Politics Trump Marriage

Trump presidency is destroying marriages across the country I’m married to a mad man.  He still supports Trump.   This attitude scares me when it is up close and personal.  I cannot convince myself that Trump’s supporters are backwoods ignoramuses who are too gullible or stupid to see the truth.  You know. . .fringe folks who have little relevance in my world.

My husband is college-educated, experienced, moral, kind, open-minded even. And I love him and usually admire him. Yes, we have diverged on politics many times in our marriage. (I burst into tears when Trump won the election, predicting that the nation was now headed for an immoral cesspool, while my husband gloated that he helped beat “socialist” Hillary.)

Interestingly, we tend to agree on many political issues. Abortion rights? Capital punishment? National health care?  We fully align on these common dividers.  We even have similar questions with both sides of the gun control arguments.  But we tend to vote with our wallets and differ on where we think the money should go.  And here is where the problem exists for me.

My husband knows that Trump lies on a daily basis.  He responds, “Oh, they all lie.”  He knows Trump is hiding something, but he believes, “Tax returns SHOULD be private.”

He agrees that the press twists facts (because we have personal experience of it.)  The press does sometimes omit the truth, does sometimes make mistakes, to the point  a totally fabricated piece in the Washington Post won the Pulitzer Prize.   So my argument that the press is often our only tool to push politicians into the light falls on my husband’s deaf ears. He says, “Ah. . .not everything is our business. . .”

I sometimes think that my husband just flat won’t admit when he is wrong. But he is the perfect example of why 41 percent of  nation’s citizens happily defend Trump.

The fact that our president is caught in lies, fear-mongering, hateful rabble-rousing, and nationalism that borders on fascism, and my own husband doesn’t care scares me for our United States. I suffer an eensy taste of what early Nazi Germany was like, what southern slave ownership was, what Salem  and Inquisition Europe went through.    The sense that any leader can do what its citizens know is wrong, people who have moral fiber and yet they will not only look the other way, but gaze directly at the rotten core without blinking and defend it as it worsens, is at the heart of each of these historic tragedies.  All for financial stability and gain.

Ultimately, my husband is happy with the economy and more so with the recent tax plan.  (Who cares that the economy rose and rose throughout Obama’s tenure.)  These financial gains allow my husband to shrug away Trump’s dangerous leadership just as many citizens beneath known atrocious leaders have in order to secure their money.

Each day  more of Trump’s megalomania is revealed as he becomes more comfortable in his knowledge that so far, he can get away with anything.  41 percent is a scary high number of people who don’t care.

How bad will we allow our presidency and his policies to become before they are bad enough for his constituents to balk and for the rest of us to rise and fight back?  Enslavement bad?  Witch burning bad?  Death camp bad?  And remember this, the Germans themselves were not the ones fighting back, nor were the slaveowners, nor the righteous Puritans.

I innocently, ignorantly believed that America was always on a line of development, each generation opening us up to more enlightenment, deeper liberty, that we could never and would never relapse into a past trough of blind human failure.  I always thought those countries where recent atrocities have and still occur were simply behind our time line.  But now,  I see how easily we can allow ourselves to be duped into what we know is wrong.  I say such things to my husband and he rolls his eyes.  Did educated, kind-hearted German families have these sorts of discussions at home in the early 1930s?  Did they argue that money is more important than morality?


How White Men Became Victims

white men angstReactionary men (typically white) and mothers of sons worry that, because of the #MeToo movement and Kavanaugh’s accuser, they might soon suffer from being “wrongfully” charged with rape or sexual misconduct by a scheming accuser.  Their meme war litters my social media.  Funny, I don’t wake up to daily rants about all the rapes committed in our country.

I have never seen a man post anything about the problem of rape in this country.  Because most men, though they suffer from this violation at a shockingly high rate themselves, don’t worry about such things when they walk from a grocery store in the early evening to load their groceries in their car.  They don’t glance around the platform at the subway, wondering if they will lose a battle against a rapist that day.  They don’t worry about working late alone with an aggressive male coworker.

Yet, this “chance” of being accused is threatening them.  Daily examples of rape in the news? Nadda.  No reaction. However, one very public example of a possible lie and news shows erupt with the certainty of future possible victimhood of men.

This overreaction is nothing new.

In recent decades (white) men have often felt the fearsome pinch of prejudice rooted in something they believe is beyond their control to defend: other people’s experience, beliefs, and accusations as it relates to them.  And they do not like it!  Even on the soapy comedy “Modern Family” this week, a male character makes a comment about how hard it is to be white man today.

Surely, we’ve all listened to handfuls of unhappy whites as they raise their voices against “reverse racism” due to what they perceive as unfair laws that could possibly block them from jobs or promotions.  Social justice measures such as the Equal Pay Act, Affirmative Action, or Title IX worried them:  could someone else block their open field of play, a huge field that had once been supported by Jim Crow Laws, The  U.S. Constitution, School policies, and centuries of tradition?

Over fifty years ago, when U.S. law began supporting people other than white men alone, their world shifted:  these white men could no longer wake up in the morning and say, “All the things that I want, I am first in line no matter what the others have to offer. I will always win, no matter the case.”

Once this shift happened, ironically, they began spouting the same words men of color and  ALL women had been complaining of for centuries:  Shouldn’t my record, my abilities, matter more than my race or gender?

