Category Archives: Civics and Citizenship

Teachable Moment

So, I’ve got this student in one of my classes; let’s call him Joe.  Joe is brash and abrasive.  He’s spent his life doing hard work in harsh conditions.  He’s a smoker (and probably a drinker).  My impression is that he’s not exactly amenable to doing the kind of thinking that will get him over what I see as the roadblocks he sets up for himself.  I think he thinks of himself as an “old dog,” and I present a particular challenge to him not only because of the class I teach (he’s not in community college to become a better writer; he’s made that perfectly clear), but also because of the energy I present.

Every class starts with a writing warm-up in the form of a quote that I ask the students to think and write about.  Today’s quote was from Jonathan Swift:  There are none so blind as those who will not see.  Here’s Joe’s response to that prompt:

To see is the ability to acknowledge what is happening around and in front of you.  When you can not see because you think you already have the answers, then you are destined to stumble around blind without a clue.

Those who simply will not see are entwined in an ignorant bliss, unaware of what is happening around them or the impact (or the negative impact) that there (sic) decision will make.  A prime example of this i that pinhead sitting in the white house. He refuse to see what a negative impact the ACA will have on the economy.  He refuses to negotiate to solve problems or simply ignores the problem either through ignorance or simply failure to see what is happening around the country.

When I went around the room asking what everyone wrote, Joe read his paper.  As I do with most of the kids’ responses, I challenged him about it.   I asked him to give me an example of the ACA having a negative impact on the economy, and he responded that employers are limiting employee hours and that it’s just bad.  I told him that, if this was something he was really invested in, he should do some research about it because I wasn’t sure that he could find evidence to support that claim.  Then I moved on to the next student.

When I got Joe’s paper this morning, he’d included an addendum, scrawled in larger letters and clearly showing some frustration at my resistance to his ideas:

IF THE ACA IS NOT HAVING A NEGATIVE IMPACT ON BUSINESSES, THEN HOW COME ALL BUSINESSES HAVE RECEIVED A WAIVER?  OPEN YOUR EYES and see that businesses are going to part-timers and dropping health care to employees.  If the ACA is really good, how come Congress refuses to give up there health care plans for the new one?  How many Dr.s have retired in the last year?

Since I very often write notes on the students’ responses (and because I KNOW that Joe reads every word I write on his papers), I composed this for him:

A couple of things here, Joe;

First, while I appreciate your passion for the topic, I want to warn you against name calling in your professional writing.  It’s perfectly acceptable – desired, even – to disagree with someone; disagreement gives us an opportunity to investigate other points of view and to shore up our own understanding of our positions.  It is not acceptable, however, to be disrespectful to people who disagree with you.  Even if you believe someone to be despicable, calling them names isn’t going to do anything to bolster your credibility.  Remember the Booker T. Washington quote we worked on last week; “you can’t hold a man down without staying down with him.”  Calling the President (or anyone else) a “pinhead” (or any other name) is going to diminish your credibility in the eyes of someone who might want to genuinely hear what you have to say.

In terms of addressing your complaints, I want to encourage you to do some research about the ACA and see if you can clarify and support some of the claims you’re making.  For starters, your assertion that “businesses are going to part-timers and dropping health care to employees” isn’t supported by the figures.  In fact, the recent trend in part-time employment is that it’s been going down, not up (see here for a chart: http://www.epi.org/blog/obamacare-isnt-causing-increase-part-time/).  While there is some anecdotal evidence to support that claim – folks like the man who owns Papa John’s and says that he “can’t afford” to provide health care to his employees are behind a lot of that noise – there’s no reputable, statistical evidence to support that the ACA is causing employers to cut back worker hours.  What’s more, the cry that the ACA is imposing a hardship on employers rings entirely false because the provision that would require employers with more than 50 employees to provide health care coverage doesn’t even kick in until 2015 (see here: http://www.cleveland.com/business/index.ssf/2013/09/charges_obamacare_is_causing_e.html)

Your assertion that “all businesses have received a waiver” is untrue, and is being spread as an issue by some less-than-reputable organizations and media outlets.  There are waivers, but they’re specific to both particular provisions of the health care law and to certain companies and organizations.

