Posts Tagged ‘Chapel Hill’

My nine year-old daughter is a beast on the track. She has trained with a venerable club in Durham, North Carolina for the last two years. Despite its inner-city membership, we love what it stands for: building character and discipline. The Durham Striders have consistently trained athletes who have won many medals and built a reputation of improving the lives of inner-city youth.

However, as a parent in the stands, I didn’t fit in with the general school of thought in the group. For us, track was an avenue of discipline and focus for our child. She is a natural athlete and loves to compete; thus this outlet was just what she needed. It never occurred to us that this hot, sweaty, demanding torture was a means to an end, the end being an athletic scholarship.

Scholarships are great. I went to college with them. My older children received full academic scholarships. With the ridiculous cost of college tuition these days, there are far more families sending students to college with some form of financial aid than there are parents writing blank checks.

But my daughter didn’t run for the money she might get down the road.

Unfortunately, many families of minorities believe the only way their children will be successful is if they play a sport and get a full ride to a big college or university.

Why? Is it because they know that inherently the schools their children have attended are not good enough and have not prepared their children well enough to pursue any profession?

Maybe the parents weren’t educated and thus couldn’t provide the academic support their children needed to do well in school.

It certainly seems clear that many “minority” groups including African-Americans and Hispanics (especially those with African ancestry) are gifted physiologically, with an inherent ability to excel in sports. A friend once told me that God knew what he was doing when he gave minorities their portion, because he knew what they would have to endure long before they did.

The other night I watched an interview on the local news with a former University of North Carolina employee, Mary Willingham, who has co-authored a book called Cheated: The UNC Scandal, the Education of Athletes and the Future of Big-time College Sports.

Can you tell who is in charge?

She blew my mind during the interview when she called the NCAA a “cartel” and likened them to a plantation, extorting the African-American athletes to help earn millions of dollars and thus paying for all the other sports at universities which generate less revenue, like lacrosse, field hockey, etc. which are all the “White” sports, the sports of the privileged. Here’s the link for the nterview:

http://www.wncn.com/story/27992414/willingham-unc-had-shadow-curriculum

Aside from dating a couple of basketball players in college, I don’t know a thing about college sports.  But I was an avid supporter of my student athletes when I taught high school, standing outside in the freezing cold collecting money during football games, and sitting under blankets with my equally frozen children, because the athletes wanted to see their teacher there.

But I stopped going to any high school games or offering my support of any kind when I was pressured to pass a kid along, or change a grade, or give the athlete another chance.  When the parent showed up in my trailer in tears, telling me their kid would have no future if they didn’t pass my class, and that sports was all they had, I became angry.

I was angry that the parent had such a low opinion of their child’s intellectual ability, of their academic potential, that they defaulted for them the only thing they could: the equivalent of slave labor.  They essentially sold their child to work for free, in scorching heat, for hours each day, for the white man.  After all, we know who has the money don’t we? In college athletics, high school booster clubs, and professional sports.

Why else would Marshawn Lynch be fined hundreds of thousands of dollars by the NFL? The puppet had to perform, keep the stakeholders happy, the ones who wanted to see a sweaty athlete offer a verbal recap of violent plays just to feed the man’s bloodthirsty power trip.

Just look at the owners of these NFL teams, as they stand (during the 4th quarter, with two minutes left on the clock) and you can see them making mental calculations in their heads of a win or a loss and what it will mean for their bottom line that week.

From high school sports all the way to the pros, the Black man (and others) continues to fall for a system of subjugation and control.

The “no other way out” mentality for minorities is visible in every area of modern society. Jim Caviezel starred in an inspiring film based on the true story of De la Salle high school and their winning streak.  I loved everything that Coach Ladouceur believed in and stood for, but the same one way ticket to modern slavery still rang true for the athletes of color.

I can think of tons of movies and stories where athletics is the only answer for the minority students.

And yes, it’s a great option for a young student, but why can’t there be anything else? Why can’t schools and parents push their children academically and say, “Just imagine son, you can get an academic scholarship and an athletic one. You’re an athletic scholar. You can have it all.” Unfortunately, what he hears more commonly is, “Well, he ain’t got no daddy, so football all he got and he needs to get out there and get himself a scholarship to play ball.” Junior hangs onto that instead.

Ms. Willingham has been walking a lonely road for the last four years, amid the scandal of phony classes and the easy way for UNC athletes. It’s a road I am quite familiar with.  And I know many of the teachers in Chapel Hill High School were tutors for the athletes after they did their day job educating the privileged white kids. It is a corrupt and wicked system Ms. Willingham exposed at UNC and she paid a painful price for it, as I did in the very same town. But there’s something to be said about having ethics. I found I slept better at night with my ethics than I would have without a soul.

How can this nation gain an equal footing racially when everywhere they look, white people see minorities still serving them, still living smaller, earning less, and being subjugated?

I told my partner that if every professional athlete in the NFL who is African-American refused to play ball on one Sunday during the riots after Mike Brown was executed, the nation would have been forced to deal with it, like a slap in the face.  After all, money talks.

 

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banner-12-years-a-slaveI have made a couple of mistakes in recent months, mistakes which have caused me to lose desperately needed sleep, as it is difficult to settle my thoughts and I have obsessive tendencies anyway.

