Saturday, July 31, 2010

What Will Be the New "Drilling Down"?

I can tell by the sudden uptick in emails (including a request that I alter a grade so that a child will meet the eligibility requirements for a sport--rage!) that it is time to start preparing in earnest for the start of the next school year. As always, that is an almost overwhelmingly complicated prospect, yet full of hope and possibility. This may, after all, be the year that I am able to leave for home just one day, maybe even a day a month, feeling like I've done everything exactly right; ALL the children know more, think better, and feel just the right balance of respect/love and challenge/accountability from me. Could be, right? So, in between preparing for my friends visit, I am allowing my mind to just go everywhere, thinking of all the things that might possibly be this next year.

Alas, I have a good imagination, and a knowledge that some changes have been made that will require me to attend more meetings with school and district-level administration this year. This got me thinking about the 'professional level' verbal ticks adopted by some in leadership, and how vexing it can be to listen to the same damned word or phrase, often inappropriately used, dozens of times in a 'conversation' (read: lecture). The phrases change every year, of course, following the last trend in corporate blather. Three years ago, during my first teaching year, I was told I was being 'negative' because I asked a pointed question about an astonishingly foolish idea that was presented to the staff as intellectual alchemy. 'Negativity' is discouraged, or was, because 'positivity' was what made good results, and prevented annoying questions by insubordinate jerks like me, just like on Oprah and in the corporate world. I, as a newbie, foolishly thought that smart ideas executed well made good results. Silly me. Then, of course, the corporate world started to crumble and 'positivity' started looking a lot like either burying one's head in the sand or Harvey-level mental illness; it's pretty harmless and cute, but you wouldn't put the guy spouting this philosophy in charge of your money or your kids.

The bursting of corporate bubbles must have had a very serious impact on the health habits of corporate drones, indeed, because we were next instructed to "work the programs [we were] provided, with full fidelity to all the steps." This would have been almost reasonable, minus the insistence that educators stop all their annoying thinking and asking questions and just do as they're told already. Except. My school district spent approximately 70 jillion dollars on programs with competing and unreconcilable philosophies, and instructed us to put them all into place at once. This causes educators to ask impertinent questions like 'how can I implement all these together without making myself and the children explode?' and 'what results can I expect from this veritable cornucopia of overpriced programs?'. I don't want to go into detail, because I would probably be sharing corporate secrets, but it was a little like telling teachers and children that they had to simultaneously be completely skeptical radical atheists, and completely faithful as mormons, southern baptists, and orthodox jews. 'Twas a puzzlement, and all questions, objections, and general observations were met with a repeat of the 'full fidelity' requirement, because like addicts, we were addicted to workable solutions, and had to give them up cold turkey by working our steps.

And then we got to the "what the hell is wrong with you?!eleventyone!" year, during which we were encouraged finally to think. Huzzah! We like thinking! Thinking involves using knowledge and ability and coming up with further questions, or maybe even solutions! Thinking is our friend. Or not. Because there is no thinking, there is 'drilling down' to root causes, and when we had located 'root causes,' we were told to 'drill down' to the 'root causes of the root causes.' And then 'drill down' some more. I cannot begin to express to you how completely annoying it is to be told to 'drill down' repeatedly by people with annoying accents and nothing else to offer the conversation. And when we finally got to the platonic ideals we were mining for, we were asked how we could change them for the children. Except, some of the root causes have to do with the community and the fact that our schools are not really engaged with the community on a level that is helpful and unifying. Helpful and unifying costs money, and there's no money left to make the school a center of a vibrant community again, when you had to spend all those 70 jillion dollars on corporate education programs that each did much less than advertised, and combined did much, much less than slightly smaller class sizes and more frequent parent nights would have done.

Well, I can't imagine that 'drilling down' will still be the annoying as hell almost meaningless corporate left-over that gets touted with little context or understanding at the meetings this year. Even if my internal editors are all hard at work, which they rarely are, I have younger colleagues who haven't trained their editors yet, and older colleagues whose internal editors have become as cynical and grizzled as those guys in the forties movies. One person will say 'drill down' just once and then we're off on BP compare and contrast essay, I just know it.

Since there are still superintendents who append "CEO" to their title because it seems more professional (*cough* Arne Duncan *cough*), and consider educated children a commodity that we as educators produce from the raw materials of children plus books, measured by tests, I figure there will be no slowing of the desire of educational leadership in my county stealing bad ideas from their better-remunerated friends in corporate culture to prove that they are too cool and capable, and educators aren't out of the loop. So, some fool thing that some MBA somewhere used as a motivational earworm once will be adopted by leadership as 'the way to fix a broken educational system' like ours, and they'll feel like they fit in with their friends. The children, however, will continue to learn at the rates that teachers and parents can help them learn.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Mood Swing

Yesterday's doldrums have been supplanted today by excitement upon learning that a dear, dear old friend (and her family) will be visiting my neck o'the woods soon. Yay!