For example; the ACA eliminates the ability of insurance companies to cap the total amount of medical bills they would pay for each policy holder.  Those so-called “mini-med” plans charge customers very low premiums, but offer few benefits and require that the insured pay out of pocket for anything that exceeds a very low annual cap.  That provision was due to kick in next year, but the Department of Health and Human Services recognized that some insurance companies weren’t going to be ready to phase out those policies in that time, so HHS gave them more time to keep workers from losing coverage altogether while their employers searched for alternative plans.  (see here for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services report on this exemption: http://www.cms.gov/CCIIO/Resources/Files/approved_applications_for_waiver.html)

Earlier this year, the Internal Revenue Service announced an even broader exemption, delaying the requirement that companies with 50 or more full-time workers offer health benefits that met a minimum standard for coverage until 2015 (this is what I referenced in my “part time workers” explanation above). The agency did so, it said, because a lot of employers complained that they wouldn’t be able to comply with reporting requirements (see here for the IRS information: http://www.irs.gov/uac/Questions-and-Answers-on-the-Individual-Shared-Responsibility-Provision).  Notice that the businesses’ complaints were about reporting on coverage, not in providing it.  In fact, most small businesses already provide health care coverage to their full-time employees, so the ACA doesn’t affect them at all (see here for a full report: http://kff.org/private-insurance/report/2013-employer-health-benefits/).

Your complaint that “Congress refuses to give up their health plans for the new one” isn’t quite accurate, either.  Congress is not required to give up their health care plans, and neither is anyone else who already has coverage.  All the ACA does (as regards insurance coverage) is require that people actually have health insurance.  The exchanges are designed for those who can’t get adequate or affordable coverage through their employer.  The ACA makes it so that individuals who have to buy their own insurance (and some small firms) would be eligible to participate in state-based exchanges, which would offer a range of health insurance plans for purchase (unlike pre-ACA insurance shopping; it was difficult – and SUPER expensive – for individuals and small businesses to purchase insurance as single entities.  Don’t forget, too, that these exchanges are made up of private insurance companies; that’s important to remember when someone’s telling you that the ACA is “socialized medicine”).

Those who already get insurance through their employers, Medicare, Medicaid, the military’s Tricare insurance program, or the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program wouldn’t be required – or even eligible – to participate in the health care exchanges. All federal employees, including members of Congress (and the President), fall under the FEHBP. Those who have coverage from a large employer wouldn’t be eligible, either, unless their coverage didn’t meet minimum benefits criteria or was deemed to be unaffordable.

Finally, I couldn’t find any reputable source that confirms that doctors are going to retire over the implementation of the ACA.  Neither could I find accurate numbers about the rate of physician retirement (this was as close as I could come: http://www.lewin.com/~/media/Lewin/Site_Sections/Publications/3027.pdf).  I did find, though, that one out of three practicing physicians in the United States is over the age of 55, and many of them are expected to retire in the next 10 or 15 years.  If you can point me to evidence that doctors are retiring rather than participate in the health care changes (something that wasn’t published by World Net Daily, Liberty News or Fox), then please do and I’ll review my position on this.

We should also consider that the ACA is going to expand access to medical care for millions of people who don’t currently have such access.  That means that the demand for doctors is going to increase.  Expanded coverage is predicted to increase the number of annual primary care visits between 15.07 million and 24.26 million by 2019. Assuming stable levels of physicians’ productivity, between 4,307 and 6,940 additional primary care physicians would be needed to accommodate this increase (see here for the citation for those figures:  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-0009.2011.00620.x/full).

