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Quick Hit : Haiku

Some of these are really, really good.  My favorite is

A crying student
Empty counselor’s office
Who will help him now?

—Heather Marcus


I was thinking about this on my way home from work this morning, and I came up with this


All my students know

their voices are important.

“Respect yourself first.”

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Quick Hit: Watch This

It’s long – nearly 45 minutes – and, as a white girl who was born and lived her whole life in New England, Reverend Barber’s delivery is foreign to me, but I watched this when it was live streamed and it brought tears to my eyes, so I wanted to share it with you.


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Checking Privilege

HI!  Remember me?  I haven’t been writing lately, but I think that’s about to change; there’s a lot rattling around in my head that wants to come out, and here’s the most insistent bit.

SO, back story; the other day, a student in my CRITICAL THINKING class (that’s important, remember it) said, out loud and without any hint of hesitation, compunction, or shame, that he could tell, just by listening to a woman’s voice, that she was – and I’m quoting here – a “heavyset black woman.”

Some days, it’s all I can do to maintain my composure.

The naked racism imbedded in that assumption is just stunning, and it was made all the more fantastic by the fact that he defended himself when I called him on it.  “I can just tell,” he insisted, and then, to make it even better, went on to make assumptions about this person’s upbringing, education, and socioeconomic status.

But wait… it gets better…

Yesterday, I walked in to the classroom to find this kid – let’s call him Sam – engaged in a conversation with another student – let’s call him Peter – about the idea of racial diversity in the workplace.  Since it’s a critical thinking class and because I’m a big advocate of letting students’ interests drive the discussions in my classroom, I hung back and listened to them.  It seems that Pete has some experience in management (from what I gathered, he worked as a manager at a video game store for a while) and recalled a story about corporate making a push for the hiring of more employees of color.  Pete was totally down with that, but his problem was that, living as we do in a VERY white part of the world (I think our minority population is somewhere in the 13% range, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the greatest percentage of that number resides in our only two big cities in the middle of the state, each about an hour from here), the problem wasn’t finding qualified potential employees of color, the problem was finding ANY  potential employees of color.

Sam was having none of it.  His stance, rock-solid and above scrutiny, is that hiring people of color just because they’re people of color is just flat-out racist.  Pete countered that yes, hiring someone simply based on the color of their skin IS racist, but what about the under-representation of people of color in the workforce, in teaching, in positions of power and influence?  Why are there so few people of color in jobs that don’t involve manual labor or drive-through windows?  Sam’s response?  “Well, those people (“THOSE people;” he actually said “THOSE PEOPLE”) don’t have the skills or the education to rise above those kinds of jobs.  If they worked harder and got a better education, then they’d be qualified to hold better positions.”

I’m just going to pause here so you can appreciate what it took for me not to launch myself across the table and throttle him in front of everyone……

I did my usual post-mortem download on my way home from class and came away with the idea that Sam just isn’t ready to examine his privilege.  He’s convinced himself (though, probably, through no fault of his own) that he’s gotten to where he is based solely on his own grit, tenacity, and wherewithal.  He grew up in tough circumstances, went straight into the military (ding, ding!), and is now continuing his bootstraps crusade by attending community college and “working hard.”  Telling him that he has an easier time accessing things like education and employment because he’s a young, white male insults his sense of self; no one’s GIVING him anything, and he’s absolutely convinced that the access he enjoys is available equally to everyone; unlike THOSE people, he’s smart/plucky/resourceful enough to take advantage of it.  He’s an opponent of minimum wage increases because he thinks that poor wages are incentives to push people into better jobs and more education, completely ignoring the fact that people get stuck in cycles of poverty that leave them focused solely on survival; there’s nothing left for “self improvement.”  He doesn’t think that young black boys need black male teachers as role models; I brought up the NPR story about the effort of Call Me Mister program to seek, educate, and place black men as teachers in schools that serve black boys specifically so those boys can see successful, educated people who look like they do and know that they can be successful, too.  He doesn’t see race as a barrier to anything; in his mind, if you’re smart and motivated (he didn’t use that word, though; he said “not lazy”), and persistent, you can have anything you want.