The fact that laws like Affirmative Action had to be asserted to make sure that people of color could have any spot in the line, not just a spot at the front of the line seems lost on these white men once their place in the universe began to lose its footing.  “Where are my rights, laws that protect me?”  they shouted.  (Recall Charlottesville?)

The fact that white men had such laws for generations that assured their previous footing seems forgotten.   As if turnabout is fair play only if they are the referees of that very game.

So here they go again; a new dynamic has erupted in the last few years as people other than white men have fought for more rights.  Issues from #BlackLivesMatter to sexual discrimination and exploitation in the work place, while not fresh, but rather, Refreshed, have started fires.

The latter issue has reached the Supreme Court, not as a considered policy or a law, but still. . .there it is: #MeToo.  Better known as Women’s Rights.   An issue that should be about Kavanagh’s fitness to serve on the Supreme Court has been twisted into an argument about poor, poor victimized men, not far from the same poor, poor white men argument of yore.

Oh My, these “innocent” men might actually have to deal with a lie, or a misjudgment, or a false accusation.

Yes, social media and the news are ablaze with fear.  I see posts  and news “experts” state how, if Kavanagh isn’t seated, anyone could be fair game for a lie or false accusations willy-nilly.  Reactionaries advise carrying cameras or recording devices at all times now to protect themselves from a threatening woman with a dishonest voice.

Hilarious and so Pathetic.  I guess those same people who worry about false, unfair assumptions and attacks know now what it has felt like to be a black person in our country for centuries.  Or to be a woman who is often dismissed as emotional and histrionic, so therefore wrong.  (Remember Geraldine Ferraro’s tears?  Oh, Turn-about, you vicious play, you.)

So, go ahead and carry your tapes to protect yourself from liars.  The automatic overreaction of some police in some situations just because someone is black might be more believable if those accused had it on tape.  Oh, wait.  Even when on tape, the victim is still somehow not considered the victim in many of these confrontations.

Would a tape have helped me when I was told as a teenager by the owner’s manager that if I wanted to keep my job I should date the line cook who had a crush on me?  Probably not, for there has to a be a chain of people willing to accept the tape, right?

Or how about when a buddy with an accent was declined from a job for being a “towel head”  even when his accent and coloring are Greek? (Both bad, but shows how ignorant some of our citizens are.) Again, maybe not.  Or how about when I was rejected for a job because I sounded on the phone like a petite woman, and “the boys at our school are big, you know, Little lady?”  If only I had that shit on tape.

Or maybe when my African-American Literature teacher kept a special cassette recording of mine because “little white girls from the south don’t need this stuff”  A tape of his words probably still would not have mattered. (It was a boot leg Zora Neale Hurston interview that I still have never heard since.)

Reverse racism is a lie. There’s racism and prejudice.  To me the guy was just a man who was being a dick-swinging rat, as some people can be;  dickhood is something some people are victimized by more than others. And some people look for a variety of ways to be a dick.  A tape won’t protect you from that.

That’s my point:  you think that because of your gender and race and politics and family of origin, faced with #Metoo and #blacklivesmatter, you are now a target?  You want to rant about how it is unfair?

I say to all those men (and mothers of boys) who are afraid that they now will be subjected to unfair and dishonest treatment because it has finally come for you:  Welcome to OUR world, Baby Boys.  Where were you when you thought you had all the power, where was your defense for the underdog, the legally exploited, the innocents then? 

Funny enough, no matter how you feel mistreated, you men, white men in particular, still have the most power. Scary to think you might lose a little more of your footing, isn’t it?

NPR and the Teacher Shortage Crisis

Image result for why teachers quitAs I was riding along the other day, my favorite topic came on NPR:  teacher shortages and why no one wants to become a teacher anymore.  I hooted.

The announcers tossed out loose statistics that had no edges.  Here’s one I remember from 20 years ago:  3 out of 5 new teachers quit within three years of starting their careers.   Apparently, hiring and retaining has only gotten worse.

But before I get into why this is true, let me say what I always think when I hear about this loss:  What are these freshly hired, and quickly disenchanted workers supposed to do now with that degree?

Back in the day, universities placed education majors in their “field experience” the very last semester of their schooling.  Honestly, if you never experience the real work until you are almost finished with your degree and suddenly discover this is not the fantasy you had, what then?  You are still likely to go into the career, hoping that once the kids are really yours, maybe you will like the career better.  The stats say no.

Teachers are leaving in droves long before retirement.

Many universities have wisely started putting college students into real life settings as soon as possible, trying to give future teachers a taste before it is too late to set them on a more palatable career path.

One young woman comes to mind.  A freshmen from a local college, she hoped to be a Middle School teacher and was assigned to spectate one of my high level and one of my low level senior classes.  She came twice a week without a warm word for the kids, behaving as if it were just me and her against the world. She’d choose a desk with her back to my class and roll her eyes.  When my students were gone, she would openly express how much she hated certain kids, and dreaded coming to my first period.

You guessed it: she couldn’t tolerate my low level Seniors who struggled not only with grammar but with sitting still and being polite.  I loved the hell out of them.  They made me laugh and were always game for something different, and slowly I taught them to enjoy Shakespeare and to become friends with the various structures of the verb “to be.”  But my student teacher cringed over how loud that one laughed. “God. . .you could cut glass with that cackle.”  Or how that one talked back: “Didn’t his Gran-momma teach him nothing?”

