Triggered to the point of sharing what I thought I would never share.

I never thought I would talk about this publicly – certainly not in a forum where my mom would read it – but the events of the past few weeks (hell, the last couple of years if we are being truly honest) have stirred things up in me that I can no longer effectively compartmentalize and push aside.

Traumatic events that we experience never really go away. They morph into different versions of themselves, at times taking up more headspace, at others reaching out into our current lives in different ways. And certain things, like living in a society that categorically will deny my experience, or if they don’t will blame me for it, have conditioned me to keep quiet. To live with the shame and embarrassment that would be a million times worse if people knew. Or god forbid, I had to publicly defend myself.

But I can’t get these events out of my head anymore.

I grew up in years that could be described exactly like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford articulated. I went to high school in a middle class, white, town where the kids drank too much, and often behaved badly as a result. Some died as a result. Many – most – of the boys I went to school with were outwardly sexist, made terrible jokes about women, were blatantly misogynistic, and would have written things in yearbooks like the current nominee to the Supreme Court of the United States.

But the majority of these boys were not rapists.

I am not excusing their behavior or antics, but I am acknowledging that most of them understood our town was small enough that even they could not get away with rape. Or something else – like not being rapists – stopped them from crossing certain lines.

I do however, know a whole bunch of girls who participated in behaviors that they did not want to simply because they did not want to deal with resisting, or being publicly shamed or embarrassed in the moment, or called a tease. Many of them would be slut-shamed after the fact, but that was a lesson harder learned.

In the 80s, we did not have the language to describe behavior that wasn’t okay with us but wasn’t a violent assault. There was an implicit assumption that if you were with someone you knew you could not be violated because you knew them, so you were there of your own volition and so whatever happens you had somehow signed up for, simply by existing in the same space.

At the same time, in my town, a growing number of girls were embracing the idea that if the guys could do whatever they wanted with girls and face no consequences, social or otherwise, then they could too. It was like “I’m going to do it before they claim I did it” resistance to the unfair expectations put on girls. I suppose this contributed to the confusion around consent.

These realities are not mutually exclusive.

These realities were often fueled by rampant underage drinking – one of my best friends and I used to joke that we went to college to chill out from our high school years.

These realities are not fiction simply because I cannot recall all the details.

Reality is as it suggests: real, whether the impact is equitable to all involved or not.

I did not experience sexual violence or get forced to engage in unwanted sexual acts in high school. I was lucky.

I was not this lucky in college.

I attended the University of California at San Diego. I chose this school for a variety of reasons, but a very significant one was the lifestyle I imagined I would lead living in a beautiful place, among beautiful people, partying on the beach and other beautiful places. For a lot of my college career this was in fact accurate.

My sophomore year my roommates and I were living off campus in Del Mar. The four of us decided to go through sorority rush. There were varying degrees of success in this endeavor for us, but it was how we began to experience Greek life to the degree it existed (non-sanctioned, off campus) at UCSD. Two of us ended up in houses, two of us did not. I mention this because it changed how we socialized that year and who with.

This was not a good year for me for a host of reasons. I was depressed, heavy, and lost in many ways – I would end up taking a gap year the following year. I, along with my roommates, was drinking way too much and not taking care of myself in any real way. My entire household had eating disorders of varying degrees and were often in conflict over real and imagined issues between us – stories for an entirely different essay.

The night my luck ran out at UCSD was in the spring (I think – I really cannot remember when this happened, which is why I know that recalling the time something took place has little bearing on the reality that it happened.) I had been hanging out with my downstairs neighbors – completely NON-rapey guys who I am still friends with. I decided at some point to drive from Del Mar to campus with one of them to go the Pub for a party of some kind. We should not have been driving and we flew up Torrey Pines on a scooter. I was enjoying myself in a typically (for that time in my life) irresponsible way – I was not aware that I was living in a society where irresponsibility is only permissible for men. At the campus Pub we continued drinking. My neighbor ended up hooking up with someone and I was talking to a group of TKEs who lived three streets down from me in Del Mar. I asked them for a ride back to Del Mar. They told me I could drive them back in their van. There is no way I should have been driving, but I did. They put me at risk because I was a disposable entity to them. They would have little consequence if I got busted. I suppose they never considered the other possibilities that can arise from drunk driving – but they are allowed these indiscretions even if they kill someone, as long as they don’t die because patriarchy.

When we got back to the house there were several other fraternity brothers there. I have absolutely no idea who was in the house in terms of names or numbers.

I went upstairs to use a bathroom, at which point I was pushed (or pulled – I do not know) into a bedroom. There were two boys in the room. I was disoriented and confused, and didn’t know what to do because I believed I alone had gotten myself into this situation. I remember worrying because one of my roommates was dating a TKE and I was afraid how this would look for her. That is so fucked up.

Suddenly, one of the boys in the room became very sexually aggressive with me. I had no idea what to do (and in not too distant future from that night I remember thinking, ‘why in the fuck would a guy want to be with a girl so intoxicated?’ I suppose I should ask Brock Turner.) I thought, if I just went along with it, it would end.

I remember thinking these things with absolute clarity and without and confusion 28 years later.

I bet some of you don’t believe me, right? Because I was drunk, right? Because I don’t remember the details of the evening?

Let me tell you what I remember- and trust that when I tell you what transpired years later you will really struggle to believe me.

When the boy made it clear that he was not going to stop I began to cry. He was attempting to have sex with me. He was laughing. Someone left the room, also laughing. I knew exactly who this boy on top of me was. I still know who he is. I even knew the girl, Amy, he was dating at the time. It was at this point that I became aware that there was another person in the room who had either just come in or had been there all along, I don’t know. He was one of the guys who was part of the group we referred to as the Persian Mafia. He told the boy on top of me to knock it off and grabbed my hand, not entirely gently. He said would take me out of the house. I remember telling him I was so embarrassed as I tried to gather myself (and my clothes) and I was afraid to leave because I didn’t want anyone to see me. He told me he would turn the lights off and walk me out the back. True to his word, he got me out of the house and walked me most of the way back to my street via the beach.

The next day my roommates were – well, I don’t know really what they were all feeling. I know there was shock, pity, anger. My roommate who was dating a TKE told me there was talk that the brothers were freaked out that I might bring assault charges against them. That seems to pretty clearly indicate that they knew what happened was NOT OKAY. I also am pretty sure there were a few who thought it was no big deal, that I was lying to cover up my embarrassment, or that I was lucky someone so “cool” would have tried it on with me.

Some of you might even think I deserved it because I was so drunk. Perhaps it is time to take a closer look at who gets a pass on their behavior for being drunk – and who does not.

I survived that night. I wasn’t violently raped a la Law & Order SVU, but I was traumatized, and completely ill-prepared to handle the subsequent feelings that would come up around this over the years. What comes up is not usually feelings around the actual assault, but the devaluation of my person simply because I am a woman. Then and now.

One year later I would watch a committee of white men slander, shame and degrade the amazing and brave Anita Hill on national television for speaking truth to power.

This confirmed for me – as sure as these men confirmed Clarence Thomas to the USSC – that coming forward with my story would only bring a shitstorm upon me, so I would never.

Imagine how many other women my age have made the same decision.


In 2009, while I was living in Hong Kong, my friend Camellia convinced me to sign up for the online dating site OKCupid. I did it. One night while sitting in a pub with Camellia and our friend Sue, we got into a discussion about the concept of online dating. Sue said there was just no way that the need to couple could ever be great enough to do it. Camellia was of the other extreme saying that it was really the only way to meet people anymore. I had mixed feelings, and took my phone out to show them the kind of messages that I was getting. Right as I did that, a new message popped up. It was from the boy who had assaulted me in Del Mar in 1990.

I knew his name and face immediately.

I stared at the phone and then showed my friends the message as I told them an abbreviated version of the story I have just recounted here. His message said, “Hey! I can’t believe I just came across your profile because we were at UCSD at the same time and in the same program! We must know some of the same people! I am in Asia regularly as I work for Mountain Hardware and do a lot of work in China. I would love to get together! You have a great smile!”