The first mistake actually happened several months ago when I allowed my eight year old daughter to see the movie, Twelve Years a Slave by director Steve McQueen. In my defense, she is very interested in history, particularly the history of slavery in America.  She poured over almost every biography she could get her hands on, of various African-American figures in history.  We decided it would be risky but we gave in to the pleas to see the film while it was in theaters. I didn’t get to go unfortunately, so she went with her dad and stepsister, who is college-aged.

Even though the African-American woman who saw John leave the theater with both of his arms wrapped around the stunned and tear-stained faces of his daughters, told him they needed to see the movie and they would be okay, I knew this past weekend it was just too much for her to handle at her current age.

I didn’t win any parenting awards for that decision. Needless to say, she had nightmares for a couple of weeks after the film.  But I didn’t recognize the magnitude of my mistake until I was finally able to watch it this past weekend.  

I was haunted.  

I multiplied the horror story of Solomon Northrup and his fellow prisoners in slavery by 100,000, for every slave had their own tale of atrocities to recount if they could articulate it to someone at some point.  My partner told me that history states that approximately 700,000 people were taken from Africa and sold into slavery. From those 700,000 grew generations well into the millions in this country, each with their own horrific tale that was never told.

The second mistake was watching the movie while living in North Carolina, with its subtle wavelength of racism that permeates the air like a dense patch of fog, like the smell of burning leaves in someone’s backyard that lingers over several blocks.

It’s like the White children who so politely open the door for us in the kiss and go car drop off line at my daughter’s elementary school. As they open the door, they peer inside carefully, and I wonder whether they’re expecting to see a deluge of blackness seep out of the vehicle and stain their clothing, like an enormously eager ink blot. They look at us as we say our loving goodbyes, as if surprised that people as brown as we are can actually perform such Leave It to Beaver displays of normalcy.

Maybe if I had not seen the movie Twelve Years a Slave, I wouldn’t have rented Long Walk to Freedom about Nelson Mandela’s lifelong fight to eradicate apartheid.  Yes, I am obsessive… And perhaps this story wouldn’t have kept me up last night, with a mixture of anger and sorrow quickening my veins.

At a lovely UNC doctor’s office in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the kind of offices that are scattered just as frequently as McDonald’s in any given city (except Chapel Hill), a White heavyset woman went in to have her blood drawn at the lab.  To her anger, an African-American woman would be the unlucky person who had to draw her blood.

Here’s what the coarse and monstrous White woman told the lab technician as she prepared her materials: “If you dare to even touch me with your black skin, I will slap your face!”

What would Jesus have done?

What would you have done?

I know what I would have done, but I’m torn.  Should we rise above this deep-rooted racism and maintain composure and dignity?

Or do we give in to our absolute exhaustion of living with the ignorance of the South, STILL, in 2014 and let our baser instincts fly free?

My over-working brain played with wicked joy all the probable scenarios I would have done to that woman, including licking her, cursing her, or cutting her down with an assault of words sharper than any scalpel at UNC.

The lab technician was shaken and in tears after the ordeal, offended and demoralized, which leads me to the question I have asked my mate oftentimes over the years since I have relocated to this dismal region: Why didn’t every Black person in the South leave and go far away from this evil, racist-infested land?

 Why set up roots for generations after freedom had been granted? Why continue to work for the White man?

Was it ignorance and fear? Lack of education? A lifetime of browbeating and soul-crushing that robbed them of their dignity and integral fortitude?

As I observe the community around me I have many questions, and no answers.

It has been a while since shared my thoughts about teaching in general, education in particular.  I haven’t been too busy, there have been no luxurious vacations with my family.

You simply reach a zenith, or fork perhaps, where you have to decide whether you will continue operating from a “victim” mindset, which is the easier of the paths, yes? It is here that I could blame my empty bank account on the moronic Republican majority in North Carolina which has crippled the lives of thousands who relied on unemployment pennies to keep the internet on or phone service for job hunting…or maybe for eating. Hmmm. it would be quite simple to blame the power-driven school board members with their 80s hairdo perfected, who decided to end my career and took a notch out of my self-worth.

But I chose a different avenue.  I chose to stop complaining about a system I have no power to change and instead turn my field of vision inward, and heal and empower myself.

I will call it the Detox of the Weary Soul Wanderer.  That sounds profound.

So I stretched my body and moved. And healed, slowly.  I stopped following blogs that were counterproductive to my health. I stopped talking about insignificant people who I gave far too much significance to in my life.  I stopped worrying what I would do if I was fortunate enough to see the superintendent at the local grocery store.

And I moved. Away from this dysfunctional, Stepford-like town called Chapel Hill.  I feel certain that I heard trumpets blaring a fast merengue dance as I escaped the stifling, boring, suffocating arena.  Everyone I met who asked where we moved from lowered their eyes in condolence when they heard that I actually CHOSE to live in such a “different” place.  They promised not to hold it against me.  Strangers in Starbucks congratulated me on a fine decision to get out of Chapel Hill.  When my partner in crime told colleagues at Duke that we had moved, they finally released months of pressure from their lungs and blurted out their joy that we had finally left the sanitarium.

But I digress.

I awoke one morning with two words floating behind my eye fuzz.  Teacher type. A type of teacher? I wasn’t sure. But it has not left me since then, which is over two months now.

When the time came to decide to return to teaching or abandon it altogether, I focused on the two words and thought:

I would no longer sell myself for a lousy $40k paycheck.

