180 Days: Day 31–Monday, Monday…Long Day, Empowering Day

I had a hard time getting up this morning. Not just because it’s Monday, but because I spent the weekend in meetings at a conference in windowless rooms. I’m tired before the week even begins. And I know that today is a long, long day–a full day of teaching (we scored essays and discussed writing and then started discussions on Unbroken and Hamlet), an evening full of union and school board meetings.

Good things coming out of this long day are that I witnessed kids taking responsibility for their learning–being very interested in reading each other’s stories and providing feedback, and I observed teachers feeling validated in bringing their concerns forward–regardless of whether these concerns will be satisfactorily resolved, these teachers felt empowered to stand up for themselves and support each other (over 20 teachers crowded the Board of Education meeting when typically its only four or five of us–the Board is starting to see new faces and hear new voices, and it’s getting their attention).

Since it was a long day after a long weekend, my brain is tired. So I don’t have too much to say tonight other than I found something to smile about both in the classroom and out.

“Respect” by Aretha Franklin

 

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180 Days: Day 24–BLUE THURSDAY on the State Level

Last Thursday, I wrote of how Thursdays evenings after school are typically dedicated to my participation as a local union leader. After I posted last Thursday, a person who had come across my blog attempted to shame me for my union advocacy. This person accused me of hurting children because I am a union leader. This person’s misplaced anger–and many more like her with far deeper pockets– seem to be winning the policy battles in this country though. So I have to wonder, as children are left behind in for-profit charter schemes, why a person would attack me for fighting for equity and access to a quality education for all. I have to wonder how I’m hurting children by fighting to ensure that every child has a qualified teacher in their classroom. I have to wonder how fighting for the majority of funds to go the classroom is harming kids. Of course, I know I’m not harming kids. My students may not always like what we are studying and they may not always agree with me. But they know that I am fair and will give them a safe space to explore and take risks.

Tonight, I spent five hours at a state level union meeting (yes, I arrived home after 9:30 p.m.) where we discussed the Supreme Court’s impending repeal of union rights this session. We also discussed what we see happening in our state, other states, and territories in the aftermath of catastrophic storms, fires, and massacres. We honored our fellow educators who lost their lives, were injured, or are facing post-traumatic stress after the Las Vegas mass shooting. We shared information on how to help them, as well as help our colleagues being affected by fires in both northern and southern California. We reiterated how to help fellow educators and students in hurricane-torn states and territories. And we discussed the legislation and policy issues our State Council will work on next weekend–including looking at statewide-office primary elections.

I am not ashamed to say I work to keep education a field for professionals. Just ask states where the shortages are so bad they are having to hire people without credentials to put in classrooms with our children whether they feel their education and expertise is valued in their communities (I started my teaching career in a deeply red state that has cut education to the bone–but I have family and friends who both teach and have their children in the school system there). K-12 education is a field dominated by women–except in the administrative ranks (nearly 80% are women). So I consider my work a fight for gender and pay equity as well. Fields that require education, expertise, and skills should be paid commensurately. Yet, we continue to be painted as overpaid babysitters by those who have never spent time in the pressure cooker that is the American education system. According to a 2014 report, between 40 and 50% of teachers leave the profession within the first five years. Nearly half a million of our nation’s 3 million teachers move or leave the profession each year.  This is a systemic problem in which I have worked long, hard, and against the odds to help solve. I hold the philosophy that I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. I want to work for the change that I seek. I do not want to stand on the sideline and just accept whatever injustice–to just acquiesce. I will work; I will organize; I will fight for my students, for my colleagues, for my profession, for my community, for the future of our country. Access to quality public education for every child is that important to me.

Nevertheless, I do not always agree with my union. But I do value the democratic process followed by my union. And if I feel union leaders are getting out of line, it is my duty to call them out on it. At my union’s state level, we have organized groups within the State Council that launch efforts to remind our elected leaders who they work for–they support opposition candidates and pull items for discussion and placing substitute motions on the floor regularly. They question. They vet. They ensure we do not rubber stamp. This is democracy in action–the kind of action that I also wish to see in my local community, Sacramento, and in Washington, DC.

