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Explaining Myself: Why I Want to Become an Anti-Racist Teacher

First of all I would like to remind my readers that in spite of a stereotypical African American first name, I am a white person of western European descent with only a smattering of Native American thrown in. I know this for a fact because I took the 23&Me DNA test, and it turns out I'm nearly as white as a person can get. I do have skin that darkens up nicely in the sun, dark green eyes (cousin to brown on the DNA strand), and an overall 'Indian' look, but only one of my ancestors can be verified as native.

Discrimination and prejudice certainly impacted my life in an ongoing and rather problematic way because my family members stepped out in nontraditional roles and some of them worked in what could be considered as odd career choices, including myself. I'm not a stranger to white elitism and snobbery. But my challenges stack up nicely in the columns of inconvenience or mild heartbreak, even though I now realize that some of my old associates either hid their distorted and ignorant opinions from me, or have, over the decades, became disgustingly narrow minded and ridiculous, even ungrateful.

In recent years, some of my African American friends and coworkers quietly and patiently pointed out some of my own dumb blind spots and unearned privileges. Even if I earned the right to some of my privileges through hard work or suffering, I still enjoy a ton of White-Bread-American advantages that people of color righteously feel angry about. The best place to view this list of unearned advantages built into the racist American system are listed in Peggy McIntosh's essay White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.

McIntosh, associate director of the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, lists 50 ways that white people experience privilege over people of color. All 50 of them are relevant and important, eye-opening and true, but for now I want to talk about number 39: I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race. 

The best school leader I have ever known was a younger and wiser African American woman. She is honestly gifted, an amazing writer and communicator, a wonderful teacher and friend to every person that knows her. She goes out of her way to think open-mindedly about people that I typically write off as plain stupid and fake (this is hyperbole because I seldom write anyone off). Obviously, her heart is ten times bigger than mine because she strives to see the good in everyone, no matter their background or identity, while I'm a skeptic when it comes to adults. But she sometimes, like a million other qualified and gifted people, would be late to a faculty meeting or other function. On one notable time, she was stuck in a meeting with a parent, and I watched and listened as she entered the room; I witnessed the negative body language and eye-rolling, and I heard the comments that were made:

"There she is, late as usual. I wonder if she knew we had a meeting. She's late all the time." 

It's true that occasional lateness happened, but if the occasional lateness happened to me, or some other white person, nobody ever cares or makes any audible comments. When it's a white person, people tend to mind their own business when it comes to lateness. When it's a person of color, it's because the person is not organized, or they are lazy. This is just plain wrong.

Number 13 has to do with money: Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability. Let us be honest white people--most of us don't deserve the bank credit that we get. Some of us start businesses and fail to properly pay or compensate our employees. Some of us are not worth the paper we are printed on, and that includes me. I am just not worth much, and I may never be worth much. But I have something that most people of color don't; I have some generational wealth. It's not much, but it's still amazing. It's better than nothing. When I walk into a bank, I get a ton of respect, respect I definitely do not deserve. If my qualified and gifted person of color walks into a bank, she receives less attention and gratuity, even though she is trying much harder than I am to establish herself as a reliable and current bank customer. 

We all know these stereotypes and racist beliefs are built into everything American. The Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, wants to make it illegal for teachers to point these facts out to students. He wants to forbid teachers to speak freely about critical race theory; but I'm positive that Abbott doesn't know what CRT is, or he would want to have it taught in our schools, because, after all, isn't Greg Abbott an open-minded and well-educated man? Critical race theory basically teaches us to notice the built in racist structures that exist, and then it teaches us how to reject and resist these ignorant ideas personally. For example, CRT points out that many deed restrictions disqualify residents based on their race. This is a fact of life, not a fairy tale or fake news. If it is our goal as a society to make opportunities and the American dream available to everyone, then how do these deed restrictions concerning race further equity? And, of course, this example of deed restrictions is just a tiny, petty example. If you really want to examine CRT, then look at incarceration rates, the war on drugs, immigration, and healthcare disparities, to name just a few glaring, national problems.