I was no longer going to teach for a test instead of guiding thought and self-discovery.

I was no longer interested in dog and pony shows for central office staff, EQs posted on my wall (the only marker of my teaching ability), kissing up to administrators who thrive on their power trips, seven-day a week working, and missing my own children’s special events for strangers kids who don’t care anyway.

The spirit had fled which would enable me to maintain my silence in the face of falsifying grades for students, taking verbal abuse from parents who are really deflecting the consequences of their over-indulgences on their kids, or students who cheat and lie regularly, and not be able to call them on it.

I realized that I didn’t want to teach in the classroom anymore because I’m just not that type of teacher.  So, I may be stocking cans of soup or mixing cans of paint for a bit while I find my new niche, but rest assured, it won’t be in Chapel Hill.  🙂

I may be broke, but I’m not broken!

I like to observe people at bus stops, as I drive by.  I catch quick glimpses of their faces, moments frozen in my mind. The speed limit in Chapel Hill is a silent form of torture for a New York transplant like me, so it is really quite easy to do.

Chapel Hill, being a college town, offers a free bus system, which many people take advantage of, to maneuver back and forth with ease, all the while reducing their contribution to pollution and ozone depletion.

This week was filled with lots of rain, but when I did get out, I happened to glance over at the bus stop close to my turn on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. There was a Black lady sitting on the bench, protected from the cold, biting rain. The really interesting part in this visual mouthful was that two young White guys chose to stand outside the dry shelter and get wet, rather than stand under the alcove, or even sit next to the lady.  Fascinating.

This speaks for itself boldly, especially the irony that it took place on MLK Boulevard.

Silence is golden in Chapel Hill

Silence is golden in Chapel Hill

I have been pouring over pictures of this venerable icon in this country, and I am struck every time by the distant and introspective look in his eyes, captured so easily in photo after photo. He looks haunted, as though he knew how his efforts would turn out. Perhaps he saw this coming, and he knew:

…that it wouldn’t be easy to erase hundreds of years of deeply rooted racist sentiment towards people of color.

…that he was destined to die young, because the maelstrom he helped to ignite in the heart of a discontented country was too huge to be tamed easily.

…that humans are resistant to change and are only willing to do so if drastic measures occur which affect large masses, and devastation sweeps in under everyone’s feet.

I have learned a great many lessons since arriving in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and they have been unpleasant, but have provided me with tremendous opportunities to learn and grow, and discover who I am, what I want in my life, and for my children.

But one thing I am never going to accept, adhere to, remain silent about, and brush away blithely, is the silent yet pervasive odor of racial disparity that clings to this town like the stench that wafts from a county landfill.  I don’t ever want to be so educated and hipster, wealthy or comfortable that I embrace a falsehood of existence that looks down upon other people.  This is a huge struggle for me, to try to grow as a person, and not feel stirrings of resentment towards these condescending, supercilious, people who I was so terribly wrong about when I thought them progressive.

Equality, true equality and brotherhood does not exist here.

I hate labels.  I hate pigeon-holing.  Naturally, just as teenagers hang their entire lives on, all humans would like to consider themselves unique, different, a brighter star than the others, the ripest, juiciest strawberry on a plant of duds.  I know what people say or think about Puerto Ricans, and I’m writing about the negative thoughts, not the beautiful, stunning, and sexy ones. As an observer of people, I noted as a child, the looks on the faces of all the pristine, White families, all lined up like those stupid family stickers on cars — mom, dad, daughter, son, and maybe even grandma.  And let’s not forget them singing in unison, their perfectly make up lips opened oh so daintily, as they “Ave Maria’d” on.  What did we look like?  Brace yourself.  No mom, no dad.  They divorced so mom couldn’t attend mass because the Roman Catholic Church does not believe in divorce.  But she made sure we trudged all the way to church every Sunday.  But our clothes were mismatched, not ironed, and we were probably arguing during mass, no doubt.  I vowed I would never live that way when I grew up.  I would not be a public spectacle.  I would blend in with the white folk who seemed to rule the world.

Thus, it always infuriated me to listen to the frequent commentary by a colleague in my department who I’ll call Ed.  Now this was at Chapel Hill High School in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia.  Ed was an elitist then, and I’m fairly certain he remains one today.  Every year the teachers had to nominate seniors for some awards and scholarships for academic excellence, character, etc.  Well, Ed, whose mouth was rather large and voice extremely booming, would nominate the beautiful, polite, blond, affluent students.  He felt they deserved everything because they put everything in to school.  Even the scholarships that were not necessarily for academic superiority, but more about integrity, involvement in school activities, and character were given to them.  Consequently, on senior awards night, the same five students received everything: the money, the fame, everything.  I remember how enraged I would become as the English department discussed the nominations and because most of the teachers were overwhelmed and too busy for this anyway, they deferred to Ed’s loudness and acquiesced.

It didn’t matter how much I fussed, the majority (Whites) always won and the fabulous five seniors went down in CHHS history.  Now, I’m not knocking their great qualities.  I’m sure they were great kids, but in a school of 1,800 students I found it hard to handle that they were the only ones who deserved EVERYTHING.

Even when it came to advanced placement and honors classes, as we discussed the incoming students, some of whom did not have the previous year’s English grade to qualify for advanced classes, Ed always disparaged the minorities.  He said once that it was a waste of time even teaching them, because they couldn’t or wouldn’t do the work and they didn’t belong in those classes.

