Monthly Archives: October 2012

I… I Just… I Have No Words

I received this email from a student in the class I’m taking.  I present it to you completely unedited:

yeahh i can deff meet up this thursday after 6 if that works for everyone else so we can just get it done?? and lets come prepared with facts and current events. I have already started doing some thing but not a whole lot. Also i do not have the current version of ferg so i only have stuff from ore on our topic so bring that book if any of you guys have it!!

Please bear in mind when reading this that this young woman is a SENIOR IN COLLEGE.  Let that sink in for a second; she’s a SENIOR.  It kind of makes one wonder how she managed to get that far, doesn’t it?  It also makes me wonder where she expects to go from here.

I am both sorry for the professor (who’s going to have to read this girl’s paper and many, many like it) and SO glad that I’m taking the class as an independent study.


Filed under about writing, bad grammar, concerns, dumbassery, failure, frustrations, I can't make this shit up..., Local U., Mrs. Chili as Student, really?!, Yikes!, You're kidding...right?

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!


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.


Pat Conroy


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.

Leave a comment

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

Ten Things Tuesday

It’s Banned Book Week!

I don’t know about you, but I see banned books lists as a challenge.  Someone tells me I “can’t” do something, and I’m MORE curious about it than I would have been if they’d just kept their mouths shut.  In fact, I went to see The Last Temptation of Christ BECAUSE of all the whackadoodle Christians who were protesting and wailing and condemning the film (most of them, I might add, without ever having seen it; the uproar started before the thing was even released).  How’s THAT for heresy!  (also, and not for nothing, I kind of liked the film…)

Not only do I READ “banned books,” I teach them, too.  Here are ten of my favorites:

1.  Native Son.  I teach this to seniors whenever I have the chance.  The book is difficult and ugly and painful, but it’s also, I think, an important look at the ways in which poverty (and the systems that both create and perpetuate it) affects EVERYONE adversely.  It’s also a great way to talk to students about privilege, which is a desperately important conversation to have.

2.  To Kill a Mockingbird.  I teach this one to freshmen every chance I get.  The novel requires a bit of background for the kids; most of them have no concept of the society in which the novel is set and, as a consequence, they have a hard time grasping the main conflict in the story.  Once we do a unit on Jim Crow, though, everything starts to fall into place.

3.  The Kite Runner.  I taught this in a Film and Literature class, and offered it as a free reading choice to sophomores last year (three of my 16 kids chose that book).  It’s a gorgeous novel that asks students to take a hard look at loyalty, friendship, kinship ties, and responsibility.

4.  The Things They Carried.  I teach the eponymous story when I’m teaching my unit on descriptive writing.  O’Brien’s story is a strange combination of stark, raw, lush, and beautiful.  The end gets me every time, and I’ve been teaching the story for years.

5.  The Lovely Bones.  Here’s another one I taught in both the Film and Lit class and offered as a reading choice to sophomores last year.  I don’t love this novel, but I do love the questions it inspires in the students.  The themes of remembrance and letting go are difficult ones to process, and despite my being lukewarm about the book, I’m always pleased by the work we do with it.

6.  The Handmaid’s Tale.  I’ve taught this novel several times, and EVERY SINGLE TIME, I’m amazed by the really great thinking that it generates in my students.  My most recent go-round with it was last year – you know; just as the whole Sandra Fluke, contraception hysteria was really getting going? – and it was both incredibly satisfying and singularly terrifying how relevant the novel was.

7.  The Golden Compass.  I taught this in a Film and Lit class two years ago, and it may well have been my favorite novel of the course.  It asks students to think about institutional control, what we are and are not allowed to believe, and what belief inspires/compels some people to do, particularly in the pursuit and maintenance of power.

8.  Harry Potter.  Duh.  The righty wingnuts get their panties in a bunch over magic.  Whatever.  I don’t teach the whole series, but I have taught The Prisoner of Azkaban in my Film and Literature class.

9.  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  Technically, I have never taught this book.  I did, however, encourage a coworker to teach it to sophomores two years ago, and I was planning to teach it this year if I had still been in the classroom.

10.  The Hunger Games.  I taught this to freshmen last year, and I think that it was an entirely successful enterprise.  One of the things I work on is teaching kids to look beyond the stories; to use the plot as a metaphor for something larger.  I think that most of my class was able to see the themes of individual responsibility, protest, and resistance as we made our way through the novel.


What are YOUR favorite banned books?


Filed under book geek, critical thinking, ethics, I can't make this shit up..., out in the real world, politics, really?!, Teaching