Category Archives: I can't make this shit up…

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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Monday Musing

(this is a re-post of what’s at The Blue Door today, so don’t worry if you think you’re seeing double.  I’m going to try to get more conscientious about posting here more regularly now that I’m back in the classroom.  Give me a little bit to get my rhythm, though; I still don’t feel like I’ve got control of it just yet…).

 

Every once in a while, I’m dumbstruck with wonder by the sheer, improbable miracle of it all.

I was talking to some of my basic writing kids this morning about the point of writing.  I’m trying to get them out of the mindset that writing is only something you do because you have to, and that writing’s only purpose is a grade at the end of the class.

I told them the story about Punk coming to me one afternoon many years ago and complaining that there’s no magic in the world.  She’d been reading Harry Potter and was feeling cheated that our everyday didn’t include wondrous things conjured at the end of a wand.  It didn’t take much for me to change her mind, though – I brought her to a switch that gave us light; to the television that brought us images from places we’d never be and ideas from people we’d never meet; to the faucet where clean water (and hot, if we wish) poured out; and to the car, where I can twist a key and go nearly anywhere I want or need to go.  I explained that even though we understand how to make these things happen consistently and reliably, our understanding of them makes them no less miraculous.

Then I talked about ideas.  The point of writing, I contend, is to communicate (which, I also contend, is one of our most basic human needs).  Think about it for a second; that I can get an idea out of my head and into yours – and in a way that is satisfying to both of us – is nothing short of magic.  That we can share feelings and tell stories and learn the answers to our questions and explore ideas that we never would have come to but for our interaction with each other is, I think, approaching the pinnacle of human experience.  Writing is a part of that, and it should be approached with excitement and wonder befitting the amazing place it holds in our collective experience.

I think I got some kids thinking a little differently about writing this morning; I know that I left the classroom excited about what I do.

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Filed under about writing, critical thinking, I can't make this shit up..., Mrs. Chili as Student, out in the real world, self-analysis, success!, Teaching

On the Eve

For the first time in more than a year, I have my first real interview for a job tomorrow at 11.

I’m finding I’m feeling the oddest combination of wicked excited and incredibly anxious.  I started having the weird anxiety dreams a couple of nights ago (had ‘em again this morning, too), and I’m actually stressing out about what to wear.

Me, stressing out about what to wear.  If you knew me in real life, you’d know that this was a sign that all is not entirely well.  Chili almost never stresses about what to wear; it’s just not what I do.  Here I am, though, worrying about finding the balance between professional and casual, classic and fun, pretty and comfortable.  Trousers or a skirt?  Capri pants or a dress?  Sleeveless and a jacket, or a button-down blouse?  Plain or patterned; colors or black and white?  And, oh, GOD, which shoes?!

It’s utterly ridiculous, and I need to stop.

For all that, though, I’m going in with no small amount of confidence.  The person who’s lead English teacher on the team has known me online for going on 7 years now, and in that time has had full access to all my blogs and my facebook page, so she knows exactly who I am and what’s important to me.  I also know – in a way that is not at all arrogant or conceited – that I am damned good at what I do.  I know it’s cliche to say that someone would be an asset to whichever outfit is smart enough to hire them, but I really feel like I have something valuable and important to offer.  Knowing these things is helping to buoy me.

So, should I wear the diamond earrings, or the pearls?

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Unhappy Anniversary

It was a year ago today that events set into motion the crash of my professional life.

I didn’t think that today was going to be a big deal, really; it’s just another day, nothing has happened that changes my thinking or feelings about the whole mess, and, if anything, I’m more and more glad that I’m out of that deeply broken culture every time I talk to those who are still struggling to stay sane and ethical in it.

I’m finding, though, that I’m wrestling to put down the last of my bitter feelings toward the people who, for whatever reasons, let things happen the way they did.  I’m trying to come to some sort of peace with the fact that people looked me in the eye and outright lied to me.  I’m trying to find ways to forgive people for their callous disregard for the obvious needs of the students and the staff.  I’m trying to let go of the rage against the perfect storm of incompetence and utter failure of ethics that nearly led to the loss of a precious life.  I’m working on releasing the anger and disappointment I feel for someone who participated in all of it despite the fact that I just know he wanted no part of it, but did it, anyway.  I’m practicing detachment from some people who said that they cared about me – loved me, even – but whose actions were anything but caring and loving.

I am cautiously hopeful that my professional plane is about to taxi down a new runway and this crash was not fatal.  Once I’m proverbially ‘wheels-up,’ I think I’ll finally be able to put this experience well and truly behind me.  In the meantime, I’m working on focusing on the good that came out of this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad experience; my chosen daughter is healthy and whole and has done nothing to harm herself since that day, and I’m as adamant today as I was a year ago that, even had I known the hell that was to follow, I wouldn’t do a single thing any differently.

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Filed under colleagues, compassion and cooperation, critical thinking, ethics, failure, frustrations, I can't make this shit up..., I've got this kid...., Mrs. Chili as Student, really?!, self-analysis, Teaching

Where Does Work End and Life Begin?

I got an email from Punk’s high school this morning.  In it was an attachment of a letter to parents from the principal, letting us know that there was an “incident” involving a substitute teacher.  Here’s the pertinent part of the letter (the emphasis at the end of the note is mine):
Today we were informed that a recent substitute teacher at Local High School was involved in an incident in the community last night that resulted in criminal charges.
We have met with Local PD and have been assured that the event was not related to LHS, and we have no reason to expect any issues here.
The district has taken appropriate action in response to this information.
While this incident did not involve our students we wanted to be sure you had the information in a timely manner.

