Positively Negative

polarity

Why does it take a catastrophe like this in order for America to hear our cries?” –Danielle Williams, Baltimore protester.

If we knew 30 days ago where we would be today, would we have behaved differently? We’ve witnessed how other regions of our nation respond when public policy does not reflect the needs of the community. “Civil Unrest” is a term coined by those who are tired of the status quo. It is also feigned by those who resist it. Freedom has NEVER been offered without a struggle because those in power are already free to do what they want. We want to act in a positive manner? To do so is to takes action! 

Wait!  Thirty days ago?  We haven’t recovered from the last acts of social injustice!  Statistically there were in excess of 360 police-involved deaths last year alone.  With a wrongful death averaging almost one per day, how has this not become a national epidemic. Far more people are affected by injustice than Ebola and Mad Cow Disease combined!  But disease (no matter how limited or minimal) has everyone concerned because disease knows no ethnic, cultural, class, religious, gender, or age barrier.  There’s the rub!  Anyone can fall victim.  If it can happen to any one of us, we have a united concern!  Division dissolves. This is probably why zombie movies are so popular.

BUT THIS IS NOT SCIENCE FICTION.  THIS IS REALITY!!!

negativity

Only days ago I saw the news clip of Protester Danielle Williams explaining to the media that the frustration of the people is a direct result of a failure to act.  All Americans have witnessed and endured as much as they are willing to tolerate.  We have passed the breaking point (on countless occasions).The American people have tolerated inappropriate behavior since the American Revolution.  The government’s unwillingness to represent, promote, and provide for the needs of the people is what spawned the revolution. The Revolution ended a tyranny that lasted far longer than it should have.  The world will no longer be threatened by an “American Superpower” that fights for freedom abroad.  Instead the world is watching our nation implode.  Once a model of democracy, now a vision of division.  Us verses Them.  What we have here is either a revolution or an evolution.  What’s the difference?  One is violent.  The other is peaceful and natural.  I’d prefer the latter.

My prediction is that on the other side of the protests, the policy changes, and the police retraining;  there will be a shift in power that does not improve the overall status quo.  We, who’ve been mistreated, will rise up and claim a nation (for the first time) that was always ours.  But claiming what belongs to us and protecting what is ours are two very different acts.  When will we be any more protective of human rights?  Will we revise or REcreate systems in a manner that will lift up the rights of ALL living beings?  Or will we simply conclude in the knowledge that at least OUR people will no longer fall victim to brutality? Tough questions.

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the decision makers

responsibility

Who makes the decisions?  We do, right?  We have systems that enable us to make decisions either by proxy or personally.  And yet we are a society that increasingly fails to take responsibility for our actions.  Even as you read this you may be thinking, “Not me!”  Yes you!

Me too.

In recent weeks I’ve been reminded to change my course of action by changing my demeanor.  “Take ownership!” “Follow your aspirations”, they say.  “Remain positive for positive energy.”  “Negative thoughts and criticisms lead to negative outcomes.”  They say.  They say.

How about what I say?  I am an educator.  What makes me good at my job is my ability to identify a deficiency and make a plan of action to reduce it.  I would not be good at my job if I did not seek improvement.  Therefore my approach may need to be refined (instead of distinguishing that fine line between being negative and being critical). I too must take responsibility.

As a matter of fact, my most notable trait is my incessant need to be self-critical.  I figure that if I reflect often, identifying my challenges will enable me to improve.  Not necessarily so, but it’s a theory.

Society on the other hand is not so reflective.  When things go wrong, we search beyond for blame.  “Not us?  Must be them?”

When I taught preschool, we used to play this game called “Who Stole the Cookie?” where children would sing along in a group to each other:  “Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?  Johnny (or the name of another student in the class) stole the cookie from the cookie jar!”  He would say, “Who me?”  And they’d say, “Yes you!”  He’d say, “Couldn’t be,” and they would respond, “then who?!?”   Johnny would call out the name of another student, and the class would say that student’s name.  The song would continue until every student’s name had been called.  Everyone sang along, and everyone eventually took the blame for the mysterious missing cookie.

