I can’t get rid of the anger I feel coming to the general education policy conversation from a high-poverty urban school district.
“Oh, you ran out of time? WE RAN OUT OF PAPER.”
“Oh, your lunch break was short? WE HAD NO POTABLE WATER.”
“Oh, you value student voice? ONLY THE RIGHT KIND OF STUDENTS, THOUGH, AMIRITE?”
“Oh, your colleagues were annoying? MINE CALLED STUDENTS F*GS AND N****RS.”
“Oh, your students’ families were pushy? MINE WERE SYSTEMATICALLY DISENFRANCHISED AND DISEMPOWERED BY THE EDUCATION SYSTEM FOR WHICH I WORKED.”
I can’t stop. It’s not productive.
(Then people say, “I’m sorry you had a bad experience.” “MY STUDENTS ARE THE VICTIMS, NOT ME,” say I. “I went to private school,” say I. “DON’T LOOK AT ME LIKE THAT,” say I.)
(“Help me articulate this,” say I.)
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
My favorites, ranked in horribly unpoetic fashion:
4. Why is the word “yes” so brief? / It should be / the longest, / the hardest, / so that you could not decide in an instant to say it, / so that upon reflection you could stop / in the middle of saying it.
3. dropped / and falling / from such / heights / for so / long / that / maybe / I will have / enough time / to learn / flying
2. If there is something to desire, / there will be something to regret. / If there is something to regret, / there will be something to recall. / If there is something to recall, / there was nothing to regret. / If there was nothing to regret, / there was nothing to desire.
1. Basked in the sun / listened to birds / licked off raindrops / and only in flight / the leaf saw the tree / and grasped / what it had been.
I don’t usually read much poetry–especially not in the middle of the semester when I’m supposed to be reading a whole lot of other things–but this stuff was captivating.
My class on education law this semester is taught by the superintendent of a nearby school district. Today he told us about a parent who sued him some years ago when a student newspaper and yearbook refused to publish a pro-abstinence advertisement. He then showed us an editorial the parent wrote after losing the case.
The thing started out with some stuff about free speech, that being the legal issue central to the case. The argument was cogent enough; I disagreed, but I understood. Then came Truth and God and Virtue and the disintegration of morals in contemporary society. This too I followed; I objected to the sentiments, I questioned their relevance, I rejected the worldview they represented—but I remained intellectually engaged.
Then came “the sexually promiscuous homosexual lifestyle,” and my brain broke.
I don’t know what the concluding paragraphs said. I was too angry to process them. Free speech was no longer the issue for me. Even the underlying debate over sex education seemed inconsequential. Here was a person, a Bad Person with Bad Beliefs, a person steeped in Error and Untruth and perhaps even Evil—and a person whose views I did not want to hear, whose lifestyle I could not accept.
I am as much an ideologue as he is.
(And I’m not even gay! Imagine something that attacked me personally…)
I read cases in which students want to protest wars, and I celebrate their right to free speech. I read cases in which students want to display the Confederate flag, and—I support their right to free speech in an intellectual sense, but would I really mind, really feel indignant or angry or scared or disappointed, if they were oppressed just a little? I don’t know.
Some judge in one of these cases noted that the right to free speech means little if it means only that we grant crackpots a space in which they are free to be crackpots. I agree. But do I really, truly want anything more than that for those I deem crackpots?
I wish I knew.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It’s nothing I didn’t already know from personal experience, but I suppose that fact just confirms its relevance.
One thing I didn’t like, though: the recurring suggestion that what makes our education system really shameful is that it complicates the narrative of “American” exceptionalism. “One might expect to find these problems in other countries,” the explicit or implicit argument goes, “but to find them here–how awful!”
That framing of the subject, combined with the title, made me rather squeamish. (Are we trying to avoid being “savage”? Because that’s not a problematic concept at all…)
But hey, if that’s what it takes to shake people out of complacency, then maybe it’s justified–I don’t know.
In any case, the book as a whole is excellent.
I’m taking a class called Educational Equity and the Law this semester. At the first meeting today, the professor asked (hypothetically) which of us would have a problem with his having everyone recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of every class.
I was the only one of the six students who immediately raised her hand.
One of my classmates said she wouldn’t object as long as she could stick to the pre-God version. The other four said they’d be fine with it.
I was surprised, but I’m not sure whether I should have been.
