Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Dumb*ss Reasons to Justify Murder

The Hunger Games (books and movies) speak to me each time I read (yes, I’ve read them multiple times and taught the first one) or see the movies; I seem to see a new detail or hear a new message. In honor of Mockingjay, Part 2, a couple channels re-ran the first movies. I sat and watched the first one twice in a row. Both times, I narrowed my focus to one scene: Rue’s murder.

On a side note, I never understood the outrage, hatred, stupidity of those incensed by a black girl cast as Rue. Moronic bigots, it was in the book. If you’d paid attention, you would have known Rue was black. But your own racism and race-centrism blinded you to anything but white characters. I know racism breathes and walks and moves and lives and grows in America today, but I am still appalled when people react this way toward children. Again, Hunger Games speaks to me because of the violence toward our most innocent and precious members.

Just as children must be taught to hate, they must also be taught to fear and kill. Outside forces must corrupt the innocence to place children on the path to destruction, of themselves and others, as they age. Children don’t just wake up one day and decide to kill or hurt others. Adults must train them through systematic means. We see this through Districts 1 and 2 actually training children for their roles in the Games (those districts are white and more wealthy also). In reality, this plays out in America’s schools and government. We teach children, overtly and subtly, about their roles in society. Yes, non-white, non-male, non-cisgender, non-heterosexual, non-Christian children are taught their lesser place in America.

Back to Rue…

Every time Rue dies, I cry. Every time I read or watch, Rue is murdered again. Her beauty. Her innocence. Her precious life.

I know she is fictional, but Rue is real to me because she makes me think of all the real-life children of color who have been killed because their very humanity was not protected and cherished and nurtured…because they were not seen as children. Instead they were viewed as “other.”

Most recently, I think of Tamir Rice. Every time I see his picture, I choke up. I don’t care how tall he was or how much he weighed. I don’t care what size clothes or shoes he wore. He was a child. A child playing with a toy. In a park. God, just thinking about him now makes my eyes well up. I don’t teach children that young, but he could’ve been one of my students. I have taught boys similar: Black, large in size, with baby faces and sweet smiles that light up their eyes, wearing baggy clothes (I know this from being poor—you buy larger clothes so you can grow into them and not have to waste money on new clothes anytime soon).

I had them in class at 15, 16, 17…even up to 20 years old. I did my damnedest to treat them as young men who deserved respect, but they were also my “babies.” I can’t help it: each teen who comes in my class becomes mine. Someone I will try to educate and prepare for life, but also someone I will help feed or clothe or listen to or encourage or get tough with. No, I am not their mom, but each child deserves to have a teacher look him/her in the eyes and say, “You matter.” Someone who tries to encourage them to be themselves.

So, even my 20-year-olds were still teens to me—who screw up and get angry and need to vent. They didn’t frighten me because I looked in their eyes to see the person, not a ludicrous stereotype. Not an adult. As long as they were in my class, they were children/teens who needed help navigating this crazy, f—ed up world. They didn’t need me as a white savior. But, they did sometimes need me to listen, to see them, and/or to give them a chance. The only good aspect of my privilege is I can use it to help others. Every student is completely capable of finding their own success; sometimes they simply need a teacher to help them find a map or turn on a light or learn to read directions—not to “save” them, but to help them find their own power.

All the asinine attempts at justifying Tamir’s murder by stating his size or looks or slurring his mom or saying Tamir shouldn’t have done this or that makes me so enraged, I cannot find words to fully express the emotion. The minute you try to justify a child’s murder, by an adult, you become part of the problem. To return to my original analogy, you become part of the Capitol. You become part of the group who would willingly send children to their deaths for their own gain and entertainment. You greedily watch the videos on TV or the Internet, you avidly view the pictures, you fervently read the stories, you eagerly share your opinions of why these children are wrong, you demonize and vilify their parent(s)/guardian(s), you gobble up their lives and their souls and steal their humanity and dignity…all the while, you conveniently ignore who created the system and the people that slaughter children like animals, without blinking an eye or shedding a tear. Hell, many of you would even cry if you saw an abused animal or an ASPCA commercial.