We were beside ourselves with this set of circumstances. What should I do? OBVIOUSLY I SHOULD BLOCK THE FUCKER AND MOVE ON.

But I was so curious. I recognized him immediately. How could he not recognize me? Did he? I really wanted to know.

I decided to take him up on his cheesy offer and within a week he was in Hong Kong and we met up at a bar next to my office after work. He was exactly the same. A bizarrely freckled, ginger, with more confidence than a man like him should ever have had. As we walked into the bar he stepped aside and then said, “Sorry I had to check out your ass, it’s nice!”

This is exactly the kind of thing that Senate republicans would say is evidence that I was not really assaulted – that if I had been I would never make this kind of subsequent decision. And this is exactly why I know their issue is never about believing women and survivors – it is that they really just do not give a shit.

I was going to see my friend Sue’s band at the Wanch that night and he said he wanted to come. When we got there I told Cam and Sue what was up. It became like a weird psychological experiment. He was more and more awkward out of his element around my friends and he was getting really drunk making him seem even more ridiculous – if that was possible.

When we left it was way past the last ferry and suddenly he was right there coming to get a sampan to the island with us. “You don’t want to come here,” at least three of us told him. He begged to just crash on someone’s couch, we would not even know he was there, he didn’t know how to get back to his hotel. SERIOUSLY? An empty beer bottle could hail a taxi cab in Hong Kong. But there he was. Was he joking? Did he realize yet who I was?

No.

The next day he wanted to hang out again. I had to work. He was going Shenzhen, but would I be free when he got back? REALLY? This was starting to seem like something straight out of a (really bad) movie. “Sure, I am going to the races with Camellia on Wednesday.”

Do you think he showed up? He sure as shit did.

I would not see him again but the story does not end here.

When I returned from an extended stay in India the next year, Camellia began sending me strange and alarmed texts – the ginger had been texting her: “When I met Amanda I was really taken by you…” “I cannot stop thinking about you…” “You are so cute, I am coming to Hong Kong, let’s get together, we don’t have to tell Amanda…”.

This is where I now become the woman scorned right? Whatever.

With about 30 seconds of internet stalking we determined that he was now “engaged” according to his FB profile. I messaged him and asked if he would be okay with me forwarding the texts to his fiancé. He immediately denied that he ever contacted Cam. I read him the texts and told him if he ever contacted either one of us again I would send it all to his fiancé. At this point he began calling and leaving frantic and panicked messages. He had been drunk, he explained. He didn’t know what he was saying, he had a problem.  He knew he had made a terrible mistake (so many ways to interpret that statement, no?)

After the 6th or 7th call I picked up and told him if he called anymore that I would do something drastic – to him. He said, “I just wanted to apologize, I am so happy with my fiancé and I don’t know what I was thinking…”

“What do you want to apologize for?” I asked.

He was confused by this question.

I hung up .

I have never spoken to him again, but I know from basic internet skills that he did get married, had a kid, got a new job with Lululemon (sounds right) and moved to Vancouver. And no, I don’t give two shits if this helps anyone discover who this TKE from UCSD who graduated in 1990 is. I also am quite sure that lots of people in his orbit think he is a perfectly nice guy. He probably is pretty nice if he doesn’t try to have nonconsensual sex with you, or cheat on his fiancé with you.

I remember his disgusting behavior in 1990 regardless of the other details I do not remember. I also totally believe that he legitimately does not comprehend that the woman he met in Hong Kong in 2009 was the sad, confused sophomore he assaulted that night in 1990, because I was nothing to him – then or now. I was a commodity, a convenience, a throw away person.

This was how it was.

That IS how it is.

This is why I know that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is telling the truth , and how I can understand that Brett Kavanaugh might not remember assaulting her – she didn’t matter to him, he said as much though his angry spittle in his hearing… he did not associate with girls like her.

But that does not mean he did not do it.

In fact I think it lends a lot more validity to the reality that he did.

Reality is as it suggests: real, whether the impact is equitable to all involved or not.

‘Oh, my, God Becky, look at her butt…’: on judging & mansplaining & other such nonsense

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Student: Are you married? You look like a married person. You got kids? I can see you with like two kids, and you’re the mom making the healthy snacks.
Me: That is depressing. Next thing I know you are going to tell me I look like I have a minivan.
Student: Yes! You do- you’re a soccer mom for sure!
Me:
Student: But that’s not depressing though. You know what’d be depressing is like if you go home and you got cats, and you walk in and they’re like meow meow.

Let’s just get to it: I look a certain kind of way. Although, rest assured “Soccer Mom” is not, and has never been, the intended effect, I can see how I might present that way, especially to my young, female students of color – a demographic for whom I have both an immeasurable appreciation for, and an equally substantial gratitude for having been able to work along side of in a variety of capacities for more than two decades.

Here’s the basics. I am white. I am middle-aged. I am not a flashy human (save for my shoes, which if you have been following my current life trajectory, you might realize have been reprioritized for a minute #hipreplacement). I am not and have never been particularly trendy, whatever that means. I chalk that tendency up to several things: 1) not having unlimited funding to constantly ‘keep up’ with whatever or whomever; 2) being a big, tall, strong kid through the anorexic-heroin chic-body dysmorphic late 70s, 80s, and 90s; 3) a chosen profession where if you have crazy/flashy, or even just a distinctive accessory, you become “that one teacher who always wears that…” (I have never wanted to be trapped by a passing fancy.)

But really, I am just sort of subtle in my aesthetic choices. A former colleague once told me that he saw it as an cool juxtaposition of being a strong woman who took no shit and occupied many traditionally male spaces (social studies teacher and coach) and understood that how I dressed ran counter to expectations in a way that gave both aspects of who I am more gravitas. My grandma (my grandma for chrissakes) once lamented that I was “so conservative” as I was considering buying some new item of some sort on a trip we took to Europe. One of my long-time BFFs and confidantes has described my style (and me) thusly:

Anne Taylor Hippie? Your countenance, demeanor, appearance is classy Californian casual with some sassy blonde thrown in. No one knows you’re a secret hippie Deadhead from Petaluma. It’s as if you’ve come out from your past unscathed… no one would know about your travails, your missteps over the years. You look perfectly pristine and princess-y. You are the least obvious looking Patti Smith I know. You have the intellect, knowledge, and stories of a rock star, but you are chill as fuck to the unknowing masses.

(I like that last part the best, obviously.)

An interesting (euphemism alert) consequence of the reality that we are all more than the sum of the clothes on our backs + the work that we do + the places from which we hail is that I have been categorically chastised and condescended to in professional settings based on an assumption that I am less equipped to do the work I do because of how I look on two very specific occasions. That this happened most recently on Wednesday of last week at my new job, was disappointing, but also clarifying in some important ways for me (in addition to the comments that were posted on my FB page in response to the opening anecdote of this post) that underscore the power of how we look, the words we use, and the ways we understand the interactions that arise from it all.

The first incident occurred in my first year at Berkeley High School on the occasion of me receiving what is likely to this day the worst professional evaluation I have ever received. The evaluator, a VP at the time with definite eyes on a principalship he would never get at BHS, was a sharp dressed, well-educated Latino, who felt that he was vastly more equipped to work with young people of color than anyone, and certainly more than I could ever be – a generic white woman, most recently teaching at a nearby district with a distinctively different demographic, and before that Asia… he actually would later say to me, “How could a person used to dealing with those kinds of students understand the students I was working with at BHS?” [There is SO much to unpack in that statement.]

The thing about this particular evaluation is that when I read it, it seemed completely dissociated from what had been happening in the classroom. I was not even sure how to engage in a conversation around it because I had no understanding of what was being discussed in the evaluation. The immediate result of this was that on subsequent evaluations there would be an additional person in the room. We settled on our school counselor. This would prove to be an even bigger problem because his inability to see actual areas of strength and need for improvement would be further obstructed by the presence of an additional white woman.