One of the very first people I met in college is also one of the nicest people I’ve ever known. His suite was just below mine in what quickly became the closest-knit entryway in the dorm. I was rather shy and very sad at that time in my life, but we shared a nostalgia for the tropics–he is from Costa Rica, I am from Hawai`i, and our school was in Connecticut–and I always felt like I could talk to him about anything. When our first New England Halloween found us both without costumes, we cobbled together a couple of ridiculous islander outfits–a plastic lei for him, a coconut bra for me (over a long-sleeved shirt, of course: it was damned cold)–and spent the night celebrating our status as outsiders.
We never grew terribly close, but he remained one of my favorite people, one who could make me smile in almost any circumstances (and back then, that was quite an accomplishment). A couple of years after graduation, he and some other Yalies were in Boston for the Harvard-Yale game, and I went to a party one of them was throwing. He was there, along with his new boyfriend; they looked incredibly happy.
Just a week or so ago, I wrote to him for the first time in a while. My husband had surprised me with tickets to Costa Rica, and I was asking for travel tips. I also congratulated him: the boyfriend I had met years ago was now his husband. They had been married in July, just after DOMA was struck down. “It’s great to be married!” he wrote–and I agreed.
I learned today that his husband was killed in a car accident last night.
Said husband was a former army officer who had served in Iraq and Kuwait. During one of his tours, he became the first active duty service member to come out as gay on national television. He was discharged, of course; DADT’s demise came several years later–thanks in part to efforts like his.
He survived war to be killed in a car crash. He waited to have a federally recognized marriage only to die a month after his wedding.
I don’t understand.
Well, less than a week ago I found out that a graduate of the school I taught at had been shot on the streets of Boston. For days his death overshadowed my Facebook news feed. His former friends and classmates–my former students–grieved mightily, and I looked on helplessly. One young man, himself now a father, noted that the local news speculated wildly about how the (African American male) victim may have been dealing drugs but never once mentioned the fact that he was the father of two baby girls. The cynical posts were the worst, because they were the best. But of course, some said. This is what happens to people like us.
Then, this morning, another former student sent me this Facebook message: “Hey! I just wanted to say thank you for everything you have done for me. I appreciate everything you have done and you inspire me so much. You were one of the very few people that continued to believe in me and pushed me to succeed. I don’t know where I would be without your support. Thank you!” It’s been over a year since I’ve taught her; recently she and I were trying desperately to find a way for her to attend an exciting faraway college that had granted her provisional admission, but it didn’t work out and now she’s going to some local school and living at home like she never wanted to do. And yet–the message.
That is what it’s like having been a teacher–a year and more after leaving the classroom. Extrapolate a bit, and maybe you’ll get an idea of what it’s like actually to be a teacher.
You cry a lot.
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
It’s possible that Verne deliberately disguised this unappealing piece of heavy-handed dogma as a novel so as to embody everything that is most odious about the dystopian future it describes–one, of course, in which utility has triumphed over beauty, science over art, machinery over humanity, and (apparently) dichotomy over complexity. If such was his intent, than he succeeded magnificently.
If not, then this is one of the most amazing exhibits of unintentional irony that I have ever seen.
I loved Jules Verne when I was a kid. I still do, in theory. Maybe he kept this “lost novel” unpublished for a reason.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
More than anything else, Nabokov writes about words. His best work balances gracefully the referential and other functions of language, so that the text is both a world in itself (with puns, ironies, bot mots, and so on) and a window to the fictional world it describes (with characters, feelings, other ironies, and the like).
That’s an oversimplification, I know, but the point is this: in reading these stories, I felt like the text was opaque. Each piece was lovely in itself, but that very loveliness obscured its “point.” The thing made a better door than window.
Once in a while a passage would resolve itself into a unit of meaning, and invariably that meaning was profoundly beautiful (hence the three stars). But then it would fade as suddenly as it had appeared, technical prowess replacing aesthetic vision as the author’s most salient characteristic. (Fans of Classical music, think of a cadenza in a Mozart concerto).
Overall, then, while I imagine that annotating this book would be a delightful exercise, reading it was something else altogether.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
You know those Magic Eye thingies that were absurdly popular for a while when I was a kid, like in the early ’90s? They looked at first like nothing more than meaningless patterns of variously colored dots, but if you looked “through” them successfully they revealed a hidden picture?