Next week, I will probably continue to reserve at least part of my Thursday piece for my union work, because I will not shy away from a naysayer or two who would rather hurl “shame” my way rather than engage with me and learn about what I believe and why. I still refuse to believe we are so fractured in this country that we can’t even have a conversation anymore. I see my students wade through conflict and figure out how to resolve issues or seek mediation. They typically cut through all the political BS because they can see the simplicity of the bottom line. My students continue to give me hope. And they are why I continue to fight for a professional, well-paid workforce committed to effectively educating them and helping them develop into the creative thinkers we need in today’s world.

“Solidarity Forever” led by Utah Phillips

 

180 Days: Day 21–BLUE THURSDAYS

I am in my 15th year of union leadership in my current school district. I’ve come full circle in the roles I’ve served in on the board of directors: local rep to state affiliate’s council, local association treasurer, local association president, and now back to local rep to state affiliate and treasurer. I am the bargaining chair and active on our organizing team and political action team as well. My personal philosophy of working to be part of solutions rather than part of the problems has formed the bedrock of my service to my colleagues and my profession.

To honor union history, we focus our union meetings and activities mostly on Thursdays. We wear our union color, blue, to show our solidarity with one another in our message, our goals, our defense of our profession. So today I wore my blue Rosie, the Riveter shirt. And I attended our board of directors meeting after teaching narrative writing and Renaissance poetry all day. Our meeting lasted over two hours, and a small group of us continued to work on board business for an additional two hours. Our bargaining team just reached a tentative contract agreement with our district managers. We knew there wasn’t much to get other than language and small token raise that doesn’t even approach the annual increase in the cost of living, but we got something. Convincing our membership to ratify the agreement in the next task at hand.

With unions under constant attack and scrutiny, my fellow local leaders and I struggle to understand how people would rather complain than act to make their work lives and students’ class lives better. We struggle to understand how they would rather be given a fish rather than taught to fish. We struggle to understand how much discomfort has to be suffered by our peers before they will act in their own better interest. As much as I believe in the Iron Rule of Organizing (do not do for others what they can do for themselves), I acknowledge that we may be at least a generation away from people who are hurting enough to act on it. But that won’t keep me from soldiering on.

“Soldier On” by Oasis from their 2008 album Dig Out Your Soul

 

180 Days: Day 9–A Normal School Day, A Not So Normal World Day

Today was our second PLC Late Start Day of the school year. Teachers meet from 7:45 a.m. until 8:35 and students start class at 8:50–a full 50 minutes later than the other four days of the week. Last week, on our first PLC Late Start, 183 of 1813 students (yes, 10%), showed up late to their first-period class. I almost cringe to see today’s numbers in the morning when I print the report because even if it is a better number, it’s not by much. Mercifully, classes are shorter on Tuesdays because we teachers are freaking exhausted at the end of every Tuesday. We are running hard all day long. So in that regard, it was a normal day. I put my nose to the grindstone and enjoyed my time with my students. My sophomores wrote vignettes and my seniors analyzed apocalyptic symbolism in Yeat’s “The Second Coming.” The poem, part of which is used as an epigraph and the title of Chinua Achebe’s classic Things Fall Apart, compares the turmoil in our world to the End of Times with imagery of the Anti-Christ/the Beast. So it was a typical school day–except the themes of today’s work resounded on the world stage today.

POTUS gave a bellicose speech to the United Nations in which he threatened to destroy the entirety of North Korea and its 25 million people and continued his childish name calling tradition by mocking its leader, Kim Jong Un, with the title of “Rocket Man” in an official speech on the world stage. I’m too stunned and fear-filled by DJT’s warmongering to be embarrassed by him anymore. Frankly, Red America, you broke it, you bought it. And we just might face a calamity the likes we’ve never seen. And that says a lot with the 20th Century’s horrific war record in our rearview mirror. Yet, our congressional majority party leaders do nothing to check DJT’s ugly cataclysmic rhetoric. The lessons of history stare us in the face only to be ignored in favor of a short-term power grab and the umpteenth chance to strip health coverage from millions of hardworking Americans. In the end, it’s hard to let a dead man eat cake, even that fancy Mar-a-Lago chocolate kind.

