The Broad is Back!

September 26, 2017

It’s Official–I’m Woke

I’m a writing teacher, so in our classes, we tend to talk about current events and “issues.” Now that I’m back in New York City, the majority of my students are people of color. I tell them I have a color, too. It’s pink. Sometimes red if I get in too much sun. They laugh at the silly lady. But as you can imagine, the subject of race comes up a lot when we talk about current events.

Today, in a class that happens to be all students of color, a student told me I was “woke.” I told him, “honey, I’ve been woke since before you were born!”

A second student added, “we can tell. You’re never gonna not be woke.” That’s up there with one of my favorite student compliments ever. No lie.

I truly don’t understand how people can live in the US and not see the systemic racism and classism in our country. I mean, okay, I teach, so I see the effects up close. I take a deep, personal interest in the lives of my students, so I hear so much–learn so much. But seriously, how can people miss it?

My mom was “woke” back in her youth. Hell, my grandmother was having none of that inequality stuff, either. This is how I grew up–knowing, without a doubt, that we are all brothers and sisters and there is one race: the human race.

Because a student asked how I got “this way,” I explained about Mom and Nana. His response: “you’re lucky.”

And I am. Very lucky. My elders taught me by example that the only way to judge a person’s worth is by their actions. If they are rotten to people, that makes them less. Not worth less than me, but less developed, less enlightened; people to be pitied, not hated. Hate only hurts the hater.

Because some of my students hadn’t done their homework for today, I turned being “woke” back at them (because I am not above poking my students for their own good).

Thinking critically and learning are revolutionary acts, I told them. Vive la révolution.

Learning to analyze things and think about subtext means they gain more power over their own lives. It’s harder to manipulate people who think. Teaching, especially college, is all about empowerment.

The skills we learn in my class are not “school things.” They are “real world” skills that hopefully they will use their entire life.

May they never stop learning and thinking, that’s my prayer for them.

Yes, this is me in my “preacher mode,” but as a preacher, I believe teaching is a vocation with a very high purpose–the betterment of humanity. There’s the idealist in me again, but I’m also very pragmatic. I know most of my students don’t see their educations the way I do. But that’s not going to stop me spreading the word.

And frankly, I wrote this tonight because I was tickled pinker to be called woke by a student. They get me. They get I care. They respect it, too. And that just felt good.

 

 

 

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November 14, 2016

Some Timely Advice for College Students, Mostly Freshmen

I just realized that it’s been 4 months since I’ve blogged. It’s been that kind of year. But today as I was preparing a weekly “letter” for my online students, I started to pass out advice not only for writing the final draft, but for surviving the last weeks of term.

Although this has nothing to do with culture, culture clash or other things I usually write about, I decided to post it because frankly, it’s good advice.

So, here you go. I teach English, but this works for all students, especially those facing writing projects:

You’ve done the outline you’ve done the research. Now it’s time to write the first draft.

My best advice to you? “Get it down, then get it right.” That was something I learned from a master teacher when I was in grad school learning how to be a composition teacher (yes, I did take a number of classes on how to teach and how to teach on line.)

What does that mean? It means try very hard to write your first draft without stopping to correct. Get those ideas down on paper because you can always polish them up later. Often when we write we agonize over a sentence and in doing so forget where we were going with the thought. You have the information in your head. Just write it!

Then give it a day to “settle” and step away from it to clear I from your head. Then go back and work on the revision. Clarifying the logic, making the words pretty, making sure you have enough evidence. THEN go back and edit it, preferably on a different day. Again, you want to give your brain time to “forget” what you’ve written. See, our brains are smarter than we give them credit for. They know what we want to say, so when we read something we’ve written, our brains see what we think we wrote. By giving ourselves some time off, it becomes a little harder for our brains to trick us into seeing what we want to see.

And for people with learning disabilities like me, the end of term means stressing and rushing. I find myself struggling more and more with my dyslexia under these circumstances. I force myself to slow down and calm down. Breathing helps. I know you’re breathing, but when we’re stressed, we breathe much more shallowly, which deprives the brain of the oxygen it needs to function at its best. Take some good deep breaths, in slowly, out slowly, to oxygenate your brain.

I’m a big believer in the science of high performance. Our bodies are the greatest machines run by the most brilliant computers on earth. We can’t run them on substandard care and expect their peak performance. If your life is anything like mine, sleep gets cut first, but I am also trying to avoid junk food, eating lean proteins, mostly vegetarian, unrefined carbs and fruits and veg.

Eat breakfast. It really helps! During the week I don’t have much time, so I make a peanut butter on a whole wheat sandwich thin and bring my travel mug of tea. Filling and easy. And a multivitamin won’t hurt. I actually take a lot of different vitamin, mineral and herbal supplements to support my crazy life, especially D as I don’t drink milk. I had low D this summer and was exhausted. After a blood test and a prescription I was much, much better.