Just as Rue’s blood is on Panem’s hands, the blood of all those children is on our hands, especially white people. There will be no Pontius Pilate moment for us. If there is a Higher Power, we will answer for why we didn’t protect the lives of innocent children—ALL children, no matter their color or religion or size or whatever stupid f-ing reason we make up to help us sleep at night. That is definitely not to negate the #BlackLivesMatter movement; that is simply to highlight white people have created some dumbass reasons to justify murder. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Edu-Blog Finalist

It's a crazy time of year, and I'm short on sleep; however, I wanted to at least post a brief thank you to anyone who nominated me for the Edu-Blog (#eddies15) awards. I'm humbled and appreciate I've found an audience through Twitter. I've only been blogging since about February/March, so I'm thrilled anyone noticed.

If you would like to vote for me or any of the other amazing finalists. (Seriously, when you get time, work through the lists. Wow. I'm even more humbled and honored to make the cut.)

Here is the link to vote: http://edublogawards.com/vote-here/

Again, let me express my gratitude to my audience, whoever nominated me, and those who've encouraged/supported/bullied me to blog.

I look forward to so many more!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

A Little Thing Called "Love" (and Education)


I’ve been mulling over something for more than a week, and it’s reached a point where I must write about it or risk losing even more sleep than I already do. What have I been stewing about? Dr. Everett Piper’s (President of Oklahoma Wesleyan University in Bartlesville, Oklahoma) open letter to students. It bothers me for several reasons, even though, judging by all the Facebook posting and Tweeting, I’m in the minority.

In case you have not yet read the letter, here is a link: http://www.okwu.edu/blog/2015/11/this-is-not-a-day-care-its-a-university/

I graduated from OKWU with a Bachelor’s in English Education. The English and Education professors were amazing at that time. No topic was off-limits. I found my professors to be open and honest. I do not know their personal beliefs, but they were fair and encompassing in the classroom. Maybe it’s because I was an adult, but I truly had a connection with several of them. After graduation, I even taught six semesters of Comp. I & II, Intro. to Lit., and English and Secondary Methods. I graduated about the time President Piper took his job. He seemed like a nice man with a passion for education. I do not know him personally, and let me stress this is not ad hominem. This is a response to his article—nothing more.

From the first paragraph, the post bothers me. The tone feels sarcastic and didactic, even judgmental; it does not reflect the attitude of the “love chapter,” I Corinthians 13, which was also ironically the basis of the sermon that caused the student’s discomfort. I may post separately about how this does not reflect I Cor. 13, but for now, let me first break down what I find problematic.

1. “This past week, I actually had a student come forward after a university chapel service and complain because he felt ‘victimized’ by a sermon on the topic of 1 Corinthians 13. It appears this young scholar felt offended because a homily on love made him feel bad for not showing love…I’m not making this up.”

Response: Dr. Piper was probably quoting the student, but putting victimized in quotes makes it feel sarcastic. As the self-proclaimed Queen of Sarcasm, I know it when I see it. Piper then calls the student “young scholar,” but again, I hear sarcasm. The rest of the post shows how Piper feels the opposite about this young man and students like him, as seen in the next quote:  

2. “Our culture has actually taught our kids to be this self-absorbed and narcissistic. Any time their feelings are hurt, they are the victims.”

Response: Rather than approach the young man in love (I Corinthians 13 again) and use this opportunity as a teaching moment, Piper proceeds to heap written abuse on this student. OKWU is a small university. I guarantee the student knew exactly whom Piper was highlighting—and other students know as well. Piper also decides to stereotype the entire group of “kids” as “self-absorbed and narcissistic.” I may be wrong, but doesn’t the student taking the time and initiative to approach Piper and express how “bad” he felt for “not showing love” negate those two terms? Yes, Piper states the teen felt victimized by the sermon, but the teen also expressed a level of remorse/guilt/a “conscience” by saying he felt bad for not doing as the Bible said. This screams “TEACHING MOMENT.” Maybe the student used “victimized” because he struggle expressing how he felt. Maybe the student needed some additional guidance. So many maybes lost….

3. “Anyone who dares challenge them and, thus, makes them ‘feel bad’ about themselves, is a ‘hater,’ a ‘bigot,’ an ‘oppressor,’ and a ‘victimizer.’”

Response: Piper seems to have gone on the defensive. Did the teen say Piper was a “hater,” “bigot,” “oppressor,” or “victimizer”? Or because the teen said he felt victimized, did Piper assume the teen cast Piper in the negative role?

