Category Archives: concerns

I’m Taking Bets

How well do you think students will be able to follow these directions?  This is what they’ll find on their Blackboard pages while I’m away in DC next week:

There’s a lot here; please read it all carefully.

For your final paper, you’ll produce a researched essay in which you state and support a position on an issue of your choosing.

I would suggest (strongly) that you craft your position around the issue that you researched for the analysis paper, since most of your research for that topic is already done.  If you decide that you want to veer off in a different direction or go in-depth with an aspect of your analysis that you didn’t have time or evidence to pursue in your last paper, however, you’re more than welcomed to do that.

As part of your pre-writing work, please read ALL of the “Debate about Animal Rights” and the “Debate about the Death Penalty” essays in your text (4 essays, pgs. 422-454).  Please note the organization of these essays, the ways in which the authors emphasize and support their main points, the way the opposition is addressed, and how the essays conclude.  Work on identifying not only topic/purpose/audience, but also strategy; HOW does the author craft his or her essay to achieve the desired effect on the reader (what IS the desired effect on the reader)?  How are the essays similar, and how are they different?  Which essays were most compelling to you, and why?  BE SPECIFIC; point out passages or strategies that you found especially effective and articulate the differences and similarities you find in the essays.

Please note, also, the language that each of the authors employs; what is the general tone of each of the essays?  I have noticed that our class is still struggling to find a professional tone; I’m not asking you to become someone you’re not – to change your voice entirely while you’re writing – but I do expect you to know – and to be able to employ – a professional, academic tone when such is required.  That means using the correct words in the correct ways, crafting complete, complex, and coherent sentences and paragraphs, and being able to organize your thinking into a sustained and thoughtful essay that is easy to read and understand.

That means drafting.  At some point during the week, you need to connect with AT LEAST TWO of your classmates to workshop your first draft of this essay.  Please come to class on the Tuesday we return (the 29th) with a complete SECOND draft – along with the notes and feedback from your classmates – you will be graded on this – and be ready to workshop.  Note the attachments above; use them to help you give thoughtful, careful, and meaningful feedback to your peers (author’s note; here, I attached three PDFs; one that articulate the purpose of peer review and two that offer different strategies for both giving and receiving (and using) feedback).

Please also continue to read and critique opinion pieces from the newspaper, and to listen to analysis from NPR.  Listen to the strategies, notice the language, and pay particular attention to introductions, support, and conclusions.  Providing evidence of these pre-writing exercises will count toward your crafting grade (see below) and will help to make your writing stronger.

 

Come to class on the 29th with all of your pre-writing (including your first draft and all your revisions) and a complete, printed copy of your second draft.

 

These papers will be graded on three components:

Craft  20/100 – the paper shows strong evidence of a command of writing as a PROCESS.  The writer provides plentiful evidence of “behind the scenes” work by articulating a clear topic/purpose/audience, showing evidence of careful and engaged pre-writing activities – including significant exposure to professional examples of the genre – and engaging in a vigorous and attentive workshop and revision practice.  Significant and substantial revisions are evident from first to final draft, and the author is able to both offer feedback to others and engage critically with his or her own work using peer feedback and employing critical reading skills to his or her own writing.

 

Content 60/100 – the paper is well written and complete.  The introduction is engaging and thorough.  The organizational structure establishes relationships between and among ideas and events, presents a logical progression of ideas, and is unified and complete: the paper maintains a consistent focus on the topic.  Credible, relevant evidence is provided to back up the author’s claims, and the opposition’s best counterpoint is addressed clearly, accurately, and fairly.  The author provides sufficient background for the reader to understand the “so what” questions and does not assume facts not in evidence.  The author demonstrates a solid grasp of the complexities of the issue, and is able to present a logical, defensible position to a neutral reader.  The conclusion is logical, reasonable, and satisfying.

