Books Feed

The Blunt Educator: Tweet Critique

 An "unfiltered voice" for what we would like to say but maybe shouldn't.

With almost 17,000 followers,  the Blunt Educator has a dedicated group of fans. One of the reasons that I enjoy this teacher's tweets, is that just by seeking employment in the education industry you lose some of your ability to express your disagreements with campus and public policy. This writer provides us with a humorous format in which to privately laugh and ponder our impossible dilemma. 

I check @blunteducator everyday just to see what is actually trending. You can also join in on an #eduality chat. This can become interesting, especially when the public perception intersects with the working teacher's reality. Teacher reality isn't in tandem with the "civilian" population's perception. And if a teacher is living a lush, laid-back, secure, lifestyle without oversight, it's because he or she is in one of those cushy, corrupt positions supplied by a "friend."

We know nepotisms and oligarchies happen within districts, and we know where it happens and why. But most of us have never experienced anything except a barn-burning initiation into the living hell of injustice and harsh judgment that real-world classroom teachers endure.

Thank the Blunt Educator for touching on important issues without spite or malice and for reminding us to put our students first, while taking pride in our work. No matter what is making your work life miserable: low morale, shocking student behaviors, shocking teacher behavior, irate administrators, stunning ignorance, or meddlesome troublemakers, you will feel like your issue is covered on the Blunt Educator.

Retired teachers frequently write "tell all" books and essays, but it is very unusual for a full time teacher with a real contract to write informative, honest stories about the realities of school employment. We might be tempted, and we might be collecting journal entries and notes, but most of us are not willing to compromise our livelihood, even if it is the "right" thing to do.  

 But in our moments of reflection, we think about the people we know: the ones with no certification, subject area degree, or common sense, and the parents that scream and yell into the phone. We remember the mouthy little kid with the helicopter parent, and the administrator we once had that abused her power by intentionally mistreating campus employees, ultimately creating a miserable place to work. We remember the complaining, whining, coteacher that should have been bounced from the campus just for her tendency to gossip. We think of the round faced, bug-eyed teacher that got away with abusing his students...and we want to write those stories, because we have a surplus of material for fiction or nonfiction text.

We would like to exercise our First Amendment Right just like any other American. In the meantime, we have Twitter accounts like @BluntEducator 

Maria Popova @brainpickings: an unusually wonderful blog

This Twitter account is managed by well-educated blogger, Maria Popova, and it is just the kind of project I would love to be involved in if only I was that talented, resourceful, and connected. No matter what your interest is, you can find intellectual stimulation, fresh ideas, wisdom from the past, and meaningful visual art.

In a world where so many are snapping selfies, sitting down to watch the very superficial Kardashians, and indulging in personal petty dramas that ruin lives and reputations, this Twitter feed is "unusually wonderful."

The design is simple and all of the material is easily accessible; Maria's blog contains no annoying advertisements because she is supported by her followers, and everyone agrees the content is well worth the voluntary donation.

If you are interested in self improvement, education, and literature, then follow @brainpickings.

Writing about a Book

Writing a book has always been my dream, and recently I shared this idea with a scholarly friend that knows the story of my life. My friend sat and thought a bit, and then she remarked, "Well, for a book you need characters. Have you got any ideas? You need a well planned plot, and a worthy protagonist. What are you thinking about?" I had to laugh when she started asking about characters, because I have plenty of them. Some have created a constant background noise throughout my life; flat, not well-developed, and in my story, cowardly followers sipping from the same toxic well. Of course, these followers have plenty of dialogue, lots of hysterical ideas, and can move the plot forward just by the sheer force of their insipid arrogance. In a good play, you would see them whispering in ears, and tip-toeing about the stage tripping over their own self righteous, forked tongues, walking a dog, maybe catching a cab. Cowards are in abundance.

My scholar reached across the table for her cheap little eyeglasses, and then she wanted to know more about my supporting roles, and main character.

"The supporting roles are easy," I told her. "My main character is very independent, and this is why she is hated." "Yes," she snapped, "but even supporting characters are not always supportive of the main character. What a ridiculous conversation we are having!"

