Posts Tagged ‘North Carolina’

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.

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When teaching literature to high school students, I often emphasized and tried to prove how literature is a reflection of life at a particular time in history. This is why I always began a course discussing how literature must be analyzed historically, socially, politically, in addition to absorbing it thematically and structurally.

Thus, it makes sense that sensitive issues will arise in the study of writings, especially classics of American literature, as well as periods in British literature. For example, many teachers are uncomfortable with reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Maya Angelou because of its raw glimpse into a society immersed in the evils of slavery, and all the derogatory wording used.

Ironically, it seems only rappers are comfortable with some derogatory language which people used historically to debase and denigrate slaves.

Nevertheless, some issues are critical and must be confronted in an intelligent and compassionate way. Today’s young people live in a society where anything goes. As much as we like to pretend our children are blissfully innocent, they know a WHOLE lot more than we think they know.

Sadly, Black History Month has become a dulled, dutiful event in the schools, which students gloss over and promptly forget  in the time it takes to pull a poster of notable Black folk off a bulletin board.

Kids are naturally curious and have questions. But despite the glaring nudity, profanity, and violence prevalent on every television station cable has to offer, we feel safer sticking our heads in the sand and pretending our children don’t have some inkling that life isn’t a “Little House on the Prairie” episode any longer.

The news link below features a situation in a nearby county, which is geographically where Raleigh sits, where a study of the civil war prompted a lesson for 8th grade students where they had to role play as though they were various figures who lived during that time period.

http://mediacdn.wral.com:1935/vods3/_definst_/mp4:amazons3/cbcnewmedia_wowza/57415-julia530-576×324-15-768.mp4/playlist.m3u8?wowzacaptionfile=amazons3/cbcnewmedia_wowza/57415-julia530.srt

According to the news segment, one student’s assignment was apparently to take on the role of a slave during that time. “I am a Slave” was the title of her graphic organizer, and eventual essay. Her mother was uncomfortable with the assignment and called the principal, who called central office, and it made the local news, resulting in it being removed as an assignment from the curriculum.

If I were the mother of an 8th grader, I would closely watch how the assignment unfolded and offer some enrichment at home for research purposes to help my child grasp the magnitude of slavery as an institution.

For instance, my local PBS station has recently featured documentaries about different perspectives on slavery and its eventual end in this country. We’ve been showing segments of it to our eight year old, who has been curious about slavery for the last two years. Her father took her and her older sister to see “Twelve Years a Slave,” which was so powerful my daughter was at a loss for words for a while (a rarity!). We discussed it at dinner for days afterward, and she had tons of questions.

It is interesting how many questions kids have, even 11th and 12th graders. I have been asked so many questions about life, real life, that the students didn’t feel comfortable asking their own parents.

Let’s stop pretending our children are naive and open the channels of communication with our children. Let’s have some dialogue and feed them some truths before they hear half-truths and ignorant garbage from others.

Maybe I’m wrong, but when kids are singing number one hits that have to do with anal sex, three-way scenarios, and a plethora of drug usage, do we really think they can’t handle some careful instruction about something we all need to learn from?

I can recall a wonderful student I taught recently in a British Literature class, and when we studied The Canterbury Tales, he came up to me privately and asked to not read or do his project on The Wife of Bath, who was known for her “worldly ways” with multiple men. He was a Jehovah’s Witness. Naturally, I modified his requirements for reading and writing.

Educators in general have been handcuffed from honest teaching and if parents were to work with them and ask questions, our children might be far more conscious and knowledgeable of the world around them.

Martin Luther wasn't afraid to tell some hard truths; people simply weren't ready to hear them.

Martin Luther wasn’t afraid to tell some hard truths; people simply weren’t ready to hear them.

The perils of living in a state like North Carolina are infinite.

In the last year, among other equally moronic actions, our fine governor, Pat McCrory, along with his legislature, decided to reject the Federal government’s assistance with extended unemployment benefits for the long term unemployed. Apparently, these leeches have been suckling the system, and are unwilling to take the abundance of jobs available in the state.