I felt no qualms at saying to this 27-year-old university student, “First, as a new teacher, the likelihood that you will get the cushy classes with well-behaved teenagers is nil. Second, if this stuff is setting you off, you might think about choosing a different career.” As a college freshmen, she had all the time in the world to study business or law instead. I have no idea what became of her.  I was just glad that she was at the beginning of her college adventure and had time to change her mind, so that some poor, undeserving class would not end up with her anyway.

But that disillusionment between reality and what teacher-wannabes fantasize is only part of the problem. 

The NPR report interviewed former (and current) teachers who complained about pay and respect, long the issue.  Yes, trying to buy bread and pay the mortgage is a pretty good reason to leave a profession.

However, I never whined about the pay in the beginning; few government employees are going to make it rich off their salaries.  I counted my fabulous benefits as part of my pay.  As long as the state kept up with inflation in other regards, I was okay.

Lately, more often than not, pay increases do not keep up with the cost of living.  In 1995, starting pay in one county in my state was 31K, in another 26K.  Twenty years ago, starting pay in my county was 36K.  Today it is 41K.  How does $5000 cover the fact that the median house price in our area is now $250K, more than double, from $119K in 2001?

Lack of respect rather than lack of funds is even harder to accept.

Some people have dreams of showing up naked to work, or forgetting that they have some big meeting.  In my nightmares, my classroom gets out of control, like a big, mouthy, spontaneous party and I’m the voiceless person no one notices. . .And children are not stupid.  They have been led to believe that “Those who can, do. . .Those who can’t, teach. . .”  Why should they automatically respect me just because I am a human being?

The concept that teachers have to earn a child’s respect  is so strongly part of modern day society. Today’s television depicts children and teenagers as far superior in brain power and social credibility than any adult on the show. . .if there is an adult on the show; and most teachers on children’s television act crazy, cruel, or half dead.   No wonder students can be so insolent.

But is this really a new problem?  Books and movies from earlier decades  prove there have always been some classrooms that are out of control.  Ever read To Kill a Mocking bird or The Chalkboard Jungle, written long before my time, where students are threatening the lives of their teachers?  This idea  that back in the day children behaved. . . but they are misbehaving now is quaint.  Teachers have always needed a bag of tricks for good classroom management.

However, though history proves disruptive kids have always acted up,  when it comes to today’s discipline rules, there is a difference between generations.

When my parents were students, they could be expelled for chewing gum:  my generation, I was paddled for skipping lunch period to go to McDonald’s and cell phones equaled a panel (expulsion trial), but today  children carry guns and cellphones to class.

So maybe it isn’t the kids, but the administration’s rules that have changed that new teachers can’t deal with?

Differing rules and administrative attitudes along with differing teaching environments can drive teachers away.

Schools can vary dramatically, where at one, the biggest problem is cheating and at another the heaviest load is violence on a daily basis.  Decades ago in a rough south ATL school, droves of kids would amble into our classes 10-20 minutes late, and there was nothing done about it from bottom to top.  There, a school-wide,  full-blown riot  sent a teacher to the hospital after police in riot gear stormed the place; covered up, the event made the nightly news only as a simple fight between two boys. Today my son’s high school will give him a detention for that sort of tardiness and the halls are empty when the first bell rings; plus, in contrast, the news reported a massive cheating scandal across a grade level because the principal was cracking down seriously and wanted the public to know.

Where and when and who make a difference in teachers’ careers.  The “tougher” the school district, the harder it is to keep teachers.    Why stay when faculty know the teacher up the road is making the same money for far less stress.

Some of the hardest “misbehavior” for a teacher to deal with now is a total lack of concern for due dates or grades.  And parents are not on our side, believe me.  Nor is administration.  The latest trend, particularly in urban areas, is to allow multiple retakes of tests or to assign loose due dates. What teacher has the time to rewrite every quiz, test, exam, and then re-administer these to kids repeatedly, or ethically grade a semester’s work from their students in the last  few weeks of school?  And are teachers being paid for this repeated effort?  Of course, not!

If an architect has to revamp a drawing four or five times until the client is happy, he gets paid for every single version, every single hour.  If a doctor has to retest for more possibilities or repeat a surgical procedure, he earns a ton of new money . .teachers don’t.  I had kids who would not study at all, hoping they could pass without effort first. And THEN, if they performed poorly, they would ask to retake the test once they studied.  Makes perfect sense to me.  I would have done the same as a kid.  But as a teacher, my afternoons could be filled with retesting rather than planning or advising.

To me, a bigger, but related problem to discipline and lesson planning is that  teachers seem to be required to be entertainers now.  No longer can a teacher say, “Read this,” and then explain how to or what to.  We have to come up with activities that compare to a NASA or Disney World experience, smile and pander and drop one-liners every few seconds. Though I usually would try to oblige, I once had a teen rate my lesson on a day I was stressed and exhausted and just wanted them all to sit quietly and read. (Teachers have those days, too, now and then.) Typically my biggest fan, he said as he left the room,  “Ahh, you really missed this one, Ms.  I give you a D for today.”

I wish I could blame television for that  annoying expectation.  But district Bigwigs are the ones behind this idea that we need to be Jerry Seinfeld, Abraham Lincoln, Oprah Winfrey, and Bill Nye the Science Guy all in one.  Teachers can be down rated on their principal visits (AKA reviews) if a girl in the back row quickly checks her makeup in her phone screen; we are supposed to be that on-our-toes about holding kids’ attention.