The second evaluation was (in my mind) an even stronger class. For whatever reason, that day, those sophomores decided to be active, interested, curious, engaged, cooperative… I mean, frankly, it was bizarre. At the conclusion of the class, the three adults in the room left seemingly on the same page. At the debrief I was shocked. I sat and listened to his assessment and literally had no words. The second set of eyes that had been in the room was also there for the debrief (we had decided via union reps that I would not meet with this VP alone after the previous experience) and where I was stunned to silence she became enraged in spite of her best efforts to remain completely calm. I ended up leaving while the two of them stayed because I had to teach, but I remember distinctly hearing her say, “I cannot believe we were in the same classroom based on what you have written here.”

Long story slightly less long, the struggle for this VP to see that I could possibly bring anything not just of value, but that would not be toxic to my students continued. He said, “You do not understand children of color. You do not connect with them, particularly the young women.” No one I worked with could understand where this was coming from, and the student population that I worked most closely with would certainly contradict this assessment. Eventually, I would end up contacting a lawyer and be assigned a different evaluator.

I never really understood what the issue had been, but it really did seem like the way I presented myself – from how I looked, to how I talked, to how I worked with students – prevented this man from seeing what I was actually doing at the school. While my pseudo-bougieness has become somewhat of a calling card (emphasis on pseudo) I assure you I am in on the joke.

So much about how we look can be deceiving… No?

Last Tuesday, several days into PD for the upcoming school year, a Black Latino teacher I am working with (who ironically also worked for the aforementioned VP at the school he would eventually move to in order to secure a principalship) had an eruption in a team planing meeting. At the time, I felt like I understood the reaction – we were all tired and working to do something collaboratively that the majority of us were unclear about in terms of structure, cadence, and objective. That evening he emailed me saying he thought we should check in the next morning before PD. I said sure, I could make that happen and arrived that morning expecting him to say something along the lines of, “Hey, sorry for the outburst, just wanted to let you know where I was coming from…”

That was not what was awaiting me.

I showed up and we sat down and there began his soliloquy.

Unlike Omarosa, I was not prepared to tape it (though I see that as a mistake now as I try to make sense of it all) and so these are just some of the highlights absent the extremely verbose and rambling context built around his ‘I statements’ (sidebar: this man had just proclaimed the day before that he prided himself on timely and blunt feedback – there was not a single element of bluntness here.) The nutshell version of him talking at me for more than 30 minutes was that he does not like how I am. He circularly addressed how who he is does not allow for people like me, from the ways I conduct myself with others, to how I utilize time, among many other things. Suffice it to say, it was not the apology I thought I would be getting.

“I am at a point in my life where I have to address the things that trigger me. You took a phone call yesterday – I mean I took a call too, but you did not step outside!” (Nor did he, btw.)

“I feel I need to explain to you…” (I did not walk out at this point, but I must be honest, I am sort of done with men explaining things to me – shout out to Solnit and my entire life experience.)

“I am here to work and I want it to be a positive experience for me…” (What in the heck does he think other people are hoping for?)

“I have not always had good experiences working with others and being acknowledged for who I am at previous schools…” (I cannot even.)

“I want to respect your experiences as an educator, but…” (I have more than three times the number of years in the classroom as this man despite his being 5 years older than me, something that had come up earlier, which I think bothers him.)

I leave this as the last one (though it certainly was not the end of his presentation) because it was what really stayed with me. The idea that somehow my experience was less than. This man does not know a thing about me – who I am, what I have done, the work I have participated in, the students I have worked with, the way my classroom operates, but he felt he could speak to all of it.

This was troubling to me as I sat there conscious of my whiteness, which by definition is a privilege, and his being a man of color – no easy task in the world these days. How could I respond without simply negating his perspective (a known consequence of white privilege) but also speak to the clearly misogynistic diatribe I felt was being put on me? I considered all the ways he seemed to be trying to mitigate his speech and thought of a dear colleague from last year who had told me he never gets mad because he cannot – because being a black man removes that option for him in white spaces. I wondered what my new colleague’s actual point was (I am afraid I never got it, in spite of my efforts to do so) before it was lost in an overabundance of explanation and qualification about how who I am is less than simply because of who I am. Would it have been easier to understand if he had just said whatever it was that he meant even if it mean his getting angry?

Ultimately, I could not figure out why he felt so entitled that he could come at me and tell me how it all was. And then it hit me: all of these assumptions he was making were coming from his perception of me, which at this point could really only be based on how I present on the outside. I was stunned. His look is so hugely intentional and cultivated, I wonder if he really thinks that his look is him, in totality. I cannot imagine that is true, or that he believes it is.

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When I eventually had the chance to speak, I told him what I had heard him say, offering him a chance to clarify or correct my understanding – he did neither. I apologized for taking the phone call the previous day and said that while I would never intend to trigger him, I understood that had been the impact of my behavior. Here he began to explain how his experience led him to conclude something (I’m not sure what, I couldn’t keep up with the circles at this point) and I politely interjected and said:

I am not comfortable with your insistence on explaining things to me. I hear you say you want to respect my experience as a teacher- “but”. However, because you feel compelled to explain to me how things are it is clear the “but” is more significant than the respect. Perhaps I can share with you that men explaining things to me is one of my triggers. We are both new teachers here, ostensibly hired for a lot of the same reasons, so let’s agree that we are both bringing a lot to the table, including positive intent.

He said nothing.

I said “I hope you have a super productive and good day!” and walked away. If only walking away from preconceived notions was as easy.

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White + Feminist = #whitefeminism?

First things first, admissions. I have been both troubled and confused by the idea of white feminism for sometime. Not necessarily semantically in its discrete parts, but conceptually as the compound descriptor. My troubling confusion certainly could be tied to the fact that as a CIS gender, straight, white (confirmed by 23 & Me who are now selling my genetic data), mostly middle class (for what that is worth anymore), woman, who considers herself a feminist, I simply have not been able to see White Feminism as the thing that it is, obliviously wishing that all feminism is good feminism because Feminism.

That obliviousness is embarrassing and uncomfortable to admit. I would rather explain how I actually am aware… but it is becoming clear to me that my Spidey Sense for this sort of thing is really weak.

Admission #2: a big point of discovery around this concept, its meaning, power, marketing, and danger, has come from Instagram. Let’s unpack that, shall we?

I enjoy Instagram quite a bit, and as I moved beyond my friends and family circle, some of the first accounts I began to follow were yogis. Except Instagram yogis are very specific: they are incredibly fit (bordering on dangerously thin in many cases), seemingly of unlimited wealth for travel and attire, and they are all white. Beyond being all white, they really all look almost exactly the same; sinewy, extraordinarily low-body fat, long hair with “beachy waves”, and a lot of Pure Vida mantras, malas, and #inspo. It became pretty clear that these are not actually “yoga” accounts in terms of the actual practice of yoga (don’t misunderstand, they are legend in their ascent to asana) and the ideas behind it, these were more… “lifestyle” accounts, akin to Stuff White People Like. There is a complete overuse of words/expressions like BADASS! GODDESS! LOVE WHAT YOU DO! HAVE IT ALL! SELF-LOVE!

Ugh.

I also started to follow some celebrity accounts (yes, Beyonce) and some activists I like and as it goes in these environs, I would see occasional reposts from friends and others, which would lead me somewhere, and then somewhere else. Of course I have a hefty number of basketball accounts on there, a lot of Oakland Athletics stuff, a good amount of Grateful Dead related things, and OH MY GOD I AM SO WHITE.

After a while, I started unfollowing a lot of the “yoga” accounts (I mean really, they are all the same) and other accounts that didn’t really fall under any category except for the Instagram-derived “Influencer” title (gag.) I started paying more attention to the accounts that promoted ideas and platforms that I have become more and more vested in as we suffer daily under the current shitshow in Washington. Shaun King, Everytown, W. Kamau Bell, the Obamas (obvs), Deray McKesson… I use Twitter for most of my political trolling and news, but I have enjoyed seeing some of these same accounts on Instagram. [As a side note, Ros Gold-Onwude is like the perfect storm of so much of what I love: smart, funny, agent of fashion, athlete, sports commentator, all around awesome.]