According to thinkprogress.com, the brilliant governor said:

 We had the ninth most generous unemployment compensation in the country and we were having a lot of people move here, frankly, especially in urban areas to get unemployment and then work other sectors and survive. So, people were moving here because of our very generous benefits, and then of course, we had more debt. So I think, personally, more people got off unemployment and either got jobs or moved back to where they were going or came from and quit the migration as much because of unemployment. We’ve seen this in other states where the benefits are very high, it could draw people from outside the state.

Seem a bit exclusive?

I recently watched the news report about the decline in the unemployment numbers, even though they do not tell an accurate story, and McCrory proudly reported the figures to the press, while explaining that it is partly due to people accepting jobs that they would have rejected otherwise while living a cushy life with unemployment benefits.  As one of those people who enjoyed the luxurious accommodations of the unemployment benefits of North Carolina, I stepped my feet out of the pedicure tub, and took a seasonal job at a retail store to help support my family in any way I could, after the savings ran out.

 The lessons I have learned have been eye-opening and depressing on many levels as it relates to society and humanity.  

Lesson #1  

The American Consumer Madness is a monster. The lines of people I have witnessed as I ran a register who buy so much garbage made in China, only to make sure they “look” happy and their children are happy (for a few minutes at least) with toys they don’t need, gadgets that make them dumber, and more clutter to fill a garage within six months, is staggering.  I have since begun to truly question every single purchase I make and asking myself, “Do I truly NEED that?” Will this must-have clearance item improve my life exponentially?

 Lesson #2  

Parents have confirmed what I have known for years but could never verbalize openly: they DO do their kids homework. I have helped hundreds of parents, educated, intelligent, and everything in between, find items THEY needed for a school project, while their child stood idly by, on their cellphones, or running around the store like heathens.  When I taught English, and a student wrote something in class that was at the level expected for a high school student, and then submitted papers that many New York Times columnists could not equal, it was very clear to me that someone else did the work.  

 As many have said before me, the damage that parents have done to this generation in enabling their children has crippled them for the future (and we wonder why there are so many school shootings lately) and created disconnected and morally corrupt adults, which will hurt our society on a scale that we are only beginning to grasp.

SO STOP DOING YOUR KIDS HOMEWORK AND PROJECTS. They won’t die if they actually have to do some work.  As I paid my way through college, I worked nighttime security with a wise man, who had nine kids (yes, he was Irish Catholic). He told me a story which has remained with me through the twenty plus years raising my own six children (yes, Puerto Rican Catholic). Whenever his children got into trouble of some sort, he immediately set them to work raking the broad expanse of their yard. There are few things in life which hard work does not cure, he would say. I employed the same strategies as a divorced mother of six. My kids know how to work a rake!

Lesson #3  

People are rude. And selfish. And self-absorbed. They walk through my store, picking things up, too lazy return them to their original location, and I actually heard one customer tell their companion, as he callously tossed aside items he no longer wanted, “I’m just giving THESE people something to do.” Ahh, yes. Should I have pumped his hand in gratitude, thankful that because he and his fellow shoppers trash the store every single day, it enables my manager to keep me on the payroll for my average earnings of $100 per week?

 Granted, there are the gracious, well-mannered shoppers who appreciate customer service, look me in the eye, and value my very knowledgeable assistance. These are the humanists who don’t just throw the money on the counter, who don’t say “keep the change” as if it were mine to keep, and don’t talk on their cellphones while I am scanning their purchases. I tuck these kind souls in my pocket and try to ask myself, “What would Mother Teresa do?”  

There are so many lessons that humanity teaches us as we interact with the world on a daily basis. Mostly, I have absorbed the good, the bad, and the ugly, and use it as a guide, as a reminder for myself, on how I am raising my last two children, and how I treat others in my daily travels.  

So, thanks Governor McCrory. Thanks for nothing, and thanks for everything. This too shall pass. And when the day comes that I can wave goodbye to this pseudo-progressive, exclusive, good-ol’-boy state, I will debate on whether to wave with dignity or resort to another less dignified yet digit-al form of nonverbal communication.

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 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

Douglasville, Georgia sits on the outskirts of Atlanta.  It’s a drive of about 15 minutes to reach the city limits.