I want to encourage you to put your energy and passion to good use on this issue, but remember that it’s sometimes difficult to argue about something when we are too wrapped up in our feelings about it.  A good argument comes from a place of respect, inquiry, logic, and evidence.  Try taking a step back and a deep breath, then go looking for evidence to support your position.  Work from a position of facts, and keep the name-calling under your hat.

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Branching Out

So, have I mentioned here that I’m becoming less and less confident about my ability to find work in a classroom? If not, well, I am; I’ve been out of work for more than a year and in all that time – despite having sent resumes to literally every educational institution within a 50 mile radius (some more than once) – I’ve only had three interviews. There’s something not right about that.

As a consequence, I’ve begun to consider moving outside of education and pursuing something in activism. To that end, I’ve been sending out this letter to groups and organizations that work for social justice causes (I’ve only changed identifying details):

Hello!

I wish that I could make this introduction in person because I fear that I’m not going to come off at all the way I intend. Keeping that in mind, I’m just going to forge ahead and hope for the best. I beg your indulgence.

I am a 44-year-old mother of two teenaged daughters. My husband and I have been together for over 20 years and have lived in Coastal New England for all of them. I graduated from LU in 1996 with a degree in English with a concentration in education and literary criticism, got married that summer, and delivered our first child the following June. Mr. Chili and I did the math and realized that it would be much more financially sound for me to stay home with the baby, so that’s what I happily did. Our second daughter was born in March of 1999, and I rocked the stay-at-home-mom gig until she went to kindergarten and I headed back to LU for grad school. I finished my Master’s in English teaching in 2006 and worked teaching at the high school, community college, and university level until last year, when I took some time to pursue a post-graduate certificate (again, at LU; I have an all-State education!) in adolescent development.

I’m writing to you because I have discovered, through both casual observation and focused introspection, that I’m deeply passionate about social causes. Just about every class discussion I ever led was grounded in figuring out why things happen to people the way they do, in identifying what forces are in place that cause them (and how we do or do not perpetuate those systems), and in exhorting students to think critically and to find – and use – their voices. My friends have told me that I’m the first person they go to when they need information about an issue, or when they want someone to help them work through their thinking about one thing or another. My whole life has been spent as an outspoken and unapologetic LGBTQ ally and, separately, a strong pro-choice advocate. A significant part of my identity is wrapped up in being socially conscious and energetic, and in teaching others to be so, too.

I wholeheartedly embraced the crazy of this past election cycle (I had time on my hands, after all) and I found myself being frustrated, again and again, by the lack of knowledge that was being utilized by my friends and acquaintances. I posted about a zillion things on my facebook page and tried to direct people to thoughtful, accurate sources for the information they lacked. I spoke to people, I enlisted former students into the voting rolls, and volunteered with the local Obama campaign.

I want to do more of that, but I’m coming quickly to understand that my energy and passion are seen as liabilities in traditional school settings. I guess what I’m asking you is this; is there an opportunity with your organization that would use my passion, my teaching skills (I am an excellent and enthusiastic teacher, particularly of teenagers), and my research, writing, and speaking abilities in a position where I can feel like I’m making a difference? I’m not a naive 20-something; I understand that one person doesn’t go out and set the world on fire. I do believe, however, that one person can set off a ripple that reaches farther than that person ever imagined it could, and I feel like I am a significant pebble that could make some really wonderful waves if I could just find the right pond.

So, there you have it. I’m outspoken, energetic, committed, and thoughtful. I’ve got some significant work experience and I care about the job that I do. I’m personable, easygoing, and eager to learn. I need something to do with all this energy. Got any suggestions?

Thank you so much for taking this time for me. I really, really appreciate it.

Warmly,

Mrs. Chili

 

I haven’t had any luck in getting positive responses to this email until today, when I got this:

Hello Chili,
Thank you for your email and for your passion for justice.  I think that I would like to meet with you face to face to talk and see what we could possibly do together.
Is it possible for you to meet sometime next week in *one of our bigger cities*?  I will be free Thursday and Friday afternoons.
Or suggest another time/place.
 