Anyhow, fast forward to July 22, 2018. I am sitting in my parents kitchen and I see on Twitter that a young, black woman has been murdered at the MacArthur Bart Station. I say to my mom, “Another young black woman has been killed.” She is in a place where this sort of news is often too much for her. For me, I am compelled to read the details. As a teacher – very recently in the East Bay – these young people are my students. I must know, every time I see these stories… “Is it one of mine?” I also am a daily Bart rider during the school year and this happened in my backyard.

Nia Wilson.

She was, and now is forever, 18. Beautiful. Emergent. A child.

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The regularity with which these sorts of crimes are occurring in this country is staggering and disgusting. (On July 8 I received and email from the principal at my new school, letting the community know about the July 6 murder of one of their young alumni, Milan Ardoin, and her mother, Valinda Scott, in their home in Antioch, this got little to no news coverage, and I definitely did not see a lot of Insta/Twitter action and I was looking.)

In Nia’s case, there was a lot of action on Instagram – in certain circles. I was watching because I do. Eventually I landed on this post from Rachel Cargle (who you should definitely follow.) I was not a follower (at that time) so I am not sure how I got there, but it struck me. I got to thinking, “Hmmm, I wonder if YogaGirl ™ had commented? Nope. (In fairness she has now.) I looked through some of the other “woke” white people I could think of. Not much to see. Then I started looking at who the people were commenting on Rachel’s post. This is particularly interesting because she framed it the prompt as “your favorite” white feminist, which already indicates you are tagging people who you like/look up to/follow/support. This inherently, to me, means if you tagged someone you are saying, “Hey, I like you and I think you have a lot of influence and power and I think you should consider directing it this way.” This does not seem divisive, exclusive, mean-spirited, or bullying to me. But maybe that is just the teacher in me, always trying to lead people to take their own actions…

What eventually transpired from this post was an epic Instagram comment saga the likes of which I have never seen – and was compelled to read (and it was HOURS of reading, seriously.) What emerged most prominently was that the woman behind an account I had followed for a time (but unfollowed because her use of social issues for personal kudos had started to make me really uncomfortable) began to literally lose her shit. Like, completely. I am a little bit afraid to mention this account by name because I am actually quite fearful of her and what I have seen her to do people who disagree with her under her “I take no shit” banner. However, for the sake of clarity I have to say her name, but know that it is with hesitation: Alison Brettschneider. Her 50+ hour tirade of “defending” herself (although initially the comments suggested it wasn’t actually her commenting but an assistant, though semantics were inconsistent enough to lead me to believe she was John Barron-ing us) was the window into what #whitefeminism actually is and the irrefutable damage it inflicts that I needed to see in order to really get a handle on the concept. (If you are interested you can begin the Herculean hike through the comments on Rachel’s post and her subsequent posts – one of which was explicitly providing a space for BIPOC women to share their feelings and Alison reported as hate speech and was temporarily removed by Instagram.)

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Hate speech?

As I read (for nearly three days!) the ongoing posting around this and saw how Brettschneider used tactics like name dropping, tokenizing, doxxing, name calling, and dehumanizing those in disagreement with her while rarely addressing the actual topic at hand (Nia Wilson) I was aghast. Horrified.

And

it

just

kept

on

going.

I thought out loud – this is what it must feel like to be a BIPOC woman every god dammed day.

This is #whitefeminism #whiteexceptionalism, #whitesaviourism, #whitetears, and all the rest. There is no way around it, it is #whitesupremacy.

I had to sit with that for quite some time.

Behind all that generic lifestyle shit overlaid with inspirational quotes and good lighting is the machine of oppression at work. Even if you think it is pretty, that is what is happening.

Am I a #whitefeminist? I desperately want to say no. I do know enough to keep my mouth shut in spaces that are created to give voice to those who have to work for that space rather than rely on the assumption it will be granted. I think I know how to be an ally, but I know that it takes a lot of work and requires hearing a lot of shit no one really wants to hear about the realities we are living in and how different they are for BIPOC people – women most significantly.

The writer Elizabeth Gilbert posted about Nia (I think as a result of Rachel’s post, tbh) and included this in her caption:

I have a friend who has worked for years as photographer for several major New York City newspapers. Long ago, he told me something horribly disturbing. He said that —when it comes to stories about murder —there is a clear racial hierarchy about which stories get put on the front page of the newspaper, and which stories don’t get told at all.  If a white child is murdered, that’s front page news.

If a black child is murdered, that’s not news — unless it’s a REALLY dramatic story. If a white man is murdered, that’s news. If a black man is murdered, that’s not news.
If a white woman is murdered — ABSOLUTELY, that is news.

But when a black woman is murdered? That is the lowest degree of importance, in terms of news. So many times over the years, my friend has taken photos at the murder scenes of black women, only to be EXPLICITLY told by his editors: “This is not news. Nobody cares.”

Long before there was a social movement called #BlackLivesMatter, my friend learned firsthand on the job that Black Lives Do NOT Matter. And that NO life matters less than the life of a black woman.

Racism is so deeply embedded in our culture that we marinate in it at every level.

I eventually had to walk away from these posts because it was becoming way too heavy – and I can walk away from it. Imagine not having that privilege. I have been watching to see which of my friends follow Alison’s account. I think she is dangerous and mean – in spite of good work she does; these are not mutually exclusive concepts. As Rachel points out on her Instagram: Nice does not equal not racist.

Now, there is work to do, in measurable ways as I prepare for my 24th, or is it 25th? year of teaching, and take care of those around me, as well as in ways that are harder to see/measure/regard.

It is a lot.

And it is not optional.

Some really informative and interesting people to follow in addition to Rachel around this topic include:
Layla Saad and Handwritten Revolution and so many more… start looking.

If it goose-steps like a Dictator, and it propagandizes like a Dictator, it is probably a Pussy Grabbing Dictator. [Edited to include Hitler because people need it spelled out that clearly.]

 “He is the head of a country and I mean he is the strong head. Don’t let anyone think anything different. He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.” ~ Donald Trump

This morning I read the news. Always a risk these days, and frankly not because of the “fake” news epidemic (I am old enough to know that citing sources is important) but because it is just such bad news, and I am so horrified by what the United States of America is becoming. Please do not misunderstand, I am under no illusion of perceived greatness and I am very aware of the horrors this country has perpetuated upon humanity and the world (slavery-Native American genocide-Chinese Exclusion-Jim Crow-Japanese Internment-McCarthyism-Diem-Iran/Contra-Kuwait-Desert Storm x 2-pretty much every aspect of Latin American exploitation we could muster-Afghanistan-global labor exploitation-regular environmental pillaging-etc-etc-ETC) but it seems like everyday we reach a new, unprecedented low.

One way to avoid the gloom of this reality is not to read the news. Sometimes I have the strength to resist. But then, inevitably, I see some lunatic post somewhere on the Facebook or the Twitter and I am compelled to uncover the source of such obvious horse shit.

And then it begins.

I have been especially interested in how little people care about verifying anything, as long as it supports their narrative. I mean, hey, I like my narrative to be correct as much as the next guy, but I guess I am more concerned about looking like a hypocrite or an ignoramus, so I like to check myself – before I wreck myself.

The lie of the week seems to be this notion that the Clintons (of course!) are the architects of the policy that is separating children from their families at the border. This one is especially disappointing because it is so very easy to fact check. In fact, it takes about 3 seconds to get the entire history of immigration law to pop up in the Google.

