Thursday, December 14, 2017

Reflections on Losing Your Dream Job

I'm not ready to write about it in any concrete way because I am too close, too in it, too surrounded. This week, I was notified that I would be "RIFfed." A projected future budget shortfall due to state budget cuts made the salary I get to teach developmental writing too much to bear (despite the funds existing for a new $50 million building to house upper administration and a brand-new administrative position hired just this month. Despite a Chancellor who makes $300,000 a year and still gets a housing and car allowance. Despite. Spite.) Fifty-eight full-time faculty members received the same notice. 


"That's mommy's work," I proudly declared to my daughter, strapped in to the carseat in the back, as we passed the old red brick building. "Mommy's work!" she would call out in her lilting toddler voice every time we passed. I would swell with pride. 


"You know, part of college is learning to follow directions and paying attention to the details. It's really important that you type your papers and submit them through the online system."

"Well, you see, I . . ." 

"What? What's wrong? Do you need help finding the computer labs? You could use the public library, too, if that's easier. I can open the lab classroom for you after class if you want to be near my office to ask questions." 

"Ma'am, it's just that I have to leave right after class. I can't come back to the computer lab."

"Well, I know that everyone has very busy schedules, but we'll have to find some time you can make it to the lab."

"Yes, ma'am. I'll work on it. It's just that . . ."


"It's just that if I'm not in line for the shelter by 4pm, I probably won't get a bed, and it's been so cold this week, and I just . . . I'll figure it out."

"You can turn it in handwritten. It will be fine. We will work this out." 


I'm bad at treasuring items. I don't have shadow boxes or scrapbooks.

In some plastic basement tub sits the high school graduation cards full of love and congratulations. I was the first person in my family to be heading to college.

In some other plastic basement tub sits the cords I wore around my neck at graduation. Honors. English Honors Society. Summa cum laude.

In a stack of notebooks and novels and books full of advice on parenting a spirited child, a blue certificate holder embossed with silver letters holds a piece of paper. PhD. 


I'm handing back graded papers with handwritten comments along the margins. 

"Wait. You actually read these? None of my teachers have ever read my papers." 


Fuck them. Fuck them. Fuck them. Fuck them. Fuck. 


"I've never read a whole book before." 


One student comes to my office after every paper grade is returned. She's an angry tornado. Papers spill out of her arms and onto the floor. She can't sit she is so furious. She paces. She yells. 

"I can't believe you gave me this grade! I can't believe you! Do you know how hard I worked on this? I asked you if you thought it was a good topic! I did the work!"

"Do you want to sit down?" 

"I can't do this anymore! I never should have taken this class. I never should have come to college! You don't even want me to pass this class!" 

"Do you have any questions about the comments?" 

She plops into the chair. She's crying. I hand her a tissue.

"So are you going to revise it?" I ask.

"No! I'm done! I'm just dropping out. This is stupid!" 

"Do you want help revising it?" 

"Yes! I have no idea what to do! You told me that I need a clearer thesis statement, so I guess I need to change this sentence, and then you told me that none of these paragraphs are focused, so I guess I would put this one here and then put this one here." She sits and plans out her entire revision without me saying another word. "So what am I supposed to do?!"

"That." I gesture at the flurry of notes she angrily wrote in front of her. She looks at them like she's never seen them in her life. 


"It's due next week." 


She takes two more of my classes over the next year and a half.


All my colleagues have closed their doors or hidden away off campus. It is too hard to look at one another. It is too hard to see it in the eyes, feel it in the hall, breathe it into truth. 


"I know you worked really hard, and I think you can do this, but you didn't quite make the grade to pass. You can take it again next semester. There are a lot of teachers teaching this class, so if you want to take it with someone else . . ."

"Oh. No! I'm taking your class again." 