The real threat to American life is right wing extremism--neoliberalism. Donald Trump, Greg Abbot, and a slew of other ignorant politicians and demagogues clearly aim to normalize white supremacy, and they personally enjoy indulging in hateful and divisive acts and speech. They want wealth for a few and subservience for everyone else. Wealth for a few and subservience for everyone else is the political and economic theory known as neoliberalism. If you are following this ideology, if you are falling for this scam, then you are part of the problem. You are voting against yourself. If you are indulging in hateful thoughts and ideas, then you are doing something that is causing you to feel a temporary relief from what is buried under your psyche: the knowledge that you are wrong. You are actually causing Americans, including yourself, to lose freedoms. Neoliberalism and white supremacy are dangerous ideologies, but Critical Race Theory is an idea that will help you understand our national history; CRT will help you know yourself better, especially if you are white.

CriticalRaceTheory


When White Privilege Meets the Dog Walk: Can the Neighborhood Karen be Dangerous?

The old saying that you can “lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink” stands true in my life. From students to relatives, to coworkers and friends, chronically dealing with people that prefer to overlook the obvious can be an exhausting and fruitless task, one I don’t enjoy. It seems like I’m constantly having to explain myself or point things out. Misapplied preconceptions attached to outlandish gossip and silly conniving produces a ton of inconveniences and little messes that I’m always running around trying to fix.

For instance, last night I was out walking the dogs in my community when someone stepped outside of their house to confront me. My earbuds blasted Pantera, and I didn’t feel like talking; therefore, I ignored the screaming, flagellating woman on her door stoop. She kept waving her hands at me, like she wanted me to come over to her—“Come here! I want to ask you something! I need to talk to you!” Believe me, that’s not something I’m stupid enough to do. The fact that this craziness was audible over my music made it weird in the extreme. Why, you might ask, wouldn’t I go over and try to find out what provoked this bedraggled looking woman into such a tizzy. 

Well, I already know the deal with my neighbor. She suffers from “I’m-a-mediocre-over-privileged-white-woman-suffering-from-pettiness-syndrome.” I’m white too, and I’m still trying to understand this illness. But from what I understand, pettiness syndrome is a form of nit-picking that infects the Karen-type woman (or man) who typically never experiences any substantial material hardship (unless it's self inflicted). In over-privileged white men the syndrome usually exhibits itself as straight up hypocrisy and narrow mindedness, combined with hate and an unwillingness to ever forgive anyone. You see, I live in a tiny gated neighborhood, and in order to get enough steps in to make our exercise worth it, we have to walk around again and again and again. We literally walk around in circles in order to get our exercise and stay inside the gate. The only other option on a hot summer night is to go out into the hike and bike trail, and, ironically, for safety reasons, it is closed after dark. 

The woman in question has a Ring camera installed and when me and the dogs make our circle, we activate her camera. She complains. She hates seeing me on her camera almost as much as she hates seeing me at the HOA board meetings. She, in all her modes of social and physical fatigue, can’t figure out why I’m walking around and around, nearly every night, in my own neighborhood. All that petty hand-wringing and complaining actually enhances my workout and causes me to enjoy the ritual even more. I think it’s fun. But even though it’s fun, my Karen neighbors are not without threat, nor are they harmless. One of them actually walked out nattering at me, and when I continued to walk away after telling her to leave us alone, she called the police and tried to make a false report. This woman sports a huge Trump 2020 flag in her garage, telling me everything I need to know about her level of intelligence and willingness to indulge in immorality and disregard obvious facts.

My dogs, like almost any other dog in the universe, can sense when the energy is off. This imbalance, this negativity so near to their own home, heightens their awareness and feelings of paranoia. No more than twenty pounds each, they still pack a ferocious bark when approached, especially if they think a threat towards me is in the making. Lunging on the leash and growling, snarling and acting silly, the whole display is comical in its absurdity. But even their ridiculous behavior is no match for the community Karens in the coveted arenas of comedy and absurdity. 

In the end, never give up on your relatives or friends, neighbors or coworkers, that are suffering from pettiness syndrome due to privilege or hateful politics. They may cut you off and act like they hate you for some silly thing that you could easily fix one day, and they may do awful things to you that make you want to cry and lash out, but just practice patience and tolerance. One of these days, after he or she has had sufficient time to reflect, your own Karen will have an eye opening epiphany. Until then, keep walking.

Westiesonleash


On this Last Day of Love Month, A Cat Story

I can't do my own writing anymore, especially after the angst and misery of Valentine's Day, and the month of love: the month of crazy, wild weather; the month of a near total Texas electricity blackout; the month of a broken service pipe; the month of extreme Covid swings; and another month of grief over the death of not one, but two, little, precious pets. 