It is a "ridiculous" conversation, but one I must have, because my life is no longer about me, and neither is my book. Instead, my story should focus on the faults of the flat character: cowardice, ignorance, jealousy, and selfishness. Instead of allowing them to languish around in the background of my story, I should bring them to the light. I should show them to my world, and I should reveal their flaws, and their failure to create a thesis for their life, their inability to understand harmony, rhythm, and the techniques needed to manipulate an empty page. Never mind that flat characters are technically lacking traits both positive and negative, my composition will endeavor to redefine the 'flat' character, and give it dimensions. I shall move one of these cowards up to center stage, and give it a name.

But, that's a bad idea, because I would spend all of my time trying to humanize a character not worth knowing. My story would no longer be about the best of life, but about the filth, and suddenly I understand why this painful story is so hard to tell. My friend and I are back to the beginning. She orders a drink, and I stare out the window…thinking.

"You need a metaphor. Your book must stand for some principle. What is your principle? What symbol will you use?" I laughed again, as I thought of the symbols in my life: the winding white line along the roadway, the quill, a signature dog, and the number seven. None of my symbols were worth a dime, unless I equated a dog turd with the characters in my life; then, maybe, I could go places. "I am dry on symbols," I replied fretfully, as the image of a dog turd floated around in my brain. "I simply have nothing good to say. I see no way to win with so many flat characters."

But, I have to.

Trucking Soliloquy on All Souls

Today the children are studying The Outsiders, a novel written by prominent Oklahoma author S.E. Hinton. In chapter 5 the main characters hop a train, and the young imaginations around the room ponder the possible destinations as if they themselves were fleeing authority on a ride into the unknown.

A bit bored by the hour after hour repetition, my own mind begins a bit of independent wandering. I am thinking about my bad luck with people.

I would drive my truck all around the country then return home; sadly, my journeys were always more about the people and less about the places.

Bitterly jealous relatives without any understanding of human decency, busily judging my life, like squawking vultures perched upon my shoulder sharing my view of the highway constantly pick, pick, picking away.

I grew so tired of their ridiculous questions, unfloundering ignorance, and snide suspicions. Most of them possessing no knowledge at all of where their food and clothes hail from, the endless ports of call around the continent, our massive transportation hubs, distribution centers, or the miracles performed each day by hardworking truckers.

Our transportation system, the finest in the world, and completely misunderstood by the general public, is the only industry preventing us from slipping into third-world status.

I think about the parade of former supervisors. The one with the pistol in his desk, the dopey, the cheap fraud, the guy with the wall behind his desk covered with continuing education certificates for trivial things like air brake safety and log book training, several cowards, and especially the men who encouraged me, and now applaud my achievements. As I stand on the brink of success or failure, the people who care about me are merely amused by the two-faced liars clinging to their misguided beliefs.

Whatever becomes of me, my child, my home, my image—the dishonest collection of thieving, petty, jealous relatives, and meaningless acquaintances, will surely fade into the tracks of proverbial nothingness, forgotten by the world, like snow simply drifting from the road.

But I have done something first—not once, but twice. And later, after all of this, I will find something else. And, once again, I will do it first, and I will not be forgotten. For this, I will suffer the vitriol, for, it is basically worth it.

Writing and Reading Green: What about John Steinbeck?

Professor Heather E. Bruce of the University of Montana, published a fascinating article in January's edition of The English Journal, Green (ing) English: Voices Howling in the Wilderness. As most of my readers already know, I am a John Steinbeck fan. I visit the Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California; I read his works regularly, and I have studied a bit about his life. Even though I am only an undergrad, and a poor one at that, I still appreciate his early contribution to conservation and ecological awareness. As I read Professor Bruce's piece, I drank my Bombay Sapphire, munched on popcorn, and eagerly awaited her words on my favorite author's early achievements on this subject matter. My mind flew to the dustbowl of Oklahoma, his intricate descriptions of blight, dust, and the underlying causes. I reminisced about the characters in "The Grapes of Wrath." I thought about the enemies he had made in California farming, and the banning of his book. I started to worry.

Not once did the professor mention John Steinbeck. She included Simon Ortiz, Langston Hughes, Mark Twain, and many important literary figures. I loved her discussion of the Mississippi River and how it had become a character in its own right. She reminded me that since Twain's time we have seen very negative changes in the delta region, and how ecological damage is compounded by disasters such as Katrina, and the BP oil spill.

