the twit


    the end of an era

    mtc has just ended. the school year will end soon. when the dust settles, i'll hopefully have time to recollect on whatever it was i went through these two years, and i hope to use this blog as a forum.

    in our end of program portfolio, we were asked to write a self-evaluation. i had been thinking recently in the effects upon my person for being complicit in the decrepitute and inefficiencies of public education - even though i've worked endlessly to carve out a space of love and empowerment for my children (a space i worry will be consumed immediately upon my departure). in any case, i'll put the self-eval text here. if anyone who reads this is interested in the rest of the portfolio, here's the link:


    Coming straight from an undergraduate institution and entering the classroom as a teacher, one can’t help from growing professionally, even when the idea of teaching as a “profession” (let alone a “vocation”) is something you tried to avoid at all costs. Of course, this is like asserting that on can’t help from growing French-ally when stuck in France for a couple years. I’m not sure I’ve tried to be professional much at all during my two years at Jim Hill - mostly because the assertion of professionalism by many of my colleagues seemed to be the analogue of my students claiming - in their most infantile of moments - that they were “grown.” My main concern - and perhaps the adjustments I’ve had to take to stick fast to it are those moments in which I’ve matured most as a teacher - has been to have a clear sense of how I’m going to get a group of students from the point A of wherever they are when they come in the room to the point B of where I want them to be. Honestly, nothing else really matters: bell schedules, attendance, morning duty, arrival times, lesson plans, faculty meetings, etc - all are easily cast aside by the fact that I want to be focused intensely on my students at all times. Perhaps, then - this is the professionalism I most value: a steadfast notion of what you need to do to get the job done, and what you can avoid because it’s got nothing to do with the bottom line. Staying after school every day because a senior has missed a couple weeks of class due to the abuses her child has suffered at its former day care facility: yes. Going to some office downtown so I can replace an ID I lost sometime in my first year: no. Coming on a Saturday to proctor a mock SAT or chaperone kids at a Civil Rights conference: yes. Making sure I roll by the front office by 7:45 AM so I can sign in on time: no. The irony is that the areas of growth I’ve clung most to are precisely the ones that put the most risk on my employee status: I shouldn’t give my students rides home after a meeting, even though everyone at home needs a car to work a double shift at god knows what, but I should have a lesson plan visible on my desk at all times even if my main mode of teaching involves me sitting behind that desk barking at kids to perform endless rote mathematical operations they have little investment in.

    The most nagging legacy of my involvement in the public school system these past two years is most definitely the fact that I have compromised my soul in doing so. I am not speaking figuratively in this regard: the amount of complicity to human rights violations and abuses to our nation’s children that I’ve had to do just to fill my term of duty (not just yearly, but daily) is damning in its effect. The crossroads I face as a consequence are thus: either ignore this complicity and move on, submitting to an irreducible stain, or spend the rest of my life trying to understand - and thus justify - my circumstances of compromise. I am in this regard wedded to the legacy of public education - for its sins have been my own these past two years. Despite the hours and hours I’ve poured into maintaining respect for social justice, educational opportunity, and personal empowerment in my classroom, not a day goes by where I do not fail - where I am to tired too put my foot down, where I am too fatigued to be fair, where I am too ignorant to preempt a rash reaction to one of the many corrupting decisions I have to make. Just this past week I hid in my room during state testing because I was erroneously left off of the proctoring schedule - either for a test or for the students who decided to come to school and sit in the same classroom for four hours. Ironically, I spent most of that time in the corner of an unlit room working on this portfolio. I can hardly enumerate the amount of students I’ve socially promoted (through conscious decision or neglect), the amount of assignments I’ve failed to grade fairly or pass back, the casual lies I’ve told children to stop their persistent questioning, the control I’ve exerted over a population I’ve only wanted to empower with choice. It has proven impossible to remain consistent, unimaginable to stand firm.

    Adjusting within harrowing failure - of both myself and those around me - has been my greatest professional achievement. Being able to get out of bed knowing that I’m going to escort 18-year-olds to the cafeteria has been a remarkable task. Learning how to choose when not to care anymore - despite the aforementioned compromise that may result - has been what has allowed me to be so convincing in the moments I’ve dedicated myself to - particularly the moment of academic inquiry, and creative growth. There is no circumstance that will allow me to degrade the fundamental kernel of academic freedom, and gradually reconciling myself with the effects upon this of the draconian behavioral restraints upon my students has been what has reserved my faith in the educational promise, despite my profound and healthy agnosticism regarding the whole ordeal.

    Lastly, to speak of influences, I can do little other than point to Jacob Roth. Odd couple though we are, not a day goes by that I do not remind myself that we could not have done a damn thing (or at least I could not have done a damn thing) at Jim Hill without the support we’ve provided each other these two years. It’s not a complex relationship: when I’m slacking, he tells me to get my head out of my ass. When he’s slacking, I do the same. When one of us thinks we’re juggling too many balls in the air, the other either throws one in the mix for good measure, or steps in if the other clearly needs to be carried. I can safely say that I’ve never worked with another human being in such a personal and collaborative context, and I can only ascribe the illusion that I’ve grown so much as a teacher these past two years to the fact that we’ve pretty much grown together. Of course, I can hardly make this paragraph feel any more sappy, but I’m profoundly grateful to have not been alone in adjusting to the conditions at Jim Hill, and can foresee some awkward moments next year when I’m working in MS without Jake, and lack the proximity of so valid a sounding-board.


    kidnapping, racial brawl, mississippi

    this seems to be the bottom line. in a brief converation with an area NAACP chapter, which made it very clear that - due to impending trial dates - they could not discuss specifics of the situation, it seems nevertheless clear that what follows is far from made up. while it is moot at this point to mention, it must be noted that while MS has made much progress in the realm of social justice and racial reconciliation, the threat of violence and bigotry is hardly gone:

    april 2, walthall county, MS

    ~ a white public school busdriver allows her white 19-year-old daughter - not a student in the walthall county school district - on the bus for a ride home

    ~ at some point in the bus ride, the 19-year-old daughter gets in an altercation with a black 12-year-old student - apparantly for getting in an argument with the 19-year-old's 12-year-old stepson. the 19-year-old white non-student eventually strikes the 12-year-old black student.

