a lot of lectures — for getting angry. My dad was a model for a short temper, but everyone just said that the “got his Irish up easily.” It wasn’t, as my mom said, such a big problem for a man, but for a woman?

I don’t know about this double standard of temper, but somewhere in all that modeling and lecturing something might have sunk in. It’s been years since I’ve lost my temper. I think what buffered it was teaching. When you are obliged to be the adult in a room filled with post-adolescents you learn patience and how to keep your emotional distance. From that distance you can see that often the stuff that pisses you off is funny.

The last time I was infuriated I got very sick. My students (some of them) posted a sign on my classroom door saying my class was cancelled. When I headed to the classroom I saw some of my students going down the steps away from the building. “What?” I said.

“Professor?” they said, “we thought class was cancelled.”

“It isn’t,” I said. In the classroom, a few students. were sitting around looking bewildered, not believing it (I always posted on BlackBoard and emailed my students if I were going to be absent). One of my student picked up his phone to text some of his classmates, a message I knew later said, “Get back here. She’s pissed.”

I was angry at them but not profoundly. It was more a matter of needing to remind them why they were there, what the policy of absences was (I didn’t care). And there was a big rock concert in the desert that weekend, and class was on a Thursday, I expected absences anyway. Their stragedy was unnecessary. I didn’t count absences against students. I figured they were adults and could make their own decisions about their lives including attending class.

I was angry at whomever had posted the sign, however. That was just WRONG because it could hurt other students, but even then I would get over it. I wanted to find those students so I could tell them they had every right to miss class, but no right to affect the decisions of their classmates. If they didn’t want to go to class, great, that was their decision but cancelling class and pretending to be me? No.

I told my boss (who, from this episode I learned was a piece of work beyond description) who asked me who did it. I said I had suspicions and told him who. They WERE on their way to the rock concert I learned from their Facebook page. He called them into his office the following week. Afterward he said to me that I had had no right to look at their Facebook page and said, “They’re good kids,” and some other stuff. He then proceeded to accuse me of all kinds of things that these students had said, all of which were untrue — that I was often late for class (NEVER), that my lessons were disorganized (NEVER) and that I didn’t know the subject I was teaching (had taught for 10 years, had published juried articles about, etc.).

I was, obviously, furious and trapped. He’d criticized me to my students and had taken their side. A good boss should have the backs of his teachers. I have never been more angry or felt more impotent.

In the middle of that night, I had my first ever asthma attack. It was so bad — and completely unfamiliar — that I was terrified. I could not breathe. These episodes didn’t stop. They went on every night for weeks. One night I really thought I was going to die. I finally went to my (incompetent) doc who threw steroid inhalers at me and then complained when I didn’t get well. More than a year later. I was diagnosed by two specialists (working as a team) with a rare pseudo-allergy called Samter’s Triad or Aspirin Exacerbated Respiratory Disease, given a bunch of meds and was finally able to breathe and taste food again.

The thing is… I don’t seem to have it any more.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2019/09/08/rdp-sunday-infuriate/