4. “That feeling of discomfort you have after listening to a sermon is called a conscience. An altar call is supposed to make you feel bad. It is supposed to make you feel guilty. The goal of many a good sermon is to get you to confess your sins—not coddle you in your selfishness. The primary objective of the Church and the Christian faith is your confession, not your self-actualization.”

Response: Actually, that feeling of “discomfort” is called the “Holy Spirit” in most church groups. I grew up in church and have personally answered many an altar call (where the pastor invites those who seek salvation or want a more public forgiveness of sins). I’ve been to Baptist, First Assembly of God, Non-denominational, Mennonite, Church of God, etc. Never once was I told an the purpose of an altar call was to “make you feel guilty.” I was also never told a “good sermon” was to force a confession of sins; rather, sermons were used to instruct, to teach. I can’t ever remember Jesus using his sermons to shame, humiliate, or make his listeners feel bad. He used them to enlighten people. As for “self-actualization,” if we use Maslow’s definition of his own term, the Church definitely has this as an objective: “What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization...It refers…to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming" (http://psychology.about.com/od/theoriesofpersonality/a/hierarchyneeds_2.htm). In the Church, this would maybe look different than in other parts of society; however, the Church and God want us to become more, to become all we can through God and Christ. Self-actualization is the opposite of selfishness because self-actualized people realize the world is bigger than they are. The above website further lists characteristics of self-actualized people (which sound an awful lot like Jesus). I’ll paraphrase here, but please do more reading on your own:
1. Acceptance and Realism: Self-actualized people have realistic perceptions of themselves, others and the world around them.
            2. Problem-centering: Self-actualized individuals are concerned with solving problems outside of themselves, including helping others and finding solutions to problems in the external world. These people are often motivated by a sense of personal responsibility and ethics.
            3. Autonomy and Solitude: Another characteristic of self-actualized people is the need for independence and privacy. While they enjoy the company of others, these individuals need time to focus on developing their own individual potential.
            4. Peak Experiences: Individuals who are self-actualized often have what Maslow termed peak experiences, or moments of intense joy, wonder, awe and ecstasy. After these experiences, people feel inspired, strengthened, renewed or transformed.

Hmmm, sounds like maybe God does want our self-actualization….

5. “…if you want to arrogantly lecture, rather than humbly learn…”

Response: Hey, pot, have you met kettle?

6. “…there are many universities across the land (in Missouri and elsewhere) that will give you exactly what you want, but Oklahoma Wesleyan isn’t one of them.”

Response: Is this supposed to be a grand gesture? We aren’t just in this for the profit, so feel free to go to other universities. Sadly, I see this as cutting off your nose to spite your face. If your university is a place of love and education, a spiritual respite from the crazy world, wouldn’t you want teens who are troubled and questioning? Wouldn’t you want the “problem” teens? The ones who maybe hate? Wouldn’t your place of learning and love be the perfect example for those teens? Wouldn’t your university be excellent to show them Jesus’ message and path?

7. “We want you to model interpersonal reconciliation rather than foment personal conflict.”

Response: Then wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to deal personally with the student rather than publicly vilify him and stereotype his generation? “Interpersonal” is between people. I don’t see this article catalyzing any “reconciliation” between people. I see it as alienating this student—and potentially many others.

8. “We believe the content of your character is more important than the color of your skin.”

Response: WTF?! Was the student of color? If so, then by saying you’re not racist, you absolve yourself of all possibility of racism? Quoting Dr. King is always good to show one isn’t racist—or one’s university isn’t racist. I bet you have a black friend. How does it feel up there in that white privilege tower, Piper? (Okay, that was a little ad hominem.)
9. “We don’t believe that you have been victimized every time you feel guilty and we don’t issue ‘trigger warnings’ before altar calls.”

Response: Can I say, “WTF?!” again? I’m the last person to coddle anyone. I’m more of tough love kind of chick. However, as someone who has read books about psychological issues and who minored in psychology and who has taught teens for more than a decade and who has, you know, talked to an actual person who suffered trauma, triggers are real. Yes, they can be faked, but so can lots of other psychological issues. But, as an institution that educates teens, maybe you should err a little on the side of caution rather than issue blanket statements. Maybe if students knew your university and staff operated in love (the 1 Corinthians type of love) and offered support and understanding, you would not need to issue “trigger warnings” for your sermons. Instead, students would know you are approaching them in love, and if they had an issue, they could go to a trusted adult for help.