My frustration over his inability to see beyond himself led me to question my own position of privilege and power, particularly as it relates to the educational settings in which I participate.  As I mentioned, I live in a very white part of a very white state; while I am aware of educators of color who work in the English department of Local U., I can’t say with any certainty that there are any people of color working at the community college (and, to be fair, I can recall the faces of more people of color working at the dining halls than I can in the classroom).  While I try to be constantly aware of my privilege and the access that it gives me to resources and opportunities, I find myself feeling a little like Peter when he was expressing his frustration at wanting to hire people of color, but of there just not being any candidates to choose from.  What kind of responsibility do I bear, as an adjunct with little to no influence in any hiring decisions my college(s) make, to advocate for the inclusion – if not the aggressive courting and recruitment – of teachers of color?  What responsibility do I have as a parent of students who attend my town’s high school, or as a citizen of that town, regardless of whether I have kids in school?

I have no idea whether Sam’s going to come to any kind of realization or even glimmer of awareness in the short time I have left with him.  He may never see beyond his own experience, and that makes me sad.  While I have him, I will continue to push him to think past himself, though I suspect he will continue to dismiss my efforts as those of a bleeding heart liberal.  All I can do is try, and to continue to make as much noise as I can about how desperately important accurate, respectful, and equal representation really is, not just for our kids of color, but for our girl children and our queer kids, too.


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Quick Hit: The Tough Conversations

I’m all worked up about this.

First, go here and read this.  No, really; I’ll wait.

You’re back?  Okay; now, revisit this:

“The Morgan State comments were Holder’s most extensive on the subject of race since early 2009, when he gave a speech during Black History Month that generated controversy and reportedly infuriated President Obama’s chief of staff at the time, Rahm Emanuel. In that speech, Holder, the nation’s first African American attorney general, referred to the country as “essentially a nation of cowards,” (emphasis mine) arguing that Americans were not comfortable enough with one another to discuss the issue of race candidly.”

We ARE largely a nation of cowards; I think that Holder is spot-on with this.

Here’s the thing; I think that we ARE afraid to talk – especially to kids – about things that matter.  I posted a comment on someone’s facebok wall this morning (I forget whose now, but it’s not important).  The post was a lament of the general disinterest of a lot of young people in politics and voting.  You want to complain that young people are apathetic about voting? How about letting their teachers talk about current events and topics that most parents and administrators are afraid of because they’re “sensitive.” Give young people the environment and support they need to learn how to think critically about important things; race, poverty, sex and sexual identity, privilege. Unless and until we can have honest (and yes, sometimes difficult and uncomfortable) conversations about these things, we’re never going to progress beyond where we are, and where we are is not okay – not by a long shot.


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Quick Hit: Please, Watch This

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Quick Hit: This

This is going to be the cornerstone of all my research units from now on:


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Thought for Thursday


I was having a conversation with my students the other day, and they got me thinking.

As part of Black History Month, I’m giving them a bunch of quotes from black thinkers as their writing prompts, right?  The other day, I gave them Desmond Tutu’s “When you are neutral in the face of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

SO many of my students equated bystanders as equal to – or worse than – perpetrators.  They were willing to give a pass to people who truly don’t know – or don’t understand – an issue, but if you know something’s going down and you don’t do anything about it, you may as well have been an active participant.

I challenged them about this as hard as I could, asking them whether or not someone who fails to, say, jump in front of a gunman is just as responsible for the deaths of the people he would subsequently kill as the gunman who actually pulled the trigger, or asking about whether I’m responsible for a child’s abuse if I don’t challenge the mother who’s threatening them in the grocery store aisle.  While they were all a little uncomfortable at the idea of the INDIVIDUAL stepping into a situation (especially a dangerous one), they all pretty uniformly agreed that if you SEE, but don’t SAY, then you are just as culpable as the perpetrator.

I’m both heartened and a little disturbed by this.  I love that they understand the concept of bystanding and have been taught, at least on a conceptual level, that it’s our duty as human beings to stand up for one another.  No one admitted to actually DOING this, though, and it got me wondering;  is this, perhaps, why so many of the young people I encounter are just so clueless? If they don’t KNOW, then they believe they can’t be held responsible?