 

Here’s what I want to know; if the incident had nothing to do with the students, then why, exactly, does the administration feel it necessary to inform us about it?

I have long advocated for a clear and bright distinction between one’s personal life and one’s professional life; as long as your behavior off the clock does not impact your job, then it’s no one’s fucking business what you do in your free time.

Several years ago, the principal of my town’s middle school was fired for having been busted for DUI, and I remember being deeply troubled by that; the fact that he acted with less than stellar judgement during his free time had nothing to do with the fact that he was (as best I could tell) a reasonably effective administrator in the school (though, of course, the DUI could have been the excuse the school district needed to get rid of him; I’ll admit to not knowing all the facts in that case).

My point is that, at least according to this letter, this substitute teacher at no point put kids at any kind of risk.  Why, then, did I get this letter?  What purpose could this possibly serve but to stir up angst, curiosity, or even outright panic?

Someone help me out here, because I really don’t get it.

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What Ever Happened to Professional Courtesy?

A few months ago, I applied to be a long-term sub at a local school.  I didn’t get the gig (it went to the intern working under the teacher who was leaving, which makes perfect sense to me), but after I got word that I’d been passed over, I sent a polite, professional email to the department head asking for feedback about my interview.  When I didn’t hear anything back from her (which seemed incongruous, given the impression she gave me when we met), I re-sent the email (with a preface saying I wasn’t sure it sent correctly the first time, to let her save face).  I have yet to hear a peep back.

Then, a few weeks ago, I caught wind of a job opening at a different nearby school district.  I put together a packet of all the things the posting asked for, crafted a solid cover letter, put everything in a professional folder, put that in a nice envelope, put on some nice clothes, and drove the packet to the district office.  That afternoon, I followed up on the delivery with a short, polite note to the principal of the school in question, introducing myself, directing him to my website, and making myself available at his convenience to meet or talk on the phone.

Here’s what I want to know; just how fucking hard is it to hit “reply” and send back a quick “thank you for your interest in our school; I look forward to reading your resume” note?  Not that hard, one would think, but I’ve gotten precisely bupkis from this guy.  Nothing.  Are you old enough to remember getting post card confirmations that your resume had been received by personnel offices?  Yeah; that doesn’t happen anymore, either.

Flapping in the breeze is a very uncomfortable feeling.  I get that the market is flooded, and I get that employers can afford to be dismissive and impolite to job seekers, but that doesn’t make it right.  At the very least, let us know that our resumes got to someone’s desk and please, if someone sends you a personal email, do them the basic courtesy of a brief reply.  So many of us are putting our hearts out on the block for impossibly long stretches of time; don’t further demoralize us by ignoring our communications and pretending we don’t exist.

 

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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.

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The Facebook Generation

Alternately titled, “Airing Grievances.”

Someone I know was unceremoniously (and possibly wrongfully; I don’t know) fired from her job a little while ago.

She’s not taking it well.

This has been difficult for me because it’s brought back all of the feelings I had been working so hard to compartmentalize over the last seven months.  Hearing about what happened to her brought them all rushing in again – the anger, the disappointment, the pain and frustration.  She’s coping with all of those feelings, too, and it’s been hard watching her go through that while I work on repackaging all the yuck that her dismissal brought back up for me.

The difference between her and me, though, is that I’ve been dealing with my ugly feelings in a mostly quiet, mostly private way.  She’s decided to take her anger public, though, and has launched a pretty forthright campaign on facebook, where she’s still “friends” with a lot of people at her old job.

I’m still trying to work out how I feel about that.

On the one hand, I admire her.  She is fighting against an injustice and making public those policies and behaviors that create an untenable environment.  She’s trying to spur the people who are left to action; she wants them to see what she sees, not just the nice, polite, politically correct face that gets put on for outside observers.

On the other hand, I’m made really uncomfortable by the raw and bitter that she’s willing to air in public.  I’ve been so engrained to be polite – to deal with things “through the proper channels” – that this kind of in-your-face campaign is foreign to me.

Some of the people still at her old workplace have logged in to comment – and to reprimand her – about some of the things she’s posted, and I’m betting that there’s an even larger conversation going on offline.  One person exhorted her to be a “grown-up” and “move on,” and it’s all I can do to not chime in to say, “Hold on a second; since when is it “grown up” to just shrug off bad behavior?  Isn’t the whole point of adulthood to stand up against what you think is wrong and NOT leave it for the next person to have to suffer?” but I’m not sure I’m willing to wade into the conversation at all.

I can’t decide how I feel about this tactic of hers.  Part of me  – and I’m going to admit here that it’s a pretty big part of me – applauds her for doing this.  I keep going back to the idea that Dr. King highlighted in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail in which he asked about how we are best to address our grievances when the authorities whose job it is to adjudicate those grievances are the offending parties.  I keep going back to the idea that silence always benefits the oppressor, and that evil triumphs when good men do nothing.  I keep thinking that she’s right to stand up and scream, loudly and persistently, about the wrong that she sees, and that she’s right to expect people who are still in the system to take a long, hard, critical look at what she’s yelling about and then maybe do something about it.  At the same time, though, I can’t help cringing at the bluntness, the bitterness, and the pointy bits.

In this age of social media, IS there a middle ground anymore?

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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?

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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.

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