And bosses are often the worst in education; often they are men who went into education to be a coach and really never wanted to teach social studies, or worse,  left the classroom because they hated teaching.  I had more than one boss who had never been in the classroom, which means we have people telling us what to do who do not know how to do it themselves.

One woman in particular had jumped from counselor to assistant principal, and we suffered all her grand ideas. . .you know. . .old stuff that was new again, yet she had no interest in listening to experience.   She believed naysayers were automatically negative, rather than being smart or weathered.  She would curry the young, new teachers,  and punish those that did not cheer her every move.  (Ever taught a freshmen Lit class with forty kids while the other freshmen lit teacher has six students, but the administrator refuses to balance the numbers?  Talk about punishment.)

At first, I thought this boss’s attitude was a sign of ageism, until I realized she just wanted sycophants, and figured the newbies were easier to shape in that regard, and the experience teachers impotent against her.

Unfortunately for students, the new boss’s  and her proteges’ inexperience made them all ignorant of how their “newly discovered” bullets were not magic.  Whole Language, Basal Reading, Phonics?  In, out, and in again based on the whims of administrators who never taught.  I had one boss who threatened to fire or at least transfer us if she ever caught us teaching grammar or mechanics in isolation, so trendy was her latest idea.  At no point could we map and practice exercises on the board showing kids how to use apostrophes or conjugate verbs. . .

As pay-for-performance becomes more of reality, teachers are becoming more cut throat, more willing to toss each other under the bus in order to secure the whatevers from the powers that be.  Performance is often marked by how well one teacher’s kids do compared to other teachers’ students.  My ex-husband, an elementary school teacher was given a PDP-a Professional Development Plan is the equivalent of a shape up or ship out warning-because 20% more of his students did poorly on a statewide test compared to his peers’ students.  Four of each of the other teachers’ kids failed, five of his did.  So ONE child more and he deserves to be fired?

The fact that he actually had more students overall than the other three teachers did not matter. . . Notice the way the numbers were skewed? The principal wanted to prove to the public and her bosses that she took standardized testing and performance-linked jobs seriously, so whomever had the most students fail at any grade level, got a demerit and a threat, no matter the fallacy in logic.

With those sorts of principals, teachers are less likely to share good lessons even when forced to collaborate if they can earn the favor of a boss by having better scores or better favor.  (Just one kid more?)

We already muscle for rank over classroom location, subjects like AP, class sizes.  Now throw in pay for performance, and add in a faulty way of measuring performance, and what sort of peer environment is percolating?

Plus, we know that the concept of better is very loose.  I’m sure that in every profession there are those people that do a half-assed job, yet still gain accolades.

Why wouldn’t new teachers or even seasoned teachers quit if they have other options?  And is this the environment parents want their children in?

Finally, the dirty truth that no one outside of teaching gives a shit about. . .the biggest reason teachers jump ship:  The hours seriously suck if a teacher really is going to do a good job. 

Sure, anyone can never read student essays, arbitrarily jotting a grade on the top. (I worked with a woman who would say, Freshmen don’t need to fail. . .” and would give out high grades to undeserving students.  How easy is that!!)  But if you do want children to learn, and you do have an ethical system about who earns excellence, then you have to put in hours that no other profession requires.  This is why people gripe about pay.

Yes, new lawyers and new doctors have ridiculous weeks.    But when I was first bringing home 31K  with 7 years of college and two degrees, multiple certifications, my buddy the Ob-Gyn was freshly hired at 180K.  His 70 hour weeks were well-rewarded.  And. . .what’s more he was paid while he was still in training, whereas student teachers basically work a fulltime job (their field experience) for no money.  True, the doctor’s education cost big bucks, but his school loans can be paid back with that salary within a year or two.

Grading student work is a whole extra job.   My work day, I had to be in the door by 6:45 and not out before 3:00.  Those are the required hours, but all teachers are there much longer.  And if not, they are still working when they get home and through the weekends.

Teachers are in the classrooms or monitoring the hallways for 7 hours straight and are not supposed to be caught grading at those times.  Our attention should always be on the children. That 8th hour assigned as a required planning period is eaten up with meetings and responsibilities, or just plain rest.   The lunch break is 20 minutes tops; since teachers are last out of the room and first back, this short time gives us just enough minutes to run to the restroom and stuff a sandwich in our mouths.  And in some states, teachers have to dine with (and monitor) their students, so it isn’t even a break.  Some bosses don’t mind if we try to catch up in those minutes between classes, or in the mornings;  others require us on duty in the hallways the second the bell rings.

Yes, I get summers off which is one reason I don’t sweat the salary, but if you do the math of how many hours I worked in 10 months,   NOT COUNTING the required extracurricular activities that young teachers are contracted to do,  I worked enough hours for a year-round job and then some and made peanuts.  Now toss is how most new teachers cannot get a job unless they contract to also coach some sport or activity an extra 20 hours a week at cents per hour, and you can see that we build up resentments over being exploited like crazy.

When I taught at a local university as a part-time adjunct, people would ask what I do. You know, meeting someone at a dinner or some event, they’d hear my answer and sometimes become a little self-conscious;  they’d make some humorous, self-deprecating remark about their grammar-as if I were policing them silently in my head-or wonder aloud about how smart I must be.  But now, upon hearing I teach high school, there is a completely different response as if the air had just shifted and a nasty smell had arrived.  You can see their respect level drop as their eyes dart away or worse, they confront me about their negative opinions about public education.  I am the same person, with the same credentials, but the respect I earned was very different.