10. “Oklahoma Wesleyan is not a ‘safe place’, but rather, a place to learn: to learn that life isn’t about you, but about others…This is a place where you will quickly learn that you need to grow up.”

Response: Well, it’s good to know OKWU doesn’t operate as a safe place. I guess I define “safe” differently than Piper. I think of safe as a place where students can learn and grow and screw up and explore and try and fail and succeed. Beware: if you screw up at OKWU, you will be raked over the coals and publicly called out. I’d love to provide this student with a safe place to express his side; then I’d love to see if he were open to healthy dialogue about his experiences. If so, I think I could educate the student—something OKWU should have tried. For a “place to learn,” they sure don’t know how to teach.

Just for the record, OKWU is a place to “quickly learn” not that you “need to grow up,” but that you need to not make mistakes—and maybe you shouldn’t approach the President of a minor university with your petty, selfish problems. Stupid kids with their quest for identity and meaning in their lives…and adults wonder why Millenials don’t want to attend church….

Setting church and theology aside, what hurts me the most is the missed opportunity to connect with and help educate this student. And as a place of higher learning, that mistake is far more tragic than any the student could have ever made.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

“Give Me Your Huddled Masses….”

Because of my preoccupation with turning 40 and racking my brains for yet another super, exciting lesson plan (yes, I’ve already tried several) that may finally cause my sophomores to turn into focused students who actually give a sh*t about something other than movies and games, I have not been as good about reading on the Syrian refugee situation and the recent terrorist attacks.

I’ve read some on Twitter and Facebook. I have been saddened and sickened by the loss of life. I have also been saddened and sickened by the American reaction to recent events. I’ve had to once again take a break from Facebook because the idiocy made my brain explode.

I’m not na├»ve, but I try to believe in the potential in most humans and that most humans have a basic decency—a basic humanity. It’s appalling to see people you know as normally generous turn into bigoted animals snarling over their territory. Fear causes weird and sometimes melodramatic reactions, but times like these call for logic and cool heads—not irrationality and fear mongering.

What finally pushed me to write is the following post (this is not an attack on Franklin Graham. I don’t even know him. He’s simply saying what too many others are agreeing with or saying themselves. I’m using him only because he was my last straw.):

I have two simple responses to this. I refuse to over think it.

On the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, is transcribed Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus.” The most famous lines are, “Give me your tired, your poor,/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore./Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,/I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" (http://www.libertystatepark.com/emma.htm).

The Statue of Liberty, arguably one of the most recognizable American symbols, used to stand as a literal beacon for the tired and poor, for those whose own countries treated them as “refuse,” for the homeless and “tempest-tost.” America is a country of immigrants. Unless you’re a “Native American” (they also immigrated at some point in history), someone in your family immigrated. Period. So why, once we’re a few generations removed from the old countries, do we become xenophobic? At what point do we become so America-centric we lose all sense of the humanity of others? Is it because we refuse to even recognize the humanity of our own citizens? Do we only believe in equality when it’s connected to hatred—we can equally hate ALL people not like us? Is it because we have no room for love for our own citizens, so how could we possibly scrape up a modicum of decency and compassion for people who don’t look or worship like us? Or, is it because we must fear reprisal from our own citizens for treating them like others, like animals; therefore, we would naturally fear citizens of other countries?

For my Bible-minded readers, I thought I would also pull something more recognizable: “The Parable of the Good Samaritan.” I’m Christian partly because it is familiar to me and partly because I truly appreciate Jesus’ teachings. Over the years, I’ve come to analyze the Bible with a more critical eye, but I can still rely on Jesus for logic and compassion. For those not familiar or who need reminding:
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37, New International Version

I tell my students not to make assumptions about the reader’s understanding and not to expect the reader to make connections, so allow me to break it down for you. An “expert” of the law wants to test Jesus on the commandments, the way set for “eternal life.” Dude seems to be okay with loving God with his whole heart, but needs to phone a friend about the “love your neighbor” part. I’m probably reading too much into it, but I imagine the “expert” was hoping Jesus would define “neighbor” as only those who look and believe like the man. Isn’t that why we work to segregate our neighborhoods and schools? Isn’t that why people join those HOA’s? Definitely want my neighbors to have the same color roof and skin as I do. Then it’s way easier to love them.