John Steinbeck's best friend was marine biologist Ed Ricketts (1897-1948). Ricketts influenced much of Steinbeck's work and the underlying themes of ecology, and preservation. I could not believe the professor completely disregarded Pulitzer Prize winner John Steinbeck. I read her article again, and I scanned it for his name, or Ricketts, but nothing. Together Ricketts and Steinbeck explored and studied species, habitats, and even indigenous peoples. They traveled to Mexico, and other foreign countries, searching for new life, and recording data. These experiences contributed to all of Steinbeck's work.

In spite of this exclusion, I still love Professor Bruce's very informative and inspiring article. She is correct, it is our responsibility to share with our children the importance of environmental justice, and how this is demonstrated in our important literary works. It is artful, the blending of ecology with the mind of the character, the details of a scene, the realism of a period in time. How we have toxified our environment, and the descriptions of abuse, are important concepts to share in our reading and writing. In this way, we can teach responsibility to those who are disconnected from nature by an urban life, or poverty.

I am going to check again! She must have mentioned him….

The Thanksgiving Holiday Load: Writing Perspectives from the Plane

Tonight I am home, and the housekeeper has cleaned, and my trailer is partially loaded with wonderful holiday produce. The dog is underfoot, wanting a walk, and I am tired and wet sitting in a bath towel. The old lady downstairs is blaming me for her heart attack, and another man nearby has played his cards too soon; he has shown his true colors.

These ideas bring me to once again discuss the power of the written word, and the failures of the spoken. When you listen to gossip and revel in its force, then you are surely a fool. But if you take a document and you write your story, and you intertwine with your feelings, your truth, and the substance of your problem, then not only are you enlightened by the power of your activity, your literacy, but your readers will hear the ring of truth.

I live in a community where ignorance is championed and education is thrust aside. Writing is considered stupid. People are not encouraged to gain knowledge, they are advised to fit in. So groupthink, bullying, and a lack of individuality is highly encouraged. Once again, today, I was told to move. I simply will not move, I like it here. This is a place where change is desperately needed, and the fiefdom is losing its way.

But this is only a speck of a place, with little, or no importance, to the big picture. Whenever I write about writing, metacognitive, I ponder the possibilities of nonfiction. I read some fiction, but not much. I only like the stuff that borders extremely close to historical, or present, reality. For example, if I was to write a fiction, it would have to include some of the characters I have found in Sealy: the flouncer, the old biddies, the women in flip-flops, the local molester, the townhome president, the treasurer, the thirty-something complete failure, and of course the mean old woman who constantly lies about children, and pets, for attention.

My setting would have to be pretty accurate, a severely flawed, rather tacky townhome community with huge social and monetary problems. But something this trivial seems a waste of time. These people, their actions, and their cheap agenda is simply not worthy of the pen. They are not "Tortilla Flat," and they are not "Cannery Row." They are simply narrow characters without depth; they are too shallow to inspire art.

So what does someone like me write about? I am looking for an interesting character, a truth, a philosophy, a way of life beyond the norm, someone who has a message to send. I want to write above me, and not below. I want you to find me.

Literacy, Ignorance, and the Biddy Brigade

I drove by the school and I saw a woman who works in the office waddle out in a tight pair of faded old jeans, t-shirt, and flip-flops. She is a nasty looking, unfriendly, snotty, farce. My son has seen better dressed women working the parking lot of the Flying J Truckstop. However, she is privileged for her willingness to 'play along;' for in her simple mind the people working with her are rather elite…sadly, they are not.

Literacy includes an extensive and variable range of competencies: understanding of documents ranging from bills to court motions, numerical computation and calculator skill, reading comprehension, and verbal, as well as, digital communication. Without these literacy components, children will not possess sufficient power, or ability, to enter regular society…but wait…maybe this isn't true.

"If you want to make a child apologize, then you better know how to spell it."

It's just something about the neck. Come on now…you must 'play along.' Let's make a fourth grader stand before a judge for some frivolous childish squabble. We can label this child before he has a chance to overcome his substantial battle towards success and independence. We can hasten his trip to prison; pigeon hole him before he is even assigned a cell. You unmitigated trash.