So, imagine you’re looking at one of those. You know there’s an amazing landscape scene in there somewhere, because all your friends have told you so, but all you can see are dots. Once in a while some of the dots seem to resolve themselves into something. Is that a dead tree? That would make for a rather depressing landscape. But maybe it’s a beautiful winter scene–snow-laden branches and whatnot. That would be nice. It would be even nicer if you could just SEE the damn thing, though.
This goes on for a while. You become increasingly frustrated and increasingly invested. The picture is going to be f***ing mind-blowing if you ever manage to penetrate the surface and get to it.
Then, finally, it appears. And it is horrifying. Yes, it’s a landscape. But not only are the trees dead; everything is. Even the vultures picking at the carcasses look old and tired and uninterested in their activities. All the tragedy of existence suddenly leaps out of the frame at you, and you turn away in fear and trembling. You have seen It, and It was indeed amazing, but you never want to see It again.
That’s how it is to read this book.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“For my part I do not want to make peace between my heart and my head, between my faith and my reason; I prefer that they be at war. [...] My purpose is to war on all those who submit, whether to Catholicism, or to rationalism, or to agnosticism. My aim is to make all men live a life of restless longing.”
“If annihilation must be our portion, let us act in such a way that we make it an unjust portion; let us fight against destiny, even without hope of victory; let us fight quixotically. [...] And to act in such a way as to make our annihilation unjustified, in such a way as to make our brothers and sisters, our children and their children, and the children of these children, all feel that we ought not to have died is something within the reach of all men.”
At the end, where the focus turns from “men” to “nations,” he speaks more specifically to those who have in their minds a clear idea of what it means to be Spanish, to be European, to be Catholic. But it’s hardly his fault that I am none of those things. The book is amazing.
My husband listens to sports radio sometimes. At first this worried me, male-dominated discourses not being known for making women feel awesome about themselves, but I didn’t want to be unreasonable, so I gave it a chance. After all, said hubby is both an ardent feminist in his own right and acutely aware of my “triggers,” so I figured whatever he was listening to would be “safe.” And so it was. I had indeed prejudged these guys unfairly: all they seem to want to do, for the most part, is nerd out about statistics. It’s actually kind of cute sometimes.
But then one day recently they were reporting some mini-scandal in the baseball world. A well-known pitcher had done something during a game–I don’t know what–and the wife of the opposing team’s second baseman had said something about it on Twitter. I don’t know what she said, but the pitcher’s response had been to tweet, among other things, “Some people don’t know how to shut their women up.”
The “scandal,” however, was all about his “fiery temper.” His public apology was for “letting his passion for the game get the better of him.” The commentators went on about short tempers and fiery personalities and such for a minute and then moved on.
If the dude had a short temper, he would have told the woman who insulted him to go fuck off or something. And she may have deserved it–who knows. But telling the person who owns her to put a lid on his pet’s behavior–that’s not temper. That’s misogyny.
I waited for the commentators to say something, anything, about gender as they discussed this story. They didn’t have to go on a full-blown rant about denying women personhood–they just had to allude, however indirectly, to the issue. Just for a second.
But they never did.
I read this recently.
And it struck me in many ways, but this is what it made me remember:
In my fourth year of teaching, I had this class that constantly pranked me. I loved it; they worked incredibly hard and did everything I asked them to do and more, so when they took five minutes of class time to do something unrelated to the curriculum that made all of us laugh uncontrollably–knowing and willing that thirty seconds later they would be back at work–I certainly didn’t mind.
So one day during class, when a knock came at a fire door leading to an empty classroom, I took the bait–gladly. When I opened the door, one of the students–a guy who had “gone to the bathroom” a minute before–was standing there in a full-body Tigger suit.
It was hilarious. Everyone laughed. I laughed. Tigger hugged me.
Then he really hugged me.
Because Tigger was not just Tigger; he was a six-foot-tall, 18-year-old man. And I was suddenly no longer his teacher but a five-and-a-half-foot-tall, 26-year-old woman. And he held my head tight against his chest and stroked my hair, and I stopped laughing and started squirming and said THIS HUG IS OVER and no one but he heard and he kept stroking my hair and everyone laughed on. And then he let me go and I went on with the lesson and never said anything more to him about the incident, ever.
Not because I didn’t think I should, but because I knew how the conversation would go. Never mind HIS voice–the inevitable I’m-baffled-and-sorry-YOU-felt-that-way line–I’d be too busy listening to the policing voices in my head to make my point effectively. “Why ruin your students’ fun?” “He didn’t mean anything by it.” “Stop overreacting.” “It was just a hug.” And in the end I would be the one apologizing for making him uncomfortable.
