Saturday, December 3, 2016

Before Then

I know a few young people that seem very disappointed with the speed of change.  Aside from the recent election, they feel as if nothing changes at all, or if it does it's at a snail's pace.  It often seems that way, but social change does happen, and it's very subtle, if not sneaky.
In mulling over some short story ideas, I've been thinking lately about all the things my parents never did, saw, used, or experienced.  Since I'm a classic Baby Boomer, it's safe to say that what I'm about to elaborate on considers about the last 70 years.

This thought started when recalling a memory from the 9 year old days of my life.  On my first trip to Disneyland, in Anaheim, California, my family went with my aunt and uncle.  This was Disneyland's first decade and some of the things it's known for weren't even in existence then.
I was sitting next to my Aunt Dorothy on the seat of a horse drawn streetcar that went up Main St, and it occurred to me that my Aunt was alive before automobiles were commonplace.  She was born around 1910.  Suddenly the entire scope of her lifetime up to that moment in time had included everything from horse drawn vehicles to L.A. freeways...primitive airplanes to jet travel...silent films to color TV.
With that in mind, it occurred to me that my folks, of that same generation, had never done or seen a number of things commonly done today.  Both my parents were gone by 1976 which means that they had never:
                 used a computer
                written a text or an email
                used a remote, or seen color TV in their home
                Used a push button phone or a cell phone
                bought organic food in their local grocery store
                played a cassette tape a CD, or a DVD
                Seen cable TV in their home
                Purchased anything online
                Shipped anything by FedEx

....More to come

So, these are just technological changes, what about social change?  Has social justice come in ways as revolutionary as the electronic devices we covet?  Is there a relationship between the two?  That's the next step in determining just how much change surrounds us even though it seems we aren't making progress with our own interactions.



Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Dark Hope


In times like these, it's useful to see what our finest minds have to say.
            From Rebecca Solnit:


https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jul/15/rebecca-solnit-hope-in-the-dark-new-essay-embrace-unknown

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Dawning Day

I read an article this morning about the mythology surrounding the first Thanksgiving.  Like all holidays in this country, it's been twisted and transformed, co-opoted and swallowed up by our consumer culture.
The piece I read explained that there were no Pilgrims, rather Puritans, and that, the first Thanksgiving feast wasn't actually a pleasant affair, but rather a survival meal that hardly contained the mighty away of offerings found in most homes today.
The tribe present was the Wampanoag, whose name translated to "People of the Dawn."
How appropriate, I thought, on this Thanksgiving day with the confrontation going on over the North Dakota pipeline and the pall surrounding these United States after the recent election to recall the people of the dawn.
As the song says, the sun will come up tomorrow, so we do well to take some inspiration from telling our truths, especially to the new power structure on the horizon.
I was reminded too of that Ron Cobb cartoon of a family at their Thanksgiving table.  Every year I haul it out and share it in various ways.  Every year a slew of new folks gets to take a look at hopefully some will contribute to that "thousand words" that must surely follow either aloud or internally.  I humbly offer Mr. Cobb's creation here.

In a few minutes, I along with my extended family will share a meal and the kids and any adult willing will participate in a little talent show.  I'll share a silly little rhyming poem designed to tell the story of the "People of the Dawn."
Dawn is just about my favorite time of the day.  I need this inspiration now as we prepare to face the onslaught of political resistance sure to follow.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Talking to Tim

People who don't think like I think
              are what I've been thinking about.
I hope you know some who see the world through a very different lens than you do
                            They will make you think.