Meanwhile, the Caribbean is hunkered down in misery under the thumb of yet another Category 5 hurricane. Lady Maria has been just as merciless as Harvey and Irma before her. To make matters worse, Mexico suffered a second catastrophic earthquake in as many weeks earlier today–an 8.1 hit the nation on September 8th, but today’s 7.1 hit the heart of the nation’s capital and the death toll has topped 149 with the latest reports.

Today felt like Yeat’s poem outside the classroom. Let’s hope that Things Do Not Fall Apart in our world. And let’s hope our pugnacious POTUS doesn’t spawn WW3 by taunting an isolated, defiant, trigger-happy North Korean leader while our people and our neighbors are consumed by the widening gyre of natural and political disasters.

“The Second Coming”
by W.B. Yeats
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Kasabian’s song “Where Did All the Love Go?” somehow seems appropriate in all this Trumpian chaos as well.

 

“Where Did All the Love Go” by Kasabian, from their 2009 album West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum
Never took a punch in the ribcage, sonny
Never met a soul who had no shrine
Keep this all in your mind and get it inside my window
What do we become trying to kill each other?
You’re faking it son, gonna get you tonight
I suck another breath to the hearts of the revolution
Because you still ain’t right
Where did all the love go?
I don’t know, I don’t know
(I bet you can’t see it)
Where did all the love go?
I don’t know, I don’t know
(I bet you can’t see it)
Can’t see the signs of a real change a-comin’?
Take another sip from your hobo’s wine
Get yourself a million miles from the concrete jungle
This is a time full of fear, full of anger
A hero’s exchange for a telephone line
Whatever happened to the youth of this generation
Because it still ain’t right
Where did all the love go?
I don’t know, I don’t know
(I bet you can’t see it)
Where did all the love go?
Now I don’t know why, oh why
The rivers of the pavement are flowing now with blood
The children of the future are drowning in the flood
Where did all the love go?
Now I don’t know why, oh why
In this social chaos, there’s violence in the air
Gotta keep your wits about you, be careful not to stare
Where did all the love go?
I don’t know, I don’t know
(I bet you can’t see it)
Where did all the love go?
Now I don’t know why, oh why
(I bet you can’t see it)
Lyrics by Sergio Pizzorno

 

Hell in a Handbasket: Charlottesville Proves We Haven’t Learned History’s Lessons

I grew up in a state that many consider part of the Midwest, but most of my neighbors would argue that we are a Southern state. The US Census Bureau agrees only because Oklahoma, the reddest state in the union, is south of Mason-Dixon Line. But Indian Territory, as Oklahoma was known in the 1860s, wasn’t legally open to white settlers until 1889. Oklahoma Territory didn’t become the 46th state until 1907. Nevertheless, many Confederates settled in Oklahoma in the aftermath of the American Civil War. Some of those Confederates were my ancestors–moving from North Carolina through to Arkansas and on to Oklahoma. I’m not proud of this fact, but it is a fact with which I have to live and face. This knowledge is the context of my childhood.

With Confederates on both sides of my family and a paternal grandfather that openly used the “n” word while I was growing up in the Sooner State, I’ve long been amazed that I turned out as I did–a politically active progressive liberal who believes in social justice and fights for equity for minorities, for women, for all. I remember all the racist, sexist, ethnic “truly tasteless jokes” (that were eventually collected into a series of books in 1982) that we all told as grade schoolers as we giggled thinking we were getting one past the grown-ups around us. So much of what I grew up with in the 1970s would not pass in today’s society–rightly so or wrongly so, we have lost our ability as a nation to laugh at the expense of any group, much less ourselves. In many ways, this is indeed progress, but in other ways, we have become a nation at war with itself because we are constantly offended with each other. I have been searching my experiences in my mind trying to trace the path from growing up with tasteless jokes to being trolled by acquaintances and strangers alike in social media for being an intolerant snowflake libtard (among other names).