On this weird night, on the eve of Women's History Month, I am thinking about writing an article that features an important female in the world of rhetoric, like Ida B. Wells, an African American writer, or maybe Christine de Pisan from the Medieval era. Women in the rhetorical tradition typically receive some pretty outdated criticisms, so I'd like to offset that with some strong opinions of my own.

How do women balance all of these silly expectations about communication? What's wrong with writing aggressively? Should I write like a girl so that men won't be offended? Should I defer to the male voice? Is civil discourse really that important, or is that just another term for oversensitivity? I was told recently that I talked too loud, but my response was that I thought I couldn't be heard. 

Is that what men think we are doing when we write an aggressive text? Do they think we are trying to yell? Is that what the good conservative woman thinks? 

Anyway, the cat story submitted by my writer friend contains a message about gratitude. I am grateful that my voice continues to matter to my readers and friends, even though I am an outdoor cat. I am grateful for all of you. I'm thankful that you don't find me too loud for trying to get your attention. I am hoping you will continue to support me through these weird times. 🌹

IthinkSiameseCat

To train the cat or be trained by the cat that is the question.... Whether it is better to take a shoe to the Siamese or squirt him with the water bottle, after his sixth attempt to get one up at 5:00 in the morning, when he has been howling at one's bedside since three, or just to give up and open a can of cat food and stagger off and wait for the alarm to go off in just a few minutes, or throw his hairy little bohuncas into the garage, where it is freezing cold but there are mice....? These run on sentences frame the eternal questions of cat owners, who've been struggling with their cat masters, since the Egyptians made the mistake of first letting the cat gods into their hearts and granaries, in order to kill the rodents eating the grain.....

If I am sleep deprived, do I not get cranky? If I am tortured, do I not break? Even now, that Siamese is stalking me, complaining that the canned cat food doesn't meet up with his expectations for good service.... If I am harassed, will I not fight back; or will I just give up, give in, and buy the cat some tastier brand.....?

The outside cat thinks the canned cat food is damned tasty! He just ate it up in one gulp.

I give up.....

Just who is running this household?


Teacher and Student Burnout: The Battle is Real

I sit here helplessly in my little living room /slash/ office area of my tiny little apartment in this huge metropolis and I listen to people that have never worked in a public school, in any capacity, talk about how safe it is to go back to the classroom. I sit here and I listen to them compare me to the grocery store clerk, or the trash collection service. I hear them making a moral judgement about my courage and fearlessness in the midst of this crisis, as compared to my counterparts in other public service arenas. Well, I just want everyone to know that I'm not a coward, and I am tired of my opinion being overshadowed by people that have no experience in the classroom. At the same time, I'm not stupid either. I know for a fact that schools are disease factories; I know that schools can never be clean enough to "stop the spread"; I know how many colds, coronaviruses, streps, stomach illnesses, and other infections I have caught and/or transmitted over the past ten years of my career in public school, so how can this disease be any different? Uninformed people think if you throw some hand sanitizer, a mask or two, and some big cash at the problem, along with some attempted social distancing, that all of the kids can just march right back into the school. The reason that schools are not significantly contributing to community spread is because they are currently rather underpopulated, so how can anyone sit there and confidently pressure teachers and support staff to just go and willingly sacrifice their own health, or their family's health, for a job that they are not even adequately paid to do?

Kids and teachers are definitely unhappy right now. One thing that is getting my goat is this business about my online class. We are to slavishly follow the five-part lesson plan as it is laid out by Doug Lemov in his book, Teach Like a Champion. I have no problem with Lemov, and I like some of his ideas, but making a student do 7 Do Nows a day, along with 7 Exit tickets a day, all online, is just the dumbest thing ever. My kids are complaining voraciously about spending 7 hours a day doing a repetitious five-part lesson for each online class. That is 7 Zoom meetings a day. Making the teacher create 5 separate folders for each day and script out each step of the class, and then make that same teacher slavishly follow this five-part, five folder, five day a week, boring repetition is a burn out machine major-deluxe. I have heard in songs and stuff that it is better to burn out than fade away, but now I'm beginning to wonder. Maybe fading away is not a bad idea, a sentiment now shared by many educators.