This particular friend has had a tremendous impact on my life's trajectory; it was she who badgered, encouraged, and cajoled me into signing up first for a language class with her, and then for a full semester of college a few months later. It was her constant quest for knowledge in her own life that put her in a position to hold my hand and lead me into the undergraduate matriculation that finally took. She also was there to talk to and boggle with me at the extreme weirdness that is the university. I tend to think the university is an even stranger place when you've spent a decade in the work force, as we had. Perhaps that's just me trying to assign our non-traditional status as the cause of a culture shock that would have happened anyway. After all, I can't compare the experiences. Still, it was comforting to have another, more advanced adult in the trenches with me and all those rookies. For these and many reasons, I love her.

(S'blood, do I have to put a background story in for everything?!)

Anyway, I have now switched from grumpy to happy. I've been very busily working on what stuff is available to see around here for families. What's good for 7 year-olds, and what's good for 2 year-olds? How many Firehook cookies will I need to buy to allow me to purchase the children's affection without making them twitchy enough that I earn their parents' annoyance? All chocolate chip, or should I get the lemony ones too? Can I get my intermittently aggressive kitty in for a mani-pedi before they get here?

These and many other questions must be answered, and I will love answering them because I really like having something to look forward to again.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Random Bullets of Crap

I'm feeling retro enough and grumpy enough to do this, so here goes:

  • It is too !#$% hot and humid to walk around my usually very walkable neighborhood with the extra weight of my walking cast. Driving with the driving shoe still hurts. I am getting very VERY grumpy about being at home.
  • My scanner is being a bastard.
  • Cat appears to invite large numbers of his little cat friends over in the night to shed all over my stuff.
  • I learned today that both sides can agree that I threaten democracy by being anonymous/pseudonymous and opinionated on the internet.
  • I am unable to make a very science-based dude I know understand that there is a very real possibility of entrenched ideologies affecting how a scientist asks his questions, even what questions he chooses to ask, and then how interprets his data. Because "social sciences" aren't "real sciences," so they don't count. And there is no discrimination against women and minorities in the "real sciences," because there is a several hundred year history of northern european descended males being superior at astronomy. Ignore the middle east. Never happened.
  • Also, he is not thinking in a sexist context, because his very feminist mom stayed home to raise him and his brother, so he didn't get all that yucky patriarchy training that happens in the preschools.
  • I am out of vodka.
  • We are now seven weeks in to my saga of the leak-damaged living room floor, which is still not fixed, though several promises have been made by the apartment managing company.
  • I bought an Angelonia because it was all pretty and purply, and would work well with my new bedroom decor, and it is dying at an alarming rate.
  • Organization and productivity remain elusive.
  • I gained five pounds since I hurt my damned foot.
  • I really suck at creating fiction. Even when I fictionalize reality, it's crap.
  • Affirmation bear has assigned me the task of eliminating perfectionism from my psyche. You know how you don't help a perfectionist? Give her an unquantifiable assignment!

[Edited to add the following]

  • Despite my status as an ex-Catholic, I am having a lot of difficulty learning how to work and play nicely with the loud n proud Protestants at work. Seriously, man, I don't say nasty shit about your grandma's intellectual and spiritual acuity. Also, praying for God to harm your enemies, including that guy who cut you off when you were on your way home from the Harris Teeter, is really disturbing. Save it for personal time.
  • There has been a lot of talk among people I know about "the renter's mentality" and nasty, clueless references to the poor in general, and renters in particular, as people who don't work hard enough. Because we can all be middle class if we work hard enough. And that is personally infuriating, because ...
  • With student loan payments figured in (an expense the complaining bourgeois I work with do not have, have never had, and do not expect their kids to have), I have determined that I can have a reasonably middle-class lifestyle, OR a reasonably middle-class bank account, but NEVER both.
  • But it is also professionally infuriating, because attitudes like that affect how one deals with poor children and their parents. The boy we had to hold back from moving on to high school didn't have his problems because his guardians were lazy, and rented their house, and were loud on Saturdays. He had them because they didn't have time or education to research the possible remedies, and even if they did, couldn't begin to afford the remedies for those problems.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Summer Project Plan B: Attempting to Write Fiction

This was not supposed to be my summer project. Every year, I choose something large and somewhat scary to learn over the summer break. I was determined this summer to learn how to be moderately athletic. My general clumsiness and profound fear of looking foolish in front of the very muscular has prevented me learning anything more athletic than basic walking for several decades now, and even that is sometimes a wobbly affair. So, I decided this would be the year when I turned that history of clumsiness around. I would learn things and practice and emerge with the upright, squared shoulders and air of indomitable capability of the 'natural athlete.'