I find that hard simply because what public school teachers do is so essential and honestly so much more important than being a university adjunct, and I love my work and my students.  I assume this is a remnant of a time when children’s teachers were often servants and are now civil “servants”.  But it is a sad trend that simply makes a hard job easier to leave for many people.

Those of who stay,  are we masochists? 

No, some stay because there are no other options.  Some stay because we can schedule around our children.  Most stay because we love what we do and know how important we are.  A month ago, I was vacationing in a mountain town three hours away.  A young man pushing a stroller stopped me on the streets of the charming village, and asked me if I remembered teaching him.  I certainly did, though so grown now, in his thirties, I barely recognized him.   He said, “I had to tell you what you meant to me,” and introduced me to his family, asked if I was on social media.  Two weeks ago, dining with old friends, one of them asked me if I recalled teaching a certain student named Jane.

My friend, said, “Well, I ran into her with her family and she was asking about you.  You taught her freshmen and senior year,”  Yes, I replied.  “Well, she says even with college, you are still the best teacher she ever had and still looks at one of the projects you had her complete.”  I had just had one of those nightmares about losing class control that morning and sure did need to hear that!

Then last week,  I was dining with my boys at a local steak house and heard a familiar cackle split the air.  The girl whom that  college student hated was now a graduated, young woman working her way through college as a hostess.  She caught sight of me and ran across the foyer, yelling, “OMG,  I can’t believe it’s you!” and hugged me so hard I thought I’d fall over.

Those experiences, knowing I made a positive impact is what makes the profession worth staying for many teachers!  But unless something changes to bring in more strong educators, what will become of the profession?





Teaching Old Teachers New Tricks . . .(or my opinion about a stale issue)

Image result for digital classroomEach morning,  I often do a little reading before I get on with my day.  Doing so today made me think about how, more than a decade ago, students from some class I did not teach had to survey various people for their opinions on impending tech in the digital world.  When teachers often only had dry erase boards or even chalkboards to illustrate their lessons, I was asked: Do you read anything online?  Do you read novels on tech devices?  Do you prefer paper books to digital books?  Do you think digital reading will replace paper books?  Could you teach with only digital information or will we always require paper?

Apparently, for years,  I was their lone interviewee who could accept or even predict the demise of paper textbooks, paper and pen assignments, paper novels, so powerful the hold of ink and wood pulp on our population in the past.  I’d roll my eyes loudly whenever the topic rose in meetings or faculty rooms when others would whine their discontent.  I had a wild imagination then about all the things I could do with technology if I could design it my way.  Picture a classroom with walls of screen like in Minority Report. . .the fresh images, charts, and “motivational quotes” that I could match to each day’s lesson alone would be astounding.  (The ADD kid would be overwhelmed by the noise my digital, visual landscape created.)

Within a few years of first answering these kids’ surveys, I was requiring my own students to complete massive, argumentative research papers-you know those quintessential “topic” papers English teachers love-without the cumbersome index cards of meticulous notes from education yore, or even the “more modern” expensive, photocopied pages of books and magazines that some teachers required as “proof of authorship.”  Students could, if they chose, never touch a piece of paper at all.

“Woe is me,” cried a few of my peers, even some of the young ones.  “What about teaching kids to use a variety of print sources, you know. . .go pull a book off a shelf?  Pick up a print magazine?   What are you doing, Keren, letting these children only use the internet for their research. . .What kind of teacher do you call yourself!!!”

As if books and magazines, even encyclopedias are not on the internet.  (Even back then they were easily accessible online to students with the right passcodes.)

This morning, I opened up my laptop and perused The NYT for updates on Trump’s latest shenanigans, read a teary article about daughterhood from The Texan, poked my nose in a few nonfiction books I want to start. Immersed in the words on the screen,  I suddenly thought about that survey and then about grading those essays, my students having provided digital copies of all their research, highlighted in various colors to match their organized plots.  Orange for this area of fact, pink for this area of opinions, or whatever categories they chose, etc.

How much easier it was for them to cut and paste a passage or phrase from the digital work into their properly quoted and cited writing,  no longer hand-copying it onto a 4×6 card and then retyping it back into their paper.  In those old days with archaic methods, seeing if they had misquoted or mis-paraphrased was more difficult for me.  Their digital sources often helpfully provided a bibliography entry of their own title, simplifying what was necessary to copy into their paper’s works cited page.  And though I still taught them where to find this in printed books or magazines, how simple for students who struggled to grasp where to put an author or title in the required order when it was there already on the source.  When to use a comma, a colon, a period in the entry was already completed for them most of the time.  Some apps highlight what piece of info to use in APA or MLA citations, too.

Grading,  I could use the “review” feature on the writing app/software we used, and leave common remarks.  Infact, they could have a number of drafts that showed all the changes up to the final. All of it, the research, the providence of source material, the writing, the substantiating, even my reviews and remarks and grades were all submitted to me digitally.  Instead of a mile-high stack of plastic covered three ring binders from 150 students, I carried a small box of thumb drives.  Eventually,  I did not even need those, for as technology caught up, I could access our server and thus, their work, from home.

I think, however, about my college roommate, a budding writer who would lay out her notecards all over the mangey royal blue carpet of our apartment, moving them to rethink her vision.  Typing out, and then cutting up her essays into pieces and moving bits here and there, like a jigsaw puzzle, helped her think. . .She still does this before any publication is ready.