This week I had the unique experience of getting an administrator in my online class asking questions. All of my kids can follow my class, open my materials, and work with my digital content. I am running 4 digital platforms: Schoology, the community college I work for, Skyward, and the College Board. All of these have some different requirements and portals to put grades in and different things for students to do. I am trying my hardest to keep it simple for my students by engaging them in creative and colorful discussion boards and assignments. My attendance is amazing, and the vast majority of my students are growing as writers, thinkers, and readers. Even though we are separated by distance and this disease, we enjoy our classes. In spite of everything, I have been able to build some robust relationships with my kids, so their suffering is my suffering. But I got a weird dressing down of sorts from my administrator because I don't have little folders for each day, with little lesson plans in each day, with my content spread out into these separate days. It's the craziest, most clerical intensive, mindless, and uncreative mandate that I have ever been asked to engage in. My students go back and revisit materials constantly, so I don't see how making them hunt and peck in daily folders is of any use to them; nor is this hunting and pecking of any use to me, as it completely stifles my ability to create a meaningful lesson plan or unit designed on the unique and specific needs of this crucial moment. My lesson plans, when I do them the way they are mandated, are fragmented and not unified. When I do them the way I have been taught in college, then my students are happier. I create a new folder every week, but these lesson plans and folders as mandated are harming my students' classroom experience.

I want to know when it started becoming important for me to write lesson plans that prioritize my administration over my students so that I can be judged, not for my teaching, but for my ability to make little daily folders, and all of this during a world health crisis.

This kind of negativity, looking for fault and calling teachers cowards, should be forbidden during this crisis. It is an all-hands-on-deck kind of a mess. Administrators and the public should be looking at ways to get teachers and kids safely back into the classroom where we do our best. If that means moving teachers up the line to get a shot, then why not? When you ask a politician or some high-level administrator this question about the vaccine, you get a bunch of weird lip service, but no answers. We are talking about the safety of our kids and the people in the schools that are charged with spending long hours everyday with them in close proximity. Only a fool or a charlatan would go around making the claim that schools are safe. Clearly, they are not, and they won't ever be if people in power can't focus on what is important, rather than what is petty. 

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Pandemic Diversions: The Crazy Cat Lady Wins Again

Dear Readers, 

In this installment of my favorite cat lady tails, night animals collaborate to keep a human awake in the deep of the night. Something similar to the following story happened to me the night before last when I mistakenly left the doggie door open all night, and Bill ventured out and was unable to hoist his fat self back into the house. I stumbled out of bed and down the stairs to open the door for him because he was barking his head off, and then I tossed in bed all night thinking about my various lives: the struggling new personal life that means more to me than anything; the struggling work life that is causing me to experience different layers of burnout; the struggling financial life that whirls around the credit universe in a long series of minus signs; and, of course, the never-ending parental worries about my struggling musical artist that lives in a sort of artist camp with a bunch of other artist types. 

And of course, all of us are worried about Covid disease; I know we need to divert from this horror and weirdness as much as possible. The stories that independent writers produce are valuable in this regard because they provide moments of peace by temporarily moving us into a different realm free of disease and chaos while we safely wait out a viable solution for our return to normal life. Anyone currently suffering from Covid disease has our sympathy. I would like to introduce another such story from my favorite indie writer.

This story won a flash fiction prize, and, no, it is not mine.

Stranger in the Night

Leaving my parliament of night owls on their own recognizance—for some reason, a group of owls is not called a “congress”, but that is another story-- I hit the bed early, hoping to catch up on some much-needed rest. I toss. I turn. All goes blank. I must have fallen asleep because out of the blissful quiet, in the middle of the peaceful night, a teeny-tiny voice at the foot of my bed politely asks:

“Mew-myeow?”

“Go away,” I command. Refusing to obey the Siamese Tom, who clearly has a job for me to do, I settle back down to more peaceful slumbering. All is silent--even my inner monologue has fallen still, until:

“Mew-MEOW??”

“Go away. I am asleep!” I say, raising the amplitude of my voice to equal the insistence of his cattery demands.

This cat must be the reincarnation of the hideous, Dr. Mengele, who is obviously alive and well and conducting sleep deprivation experiments on me. I muse before I lapse into waiting for Cat- Mengele to rouse me again. His extreme patience pays off. Just after my breathing becomes regular and deep and I am nodding off, I hear:

“MEW-MEOW???”

This time the caterwauling falls right into my ear. Are those notes” D” followed by “F” in the key of C? Even if it is the middle of the night, I would know if I had perfect pitch! I may be a music lover but I have had enough.

“Get! Get! Get the hell out of here!” I roar, jumping out of the bed and chasing Siamese-Mengele out the bedroom door. Bam, the door slams. No need to fear waking the hoot owls, they never ever sleep.