 

Style 20/100 – the paper is written in a consistent, accurate academic voice, and sustained awareness of audience is evident throughout the paper.  The author is in control of the vocabulary of the paper; all of the words mean what the author intends, and word choice is precise, artful, and appropriate to the writing task.  All sentences are complete, and all paragraphs are cohesive (one idea per paragraph).   Sentence structure varies according to the writer’s need and are consistently clear, logical, and enjoyable to read.  Evidence is cited in proper MLA format, and the Works Cited page is formatted correctly.  The author does not employ rhetorical questions, personal pronouns, or faulty logic.

4 Comments

Filed under about writing, concerns, lesson planning, Teaching, writing

Ten Things Tuesday

Ten things my students chose to write about for their position papers:

1.  Puppy mills.  This student went ahead with this despite my recommendations that she choose another topic.  The standard for a topic was that reasonable people could disagree about the issue, and she admitted that reasonable people could not defend the heinous practices of puppy mills and yet, there it was, a paper arguing against the heinous practices of puppy mills.  Sigh.

2.  Electric Vehicles.  This one wasn’t so bad, though it was boring to read.

3.  Abortion.  Natch.  This paper was horrendous; it was all I could do to figure out what the student was trying to say.

4.  Electroshock therapy.  While this student started off strong, the paper fell apart about a quarter of the way in; he focused more on the history of the practice than on arguing that the way it’s currently being applied should be reconsidered.

5.  Animal testing.  This paper was completely incomprehensible.  Observe, a cut-and-pasted paragraph from the essay:

Martasian (student’s beliefs about animal research) found that students have more negative attitudes towards animals testing than undergraduates involved in animal research. The study also shows pervious work by examining feeling towards two nations. Some previous studies of this kind were characterized by a single nation. The same study that involves the two nations, those nations were among the British and Americans. Newkirk (wrote the book Free the animals: the story of the Animal Liberation Front) found animal welfare is more highly developed in North American than in Britain. Two groups were recruited from Britain and the United States.

Really; I have no idea what to do with that.

6.  Gay rights.  This one appeared in a couple of my classes.  One student did okay with it; the other tried to argue that gay marriage should be banned because it does not provide a good environment for children.  Needless to say, I eviscerated that paper, pointed the kid in another direction (reasonable people can argue for the separation of civil and religious marriage, so I encouraged him to take that angle) and sent the paper back for revision.

7.  Obamacare.  I told the students that they were welcomed to write about what they thought was an important issue and that, even if I staunchly disagreed with their position, they’d get the grade if they did good work with it.  This kid got all of his information from well known right-wing propaganda machines and forwarded claims that I could debunk on Google.  I sent the paper back and told him to try again.

8.  Whaling.  This was another paper that started out with a good premise but fell apart before we got to page two.

9.  NASA funding.  I haven’t read this paper yet, but the kid who wrote it wrote a surprisingly effective (and entertaining) analysis about calcium, so I have high hopes.

10.  Funding for the arts in schools.  This paper is another I haven’t read yet and, to be honest, I’m kind of dreading it; the student who’s writing it hasn’t produced anything of any kind of quality all semester (AND he admitted that he started the paper the night before it was due, despite my trying to get them to run through a drafting and revision process for weeks).  Oy.

 

 

6 Comments

Filed under bad grammar, composition, concerns, dumbassery, failure, frustrations, I've got this kid...., Logical Fallacies, really?!, Teaching, writing, Yikes!, You're kidding...right?

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…).

3 Comments

Filed under Civics and Citizenship, concerns, critical thinking, frustrations, job hunting, Learning, Mrs. Chili as Student, out in the real world, self-analysis, speaking, success!, Teaching, The Job, winging it, Yikes!

Quick Hit: Thank You, Sir; May I Have Another?

Ugh.  I should be used to this by now, but I’m just not. Every one of these feels like a sock in the gut.

Thank you for your interest in Local U. I’ve placed your CV in our files. Unfortunately, we did not have as many adjunct sections available for the Fall. I will keep your information on file, in case there are any changes.