And so I failed.
The worst part is that, in this situation, I had ALL the power. I had fun with that class, but I also had total control. I could shut them up with a look. Over the particular boy/man in question I had long since established my dominance; if he got distracted when I was talking, for example, all I had to do was pause and look at him and he’d instantly apologize and get himself back on track. And if he didn’t, his classmates would yell at him (good-naturedly) until he did so. Because I had more than control; I had allies.
So there I was, surrounded by devoted supporters and enjoying both de jure and de facto authority over everyone in the room. And yet when I needed to assert myself as a woman to a man rather than as an adult to an adolescent or a teacher to a student, I failed utterly.
Now imagine how many women find themselves in how many much less advantageous scenarios every day, and do some extrapolation assuming that I am weak and flawed but not uniquely so, and then try not to cry with rage and shame.
“Nowadays a thinker is a curious creature who during certain hours of the day exhibits a very remarkable ingenuity, but has otherwise nothing in common with a human being.” [quoted in Unamuno]
I’ve just taken the first step toward weaning myself off antidepressants: reducing my daily dose from 40mg to 30.
Because the stuff comes in 40mg capsules but not 30mg ones, I’m now taking three 10mg capsules a day instead of one 40mg one.
Also, my doctor said that, while I will probably not experience any withdrawal symptoms from just a 25% reduction, I should be on the lookout for “slight dizziness and something like an electric light show” in my head.
So basically, my progress toward becoming less dependent on drugs involves tripling the number of pills I’m popping and possibly going on acid trips.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The “Sentimental Journey” is profoundly delightful (yes, delight can be profound, at least when Laurence Sterne’s genius is involved). But the “Letters” are insufferably solipsistic and banal. There’s some oft-quoted line about how the best artists are the most boring “real-life” people because they pour all that is exceptional about themselves into their art. Maybe that sentiment was inspired by the juxtaposition in this volume.
I’m not going to say much about the Zimmerman trial. I’ve been reading almost obsessively on the topic, and I have many thoughts on it, but others can express those thoughts with more acuity, flair, impact, and–dare I say it?–authenticity than I ever will. After all–and this is where privilege-checking can become privilege-flaunting, so I’m uncomfortable saying it but it probably needs to be said–I am young, female, white, heterosexual, cisgendered, and of conventionally acceptable shape and appearance in the particular society I happen to inhabit. The only descriptor in that list that labels me as a member of an oppressed group–my sex–usually becomes an advantage when it comes to dealings with law enforcement officials. Police officers and neighborhood watchmen don’t suspect me; they protect me. So who am I to write about Trayvon Martin?
But I just read this.
And what struck me in Questlove’s story of his elevator ride was the eerie symmetry between his internal monologue and, say, this.
Because of course, race plays a role in my deliberations too, though I couldn’t admit it five years ago. If it’s a bunch of white men I’m passing on the street, I have no problem putting on what friends tactfully call my “teacher look” rather than my “bitchy-as-hell look.” If it’s men of color, though, I’m damned if I’m going to look one bit uncomfortable. (One of my students, an 18-year-old aspiring poet of Caribbean Black descent who always wore a pin commemorating the shooting death of his brother in the sort of inner-city street violence that goes largely unremarked… but I digress… this student, I say, once asked me whether, if I’m walking alone down a street and see a group of Black men coming toward me, I cross the street to avoid them. When I said no, I don’t, he shook his head. “That’s stupid, Miss. I know what you’re trying to do, but just be safe and cross the street.” I almost cried.)
By the way, I’m aware that my attempts to avoid any appearance of racism are vain and solipsistic and devoid of any real power or merit. I know I’m just trying to soothe my white guilt, stroke my ego, however you want to put it. I’m honestly not sure whether the attempt is offensive and counterproductive or just benignly ineffective. I assume I’m not the only one who does this sort of thing, though, so it probably needs to be put out there in the open. (At least I don’t go this far. The blank stare of the East Coast city-dweller is the friendliest look anyone gets.)
Anyway. Here’s the point. I just want to go on a walk or catch my bus or carry my books. Questlove just wants to get to his floor and maybe spend a few minutes admiring an attractive person. Instead, he and I and others like us spend all our time caught up in these stupid ruminations. Is my skirt too short? Is my hair too big? Am I being too nice? Too mean? Too white, too black, too female, too male, too strong, too weak? While instead he could be making music and I could be doing, I don’t know, something at least moderately productive.