Best wishes,
Sarah Jane

I’ve written back to let her know that I’m available at her convenience.  I’m really excited to see where this goes.

 

p.s. I’m still working on putting together the post about my experience at Dr. Wong’s school (here’s a spoiler; once I left, I never heard from them again…).

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Quick Hit: Vindication

I attended a seminar yesterday on the Constitution and the ways in which the document continues to change and evolve as society does.  It was a fascinating day – much more so than I imagined it would be – and I’m eager to sign up for the rest of the programs in the series.

One of the panels featured a lawyer who does extensive work with issues of privacy.  After her session, I made my way to the front of the lecture hall to try to get a moment or two with her, which she graciously offered me.  I quickly told her to story about what happened to me at CHS last year, giving her a thumbnail sketch of the proverbial ‘facts of the case,’ but stopping just short of the fact that I was let go at the end of it all.

Her very clear and unhesitating diagnosis of the situation was that a school representative, working with the express permission of a parent, has the right to disclose personal information of a medical nature about said parent’s minor child.  It seems that  HIPA has a clause that allows for the release of information by the subject party or the subject party’s legal representative – in this case, a parent – and, in the absence of a clear school policy forbidding such disclosure (which there wasn’t), there is absolutely no wrongdoing if said school representative gives information about a student to the school community.

The attorney literally gasped when I told her that I’d been let go as a consequence of the story I told her.  She went on to tell me that I absolutely had actionable cause (which I’m not going to pursue) and that this never should have happened.

I said the things that I said that day with the express permission of Sweet Pea’s parents (and Sweet Pea concurred when she was well again and I was catching her up on what was going on at CHS).  I knew what I was doing was right when I was doing it, but I walked away from the conversation yesterday feeling incredibly vindicated.

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Angry Love Letter

I subscribe to Letters of Note.  You should, too.

This was today’s offering.  It’s a letter from Pat Conroy, the author of, among other things, The Prince of Tides, in response to hearing that a school board in West Virginia had challenged the inclusion of that novel and another of his works, Beach Music.  The letter was published in the local newspaper, and the challenges later failed.

Letters like this make my proud to do what I do.
To the Editor of the Charleston Gazette:

I received an urgent e-mail from a high school student named Makenzie Hatfield of Charleston, West Virginia. She informed me of a group of parents who were attempting to suppress the teaching of two of my novels, The Prince of Tides and Beach Music. I heard rumors of this controversy as I was completing my latest filthy, vomit-inducing work. These controversies are so commonplace in my life that I no longer get involved. But my knowledge of mountain lore is strong enough to know the dangers of refusing to help a Hatfield of West Virginia. I also do not mess with McCoys.

I’ve enjoyed a lifetime love affair with English teachers, just like the ones who are being abused in Charleston, West Virginia, today. My English teachers pushed me to be smart and inquisitive, and they taught me the great books of the world with passion and cunning and love. Like your English teachers, they didn’t have any money either, but they lived in the bright fires of their imaginations, and they taught because they were born to teach the prettiest language in the world. I have yet to meet an English teacher who assigned a book to damage a kid. They take an unutterable joy in opening up the known world to their students, but they are dishonored and unpraised because of the scandalous paychecks they receive. In my travels around this country, I have discovered that America hates its teachers, and I could not tell you why. Charleston, West Virginia, is showing clear signs of really hurting theirs, and I would be cautious about the word getting out.

In 1961, I entered the classroom of the great Eugene Norris, who set about in a thousand ways to change my life. It was the year I read The Catcher in the Rye, under Gene’s careful tutelage, and I adore that book to this very day. Later, a parent complained to the school board, and Gene Norris was called before the board to defend his teaching of this book. He asked me to write an essay describing the book’s galvanic effect on me, which I did. But Gene’s defense of The Catcher in the Rye was so brilliant and convincing in its sheer power that it carried the day. I stayed close to Gene Norris till the day he died. I delivered a eulogy at his memorial service and was one of the executors of his will. Few in the world have ever loved English teachers as I have, and I loathe it when they are bullied by know-nothing parents or cowardly school boards.