Douglasville is a typical American suburb, where life revolves around The Mall, parents trudge to Home Depot early Saturday morning to make sure they outfit their manicured lawns with the proper upgrades to outdo their neighbors.  Lovely little girls clad in shorts so skimpy that their ribs are visible, furiously flatiron their long and highlighted blond tresses.  It’s an American oasis.

Well, a few years ago, the Atlanta Housing Authority decided to shut down some of their housing projects.  So, they subsidized Section 8 housing in Douglasville, resulting in an influx of minorities to cushy Douglasville.

Suddenly, teachers started to sweat and administrators had to scramble.  The schools became infested with transient kids from broken homes.  Mini-mansions throughout the town were vandalized, crime increased.  Racial tensions increased as well.

The “lifers” (a.k.a. teachers working until retirement) grumbled about how things “used to be” before ‘they” came to town and they cursed the Section 8 program to the depths of Hell.  The largest subdivision at the time, called Anneewakee, once a winding area of lovely homes, where blond-haired angels frolicked, became overrun by teenagers with pants that revealed boxers, and white tees that were ten sizes too big.

Well, one can only imagine how the school administrators approached the new “problem” of undesirables entering their idyllic pastures.

Something had to be done.  A new and improved athletic program was great, and the booster club revenue a delight, but these “undesirables” must be controlled.  The reputation of the schools could not be jeopardized.

courtesy of marlonandsyreets.com

Naturally, the course of action was heavy-handed in-school suspensions, out of school suspensions, expulsions, and even arrests.  I recall being called to the office to translate for a parent who didn’t speak English, who was in the office crying because her son, who was in ISS AGAIN, had been arrested.  She could not comprehend why her son had been arrested.  After speaking with the police officer, it turns out he was arrested for gang-related paraphernalia and marking gang-related graffiti on school property.  Apparently, while sequestered in the isolation cubicles of ISS, he was bored and began to doodle on the partition.

Although mom insisted he was not involved in a gang, the school continued with the charge and the boy spent two days in the town jail.  The mother’s terror was palpable, but she wilted in fear because she thought if she went to the courthouse on her son’s behalf she would be deported.

The loss of accreditation for nearby Clayton County Schools led to an additional burden on Douglas County, as families migrated to a school that had a great reputation and accreditation.

Although most white people will deny it, there is a deeply rooted, instinctive distrust and sometimes subtle frustration they feel toward Black people, as well as other minorities.  It’s the reason for exclusivity in country clubs and subdivisions, which America has a longgggggg history of attempting, quite successfully I might add.  It’s why some people say, “Once the Washingtons moved in, folks started packing up and moving out.”

Yes, this is a topic that makes people extremely uncomfortable, but it plays such a huge role in how schools function, how teachers deal with student, etc. that it can’t be ignored.

People who lack color look at those who have color and immediately attach a negative attitude toward them.  So let’s return to the schools…

When  teachers receive their rosters at the start of a semester, or school year, they scan the names of students.  For the non-educators, many class rosters have a column which indicates the race of the student.  My last employer’s rosters noted the race as either “Hispanic” or “not Hispanic,” which I couldn’t understand.  I can recall attending a workshop about bias in education and this SCREAMS bias to me.  Long names with hyphens that ended in vowels immediately made teachers pause, their brows to gather, and they did some quick mathematical calculations to see just how many of those “Latinos” would be in their classes.

Then it was on to the Black folk.  Typically, teachers would put a question mark next to the name of a person who might be Black, but they were not entirely sure.  Then they would quietly and subtly ask previous teachers to see who taught the suspect, and more mental mathematical calculations were made.

And so on and so on…

The truly aggressive teachers, who held on to their Honors and AP classes like a junkie to his crack, reviewed their rosters and did everything they could to discourage and ultimately remove the minorities from those classes, because everyone knows minorities can’t cut it in an advanced class.  They don’t even like to read.  There’s just no way.

In fact, a former colleague of mine, who is a minority, told me that his daughter (who was a talented and brilliant gem), who took Calculus the year before, had been told the reason she was struggling in the class was because of her minority status.  Is it possible that some teachers actually verbalize their ignorance?

When it came to testing, Douglas County had to administer a series of graduation tests in the core subjects.  The writing portion was in the fall, and the other five took place in the spring of the junior year of high school.  When this test was compared nationally, its rigor was at a 7th grade level.  Yet students in Georgia could take it up to five times before the state gave up on them.