I felt like ripping his eyeballs out and shoving them up his behind.

A perfect world according to Mr. Ed.

A perfect world according to Mr. Ed.

After reading Diane Ravitch’s pos, “Does Segregation Improve Test Scores” and then EduShyster’s blog post about White people making the best teachers because they’re just BETTER, I had quite a bit to think about over my heavenly coffee.  Here are the links:

http://dianeravitch.net/2012/11/17/does-segregation-improve-test-scores/

http://edushyster.com/?p=1326#more-1326

 

While, there is no question that White folks have the advantage because the vast majority of them lived in affluent towns, with high property taxes, which drives a major chunk of the school funding.  Furthermore, being at the top of the food chain socioeconomically and educationally provides the children with numerous resources to enhance their education.  When I coached volleyball and we went to these types of neighborhoods to play schools in affluent districts, and the beautiful blond girls mopped the floor with us, I was told that these parents had these girls in volleyball pads by the time they were in preschool.  They were beasts.  Good for them.

We can’t forget that huge disparity in the distribution of funding to schools.  Everybody knows the bottom line: in high poverty areas, there’s very little property tax money going to the schools.  Combine that with the effects of poverty on children and it makes for a failing equation.

Diane Ravitch drew attention to EduShyster’s post today.  They claim that excellence just comes better to White people than to others. Wow! (And people called me a racist!)

I have to assume it’s a satirical piece, but the piece of truth that rings in there is simply located in opportunity.

There were a couple of brilliant comments in Ravitch’s post mentioned above, especially by Pat Cristiani, who commented that integrating students does not fix the problems and attitudes between different races.  She also said people need to discuss race issues, which is exactly what I have been suggesting, based upon my observations as a teacher.

At Chapel Hill in Georgia, I noticed over the five years I taught there, that the students segregate themselves during any group activity.  At a pep rally or any assembly, the White kids always sat  closest to the courts and all the Black and Hispanic students (not many Hispanics) sat far up and away.  In the cafeteria, it ran mainly the same way, with the odd sprinkling of races for those who didn’t care about race.

At Chapel Hill in North Carolina, students did the same thing.  A much more liberal school, with off campus privileges for students, you would see the same segregation.  Eating in the cafeteria was reserved for the minorities, as the affluent White students could go off campus for lunch, and so on and so on.

It is very difficult, as a society, to deconstruct a lifetime of environmental programming between races.  Each person has their own story, and triggers, and reasons to hate or to love.  Just because a school buses poor minority children to a higher achieving school, in an effort to create a racial balance doesn’t erase the underlying problems among different groups.

In the American Journal of Sociology, James Moody explores the following on racial integration in schools:

Finding friendship segregation in heterogeneous settings should not be
surprising for at least three reasons. First, a large body of literature on
homophily suggests that people prefer friends who are like themselves
along multiple dimensions (Hallinan and Williams 1989; Kandel 1978;
McPherson and Smith-Lovin 1987; Tuma and Hallinan 1979). An individual-level preference for similar friends suggests that, all else equal, when people have the opportunity to choose relations within their own
race they will. Second, while schools may be integrated at the population
level, internally they may still be racially divided. Organizational factors
such as tracks and extracurricular activities may decrease opportunities
for cross-race contact by resegregating an otherwise-integrated school (Epstein 1985).Finally, work on ethnic threat and competition has consistently found a nonlinear relation between heterogeneity and racial relations (Blalock 1967; Smith 1981).

Source: Race, School Integration, and Friendship Segregation in America, James Moody, Ohio State University

Thus, when I add up all these opinions and comments, I agree primarily with Pat Cristiani that integration is simply not the sole answer. How do we erase the mindset that Blacks are inferior, Hispanics are illegal?  For hundreds of years, people of African descent were used, abused, and treated as sub-human.

Just the other night on “Sons of Anarchy”, (yeah, I love that show) the IRA guy called the Mexican cartel guy a “bean nigger” and my spouse and I couldn’t believe it!  The deep racial resentment between the two racial groups was deep and intense.

Yes, there is much work to be done, not just on cleaning up public education, but progressing as a society.

Brown vs. Board of Education: Second Round, by Adam Liptak

Source: New York Times

Many years ago, after having my fourth child, while living in an often overlooked state known as Rhode Island, I hustled  waited tables in a restaurant and eventually had the enviable task of training new take out employees.  They were usually teenage girls, incessant gum poppers, with too much gel in their hair (a Rhode Island thing).

I’ve forgotten many things about my time there, but what really struck me was that these employees didn’t have the slightest idea how to count change.

It’s fairly simple really.  It involves beginning with the lowest monetary value, which is the penny.  So, if a patron bought a slice of cheesecake for $2.84 with tax, and he gave her a $5.00 bill, then the cashier/take out girl would start with the pennies and slide out one penny, then a nickel, then a dime, and work her way upward to the five dollar bill.  Seems simple, yes?  It is.  I tried to train them NOT to depend upon the cash register to tell them the amount of money to return to the customer, primarily because it made for much better accuracy for everyone involved.

You would think I was asking them to perform delicate spinal surgery on their grandmothers.

The bottom line is technology has turned all of us into self-gratifying, spoiled little darlings, but the ones it has really done the most damage to is the young generations.