"Shame—on you, for your ignorant finger pointing nonsense."

In his book, Illiterate America, Jonothan Kozol, a respected school reformist, discusses an important paradox many Americans hesitate to accept: public schools serve as the foundation of a two class society while attempting to preach democracy and patriotism:

The children of those who are already literate, enfranchised, and empowered learn the exercise of power. The children of those who are not literate, who have been disenfranchised and remain excluded from the exercise of power, learn to accommodate themselves to impotence and capitulation. Those who are privileged achieve the competence with which to shape the future. Those who are not acquire an attitude of civilized accommodation which will allow them to fit into slots that are provided for them in that future—or else remain excluded from the future altogether (76).

It's true, I already know about your worthless paper; I have a copy of Illiterate America, and I have been reading about school reform since I was in junior high. You can split hairs all day long, and still walk away with no useful knowledge. Isn't that what you have been doing in education all of these years, splitting hairs? But you should know how to spell 'apologize.' If you have a useful piece of paper, that is.

So I ask, "Why would anyone work where a child is given in-school-suspension for eating one Jolly Rancher Candy?" "What kinds of ingrates live around here?"

The fact that over 3million children are suspended from school every year should send an alarm signal to those who create public policy. Many of these suspensions are related to zero tolerance policies implemented by faculties that are unwilling to use common sense when handling discipline issues, silly little problems unworthy of police intervention. It isn't for the children; it is for the fat old biddies, wearing flip flops, and worrying about hot or chilly temperatures and some excuse to not have recess. This lazy "holier than thou" attitude is sending a lot of really smart kids to prison…look at the stats…if you can understand them.

I am busy thinking about a small, sick, autistic girl forced to sit on a cold basketball court to wait for the bus. She was shivering while they stood around huffing in the chill and glaring down at this group of challenged children. What is wrong with these people?

I wonder if they are afraid of a little competition. Is this why they work so hard to ruin a child's life? O, I am not saying they are all bad; I am only thinking of the majority…

Russell Skiba, a previous professor at Indiana State, and chair of the Safe and Responsive Schools Project found through research that elementary students who were suspended had a much greater chance of dropping out of high school. He believes in a connection between zero tolerance and future incarceration. He also discovered states with high incidents of school suspension suffered "higher juvenile incarceration rates" (qtd. In Fuentes 3). I guess this is what people around here want for Texas: more prisons, bigger prisons, more violent prisons, a more illiterate population, an unsafe state. That would make us all happier and more prosperous…hmm, must have learned that piece of logic from your methods of hair splitting class.

I am looking for an office where the workers are professional. I will know it when I see it. I won't see any flip flops, or ratty hair. Some slime ball will not waddle out of an office wearing something I would only paint the house in. (If someone came to my office like that, they would go home and change). I am looking for smiles, service, a kind word, even if I am in a difficult mood. I know a professional when I have seen one, and they don't go to school looking like Cindy Lauper. They can even pronounce properly the name of the institution they work for. The people in this office will be known for their hard work, and not their ability to alter documents with white out. They will have respect for the parents of the children they serve.

I am looking for a real school.

A Few of the Reasons I Love Steinbeck

When you drive into Salinas, California, from the North 101, you are instantly reminded of its most famous resident, John Steinbeck. He has streets named after him, and the only museum dedicated to a single author; his truck and camper from his novel, Travels with Charley, is parked inside and clips from movies that were made from his novels are constantly looping. But Steinbeck was not always California's favorite son.

Born in 1902, he was of German and Irish descent. This made him uncommonly honest, and fearless. His mother was a former teacher, and John shared her passion and outright love of reading. He graduated from Salinas High School in 1919, and briefly attended Stanford. Later, his father allotted him a small sum and a cottage on the Monterrey Peninsula. It was from this little cottage that Steinbeck published his first critically successful novel, Tortilla Flat (1935). His work started to feature icons from the dust bowl era: Okies, poverty, homelessness, concerns about ecology, and the dark side of capitalism.

He also had a beautiful sense of humor. Sometimes when he traveled to award ceremonies, universities, and political events people would confuse him with Ernest Hemingway. When they would gushingly ask "Mr. Hemingway" for his autograph, John would just smile and say, "But, of course!" He would sign Hemingway's signature with a flourish, and walk away smiling.

