Friday, January 30, 2015

Passing Pace

In horse racing, they say pace makes the race.  It usually does.  I've been in the Bay Area this week and pace is what's been nagging at me for the past few days.  When I spend time back in California I'm reminded of the value differences between my former home and my new one in Portland.  Everything moves faster here in the East Bay.  From the drivers on freeways, to the speed on local streets just going from one place to another, to the dreams people have and the material possessions that represent, or at least reflect what they find most worthwhile.  Things cost more here too.
I feel a bit like an alien in the place I called home for so many years.  That's because the configuration of streets change.  Businesses come and go. But then exceptions exist.

 In Berkeley, for example, there is one unremarkable sign that's been the same for as long as I've been around.  The Oscar's Hamburgers sign is the same one as I first saw in 1971.  It's black lettering on red is faded, of course, and it may have been replaced a time or two (or not) but it looks identical to the sign on the little burger joint I frequented when I worked for $50. a month and room/board at one of the first residential treatment centers for emotionally disturbed kids in Berkeley.
When I drive around the Bay Area, memories overflow from site to site, neighborhood to neighborhood, from the UC campus to the hills to the flat lands by Golden Gate Fields.  I monitor my own growth and evolution by some of the places I ride by.  We carry these snapshots with us longer than we'd care to admit, I suppose.
I recall classes and presentations made on the Cal campus, parties attended, late night runs from a lover's bed to my own, and countless trips to and from my classroom.  We leave a bit of our soul on territory like this even if we are the only ones noticing.
A couple of times this week I've thought of friends now gone.  The turning of the urban landscape is not unlike the soil of farmland.  New crops, the challenges and unpredictability of the climate, the passing and addition of people...constantly.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Duly Noted

I was reading one of those pieces yesterday that highlights how kids today have never lived in a world without computers.  The average 10 year old (whatever that is) cannot imagine life without a hand-held device of some kind.
That got me thinking about college and college students.  Although I get into high school classrooms frequently in my work as a mentor, I realized that it's been a good while since I've been inside a college classroom.  College instructors I know complain bitterly about students with their electronics.  I have trouble imagining note-taking on a computer, but that assumes that's what college students are doing with their computers during a lecture or discussion.  I can't conceive of the distraction that social media must become.

I've heard of dramatic examples where college teachers have thrown major fits about perceived inattentiveness.  Some may even have asked that no electronics of any kind be in use at all.  But we all know the benefits of having a search engine handy when a term or an event or some puzzling vocabulary pops up now and then.  I suppose it's a trade-off.  A trade-off we really can't do much about anyway.
Had I and my contemporaries had a computer while in college, I wonder what the impact might have been.  All those papers on my little portable Remington typewriter.  All that fancy typing paper, those correction tabs and bottle of whiteout.  All those tangled typewriter ribbons, and yes all those trips to the library.
I have clear memories of the UCLA research library circa 1969 where no computers lit the shadowy room and people sat in cubicles with books and notebooks for hours.  No Instant anything to concern ourselves with.  I ought to go back and have a look one of these days just to see what gives now.
I wonder, too how the presentation of a beautifully printed, illustrated in full color paper impacts achievement these days too.  So who writes by hand any more?  Cursive handwriting isn't taught much any more in elementary schools.  What do notes in a lecture hall look like today?  I suppose the are bought and sold on line as well.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Moral High Ground

More thoughts on being on the wrong side of history...
As a 7th grader I had the good fortune to have a Social Studies teacher who valued talk in his classroom.  The most memorable things we did those many years ago were the in-class debates.  While there were and probably always will be students who are involved in only "winning" or crushing their opponent, occasionally there was a rich exchange of ideas.
This was in the big middle of the Civil Rights movement and there happened to be a recent California transplant from Mississippi in my class.  She singlehandedly took on the class in the "debate," which went rom an exchange of opposing ideas to a shouting match within the 45 minute class period.  I can still see her red and getting redder face to this day.  She had the gaul to argue in favor of segregation.  The majority of us just knew were occupied the moral high ground.  What we didn't know was how a childhood as a white Mississippian had shaped our classmate's views.  How could we?  The segregation that existed in our communities was much more institutionalized and certainly more visible.
So it went; that poor girl must have lost all her friends for her entire Middle School life. Just as we couldn't fathom how somebody could hold the views she was taught, she was mystified by how much she just knew we didn't or couldn't know.  Of course, she was on the wrong side of history as in a few short years the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Bills both cleared the Congress in the wake of the Kennedy assassination.

After that little class debate, we watched other more prominent people take their position firmly on the wrong side of history.  Most notable were former Alabama governor George Wallace and a slew of other Southern politicos who literally stood in the path of social justice.
And then there were those vitriolic, hateful venom spewing folks who stood in the way of Elizabeth Eckford walking into a public school under a hailstorm of expletives and epithets.  No child should ever have to experience that...anywhere.
In our moral high chairs, we had no idea how complex these issues could be or that we'd soon be separating ourselves again and again when it came to invading Southeast Asia or questioning the dominant values of teh land of the free and home of the brave.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Which Side Are You On?

I've been mulling over the phrase "the right side of history."  What does it mean to be on the right side of things?  Historically, I'm coming to believe that it's a statement of morality.
or most of my 3o+ years in the classroom, the history and reality of Apartheid in South Africa was part of my curriculum.  In fact, I recall back in the 1970s I read an article that considered a probable date for the end of that peculiar institution.  If progress continued at the same rte, the author postulated, Apartheid might end around the year 2000.  My student's, at that time, figured that Apartheid would end the day that Nelson Mandella voted.  They were spot on in that regard, but it came in the mid-90s slightly ahead of any projected schedule.

Like slavery in America, Apartheid was certainly an example of supporters being on the wrong side of history.  We see these cling-ons now when we see who is still opposed to same-sex marriage or interracial relationships, or even what school reform rally should look like.
When films like the newly minted "Selma" come out and are in the public discussion, I'm reminded what history looks like for those who did not live through or experience such realities first hand.  Despite the soundtrack and the special effects, those that are experiencing a civil rights march from the comfort of a movie theater are only getting a small part of a larger whole.  Better that than nothing, right?
We have a wonderful opportunity in 2015 to examine this concept of what it means to be on the right side of history.  For those in the first half of their lives, the challenge is to identify those issues they think are most likely to impact change in this culture the most.  For the rest of us, a brief review of the change in thinking we have experienced in our lifetimes is in order before any focus on what and where social change matters now and in the decades to come.
If we consider all this thinking from a moral perspective, I think we'll get additional insights into what Steinbeck called "the perfectibility of the human mind.