I return to my bed and sweet repose until a laughing child’s voice inquires, “Are you okay?” “He was yodeling in my ear.”
“Dad says you were impressive!”
“You mean you could hear me?”

“We all heard you.”

Suddenly, I realize that my throat hurts. I yelled at the cat one full octave below my normal speaking voice. Damned cat! Now, I have throat nodules! My conscious collapses into a tiny purple painful asterick in the center of my skull, where it pounds relentlessly until I can no

longer lie still.

I glance at the alarm clock. The time is 2:30 A.M. I rise to find the hoot owls congregating over a bowl of salty snacks, dried mangoes, and assorted nuts. I guess, the cat was howling mad because he didn’t get his share!

“Where is Siamese-Mengele?” I inquire of the youngest owl. “Hiding under the table with PTSD,” the eldest owl growls.

I join the snacking parliament then return to bed. Suddenly, from next door comes the anguished howls of the abandoned Pit Bull, Ruger, who must have starred in Norman’s production of “Hounds of The Baskervilles”. Oh God, I whine. It has started again!

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Musings from the Crazy Cat Lady on Election Eve: The Resistance and J.K. Rowling

My Favorite Author

I am an old-crazy-cat-lady that writes. I have ascended to this august status from the state of just plain crazy cat-lady that reads prolifically! You might wonder, but probably wouldn’t ever, now, which author does a b@+$h!t  writer with a runaway imagination like best? The answer is J.K. Rowling—definitely J.K. Rowling. The reason is as follows: tomorrow is election day and young people, who cut their teeth on Rowling’s moral compass, are turning out to vote in droves to drive a certain unnamed Wizard out of the White House. Rowling’s avid readers, Generations M and Z, know a Lord Moldy-wort when they see one. I am confident they will do whatever it takes to defeat both the princess of darkness and his soul-eating cabal. Voting to oust HE, whose name should never be mentioned, is only the younger generations first step to magically creating the world of compassion and fairness that live in the Harry Potter series. So, thank you, J.K. Rowling for your contribution to literature and your call for all good young witches to fight for the side of common decency. The young ones, having lived through a devastating wizards’ war, know that anything of value comes only at a great cost. Therefore, if we should lose this battle, our young agents of change will come back to this ongoing war on darkness fiercer and more resolute in their determination to defeat self-serving and aggrandizing evil-- once and for all and in the next election. Thank you, now, I am off to buy a new broom. I will need it to go vote and sweep out the White House.

FatPat


Coronavirus and My Late Relatives: What Would They Say or Do?

It's my late brother's birthday today, and usually I dedicate this date to him as a sort of holiday or time of reflection. But today is so incredibly bizzarro with Covid-19 declared as a pandemic and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo shut down, that I'm just totally discombobulated, like a person in a corn maze wandering around lost.

I always try to think how my late relatives might feel about current events, as a means of putting it all into perspective while attempting to access some of their wisdom. 

My brother would probably make rude comments about Asians and wet markets and what animals certain people are drawn to eat. Then he would probably flip right around and tell me that it's none of my business what people of other ethnicities are eating, and that I should learn not to judge. My brother fought against his bigotry on a daily basis. His granite colored eyes would glaze over when he struggled with something ethical, reminding me he was nobody to underestimate. Remarkably rough and uncivilized at times, he seemed to have an honest affinity for dogs and babies, but everything else was dispensable. 

My Uncle Alfred would sputter angry curses and blame the "women."  He taught me everything I know about horses and random acts of kindness, but he was a total misogynist from day one. 

My mother, in spite of periodic fits of anger and drama, always remained calm and logical in a complete meltdown of all social or family norms. In the midst of this pandemic, my mother would recommend stocking a few groceries and making some good cocktails even though she never drank herself and didn't cook much. She would be on top of everything for at least a minimal length of time, and then she would wither away into her room and start making threats via phone or letter that would make the pandemic seem unimportant. 

My grandma could manage the whole crisis from the top of her cookstove, ordering people around as if they were drawing a salary from her neat and well computed check book. Her hand, extremely calm and nurturing, could quickly clip a grapevine for a sound thrashing if you dared get lippy in the midst of an emergency. Grandma would have a lot to say about Trump, and none of what she would say would be feathered in any notion of kindness. She would hate his guts.

Tonight my relatives would wonder why specific questions weren't answered by their president. They would all sit around the kitchen table and talk about how our lives are going to change. They would wonder why the Republicans are so selfish.