I considered the humor of Mel Brooks, for example. I can remember laughing at early scenes from Blazing Saddles as a youngster in the back seat of the car at the drive-in theater as my parents tried to enjoy a date night of sorts. My younger brother and I both hee-hawed at the bean farting scene. Then we started arguing over who got the red and blue M&Ms, ate some popcorn, and fell asleep (I was 5 1/2; my brother was 4) before the new sheriff came to town. But as adolescents, we were re-introduced to the entire film. And we both loved the brilliant satire. We still do. I often quote “Mongo only pawn in game of life” when people look to me to solve their problems for them (I’m a firm believer in the Alinsky’s Iron Rule of Organizing–Never do for others what they can do for themselves). Mel Brooks knew that even back in 1974 he was broaching taboo racial, ethnic, and sexist subjects as he parodied Hollywood Westerns, but he did so deftly and with such satiric skill and wit that the classic film still works today.

The closest a film has come to this level of line-crossing satiric genius in the past decade would have to be Ben Stiller’s 2008  Tropic Thunder, which also put Hollywood in the crosshairs while using taboo racist, ethnic, and sexist humor to fantastic effect just like his predecessor Brooks. Tropic Thunder opened the month before my 40th birthday, but I remember thinking as I sat virtually alone at a weekday matinee of the film that it was a brilliant piece of satire that actually pulled off the unthinkable in the post-millennial world–having an Academy Award nominee in blackface for virtually the entire film. I have to wonder if Stiller would have been able to get the green light for the film today, in a post-Trayvon Martin/Michael Brown/Eric Garner/Philando Castile/et al world. Part of me hopes yes, but another part of me hesitates to think so. We are a society that is hurting and not healing. The wounds of our Civil War and its resulting segregation are festering and poisoning the body of our nation. And our national “leaders” do not lead with the courage to do what is right, but instead look for expediency and to curry favor with a chosen few.

 

Today’s horrifying spectacle of the President of the United States openly defending alt-right protestors who were yelling Nazi chants at this last weekend’s “Unite the Right” rally, of him openly defending Confederate General Robert E. Lee by falsely equating him to President George Washington and President Thomas Jefferson (neither of whom betrayed this country to raise arms against it) while denouncing the alt-left as violent offenders was stunning to watch (here’s a guide to the terms). The simmering hatred against America’s first black president, Barack Obama, has in short order boiled over in a very public defiance and a rage egged on by DJT/45 (I still refuse to type his name). The alt-right men and women who descended upon Charlottesville this last weekend were open and proud to wear their White Nationalist symbols. Gone were the KKK face-hiding hoods. The brazen marchers knew the terrifying history behind carrying torches and marching at night–KKK rallies and lynch mobs. They knew that this action steeped in the traditions of the White Supremacists and Segregationists would bring these actions symbolic of the violent old into the now and the future. They also knew that counter protesters would show up–that those in opposition to their extremist views would not stand in fear in the shadows like in days past. America’s wounds are splitting open and bleeding for the world to see.

And all my acquaintances and friends in my birth state of Oklahoma can talk about is how libtards like me are writing a revisionist history erasing their heritage. That is what saddens me the most. How did we arrive at this point in time where extremism is ruling the day and the majority stands by acquiescing? Did we learn nothing from our fathers and grandfathers who fought in WW2? Did we learn nothing from Hitler’s Final Solution and Master Race rhetoric? I can’t help but think of Mark Antony’s stirring the Roman people: “O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,/ And men have lost their reason.”

 

 

Jules’s Jukebox: Musing about Muse & Politics in the Age of Resistance

When the Lollapalooza line-up was released today, I nearly fell out of my seat at the opening day’s line-up: MUSE, Liam Gallagher (Fuck Yeah!), Tritonal… so many I’d love, love, love to see. But tickets sold out before I could act–and I understand why. What a great way to spend a Thursday–and then catch a game at Wrigley on Friday. Talk about a perfect slide into the weekend.

Seeing the line-up took me back about a decade to when I really fell in love with MUSE. So tonight’s twofer (plus an extra for fun) features a couple of classics from Matt Bellamy, Chris Wolstenholme, and Dominic Howard.

“Citizen Erased” by MUSE, from the 2001 album Origin of Symmetry.

