Category Archives: politics

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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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.

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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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New Class Idea: The Ambiguous Hero

I’ve been captivated, almost forever, with the ambiguous hero; the good guy who does bad things (and, conversely, the bad guy who does good things) and what role he plays in our psyche and, in a larger sense, in our culture.

A friend of mine wants to teach a summer class with film, and we were talking about this idea over dinner the other day.  I haven’t been able to let it go, and here’s what I’ve come up with.  I’m going to need some help zeroing in on the specifics – the assignments, the competencies and objectives, that kind of thing –  but here’s what I’ve got for materials so far:

The Dark Knight: the second of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy – this is the one with Heath Ledger as the Joker.  Christian Bale’s Batman is the perfect example, I think, of the ambiguous hero.

A Dry White Season:  This is based on a novel written by a white South African who gets involved in the anti-apartheid movement after someone he knows personally dies in police custody.

Gandhi:  You know this story, and I keep coming back to it as a conversation about civil disobedience and the question of how resistance is characterized on the different “sides” of the debate in question

Gone Baby Gone:  PLEASE tell me you’ve seen this movie!  It’s about a kidnapping, and centers around HUGE issues of “right” and “wrong” and where the law clashes with morality

Harry Potter:  I want to investigate Snape.  The idea of the double agent is always an interesting one.  I’m not sure which film I’d use, though; likely the last one.

Iron Jawed Angels: Another civil disobedience film – this one focuses on women’s suffrage and the outrages that some women suffered at the hands of law enforcement.

Milk:  About Harvey Milk and the early struggle for GLBTQ rights and recognition

Mississippi Burning:  This remains one of my MOST favorite films, mostly because of Gene Hackman’s REALLY complex character.  This scene alone is worth the film:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlzaBi_QxPw

The Negotiator:  This is the story of a cop who takes hostages in order to reveal corruption in his department – a good guy doing a bad thing for a good reason.

Leon, the Professional:  A hit man who adopts his 12 year old neighbor after her family is killed by a corrupt cop (played terrifyingly by Gary Oldman).  He’s a good guy who does bad things, and we have to reconcile his work with his personality.

Schindler’s List:  You know this one, too, I’m sure.  I think that Schindler started out as a bad guy doing a good thing (though for selfish reasons) and evolved into a good guy.

Shawshank Redemption:  Andy as a wrongly convicted man who becomes a criminal in prison, but who never gives up his humanity.

Tsotsi:  I haven’t seen this one in a LONG time, so I’m not sure if I’m remembering it correctly, but I think it’s about a boy who steals a car and discovers that he’s also stolen a baby.  The film tells the story of what he does after he realizes he’s got a tough choice to make.

Unforgiven:  This is a Clint Eastwood western.  Eastwood is a retired gunslinger who gets called back into the life of crime for reasons that he thinks are honorable.  His character is a tough one to suss out, and the film really makes the viewer work for the payoff (plus, it stars Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman, which makes it that much better).

I was also thinking that I would have the kids read Bel Canto (which asks the “terrorist or freedom fighter” question) and, if they’re given permission from their parents, to look at a couple of episodes of Dexter (a serial killer in a Showtime series who only murders murderers who get away from the legal system).

I think there’s a lot of richness to be mined in this “good guy doing bad things / bad guy doing good things” question, I just need to think about it a bit more before it takes on any kind of substance that resembles a for-credit class.

What do you think?

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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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First Draft Friday

I love alliteration!

SO!  The first draft of The Paper is done!  It clocks in at 22 pages (plus 5 pages of sources), the conclusion is pathetic, and I still have to go back through and cite some sections, but it is a complete draft.

Who wants to read it?  Email me at mrschili at comcast dot net and I’ll send you a copy.  Be forewarned; I want good, constructive feedback on this bad boy; if you’re going to read this (and I’ll be very grateful if you do), I’m going to ask that you be clear and specific about what I need to do to make it better.

My goal is to have it in front of my professor in second-draft form sometime early to mid next week (I’m aiming for Wednesday, but since she hasn’t given me a deadline, I’ve got some flexibility).  The final is due on the 15th (my deadline, not hers; I think she gave me through the 18th, but I’d rather put it to bed sooner rather than later).

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Thoughtful Thursday

I’m at a kind of low place energetically right now.  I’m sure a lot of that has to do with my grandmother’s passing and her upcoming memorial (there’s a whole MESS of stress I’m carrying about that, but that may be the topic for another (possibly private) post some other time), but I’ve spent the better part of today on the edge of full-blown panic about my professional future.

Here’s the thing; I know what I’m meant to do, at least in the abstract.  I’m a teacher.  I’ve always been a teacher, ever since I was a kid.  I love it, I’m good at it, and it’s exactly what I want to do.

What has me freaking out right about now, though, is the idea that a) I may not find a job in a classroom next year and b) I may not want a job in a classroom next year.

I’m coming to the hard realization that, for all its faults, CHS was a pretty damned permissive environment.  Even there, though, I ran into a lot of problems, and I have gotten more and more frustrated the more I think about the fact that we say we want to raise careful, energetic thinkers, but we really don’t do the things that are required to produce them because we’re too afraid of “crossing lines” or “pushing boundaries.”  As soon as someone gets a bug up his or her ass about something – as soon as someone is the least bit uncomfortable or challenged – administrators panic, all hell breaks loose, the teachers get blamed, and we’re right back to tiptoeing around only the safest playgrounds.