I used to spend hours in the dungeons of the Brooklyn Public Library where they stored the microfiche machines to do research.  I will never forget the power of the book, Night, by Elie Wiesel.  In my little slice of life, I had never heard of such atrocities as the ones he describes.  Consequently, I did my senior thesis on the book, as well as one other.  I felt consumed by the flames, certain that in another life I must have been a victim of the Holocaust, because the horror resonated so deeply within my soul.

Anyway, I spent hours on Saturdays down there, lost in a world I had never known existed at one time in another place.  I love libraries.  They are home for me, the smell, the dust, the knowledge of all the pages contained in such a place, comforting and warm.

Teachers, ask your students today to do a research paper and where do they immediately go as soon as you enter the “media center?”

1. Wikipedia

2. Google

3. The teacher, to tell him/her, “I couldn’t find nothing.”

Ahh, yes.  Nothing.

It would take thousands of words to try to express the gut-twisting frustrations I have felt HUNDREDS of times, as I have heard the very same words from teenage mouths who hail from all walks of life.  Unless it slapped them on the forehead, leaving a dull red impression, the research I wanted them to uncover simply didn’t exist.

My point?

Students today scare me.  The ramifications of the children raised in this dysfunctional education system over the last thirty or so years is stark and frightening.  The small numbers of children whose parents demanded more, expected more, and pushed them for more is just not enough to counter the millions of kids who grew up expecting life to be handed to them.

The teachers they like the most are the ones whose study guides are the actual test and they’re all getting A’s.  The only advanced classes they take are the ones that will get them into the best college, which will get them the best job, which will provide them with the expected lifestyle, where they will live the inevitable meaningless, superficial consumer-crazed lives that everyone wants in America.

When I asked them to think and eliminated the option to cheat, do you want to know what happened?

They froze.  They became afraid but covered it up well.  Then they began to scheme and tell mom a different tale, shed a tear or two about how “hard” the teacher is, how much “work” they’re getting, how “stressed out” they are.

Then they slide into their seats the next day or week, certain things will be taken care of, get their restroom passes per class so they can take another swig of vodka, with a Xanax chaser and make it through another day.

As our nation is embroiled in battles over standardized testing, teacher merit pay, charter schools, funding, or the lack of, I wonder why nobody is asking what the students think.  At my former school in Chapel Hill, the superintendent meets regularly with a student council to try to improve education, and the local paper reported some of their comments in the meeting.  Their comments ranged from student apathy to “our parents have no idea how good we are at lying.”  They claim to only take advanced placement classes to look good for colleges, and that they really don’t care about the learning.

Encouraging.

The blame in all of this, including the recent scandal in the athletic department at UNC, lies not with the athletes, but with faculty members, department heads and athletic departments who are willing to cheat the system in order to keep athletes academically eligible to play.

As one coach told me at a party: “Athletic departments, and that includes high schools, will do anything to keep their players eligible. Nothing will change unless there are major reforms. The cheating will continue. Just don’t get caught!.”  (http://www.chapelhillnews.com/2012/09/08/72842/the-lesson-of-college-athletics.html 

 

These are the kinds of topics that burn me up, that make a quiet Sunday an inner hothouse and compel me to speak my mind instead of working on my latest Pinterest project.  As I sipped my delicious, life-altering coffee in my favorite Minnie Mouse mug, memories flooded back to different occasions where I was the victim of the Athletic Supremacy Game.

It’s a racket.

It’s corruption in its purest form (Is that an oxymoron?).

It is reprehensible to me.

Let me go back to the year 2005.  I had a six month old baby, and four other children and was trying my hardest to teach in an inner city school I transferred to when my earlier school closed down.  This school had frequent lock downs, stabbings, weapons smuggled into the building, and everything that was anything was going on in that school except learning.  I don’t think they gave Bill Gates a tour of this particular school when the powers that be were actively sucking millions of dollars from his vast pockets.

I had a group of students who needed me and I believed in them so I was giving it my all.  One student in particular concerned me because his attendance was sporadic and when he was in class, it was clear to me the reason he avoided English class.  He could hardly formulate a coherent sentence on paper.  Like many kids, he disguised it underneath his ultra-cool, casual, “whatever” demeanor.  But most experienced teachers can see right through those flimsy curtains.

Here’s what was “special” about this young man.  He was gargantuan in height.  Granted, everyone is tall when standing next to me, but this was the NBA player kind of tall.  Guess what sport he played? How did I know this?  His coach came to visit me regularly, to ask how his star player was doing, and graciously tell me of his future plans to play college ball, and so on…(yawning)…

Naturally, it was all very proper until the end of the semester, when the after school visits began.  See, there was no way on this earth that the future NBA star was going to pass my class. He: never completed assignments, never studied, rarely attended class…need I say more?  All the coach’s promises that he would work with him on assignments throughout the year were meaningless, so they correlated perfectly with this failing grade.

I was finally told at point-blank range, that he needed to pass English and “let me get some make up work for him and I’ll make sure he does it.”  Whenever I hear the words “Let me get some make up work…” my brain begins to spin and spots begin to form behind my eyes, which results in a dazzling array of reds and purples.  Suffice it to say, I can’t see straight for a moment. I refused to just pass him along, and the matter was taken out of my hands because the school changed his grade for him.