About the novels your county just censored: The Prince of Tides and Beach Music are two of my darlings which I would place before the altar of God and say, “Lord, this is how I found the world you made.” They contain scenes of violence, but I was the son of a Marine Corps fighter pilot who killed hundreds of men in Korea, beat my mother and his seven kids whenever he felt like it, and fought in three wars. My youngest brother, Tom, committed suicide by jumping off a fourteen-story building; my French teacher ended her life with a pistol; my aunt was brutally raped in Atlanta; eight of my classmates at The Citadel were killed in Vietnam; and my best friend was killed in a car wreck in Mississippi last summer. Violence has always been a part of my world. I write about it in my books and make no apology to anyone. In Beach Music, I wrote about the Holocaust and lack the literary powers to make that historical event anything other than grotesque.

People cuss in my books. People cuss in my real life. I cuss, especially at Citadel basketball games. I’m perfectly sure that Steve Shamblin and other teachers prepared their students well for any encounters with violence or profanity in my books just as Gene Norris prepared me for the profane language in The Catcher in the Rye forty-eight years ago.

The world of literature has everything in it, and it refuses to leave anything out. I have read like a man on fire my whole life because the genius of English teachers touched me with the dazzling beauty of language. Because of them I rode with Don Quixote and danced with Anna Karenina at a ball in St. Petersburg and lassoed a steer in Lonesome Dove and had nightmares about slavery in Beloved and walked the streets of Dublin in Ulysses and made up a hundred stories in The Arabian Nights and saw my mother killed by a baseball in A Prayer for Owen Meany. I’ve been in ten thousand cities and have introduced myself to a hundred thousand strangers in my exuberant reading career, all because I listened to my fabulous English teachers and soaked up every single thing those magnificent men and women had to give. I cherish and praise them and thank them for finding me when I was a boy and presenting me with the precious gift of the English language.

The school board of Charleston, West Virginia, has sullied that gift and shamed themselves and their community. You’ve now entered the ranks of censors, book-banners, and teacher-haters, and the word will spread. Good teachers will avoid you as though you had cholera. But here is my favorite thing: Because you banned my books, every kid in that county will read them, every single one of them. Because book-banners are invariably idiots, they don’t know how the world works—but writers and English teachers do.

I salute the English teachers of Charleston, West Virginia, and send my affection to their students. West Virginians, you’ve just done what history warned you against—you’ve riled a Hatfield.

Sincerely,

Pat Conroy

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On Dumbing Down

A friend of mine on Facebook pointed me to this article this morning.

No, really; go and read it.  It won’t take you but a minute or two.  I’ll wait…..

….. Back?  Okay, good.  So, remember how I keep telling you that the Universe has a way of putting things in my path at just the right moment?  Well, later on this afternoon, I came across this.  No, really; go and read this, too (it’s even shorter than the Ebert piece, and there’s a video of the moment at the end).

All of this has got me thinking about the expectations we have for education, and about the attitude that some of us in the culture have developed as relates to what it means to be an educated person.

Exactly when did it become uncool to be smart?  At what point did we decide that ignorance – in speech, in manner, in comprehension – was a virtue?  When did it become okay to mock smart people, and to treat educated people with, at best, disdain or, at worst, antagonism?  Since when did “educated” become synonymous with “elitist”?

For all the lip service we give as a nation to the idea of education, one would think we’d be better than this.  We’ve got all kinds of accountability measures, we talk a great game about competing with other intellectually forward nations, we lament “brain drains” happening to our smaller cities (and our nation as a whole) and rail at teachers for failing to truly educate our kids.  We so aspire to send our children to college that we’ve reached a point where applications to those institutions are so numerous that even the best students have trouble finding places to accept them (trust me on this; every spring, I watch as seniors lose their collective shit over essays and applications and acceptance letters that sometimes don’t come).