The first song I heard from this album was Paul Oakenfold’s remix of “New Born” from the soundtrack to the 2001 Hugh Jackman/John Travolta movie Swordfish. The remix prompted me to seek the original version, which led me to this hard-rocking reverb fest.  Finding this album sparked my interest in the trio from Devonshire, England. The song’s lyrics show Bellamy’s struggle with being constantly questioned by those around him. His allusion to Orwell’s 1984, particularly in the title and the lines “Wash me away/ Clean your body of me/ Erase all the memories/ They will only bring us pain,” remind us all that citizens can be erased and that lies can rule supreme, that innocence can be lost to experience only to be erased back to innocence. (Here is a great blog explaining this song much better than I.) The dichotomy and the dissonance in this song are compelling to listen to.

“Map of the Problematique” by MUSE, from the 2006 album Black Holes and Revelations.

This song continues to display the band’s ability to write layered lyrics that can be seen through a variety of critical lenses. While one person may read the lyrics to this song as being about a man’s inability to move on from a failed relationship, another reads a far more political message (which the band is known for) about war and world chaos that causes us to lose ourselves–like The Lost Generation of WW1. In the verse “Life will flash before my eyes/ So scattered almost/ I want to touch the other side/ And no one thinks they are to blame/ Why can’t we see/ That when we bleed we bleed the same” I can read both of the above interpretations. But my surface reading is this: We wreak havoc on each other, accept no responsibility or blame for our abuses of each other. We want to see the other side’s perspective. We want to reach out to the other. But we have so enabled ourselves that we can only see how right we are rather than find our common ground–that we bleed the same regardless of right and wrong.

“Uprising” by MUSE, from the 2009 album The Resistance.

This song has particular meaning for me right now in light of current world politics–the move toward nationalism, isolationism, authoritarianism. Bellamy has long been a critic of collectivism, but it’s interesting that this progressive liberal finds common ground with his more libertarian views–we both want to be free of mind control and manipulation in an information age rife with propaganda and fake news, kleptocratic rulers, and over-reaching, profiteering, capitalist elitists; we both want the world to be free from tyranny. And if any song is an anti-tyranny song, it is this song. This song is an anthem for resisters. The chorus reflects how when we stand together and rise up, we will win against the tyrants. “They will not force us/ They will stop degrading us/ They will not control us/We will be victorious.”

Ok. I’m throwing a Liam Gallagher song in for fun. Just because I love Liam Gallagher and am anxiously awaiting his new album…

“Rockin’ Chair” by Oasis, the B-side of “Roll with It” (“Roll with It” is from the 1995 album What’s the Story, Morning Glory?, but “Rockin’ Chair” did not make the cut for the album); featured on the 1998 album The Masterplan, a compilation of B-sides not featured on albums. “It’s hard enough sitting there/ Rockin’ in your rockin’ chair/ It’s all too much for me to take/ When you’re not there…” I just love LG’s voice. Here’s to hoping he’ll add more U.S. dates besides Lollapalooza in the near future.

The DeVos Way: Choosing Profits Over Children

Our new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is very enthusiastic about virtual charter schools, even though the research shows that students don’t learn much while enrolled in them. Apparently, good works mean less than good profits. In Arizona, a new online high school is returning remarkable profits. Jim Hall, retired educator, started an organization called […]

via Arizona: Online High School,Collects $10 Million Profit in One Year, and DeVos Wants More of Them — Diane Ravitch’s blog

Democratic Women to Wear White to 45’s Joint Speech

Democratic women in the House are planning to wear white during President Donald Trump’s first major Congressional address on Tuesday evening. The heads of the Democratic Women’s Working Group, including Chair Lois Frankel, (D-Fla.), penned a letter to members Monday–asking them to where wear white to honor of the suffragette movement. However, their motive goes…

via Why Democratic Women Are Wearing White to Donald Trump’s Congressional Speech Tonight — Fortune

 

When Not to Work Together 

I didn’t write the message, but it expresses my sentiments pretty well:
This is where I stand. I feel that our 45th President, his Cabinet and administration, and the majority of Republicans in Congress are a real and active threat to me, my way of life, and all the people I love. Some people are saying that we should give Trump a chance, that we should “work together” with him because he won the election and he is “everyone’s president.” I am willing to do all of that if/when his policies seem reasonable. However:

•I will not “work together” to privatize Medicare, cut Social Security and Medicaid.