Everyone took the blame?  Actually no.  No one took the blame.  In this early childhood example, a harmless game demonstrates where we are as a culture.  Everyone gets blamed for something at some point.  The innocent never accept the responsibility.  Why would they?  The guilty merely need to defer the blame to someone else.

Isn’t this precisely the reason that the justice system is not swift?  Amnesty is not justice.  Although prosecutors offer a reduced sentence for a guilty plea, the confident defendant knows that lack of proof requires no integrity. Read that sentence again.

Integrity.  What’s that?  So few people use it that it’s becoming a lost trait.  Outside the confines of a good home, we just don’t adhere to it much any more.  The schools teach it, and it eases the burdens of a classroom; but bad decisions (not “bad children”) are sent to the office less and less frequently. I’ve got an administrator that actually demands that we seek three alternate decisions before we refer ANY matter to him.  Imagine if the real world functioned that way.

Our students don’t take responsibility.  Their parents don’t take responsibility. The teachers don’t take responsibility. The administrators won’t.  The school board doesn’t. The voters who empowered the school board simply figured that the Board knows what they are doing (but they don’t).  As a matter of fact, most school boards are made up of non-educators who want to make a positive change in their community.  Business people, entrepreneurs, civic leaders in the making…

Parents usually direct their energy to the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO), but that lasts about as long as their child’s enrollment.  Who can blame them?  And how long does that responsibility last?

We elect officials to take responsibility for our community problems.  Who takes responsibility beyond an official’s term?  No one.  Is there ever a transfer of responsibility?  The problems do not cease to exist.  The problems don’t expire.  Like week-old milk, the problems that our communities face stink; and if consumed too late, the problem is exponentially larger.

Think about any problem our society is currently facing.  The rapid rate of home foreclosures; the rising costs of gasoline; the in-affordability of college; delinquency in it’s many forms, etc.  These problems are the direct result of problems for which no one took responsibility long ago.

Lack of insight verses failure to acknowledge the warnings.

Boom!  Status Quo.  And yet we still look for someone to blame.  Not us.  Them.  Even when we recognize that the problems that we face today are magnificent, failure to act equals a deferment of a solution.  We leave these dilemmas in the hands of a generation that can no better resolve a problem than it can acknowledge that it exists.   It’s as if THIS is all the kids will ever know, and “where’s the problem in that?”

The rest of us look back at another time when things were better.  Why didn’t we act when things began to get worse?

Nuna

Ten years ago, I found myself in a new career, uncomfortable scenarios, and little hope.  With no idea what situations brought me to this place, and with very little hope for escape, I was lost.  One night at the Bridgeton Police Station I met an angel case managing a family in crisis.

Her unfamiliar confidence and passion to stabilize an unpleasant event was intriguing.  All I could offer was an old rap song to distract the children from the police interrogation.  That night she privately affirmed me and explained that she wouldn’t be there long because her marriage couldn’t endure it.  Although it made sense, I had come to work for the agency in hopes to restore my own marriage.

She told me that she was going to become a teacher.  It was an approach that I hadn’t considered for myself since my freshmen year in college.  Nonetheless, it sparked my interest.  She said that she wanted to work with children.  Sounded good to me. That’s what I wanted too.  I just hadn’t figured out how.

Before I knew it, she had resigned.  She’d been hired at a local elementary school teaching English-As-A-Second Language, Language Arts, Math, and Science.  This inspired me to spend the first two hours of every day looking a career in education.  I too needed an escape to a more fulfilling career–one that embraces hope, is heralded as a noble profession, and helps without hurt.

The years that followed found me in a classroom of my own.  Our paths would not have crossed again had it not been for social media.  On the rare occasion that her actual photo graced her profile was the day I connected with her online.  Nuna was her online handle.