Leave a comment

Filed under concerns, failure, frustrations, job hunting, out in the real world, really?!, You're kidding...right?

Quick Hit: I Got a Hit!

Ohmygodohmygodohmygod!

I got a response to an application, You Guys!

I’ve got an appointment for an initial interview at a high school on the 28th!!

As of right now, I’m feeling the strangest combination of exhilaration, reticence, and naked panic.  I want, so badly, to be excited about this possibility, but I’m afraid to let myself go too crazy because I know what the odds are like of my actually getting this position.  I’m also worried about the interview; I’ve only had one (for a job I didn’t get) and when I asked the department head for feedback about that interview, I never heard back.  I have no idea if I did or said something that put them off, and I’m terrified of doing it again.

It’s going to be a LONG two weeks.

4 Comments

Filed under concerns, job hunting, self-analysis, winging it, Yikes!

Improving My Argument

*A continuation of the Counting My Chickens series*

I’m soliciting advice on how to present a particular argument.  Your input would be most appreciated.

improve your argumentimage credit

I am prepping to give a writing workshop at CPS on Friday, and I was going through the folder of information Dr. Wong gave me a few weeks ago when I first visited the school.  In it are fliers about the grading system, the dress code, tuition, things like that.  Included in the packet is the school’s handbook, and in that handbook is a whole section about “Respectful Language.”

Oh, boy; here we go….

I’ve written about how I feel about “colorful language” a number of times (notably here. There are other posts, too, I’m sure, but I don’t have the patience to look them up right now).  I feel – and have always felt – as though it’s my job as a teacher to give kids a strong command of their language – ALL of their language – and to teach them when it’s appropriate to use which rhetorical strategies.  Sometimes, and particularly when we’re engaging in creative endeavors, a particular of class of words is required to get across the true tenor of one’s meaning.  Those words exist for a reason, and part of my job is to make sure my students understand both when they need to employ them and when the rhetorical situation allows for it.

Like a fucking lady

image credit

The upshot of the section in the handbook is that if you have a strong enough vocabulary, you don’t need to utter imprecations.  I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy that, and I’m trying to figure out a way to present that case in a way that is clear, logical, and defensible.  If I’m going to be asked to join this staff, I cannot have a limitation placed on what I can and cannot accept from students in terms of their own self-expression (and, not for nothing, “blasphemy” is listed as a no-no, as well.  Insert derisive snort here).
I have success with my students because I work hard to build an environment where they know they’re safe to explore what they really think and feel, not just what they think they’re expected to think and feel.  I work hard to create a truly judgment-neutral zone in the classroom so that kids can dismiss their inner critics and stroll out on limbs of thinking they’re not certain will support their weight.  I want them to dig under their proverbial beds, to open their proverbial closet doors, and to peek at their proverbial boogeymen, and to trust that I’m going to be there to help them find a way to get those ideas out of their heads in satisfying ways;  the only way I can do that is if I let them know that – at least in this class – they’re free to express themselves as authentically and as openly as they’re able to.  Sometimes (often, in fact), that expression is raw and painful and ugly, and that HAS TO BE OKAY.  Sometimes, the only way into a really great idea or a profound self-discovery is through the fucking wars, and that HAS TO BE OKAY.

If I’m going to be asked to teach anything beyond the basics of grammar and business writing etiquette (I can NEVER spell that word right the first time!), I’m going to require that there be nothing off limits for my students to write or say within the walls of our classroom.  I will make certain that they have a very clear and firm understanding of social contracts, and I will continue to reinforce the concept of rhetorical situations and the importance of tailoring one’s message to one’s audience, but I can’t function if I’m to treat an entire mode of expression as taboo.

6 Comments

Filed under about writing, concerns, critical thinking, ethics, frustrations, General Griping, great writing, job hunting, lesson planning, politics, rhetoric, speaking, Yikes!, You're kidding...right?