Interestingly enough, the level of students expelled from the school, or transferred to other schools increased significantly right before the graduation tests were administered.  Schools played the undesirable shuffle and kids were bounced from school to school, usually landing at the worst school in the district, which consequently had the lowest scores.

So, if we add up all the horror stories, the sad statistics, and the madness, it all comes down to this:

The education system doesn’t believe that minorities (except Asians, of course) have what it takes to compete with their white classmates in this country.  They are economically lacking, socially lacking, and culturally lacking.

Minorities are reminded of this regularly, as the government, both local, state, and federal, offers programs designed to help them.  In Chapel Hill, the superintendent and other brown-nosing lackeys go out to the low-income neighborhoods armed with books for the poor children and they read to them for an hour or two, hoping to inculcate in them the love of reading.  The kids grab the books in their hands and run off with the novelty items for a remarkably short amount of time before tossing them aside in favor of other forms of entertainment.

Skewed budgets, corrupt officials, power-hungry administration, and unfair biases towards minorities has taken the concept of public education providing educational opportunities for all students and shredded it.  I  believe each person is responsible for his or her own success or failure.  However, if a person is consistently treated as undesirable and unworthy and unacceptable into a community, he may eventually perform according to expectations.

I can’t honestly offer a solution.  Bias is inherent to human beings.  The question though, is how can we put aside our innate prejudices towards everyone and still treat each other with respect?

Growing up in New York City, I rarely felt discriminated against.  New York has the reputation it has for a reason.  It’s tough to make it in that city.  You have to be strong, and quick, and ready.  Thus, I felt that it was a city that expected you to prove yourself and people didn’t look at color when they saw you.  If you could make it work, you were in.  The weak didn’t make it very far in NYC.

I have never lived anywhere else where I felt so accepted as I did in New York City.  The framers of the constitution had no idea, or intention, of creating a new country that was so diverse, but it has indeed evolved as such.  When will we evolve with it?

This post was inspired by the StudentsLast blog, as I read this satirical piece this morning:

http://studentslast.blogspot.com/2012/10/invisibility-cloak-for-all-your-testing.html

Enjoy!

 

 

I decided to step away from the blog for a few days and evaluate my feelings about what I was doing, try, in essence, to figure out what the purpose of this blog is and where it is going.  Does it even need to go anywhere?

Then, last night, as I fiddled with Pinterest (my addiction) I came across a blog by Jeni Eliott called at TheBlogMaven.com.   She’s a blog guru, and probably makes a fortune helping people cross over from the dark side to  WordPress.  Good for her!  I read a post by her which helps people figure out  who they want their audience to be.  After reading it, I pondered these two questions:

1. Who do I envision reading my blog?

2. What is the purpose of my blog today?

This blog was my first attempt at dipping my big toe into the pool of blogging, but I’m no technology/coding expert, not by any stretch of the imagination.  So, as I tried to answer the questions above, I circled and danced around one word: ANGRY.

Yes, angry.

At the end of the longest school year of my career in organically grown Chapel Hill, while I dragged my body, one limb at a time from my bed each morning, so drained, so enervated, and defeated, when I should have done the Snoopy dance because it was summer, I was seething underneath.  I was angry.  No, pissed is more like it.

Have you ever seen a Puerto Rican woman angry?  It’s not pretty.

I began this blog in a frenzy of gut-wrenching anger.

I was angry at having spent ten years of my life being told I was molding and changing, and affecting the lives of hundreds of students every day and that my job was more vital than any other career in America, while at the same time feeling the pinch of furloughs and actual salary decreases year after year.

I was angry that I spent mostly ten-hour days at school, not including weekends, sacrificing my offspring who needed me, believing that I was an asset, that I was needed, that my place in that classroom, in that school, mattered, made a difference.  I don’t know…something.  After all, I left the corporate world, the 9 to 5 grind, a great job at Marvel Comics, where I received bonuses every year, because I wanted to do something significant in the world.

I was angry that I have next to nothing for retirement savings because I invested my time and money into a low salary and horrible retirement system.