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Collapse of Coronavirus Leadership: Alex Azar, Trump, and Pence? Heck Ya I'm Nervous

No doubt this virus is nothing to joke about because of its dark nature. Look at all of the souls it has recently dispatched, and the intense suffering that it's causing around the globe. If the Trump administration and the CDC are resistant to calling this calamity a pandemic, if WHO doesn't want to call it that, then what exactly are we dealing with? It's certainly more than an inconvenience, especially in the United States.

For us, this pandemic could endanger millions of people because of our lack of a basic social safety net. No one from the Trump administration has said that our government will pay for these long hospital stays and thousands and thousands of tests for individual citizens. If our profit partnerships with hospitals and insurance companies are in charge of billing for this disease, then we could be facing a financial collapse for thousands of individuals with insurance and the certainty of long term debt for those without it.

People are buying food and supplies in bulk, at least around my town. Yesterday, one lonely bag of jasmine rice remained on the shelf, and the dried noodle aisle was almost completely empty, as if a big storm was rolling in. I'm finding sales on weird items like holistic cough medicines and immune support supplements. Name brand vitamins are getting pushed, and so are some off -brand cold and cough medicines.

The liquor store had quite the run yesterday considering that most people were down at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Bar B Q event. I guess maybe this isn't that unusual, except if you follow what people are actually saying around town they pretend they aren't concerned at all. I haven't seen anyone wearing a mask, but I have seen an uptick in people rubbing on hand sanitizer. I, in fact, purchased the last bottle of 365 Lavender Hand Sanitizer at my local Whole Foods.

I am going to go ahead and act as weird as possible. I'm a nerd anyway, so no one will notice (not that I think anyone should care what others think about them). Since I pick up nearly every single virus that my kids bring around, I'm spraying all surfaces liberally with Lysol. I'm using hand sanitizer even when I don't need it, and I have picked up quite a few extra things from this place and that place just in case I decide to park myself at home. I'm unabashedly unashamed of my paranoia because I feel as if I am on a winding mountain road with a drunk at the wheel. This morning's visit to the Sunday news shows by Alex Azar the Human Health Secretary, previous pharmaceutical lobbyist, did nothing to assuage my fears. He's not a doctor, and this is not a political hoax as Trump has tried to declare.

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Why the Bloomberg Message Matters so Much! Listen America...

Writing in juxtapositions hyphenates how circular and connected everything in the world is. When I interact with my dogs, I parallel their train of thought with my own because I respect the brain, the little soul, that exists in this furry, needy, little body. As Lukács relates his theory of social realism to Marx, he "contends [that human beings] are essentially socio-historical beings" and that the "formation of human society across time is a process of economic transformation, in which deep economic tensions resolves themselves in higher forms of social organization" (Graham 198). Even though Georg Lukács theory of the novel is simply that, a theory about novels, the economic juxtaposition is impossible to ignore. How does this all relate to what is happening in American politics now? Trump, an obvious fascist, represents an opposition to what most Americans fear the most, a debasement of the social structure as it swings left to shelter and support vulnerable individuals coded out of the mainstream economic upturn. 

How much of this upturn is due to an increased expansion of the fossil fuel industry is unknown by me, but I would say that it goes far enough to spike fear in the worker, enough fear to maximize a winner-take-all mindset such as the one that Trump represents. Critical realism debunks any possibility of a happy ending in the great American story because these higher forms of social organization, the economics of the neoliberal/capitalist state, will forbid any transfer of wealth into more sustainable energy forms. While Americans do see a few more solar panels and electric cars around, nothing is happening to offset carbon and methane output, quite the opposite, so a dirtier and more perilous world awaits for our children and grandchildren, even as we now watch helplessly as a worldwide pandemic unfolds. Politics at large, especially left leaning lip service, fails to permeate the echo chamber of winner-take-all-fascist-mindset even on the eve of our destruction.

The politicians on last night's debate stage fail to grasp Lukács theory of society functioning as an economic process constantly in transformation, so in other words, they will fail to beat Trump's fascist ideology because they are unable to adequately assuage the fears of the common worker, the fear of sustainable energy overtaking the fossil fuel industry. Even so, another, more dark and shady goblin lurks behind the transference of power from fossil fuel to sustainable energy, artificial intelligence. Fossil fuel workers realize at some level the sloughing off of jobs to machinery and robots. Even as we transfer wealth from one sector to another, skill based jobs are declining, no matter the purpose or intent. Following a cruel fascist into a dirtier future will only make this economic transformation more difficult and result in more penury and suffering. 