Thought For Thursday: Counting Chickens

So, I don’t remember how much, if anything, I’ve told you all here beyond this entry, so if I’m repeating myself, I apologize.

I had another visit to Dr. Wong’s private school (let’s call the place Classical Private School, or CPS for short) last Wednesday.  I arrived in time to meet the social studies teacher and sit in on the opening rituals (the Pledge of Allegiance, the recitation of their school’s creed (which ends in “so help me, God”), and a moment of silence/prayer), and then participated in the first class of the day, which was a lecture in a Western Civilizations class (they’d just covered the Black Plague and were heading into the Italian Renaissance).  I didn’t ask specifically, but I think that all the students in the school (there are currently 17) were attending the class, and all of them were engaged, even the moderate-to-severe ADD student in the front row.

After the class, I had a chance to talk to a student to learn about what her typical day is like, then Dr. Wong took me into the lobby to meet and chat with Dean Michaels, who’s in charge of professional development at the school.  We had a long and really engaging discussion, the three of us, and we covered a lot of ground in terms of what the ladies think the school is lacking (and what my skills can remedy), what the vision and objective of the school is, and how important it is for them to not just be teachers, but to be models for balanced citizenship.

It was right about this time that Dr. Wong looked at me with a bit of concern in her expression and said, “I sense some hesitation from you, Chili.  Is there anything wrong?”

Well, no; not WRONG, exactly, but she wasn’t mistaking some trepidation on my part.

I decided to ease into it with my logistical concerns.  Were I to come on board, I’d be the only staff living farther than about 15 or 20 minutes away (it’s a good 50-55 minutes from Chez Chili to CPS on a dry day with the wind at my back).  Despite our being in the same state, we inhabit very different climate zones, and while they may only get a dusting of snow in the city, I might be buried under 7 inches and not be able to get to work, and we’d need to have a contingency plan for the once or twice a year that’s likely to happen.  I also wanted to be clear that I’d need to have my workday shifted toward the morning (school runs from 8:50 to 5:30).  I can be the first person in the building at 7:30 if they want me there, but I’d like to leave no later than 2:30 every day.  Neither of these things seemed to be an issue for Dr. Wong, so I moved on to what was really worrying me.

You see, I’m a liberal.  There, I said it.  I know; shocking, right?  Well, the entire construct of CPS is very, very conservative, and I knew, going in, that I was going to have to “come out” to Dr. Wong in a way that made clear my values and priorities, and that sooner was much better than later.

I chose to bring my sticker-covered water bottle with me that day instead of opting for the unadorned black one because I felt that leaving my “regular” bottle at home was somehow hiding something.

I told the ladies that, were I to come to work for the school, I would literally be the only religiously unaffiliated (I believe I used the term “enthusiastically unaffiliated”) member of the community.

The issue of abortion came up when Dr. Wong told us that she was still getting her deceased mother’s mail, and that a solicitation for donations to Planned Parenthood came to the house the other day.  Dr. Wong admitted that she used to be pro-choice, but changed her mind after converting to Catholicism.  Dean Michaels said she grew up Catholic (and anti-abortion), and it wasn’t until she became pregnant herself that she realized what an awesome responsibility a child was and changed her position to become pro-choice.  I told the ladies that I steadfastly believe that every human being needs to have full sovereignty over their bodies, and that anything that infringes on that turns them into a slave.

I let the ladies know that being an LGBTQ ally is an integral part of my identity.

I was pretty sure that that was going to be that, but they surprised me.  By the end of the conversation, both women seemed even more excited about the possibility of my coming on board.  Dr. Wong acknowledged that there would likely be parental drama, but that she was fully capable of handling it (she told me a story about an encounter she had recently with an evangelical mother who objected to the fact that Dr. Wong was talking to students about creation stories, and a student went home to report that Dr. Wong said that Adam and Eve is a “made up story” and, well, hilarity ensued). Both women were enthusiastic about the idea that I would bring a new perspective to the party; Dean Michaels said “if we’re going to walk our walk – really walk our walk – we need to be open to a diversity of voices.”