There are apps that help do that now, too;  writers can create a visual post-it board or organize a multiscreen view, move their beloved tidbits back and forth and see all in one tree or circle or staircase. . .whatever image they seek for guidance.  And interestingly, one might worry that by having so much of the organizing and finer points of editing completed for students by an app might make the students lose something in translation, some element of analysis and vision missing, perhaps.  No. Instead I found that their thinking was actually deeper and more clear.  Something about not trying to keep track of all the moving parts of the research paper methods of my youth allows today’s learners to think about the topic, the argument they are making, with less worry about the form.

Back in the day, my peers  when surveyed would say, “Never!  I need to hold the moldy pages of my favorite novel in my hands, smell the ink, enjoy the blurb filled covers. . . Never,  No!”  And to them novels by tablet would never replace their enjoyment of paper books.

And even as I admit that I do prefer a damp, inky magazine to my iPad when lounging on the beach. . .my son is completing his 12th grade summer reading on his phone. And only a few weeks ago, wanting to get a head start on the school year, he finished his online economics class-opening to end-without touching a piece of paper.

Sure, technology has created some major headaches for teachers, too; I was ignorant about the sheer difficulties of upkeep, the replacement of missing keys or cords that kids stole, the holes that might appear on the white boards or laptop screens.  And worse, the simplicity of cheating that technology offers is depressing;  but  I’ve taught my students that if I can Google one of their sentences and find anything similar to it, they’ve plagiarized.  (It’s a good lesson in learning to paraphrase or summarize properly.)

Of course, one can easily purchase an essay now online and call it one’s own.  But you know, twenty-five years ago, I was doing my required volunteering at the GSU writing center.  All adjunct professors had to provide some of their time there, and in came a phone call on our 1-800 grammar hotline.  I have no idea how a woman from another state found us, but she was looking to buy a research paper for her son.  Could we sell and mail her one?  I said, “Ma’am, we don’t do that sort of thing here.”  She said, “Well, I’m sure somebody somewhere does,” and hung up.

What once was on paper is now digital.  Faster, simpler, but the same. . .Are any teachers still fighting this?  Any readers?


#Mine Only. . .Appropriate

Related imageIn a country that has recently hosted moralistic movements like #Black Lives Matter and #Me, Too, though I support the essence of each, I’m surprised that there has not been a Mine Only campaign.  Between the Chinese qipao Prom dress-wearing white girl of this week and the hoop earring controversy last year (white girl wearing them, again. . .to the consternation of an African American woman), maybe we need a hashtag where we can list all the things that belong to each of us individually.

Today is a great time to wade through this murk.  The 5th of May.

Mexicans?  Cinco De Mayo belongs to you only.  The rest of you Non-Mexicans slurping down margaritas and shrimp tacos be damned. Germans?  October fest is yours.   Anyone else drinking beer in the month of October, listening to polka, you are insensitive slobs.  Again Asians?  Ramen/Pho.   All those non-Asian college students surviving on the cheap little packets, are you honoring Asian culture or your empty wallet?  And those restaurants that are popping up everywhere.  How do you dare to pad your bank accounts by feeding non-Koreans?

But food is such an easy cultural target.  What about creative works or the clothing and jewelry that caused my hashtag in the first place?

Men?  Blue Jeans first covered your hard-working butts.  How dare you girls and ladies steal what rightfully belongs to the rough riding male ranch hands or miners.  How cute you look does not erase your insensitivity to these hard-working men.  Or maybe we should go so far as to say pants in general. . .back into dresses you get, Women.

European Catholic?  Lace.  It is a primarily a 16th century catholic invention that the Italians, Irish and Scotts perfected. Any woman of another culture, you need to find a less offensive way to be sexy.

African-Americans?  Rap.  This old argument about white rappers stealing a truly African-American cultural powerhouse might have some relevance here.   If so, then Appalachians?  Blues.  Some old folks of Scots origin argue that their mountain instruments and ditties led to the development of blues, though others say this is not so.  I guess, every new musician needs to study the roots of their music before they venture out.

Or Americans?  Sneakers (AKA trainers, kicks, awts). Anyone outside the US, you are misappropriating our United States culture.  You need to stop.  Or if we want to be really particular, white American men only should wear them, since these rubber soled shoes were created and perfected by white men.  And since they were created after black men had been utilizing their freedom and their vote in America, we cannot really use the slavery/stolen identity/cultural loss replacement argument here to forego the importance of misappropriation, right?  And maybe even basketball that helped popularize those same Chuck Taylors and Converse shoes in the first place. . .created by a white man at a white college.  Who cares that some of the greatest athletes in the history of the world who have ruled that sport are not of European descent.  Let’s get these cultural thefts cleared up NOW.

As one anonymous Jennie said when quoted repeatedly in the spat of articles about the Chinese Prom dress, while she is Asian, she still would not wear Korean or Japanese dress for they are not her cultures; to do so would be shameful.  So African-American women: stop wearing Kangas if you are not Kenyan or forego the Buba or Iro if you are not Nigerian. A quick 23 and Me test will clear it up if you don’t know for sure.  Though, in truth, research about traditional African dress are rife with details about tribal wear, not national wear, and the origins of cloth versus skins.  So. . .what then?  Get it right, People!

Who wore the nose stud first, who wore cuffs around the wrist first, who used silk or silver or turquoise first, who wove linen first, who used eyeliner and lipstick and sandals and. . .and. . .and. . .???