Sorry about the life advice, but I teach humans, not just names on a screen. I have a lot of experience, so I want to share. I would be saying the same in a f2f class!

So, that’s what I said to my students and I share it with all students. Good luck with the end of term.

I will be back soon. I have SO much to say but no time to say it. Hold on to your hats, folks, the Broad is coming back!

July 6, 2016

Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night

Today I am broken-hearted. I was upset about the state of humanity this morning, but this afternoon is when the blow came. I lost a former student.

I hate that euphemism. He died. Ethan Taranto-Kent, a young man I taught in 2007-08. Thanks to the internet, we stayed connected and got to know each other as people. He was a fine one.

ethan pawla truck

He was also a young story teller, author, director and lead of the web series Mad Nation, which you can watch on his YouTube channel, Pernicious Paradise.  A post-apocalyptic action/adventure/rumination on humanity, he had hopes of growing the show. Now that will never happen.

Ethan and I would talk a lot, chat online more, about all sorts of things: humans, responsibility, politics, art, the Constitution, guns, knives, dogs, LA, acting, people. I really enjoyed out chats because Ethan was a thinker. He was serious and he cared. He never let me give the blithe answer–the joke. He pressed me to be serious, not something people commonly do these days. At his heart, he was serious and talented and deep.

He was also sweet and loving. I’ve digitally met his fiance Nikki. My heart grieves for her, too. Just a few months ago, Ethan was griping about something and said it was what he lived for. I said, no, Nikki and Pawla are who you live for, and if he and Nikki broke up, I would cry. Today I cried for her. Pawla is their rescue dog. If you want the essence of Ethan and Nikki, watch their beautiful video about Pawla’s adoption.

ethan and nikki

Ethan’s not the first student I’ve lost, but that doesn’t make it any easier. There have been cancers, accidents, suicides, the usual suspects that take young lives. I don’t even know how Ethan died, only that it was sudden and totally unexpected.

But if we love people, we’re probably going to lose some of them, and that’s the price we pay for loving. As with most people, it was totally worth the price of loving this young man.

Ethan, I will miss you. Thank you for being my friend, for pushing me when I didn’t want to be pushed, for living your dream, for loving Nikki and Pawla, for letting me into your world and sharing your loves with us, for being a Light in the world. That Light is gone, but the art you leave behind you and the memories you leave those of us still here will keep you evergreen.

ethan peeingethan and pawlaethan in costume

March 15, 2014

A Question of Ethics

“A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world.”   ~ Albert Camus

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about ethics this week because I had my students reading an essay that flat out said that students arrive at college these days lacking ethics, so it’s something that needs to be taught. This was in terms of the enormous plagiarism problem we face in schools these days–that students don’t have a sense that stealing, at least stealing of this sort, is wrong.  That’s true, we do have a problem, but no ethics?

 

 

I thought my students would be outraged, but this wasn’t a part of the essay they brought up in their comments. I was ready for my students to attack the author, but no one said anything.  Amazed, I pushed the question, and asked what they thought of the statement.  To my amazement, they all agreed with the author, far too nonchalantly, I thought. One young man even said, “My generation is basically screwed.  Parents aren’t doing their jobs.”  There were nods of agreement, and a number of students added stories and gave insights.  I was proud of them, because obviously they are paying attention.  And this insight and commentary tells me they absolutely do have ethics, perhaps not fully developed yet, but they clearly have a sense of right and wrong.

 

 

One student, one of my very bright ones, added that because I was older, my ethics were more firmly established, so it’s easier for me to live by them.  She’s right, of course, but I also think I had a more finely tuned sense of guilt when I transgressed at their age.  I never knowingly plagiarized when I was a student, but when I did transgress–skipping the reading, being late on a paper, skipping class–I did feel guilt. Misbehavior was always a struggle between “what will I gain vs the guilt I will feel.”

 

 

This lack of ethics obviously worries me.  I don’t mind shifting ethical standards, but missing ethical standards is a problem. I am positively irked each year when my employer has me attend a mandatory one-hour training on ethics. I am taught that I shouldn’t lie, cheat, steal or undermine people.  Um, I got that when I was 8, I think. I was telling my students about it, and the same bright one from above said, “Well, you’re obviously observant enough to know why they have to have that course, right? You can’t blame them.”  Yes, sadly, I am aware of the why.

 

 

Since I’ve come back to America almost seven years ago, I’ve seen more and more to upset and worry me.  I am very much heartened by the students I teach who have finely tuned ethics and values.  But I have to say they are in the minority.  What has happened in this country?  My students who blamed parents obviously are on the right track.  Teachers also got part of the blame, both from students and from the author of the original article. We allow poor behavior to go unchecked, so we are tacitly giving approval.  Well, not me, of course. If I suspect it, you’re going to hear about it.