Well, then, I’m your girl!

For the rest of the afternoon, I was introduced as “Mrs. Chili… she’s a liberal” to staff and students, which was a little weird but reinforced the idea that Dr. Wong was willing to accept – and kind of embrace – the fact of my philosophical position.  I have been invited back next Friday to lead the school in a writing workshop; they want to see me in front of a classroom and introduce me to the students.

As I left the school, Dr. Wong surprised me by giving me a hug to say goodbye (she didn’t strike me as a hugger).  It was a lovely gesture that made me feel I didn’t blow a hole in my candidacy by coming out as a lefty liberal.

I’m pretty sure I’ll have a job there next year if I want it.

6 Comments

Filed under colleagues, concerns, critical thinking, debate and persuasion, GLBTQ issues, I can't make this shit up..., job hunting, out in the real world, parental units, politics, popular culture, rhetoric, self-analysis, winging it, Yikes!

Yin and Yang

Mrs. Chili got dressed up today (in a skirt, even; it was 7° outside with a howling wind, and I had to get gas before I left!  Brrrrr!!!) and met with the director of a private school (let’s call her Dr. Wong) in the middle of the state.

The visit was both heartening and terrifying all at the same time.

I’m heartened because I think I did very well in the meeting; Dr. Wong and I hit it off reasonably well, and I didn’t trip all over myself trying to get words out.  I wonder; does anyone else come off like a complete, drooling idiot in interviews -  or even in meetings with peers – despite being confident and energized in front of a room full of students?  I mean it; the other day, I was in front of a group of about 50 – FIFTY! – new yoga students at Local U, and I was comfortable and articulate and even a little funny and self-effacing.  This morning, while I didn’t completely blow it, I did not at ALL feel like the same women who lead those kids the other day….

ANYWAY…

I’m terrified because I left the meeting feeling like there’s a distinct possibility that I might actually be offered a job with this school.  Dr. Wong was excited about the skills that I brought to the table, she seemed impressed by some of the things I said (even some of the things I said that, as I was saying them, I wasn’t sure I should be saying…), and assured me that she’d be in touch to talk further.  She invited me to attend some classes at the school to observe how the days are structured and the ways in which teachers and students interact.  She even introduced me to another teacher in a way that, to an outside observer, would give the impression that my hiring was a foregone conclusion.

Yikes.

I mean, I’m certainly not closing any doors, but I’m not 100% sure that this school would be a good fit for me.  For starters, it’s an hour’s drive in each direction.  While that’s not a deal-breaker – the girls are older and much more self-sufficient now, and Mr. Chili is still 7 minutes away at Local U. and has a ton of flexibility should something happen that needs adult attention – but I’m not wild about the idea of spending 14 hours a week in my car (especially in the winter).

Another thing that has me nervous is that the school focuses on a classical liberal arts education.  I mean REALLY classical; like, the first years read Homer, and the most modern authors Dr. Wong mentioned in our meeting were Thomas Paine and Mary Wolstoncraft.  *I* haven’t read Homer in YEARS, and I don’t feel like I have any kind of working relationship with any of the books that I imagine are on the reading list for the school.

Dr. Wong has a specific kind of teaching style that she expects her instructors to employ, and I don’t know, exactly, what that is.  I’m less anxious about that, though, as she said that she’s working on this school as sort of a pilot program and intends to mentor new teachers in the pedagogy, so I won’t be left on my own in that.  Still…

Finally, the school is very formal.  The teachers are called “Professor” or “Doctor” according to their credentials, and the students are referred to (and refer to one another) using Mr. and Ms.  While part of me thinks that’s great – I think that kids need to have a strong grounding in social contracts and instruction in etiquette – I wonder how long it will be before I get in trouble for calling a student “Sweetie,” as is my wont.