I was livid that unless I became a “team player” and made sure I altered grades for all students to uphold the reputation of an elitist community, I would lose my job, which is indeed what happened because I’ve never been a good “team player.” In fact, I was never interested in playing on those teams so I was always in a contentious place with the “front office.”

Yes, I began this blog wanting to tell every dark, ugly, sordid story of the politics, the special education department, the falsifying of grades, and shatter the thin glass that divided teachers from the rest of the world.  I would break the silence.

And the world would listen.  They would read every ugly word, and know the truth.  They would know that high school students come to school high, and drunk, and hung over, and have sex in the bathrooms, and cheat with their cellphones, and cheat without their cellphones, and lie to a teacher’s face just as easily as they lie to their parents regularly.

And the world would hear my roar of pain, of anger straining to break free, as it  ripped through the years of pent-up frustration, of kidding myself that I matter to a system that looks good on paper, but is filled with boxes where automatons shuffle papers and engineer diplomas.

I’m sick to my stomach that I came back year after year, losing years of my life due to overwhelming stress, jumping through the hoops in the school system’s dog and pony show.

Do you know how many times I had my hand on the phone and was about to call the hotline for Atlanta Public Schools and tell them all I saw, as the dirty secrets exploded in people’s faces? But still I lived in fear.

But anger isn’t healthy.  Bitterness is futile and counterproductive.  I have hundreds of stories to tell about my years as a teacher.  I have met so many educators who have the blinders on, who smile the Open House smile, and go with the flow of it all.  They sicken me.  I am sick of niceties, of pleasantries, of pasting fake smiles on my face.

It’s just like the happy and imaginary land on Facebook, where all my friends are busy with their “fun” lives, doing “fun” things, thinking “fun” thoughts all the time, all day long.

My son was on a suicide watch in a mental hospital, while I sat in my classroom hundreds of miles away, unable to hold him, unable to be there to slap the stupid off my ex-husband’s face for being such a useless excuse for a father.  Why?  Because I took an even bigger pay cut to work in the stupid elitist community at CH and couldn’t afford to get to him because for years I have made less and less money each year teaching, while I  gave more and more of my soul to students and administrators who didn’t give a damn about me.

And I was angry at the non-teachers who often made lofty remarks about all the vacation teachers have, and if they don’t like the salary they should get another job, or that those who can’t, teach.

I had a dream last night about teaching in a classroom, and the classroom had a large closet, with lots of supplies and books and I remember feeling so fortunate.  But people kept walking into the room and talking very fast, while they were taking my materials out of the closet, and telling me that I wouldn’t need this or that.  It was a sobering dream.

I raised my children as I had been raised, believing that telling in the truth was the best way to live, believing that it would set you free, keep you honest, etc.  But that’s not really true is it?

It’s not true, because while I’m sitting here unemployed, the same people who discriminated against me, harassed me, gave out A’s for worksheets, adjusted grades to passing for the minorities and the dumb athletes are still there, carrying on, running the show.  The crooked superintendent still holds his job.  The members of the school board who expected me to play their unethical games are doing quite well, and the community that expects the public schools to run and do their bidding is still thriving.

In essence, I it never mattered at all.

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.

In many right to work states like Georgia, tenure means very little.  In most cases, it is a simple certificate of recognition at the end of another demanding year attempting to teach hundreds of children.  Tenure, for thousands of teachers, does not grant educators immunity from the chopping block, transfers, or all of the above.  There are some unique cases, outside of the realm of legitimate influential teacher unions, such as my last experience at Chapel Hill High School.

At Chapel Hill, if you were stalwart enough to survive the daily onslaught from parents, and played the politics well enough to survive the requisite probationary period of three years, and had previous experience to grant you tenure, then you essentially joined the ranks of the Titans.  The Titans were the tenured faculty who had taught at Chapel Hill High School for several years and their pens were forged with iron coated titanium.  These lucky dozen used their tenure like a breastplate at times, and a microphone the majority of the year.

The Titans were vociferous at faculty meetings, hostile towards administrative attempts to try to lead, and felt their jobs were secure enough to do all of that without consequence, or retaliation of some sort.  A new superintendent and staff at the district office has changed all that with sudden transfers of a few staff members, which has managed to silence the entire faculty for fear of reprisals and retaliation.