I’m not ignorant.  The fact that the Chinese have been so supportive of the Utah teen wearing a beautiful dress of Chinese origin, but a Chinese-American man was the first to reject with such hostility is very telling.  The Chinese are the Chinese.  They still own their own culture and all its icons, and see themselves as sharing that dress with the Utah girl.  Whereas so many Americans who are not primarily of European descent see themselves and their traditions erased in many ways. . .became too “American” by either force or by tough assimilation,  (If you want a job, you must dress and speak our way said the white man, never mind that the Scots gave up their kilts and the Russians gave up their kartuz and kosovoratka, as well.) that there is a turn-about-is-fair-play logic.

Why wouldn’t a Chinese-American man think,  “If my ancestors had to wear a three piece suit to work here, instead of a Changshan, you white men have actively rejected my culture, so you cannot then later, revel in it or profit from it.  It is mine.”  Just as the angry woman felt about the hoop earrings: you stole my identity, robbed me of history, you can’t have what’s mine anymore.

#Mine Only.

And they live in a time where saying so doesn’t get them killed.

But as I pointed out, when does it stop?  Is it actually racist to cross cultural lines in clothing and creativity, an act seen by some as similar to black-face wearing vaudevillians?  I see racism as the active subjugation of another race, whether through ridicule, laws, unwritten traditions or violence.  Is that what I do when I wear kohl eyeliner? Or put on my red leather moccasins?

When do we stop being the African, Ukrainian, Native, Chinese- American and allow ourselves to all be Americans who can embrace all the heritage that blankets our society?  When can we see it as gaining and honoring rather than losing or stealing?  I like the way Keziah Daum is responding. She loved the dress and felt beautiful in it.  She still loves the dress no matter how hostile the opposition.   And she is so young that any of the events that led to the hostile backlash are so fathomless to her now.



‘Thwart’ Needs a Makeover

Image result for thwarted

Thwarted.  Once a negative term I always associate with Espionage and the Cold War Power, hideous villians in Disney movies, Maniacal maneuvers by power hungry Megalomaniacs.  The Spy,  The Terrorist,  The Evil Queen, all thwarted from their dastardly deeds.    I’ve deemed it a negative term, but in this context it is the actors thwarted who are negative.  The word itself is posing a positive result.  Cruella Deville is thwarted from wearing a Dalmation puppy coat.  The Nazis from World domination.  Bin Laden from poisoning the water supply.

So then, if I am thwarted, am I the evil that is blocked from ill intent?  I’m just one little person trying to do well, no snake trying to bite anyone.

It doesn’t seem accurate to say my wish to publish was thwarted.  My summer plans to travel through Europe?  My love of tennis?  My appetite for lobster?  Thwarted? Thwarted? Thwarted?

I need a new word for when positive plans are halted in mid-rail for negative reasons:  how about FUN-TORTED, a sniglet combining distort or contort and fun?   Or even better, REAPABORTED. . .a blending of gains ended mid-development?   My fantasies to be a world famous, self-supporting painter reapaborted.


That sounds accurate, even painful.  We thwart the bad, and life reapaborts the good.  My hopes to own a home on a Martha’s Vineyard cliff are reapaborted by my wallet.


via Daily Prompt: Thwart

The Lost Art of Learning through ‘Free Range Parenting’

water nature person people girl explore mud puddle soil child family children out interaction tadpoles water based paints

I was a lucky girl.  My parents not only allowed me to play outdoors freely, they often demanded I go outside and find something to do:  Don’t return until the streetlights flick on.    Reading an article recently in The Atlantic (https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2018/04/free-range-parenting/557051/) that discusses the dissonance between classes and races when it comes to this “new” concept called “Free Range parenting,” I had to laugh.  While the author makes a valid and stimulating point, I was thinking about her lost opportunity to discuss the benefits of this “Free range parenting.”  I mean, for millennia, parents of all races and social strata have practiced it until the aberration of the 1990s when fearful parents began to cling to their children and control their every move.

Luckily, for the sake of a child’s creativity and intelligence, as well as the sake of teachers everywhere, we are swinging back to allowing our children to play like I did as a child.

Typically, when people criticize today’s lack of childhood “free” play, they target organized sports because they believe there are lessons in relationships and authority lost in the modern multitude of organized teams, today’s prime, often forced, activity for children and their parents.   However, the benefits I gained through “free-range” playing were not only an understanding of interpersonal dynamics, but also the foundations of a budding scientist and artist, maybe even an academic.

In my adventures outdoors, I set shoe box traps for rabbits, laid out dandelion pulp for mice and brought home accidentally dug up baby moles. We rescued baby birds and placed them gently in nests, then would hide, waiting to make sure their mothers returned; they always did.  My friends and I captured all sorts of insects: lady bugs, red and black ants, daddy long legs, pill bugs, deadly black widows, trapdoor spiders, bumble bees, honey bees, hornets, wasps. . .We played with most and killed the scariest, smooshing them when we were too young to respect their rights.

Various reptiles and amphibians amazed us, causing us to sit still and watch them hunt.  My brother and I would scoop up frog eggs or new tadpoles and bring them home to watch them gain their legs and lose their tails, returning them to ponds when they were hopping frogs.  We’d attempt to rescue lizards who gave up their own tails when our cats grabbed them excitedly, but more often the speedy reptiles would keep on trucking sure to grow more. . .All of this taught us naturally the foundations often illuminated in early biology lessons: exoskeleton, endoskeleton, regeneration, eggs versus live birth, mammal versus reptile, etc.