This is why I think it's vitally important to the public that Mike Bloomberg use his platform if not to win, then at least to inform. Stopping Trump means that Americans will face a brighter future even in the face of this economic transformation. Maybe we are trading one neoliberal narcissist for another, but at least Bloomberg is authentic, a strong juxtaposition to Trump.

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Writing in High School: Why the Standards for Teachers and Students are too Low

Copied from a friend:


Right at this moment I am experiencing the frustration of trying to undo the damage and neglect that happens when teachers fail to take any composition theory courses or engage in any practicums or actual student teaching. I'm basically cleaning up after people that think that teaching English is simple and you don't need a degree for that--a crazy assumption in some education circles that speaking the language is enough and learning everything by the seat of your pants is just as effective as years of education and experience.

Currently, I'm struggling with a group of students that are a case study in the administrative philosophy that English teachers are dumb, expendable widgets. This results in a group of inhibited writers that had no idea that you could compose an expository paper without including sources, or that their instructor would have any respect for their original words, or that some of the silly grammar rules they had been taught are nonexistent, or that writing is for everyone and not just the elites.

This group of polished and polite students had previously fallen victim to a form of teaching that only scrapes on the surface of what one needs to know. They were taught that every paper must be a research paper with boring sources and whacky formatting, that any kind of arrangement and weak thesis statement will suffice.

I had one student tell me that they hadn't written any kind of an expository text since ninth-grade STAAR; I felt intensely sorry for that kid because most of the writing in the world is expository. What do people think most magazine articles, blogposts, newspaper articles, reports, and nonfiction bestsellers are? What about your history textbook and letters to friends? Not every text is a research paper or an argumentative essay even when it contains an artistic arrangement of rhetorical moves. It doesn't require us to follow a process, like a recipe, so it certainly isn't the famous "how to" essay of middle school days, even though it is rich in its own way. It explains something. It's not a story, typically not a narrative, and filled with hypothetical or actual examples. So if these students have no awareness of genre, then what in the world have they been doing in English class?

A simple four page paper that asks the student to identify a problem in society and discuss and explain how they would contribute to a solution should be easy. Using one article for inspiration should be enough. I have kids that have a poorly formatted works cited with eight or nine sources listed in varying fonts and font sizes. I have kids that have plugged in so many quotes--incorrectly--that I can't discern where one thought ends and another begins. I have students who have shrouded their own intellect in a cocoon of worthless ideas belonging to an endless array of dumpster like Google searches of unknown authorship and origin.

Time after time, I have told my students that I want to see their writing, their ideas, their solutions. What I see instead is a dropped quote placed at the end of a paragraph, just sitting there while I stare at it in fascinated horror and wonder where in the world it came from and why it isn't cited. I wonder why it is sitting there in the first place glaring back at me equally horrified when I clearly instructed my class to give me their own expository writing, their own ideas, and their own insightful, original solutions. I would much rather untangle a badly written paragraph and provide a writing conference on original work than look at dumb facts generated from a website. Crazy paragraphs are the kind of horror I can handle.

Around my classroom, I see a multitude of confused faces that ponder and argue back: 

 "I was always taught that everything that I wrote had to be backed up with sources. You mean I can write what I want? How do I just make something up? What do you mean by hypothetical? Is that a medical term?"

My students have no knowledge about genres of writing, or even what kind of writing belongs with what audience. They don't know the first thing about creating a research question, how to avoid cherry picking sources, and most of them can't even embed quoted material. I see every form of accidental plagiarism known to the human species. Think about that. How could they have ever written a successful research or argument paper even under some form of guidance? When the expectation is that the students have surpassed English IV and are ready for dual credit, then one would think that the basics have been covered. My most talented students hesitate to take a risk with anything except formatting. I have seen all kinds of weird headers, footers, works cited pages, fonts, bolds, italics in bizarre spaces, and margins several inches wide. How can this be? 

