Third Grade Art Class

Exhausted. Definitely. Here it is, the first day of school and I overslept. Fortunately the principal really IS a pal, and I’m just going to go a little later. I have the kid’s packets all ready and 7 weeks of classes planned out though I have NO idea what that means for 7 and 8 year old third graders. Mainly I think the goal of this art class is to help them get the skills to draw. In my heart-of-hearts I KNOW the only way to get those skills is by drawing.

I got many of my drawing skills studying literature. I’m not an aural learner and somewhere in the dim past of my life I started drawing pictures while my teachers yammered on and on. It helped me learn and I now know that’s a strategy for some kids to help them learn through listening.

Thinking of teaching the kids up the alley, I naturally went back in my memory to third grade. I was an unusual kid, I think. The summer before third grade my mom bought me an abridged version of Little Women and I read it. It was my first “thick book” and the first novel. I was enchanted by the story, and I soon had the idea that in all those “thick books” on the book shelf in our house were stories like that.

When school started, I was placed in the “middle” level of grade three since I was a new kid and that’s how the school system worked. Mrs. Futch was my teacher and I think I was a handful for her. When we sat in reading groups and read “with feeling” I was the star. She told my mom that I was reading at an 11th grade level, and that might have been true. In arithmetic, though? I wasn’t just bad at it. I was disruptive. I found it boring and meaningless to sit there working out a long list of problems, usually getting them wrong without knowing why. Instead, I drew pictures. Finally, I guess tired of putting me out in the hall where I usually ran into my little brother, who was in second grade and even more disruptive than I was, my teacher decided her imperative was to keep me quiet and inside the classroom.

She did this by bringing calendars to school. Not just ordinary calendars, but calendars she’d acquired during her husband’s tour of duty in Japan. There were beautiful reproductions of Classical Japanese art. She set up a table in the back of the class, gave me colored pencils, set me down and told me to draw.

As long as the class was doing arithmetic, I drew. I got a W (weakness; needs attention) in arithmetic that year, but my drawing improved and my appreciation for Japanese art never went away. When the time came for us to do our geography project in which we made a book about one state and one country, I chose Louisiana (because of the beautiful plantation homes that I’d seen a few years earlier traveling with my parents to Florida) and Japan. I had to find similarities between the two places. Somehow, I did, mainly both have magnolia trees. It was an incredibly fun project that involved a lot of …



One of my favorite blogs is The Dihedral. It’s a group of young(er than me) climbers who individually and collectively post from time to time. Today Casen, one of the writers, gave five steps for dealing with utter failure. While I’m sure he’s failed at something sometime, based on my experience a lot of what he offers as examples are just bad luck. BUT, his five steps are right on.

I commented that I am a great success at failure. He said he’d like to be in a failing contest with me. I mentioned I have a head start…

The post made me think about failure in my life and how I’ve dealt with it. I started failing subjects in school in third grade (arithmetic). I failed spelling (“belief” was a bitch of a word for me then…) Later in my life I failed courses in my major (Shakespeare, Critical Writing), courses outside my major (20th Century Philosophy — the failure there was that I didn’t DROP it before the deadline), Attic Greek (I thought when the prof called us “dolts” after the midterm he was talking to me; he wasn’t) French (I accidentally wrote the dictation in Spanish though the teacher spoke French; she threw me out)… I’ve failed at two marriages and numerous (basically all of my) significant romantic relationships. I failed at getting any of my books published conventionally. I fail constantly at proofreading. I failed ever to get tenure, even after several attempts and everything “going for me.” I failed the oral Foreign Service Exam (couldn’t think of an American film when asked; came up with a French one). I failed to make the right choice between marriage and remaining in China. I chose the marriage; see above. This isn’t even the complete list.

Looking back on all this failure it seems to me that REAL failure is not trying (when you want to try) and giving up without all the facts. Those are the failures. That’s failing. That’s utter failure. In those events in my life, I can find no redemption. My Greek prof collared me a year after I failed his class and said, “What happened to you?”

I said, “I figured if I failed the midterm, I wouldn’t pass the class anyway. So I…”

“Quit? You shouldn’t have. You were one of the two who passed that exam.”

Kick in the groin, that one. That’s failure.

I love this song, BTW

Bullet Proof School

This is Rosa Parks Elementary school in City Heights, one of the highest crime areas of San Diego when the school was built. Parents were involved in the design. It is surrounded by bars but they don’t look like bars; they look like sculpture.

Back then — from 1987 to 2003 — this was my neighborhood.¬†When I moved away, there were cops at all the entrances every morning and evening. The cop shop was within sight of this school and it wasn’t unusual for a cop to go through a kid’s backpack. The Florida school that recently endured the shooting is making kids carry clear backpacks. It’s a start.

It was built during the height of the 90s shooting wave — drive bys, gang wars, drug wars — all those weaponized urban wars that motivated California to change the gun laws. The change actually succeeded in reducing gun crimes. Any rational person can appreciate a reduction in gun crimes. Elimination is better, but reduction is good.

The green space that was once a scuzzy city park next door to this school is now a place to play baseball. It is overlooked by the park services (they are law enforcement and their headquarters is next to the park) and Rosa Parks school. It is now a safe place for people to go. I remember when it wasn’t.

The school itself quickly became a safe gathering point for lots of neighborhood events and a weekend clinic. It’s beautiful and loved and valued. It is EXTREMELY multicultural because the neighborhood is one where new immigrants often set up their first home in America.



Is this not a beautiful and inspiring story telling place?


This business about kids being killed in schools has been addressed in locations in the United States where life is or has been dangerous. Should life be dangerous? No. Should we have to worry about kids being shot in school? No.

But we DO have to worry about it.

Too much time is spent trying to dispute or argue the true meaning of the Second Amendment, whether guns kill people or not, whether a person has a right to a weapon of war for self-defense. It’s irrelevant. I think the ONLY way to deal with the reality of the gun culture in this country is to make schools much, much safer for kids.

I can’t even carry a Swiss army knife on an airplane (“Uh, excuse, I want to knife you, but I need a minute to get my knife open”) or a large bottle of hand lotion or shampoo! And we have schools that are open to any jackass who wants to bring in a gun because we don’t want our schools to be “fortresses.” As Rosa Parks in City Heights in San Diego proves, they don’t have to look like fortresses to BE fortresses.

I think school districts, states, cities, parents need to evaluate existing safe schools and learn from them, then, come together as they did when this school was planned and MAKE the schools safe. Fuck our government. It doesn’t care. Should it? Yes, but it doesn’t. All those splendid expensive Trumpian walls could be built around our schools. The security systems employed on the border could be used in schools.

The NRA only has the power we give it. People have power of their own but it needs to be claimed (and not in marches of impotence) and it needs to be directed toward change. Frankly, the march yesterday disgusted me. It’s not the kids’ job to go out there and march for safety in their schools. That they felt they had to is disgusting. That they believe it will change something is naive.