The reality on the ground, though, under the buzz of all the rhetoric, is very different.  We (the collective ‘we’ – present company excluded) don’t want to push the kids too hard, lest we damage their self-esteem.  We don’t ‘make’ them read or study or perform, and when some of us try, we’re reprimanded by administrators who are getting pressure from parents who want to make excuses for why their kids “can’t” do whatever it is we’re requiring of them.  As teachers, we’re told not to expect too much, to settle for what we get, and to try to make the best of what the students are willing to give us (which, most of the time, isn’t much).

It’s this sort of culture that produces the monstrosities that Ebert is railing against.  From my (admittedly limited) perspective, everything from comic-book interpretations of great works of literature to a politically-correct scrubbing of Huckleberry Finn (to the watering down of curriculum in virtually every other subject, as well) is a symptom of an attitude of “what’s the least I can do?”

Granted, this is not a new thing – my generation had Cliff’s Notes, and I’m reasonably sure that some other shortcuts existed before that – but when I was a student, at least, utilizing those kinds of resources was looked down on as a variation of cheating.  Now, though, we’re publishing books for use in schools that don’t even put up the pretense of challenging our students; we’re marketing these sorts of bastardizations and modifications as legitimate substitutes for the real thing.

Look; I don’t begrudge anyone having to look up the word “perspicacious.”  It’s a doozy of a word, and I’m betting that very few people who aren’t English teachers or avid crossword solvers wouldn’t have to look it up; it’s not exactly something one drops in casual conversation, is it?  I appreciate straightforward speech as much as the next person – I’m not (always) of the opinion expressed by Martin Sheen’s President Bartlett in The West Wing that, “anyone who uses one word when they could have used ten just isn’t trying hard enough.”  I will say, though, that I’d rather have ten words than live with this:

No; what I object to is the seeming disdain that came with the Amanpour’s vocabulary choice.  The fact that the incident has drawn as much attention as it has – and that the word has been labeled as “fancy” with what I perceive as no small tone of sneer – is what I object to.  I continue to be horrified by the attitude of students when I hand them a book that I expect them to read; the look of utter shock on their faces infuriates me every time (“But, Mrs. Chili; this book has, like, TWO HUNDRED PAGES!  You can’t really expect us to READ all that, can you?!”), and forget expecting them to look up words they encounter in that reading that they don’t already know. I object to the attitude that being smart is something to be avoided.

When we have a rich and nuanced vocabulary, we’re able to express ourselves with depth and clarity.  When we know “fancy” words and are able to use them correctly to people who understand them, we open up avenues of communication that make wondrous things possible.  Haven’t you ever been frustrated by not having the words to describe an experience, or by being unable to convey an idea with the kind of clarity that satisfies you?  Wouldn’t having access to a richer and more comprehensive vocabulary have helped that situation?  Why, then, do people resist learning new ways of saying what they think?  Why are people who use words with relish looked down upon as snobs and elitists?

I say it’s time we start countering that attitude.  We need to stop limiting ourselves (and our children) by elevating “down home folksy” (which, to me, is a euphemism for ignorant) to an ideal.  Smart matters.  The more you know, the more you’re able to do – and the less other people can take advantage of you.

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Delayed Reaction

I don’t waste energy pretending to be someone I’m not at work.  I know a lot of people who make very clear distinctions between their personal selves and their professional selves, but I am in the fortunate position of not feeling compelled to do that and, as a result, I don’t.  I’m actually proud to be a very what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of person; my students would recognize me out in public because I’m exactly the same person at work as I am at home.  It just so happens that this person identifies as a strongly liberal, enthusiastically progressive rational Humanist.

Part of how I express myself in my professional life is through words (no, really, Chili?!).  I have a plethora of bumper stickers and posters and hangings and magnets and quotables stuck on vertical surfaces all over my room, and most of them express decidedly progressive, liberal values.  Clearly, the students see (and appreciate) this, because not long after the school year started, they began coming in with things to add to my collection.