While left to our own entertainment, we kids would find chunks of quartz that we thought were diamonds.  When my father told us where we might find more, we’d try to break open rocks searching for what treasure might be inside. How many  pirate, explorer fantasies did we act out that developed our literary sense. Pieces of mica that looked like mirrors and glass made us think, hmm, is this how a mirror is made? Did this lead to the invention of glass?  Shale that we could crunch with the tires of our bikes made us feel as powerful as superheroes. The coal that kicked up when we were walking on forbidden train tracks was so pure and black, making us wonder, really? Future diamonds?

We’d pick up chalk-like rocks to draw on the tarmac, marking our four square and hopscotch games, even the bases for kickball.   And of course, sand and mud were everyone’s favorite media.   A girlfriend and I used to shape figurines of ladybugs and snowmen out of the clay in our yards, paint them with our cheap tempura paints, and try to sell our artwork by the side of the road in front of our house.   Imagine how much more interesting geology lessons are with this personal knowledge of the variety of rocks that make up Earth.

And then comes the blending of geology and physics that I learned on my own.    My friends and I played in creeks, looking for crawdaddies, racing leaf boats, building dams.  We built castles and motes and canals in the sand. The movement of water, creeks, and rivers, brooks and ponds, even oceans and tides all showed us the power and etherealness of water.  The weight of it, the random choice that it takes as it tracks through our fingers, the holes and patterns that it makes in the rocky, sandy, mucky edges and piles of pepples  held our imagination.  The power water has to move and float us and suck us under was wonderfully frightening.  With these experiences I could easily understand what the teacher told me about erosion and flooding and water tables beneath the ground.

In the warming Spring, we’d race one another, rolling down grassy hills or skating too fast around curves.  We’d climb trees, sometimes falling from too high only to have the the wind knocked out of us.  We’d build teeter totters out of logs and rocks and ledges where we could balance and play king of the hill. Or we’d grab onto thick vines to swing across what we imagined were deep ravines, pretending we were Spiderman. My brother and I would ride our bikes into ever shrinking circles or figure eights, losing control when the wheels were moving way too slowly.

All this movement, whether we knew it or not, gave us a personal understanding of gravity, weights and balances.

In fact, when my pal Bitt Nelson rode his bike over a ramp we had set on a pile of sand at a construction site, and flew too far, only to bash his face on a sand loader, forcing his front teeth into his sinuses, we certainly adjusted ourselves.  We didn’t stop riding, but we learned faster than he ran home crying what we had to change not to repeat his catastrophe.

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And when summer came, sitting on hot car hoods, standing in shade to find relief from the scorching sun, noticing how much hotter the black tar is versus the white painted line down the middle of the road, the cool of grass, the heat of concrete, the burn of asphalt, we learned quickly about heat transfer and what could relieve it.  We learned the simple exhaustion that comes from spending the whole day physically rushing and rough housing and playing, planting, digging, climbing.  How hungry we’d get playing and then begging our mothers for something to snack on, assuring her it would not ruin our dinner, quickly understanding why breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  All these moments created a vague knowledge of energy.

Years ago, when we played our disorganized sports-the impromptu baseball and football games run by only children- true. . .we learned negotiation and authority as people do say, but also the geometry of boundaries, the physics of messing around with a ball. Sometimes games were not impromptu but scheduled, by us, for us.  See you Saturday, right?  Behind the Olsen’s house? 

We figured things out ourselves, like what qualities draw others to a person, like those in Brian Culpepper who was often our favorite captain of street football games or meadow baseball.  Why was adorable Theresa Olsen always picked last in games of football? (Not because she was too slow or too uncoordinated or even too unpopular. . .she was finicky and prissy and whined too much.) Yet we let her play, for we also learned to be nice from each other, allowing the little kids who could never score join the teams because they were ours, a part of our neighborhood.  We shared which neighbor’s yard was welcoming and which neighbor was off limits.  We’d say, Don’t hit it so hard that it goes into Herr Golembush’s yard, don’t run so fast that you can’t stop before you slam into the Nelson’s rose bushes.  The Base is the yellow yield sign, the ball is a foul if it passes the camellias. . .

How often when they play an organized team sport are today’s children welcome to just goof around and test the ball?  Seeing how fast the ball could roll up, down, or over a hill, how fast hitting it squarely mattered, the arc of the hit, the lob, the toss, the strength of the bounce, the angle of the bounce. . .They are told how to hit in today’s games.  And do they learn which player is the best at the game themselves without being told?  Or whose yard is the best for that game that day?  Or who is on whose team?  Almost never.  Adults decide the who, what, where, when and why of each sport, directing children on how slow,  how fast to play, and even what to see and what not to see.

I suggest not only should children play disorganized sports with no adult supervision, but just play.  Just simple, imagination-full play.  Yes, The Atlantic makes a valid point about the unfair judgment over which children play “free range” the most, but her point should be that more people, if not all people should be encouraging it.

Great teachers often use what children already know to create scaffolds between knowledge and understanding. But what if there is nothing to scaffold from? Through the play of my childhood, I built the foundations of all the sciences and some math: biology, physics, geometry, geology, chemistry, even meteorology as I watched in the sky the evolution of the clouds, hoping I would get to swim or fish or play ball.  Do today’s generation of children arrive in class with this foundation anymore?  Do they know what shale or tadpoles or a robin’s egg even looks like?