MySpace, Yahoo IM, and eventually Facebook became the mediums through which we shared ideas and accomplishments.  She saved her relationship and introduced me to someone after my marriage collapsed.  Like good friends do, we partied, celebrated life, and enjoyed the company of our mutual friends.  Relationships dissolved and our professional lives took on new forms.  We supported each other’s endeavors from a far;  only commenting when asked for an opinion.

Although not an integral part of my career or my personal life, I’ve shared with her my most emotional experiences.  From her own perspective, she’s offered advice.  Younger but wiser, her advice was always valued.  Her own expertise has been recently recognized by higher authorities which has positioned her assent to a new level of achievement.  I’m so proud of her.  She continues to inspire me.

True friendships cannot always be defined by cliches.  In this case, no cliche can adequately define the value of my bond to Nuna.  Exciting times…

Riots and Reason

Actively engaged in the discussion…

tressiemc

I truly believe that to be a good teacher, a decent writer or a perfunctory scholar one has to concede the limits of evidence, reason, and rationality.

It is no wonder I believe that. Evidence, reason and rationality can rarely explain my place in this world. I know the limits even as I try to stretch them. It is either futile or the human experience or, I suspect, it is both.

For months I have participated and supported the ground work of activists, scholars, teachers, preachers, parents, young people, old people, and people people in Ferguson, MO. My contribution amounts to little more than nil on the grand scale of things. Mostly, I have hoped that people would persist.

It is an unreasonable hope.

Representatives of the State, of a public that includes black people who are also a public, were defiant when they announced the grand jury results of Michael…

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“To All My Facebook Friends” (2)

This makes me think of all my LAL teaching colleagues…

Before I Became a Great Writer

Aternatively,
We could unplug ourselves
Off Facebook
And start writing
In journals.
Alternatively,
We could write
Each other letters
And make frequent trips
To the post office.
It will take too much of our time,
Of course, but our correspondence
Will be longer
And the pleasure of conversing
Will be drawn out.
Anyway, a conversation
Via social media
Mediated by computer monitors
And profile photos
Isn’t really much of a
Conversation, is it?
Anyway, I want to see your
Handwriting, feel the strokes
Of your pen with my fingers,
And smell the ink and paper.
You don’t have to write and sound
Like Jane Austen, although that would
Be great, as well.
You can write like a cardiologist,
I wouldn’t mind.
There are nuances in our handwriting,
You know.
Alternatively,
We could lie on roof tops
And gaze at the distant galaxies
And talk about our dreams.
Alternatively,
We could…

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On Ferguson – The System Isn’t Broken, It Was Built This Way

The Belle Jar

I have an uncle who was a cop.

His kids, my cousins, were around my age and when we visited our family in Québec every summer I practically lived at their house. As soon as we got to my grandmother’s house, all rumpled and grumpy from our eight hour drive, I would start dialling my cousins’ number on her beige rotary phone. I spent the whole damn school year waiting for summer, and my time with my cousins, to come; we wrote each other letters all through the dreary winter, hatching plans for new summer exploits. Life with my cousins – swimming in their pool, family barbecues, playing hide-and-seek in my grandmother’s mammoth hedge at twilight – was lightyears better than my boring life in Ontario.

Pretty much every summer my uncle would, at some point, take us to visit the police station. He would pretend that we were criminals and…

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Plagiarism Needs a Better Definition

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There’s this parable that economists always tell.

Your car breaks down and you take it to the mechanic. He opens the hood and looks at your engine for a few seconds. Then he takes out a little hammer and taps it on the top. Suddenly it works again.

‘That’ll be $100,’ he says.
‘But all you did was make a little tap!’ you protest.
‘The tap, that’s $1,’ he says. ‘Knowing where to tap, that’s $99.’

Like everyone else who writes for a living, I’ve been reading the Fareed Zakaria plagiarism allegations with a knot in my stomach.

Here’s what we know so far:

In 2012, Zakaria blatantly yoinked a Jill Lepore (love her!) paragraph in an article he wrote about gun control. He got busted and he apologized.

Dude has written for legit every publication, so his current employer and his alma maters investigated his old work for copy-pastage. They…

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