Hey Google, let’s review (you can skip this part; sourced from here):

  • The 1990 Immigration Act (104 Stat. 4978) raises legal admissions to 50% above the pre-IRCA level (mainly in the category of employment-based immigrants), eases controls on temporary workers, and limits the government’s power to deport immigrants for ideological reasons. It also expands the scope of aggravated felony to include nonpolitical crimes of violence for which a prison sentence of at least five years was imposed, while eliminating important discretionary relief for certain aggravated felons. The act also abolishes judicial recommendations against deportation, thus terminating the discretion of sentencing judges to grant relief from deportation for criminal offenders.
  • The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (1994) (VCCLEA) (108 Stat. 1791) gives the US Attorney General the option to bypass deportation proceedings for certain alien aggravated felons, enhances penalties for alien smuggling and reentry after deportation, and increases appropriations for the Border Patrol.
  • The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (1996) (AEDPA) (110 Stat. 1214) adds new crimes to the definition of aggravated felony. AEDPA also establishes the “expedited removal” procedure for arriving noncitizens who border officials suspect of lacking proper entry documents or being engaged in fraud; the procedure is amended later that year by the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (see below).
  • The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (1996) (IIRIRA) (110 Stat. 3009) adds new grounds of inadmissibility and deportability, expands the list of crimes constituting an aggravated felony, creates expedited removal procedures, and reduces the scope of judicial review of immigration decisions. The law expands the mandatory detention of immigrants in standard removal proceedings if they have previously been convicted of certain criminal offenses. It also increases the number of Border Patrol agents, introduces new border control measures, reduces government benefits available to immigrants (as did the welfare reform measures enacted the same year), increases penalties for unauthorized immigrants, toughens procedural requirements for asylum seekers and other immigrants, mandates an entry-exit system to monitor both arrivals and departures of immigrants (now US-VISIT), and establishes a pilot program in which employers and social service agencies could check by telephone or electronically to verify the eligibility of immigrants. IIRIRA establishes a statutory framework for subsequent actions by states and localities, known as 287(g) programs, to take on immigration law enforcement roles that had traditionally been exercised solely by federal immigration enforcement agencies.
  • The Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (1997) (NACARA) (111 Stat. 2160) provides several avenues for relief from deportation and adjustment of status for qualified Nicaraguans, Cubans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and nationals of former Soviet-bloc countries.
  • The Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act (1998) (HRIFA) provides similar benefits to qualified Haitian nationals as did NACARA (see above description).
  • The USA Patriot Act (2001) (115 Stat. 272) broadens the terrorism grounds for excluding aliens from entering the United States and increases monitoring of foreign students.
  • The Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act (2002) (116 Stat. 543) requires the development of an interoperable electronic data system to be used to share information relevant to alien admissibility and removability. It also requires the implementation of an integrated entry-exit data system: the US-VISIT program is established to implement this system.
  • The Homeland Security Act (2002) (116 Stat. 2135) creates the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In 2003, nearly all of the functions of the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) — the Department of Justice agency responsible for provision of immigration services, border enforcement, and border inspection— are transferred to DHS and restructured to become three new agencies: US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
  • The REAL ID Act (2005) (119 Stat. 302) establishes statutory guidelines for removal cases, expands the terrorism-related grounds for inadmissibility and deportation, includes measures to improve border infrastructure, and requires states to verify an applicant’s legal status before issuing a driver’s license or personal identification card that may be accepted for any federal purpose. (States’ protests persuade Congress to delay implementation of the drivers’ license provisions of the law.) It also bars the use of habeas corpus as a vehicle for challenging removal orders, thus virtually completing the concentration of judicial review in the courts of appeals.
  • Congress enacts the Secure Fence Act (2006) after the Senate fails to adopt immigration reform legislation that had passed the House in 2005. The law mandates the construction of more than 700 miles of double-reinforced fence to be built along the border with Mexico, through the US states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas in areas that experience illegal drug trafficking and illegal immigration. It authorizes more lighting, vehicle barriers, and border checkpoints and requires the installation of more advanced equipment, such as sensors, cameras, satellites, and unmanned aerial vehicles, in an attempt to increase control of illegal immigration into the United States.

If you took the time to read that (I didn’t want to either) you see that in fact the only change to immigration law of consequence in 1997 actually extended the protections of certain Latin Americans. And again, I think there are some deplorable, pre-Trump policies on that list – but none of them stipulate the separation of families.

If you want to get to the point without a lot of contemplation, just go to Snopes.com:

There is no federal law that stipulates that children and parents be separated at the border, no matter how families entered the United States. An increase in child detainees separated from parents stemmed directly from a change in enforcement policy repeatedly announced by Sessions in April and May 2018, under which adults (with or without children) are criminally prosecuted for attempting to enter the United States.

Further:

The “zero-tolerance” policy he announced [in May 2018] sees adults who try to cross the border, many planning to seek asylum, being placed in custody and facing criminal prosecution for illegal entry.

As a result, hundreds of minors are now being housed in detention centres, and kept away from their parents.

Over a recent six-week period, nearly 2,000 children were separated from their parents after illegally crossing the border, figures released on [15 June 2018].

[Attorney General] Sessions said those entering the US irregularly would be criminally prosecuted, a change to a long-standing policy of charging most of those crossing for the first time with a misdemeanour offence.

Still, none of this seems to matter, because the current president has been able to convince a shocking number of people in this country that nothing they read is true – only what he says is true.

This is where I was this morning: bewildered by people’s willingness to believe. In response I posted something on the Facebook suggesting that those of us willing to stand by while our country depends into the current version of madness will be forever complicit in the outcomes. And don’t even get me started on the people who say it is inappropriate to be talking about this stuff in public or in social settings. But on review of my (albeit incomplete) list of dictators identified to highlight Trumpian behavior, I realized it was a perfect opportunity for a little compare and contrast activity.


Kim Jong-un: systematically violated human rights including freedom of thought, expression and religion; freedom from discrimination; freedom of movement

Trump: “America is a nation of true believers, we all salute the same great American flag, and we are all made by the same almighty God.” [Liberty Commencement Speech, 2017] “When somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out!” [Speaking in Alabama, 9-22-17]


Saddam Hussein: instigated numerous conflicts in his lifetime… against… groups who rebelled against his leadership.

Trump: (All quotes verified.)
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Stalin: launched government programs to improve the economy leading to the starvation of nearly 10 million people focused specifically on intellectuals and activists not in favor of his leadership.

Trump: ‘Tricked by the devil.’ They backed Trump. Now, his foreign labor cuts may ruin them. Trump budget calls for major cuts to food stamps, Job Corps education and job-training programs for low-income youths, and housing rental assistance. And it would completely eliminate heating assistance for low-income Americans, legal aid for domestic violence victims and nearly one in five American children live in poverty, the budget cuts also target children. Some studies have shown that nearly half of children will rely on food stamps for at least a short time before they turn 20. Even active-duty military families are sometimes forced to rely on the program.


Mugabe: rose to power via electoral deception and fearmongering -there was even one election where he did not receive any votes in a certain province so he orchestrated the killing of over 20,000 civilians by fabricating stories of rebellion and treason.

Trump: His repeated insistence, without credible evidence, that widespread voter fraud explained how Hillary Clinton received about 2.9 million more votes while he won the presidency in the Electoral College.


Mussolini: developed a cult of one-man leadership that focused media attention and national debate on his own personality and progressively dismantled virtually all constitutional and conventional restraints on his power and built a police state.

Trump: Mr. Trump had admitted his consistent attacks on the media were meant to “discredit” journalists so that negative stories about him would not be believed. I have the absolute right to PARDON myself.  (No president has ever pardoned himself, so its legality is a matter of legal debate. But a three-page memo from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel that was written in 1974 — days before President Richard Nixon resigned — says the President cannot pardon himself because “no one may be a judge in his own case.”)


Hitler: [I CANNOT BELIEVE I HAVE TO INCLUDE THIS ONE BECAUSE IT IS SO OBVIOUS IT IS CLICHE] responsible for the deaths of over 17 million people including 6 million Jews forcibly rounded up removed from their homes and families and placed in “camps” to be exterminated.

Trump: Tent cities for immigrant children taken from their parents with no care takers/givers (one border patrol agent can be heard saying: “We have an orchestra here. What’s missing is a conductor.”) Defending the actions, AG Sessions claims the comparison to Nazis is an exaggeration – because Germans were trying to keep the Jews in -seemingly forgetting that the Nazis initially attempted to expel Jews from Europe with systematic, mass deportations.