Unfortunately, being a radical human being, Jesus drops some truth on that “expert” of Biblical law/scripture. Being an effective teacher, Jesus makes it as understandable as possible to avoid confusion and miscommunication: a man travels from point A to point B. Robbers accost him, then strip, beat, and leave him for dead. Wonder if the robbers left him with proper documentation to prove who he was?

The first person to pass by is a priest. Being a shining example of godly love, the priest crosses to the other side of the road. Next, a Levite (one of the Jewish tribes) passes by, sees the man, and also crosses to the other side. Now, Jesus does not state the beaten man’s race or religion, but two people who would know God’s law pass by the man. They even work to get as far away from the man as possible.

Last, Jesus says a Samaritan sees the man. He takes pity on the man, disinfects and bandages his wounds, puts the man on the Samaritan’s donkey, and takes the man to an inn—charging them to care for the man. The next day the Samaritan pays the innkeeper and states he will reimburse the innkeeper for any incurred expenses.

There are so many remarkable aspects to this story. Jewish people considered Samaritans as lower class since Samaritans intermarried with non-Jews and didn’t keep the law; however, the Samaritan didn’t stop to ask the man’s race or religion. He simply saw another human being in need and gave that human aid. Did the Samaritan fear the man was lying there as a trap for a larger plan? Did the Samaritan bemoan all the poor people not being cared for in his own town? Did the Samaritan worry the robbers might return and beat him or seek retribution for aiding their victim? No, he saw through the dirt and blood covering the man, saw someone stripped bare (literally and figuratively) and laid low by circumstances, saw someone who was robbed of his possessions and dignity—and that Samaritan showed love. Not hate, not fear, not anger. He gave unconditional love to his neighbor.

I am not an idealist. I do sometimes look for hopeful qualities in humanity. I know we live in a frightening world where people commit unspeakable acts toward each other. However, if I have to die over a choice I’ve made, I’d rather the reason be showing someone love. As someone who believes in a higher power and believes in a purpose larger than myself, I also have to believe in something larger than fear. That something is love.


And if your beliefs are not making you a better person, you’re doing it wrong.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Boredom: Part I

My AP students have been busily working on research paper outlines and have reached a place where they only need me for minor issues. I'm incredibly proud because they've never done outlines before. I would pat myself on the back for my unbelievable teaching skills, but I know it's more a testament to how they've grown just since school began.

So, as they work, I should grade papers...but I've done that the last couple of days. Now, I'm bored because I'm deliberately trying to leave them alone...so I decided to go ahead and throw some of my more personal work into the ether: my poetry.

You, dear reader, do not have to like it. There's no pressure, even if you enjoy my prose. I attempt universality, especially with poetry, but no everyone is going to like poetry (mine or in general). Okay, enough preface. Here are a couple I rather like:

Untitled (written in a poetry break-out session)
I stand alone
on the precipice
staring into the void
The earth echoes my
soul’s death:
bare trees
dead grass
gray sky
brown earth
The frigid air
surrounds me
but fails to chill
something already lifeless
The howl of the wolf
and the screech of the owl
sing out the death of
my soul
Ashes from a long
snuffed fire
filter past my empty eyes
All of nature
mirrors my demise
The blackness of
gathering night
reflects my
dissolution
Eternal rest might await
but I’ve lost
my faith:
in God
in mankind
in myself
I close my eyes
exhale my pent-up breath
and await my
body’s release

What is man
without a

soul?

Freedom
The fragility of
these mortal shells
Merely tying us down
Hampering us
with illness,
weakness,
age,
ignorance.
Impeding our
forward evolution
Diluting our truth
Watering down
our passion
Tripping us
as we walk
forward into
the light of
self-actualization
Moral cataracts
blind our vision—
blinders to what
is good and true and right
I long to be
freed from
the strictures
To soar into
the sky and sing of beauty
without color
and gender
To shout of truth
that crosses
culture and religion
To rip the
mask off
hypocrisy,
ugliness,
and apathy.
And to free others
to fly with me