I left the meeting with the promise of further contact and an invitation to come back to the school whenever I like to spend the day in classes observing and talking to students and staff.  Dr. Wong has my resume and a couple of letters of recommendation, and I’m expecting to hear from her soon, maybe even early next week.

We’re heading into new, exciting, and frightening territory here, my friends!  I’ll keep you posted as events unfold.

6 Comments

Filed under concerns, job hunting, The Job, winging it, Yikes!

I am SO Confused

Help me suss this out, You Guys.

A month or so ago – I forget when, exactly – a former student contacted me about the possibility of my being her advisor for an independent study in English.  She was interested in a class I taught the last year I was at CHS, and asked if I would be willing to offer her that class as an IS.

I can never say no to a student who wants to learn, but my response to this baby was something along the lines of, “I’ll absolutely do it, but there’s no way in hell you’re getting it past administrative approval.”

She sent me a text message today saying that she’s all set to go; she just needs to fill out the paperwork.

To say that I’m stunned is an understatement.

I have no idea what this arrangement entails.  I’m making the assumption that I’ll just be a mentor for her as she works the program herself (though I will give her the course I designed for another student who took the class as an independent study last year, and I’m sure I’ll be providing her with most of the films and reading materials, as well).  I can pretty much guarantee you that I won’t be paid for the work that I’ll do, but I don’t care about that; a kid asked me for my help and it’s within my power to give it to her, so she gets it whether I get paid or not.

Here are my questions to you; given that I was shown the door (though I have still yet to be told precisely why I was so unacceptable as to be dismissed), is there anything ethical about the school’s decision to okay my being a mentor for this student?  Should I be confused about being fired in June, then being approved as a mentor in January?  How should I approach this?

6 Comments

Filed under concerns, critical thinking, ethics, frustrations, I can't make this shit up..., I've got this kid...., lesson planning, really?!, self-analysis, Teaching, winging it, Yikes!, You're kidding...right?

Wordy Wednesday: The Conversation We Should be Having

Go get yourself comfortable; this could take a while.

By now, 5 days after the horror of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, we’re pretty well steeped in the hysterical rhetoric coming from both “sides” of the political spectrum; the “left” is screaming for rational gun control legislation and humane mental health services while the “right” is advocating arming teachers and eliminating “gun-free zones.”  The fighting is as predictable as it is pointless; background checks wouldn’t have prevented this tragedy, the guns used in the shooting were obtained legally, guns are not the problem, you can’t plan for the crazy people, there’s evil in the world and there’s nothing you can do about it, The Second Amendment….

Blah, blah, blah.

This is not the conversation we should be having.  We don’t have a gun problem; we have a humanity problem.

Are there reasonable things that we should be doing as concerns guns and weaponry that we’re not doing?  Of course there are.  I’m not going to go into them now, though; I’m betting you’re sick of hearing about them (I am) and anyone who knows me, even if they only know me here, knows that I have both feet firmly planted in the pro-gun control camp.

I don’t want to talk about guns or lobbies or the NRA.  I want to talk about culture.

A few months ago, my grandfather observed how difficult raising kids is “nowadays.”  I kind of called him on that; I said that raising kids is just as hard now as it was when he had kids, or when he was a kid himself, and that it might in fact be easier given all the modern conveniences and health care and safety equipment.  He shut me down, though, and this is how he did it; “When I was a kid, we didn’t have a telephone, but my mother would know that I’d done something wrong before I even made it home.  The whole neighborhood watched out for everyone else’s kids.  If I did something I wasn’t supposed to, my friends’ mother would take it out of me at the scene, then my mother would take it out of me when I got home.  When my kids were little, it was still like that.  No one looks out for anyone else anymore; they’re all too worried about lawsuits.”

While I’m not sure it’s the lawsuits that people are worried about, Grampa’s point has merit; we don’t look out for each other anymore.  We have drawn very clear and very rugged lines around our lives, such that it is the rare person who will step up to correct another person’s child, or even to offer to help someone else.