Steinbeck's work is especially relevant now as we struggle with our new economy and issues with ecology. The Grapes of Wrath (1940 Pulitzer Prize) features the Joads, a family coping with poverty and homelessness; this theme is not uncommon in our world today. The novel was also banned by the Kern County, California, school board; many of his former neighbors and friends were insulted by the truth in his fiction. The moral and ethical dilemmas that made Steinbeck's liberalism unpopular in his day are now becoming current once again. In 1962 Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for literature. Steinbeck passed away on December 20, 1968; the year before his death, he spent time in Vietnam as a war correspondent.

L. Eckert

I am waiting on the National Steinbeck Center to ship my copy of "Working Days," a personal journal of his daily life. You can also reference the book below to examine an author's journey into biography. Very fascinating.

Benson, Jackson J. Looking for Steinbeck's Ghost. Oklahoma:

University of Oklahoma, 1988

Steinbeck and My Time

Today I had to write a short little piece on the life of John Steinbeck, famous American author. Remember, if you will, Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for literature. He did this in 1962, the year I was born. He died in 1968 after spending time in Vietnam as a war correspondent. What a man he was….someone who stood up for what he believed in even if it meant ridicule. The Grapes of Wrath, for which he won a Pulitzer in 1940, was banned by many public school boards. My own accomplishments are so meager compared to his. My writing is inhibited by public opinion and the need to make a living. Steinbeck simply didn't care. He wrote what he wanted, and he wrote it so that he could make necessary changes to the American landscape. People complained that Steinbeck was obscene, too base, and wanton with his words. He was the Bohemian of literature, a smoker, drinker, and handsome divorced male. Awe, to have known someone like that….

Now I am getting past my prime for meaningful literary discourse, and I wonder if I should just go ahead and write what I want? I would certainly be a cat on a limb if I did. But how can I sleep peacefully if I become the kind of coward I despise? Steinbeck wasn't skeeered of anything; he wrote with abandon, a man on a successful mission. He was offended by what he saw, and he simply mirrored it back to the society in need of his special "wake-up" call. What is truth anyway? When I read about Steinbeck's life, I always begin to cry. I remember sitting up on top of a mountain gazing down the long winding road before me. I feel that way now when I look at all of the years I spent traveling; my hands were too busy to write, but my mind was always thinking of a story. I guess I am going to have to do it; I certainly can't die this way.

Sometimes I am disappointed in the cowardice I perceive in other people. Their lack of goodwill is offensive. The constant lying, sniping, game playing, and childish jealousies of a place riddled in shame, a community of snivelers rife with textual possibilities. I could easily visit this community by ink, and leave it rank with the stench of absolute truth in metaphor. This is how Steinbeck handled the ethical and moral questions of his time. He took them out of the closet and displayed them in beautiful imagery. When you read his words, you sometimes must squint your eyes just to avoid seeing too much truth; almost like watching a scary movie, he leaves you nodding your head in agreement, and smiling in admiration. Yes, I certainly can't die this way….

The Darker Side of Robert Frost

When I was a teenager I owned the most beautiful pair of chandelier earrings. They were light and Gothic, tinkley against my shoulders; I wore them on weekends, when I rode around with my boyfriends in dark smoky cars. I had a couple of pairs of old jeans, and a leather jacket, (well it looked like leather) and a purse I had made in home economics with long straps and fringy stuff on the side. My hair was long; not sort of long, or rather long, but very long, and I drove long distances everyday. I was the best driver around. I smoked Winstons and Marlboros, but not marijuana. Whenever someone passed me marijuana, I passed it away; I hated the stuff. But I loved my chandelier earrings; they were the nicest thing I owned at that time.

One night is was very cold and snowy; the boyfriend's car was down the street without gasoline. I asked my mom to let him in the house so he could stay out of the cold, but she wouldn't. I walked out into the cold with my boyfriend, but without my shoes; my mom slapped one of the chandelier earrings off into the snow, and I never saw it again. I ran all the way to Clyde's Cafe in the snow without my shoes. I ran all of the way. We sat over hot beef sandwiches and I cried over nothing but the earrings. But I have always understood the darker side of Robert Frost. I have appointments to keep.