Now fast forward a few years, three to be exact.  My first child applied to a couple of schools, one of them the Georgia Institute of Technology, or Georgia Tech, a fine school.  I felt that the application fee was a waste of money because he didn’t really have the discipline to join the ranks of elite geekdom genius that is Ga. Tech.  But far be it from me to shatter my child’s dream.  He had a great transcript, natural above average intelligence (from his mama!) and was a god with computer intricacies.  But he didn’t make it into Georgia Tech, which was fine with me.

Guess who did the next year? Mr. NBA future Kobe Bryant himself.  If I was feeling particularly daring, I would throw all caution to the wind and reveal this NBA player’s name, but I haven’t had quite enough coffee for that random act of rashness.

If you read the article from Dr. Barber at the top, you will see that this favoritism towards athletes extends all the way up to the college level.  I try not to get caught up asking too many questions but I wonder:  why do so many fans pay millions of dollars collectively to cheer and shout and fanatically wear a school’s colors for athletes who have snuck in the back door and are not able to meet the academic rigor that is college?  Why is it okay for them to sneak in and then get a “free ride” when I have thousands of dollars in student loans for my college education that I busted my behind to earn? Because I can’t dribble a ball? Maybe I’m not tall enough.

I’ll tell you why.  It’s because everyone in America is sweltering in a cesspool of their own hypocrisy.  The wealthy alumnae proudly tie their collegiate sweaters around their shoulders, carry their foam seat cushions and drive their Lexus (understated elegance of course) sedans to the arenas and stadiums to cheer for their school, proud to sit like royalty in their VIP seats.  What is America cheering for?  Shortcuts? Favors? Corruption?

And these same hypocrites are the ones who tsk tsk when public schools aren’t performing as they should be, and children are dropping out at an alarming rate. Or teachers want to strike!

My partner always says: “Leadership starts at the top.”  when If our leaders engage in dirty educational favors for America’s favorite pastime, SPORTS, then what do we expect from our children? Our teachers?

I gave up a home phone years ago, when I, along with other brilliant Americans, realized that there were far too many taxes on a home phone bill, and anyone who really needed to reach me would find me via the cellular phone.  I was paying a fortune for several lines for my children so communicating with them as I was the chauffeur extraordinaire, was not an issue.

Not all six children!  Of course not.  In my household, a child became eligible for a cellphone if they met both of the following criteria: straight A’s on their report card upon entering 9th grade and well…being a ninth grader.  This might seem archaic to some of you who give your offspring a cellphone in utero, as I was the supreme goddess of my house, I made the rules.

Since 2003, I gave each of my classes my cellphone number.  Gasp! goes the crowd of teachers, shaking their heads in staunch disapproval.  It was modestly featured on my course syllabus at the beginning of the year, adjacent to my classroom number.

My rationale is simple: eliminate excuses.  If a student had a question about their homework, or essay, or studying for a quiz or test the next day, they could text or call and hear the information/get the help from the source: the teacher.  Students are notorious for providing their peers with erroneous information.  I recently concluded that it must be subconsciously intentional.

This helped my case when it came time to speaking with parents as well.  It solidified my case.  When we sat down at any given parent conference, I would whip out the student’s grade sheet with all or some of the homework assignments marked as “missing,” widen my eyes in feigned innocence (as students do) and casually explain my confusion because if there was a problem with any assignments, Bobby could have called or texted me.  At that point (the best part of the conference) Bobby would sink lower into his seat, knowing his life had been clearly shortened.

Over the years I have given out my cellphone number to thugs, schizophrenics, students with a rap sheet longer than my daughter’s chain of dirty diapers that are encircling the globe as we speak, destroying the earth for her great grandchildren.  I’ve given my cell phone number to students who sat in class and never spoke a word until the bell rang, when they would quietly announce as I passed, “I’m gonna fuck you up bitch!”

But I never flinched.  I’ve given my cell number to students who hated me, loved me, and used my face for their dartboard entertainment matches on Friday nights.  In all those years (well, it’s not that many), I’ve never had a problem with harassment of any kind, until this past year, while working in affluent, white bread Chapel Hill.

See, I also liked to use technology to teach or reinforce learning in my classroom.  So every now and then, usually just once a year, I play a cellphone game.  The premise is simple: for a major unit test, like the Middle Ages, I offer extra points on the test and students whip out their cellphones and have to text me the answer to the questions I shoot out to them in class.  If a student does not happen to have a phone (exceedingly RARE) then they team up with another.  In general students love it and it’s always a refreshing change of pace for a stodgy old literature class.

Well, after several classes of this, I was wiped out.  I sat at my desk, too numb to move.  Suddenly, a text message popped up on my phone.  I knew it was a student number.  When I opened the message, it was a picture of…well, it was a pornographic position on a desk in the school.

Shocked? Horrified? Disgusted?  Yes, all of the above.  I felt violated and taken advantage of.  I felt demoralized and angry that my honest attempt to teach with enthusiasm and energy was so callously and immaturely thrown in my face.  A few hours later, I received another equally disgusting photo via text message.

Aren’t their laws about this kind of thing?  Isn’t this a serious offense these days?  I couldn’t touch my phone all weekend because of how disgusting it seemed and I couldn’t delete it because I had to show it to my administration.  Yes, it was a sad weekend.

  This is getting lengthy so I’ll try to…oh, heck, who am I kidding?  Have you ever known an English teacher who didn’t talk forever??