We are in trouble. Big trouble. And I have no idea how to not feel overwhelmed, underwater, and like giving up everyday. But this lady didn’t:

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And these people didn’t.

 

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It is our turn.

 

If you want more inspiration check out this thread of awesome women at protests around the world. 
Also, if you have never read the full story of the 1968 Olympic podium protest, you should definitely read this. #PeterNorman
And if you want to read more about heinous dictators – AKA our president’s inspiration, this is pretty succinct and I borrowed a lot from it.

 

 

 

 

I teach, therefore I am employed in education. Again.

You almost had a job in tech…

Just over a year ago, I took a pretty big chance and walked away from the stability and reliability that a permanent teaching position offers. The pay was/is crap, but the benefits and calendar are reliable, although the day-to-day is always unpredictable (most of us who go into teaching and stay there are a bit addicted to that if you ask me.) Like a growing number of people in San Francisco and the surrounding area, I was getting tired of being poor (relatively) and with two decades of professional experience I realistically thought I was armed with a skill set that would make me valuable in a host of different jobs/careers/opportunities (what are people calling them now?) I looked (accurately, I thought) at the emerging professional pathways (that sounds like something people around here would call them) and considered how my skills matched up:

  • Excellent oral and written communication skills
  • Cultural literacy
  • Leadership experience
  • Creative thinker
  • Organized
  • Detail oriented and goal oriented
  • Excellent time management skills
  • Commitment to excellence
  • Well read
  • Trivia master
  • Some other skills that are hard to explain if you are not down with Bloom’s Taxonomy, but let’s just say I reside at steps 5 and 6 
  • I can recall a movie reference for nearly every life experience that arises
  • Ridiculous memory for sports data (and for most things in general)
  • What-the-fuck-I-have-worked-with-kids-and-their-families-and-public-sector-bureacracy-for-decades-don’t-try-to-tell-me-what-it-means-to-have-a-growth-mindset-and-an-ability-to-pivot-and-assume-positive-intent-the-fact-that-I-am-still-standing-and-working-underscores-those-abilities-to-a-degree-you-cannot-possibly-understand

Seriously, when I read job descriptions I was interested in, I feel like I would be a quality candidate for the majority of them. Apparently this does not always translate. And, it turns out, people don’t really like other people to change – they really like to keep everyone in the compartment that makes sense to them.

“But you’re a teacher…”
“You don’t really have the specific experience we are looking for…”
“Don’t you teach?”
“I’m curious why someone at your point in their career is looking to pivot…”
“This is not really the same as teaching, I mean I know it has the same name, instructional designer, designing instruction, but it is not really designing instruction per say…”
“Is there a reason you do not want to teach anymore?”

The fact is, as my neighbor succinctly expressed, I was looking for a job in tech – but I was not being honest about why. So, why was I? Well, philosophically I am pretty convinced that the problems we are seeing across the “tech industry” have a lot to do with the diminishing role of humanities education, or at least the innate interest and ability to think abstractly. This is not surprising to  people who enjoy thinking, and the general consensus is that “while software developers are skilled engineering solutions, their focus is not asking what problems need to be solved, or asking what the consequences are of solving a problem in a particular way,” and this is having logical consequences that suck [too many examples to note, but Uber, Facebook, Cambridge Analytics, and the general disgustingness of the scene make the point effectively.]

I also firmly believe that we are in a position to do amazing things by merging our technological capabilities with our humanity. In education, agriculture, economic growth and sustainability, the potential is really amazing. Not withstanding, people are beginning to realize that to effectively tackle today’s biggest social and technological challenges, we need to think critically about their human context—something humanities graduates happen to be well-trained to do. Call it the revenge of the film, history, and philosophy nerds. I felt hopeful about all of this. And empowered (as somewhat of a film, history, and philosophy nerd.)

Also, I liked the idea of what outsiders hear about working in tech: lots of money, unlimited vacation if you get your work done, lots of money, free gym membership, free gourmet meals, beer bashes, perks, lots of money… Just think for a moment how those kinds of benefits look to a teacher who works 70-hour weeks during the school year, pays for everything they need in their personal and professional lives, and is generally too tired to bother making a single meal all day long. I got emotional considering it. It all seemed so lively, dynamic, and inspiring to be working with people who were super into the work they were doing and brought their best everyday.

Uh, yeah. It is awful…

At a dinner party recently when the Warriors decided to turn it around and actually win the Houston series, I was telling two of my friends (who work in tech) as we stood in their stunningly remodeled home, “God, you know, it was really bad – the whole start-up vibe, it was just… bad. I had no idea.” They both looked at me, only surprised by my surprise. I was unsure who would respond – one definitely does not work at a start up but the other has been bouncing around more than he would like amidst the culture. He spoke, “Uh, yeah. It is awful.” My confusion prompted a more elaborate explanation. “Yeah, they don’t care. About anything. They don’t have to. He didn’t even get paid by his last company – it was ridiculous.” I still don’t understand how this fly-by-night charlatan-esque behavior is okay, but I hold on to my naïveté where I can.

This truth was something I guess I had to arrive at in my own damn time, but it is the truth, no matter how you look at it. The ethos (and ethics) of the start-up culture are a concentrated milieu of the extremes of our American entrepreneurial spirit: ingenuous, aspirational, fantastic – for sure. But cutthroat, greed centered, myopic, and socially Darwinist to Lord of the Flies levels.

It was certainly a departure from public education.

At what cost greatness?

road_full

For me, the cost of my decision was relatively lightweight: the unpredicted outcome that can come with taking a risk, a temporary float in the River of Failure (which is better than some of the other destinations imagined above… but the ego says: ouch.) I left a sure thing that I was unsure I could sustain for the promise of shiny new things. But I did not pay attention to how close the Gate of Ideals is to the Tower of Weak Morals and the sewage pipe of Fakery. One only hopes I climbed out of the River of Failure headed to True Knowledge and not the Hotel Know It All, the Right System Railway station, or other parts unknown in Oblivion or The System.

This past year I saw first hand what it looks like when good intentions are superseded by gross profits and – more importantly – I realized that what I do for a living is not something anyone can just do (contrary to popular belief!) Professional licensure (in any field I would suggest) is important and does make a difference… I would no sooner want a child to work with an unlicensed teacher as I would want to visit an unlicensed doctor or lawyer. I also saw what it looks like when promises made are not kept and the subsequent impact on morale among those to whom the promises were made. I saw how the resilience of these innovators had less to do with resilience and much more to do with insulation from consequence. I saw that fancy semantics (oh-the-grammar-is-so-bad-when-y’all-are-trying-to-be-clever-by-renaming-the-wheel) and slick slide decks do not lead to quality professional products – those outcomes are achieved by professional quality people.

I work in education.

Someone once said that the way we answer the question, “What do you do?” says more about us than most inquiries. An obviously open-ended question, I think most of us would assume (in the US version of Western Culture anyhow) that it is trying to get at how you make money.

“What do you do?”
“I enjoy – ”
“No, but what do you do?”
“Oh, for work…”
“Yes, obviously, what do you do?”

What do you do means, simultaneously, how do you make money, how much money do you make, and how respectable are you. That is one loaded question.

The answers, when you are done being cheeky, generally have a limited range.

“I…”
“I am a…”
“I work in…”

Try those out with a variety of jobs. See how the semantics change and the meaning is altered.

“I teach.” Okay, that works. But “I tech?” “I doctor?” “I engineer?”

“I am a teacher.” More latitude here (although the implications of identity through profession underscore much of the weirdness I am trying to get at here), “I am a doctor,” “I am an engineer,” I am tech?” Scary.

I like, “I work in education,” because I do a whole lot more than just teach (which is a whole lot more than most people do in a lifetime but that is a polemic for another place) and it eliminates the very annoying and widely accepted idea in my field that what I do to earn income is me in my entirety. It is worth noting that most of the jobs in which people who perform them are typically described as being them are the jobs that elicit the most extreme positive and negative reactions – police, firefighters, teachers, doctors, lawyers, politicians).