 

 

But something to think about, to worry about, and hopefully to change.

October 22, 2013

Infant Nation

My students are currently reading Emerson’s “Self-Reliance,” one of my favorite Emerson pieces. Ironically, I didn’t even assign it to them–the department did.  As I tell my students, I’m not a fan of Emerson’s style, but what he has to say? Wow!

Rereading the essay, I’ve been struck by how very relevant it is in 2013.  There’s one line I particularly wanted to talk about today:

“Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members.”  Taking in stride the 19th century use of mankind to mean all of us, this is pretty much what I see every single day of my teaching career.

I teach at a college. I do not teach at a high school or lower because frankly, I don’t like having to deal with children’s recalcitrance. And I don’t like spoon feeding information.

But American society treats young people like children far into their adulthood. We know this is getting worse. Just google “extended adolescence,” read and weep.

My students have been infantalized throughout their k-12 educations, by teachers and parents alike, and information is spoonfed into them. They no longer take responsibility for their own learning, but worse, they don’t like to take responsibility for their own behavior.

Emerson would despair.

I despair.

We have crippled a good chunk of a generation with all the good intentions in the world.  Maybe. But what if the point of infantalization was to create a generation of sheep more easily manipulated than many generations that went before?

I have been told, point blank, that I must change the standards I set for student behavior, lower them, because this is what we do now.  The Transcendentalist in me, and I’ve come to the conclusion that that’s as good a label for me as any other, roars in pain.

I am calling for a revolution. It’s not just our government that needs to be changed. Our whole society needs reform. I’m not saying go back to some “good old time” in the past. I’m saying look at the mistakes we’ve been making and change. Change radically.

We are too married to the old ways of thinking and the old dead forms of authority.  It’s time to take bold measures. As Emerson says: “It is easy to see that a greater self-reliance must work a revolution in all offices and relations of men; in their religion; in their education; in their pursuits; their modes of living; their association; their property; in their speculative views.”

I say, “bring it on!”

Points to ponder, I hope. And in the meantime, take a look at “Self-Reliance.” It’s a doozy.

 

November 21, 2010

“The Boy Who Lived” is Back

Three and a half years ago, I wrote about the release of JK Rowling’s final book in her Harry Potter series and how Harry and his friends provided a bonding experience for my students and me. Thursday night, at eleven in the evening, I was sitting in a cinema on Manhattan’s upper west side with hundreds of other Potter fans, awaiting the midnight showing of the first film installment of the final book. It was another bonding experience.

I was there with my soon-to-be 20 year old son and a number of his friends. The multiplex had 11 screens of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, all sold out, so that was pretty cool: sharing the experience with that many people. Many were in costumes; all were Potter fans.

The film was wonderful. Sure, not all of the parts I wanted to see were there. But film adaptation is an art, and the film has to be judged on its own merits. This was an excellent job, and the three young leads have all matured into seasoned professionals who gave moving performances in what is an emotionally draining film. But I don’t want to give a review here.

After the film, I left my son to his friends while I walked down Broadway to catch a subway home. Even though it was three in the morning, it was perfectly safe as I was surrounded by Hogwarts students. Well over a thousand people had poured out of the theater, after all, and they had to get home somehow.

There I was, the lone middle aged woman, not in costume, surrounded by mostly college age people, mostly costumed, passionately discussing books. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was. I eavesdropped shamelessly.

I am someone who lives for books. I read them; I teach them; I haltingly attempt to write them. To hear young people passionate about a book thrilled me. The stories meant something to them, and they were discussing them in great detail, not just plot and character, but meaning and message, as well. If I could only get my literature students that interested!

The next day in class, my students asked about the film. I had warned them I was going so they would take pity on their poor tired professor. Again, I bonded with students over love of a book. Those who had read it, and a majority had, asked about favorite parts: “Is it in the movie?” they asked plaintively. We didn’t spend much time on the film as I had much work planned, but that feeling of being fans together, of sharing a love of something, is a nice one to have.

Today my son and I went to visit my 78-year-old mother and see the film with her. She’s read all of the books, as well, the latter ones with my son. Going to the films together is a tradition since the fifth film, when we moved back to America, and we already have plans for next July.

I love how Harry transcends generations, races, genders, boundaries. Watching the film this week with different groups, discussing the film with diverse people, has show me that I wrote three years ago is still true: where there’s love, there is power, the greatest power imaginable. In this word of divisiveness, we need the power of love to bring us together, to show us our similarities instead of our differences.

Thank you to all those involved in the film for bringing people closer together. And thanks to J.K. Rowling for her creations.

Now, only eight more months till part two!

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