Monday, October 17, 2016

Painting Ourselves Into A Corner

I am surprised as any that I do other things besides obsess about Donald Trump and the future of a mortally wounded American polity.  But, I do.  I am in school this semester, continuing my brick-by-brick attainment of teaching credentials.  I don't have any doubt that I'll finish; my only concern is that I will obtain my degree posthumously.  There are faster pathways that would make it possible for me to teach math within a couple of years, but I've decided to continue at this pace largely because I love my job and the psychic and practical benefits it provides, and because occasionally I'll take a class that will invite me to do some real scholarship and I don't want to be in any program thats paradigm resembles fast food delivery.  At least those are my current rationalizations.

This semester I'm enrolled in an undergraduate class, School Health, and I spent the first month writhing with impatience because I am "learning" with 19 and 20 year olds.  We have group assignments, y'all, and even with peers that's challenging.  Last week I confessed to the professor that every week I swear it's going to be The Very Last One, I'll Do This On My Own, Thankyouverymuch!  And every week I climb down off my high horse and get to work.  As much as I loath the phrase it is what it is, it's apt in this situation.  I cannot make my classmates any older, wiser, more worldly, or smarter than they are right now.  They don't exist to entertain and interest me.  I've resolved (and pretty much stuck to it) to make as much as I can out of the class and move on.  But I have to admit I miss the days of way-over-my-head math and of Java programming.

A while back I took a great workshop which closed with some questions asked anonymously.  One asked of the facilitator was (and I paraphrase):  Should you as a white woman be teaching students of color history?  My reaction to that is the culmination of my pretty peculiar childhood and education, my parents' values, the nature of intelligence, and my conviction that we do ourselves irreparable psychic harm when we elect to restrict our curiosity.  (I've written about this before in another post -- the phenomena of someone "looking like me" as a requisite for effective teaching and learning.  How much you want to bet I'll write a mega-paper about it in some class before I'm done?)  The question so disturbed me that day I felt I was going to write the instructor immediately.  Didn't, of course.  But I could not let this go unremarked and so last night this is what I told her:

First let me introduce myself.  I was the white-haired African-American woman at the workshop [From Genocide to Generational Continuity: Frames for Understanding and Transforming Education] who you thanked for "getting" what you were explaining as the historical precedents for where we are today in education; we spoke briefly.

Ever since that great workshop I've been intending to write you, and every day more mundane, yet pressing demands have -- or at least I've let them be more pressing -- superseded that.

But, since I won't be able to join you and others at the Salon on the 25th I wanted to get this said.  One of your closing remarks (and 2 1/2 weeks on I can only paraphrase) was about your legitimacy in teaching/facilitating discussions about these matters in the first place.  I wanted to speak directly to that.

Whenever knowledge is balkanized, racialized I think it is a bad thing.  I understand, and have been subject to the white supremacist gaze/POV for my entire 62 years.  I understand, at least superficially, cultural imperialism and I've observed how it plays out in these United States of America, much less in contemporary Africa.  And yet I disagree vehemently with what has become a canonical trope in our discourse, i.e., that certain subjects must be taught by people "who look like me”(the me being disadvantaged students of color).

In logic, we learn that an inverse is the negation of the conditional statement.  So if for a statement such as, "African-American students are best taught by African-American teachers" the inverse is:  Non AA students are best taught by non AA teachers".  By the extension of the logic, the inference is that non AA students should NOT be taught by AA teachers.  And we could extrapolate from there in terms of what are appropriate subject matters for appropriate instructors -- AA history, French literature, the European Enlightenment, the geo-politics of ancient Mali.  Despite the ravages of cultural imperialism on our collective psyches, the solution is not assignment by tribe/caste/race.  At the very least it means that if I were interested in modern Danish history, I would be discouraged from studying it and writing about it as a scholar because I'm not caucasian.  So why would I enforce a norm that prohibits caucasians from studying and writing about African-American history and sociology?

Would I love more students of color to have role models that look like them?  Hell yeah, which is why I'm pursuing a masters in elementary education.  But, do I think that that alone is sufficient to address the miseducation of public school students of color?  Not by a long long shot.  The situation is so dire, and the need for thinking, committed people is so great that I would rather we commit to the work and struggle together (and mature together) through our differences than banish potential allies because of notions of the primacy of racial phenotypes.

I understand that part of your odyssey is grappling with white privilege.  But having you and other whites step away from this work as an act of atonement accomplishes very little.  Very few of those who pose the question as to your right to teach where you teach and as you teach are doing the work themselves. When they are able and ready to step up to replace you, then and only then should you consider standing down.  But until that day comes (and it never will) do your work.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

September Song

For your pleasure.  Sarah Vaughan and Clifford Brown:

Two Self-Dealing Inveterate Dissemblers Walk Into A Presidential Election ....

.... and ask to be our President.  A caretaker incrementalist who is an archetypal example of what becomes of a socially liberal idealist when they gain entrée to the Establishment's sausage-making machine vs. a colossally ignorant, boorish, ADHD-afflicted case study in greed and arrested development.  Those are the choices, folks.

Fuck them.
Fuck Gary Johnson.
Fuck Jill Stein.

I'm voting for Clinton.  It solves nothing but buys time to do the work that needs doing.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Work-In-Progress: excerpt from "Baby Mine"

Roselle was really tired and wanted a seat more than anything or she thought she would die or at least not be able to make it through another day.  The girl with the three babies got the last one.  Two who the mother pretend were twins by dressing them the same but anybody who’d had twins or too much sex before her 6 week postpartum checkup knew that those 2 babies were born 10 months apart and they and the toddler who already had streaks of dried snot forming a parentheses around its open and drooling mouth were staring up at Roselle.  She sighed, no seat, no mercy for her knees and the pain got louder as the bus lurched down the boulevard that she almost bit through her tongue.  But, Roselle made it to the Wexlas Avenue stop and thanked God that the bus stopped right in front of the school.  She lurched her way forward into the employees’ entrance and promptly sat down at her station ignoring that she needed to pee.  The children, all blue legs and white arms, gamboled past her with box cutters, Nintendo PlayStations and sodas in their ballast-like backpacks.  She prayed that the morning would be over fast.  It was the only thing that kept her going on the job except for seeing Mr. Washington, who had begun work at PS 304 the same day she had.  Everybody talked about how fine he was; and the more he ignored them, the more the girls said he was funny.  At break, Roselle didn’t join the argument one way or the other.  It would give away whatever feelings she had, and she was not going to give herself away, not even to herself.  Every Monday Mr. Washington was the topic of the guards’ 15 minute break, and when she was asked to take sides about the man, Roselle sucked her teeth and waved away the question.  Besides, because of how she esd nobody expected her to have much of an opinion about a good-looking man.  He was none of her business.

I'll Stand With You

A reminder of what real courage can cost a person and a family.  Know your history. All of it.

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