I wanted a chance to attach myself to a professional descriptor that suggested power, savvy, ingenuity, wealth, and social currency. I thought working in the start-up culture would bring that, and in some ways it may have. But it also brought with it a sense of being disposable, disingenuous, and necessarily superficial – don’t get attached to ideas they say, always be ready to let go and move on to the next thing. I lost the good parts that come with being a teacher: being respected by people (even if it is only out of habit and not actual), and having a job that did not take two paragraphs to explain. For the record, an EdTech company and an Education + Technology are the same thing no matter how much you want the extra letters to carry extra weight and in both – as in society – the teachers (even if you insist on calling them educators), remain second class personnel: under paid, under appreciated, and under valued. In spite of the fact that in many ways teachers are the most prepared for the dynamic, think on your feet, constantly pivot, nature of the start-up world, their skills are still mistaken as useless, archaic – even quaint – by the private sector.

I was promised too much when I took the chance to jump into what I thought was the tech world. I see that now, and I should have been aware of this. Had I talked to my peers immersed in the start-up industry they would have alerted me to this. I also, as I am prone to do when I have my sights set on something, did not acknowledge the myriad red flags: the immediate reversal of promises; the professional practices I knew were questionable after two decades of experience; a place that normalized inappropriate behavior; the allowances given for having a “fail forward” attitude that really just allows bad practice to perpetuate and grow. I still fully believe in the benefits of technology, and beyond that, the potential for merging it with education. Beyond believing in it, I am committed to it in a variety of ways. But one thing I can say with confidence now is that the successful merger of the two will need to be led by true visionary educators who have willing technologists in tow. It will not be the other way around.

I work in education.

And you need me along with my professional peers, to affect positive change in our field… and probably yours.

The Change Chronicles: Part 3

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So, in some fairly dramatic ways, it turns out the more things change, the more things change. This is not ideal.

The last few years have been a real roller coaster for my generation. For a while I was thinking, Damn, what is going on? Why are all these people dying/bad things happening/disconnects appearing TO US? Then it hit me – it was not “US” because we were particularly cursed or tragically unlucky. It was “US” because we are arriving at (upon?) a certain age.

When every fashion trend you despise returns (high-waisted jeans I am totally glaring at you), every movie you grew up with is being remade (seriously, Footloose? That borders on sacrilegious), and your icons are leaving you at a pace that defies explanation (Leonard Nimoy, BB King, Dick Van Patten – was Eight really ever enough? – Natalie Cole, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Prince, Morley Safer, Mohamed Ali, Garry Marshall, Gene Wilder, Florence Henderson (I didn’t even have television growing up and I know The Brady Bunch is just My Three Sons without her), Fidel Castro (who made Che after all), Zsa Zsa, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, Mary Tyler Moore (“I’m the Mary, you’re the Rhoda!”), John Hurt, Chuck Berry, Roger Moore (nooooooooooo), Adam West… in only a few short years….), and the political landscape enters into the realm of Mad Magazine, one starts to wonder if they were born under a bad sign.

Turns out no… one was just born a long time ago.

Samantha “Sam” Baker wakes up on her 50th birthday. She reaches for the iPhone on the nightstand and immediately feels a tear in her rotator cuff. She heads into the bathroom to pluck the white chin hair that grew overnight.

I started noticing things were not as they should be about four years ago. My hair color regimen had to be bumped up to every four weeks – which is both costly and demoralizing. My aesthetic expenditures shifted from the lower half of my body to my chin. My skin began to look, well, like someone else’s I remember with love and warmth, the soft and slightly crepe-y feel of my grandma Joan but a grandma I am not (I am still spending money on Hanacure regularly like only a true believer would). Add to this that the creaky knee decided to announce substantial arthritis and then.. the hip. You know who has hip problems? OLD PEOPLE.

How did this happen? I am starting to sweat even thinking about it. #hotflash And just be glad I am not going to publicly regale you with the joys of the onset of “The Change of Life.” At least, not yet.

As the reality of turning 50 looms, it dawns on me that I actually didn’t realize I was getting old. I mean, I can read and count, and I understand through a very tenacious Facebook group (yes – I know Facebook is only for old people now… that is sort of the point here) that my 30th Class Reunion is coming to fruition, so I am clear on the whole passage of time thing, but looking around at my friend group and our lifestyles, I was deluded into thinking that things were not really changing. Not in some sad or pathetic way at all, but in a more authentic and unconventional way: we are doing what we want, how we want, when we want. But, we probably have to come home a little earlier (who goes out at midnight people?) And really, if it is not VIP it is not for me, I mean who can deal with all those people? (To be fair, VIP has always been for me, but at a certain age it is actually a requirement, and one we can afford.)

In some ways talking about getting older amongst ourselves in a jokey sort of way has been a way to own it – but outside of the peri-AARP circle, it just sounds a little sad and creepy. I happen to work around young people and this has a variety of effects: in some ways it keeps me a little bit more on the hipper edge of life, in some ways it accentuates the reality that I am so not hip, which can be it’s own quasi-cool characteristic and allows for a slightly more full embrace of the No Fucks Given position (although truth be told, that has been my life’s work). But mostly it just makes my view into the abyss of later middle age all that more clear.

Don’t get me wrong – I do appreciate the increased freedom to do/say/afford/act as I please, but really, I am not endeavoring to enter the realms of caricature. I just want my hip to stop hurting, to stop worrying about whether or not I actually could grow a full beard, and whether or not someone is looking at my resume and wondering, “How is someone this old looking for a new job?”

Because I am. And there is this thing going on where experience is not actually a sought after trait anymore across industries and institutions (how is that working out for you all in Washington you foolish lemmings?) These days experience translates as: conventional, inflexible, old-fashioned, and close-mided against a world where thinking of the un-thought-of is the goal. I think this is called agism by some. I definitely know that it is a conundrum for me because I am able to think quite far outside of the “box.” It just so happens that I am also old enough to know when relying what has worked in the past is the right thing to do. I mean really people, you still like the damn wheel right? The 60-second minute? Checkers?  Ancient Sumer gave you those around 3500 BCE – not to go all History Teacher on you.

I have no idea where the next stop on my professional journey will take me. I am confident it will be somewhere informative and significant and I know I have a lot more to offer creatively, intellectually, and through straight up hard work so I am excited about the potential of finding something really interesting and inspiring, and dare I say, different. But I am not wishing for anything, I am getting back out there and looking people in the eye with zero fucks, straight up honesty, and fearlessly keeping my chin up because I have a great electrologist.

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December 2017: In Lima at 47 with no make up, no fucks given, and a couple of Pisco Sours.

Sam replies, “I’m 50 years old, motherfucker. I don’t have time for wishes.”

The Change Chronicles: Part 1

It is Sunday and I spent the morning reading. The morning began bright and sunny and became cold and dark. In some ways, so too this post.

The first article I read this morning was about how Teller (the quiet, or rather silent half of Penn & Teller) approached teaching when he taught Latin at Lawrence High School in New Jersey before going on to, well, frankly as our society would have it, much greater tings. I enjoyed the article for a variety of reasons – some of which will come up in a later version of The Change Chronicles dealing with whether or not one remains a teacher…

The primary take away from the article for many, I assume, is that for education to be successful it must be performative – entertaining! – and that the “first job of a teacher is to make the student fall in love with the subject.” Although in myriad ways I disagree with this take, I continued reading. I am glad I did, it was an engaging and thought-provoking article. My second favorite line was the reference to Alfred North Whitehead‘s premise that learning occurs in three stages: romance, precision, generalization. This articulation of what I like to believe has been the way I teach, made me feel validated and inspired. Yes! Impress them with the potential, the drama, the pathos-laden aspects of the subject. Then wow them with specifics – oh, how those superlatives, extremes, and data points resonate with the developing human brain! Finally, demonstrate how the knowledge of a specific allows for the understanding of all those things beyond one’s immediate ken.

