Category Archives: popular culture

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!

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?

5 Comments

Filed under critical thinking, ethics, I can't make this shit up..., out in the real world, popular culture, rhetoric, Yikes!

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!

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.

Leave a comment

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

Quick Hit: Brainstorming

I just got back from my first viewing of The Dark Knight Rises (oh, believe me; there will be subsequent viewings…).  My brain is positively churning  – seething, I tell you! – with ideas and thoughts and musings.

I’ve decided that the fact that I’m not employed doesn’t in any way keep me from designing classes, and I want more than anything right now to design a class – probably a film as literature course – around the idea of the ambiguous hero.  The Nolan Batman is a fantastic foundation for this course, into which I’m planning to weave Snape (and probably Dumbledore), the Creature from Frankenstein, and Oskar Schindler (though he might be a bit tricky as he was a real person, but I think there could be some critical thinking gold to be mined there).  I’ve also got some Shakespeare characters in mind, as well as Jax from Sons of Anarchy and Raylan from Justified (though, depending on the class level, I may or may not be able to show episodes from those shows, despite the fact they’re on television).

Here’s where you come in, Dear Readers.  Who are your favorite morally ambiguous characters?  These can be from movies, literature, or television; the only requirement is that they exhibit some sort of moral stickiness – so much the better if that stickiness makes them more intriguing or attractive.

Aaaand, GO!

9 Comments

Filed under analysis, critical thinking, doing my own homework, Dream Course, film as literature, lesson planning, popular culture

Doing the Hard Work

A student of mine approached me soon after we began reading Native Son.  She was concerned by the graphic nature of the novel, and she tried to explain to me that she’d already read a number of “books like this,” so she felt that it would be okay for her to sit this one out.

Native Son is a terribly difficult novel to get through.  There are a couple of really graphic and ugly scenes in the story, but neither scene (nor anything that leads up to it) is gratuitous; those scenes are vital to our understanding of the reality of the main character.  I insisted that she continue in the reading.  I told her that I understood that it was hard to read, but that I thought it was important that she keep at it.

She came to me again this morning, upset about yet another graphic murder in the story.  She had worked herself into tears, and I spent the better part of ten minutes trying to explain to her that a good part of the POINT of this novel is the graphic nature of those scenes and of the lives of the people in the story – those people who find themselves with choiceless choices.  I’m not sure she heard me, though, so I wrote her this note (which I cc’d to her mother, just to give her a heads-up).  My hope is that I hit the right note of appreciating her objections while explaining why I think it’s important for her to keep at it.

Dear Josephine:

    I understand that you’re upset right now, Honey, and I am genuinely sorry for that.  I want you to understand, though, that I think that the work that you’re doing is very important, and that I wouldn’t be asking you to do it if I didn’t think it was something you could handle.

    Native Son is a VERY difficult novel to get through.  I know that the graphic description of two of the key events is particularly troubling to you, and I fully appreciate why you feel that way; please don’t think for a moment that I don’t understand that.  What I want you to understand, though, is that those scenes are desperately important to the overall function of the novel.  

    One of the central ideas of this work is the brutality of the life that Bigger (and by extension, other oppressed people) live EVERY SINGLE DAY.  We don’t want to look at the ugliness; we don’t want to look at the desperation and the despair and the fear and the rage that are an everyday reality for people who find themselves in impossible situations with impossible choices.  We, as members of a privileged class – you and I are white, educated, reasonably wealthy people living in stable families in a reasonably safe and clean and well-appointed environment – can say we understand how other people live, but we really don’t see it; we can only imagine it.  It’s uncomfortable when we’re presented – full-on and in our faces – with the hard and cruel and brutal that other people have to live around all the time.  It’s supposed to be uncomfortable; it’s supposed to make you uneasy.  I want for you to use the skills of critical and professional distance that we’ve been practicing all year to take a step back from those scenes.  The point isn’t the graphic descriptions (though I know they’re hard to get around): the point is that Bigger doesn’t believe he has any other choices.

    What are the implications of that fact, and what kind of work can you do with that knowledge?  What kind of spin does that put on your thinking about current events, or about the reality that you and I get to participate in a system that deliberately and brutally excludes entire populations of people?  What does the investigation of Bigger’s reality – of his self-image and his self-esteem, of his prospects and his goals, of his aspirations and his dreams, of his relationships and the ways he believes he’s supposed to behave – do to the ways you think about yourself?  To the ways you think about our collective past?  To the ways you think about our present, and the policies, stereotypes, and assumptions that we continue to create (or to perpetuate)?  