Despite those brave plans, a newer tradition reared it's ugly head, and I am in a cast this summer. For the third time in three years. Friends have declared that next year they will -- forcibly if need be -- wrap me in bubble wrap at least two weeks prior to summer solstice to break the pattern. This plan strikes me as a perfect way to break an arm rather than a pattern, but they mean well.

So, there I was with a summer to fill, mobility heavily limited, and no reasonable plan for learning in the face of a haunting fear. I hate that. I cast around for fears I could face heroically from a comfy chair and footrest, and lighted upon fiction writing. It is a shameful secret that I regularly ask my students to put aside their fears of inadequacy and try fiction writing as a way to engage with words and ideas in a fun and creative way, yet avoid the practice myself due to my own similar fears. I, Fraud. Filling in an empty spot where moral fiber should always have been seemed a plausible enough heroic journey for the summer, and I declared I would write something.

Almost immediately, memories of the last time I attempted to write fiction began to crowd in. I was twenty, and earnest, and arrogant, and painfully naive. I had written some letters to a favored uncle, and he approved of my style and encouraged me to try my hand at writing for real. There's very little that twenty year-old me wanted to hear more than that I could be an artist. I became perfectly awful almost overnight. I sat with my manual typewriter (Old School!), and my cigarettes (Daring and Tortured!), and put my Mr. Coffee on permanent duty (Dedicated!), and proceeded to type out the most humiliatingly transparent, precious dreck I could muster. My own mother read it and declared it 'kind of cute.' That chapter of the Great American Novel That Wasn't was quickly relegated to the back of a closet somewhere in favor of piano lessons, which I also took very seriously, and at which I also achieved little in the way of skill or artistry. We won't discuss the horrors I inflicted upon the poor, innocent bastards who trusted me to try my hand at cooking.

I think I kind of suck at everything artistic or in any way generative, folks. Yet here I am, with a proper computer this time, attempting to write a short story. (Start small, Heo!) You'll notice if you look to the right of this blog that I have approximately 250 words and have had since I put the widget there. In fact, I have managed a first page of three separate stories: a barely disguised autobiographical story that makes me cry too hard to write reasonably, a science-fiction story meant to use science to explicate a moment in biblical narrative (written by a humanities person and atheist), and some other pile of amorphous bullshit that I can't quite describe. They vary in quality from the merely humiliating to suicidal ideation-inducing.

I like to think of myself as the kind of person who can set her jaw at something and have it happen. I have managed many things in my life by employing just that strategy, and so I generally think of everything I haven't accomplished as stuff that I haven't adequately attempted. I think this may be the summer I find out what it's like to face a fear, do my best, and have that fear kick my ass anyway.

I wonder if it would be cheating to reframe the fear I face as "working my hardest only to find that I really do suck" and call it an odyssey already.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Thanks, Susan Faludi. I Needed That!

The local library has a large bookshelf by the exit on which they place donated books that patrons can buy for a DOLLAR! I try to avoid that section of the library most of the time because I hoard books like an English major, but last week I was in the mood to spend $5 frivolously, and there were a lot more books than usual. I came away with a great haul, including a copy of Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. And so it is that, after a mere 19 years -- half my lifetime, I have actually read the whole book rather than just the snippets that other people used for arguments.

It was often unpleasant to remember the illustrative cultural moments Faludi used in her argumentation. I could have lived happily for the rest of my life not remembering when young men, the good guys, our friends as we thought they were, cheered during the rape scene of The Accused. It was always unpleasant to remember the terrible words of clergy and politicians who were openly hateful about me and the people I loved. It was also perfect timing for me.

I have been trying to figure out for the past three months why I am suddenly in a panic about not being able to present myself to my high school classmates as the 'Mom' of a perfect nuclear family. This has never been my wish for my life. I have actually threatened to move abruptly out of state if a man gets all gooey over me and the thought of diamond jewelry. Because, yikes, marriage cooties! But here I was, having all this angst over not having what I never wanted, and it confused me.

And then, as I read Backlash, I began to understand. Thinking about people I knew well 20 years ago was making me think about what was 'important' 20 years ago. That, in turn, was making me anxious about not having what I am supposed to have by now in order to be considered successful as a woman. The backlash finally caught up with me, but the explanation of what was happening and why was close to hand. I'm lucky.

