The Poky Little Pundit


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Choosing to trust

I know, I’m two days late. Toddlers and jobs and house guests and the holidays will do that. Moving swiftly on…

One of my favorite characters is Lloyd Dobler from the movie, Say Anything. He is famous to my fellow 30 somethings for the boombox scene – but to me, the most memorable part of the film is his career speech: “I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.” (Yes, it’s worth quoting in its entirety.)

The seminal romantic image of my generation. A boom box and hope.

His reasoning here is why I initially became a teacher. I wanted to opt out, in a way, of the unpleasant realities of a capitalist culture. But if anything, teaching thrust me into the very root of its problems. Public school teaching is unique. Few professions allow adults to experience such a broad cross-section of present-day society. It is unlikely that, say, Boeing or Microsoft employees meet a wide variety of people on the job. My students have comprised a Presidential scholar, an ethnic Albanian who witnessed the brutal murder of his entire family, a kid who pulled off a perfect SAT score, a 12 year old who beat another student to death with a baseball bat, and a kid whose parents own a $7 million house.

I have also taught many students with various forms and in various stages of mental illness. Teachers know students who are already so angry that we cannot reach them. We know teenagers whose eyes look like empty black holes. We see students whose mental illness goes unrecognized by their mentally ill parents. We send these kids out into the world, knowing they do not have the skills necessary to survive emotionally in our society. But what can we do? What recourse do we have?

We all want to know: How do we make sense of what happened at Sandy Hook? And more importantly, how do we learn from it? It is horrifying to me that many people – from close friends to ex-students to political leaders – have suggested that we arm our teachers. I find this kind of reasoning simply incomprehensible. On a practical level, it is almost amusing. Just last year, for the first time in my career, I was given a cupboard for my bag and coat. (Previously, I slung personal items over the back of my chair.) So, firstly, where in heck could we store this gun, and how could we possibly access it quickly enough? How would we would train teachers to respond when we do not even have mandatory First Aid or CPR training? How do we fund the gun and the training when many of us already pay out of our own pockets for basic classroom supplies? Are people advocating this idea ready to pay the taxes necessary to make this actually work? It is wrong thinking on a level so major that I cannot find a way into these people’s heads. So, by the way, is the argument that by God’s grace, more children were not hurt. Where does one even start with the flaws in this sort of logic? And if you actually think this, how could you believe in such a God?

michael-debell

Michael DeBell is the director of the Seattle School Board.

I believe we have a fundamental choice to view everyone with either suspicion or trust. The statistics support people like me who trust that most of us – even those with mental illness – are not going to shoot each other. The people bragging online about how they would have ‘blown the head off that bastard,’ to quote one friend, are inherently suspicious of their fellow humans. Personally, I would rather die than live that way. The vast majority of the students I have taught are now competent, caring adults who have truly enriched my life. Of the remainder, one might be a serial killer. And I am willing to take my chances even on her.

Back to ‘getting involved,’ though. This week has been excellent for the PLP. Reuven Carlyle, a representative for my district, put me in touch with a wonderful woman very involved in Seattle Public Schools. We chatted about ways to make changes at local schools, and she has connected me with others also hoping to improve local schools. One way is by attending a meeting, held every third Saturday at Cafe Appassionato in Magnolia, hosted by Seattle School Board Director Michael DeBell. I’ll be there in January.

Progressive_Majority

I also received a phone call this morning from Progressive Majority, who support potential candidates in their bid for office. I am going through an initial screening to see whether or not I am a viable candidate, so we spoke about my previous leadership experience, my political views, and, for lack of a better word, my overall life philosophy. I hope I didn’t sound like an idiot – the phone call woke me up. Next comes a questionnaire and some fun meetings in January so I can start understanding the process of running for office. I will be reporting whatever I discover! As next Tuesday is Christmas, I will not be posting again until January 1st. Hug your family tight! Love, the PLP.

me and G professional photo


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The problem with pink and blue

I have been substitute teaching quite a lot recently – turns out it is rather dangerous of late to be a member of the English department at my old high school (Read: Everyone is getting sick. And I ain’t talking colds). It is a stressful job, and it has taken a toll on some dear friends. But hey! We should introduce more competition via charter schools, ’cause that will fix everything!

There is simply no comment necessary here (read the title carefully).

There is simply no comment necessary here (read the title carefully).

Anyway. One such visit occurred this past Friday, where I had the misfortune to witness the Winter Sports Assembly. The ASB, made up of seven boys and one girl, chose a pink vs. blue theme and forced boys and girls to sit on different sides of the gym to create a ‘battle of the sexes.’ Girls fully embraced the theme, wrapping their bodies in tight pink spandex and pink crop tops while boys, already predisposed towards owning blue clothing, simply got dressed. What ensued was, from this feminist’s perspective, a horrific spectacle in which girls earnestly attempted to ‘win’ games such as sandwich-making and laundry-folding, while boys had a laugh, failed, and were still deemed winners by a male set of judges.

The Drill Team: A decades' old tradition of showcasing women's private parts for entertaining.

Drill Team: A decades’ old tradition of showcasing women’s private parts for entertainment!