I narrowed it down to the class, don’t ask me how, and contacted each parent in said class, explaining the situation and giving the number so the perpetrator would come forth.  I researched the legal issue involved and the consequences, mentioning that as well in my email.  Well, the whole thing exploded on Monday morning.

I also emailed my administrators, who called me into their office first thing, to reprimand me for contacting the parents.  They wanted to be the ones to do damage control and tell the parents only what they needed to know…which was nothing. Area 51 anybody?

Well, the kid was from a very well to do family, white bread, educators, the whole package.  It was a dumb moment for him.  He apologized to me.  We were both uncomfortable  All I wanted was an apology.  There were parents who were demanding I be fired for upsetting their sensitive children with this uncomfortable situation.  It was beyond stupidity.  I didn’t do anything, after all.  The kid did.

He apologized.  We moved on.  I had my wrist slapped for even trying to utilize technology in the classroom…wait!  Did you catch that?  All the latest pressure and monetary investment in the billions of dollars has been to plug up every kid to a computer and teach us teachers how to teach more creatively.  Ahh…another sip of coffee…the contradictions of the education system.  What a mess!

About ten days ago, I received a foul and profanity-laden text message from another white bread, very high up on the food chain former student of mine.  A pretentious kid really.  I used all my Behavior Analysis Unit skills I learned from being a Criminal Minds junkie to try to piece together the identity of the student.  I have it narrowed down to two.  After all the “suck my dick” comments and telling me what a horrible teacher I was, I finally threatened to go to the police with the messages and press charges for harassment unless he lost my number and refrained from texting me anymore.

But it stuck in my gut you see.  Here I am. Not teaching, trying to figure out this thing called life and my next steps.  Maybe he was right.  I know I’m not perfect.  But perhaps I did suck as a teacher.  Maybe all those notes and hugs and post high school visits from former students was all a gentle lie.  Maybe this pretentious fool was right, after all.

I am the stupid one.  I stood up for injustice and falsifying grades.  I challenged the superintendent and did not get my contract renewed.  This week it seems to me it might have been better to keep my mouth shut, as thousands of other teachers do, and go along with the whole mess we call education in America.

Having lived in the South for more than ten years, I am just chock full of disgust at so many things.  Namely: racism.  Yes, that’s right, I said it.  Why do most people seem to freeze when the word comes up?  Have we become so terrified by the enormity of frivolous lawsuit mania in this country that we can’t call it as we see it?

Here in the “dirty South” as the rappers call it, there is some kind of polite vellum when it comes to anything remotely unpleasant that crosses over peoples’ faces.  It’s quite funny.  Perhaps you have to have certain genetic markers to have the ability to assume that mask at will, because I’ve never been able to do it.

In fact, I’m not interested in doing it.  For example, we were sitting in a small group discussion during a faculty mandatory “equity” meeting.  If you are not an educator, you may not know what this entails.  Equity meetings were established in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools to bridge the gap between the elite White/Asian populace and the African-American/Hispanic low achievers.  So, according to the facilitators, we had to have these meetings, and be “transparent” in discussions of race so we could improve the education and effectively “bridge the gap.”  Sounds charming doesn’t it?

Well, my partner and I fell for this polite veneer in Chapel Hill.  It’s the veneer of progressiveness, the allure of diversity and culture that appeared to thrive in this town.  Surrounded by professors and doctors and lawyers, all of different races excited us.  We thought we had finally found the place to raise our young children. Well, we were wrong.  Very wrong indeed.

In the small break out session, we had to discuss the research by some guy who said that to truly reach the African American males in our classes, we had to go visit them in the “hood”, ask them how they thought the class should be managed, let them teach class sometimes.  I sat there thinking to myself: did someone actually make money selling this garbage and calling it “research?”

Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to hear what my colleagues were going to say in the break out session.  I won’t bore or shock you with the inane comments made by the staff.  Okay, I’ll write about one.  One esteemed, Nationally Board Certified Teacher, said we should respect Black students who call each other “nigger” and we should try to join in with them so that we establish a closer connection with them.  In fact, this genius felt that it was a perfectly acceptable term to use to refer to Black people because when they say it to each other, it’s an acceptable cultural endearment.  To which the group nodded politely and mumbled their “amens” under their breath.  Again, my vellum face did not manifest.

Being the new kid on the block I had to say something because “administration” was watching and my  teacher evaluation depended on it (not on my ability to teach in the classroom).  So I said that the research was nonsense and offensive and that as the wife of a proud and dignified Black man, there was no way I would treat any of my Black students in that way.  I also told them about my child in first grade and how during recess, the white boys had my daughter (half Black) be the monkey in their game.  How cute?  From a parent’s perspective, can you imagine the rage? One administrator said, “Your daughter should not have to be treated that way.”  But that’s how all of Chapel Hill operates.  A colleague at the school where I taught said his daughter’s Calculus teacher told her father she was struggling in the course because she was African-American. What year is this again?

Why is the public education formula framed for only White children?  I’ll tell you why.  Because the framers of our constitution, the “founding fathers” of this great nation had not even conceived of an education system that embraced a variety of races and nationalities and ethnicities.  It was simply not part of the system.  They could not conceive of a day when our country would be overrun by hundreds of different groups of people, all trying to make a dream their reality.

There.  A bit of comic relief to lighten the post.

Money Magazine very recently posted their Top 100 Best Cities to Live In in the Country list.  Chapel Hill made number ten.  I was outraged.  OUTRAGED.