•I will not “work together” to build a wall.

•I will not “work together” to persecute Muslims.

•I will not “work together” to shut out refugees from other countries.

•I will not “work together” to lower taxes on the 1% and increase taxes on the middle class and poor.

•I will not “work together” to help Trump use the Presidency to line his pockets and those of his family and cronies.

•I will not “work together” to weaken and demolish environmental protection.

.I will not deny Climate Change even as a massive iceberg is melting and breaking as scientists around the world monitor its possible effects.

•I will not “work together” to sell American lands, especially National Parks, to companies which then despoil those lands.

•I will not “work together” to enable the killing of whole species of animals just because they are predators, or inconvenient for a few, or because some people want to get their thrills killing them.

•I will not “work together” to remove civil rights from anyone.

•I will not “work together” to alienate countries that have been our allies for as long as I have been alive.

•I will not “work together” to slash funding for education.

•I will not “work together” to reduce civil discourse to 144-character character assassinations.

•I will not “work together” to take basic assistance from people who are at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder.

•I will not “work together” to get rid of common sense regulations on guns.

•I will not “work together” to eliminate the minimum wage.

•I will not “work together” to support so-called “Right To Work” laws, or undermine, weaken or destroy Unions in any way.

•I will not “work together” to suppress scientific research, be it on climate change, fracking, or any other issue where a majority of scientists agree that Trump and his supporters are wrong on the facts.

•I will not “work together” to criminalize abortion or restrict health care for women.

•I will not “work together” to increase the number of nations that have nuclear weapons.

•I will not “work together” to put even more “big money” into politics.

•I will not “work together” to violate the Geneva Convention.

•I will not “work together” to give the Ku Klux Klan, the Nazi Party and white supremacists a seat at the table, or to normalize their hatred.

•I will not “work together” to deny health care to people who need it.

•I will not “work together” to deny medical coverage to people on the basis of a “pre-existing condition.”

•I will not “work together” to increase voter suppression.

•I will not “work together” to normalize tyranny.

I will not “work together” to eliminate or reduce ethical oversight at any level of government.

•I will not “work together” with anyone who is, or admires, tyrants and dictators.

•I will not support anyone that thinks its OK to put a pipeline to transport oil on Sacred Ground for Native Americans. And, it would run under the Missouri River, which provides drinking water for millions of people. An accident waiting to happen.This is my line, and I am drawing it.

•I will stand for honesty, love, respect for all living beings, and for the beating heart that is the center of Life itself.

•I will use my voice and my hands, to reach out to the uninformed, and to anyone who will LISTEN:

That “winning”, “being great again”, “rich” or even “beautiful” is nothing… When others are sacrificed to glorify its existence.

DJT’s Short Reading List: Aliteracy Abounds

President Donald Trump doesn’t read books. At least that’s what everybody says. I don’t trust what everybody says anymore because everybody seems to be wrong all the time. Everybody said that Donald Trump would never be president, but everybody was wrong about that. That’s one thing I’ve learned recently; everybody is an expert, but nobody […]

via Donald Trump’s Reading List — Dysfunctional Literacy

*Jules’s Note: I would not disavow a book because someone I don’t like read it and liked it. As for All Quiet on the Western Front (yes, I just linked the entire text for you to read if you haven’t yet), I teach it every year to sophomores. It is a well-written, even poetic, piece of melancholy that anyone contemplating war (starting one, joining up to fight one, etc.) should read. Regardless of whether President Obama’s lists were pretentious or not, the lists promoted works of literary merit worthy of consideration for anyone’s nightstand–alongside the JK Rowling and Stephen King. I can only hope that DJT does read. Research shows that people who read fiction have more empathy. Now if only our POTUS believed in science, but that if for another post (about my next round of marches and resistance–Earth Day, here we come!).