Case in point; the other day, I was in a department store.  Little kids love to hide in the clothes racks (I did, and I bet you did, too), and, look at that!   I found a small person in a clothes rack.  I looked up and didn’t see an accompanying adult, so I asked the kid where her grown up was and stayed with her until said grown-up appeared (which, I might add, was not immediately, and when the grown-up did arrive, she was not in the state of panic I would have expected of a parent of a small child in a department store around Christmastime, but I digress).  She scolded the child and ignored me completely, which left me feeling as though the help I offered by staying with the kid (or, not for nothing, discovering her whereabouts in the first place) was both unnecessary and unwelcome.

I have been “spoken to” many times in the course of my professional life for “caring too much” about my students; for being interested in them as human beings, for listening to them when they spoke about their lives or their frustrations or their goals, for offering advice and support and, yes, love.  It wasn’t my “job” to nurture them as people, it was my job to stuff “knowledge” into their heads, to provide opportunities for them to spit that knowledge back out, and to assess their competence in doing so.  I was told that it was the counselor’s job to take care of the kids’ emotional needs, but then listened as that same counselor said, out loud and in public, that he didn’t “do” crying kids.  A facebook friend observed that “Hell, I remember when everything shifted. Prior to my junior year in HS (that was 83-84?) the counselors went from just that, someone you could go to get help or just talk, into someone who helped with ONLY curriculum and college placement. Now they see a kid with a problem they call the idiots at CPS and all hope is lost for the poor child!

I don’t think he’s wrong.

We don’t take care of each other, plain and simple.  We aren’t allowed to check in to make sure that things are okay at home; pediatricians were asking, not too long ago, for legal permission to inquire about guns in the home.  They were told ‘no.’  When a teacher sees something in a kid’s behavior that raises red flags, we’re told that we have to wait until there’s a clear and obvious crisis situation before we’re allowed to call someone else, who may or may not intervene.  We mind our own business and keep our heads down.

The message that sends is that there’s no one to go to if you need help.  If you’re in trouble, if you’re confused or frightened, if you’re bullied or harassed, if you’re feeling hopeless, there’s nowhere for you to go unless you’re threatening yourself or others; the situation needs to be escalated to crisis mode before there are any systems in place to help you, and by then it may be too late.  There’s nothing that can be done; you just have to suck it up and deal with it because you know what?  Life is hard.

I’m calling bullshit.

The problem we have isn’t with guns, though guns are certainly an exacerbating factor.  The problem we have is that we don’t know how to manage a basic level of common human decency.  We don’t know how to care about one another, and we don’t know how to accept that care without its being perceived as some sort of judgment about our fitness.  We’re so wrapped up in ourselves – our rights, our privileges, our perceived greatness -that we fail to recognize that our lives are inextricably wrapped up in others’ lives, too.  We listen to our politicians use violent rhetoric and watch them work tirelessly to further disadvantage those who are already behind.  Our entertainment glorifies violence and the loner; the rugged individual who keeps to himself and does whatever he has to do – up to and including hurting others – to ‘get the job done.’  We have, as a culture, completely swallowed the myth of isolation; that we are alone in the world, that the only things we get are the things we get for ourselves, and that everyone else should, at best, be viewed with suspicion.

I reject that mentality wholesale.  We can totally fix this gun problem and this mental health problem by just being decent to each other.  Let teachers care for their students.  Ask for help when you need it (and accept it when it’s offered).  Be willing to think and look critically at the habits and traditions you follow, the ways you solve problems, and the ways you talk to and treat other people.  Think cooperation before competition, and abandon the idea that someone else’s success means that there’s less for you.  Hold a door open, yield the right of way, look people in the eye and really listen.

Let’s try being decent and see what happens.

8 Comments

Filed under analysis, compassion and cooperation, concerns, critical thinking, ethics, failure, frustrations, General Griping, I can't make this shit up..., Learning, out in the real world, parental units, politics, popular culture, really?!, rhetoric, self-analysis, Yikes!