I wonder who's going to be responsible for chasing down the truth about all the crap that's being put out now about women and burrowing in the brains of young women and girls as little self-esteem time-bombs that will go off at some unknown time in the future. Who will write a chapter explaining what the hell is wrong with Steven Pinker, for instance? Who will go through and explicate the rancid sexism that was thrown at political figures in 2008 by reporters who claimed to be supporters? (I'm looking at you, Tweety, you big snorty ass.)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Heomodor's Prediction

When I was a wee colleen, eager to thwart the unreasonable hierarchical constructs that I identified as the enemies of justice and goodness, but still naive enough to think I could purchase the accessories of revolution at the mall, Heomodor sat me down for a little talk.* She started right in at the gaping hole of greatest import in my understanding: my full acceptance of the media-softened narrative of “the sixties.” I paraphrase, but what she said went a little something like this:

“The television is lying to you. This country was AT CIVIL WAR twenty years ago. It was an ugly time, not a beautiful one. There was no love and peace then. Shots were fired, and people were killed. They were killed for their ideas. They were killed by the police, under orders from the governments of their cities and states. They were killed by their countrymen in the name of America, and God, and Freedom. It was terrifying, and it will happen again. Hateful people still exist, and they will still be willing to kill to frighten others into pretending to believe they are right. The next time it happens it will be worse.”

My response was to roll my eyes covertly, as was so often the case when my mother would talk about the events that occurred before I was born as if they were not perfectly resolvable sitcom-level conflicts. Yeah, right, mom. Of course men were rude to women, and white people were rude to black people, on purpose, as if their parents never introduced the topic of manners. Sure. Yeah, yeah, the flower children chose images of peace and love purposefully to challenge their opponents’ world views, thus filling their opponents with the kind of frothy rage that made Travis shoot Ole Yeller. Whatever.

Then, a few years later, I was a little less wee, and a little less desirous of proving Heomodor wrong on general principle, but still aggressively ‘independent’ enough to be determined to watch all the political coverage available so I could make an informed decision in my very first presidential election. Thus was I willing and eager to watch the Republican National Convention of 1992.

Holy Fuck.

I’d like to say that my assessment of the situation has evolved to include pithy insights and erudite evaluations since then, but it’s really just been a decades-long, ever-increasing feeling of ‘Holy Fuck.’ These right-wingers, they know how to up the hate-monger ante.

Now we have those on the right – not the crazy cabin-in-the-woods right like Timothy McVeigh, but the ‘Hi, I’m running for Mayor/Congress/Senate’ right – speaking publicly of ‘second amendment solutions’ to their political problems. And it’s not just idle talk, as the family of the murdered Dr. Tiller will no doubt attest. There are those on the right who are not using eliminationist rhetoric as a mere political ploy; these bastards want us silent, and if dead is the only way to achieve silent, they’ll go with that.

The rhetoric is being assisted along by judicial decisions like the recent Supreme Court decision overturning gun bans in various locations, but most notably in DC, where we keep our federal government. This is the same federal government that oppresses all these hate-mongers by limiting their free reign to oppress other Americans with impunity.

I fear that the perfect storm Heomodor envisioned a bit over a decade ago is gathering now. Militarized ideologues have been defining themselves and their followers as warriors for decades, yes. Culture Warriors and Christian Warriors, yes, but that is just the preliminary work. That work is their effort to Other people on the left, and some of the people on the left then Other the people on the right, and then we have opposing sides of “war.” That is in place, really. And there is a very short hop between metaphorical ‘war’ and real duck-and-cover war once Othering has been completed. Ask the Sudan.

*She kindly neglected to inform me of how embarrassingly obtuse it was to be a little consumerist 80’s girl, wearing mass-produced simulacra of the artifacts of an earlier teenaged counter-cultural rebellion. That must have been difficult for her, because I had a full complement of mass-produced Hippie-inspired Yuppie gear. Thinking back on this gear now sends me into a full blush that rivals the one I produce when suffering from the effects of bad tequila.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Spring Summer Cleaning Underway

So, I think I have cleared all the E.D. medication ads from the blog. Yay.

Despite my worst fears, the majority of my posts have not been so boring/childish/irresponsible that I'm left with three posts and a terrible desire to burn my keyboard. Most injudicious blogging was fixable with one deleted paragraph and an added note that editing occured to spare the innocent. Not so bad at all.

I've entertained the possibility of replacing pseudonym wih just plain nym, but have not convinced myself that this would add anything of value to the blog or my experience as a blogger. I do know it would come with some inconveniences, though, so an emphatic 'not yet if ever' on that.

Question(s): Anybody have any ideas for freshening up the old template? Should it happen? If it does, what kind of stuff would be perfect? What to avoid?