I’m calling bullshit on that.  The problem is, though, that this attitude is not likely to make me a particularly attractive candidate for employment at a school district.

I’ve been kicking around the idea of trying to land a gig as an outreach coordinator or a workshop facilitator for an outfit that aligns with my ethics, but I don’t have the first inkling about what I’d be qualified to do or how I would go about finding a place to do it.  I thought about perhaps trying to find a position with an activist group or a liberal politician – maybe even of becoming a lobbyist – but, again, no frickin’ idea how to go about getting something like that moving.  There are a couple of teen-centered programs in my area, and the thought has occurred to me to look into what they’re doing to see if they have a need that I can fill, but my concern is that I don’t have the counseling or social work credentials that would be needed to work in places like that.

I hate this feeling of being directionless.  I feel off my mooring, adrift, and not a little scared.

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Filed under concerns, critical thinking, ethics, failure, frustrations, job hunting, out in the real world, politics, self-analysis, Teaching, winging it, Yikes!

A Ray of Hope

(author’s note; I wrote this whole post once already, but my internet went out when I hit “publish” and I lost the whole thing.  I frickin’ HATE that… Grrrrr….).

 

SO!  A few months ago, I was talking to Dude about CHS and everything that happened (and was still happening) there.  In the course of the conversation, I bitched about how difficult a time I was having looking for work, and he mentioned that he’d met someone in the local government who was looking to start a new charter school and suggested that I look this guy up to see if that was still in the pipeline.

It took me forever to track the guy down, but I did and I sent him a message.  He got back to me to say that he wasn’t involved in it, but he did put me in touch with the people who are, so I sent THEM messages.  They got back to me right away (which, to be honest, kind of surprised me) to tell me that they were holding off on making any decisions at the time because our whackadoodle legislature is in a pissing contest with the DOE and were holding up approvals for new charter schools.

Long story short, I corresponded with the director (let’s call her Sally) for a while, but nothing really came of it until last weekend, when I saw that the school had set up a tent at our town’s annual apple harvest festival.  I marched right up to it and introduced myself.  With a firm handshake, a level gaze, and with far more confidence than I really felt, I talked myself up.  I told Sally about my Master’s degree and my state certification, about my experience teaching at both the community college and the university level, and about my three years as the chair, curriculum designer, and primary teacher in a charter high school’s English department.  By the time I was done, I’d talked her into wanting to have me on the team.

The impression I’m getting is that this school managed to get all of its little ducks in a row before the aforementioned whacadoodle legislature decided to try to kill all new charter schools in the state.  Sally seems pretty sure that the school will open in September; she’s going to be accepting student applications in January and they have their sights set on a facility (ironically, the building where I first taught community college; I’m already trying to decide which room I’ll put dibs on).  She told me that I was to go straight home and send her an email (“Put the subject line in all caps,” she said, “so I can find it right away!”) so that she could add me to her email distribution list, introduce me to the other members of the team, and invite me to their meetings.

The first meeting is Monday.

I’m cautiously optimistic.  I really, really want this to happen; getting in on the ground floor of a school is literally my dream job.  I learned an awful lot about what NOT to do at CHS; I’ve seen firsthand where the energy needs to be put, and I think I have a lot to offer a brand new school.  I come equipped with a ready-made 4-year core curriculum that meets exceeds the State’s standards, several elective courses (including a writing minor complete with a course curriculum), and several years’ worth of lesson plans.  I can literally hit the ground running; I just need someplace to do it.

I’ll keep you all posted.  Wish me luck!

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Filed under colleagues, concerns, Dream Course, job hunting, out in the real world, politics, The Job, Yikes!

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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Filed under about writing, admiration, book geek, Civics and Citizenship, compassion and cooperation, critical thinking, ethics, great writing, I love my job, Literature, out in the real world, parental units, politics, really?!, Teaching, writing

Quick Hit: The Thesis Paper

SO!  I met with the professor of my class and we’ve decided that I’m going to work the course as an independent study, which is a HUGE relief for me, but is also a hard right turn into a LOT more work.

I have proposed to write a thesis paper (longer than a term paper, shorter than a dissertation) in which I investigate the place of LGBTQ rights in the current election cycle.  I’m interested in looking not only at national politics – the Presidential election and DOMA – but also at some down-ticket races and state ballot initiatives (Maine is taking the issue up on their ballots in November).

I spent today going through some of the library’s databases looking for places to start.  Mr. Chili has printed a PDF for me (I have the feeling he’ll be doing that a lot; the printer in his office is much spiffier than mine and can print on two sides all by itself), and I’ve downloaded a couple of articles that should at least kick my ball down the proverbial hill.

Anyone have any suggestions on where I should focus?  I’m starting with a history of DOMA (which will take me to Hawaii, though – sadly – not literally) and working my way to the President’s interview a few months ago where he came out publicly in favor of equal rights.  From there, I’m not sure where, exactly, to go.

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Filed under critical thinking, Mrs. Chili as Student, out in the real world, politics, popular culture, winging it