93% or more of articles where educators are interviewed usually include the word “retaliation.”  May I digress momentarily to ponder this: In the high stakes word of education reform measures, hasn’t anyone touting multiple letters after their name ever considered why retaliation is an ever present fear that comes up?  Doesn’t anyone ever ask themselves who these threatening, looming, fear-inspiring figures are in the world of education? Teachers know.

Back to tenure.

My point about the tenure Titans at CHHS in North Carolina is how the tenure might seem useful, but even the world of education has succumbed to the corporate shift in America which has denigrated the employee and labeled him/her as EXPENDABLE.  In Georgia, tenure was considered laughable.  My last principal told the faculty in 2011 that considering the state of our country’s economy, we should all be grateful that we are sitting in his auditorium with a job.

Is it any surprise why so many people suddenly explode into fits of inexplicable violence and tragedies abound from coast to coast?

Opponents of teachers contend that we are babies, always whining, when we have all this summer “vacation,” and other holidays off throughout the year.  They also argue that they don’t have job security so why should teachers?  Plus, tenure keeps poor teachers in the classroom who don’t belong.  We’ve heard it all before.  And there is truth in there.

However, unlike countries like Finland, America places no true value to educators.  They have not set up a comprehensive value on educators, and just how absolutely vital solid educators are to the continuation of civilized society.  I’ve only met a handful of teachers who give the bare minimum in the classroom.  Every other teacher I have come across or read about dedicates as many minutes as possible on any given day to their craft and they are outstanding in their drive and passion.

How can New York, and New Jersey, and Idaho, and the other states that have crippled any fraction of tenure make teachers solely responsible for the academic success of students?  What about environmental issues like the strung out single mother of five who lets them sleep on a park bench while she prostitutes herself for drug money? I taught two of those kids. Or the kids who can’t come to school every day because their immigrant parents are working three jobs and they have to take turns babysitting their younger siblings instead of coming to school? I taught one of them as well.  Then of course, there are the ones who just don’t care, because school isn’t going to give them the instant fame and success they see in the music videos, where rappers make it rain all night and they don’t need to read no Shakespeare to make it rain.  I taught dozens of them.

Check out the article in the New York Times about tenure cuts in the public schools of New York City: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/18/nyregion/nearly-half-of-new-york-city-teachers-are-denied-tenure-in-2012.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

This education beast is so much larger and complex and there are certainly no easy answers.  But the one way punitive system being adopted in state after state is destroying the future of this country’s survival.

I was so excited to get a call to interview at Chapel Hill High School in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  According to my research, it ranked in the top 100 best high schools in the entire country.  Surely, this was the opportunity of a career lifetime for me.  I would finally have the opportunity to do what I had longed to do for the last decade.

Teach.

My family abandoned our plans to settle outside Orange County, as we were relocating from Georgia.  The truck was loaded and I abandoned any other prospects for teaching  jobs because THIS was the one I had dreamed of, my reward.  The interview went amazingly well.  I recall sitting in the conference room, surrounded by seasoned staff, being asked if I had the rigor and high standards that they expect at such a prestigious institution.  I delved deep into my passion for teaching and did my best to convince them that I had it all and then some more.

Once again the heavens opened up and rained down on me.  I was offered the position within a few days.  Despite the loss of tenure and return to a probationary status, the loss of all my vacation time from Georgia, and the loss in salary, I felt confident that this would be my mecca and I would spend the next decade or longer, teaching there.  I longed for a school to call home.  We even moved a mile away from the school, to add to the truly spectacular cosmic alliance that had been forged.

During my one school year at CHHS, I learned so many things.  Here’s just a few:

1. I learned that racism is alive and well.  Just because you name your major roadway after THE MAN, it doesn’t mean you are a forward thinking pillar of equality.  The halls of Chapel Hill are designated for the children of UNC professors and doctors at Duke, corporate executives in the Research Triangle.  They simply tolerate, with carefully masked disdain and subtle contempt, the minorities — that’s the Hispanic and African-American students — and they looked with bemused pity upon the latest wave to the town, the Burmese refugees.  See, at CHHS, the students get to choose if they want to be in an honor or advanced placement class.  There is no criteria they have to meet.  So guess where all the White students go?  They run to the honors and AP classes because the minorities won’t be there.  And when little Bobby struggles because he doesn’t have the strong reading and analytic skills necessary to succeed in an advanced class, that’s where the barracudas enter the picture.