    ~ the 12-year-old's black 16-year-old sister moves to defend her brother, and a larger fight ensues.

    ~ the bus-driver pulls the bus over, and herself enters the struggle. thereafter, she is allegedly heard yelling into her cellpone, "i'm on my way," and takes the bus well off of its intended route, to a house in a rural area.

    ~ at the house - a huge deviation from the bus route - the white students are ushered off the bus and are joined with other white children and adults who, brandishing bats, shovels, etc. proceed to chant threats and racial epithets to the black children still on the bus.

    ~ the walthall county deputy arives and takes the 19-year-old daughter into custody, as well a one of the black students.

    ~ the bus driver resumes her duties, returing students home over an hour later than usual.

    april 3, walthall county, MS

    ~ parents of the black students show up at the school the next morning. the principal refuses to meet with them to discuss the events of the previous afternoon - saying they must issue a complaint with the director of transportation.

    ~ the black parents notice that their children's bus route has been split into two - one for the black students, driven by a black male busdriver, and one for the white students, driven by the husband of the woman who had driven the bus route the previous afternoon.

    ~ an altercation ensues - beginning between students, then between parents and students, and then a large-scale struggle develops involving students, parents, and school faculty.

    ~ in the aftermath: three black students face expulsion, and four black parents were arrested. no white students or community members have faced charges - other than the 19-year-old daughter of the white bus driver - who was taken into custody on april 2.

    april 4, walthall county, MS

    ~ bullets riddle the home of the white bus driver.

    notes on walthall county

    ~ known as the "cream pitcher of MS" - due to dairy production
    ~ on southern MS boarder with LA
    ~ racial demographics of county: 54% white, 44% black
    ~ the 2,600 student school district is about 65% black



    it is far from over

    "when you are behind in a footrace, the only way to get ahead is to run faster than the man in front of you. So when your white roommate says he's tired and goes to sleep, you stay up and burn the midnight oil" - Dr. King, 1963

    The achievement gap is as follows: you take a group of the most promising and proficient students you've encountered in a given school year, and you give them the SAT. These people are clearly and undisputably intelligent people - anyone who is human can, in having a conversation with any one of them, detect those obvious and ephemeral human qualities within that denote functional intelligence. They are, in short, the most impressive individuals you've encountered in a given teaching cycle, and deserve any and all opportinity to develop the excellence within them. So, you and a fellow teacher negotiate with a local foundation to provide them a Princeton Review SAT prep course free of charge (your colleague is a Princeton Review certified teacher) - and you give them the SAT to take before the course starts.

    After getting back the results, you call up your younger brother - who's a senior at your old high school - and ask him what he imagines the average SAT score will be for a kid at your high school who is - to put it bluntly - useless (i.e. wasting time and space in the classroom, and showing no initiative or appreciation of the educational premise therein). It is a heartbreaking understanding - as heartbreaking as it is for your colleague who is a Princeton Review teacher, who has never seen scores so low - to know that your most intelligent and deserving students have scored drastically below individuals who are - from an insitutional sense - far less than their peers, yet in another academic environment. Furthermore, it is nauseating to see in this situation something profoundly unstated about the unanimous Blackness of your students (drawn, in turn, from a public high school in Jackson, MS that is 99.9% African-American), and the vaguely unbroken whiteness of your old high school (an all-male Jesuit school in Cleveland, OH). For, this is the thought that surfaces: a bunch of complete assholes will graduate from your old high school having never given a damn about the influence of educational advancement upon their opportunities to participate in the economy, then limp through some undergraduate Jesuit-school dumping ground, and end up comfortably suburban as a MBA wannabe (though perhaps a CPA flag-bearer) doing little to no work for a job secured by the dad or uncle of a friend-of-a-friend, floating on a $150K house and sending Jr. to the self-same Jesuit high school, while your ex-students - all of them so beautiful in their brilliance, self-awareness, and initiative, will sooner or later run up against the glass-ceiling of either their race or (more likely at this point) their intellectual upbringing, and god knows what will happen to them - a service economy cesspool, or - worse yet - "yes, sir" or "yes, ma'm" answering machine to the jerk-off country club middle managers who drank their way through what they will stumblingly recall as the best years of their life. All you can do at this point - the end of a school year, no less - is look at these beautiful, strange little people that you've become so attached to in the previous months, and want so much that their talents be recognized and cultivated to their fullest - all you can do is stare blankly at a leading indicator of their educational future (and look at how unfazed they are by performing in the 60th percentile when they belong in the 90th) and feel absolutely disgusted. This is the achievment gap: that the most brilliant and deserving of my students - all black - are going to get boxed out of higher education by a bunch of jaded shitheads who have taken for granted the undue benefits of a "culture of excellence" they want no part of, and by the time you meet your kids in high school, there's little you can do about it except stuff like pray that their SAT scores will jump about 500 points - pray that they never stop burning the midnight oil.

    It is all the more devestating to have this happen two years in a row.