The best was yet to come, however. The Drill team – otherwise known as Barbie robots on crack – gave new meaning to the phrase ‘male gaze.’ As the music blared, twenty frantically smiling girls in uniform bent over and gyrated for a full minute, exposing bottoms clad only in navy spankies to 700 teenage boys. The boys’ side went wild, while the girls just looked down – wanting to support their female peers but too embarrassed to bear witness to the scene. After that, the Cheer team lined up and made a tunnel to run through for the boys’ football team. Yay! The boys won state! The girls who won state, meanwhile, merely moseyed over to the center of the gym to collect a plastic bag full of candy, and sat back down.

I attempted to discuss the assembly afterwards in the senior classes I was covering – totally on topic because they were discussing how gender impacts identity formation for an upcoming essay. For them, the assembly was a routine experience, and they were simply unable to think critically about the experience. One girl memorably responded, without irony, “What’s wrong with pink?” A boy, meanwhile, shouted, “Yeah, that assembly kicked ASS!” (Cue riotous laughing and high-fiving with other boys – this being Senior English and therefore not an AP class, the population was mainly male).

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These are sandwiches. There was no reason to put this image in, but it made me laugh to think of including sandwiches.

Perhaps female students are unaware that there is an actual battle to be fought – and that it could be their propensity to acquiesce that allows employers to continue paying women 77 cents to every male dollar. (It’s also possible that I was labeled a sad, old, feminist hag to whom they could not be bothered to speak. I hope not.)

It is moments like these that renew my zeal to become involved in the larger organization of our society. Watching the girls in the audience passively endure what was, inarguably, a whole-school endorsement of sexist behavior, made me angry. It should have made them angry. But being a squeaky wheel in high school takes courage, and girls are exceptionally good at just putting their heads down and getting to work no matter what the conditions. (New charter school idea…a high school that does not condone the objectification of half its members in a captive audience!)

national partnership logo

So the PLP spent this week following the suggestions of my lovely readers and registering to be a member of the League of Women Voters  and the National Partnership for Women and Families. I am amazed and humbled that a simple email to these organizations resulted in a personal email from the women running them, combined with links to all sorts of ways to get involved. Some of the women have even called me to see how they can help and have sent me pamphlets full of information in the mail. None of this involves wearing pink, making sandwiches or folding clothes.

league of women voters logo

The League of Women Voters

Girls in high school reading this: Know that high school is a unique culture that ends when you graduate, but it is also a place where you can safely begin a career fighting for fair treatment. Write into the school paper to protest the assembly, and think of ways to raise the status of girls in school. Campaign to end school-sponsored events that further marginalize your gender, and if you want to join the Drill or Cheer team, maybe make up dances where you don’t show the student population your nether regions for funsies.

All the rest of you: If you have not yet signed up to support these organizations, do it now!


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It’s working!

Since I last posted, I spent four days in Florida visiting my 95-year-old grandfather. Why on earth have I chosen to live in Seattle? Why isn’t my life filled with sunny, white-sand-filled beaches, where people in stores actually want to help you find things? Where Omar from The Wire hangs out at the airport? (My most exciting celebrity spot EVER.) Alas, I have returned to the land of rain and reticence. Sigh. Back to business. Oh, and a topic.

Any excuse to include his pic and I am taking it.

Any excuse to include his pic. (His real name is Michael K. Williams, BTW).

So I recently found out that several of my closest friends and family members voted yes on charter schools. They were a trifle shame-faced admitting it to me. I tried to stay calm while shooting daggers with my eyes. I couldn’t help myself – I felt just a teensy bit betrayed. I know, the election’s over and whatnot, and everyone is entitled to their opinions. But they are just so wrong! And I am so hyperbolic.

We had a lovely, productive discussion, however, and I tried to practice magnanimously seeing the other side. It hurt a little, because my natural inclination, being the youngest of three, is to just dig in my heels and stick my fingers in my ears. But I did listen. And then I thought. And then I emailed WA state Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles.

My new bessie mate, WA state Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles.

And she responded! I have her email right in my inbox! Pretty exciting for such a poky little pundit.  Anyway, I wrote to her because if the voters have said they want charter schools – however misinformed I think they are – I want to be involved. Voters have clearly shown that they don’t value teachers’ opinions on education, so we must swallow our pride and find ways to shape these new schools into viable options.

I’d love to see a high school that caters to both academically minded students and those wishing to pursue vocational careers. In America, the option to begin a vocation is generally offered post K-12, whereas in England students can pursue this option from the age of 16. In many European countries, such as Germany, Norway and Switzerland, close to 50% of students complete their training in vocations and apprenticeships verses following an academic path. In Australia, according to friends, there is near equal prominence given to academic and vocational career choices.

Don’t get me wrong – there is value in teaching Hamlet to students who might become plumbers. But there is also value in helping a student to find her or his strengths in school and in finding ways to shape those strengths into careers. Probably a third of all the students I have taught in Senior English classes would have benefitted from a more career-driven education – or at least a respectable choice.

Senator Kohl-Welles (who by the way agrees with me about charter schools) informed me that Governor-elect Jay Inslee will be the one leading the charge on charter schools. To read more about the Senate Committee Services report on Initiative 1240, click on that underlined bit.

I also emailed Reuven Carlyle, who connected me to a woman who works with schools in my neighborhood, and we are having coffee next week. Who knows where that will lead?

For all of those readers out there who voted for charter schools, you better have some ideas that you are prepared to support. Please take a moment to write and tell me a few. Perhaps I will mention them to all the local politicians crowding my inbox.