Around the second or third week of school, a student printed out this picture and gave it to me.  I taped it among a bunch of other things in what I thought was a relatively non-prominent section of a filing cabinet.

I was fully expecting to have to take it down in short order.  The image is a little pushy for the classroom, even for me, and even if the kids didn’t object, it is a fact that the school’s board meets in my room.   I know for sure that board members often peruse my collection of sayings while they’re milling about drinking coffee and eating pastry while waiting for their meetings to begin; I was certain one of them would express concern or raise an objection or ask my boss to talk to me about it.

September… October (when a student came back from the Rally for Sanity with the Less Condos / More Condoms sticker for me)… November… December… January… February… March… April… nothing.  No one mentioned it, no one even brought it up.

Yesterday – YESTERDAY – I get a message from my boss asking me to take it down.  Someone complained (I have no idea who – and, honestly, I don’t want to know – but I suspect it’s one of the same kids who’s been complaining that we’re not validating his or her Christian beliefs) and, as a consequence, I’ve been told to take it down because we can’t be “advertising” sex.

My boss, to her credit, made it clear that she has no issue with the image.  She’s responding to pressure from outside the school, and it’s just not a fight worth having.

I have chosen not to make a stink about this, but it is a very near thing.  I think, if I hadn’t just spent the last month raging and despairing about the state of our culture, I would likely have the energy to protest.  I’m just tired.  I’m tired of people being too closed-minded to understand that the KIDS brought this in, that this is an image that expresses positive ideals.  They would understand that this isn’t about sex; it doesn’t represent an advertisement for sex but rather is a First Amendment right to dissent, and that the message the image is sending is that while the closed-minded and ugly have a right to free speech, so does everyone else.  I would fight for this if I thought it wouldn’t give my boss any more stress than she’s already getting from the person/people complaining about it.  I WILL fight for this if a student notices it’s gone and raises questions.  As it is, I’ve transferred the image to the other side of the cabinet where I can see it, and where students who come to conference with me will see it.  I like the positive message it gives (notice who’s smiling in the picture?), and I want the kids to know that I support fully their right to dissent, but not to silence those who have something to say.

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What Would Jesus Teach?

My boss is awesome.

It seems that she’s been getting some heat (the intensity of which I am still unaware) from some students and parents who identify as Christian.  The fact that this has been happening completely outside of my perception is part of why my boss is so awesome; she’s been dealing with it without involving me at all.

The little that she told me is that there are a number of people who are expressing concern that CHS may be a hostile environment for people who identify as Christian.  They’re upset about some of the issues that our books bring up, they’re wondering about the class discussions we have, they’re concerned that we’re not offering up a Christian perspective on the topics we engage.

You know what?  They’re right; we’re not.  That doesn’t make our environment hostile to Christians, though, any more than it makes ours a hostile environment for Muslims or Taoists or Jews or Secular Humanists.

I have often been accused of having an agenda in the classroom, and this is an accusation I do not deny.  I’ve written about it before, but it bears repeating: my primary purpose in the classroom is to get my kids to think and to question and to argue.  My secondary purpose is to get them to consider that there is more than one way of thinking, and while I don’t advocate that all ways are equally valid, I DO require that my students engage in some critical inquiry of the material I give them.  I am sure that some of the things I ask my students to think about are things that some people who identify as Christians may find objectionable.

Honestly?  I don’t care.  In fact, I’m that’s kind of what I’m going for – not to piss off Christians specifically, but to push everyone a little bit outside of their respective comfort zones.  That’s where the good stuff happens; we don’t grow if we don’t venture outside our boundaries. If your faith imposes boundaries that you are not able to challenge, even a little bit, then perhaps ours isn’t the right environment for you.  There are two Christian religious high schools in our town that I’m sure will accept your application.