I have fears too,
     seems to me those who share the views of my friend Tim are burdened by their fears in a different way, they feel they are playing for keeps even more than I do;
          they seem terrified/calm
They nurture themselves with the soft feel of gunmetal and see the Second Amendment as a framed portrait unable to fade or be re-framed when the paper yellows and the print blurs,
                   1790 never felt so right,

Tim is sensitive to education, his lack and my surfeit,
                              his lack and the mountains of college walls,

His school is "Hard Knocks" only the knocks may not have been as hard as he likes to think. He forgets some of the choices he's made, I suspect.  He can't grasp the privilege for more than a passing minute, a remote nod across an open field in a rainstorm,
                       Like many, he's constructed an echo chamber in which to pitch his tent.
               He scares me, on occasion; his lack of empathy makes me highly uncomfortable,
I feel my sweat roll down my body when his racism and xenophobia surface.
             I can only live my life.  I can only live my ideas.  But when I choose words carefully, choose music and art, and friends, and books; when I am mindful of how I interact with people and am conscious of my smiles,
                                            I realize that I am talking to Tim
                                               Now to make him hear me.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Let(s) Go

This is the day we've been waiting for; the day we elect a President and settle some other political races as well as a handful of ballot measures has finally come.  Rather than a collective sigh of relief, we need to brace ourselves for the flood of emotions sure to follow as we process what it means to win and lose this time around.
Our wounds have been exposed and our underbelly revealed to be far softer and uglier than we may have realized. This we need to see as a positive, lest we get lazy and ignore more of our history and fail to see how easily a moral compass can get lost.
As an educator, I see the role of our educational institutions far more crucial this time.  Because so many people are getting their news either from social media or networks that are narrow in scope we seem to have limited opportunity for real discussion and dialogue with opposing viewpoints.  What passes for debate/discussions could never be acceptable in most classrooms I know.  But we may have to remake and re-condition young people to the idea of listening before talking and check for understanding even more as our students represent what they know in an orderly fashion.  We can only hope the major news agencies and networks will follow.

Here's another thing that might be useful.  We keep hearing that the President of the USA is the leader of the "Free World" and perhaps the most powerful person in that world.  Not really.  Anyone who believes that is true hasn't read the Constitution in a while and doesn't know or understand the principle of Federalism.  We have checks and balances on power.  Just look at the power of the obstructionist congress we have now.  Look at a piece of legislation like the 1973 War Powers Act, or the power of a Supreme Court decision.  All power in our government is limited.  The founders provided the nation with these safeguards and for better or worse, they work.
One more thing that  should prove interesting.  In years past, no matter how bitter or disruptive the campaign, the office of the President has always demanded respect.  Candidates as far apart politically as Barry Goldwater and Lyndon Johnson would go at it for months and then come the day after the election would easily refer to the winner as Mr. President elect.  Don't think we'll see that, at least from one candidate, this time.
Make no mistake, this election holds the key to much more than the immediate future.  Social change and demographics combined, we're moving away from one social and political reality to another.  Some call it the "browning of America," while others refer to the impact of technology on all those Norman Rockwell images that comprise the American that some folks continually mourn for and can't seem to let go.  Either way, I don't think the Ford Motor Company will be bringing any jobs back home anytime soon.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Who They Are