Well it would seem that at the end of the day, people in power are sitting on their hands avoiding an obvious truth: our kids are being cheated out of a meaningful English class experience. Low level work and zero accountability is an everyday good practice in a low rigor, free-for-all, no pedagogy existence. We are doing a disservice by not raising our standards for our teachers, and by not providing adequate training to our teachers. In some cases, we are just filling a seat with a warm English speaker. In some cases, this warm English speaker would best be cast as an instructional aide or even as a math teacher. We need actual English majors teaching our subject. English majors that are willing to go the extra yard and write for the love of writing. We need English majors that will share that love with their students and enroll in high quality, advanced course work. At the least, we need teachers that are willing to recognize their own gaps. And once we recognize our own gaps, it becomes easier to learn from others because we realize we must. Pretending that we have all of the answers and don't need advanced course work or quality professional development is as mythological as a unicorn wearing a Steelers jersey zooming by freeway traffic perched on a skate board. 

Not only that, the kind of composition theory that teaches teachers to become writing teachers can't be found in the snake-oil, commercial world of quick fix education articles and forums, and it is best accomplished in a college classroom beginning as an undergrad. Composition pedagogy is dense and confusing, takes practice and dedication to master, and promotes student literacy in ways that nothing else can. Books by Peter Elbow, Sondra Perl, Pat Belanoff, and Kenneth Burke, help teachers untangle the mysteries of writing well, responding to student papers, and creating workshops, journaling activities, and professional learning communities that engage everyone with appropriate grade-level materials. And that is only scratching the surface of scholarship available to the dedicated and well prepared English teacher willing to dig in and learn. If we fail to provide meaningful, professional instruction, our students will journey into the world underprepared for work and college. This failure is a problem for all of us, as it impinges on our ability to maintain a just and democratic, civil society, a purview of the English department.

Writer


Donald Trump, Climate Change, and Totalitarianism: A Connection

Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism is a tough read. And sometimes I wish I hadn't struggled through her dense prose because much of it is making me sick with worry. I feel like an old time fortune teller because everything that I learned in the book is relevant to the Trump administration. Anyway, somewhere deep in her book she begins to talk about how Totalitarianism creeps in without the population's awareness or recognition. I strongly suggest reading this book yourself. I hope you will take time with every word. In the meantime, let me try to clarify what I think is important to understand in this moment. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Origins_of_Totalitarianism

Hitler warped reality for the Germans by using propaganda, symbolism, terror, concentration camps, shame and racism, along with dishonesty and violence. He pretended to care about the working man and woman, the underdog, and he aligned himself with other despots and liars. Education in all forms became not only a luxury, but it became something degrading and negative. The press and literacy became the enemy, so reality became a matter of debate, discussion, and skepticism. Warping reality serves to rip away trust and unity in society, creating a sense of confusion, supporting a rhetoric of aggression. This rhetoric of aggression serves to heighten tensions and stress (even in personal relationships), validating arguments that are essentially destructive and divisive. 

While people are living in this state of confusion and distrust, violence and chaos become more acceptable and frequent. Facts slip away. Society searches for truth by indulging in petty arguments and blundering around in confusion. Meanwhile, Totalitarianism is seeping into the social cracks. She wrote many pages on this subject of reality and confusion. And here we are quite confused arguing about whether or not children are drinking from toilets while living in cages, whether or not they are going hungry, or are ripped from their parents. We are arguing about whether or not the planet will be habitable in 50 years when we can clearly see that if we do nothing the die-off will overwhelm our souls and plunge us into a psychic darkness. We are arguing about science that is settled and factual. We are arguing in the face of science and allowing our government to dismiss this science as if it were some kind of fabricated theory while the evidence exists all around us. People are so confused they are literally becoming fanatically religious because of fear and doubt; somehow the supernatural becomes more reliable than everyday reality.

Arendt would say that Trump is a symbol, a caricature of Totalitarianism; he represents the future if we don't reclaim our reality and stomp out the kind of power he will extend. He is like a nasty seed, and we don't have time for him and his hatchlings because truth is on its way, a truth that will provide a rich ground for the growth of a more frightening and destructive form of Totalitarianism than we have yet to see in any society. With climate change will come massive disasters, resulting in the loss of national worth by depleting our resources and producing roaming populations of climate refugees. This is what they are striving for...a dark and selfish future that will allow for many helpless people to die out in floods and droughts, or to starve in famines while they attempt to build and buy their way out of the consequences of inaction and greed. Help will take years to arrive, and isolated communities will die out. Death due to neglect is just another symptom of Totalitarianism. 

We know what is real. All we have to do is communicate stronger, harder, clearer, and better. We are not communicating the coming catastrophe in a strong enough way. We are pretending that we will always have a voice even in the midst of a climate emergency. Even now, on the cusp of disaster, our voice is already muted and weak. 

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