I’m not asking anyone to accept what I say as truth.  I’m not putting up any of the issues or concepts we discuss in class as truth – I mean, come on; I use a speech from an admitted Nazi in a few of my classes, for crying out loud – and I’m always completely open to (well-articulated and supported) argument about anything that I use in the classroom.  I make a point that my students understand that it’s perfectly okay to disagree, as long as one isn’t disagreeable; if a student argues with something that I personally believe, and that student argues it well, that student will never get a bad grade.  I was impressed by this when my undergrad Ed. Philosophy professor gave me an A on a paper upon which she’d written “this is an excellent argument.  I think you’re completely wrong, but you made your case extremely well.”

I’m not here to support anyone’s spiritual life.  I will be respectful of everyone’s right to practice their faith, but I will not tiptoe around their sensibilities, either.  My job is to get you to think, and to back up your thinking with evidence: if your belief system can’t withstand a little rigorous thinking, then perhaps you ought to reconsider your belief system.

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Today in History

At CHS, we do what we call “morning circle.” Every morning before classes, the entire community gets together in the common area and goes through whatever announcements are on the board before we begin our day.

I listen to NPR on my way in to work.  Every morning just before 7:00, the local announcer gives one little tidbit of history when he announces the date: “Today is Tuesday, September 21. Today marks the birthday of author H.G. Wells, born on this day in 1866. The news is next.” That sort of thing. I really like that – I find it compelling – so this year, I began a daily habit of presenting a “today in history” segment at the end of announcements.

When I get to school in the morning, I scan through several websites for information about historical events, birthdays, and deaths that happened on that day. The kids seem to look forward to it; other day, we acknowledged both John Coltrain’s and Ray Charles’s birthdays, and earlier this month, I mentioned that the battle of Thermopylae had occurred on that date (much to the delight of the two or three kids who were familiar with that event). One student has even started listing events along with me; I try to go for things that the students would recognize and she finds the more unfamiliar, less famous events.  She told me the other day that she does that because she wants the community to “learn something.”  How awesome is that?

I discovered, on this Saturday morning, that the “today in history” is becoming a habit.  I don’t have to report on today’s events, yet I found myself looking them up, nevertheless.  Today, it turns out, was a pretty big day for civil rights in the U.S.; on September 25, nine black high school students entered Little Rock High School under the very real threat of a very angry mob.

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I also found out that today is the day, in 1789, that the U.S. Congress passed the ten amendments to the Constitution that became our Bill of Rights.

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If I didn’t teach English, I would likely have become a history teacher.

Happy Saturday, Everyone!

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Thank God I’m Not From Texas!

via campusprogress.org.

I mean, really; what the fuck are these people thinking?!

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REALLY!?

Here’s one of those things that, if it hadn’t actually happened to me, I wouldn’t have believed it.

I received this email from one of my students on Monday:

I have to work tomorrow night and I will not be able to watch the Inaugural Speech and I don’t know anyone that has access of taping it or anything. Do you have any suggestions on how I can still get the assignment done? If you could get back to me as soon as possible I appreciate it :) Thank You, Carl.



Obama Inauguration

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Carl, REALLY?!  Are you SERIOUS?  First of all, Carl, the address was delivered around lunch time; if you didn’t have to work until the evening, you should have been able to see the damned thing on – oh, I don’t know -  EVERY SINGLE CHANNEL.  The fact that you’re emailing me would indicate that you have, you know, ELECTRICITY – internet, even.  I’m certain that, with a minimum of effort, you can find Obama’s speech.  Hell, I picked up a copy of the free town newspaper, and they’ve got a full-page spread of the text of the address.  Did you try YouTube?  How about CNN.com?  OH!  I KNOW!  The White House web page.  American Rhetoric?  Have I offered you enough choices?

I sent him back a terse and no-so-polite email basically telling him that I was going to offer him the opportunity to figure this one out on his own and that, if he got REALLY stuck, he should email me back.

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