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Thought for Thursday: Open-mindedness

So, after having my kids watch Bill Nye the Science Guy “debate” Ken Ham the Creationist Guy, I’ve begun a discussion with my critical thinking students about the difference between “arguing” and “fighting.”  I was really very gratified this morning to see that, for the most part, the students were able to comprehend – and articulate! – the nuance between the activities.

They came up with the idea that “argument” is generally about an exchange of ideas; it’s an effort on the part of one party to offer the opposition evidence and proof that the speaker’s position has merit.  Argument is generally civil in tone, focused in scope and, while not devoid of emotion, is much more restrained and logical than it is emotional.  The end result, they reasoned, is to leave the listener with food for thought.  One doesn’t “win” an argument, they said;  it’s enough just to pry open the door of a previously closed mind, even if only a little.

“Fighting,” they decided, was less about an honest and earnest exchange and more about “force and power.”  Fighting is often a struggle for control or superiority; the object is to “win,” not to convince someone that your point of view has merit.  People in fights don’t listen to understand; they listen to respond (and, often, to refute).  Emotion is largely the controlling energy behind fighting, and rarely do people enter fights with the kind of open-mindedness necessary for any kind of meaningful consideration to happen.  Despite how lovely and polite the Nye/Ham debate was, they said, it was really a fight; neither man was likely very interested in seeing merit in the other man’s point.

It was about here that I introduced their next project – an issue analysis – and talked about topic/purpose/audience.  Their topic, I told them, can be anything that’s part of our national conversation at the moment (and then I gave them a quick list of potentials; the minimum wage, healthcare policy, immigration, etc, etc).   Since this is to be an inquiry exercise, I told them that they weren’t to choose something about which they had strong feelings.  The trick to picking a good topic is to find something that you’re interested in, but that you don’t really know a whole lot about.  “For example,” I said, “I wouldn’t pick abortion as my topic for this paper because I’ve already made up my mind about it.  I’m WAAY over here (I outstretched my arms and wiggled my left index finger) on this topic; I believe that ANY woman of ANY age should have access to a safe and legal abortion at ANY time in her pregnancy for ANY reason.  Period.  I am, admittedly, on the far-left fringe of this issue, because in all the research and observation I’ve done around this topic, I’ve encountered nothing that’s been sufficient to compel me to change my position that I have NO RIGHT to tell ANY woman what she can or cannot do with her body.”

We continued on to the topic of audience, and here I talked about the people on the fringes, using myself as an example. (Arms outstretched again, wiggling left index finger) “I’m over here on abortion, right?  Someone else is WAAY over here (wiggling right index finger) and believes that there should be no such THING as abortion; that it’s ALWAYS wrong under EVERY circumstance.  We (wiggling both index fingers) are NOT your audience for this paper.  You’re talking to everyone in between us; the people who are unsure of where they stand, or who believe that it’s okay sometimes but not others, or who don’t know enough about the topic to make a decision one way or another.”

At this point, a particularly astute student asked a really interesting question.  “Professor Chili,” he asked, “what would you say to the person over there (pointing to my right index finger)?  What do you think about what they think?”

And here, dear readers, is where we get to the point of this post.

My honest, heartfelt answer is that I absolutely support that person’s right to think the way s/he does.  I wholeheartedly support that person’s right to NEVER even THINK about having an abortion, and to feel that people who do have abortions are entirely, tragically wrong.  What I DON’T support is that person forcing someone else to comport themselves in accordance with someone else’s beliefs or feelings, and therein lies the difference between the way different people think.  I often get accused of being “closed-minded” about some things, though I profess not to be.  I don’t think that’s a fair assessment of how I operate.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as I’ve been presented with questions and challenges about my atheism – and the occasion of the Nye/Ham face-off has brought into sharp focus the divide between people who think and believe very differently.  I am fine with how others believe.  I have no problem if you (the general “you,” please; I got in trouble yesterday on a facebook post when the other folks on the thread weren’t hip enough to realize that I was speaking in general terms) want to reject scientific evidence or deny yourself medical care or give all your money to a church or devote your life to a particular faith.  YOUR life, YOUR choices.