2. The “barracudas” I mention are the parents.  Oops.  No, they’re the STAKEHOLDERS.  In Chapel Hill, if a White student is failing, which only means a high C for the rest of America, then the parents target the teachers.  They never sit down with Bobby and discuss his strengths and weaknesses, or the extracurricular activities that saturate his schedule.  No, these parents don’t demand the keys to the car, or the iPad, or the iPhone, or the laptop until Bobby can bring his grades up to an acceptable level.  Nope.  I learned very quickly that I had entered a body of water where I would drown with only one foot in, because the teacher is always to blame.

3. Only team players survive.  At CHHS, a team player is defined as an educator who is always willing to recognize the supremacy of parents, the stakeholders, and be prepared to acquiesce to each and every one of their demands.  A team player also consists of an educator who will simply create the impression of rigor, generate challenging lesson plans, but be prepared to “modify” the content for any student who may be too shy or sensitive or stressed out and cannot actually complete the carefully aligned and structured tasks.  A team player will be sure to change grades from a B to an A if the B is somewhere within the ballpark of the A, so what’s one or two points anyway?  After all, the teacher probably made a mistake somewhere along the way.

4. Nothing, and I mean nothing, can interfere with the reputation of CHHS.  They have to maintain their level of distinction, regardless of the difficulty.  So, special education students WILL pass, students who can’t speak English WILL pass too.  And the minorities, those Hispanics and Blacks, who aren’t fortunate enough to be White and privileged — they will pass too.  It doesn’t matter if they have been to a different school each year for the last ten years of their lives.  I repeat.  Nothing will bring down the reputation of this fine benchmark of educational excellence.

5. Rigor is only rigor so long as the grade book shows row after row of A’s and B’s.  At Chapel Hill, I was blessed to have met some truly outstanding students, with great inquisitive minds, who enjoyed being challenged and having lively discussions about literature and life in general.  They were students who truly have it all.  The beauty, the intellect, the charisma.  I was proud of them, and admired their youthful spunk.  It was truly an honor to have taught them.  But those wonderful individuals (and their equally wonderful parents) make up only about 10% of the entire school.  The remainder of the student body had psycho parents, were shameless cheaters, and whined about each and every assignment.  They were number crunchers, carefully calculating  the weight of an assignment to determine whether it was in their best interests to actually complete it, or if it would bring their GPA down by two tenths of a point if left undone.  To them, school was only the means to an end.  The transcript was the golden ticket.

The new superintendent of Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools notified the faculty towards the end of the year that he would be reassigning teachers who were toxic to the school and try to improve the climate and culture of the school.  Check out my links on the left for the entire article.  These are the teachers the school district can’t simply fire because they have the precious tenure.  They are outspoken, demanding, and righteously defend the interests of themselves and their positions at the school.  Now that the names have been dropped, there is a half-hearted revolution from the teachers.

You might want to know about my own contract with them.  Well, I won’t be going back.  This prestigious and respectable school has effectively managed to beat me down so badly that my whole world was turned upside down, and I am certain I lost years of my life to the all-consuming stress I worked under.  They discriminated against my heritage as a proud Hispanic, they harassed me mercilessly throughout the year, undermined my authority in my classroom, and almost killed my love of teaching.  They falsified the grades students earned in my classes, lied on as many occasions as I can recall, and then declined to offer me a contract for the next school year based on my “grading practices.”  I read the letter with relief, because I could not fathom the dread which I felt at the thought of returning to that hellish situation for a second year.

To those of you who think teachers in this country have a very cushy life because they have summers off, let me tell you that there are thousands of teachers who are veritable hostages in their schools, due to situations similar to mine.  But they have bills to pay and other responsibilities at home that prevent them from standing firm and fighting for justice.  In places like North Carolina, there are no teachers unions to truly protect their educators.  So many teachers just want to teach, are good at it too, but are helpless against the weak, ineffective, power-hungry, and ambitious leaders, and victims of pushy, arrogant, blind parents.

Shame on you Chapel Hill.  I wish Barack Obama knew what’s really going on in education.