Why?  Because it’s all a facade.  It’s a joke.  It’s a scam and a lie.  This is ONLY the tenth best city to live in if:

You’re a professor, doctor, lawyer, student.

You’re annual income exceeds $150,000 annually (and you have a spouse who matches that).

You’re White or Asian.

You drive a Toyota, Honda, and the somewhat acceptable Subaru.

If you meet at least two of the above, Chapel Hill is truly a mecca.  There is a proliferation of organic and non-organic restaurants.  The cousin, Carrboro, is filled with cafes and the traffic congestion occurs right around 9:15 a.m. each day so that the diehard Mac users can get their best seat at the cafe, where they can chat with their friends and turn to their Macs periodically, all the while maintaining the hippie/grunge/detached intelligence that is so uniquely their own.  The question that bubbles from my brain down to my mouth is always the same:  Who the hell works around here?  How on earth do these people pay their bills?

So these four category Chapel Hill lovers drive their shiny minivans and SUVs around town, ignoring the mobile home parks right next to their $400,000 homes, they teach their kids to think within their bubble of elitism, and although the town pays the highest taxes in the state of North Carolina, it is only funneled to the “haves.”  A few blocks away, the poor Black people, the Burmese immigrants, the Hispanics working two or three jobs, struggle and their community centers are shut down.

Money Magazine said Chapel Hill has no crime.  Well, that’s only because they have an image to uphold and the newspaper keeps the news light and cheery, filled with bake sales and farmers market news, the latest wildflowers growing in the parks, etc.  It’s just happy land here in Chapel Hill, USA.

thyblackman.com

Over a lovely cup of heaven (a.k.a. my delicious coffee), I found this article in today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution http://www.ajc.com/news/georgia-failed-to-count-1502119.html and my mind was transported to my eight years of teaching in Georgia and the countless situations I witnessed where students were dismissed.  I’ve always felt my slightly abrasive and intense New York nature to be too intense for the cool, Southern populace in Georgia.  Rarely did I witness passionate educators jumping into the foray, fighting for teenagers Joe Clark style.  Whenever I expressed the urgency for a student who was in jeopardy of failing, or not graduating, I was given several different reasons why their “hands were tied.”

My partner tells me that 50% of problems with students dropping out is the parent’s responsibility, and I certainly agree.  But that’s a post for another day.

This morning’s AJC revealed that their investigative analysis has uncovered the truth about the numbers of high school dropouts in Georgia.  I distinctly remember the board of education praising each other over the past three years for the huge strides they have made in education by increasing the high school graduation dropout rate.  Now, it appears, it’s all been a lie.

Schools and the state superintendent are scrambling to fabricate prepare their official response to the nearly double increase in students who slipped through the cracks, or schools that didn’t calculate their dropouts accurately, according to the federal guidelines.  It seems all those accolades have fallen quite flat.

Of course, it will only be a matter of weeks before the blame (don’t we always have to have someone to blame?) trickles down to the teachers.  Soon enough, conversations in the office, and at Starbucks will be centered around teachers and how if they just did their jobs and motivated their students, “wouldn’t nobody be dropping out of no schools…”  I can hear it all now.

What really infuriates me is that in every school system I have worked for, I have been labeled as the “hard teacher” and had numerous complaints from parents for expecting too much from Johnny.  After all, “this ain’t college.”

Even this past year, at one of the top high schools in the nation, so called “HONORS” students used Sparknotes or Bookrags or tried to use their cellphones to cheat during tests.  They were the children of doctors and lawyers, professors and the elite of Chapel Hill;  yet they made a mockery of education with their frequent cutting of corners.

I was pulled aside by November and told, “We don’t fail Black kids here.  We have a reputation to uphold and we have to compete with East Chapel Hill.”  I was held to task because these seniors struggled to compose a simple sentence and did not do any homework, or study.  Despite using every remediation tool, and staying after school daily for tutoring (which no one attended), calling and emailing parents, giving my students my cell phone number to text me with problems with assignments, and more, none of it mattered.  All I was repeatedly asked for from students and parents was “extra credit.”

How can a teacher assign extra credit, which translates into extra work for the teacher, when students won’t do the required coursework? How dare parents allow their children to blow off an entire school year, and then when the possibility of not graduating looms in front of everyone’s faces, and the graduation invitations have been sent to Auntie Mabel in Tuscaloosa, suddenly demand extra credit to bring Bobby to the podium to collect his diploma?

Well, that’s exactly how it plays out in public schools everywhere.  Furthermore, when the children who can’t tell the difference between a comma and a period don’t pass, despite all the teacher’s interventions, the administrators and graduation coaches override the teacher’s grades and Auntie Mabel is present at the stadium with her tissue to wipe her tears of joy.

This past year, in the prestigious school with rigorous standards, a couple of my students had their grades adjusted by the administration.  And my contract was not renewed due to my “grading policies” and, according to the superintendent, I was not a “team player.”

It’s time for this country to stand up and pull the curtain back, take the handcuffs off the teachers and drag the parents into the auditorium to start looking at the truth.  It is frighteningly easy to complain and point fingers, but at this point, everyone needs to stop being politically correct and start telling the truth about it.  Everyone needs to stop making everything sound so pretty, and start dealing with the reality, if we are going to improve the health of this nation.