Where I get itchy is when you try to make ME comply with your choices, or when your choices negatively impact others.  If you deny your child life-saving medical care, I am going to take issue with that.  If you try to use your morals to legislate my behavior (or that of my friends and family, or even, to be honest, complete strangers), I’m going to have a problem with that.  If you’re going to enforce your denial of certain scientifically-accepted premises on our schoolchildren, use your morality to hamper medical, genetic, or technological discovery and advancement, or use your faith as a justification to deny other people basic human rights and dignity, I’m going to make some noise.

The difference between “us” and “them” is that we’re okay with them believing what they want, but they are terrified by the fact that we don’t believe as they do.

Just after the debate, Buzzfeed posted a list of pictures of Creationists asking questions of people who embrace evolution.  Slate posted a response to each of those questions, and one of the points that was made was that, “There is more room for a god in science than there is for no god in religious faith.”

Let that sink in for a minute.  “There is more room for god in science than there is for no god in religious faith.”

That, right there, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the difference.  I have beliefs.  I stand for things, but I am not so wrapped up in those beliefs, nor do I integrate them so fully into my very identity, that I am threatened by people who do not think as I do.  More to the point, I don’t force anyone to conform to my ideology; I would never force someone to have an abortion, for example.  Many of the staunchly anti-choice proponents wouldn’t say the opposite and, in fact, have pushed legislation that has the effect of keeping women from obtaining abortion services.

That’s the difference.  Too many people don’t understand how big a difference that is.


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Quick Hit: Obedient Little Birds

SO! I had all my students watch the SOTU (and at least one of the myriad Republican rebuttals offered afterward). A lot of my kids latched on to the minimum wage issue, and EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM (so far; I’m not through all their papers yet) spouted some variation of this nonsense.

“Raising the minimum wage raises inflation and cuts jobs.”



What good, obedient little birds they are, parroting back exactly what they’ve been told to believe without any evidence to support (or, more importantly, to refute) their claims.

My response?  “Prove it. Do some research; find out what economists say, then get back to me.” They won’t, I know, so I may assign a mini research assignment on the topic. I can’t stand it.



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Thought for Thursday

It’s going to be an interesting semester.

One of my classes is attended by a student who is secure in his knowledge that he is correct in all his opinions (much like this gentleman from last term).  He has the unique characteristic, however, of failing to see nuance in language; he thinks that “pretty” means exactly the same thing as “beautiful” and “stunning” and “breathtaking” and “gorgeous.”  I told him on Tuesday that one of his tasks for the term is to either learn to appreciate nuanced language or, failing that, to recognize that pretty much everyone else DOES see distinctions in tone and term, and to respond accordingly.

We had it out today over something the President said in his State of the Union address; that there are “no American troops in Iraq.”  My outspoken, opinionated student is also a combat veteran, and stated unequivocally that this was A LIE.  That led us to a discussion about what constitutes a “troop” – his definition was ANY military personnel, while the rest of the class understood the term to mean a member of the military who’s actively engaged in combat (though, to be fair, the President did not say “there are no COMBAT troops in Iraq”).  It IS true that there ARE military personnel in Iraq, but it is also true that there are no COMBAT troops in that county; if we’re going by my student’s definition of a “troop,” then we’re at war in every country in which we have a guarded embassy.

After the class was over, another student stopped me to express dismay at how this conversation went down – and to complement me for maintaining my cool throughout.  I told him that it’s easy to be cool when I’m confident of my facts and in control of the language we’re using to describe those facts.  He admitted that this was going to be both his favorite class and the one where he’s likely to struggle the most; he’s fine with having energetic conversations, but not so fine dealing with people who refuse to admit when they’re on shaky factual or rhetorical ground.

My opinion boy also parroted the far-right line that the President is “breaking the law” and “going against the Constitution” when he announced on Tuesday that he’d be issuing some executive orders.  When I asked him to produce evidence that this behavior is either illegal OR unconstitutional, he blathered for a bit about nothing that made any sense to me.  I’m not a constitutional scholar, but I DO know that executive orders have been issued by literally EVERY president we’ve EVER had, and that precedent is often a basis for legality, but I’m going to spend a little energy doing some research.  I can pretty much guarantee that opinion boy won’t do that.



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