I’m not saying the struggles of Black men and white women are the same, or equal in difficulty, or anything of the sort. I’m saying that they’re connected. And that, though at first I for some inexplicable and probably indefensible reason was glad that
Trayvon Martin’s George Zimmerman’s jury was all-female, I’m now wondering whether men might have decided the case differently.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It’s simplistic, problematic, heteronormative, dated–and absolutely necessary. I genuinely believe that this should be required reading in schools. No, it’s not perfect. Be prepared for fallacious reasoning, nuances glossed over for the sake of brevity, unfortunate wordings of controversial ideas, disclaimers used too sparingly, and so on. But the book’s logic is both intellectually gratifying and ethically sound. Miller inspires profound yet no-nonsense compassion toward men and women alike, and I can no longer imagine living without the insights she provides. Really.
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
I was prepared for Freud’s usual stuff: the unfounded and unfalsifiable claims, the endorsement of rape and rape culture, the homophobia and misogyny, the 14-year-old victim of sexual assault being treated for her irrational hostility toward her attacker (after all, he is young and handsome!) by having it explained helpfully to her that she is in fact angry not with the man in question but with herself–for being unconsciously in love not only with him (and therefore disappointed when he failed her test of his affection by desisting rather than proceeding to rape her when she protested his advances) but also with his wife (hey, why not?) and her own father (obviously). Common sense, moral conviction, human dignity–these are the usual costs of admission to see Freud’s mind at work. And if you arrange your psyche correctly, the show is worth its price. Whatever else it may be, an analysis by Freud is admittedly ingenious, a mesmerizing bravura of intellectual acrobatics.
Or so I thought. Then I got to this footnote: “I have gone beyond that theory, but I have not abandoned it; that is to say, I do not today consider the theory incorrect, but incomplete. All that I have abandoned is the emphasis laid upon the so-called ‘hypnoid state,’ which [here he defines the term]. If, where a piece of joint work is in question, it is legitimate to make a subsequent division of property, I should like to take this opportunity of stating that the hypothesis of ‘hypnoid states’–which many reviewers were inclined to regard as the central portion of our work–sprang entirely from the initiative of Breuer. I regard the use of such a term as superfluous and misleading.”
Really? That’s the best job of throwing a colleague under the proverbial bus that he could do?
If you’re going to be an asshole, you have to at least cut an imposing figure. This is just sad.
The wizard is a humbug after all.
For a week now I have been effectively “on call” for a friend in a psychiatric hospital as well as for the staff members treating him and the family members he won’t allow to visit.
I’m not doing a terribly good job of taking care of him, and one reason is that I’m not doing very well myself.
This has confused me, because my conscious thoughts have not been especially troublesome. I don’t FEEL bad; I just blubber and flail more than usual. After spending some time at the hospital with him yesterday and talking to another friend today, though, I think I’ve figured it out.
The patient I was visiting was talking about this support or treatment group he attended at the hospital. The focus was on drug and alcohol abuse, and apparently when he introduced himself, explaining that the main substance intruding on his life was marijuana, the general reaction was something along the lines of “Oh, we thought you were a REAL user. Why are you here? Go home.” Note that he had just tried to kill himself a week before, not for the first time, and smokes so much pot that he can’t save money or make progress toward any of his goals in life–despite wanting to quit and having attempted to do so multiple times.
I spent some time talking with a couple of the patients. It was the usual conversation: medications, good days, setbacks, side effects–the endlessly fascinating minutiae of circumscribed lives. And within seconds, I was drawn in. I too wanted to discuss my medications, my instabilities, my progress, my therapy sessions–every moment and facet of a life I no longer live. When one girl apologized to me “if our discussion [which had involved the gory details of suicide attempts and more] has been disconcerting” I felt almost hurt. Did she not realize that I was an insider there? Had I not demonstrated my fuckedupedness sufficiently?
So my subconscious, like the addicts in that group, is trying to prove itself. It yearns somehow for the necessarily solipsistic existence of a psychiatric inpatient; it is ashamed that it never merited THAT much attention–that I was never more than an outpatient. In the big fancy hospital on the big manicured hill where I was yesterday, someone checks in with you every fifteen minutes just to make sure you’re alive. You can’t get much more important than that, right?
How’s that for fuckedupedness?