    There’s a lot of really great thinking to be mined from this novel.  I’m eager to get Mr. Carson in to the class to help you all work through the history of the time period – and to see how some of those policies and attitudes are STILL in place today (have you been paying attention to all the racism that’s evident in our current political and national news?  Have you heard of Treyvon Martin and seen all the ugliness that has stirred up?).  This novel is an important one for you to have in your arsenal; I know that you’re angry and upset, but I also know that you’re smart enough to get past that and to do some really significant thinking.

    Trust me, Josephine; I have faith that you’re more than capable of getting through this, and of coming out on the other end with a deeper and more nuanced understanding of race, economics, and politics that will give you a really strong and impressive foundation for a lot of the work you’re going to be asked to do in college.  Remember, too, that I’m around to talk you through all of it; I don’t expect you to do any of this work on your own.

    Warmly,

        Mrs. Chili

2 Comments

Filed under compassion and cooperation, concerns, critical thinking, I've got this kid...., lesson planning, Literature, politics, popular culture, reading, self-analysis, Teaching

Avatar

I decided to start my Aliens and Vampires in Literature class with the Aliens contingent (though, now that I think about it again, I probably should have started with vampires, since Hallowe’en is coming up… Oh, well…) and, while I’m waiting for them to score copies of Carl Sagan’s Contact, I am showing and discussing films.

We started with Avatar.

Image credit

I love this movie.  Is it formulaic and predictable?  Yes.  Does it tell a new story?  Not really; in fact, it’s nearly one-to-one with Dances with Wolves (which I also love, so there!).  Despite the panning that it received in some circles for its lack of originality, I think it is an important movie, and I was excited to show it to my students.

One of my goals in this course is to get kids to think about the functions that entertainment serves beyond simple entertainment.  We spent three classes watching the film (I got a M/W/F short-day class instead of the long-day T/TH class I wanted, so we’re making do; it’s going to mean covering less material, but I’ll make sure we do more with what we do see), and I patently refused to let the kids talk about the films in class before we’d gotten to the last scene.  (That made them CRAZY, especially since it turned out that I had to stop the film for the end of classes in some really compelling spots; the kids nearly lost their minds when I had to stop the movie when Jake drops onto the creature to become Toruk Makto on Wednesday.)

We had our culminating discussion yesterday, and it was amazing.  All but two of the kids had seen the film before – several of them more than once – but every single one of them said that, despite being very familiar with the movie, there were a number of things they saw when they were “watching it for a class” that they never noticed before.

My absolute favorite moment in the whole discussion came at the very beginning of the class and from my “school son” (whom I’m probably going to talk a lot about this year, so let’s call him Bart, okay?)  We were all talking about the idea that, in typical alien movies, the aliens are always the bad guys* when Bart pointed out that, in this movie, the aliens are still the bad guys.  I pointed at him with my eyebrows-up, “you-just-nailed-it” look on my face and waited for what he said to sink in with the rest of the kids.  One by one, the light dawned; we’re so used to thinking of the “aliens” as ‘whoever isn’t us’ that shifting our thinking to recognize that, in this film, we’re the aliens is a surprise.

The conversation took off from there.  We talked about the ways in which we create an “other,” and how that process of making a pariah allows us to behave in ways we likely wouldn’t otherwise.  We talked about where each character made his or her realizations (and about the characters who never got to the point of change) and about how some of the “good” guys in the film – up to and including the hero – were still complicated and flawed.  We talked about the film as modern social commentary in the context of the Iraq invasion after the 9/11 attacks, and about how some people – particularly Americans and those in positions of political power – don’t seem to understand that “our way” isn’t the pinnacle of human experience; that not everyone wants democracy or McDonald’s or jeans and sneakers.  We talked about the different perspective of this film – the human as alien – and about how the film asks us to think about things we do in ways that we might not have been able to if the Na’vi had come to Earth; that the position of the different ‘races’ impacted the way we think about them (and us).  We talked about power and economics; we talked about religion and belief, about what we value (and how we value what others value), and about the environment.  We talked about what it means to be connected – to our environment and to each other – and we talked about colonialism and its effects on both occupier and occupied (though they didn’t use the term, they still nailed some of the high points of the concept).

It was a wonderful, dynamic, interesting, and exciting conversation.  We’re off to a good start.

*I recognize that not ALL alien movies are about violent invasions and forced occupation – I’m also planning on showing the kids Cocoon and maybe E.T. – but I think it’s fair to agree that most of our alien genre is stacked with stories about invasion and occupation.  Those films bring up ideas I want to get the kids thinking about; I’m trying to train them to see beyond the explosions and action to get at what some of these stories have to say about us and how we treat each other.

5 Comments

Filed under analysis, critical thinking, ethics, film as literature, fun, I love my job, I've got this kid...., Literature, politics, popular culture, success!, Teaching, the good ones