Now and then I'll think about somebody for the first time in a good while.  I sometimes remember people I went to school with or a friend I knew briefly in a college course. Often it is a childhood friend or acquaintance who occupied a brief space in elementary school, Boy Scouts or Little League. Sometimes it's a former colleague I worked with for only a few years or even one year. So many of those young teachers appeared and were gone within the space of one school year.
Something will remind us of the person time or place.  Case in point, I once taught next to a teacher whose name was John Brown.  This was at a poor middle school in the Richmond ghetto of Northern California.  The student population was mostly Black and Latino, with a smattering of poor white kids and SE Asian refugee groups that included Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Lao.
So here were Mr. Brown and Mr. Greene virtually next to each other in the hallway of the main building.  Both of us were in our mid 30s at the time and we both had dark hair and a mustache.  My hair was mostly dark black or brown and Mr. Brown's hair and mustache were at least one shade lighter.  Nevertheless, much confusion.  Between the Brown and Greene, the juxtaposed classrooms and the similar appearances (though we hardly looked alike to me) this was a laughable situation...all year long.  I remember it fondly.
Sometimes we remember more of what we choose to remember than the reality of a situation or the person.  I think emot'ion comes into play here.  If it's a former lover, for example, we can be ever so kind and subconsciously lose track of the difficult times in favor of the more positive experiences.  We have to dig deep to recall some of those long talks or that sinking feeling that this relationship is doomed. Those emotions get buried.
A sort of defense mechanism, at best.  Straight up denial at worst.
I'm at the age when information about someone I once knew often comes out of the blue.  Yesterday I received just such a message.  I learned of the passing of a musician I'd briefly worked with back in my VISTA Volunteer days.  I remember him as a caring, talented trumpet player who had worked with some giants in the Blues and R&B field but got tired of traveling and wanted to do something for poor kids in his home town.  He was always a little convoluted or confused in some of this thinking about working with people or foundations but his heart and enthusiasm for helping people were pure.  I learned from another musician yesterday that he died a few years ago and got "super religious" before his death.  He became a self-styled minister with equal amounts of evangilism and paranoia in his writings and ramblings.  I'd completely forgotten he had a propensity for that.  There were signs now that I think further. So be it.  He was who he was and I recall some of the better parts.  So much is missing from the entire picture here but in the end I guess we just have to let folks be who they are. Nobody is defined by one trait alone.  No memory is fully complete or incomplete.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Luxury of Knowing

We could hardly have known it at the time.  Known that there might be a way that we, as teachers, could keep track of how some of our students were doing long after they exited our classrooms for the last time.  Of course, there are some teachers who couldn't care less.  Just a few, in my view.  But for most of us, we care about the people our former charges are becoming.

When I retired from full-time teaching I knew very little about Facebook.  Other than it involved being "friends" with one's peers, it was mostly used by college students and had just begun to infiltrate the universe of high schoolers.  That was only 10 years ago.  Since stumbling on to my own account on Facebook, mostly to sign an Amnesty International petition, I've been able to have contact with a few hundred students from about 25 years ago to the present.  I rarely ask them to friend me, as a sign of respect for their privacy.  But if they find me and request "friendship" I will oblige.  It's been worth every second.  I have a chance now to see them as mature adults, parents, teachers, and thoughtful, decent human beings...for the most part.  That's priceless.  It gives me the luxury of perspective so that when I'm with a group of educators today, especially beginning teachers, I can allay their fears about what really matters.
Even though I get into a classroom now and then in my work with student-teachers and first year teachers, I sometimes doubt how long I could last today if I returned to full-time teaching.  That's because so many things are tied t the computer.  From audio visual materials to attendance taking and record keeping, it's all done on the keyboard.  Lots of advancements but something is lost even amid all the gains.  Kids today will never know the sound of a movie projector or a record player.  Even the technology with cassette tape recorders is hugely outdated.
I did a lot of oral history type projects with my students; how does one go about that today.  I guess digital tape recorders are the preferred method, but again, it's a matter of re-tooling everything and everyone.  Still, it's worth it.
Now and then I hear from a former student out of the blue.  Their stories and emotions are touching.  They make me incredibly aware of all the kinds of learning that can take place in a classroom. They remember much of what I remember, but add insights and often, things I could never know.  Most gratifying are those who apologize for not being as motivated or not contributing their best efforts at the time.  Still, they acknowledge what was available for them at the time and feel so strongly about how they have changed that they are compelled to contact me.  It's humbling, yet fascinating.
All teachers remember their first class.  Mine was in the early 1970s and if they are on Facebook I don't know.  They knew me as a student-teacher who was in his 20s at the time and who was finding his way.  I recall some of their names, so I could do a bit of research.  There are advantages and disadvantages in doing that.  The students who were last in my classes know me as a journeyman.  Someone who taught their siblings, and in a few cases, their parents.  They are computer savvy and seem to easily find me.  Facebook has become a sort of Zen Coan.  I'm still figuring out what it all means and could mean.