Way back when I was trained to teach we called this activating and/or creating schema: what prior information is in that head of yours – ours – that we can connect to in order to makes sense out of this unknown situation/material/question? I love thinking about things like this and it always takes me back to one of my favorite articles that I have been using in my classroom – at every grade level – for a decade, The Importance of Stupidity in Scientific Research. I do not explicitly teach science, although it’s unavoidable the social sciences, but this article forms a basis for how I teach… the part where kids, and really everyone in the world these days, must get comfortable with the not knowing. Which Teller poetically gets to in his recollection of teaching, and is my favorite line in the article, and most significant takeaway from the piece:

When I go outside at night and look up at the stars, the feeling that I get is not comfort. The feeling that I get is a kind of delicious discomfort at knowing that there is so much out there that I do not understand and the joy in recognizing that there is enormous mystery, which is not a comfortable thing. This, I think, is the principal gift of education.

Sadly, I fear the aspect of the article that will be the one people hold fast to is the emphasis on the teacher to engender love of the subject in the student. This depresses me for various reasons, but my fundamental problem with it is that it is not love of the subject that matters – it is the love of learning – figuring things out, seeing connections, and understanding nuance and context that matters more.

Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal-arts cliché about “teaching you how to think” is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: “Learning how to think” really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.

After more than 20 years of sharing history, literature, civics, geography, and economic theory in more classrooms than I can count, it is not a love of the specific subject I have ever sought from my students (though, admittedly a tremendous added bonus) but it has been the possibility of showing kids that thinking about things – any things, though perhaps especially the things they do not see as valuable (after all they will pursue that which holds value to them on their own), gives them power. I am not so audacious to use that age old expression of teaching someone how to think (thank you DFW for indelibly imprinting the silliness of that expression) but certainly have aspired to show kids how cool it is to be able to think, and to direct that thinking, and then – like having your own super power – to make meaning from it.

I sat with the disappointment of the lead to the Atlantic piece for a bit, and was then came across this  article, reviewing Sara Zaske’s book Achtung Baby. Because I have a very good friend raising two amazing daughters in Germany, and I know a fair number of American parents, I read on. I laughed at the anecdotes and even without children of my own thought this might be a great read. At the end, I sat and said aloud (apparently to my cats): Huh. Growing up in Germany sounds like being raised Northern California in the 1970s.

Contemporary German parents give their children a great deal of freedom—to do dangerous stuff; to go places alone; to make their own mistakes, most of which involve nudity, fire, or both. This freedom makes those kids better, happier, and ultimately less prone to turn into miserable sociopaths. “The biggest lesson I learned in Germany,” she writes, “is that my children are not really mine. They belong first and foremost to themselves. I already knew this intellectually, but when I saw parents in Germany put this value into practice, I saw how differently I was acting.”

Granted, I am (now) acutely aware of the fuckery of the 70s (and even more so the 80s), one thing I have noticed about the kids who grew up the way I did in the 70s – broken homes, bad television, inappropriate exposure to adult themes, an absence of hand sanitizer, limited parental surveillance, bouncing in the back of pick-ups, and all the rest: we are largely functional, healthy (robust even), adults. Yeah, some of us have weird (okay, completely messed up) attitudes about relationships, politics, and economics… our general attitude seems alright: Just 4 percent [of us] reported a “great deal of unhappiness” with their lives as they approached middle age. I think this comes from the reality that we are the last Americans to have the old-time childhood. It was coherent, hands-on, dirty, and fun.

So true.

I thought about how the way American kids are being raised now with all of these tangible fears – fear of dirt, of bugs, of foods, of people, of independence, of doing – and then thought about how it manifests in my profession, where kids have become absolutely terrified. They are so afraid to fail at anything that they are afraid to try anything: afraid that a wrong answer might lead to a bad grade, which of course means they are, and will always be, a failure at life. Which is super strange considering these are the same kids who are getting rewards and trophies for all the things, are feted with celebrations – formal graduations from preschool on up, and are told that any of their failings are because they have bad coaches, bad teachers, or because they are not appreciated for who they are. Being perfect has become more important than ever for a group of people who are more afraid than ever to try to be their best selves.

What a freaking conundrum.

Full disclosure – I was not a kid (adult?) who enjoyed being new at things or not knowing how to do things. I was not comfortable in my own space of the unknown. What was different for me is that I was surrounded by people, a veritable – literal – village who constantly reminded me I was so much more than my personal successes and failures. People who were not afraid I would wilt if they told me I did something wrong (some in fact seemed to take great pleasure in reminding me of my screw ups as a way to show me my growth – I am looking right at you Coach Johnson.) People who showed me that they were still going to be there if I made choices they disagreed with or knew (how did they always know?) were going to end badly. People who made me sit in the discomfort. It was (is!) a life’s work to get comfortable with the ambiguous, the unknown… The Change.

Because it is always there. Lurking.

I am grateful Amy has her girls in Germany. I am grateful I grew up with dirty hands – no TV – super weird parents. I am grateful I did not fall in love with subjects because of teachers, or teachers because of subjects (the agenda of another in either case) but that I can explicitly remember the moments I learned things that would forever change my life (that respecting the opinions of others did not mean I had to agree, Mr. Cefalu, ca. 1977; that boasting would rarely lead to actuality and often to embarrassment, Mr Fore, ca. 1980; that algebra was possible and awesome even if I got it wrong the first time and regardless of a hideous 8th grade math teacher, Terry, ca. 1981-4; that I didn’t need to know how to play basketball to try out for the team – that was sort of the point of joining the team, mom, ca. 1984; that knowing what mattered to me was more important than what mattered to my friends, Coach J, ca. 1984-8; that my choice to teach was not going to make my life easy, but it would make it something special, Dr. Bloom, ca. 1994; that there was beauty, reality, and meaning in the patterns we see around us, Dr. Starrs, ca. 2000). All these people have seen me flounder and fail repeatedly, while showing me those were the precise spaces in which I would learn and grow the most.

Then this news item came across my screen somehow. A couple of weeks ago, a 16 year old boy, seemingly with all the advantages in the world, took his own life as a response to the pressures he felt.

 

 

In the letters he left behind he speaks to his school experience specifically. Directly stating that his parents put no pressure on him and that his coaches were amazing, still this young man felt neither of those things were enough in the face of the academic pressures and mean/bad teachers he had to face. I sat with this one for a while. Lots of it made little sense to me – but then suicide rarely does and that hardly renders it a nonissue. There are aspects of these letters that make me want to roll my eyes or say, “snap out of it!” which is wholly inappropriate considering the context. This student did not feel inspired by teachers, he felt afraid. He did not feel challenged by hard material, he felt un-taught. He did not think that the support he received from parents, coaches, and friends would be enough to buoy what must have been academic shortcomings (in his mind). I love that he still included a reminder to be kind.

A principal from a neighboring school responded to the news of the suicide (I hear that CDMHS was silent on the matter for 10 days) and his entire response bears repeating, but I will call out this excerpt:

A very intuitive parent gave an analogy recently that hit home: “Our kids are not teacups; they are meant to be bumped around from time to time.”

It is during these bumpy times that we can applaud a “C”, applaud a student going to the military or junior college, properly support failure with introspection not blame, take an 89.5% as a B+ in stride, or applaud a student in one of our CTE pathways. My British father would always quip, “it is the sum of our experiences that should always outweigh the sum of our bank accounts.”

We must reach the point where, if our sons and daughters don’t live a perfect young adult experience, it is not the end of the world…it is simply an opportunity to lift the sails and head in another direction.

These three articles from my Sunday morning are deeply connected in my mind; all speaking to the lack of clarity over who holds responsibility for our successes and failures, our adventures and discoveries, our disappointments and inspirations… as children/students/parents/people. This year I found myself repeating – on a loop that seemed infinite – in parent teacher conferences that the students needed to have some faith – trust that they could take the uncomfortable intellectual risks that are necessary for learning, for growth, for everything in the great beyond, and if it didn’t work out, so be it. We go from there. It is obviously a joint effort, perhaps more than that because it might really take much more than a village to get this all right, for the kids – and for us.