the twit


    personal archives

    Under high ceilings (room enough
    for light, space enough for time) a change is
    easily mistaken for ephemera.

    In cornered whispers – principal lies of a bully
    archivist, secrets cloaked as retellings
    of life – no one had expected blood.

    There were always teeth in the kiss, always
    a gripping – as if every room were nearly
    empty. Had I not returned home,

    it would have gone unnoticed – the death
    of the apocryphal. Rather, unclaimed
    footnotes thrust to narrative, in quick weight

    under high ceilings – a history neither
    dead nor vacant; one page naked
    to what fills the next, and nearly empty.


    comment on a nytimes article

    in the midst of my daily dose of and, i got stuck with a mad craving to comment on a opinion article entitled "engaged," by will okun. the article is by a guy who "teaches English and photography in a Chicago school with many students from low-income and minority homes," and goes like this (i'm paraphasing it because it's only available through times select, which is a service that costs money - though i recommend it): (1) okun recounts a boring moment teaching grammar in his english class, (2) okun sings the praises of mr. price next door, who (thank god) integrates "conscious" hip hop into his lessons to spark interest, (3) okun talks about the kanye west foundation, which "seeks to integrate music and music production into the school curriculum in an effort to combat the alarming drop-out rate of black males in American schools," and does a little back and forth about how it's a bit disconcerting at times as a teacher to be expected to constantly find novel ways to engage students. he ends the post with three questions, which sparked my interest in posting - as much in response to the typical responses to questions like this as in response to the questions themselves:

    - What are the most fundamental differences between the American educational system and high-achieving foreign educational systems and what are the positive or negative outcomes of these differences?

    - How has the approach to education and learning changed during your tenure as a teacher and do you believe these changes are beneficial or harmful to the American student?

    - What has changed in our society and in our educational system to bring us to the point where high schools must now create incentives to “inspire” and “motivate” low-income students to attend classes on a regular basis?

    my response:

    (1) when casting a desirous glance to the test-score performances of china, germany, etc. - one should always be take into account the aggressive tracking systems in place in their national school systems. as i’m not familiar with the particulars, i’m reluctant to mention this (and since this is the nytimes, i would love it if someone stood up a yelled “but germany doesn’t track its students!”), but it seems that where the US cringes at the idea of a strict/stratified funneling system - student A goes to college prep, student B goes to vocational, student C goes to standard diploma, etc. - other nations seem to have no problem with it, and this inflates their “test scores” because only certain tracking sectors actually get to take these tests (again, someone please correct me if i’m mistaken - or at least provide real perspective). this is of course in the face of the US’s more subtle tracking consequences - the suburban sprawl/minimum lot requirement/property tax collusion that allows predominantly white suburban schools to do so well; the odd relative racial imbalance of AP enrollment, school-within-a-school magnet programs, and such within “integrated” public systems; etc. but the bottom line is that we hold fast to the egalitarian pretensions of a horatio alger tinged education for all (while putting forth minimal effort to ensure that this is the case), while other countries seem to take a more no nonsense (though yes, philisophically compromising) approach to providing educational services explicitly tailored to social and individual needs (which is - oddly enough - exactly mr. price’s well-grounded attitude towards engaging his children).

    (2) in regards to “what has changed in our society” - i’m incredibly wary as to the amount of “kids these days” tirades that will haunt the anecdotal cesspool. the myth of nostalgia is a horrible barrier to clear thinking about educational reform. this is not to say that schools have not changed, or culture has not changed between generations - but there is a difference between pretending there was a more simple time when “teachers taught and students learned,” and taking a clear look at post-war demographics shifts, the slowly enforced consequences of brown v. board, title V and title IX, the vogue of skinnerian reward/punish discipline (this - i might add - is why students crave reward/inspiration/motivation - because they spend the school day in a state of oppression), etc. more often than not, veteran teachers going on about the golden age (or even the modest successes) of their own education fall into a few traps: (1) as they are relatively successful products of their own educational system, they can rarely leverage enough distance to imagine the relative failures of that system to serve people who are not like them - and who are structurally marginalized by definition (the “it worked for me [and i’m ok, so if it doesn’t work for them it’s their fault and they’re not ok]” position is particularly thin when it’s a white male talking), (2) many of the schools they currently teach in/experience are actually impossible comparisons to their golden age (even if it was the golden age of hard knocks, as i’ve heard quite a few black nationalists reference while lamenting about the crisis in black communities). even urban districts (please correct me if i’m wrong) are facing issues with transient populations, non-english speaking populations, and shifting job markets that create a school environment that are drastically different than that same area even in the 70s. furthermore (and on a topic i can actually talk about), in a place like mississippi - where i taught math in jackson for the past two years - schools were not even desegregated until 1968 (of course, they were re-segregated almost overnight with the state-assisted creation of a system of private “segregation academies”), and the population shifts that had occurred in other places of the country - like my hometown of cleveland, oh - since the 1950s were played out with much more velocity. all this aside, a high school in jackson, ms today is so incomparable to that same school in the 1970s that it is uncomfortable - and any jacksonian talking (as they are want to do) about how things worked fine when he/she was a kid (so what’s wrong with kids these days) seems laughably out of context. i’m sure the contrast is similar - though less pronounced - with other veteran teachers unloading their war stories.

    every once i get the sense that it would be a good thing to sit down and catalog what i've collected as typical barriers to dialogue about education, and establish general positions to counter them. this article seemed to rekindle that - specters of people launching into "it starts at the home," "kids these days," "remember when teachers taught and students learned," "it worked for me, so why can't it work for them," etc.