"You can check the College website for employment opportunities. There will likely be plenty of adjunct positions available." 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Why I Hope Al Franken Resigns

Kate Harding has an opinion piece up for the Washington Post explaining why she doesn't think Al Franken should resign amid allegations that he sexually assaulted Leeann Tweeden. She says plenty of smart things, and she is positioning herself as a voice of pragmatic reason in a sea of knee-jerk reactionaries with short-term thinking:
When you combine these things — an awareness that the Democratic Party is no more or less than best of two, and an understanding that men in power frequently exploit women — it becomes difficult to believe that Franken is the only sitting Democrat with a history of harassment, abuse or assault. The recent #metoo campaign demonstrated how normalized unwanted kissing and groping are in our culture. Donald Trump was caught on tape crudely admitting to both of those transgressions, and we made him our president. According to the CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 1 in 3 women experiences some sort of contact sexual violence in her life. Sexual harassment and assault are simply too widespread for Democrats to respond to Franken’s offense with only Franken in mind: We need to respond in a way that helps us develop a protocol for meaningful change.
She's making a very similar argument to the one that Nate Silver makes to explain why he thinks Democrats are punting on what could be a politically safe move for them:
Of course, what might be politically expedient for Democrats isn’t necessarily expedient for Schumer — or for McConnell, or for the White House, all of whom may be acting out of a sense of institutional self-preservation. If there’s a precedent that sexual harassment is grounds for removal or resignation from office, then a lot of members of Congress — including some of Schumer’s colleagues and friends — could have to resign once more allegations come to light, as they almost certainly will. President Trump’s conduct could also come under renewed scrutiny, as could the conduct of former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush. Politics is a male-dominated institution, and a conservative institution, and conservative, male-dominated institutions have pretty much no interest in flipping over the sexual harassment rock and seeing what comes crawling out from underneath it.
Both of these writers are making the same basic claim that Franken's response will be precedent-setting, and that politicians might need to be careful in setting the precedent that former sexual misconduct should lead to present resignation. The whole system, it seems, could come crashing down.

Let. It. Crash. 

I'm serious. Donald Trump is president of the United States. This is a man who is grossly unqualified to play the mayor in a school performance, let alone lead our country. He ran on a ticket of, basically, promising to blow shit up, and a lot of people across the country said, "We're with you on that." Obviously, the discontent is running deep already.

If our system is so fragile that it can't handle having an actual process of accountability and value-based standards for its participants, then it needs to crash because--and this is important--it isn't working anyway!

I have been involved in approximately 11,000 debates about Al Franken since the story broke, and the vast majority of my liberal friends seem to be taking this wishy-washy "pragmatic" view that wants to preserve the party's effectiveness rather than hold a member of it accountable.

The bottom line for me is this: either we meant what we said or we didn't.

Here, I'll let Al Franken explain it:

At the end of his Facebook post, he quotes from the Gretchen Carlson piece and says this: 
[Gretchen writes,] 'I encourage victims to stand up and tell their stories, which I know requires immense bravery. And I’m hopeful that we’ll see changes in our laws and our culture that will allow them to do so without being victimized yet again.' I couldn’t agree more."
He encourages women to stand up and tell their stories. If they do so, even though it "requires immense bravery" we will see changes in our laws and our culture. CHANGES IN OUR LAWS AND OUR CULTURE! It doesn't get to return to normal. It doesn't get to be business as usual. The system doesn't get to continue running merrily along its patriarchal, violence-laden track. We (including Franken himself) collectively asked for women to come forward. And they did, and they keep coming, and they're going to keep coming.

I am not on a "witch hunt." I do completely recognize the difference between the accusations against Franken and those against, say, Roy Moore. They differ in severity, number of victims/repetition, and age of victim. All of those things matter. It matters, too, that Franken's victim says she accepts his apology and isn't trying to force him out of office. It all matters.

But none of it changes the fact that Franken needs to hold himself up to the standard he set. (I am also not interested in arguments that he wasn't really touching her, it was trick photography, it was a thick coat, the military escort says it didn't happen, blah, blah, blah. Both Franken and Tweeden say it happened. The man doing the action and the woman having the action done to her both say it was wrong. We don't need to play mental gymnastics on this one).

I think that this piece from The Establishment titled "So You've Sexually Harassed or Abused Someone: What Now?" does an excellent job of laying out what the next steps should be. It lays out steps for accepting responsibility, avoiding re-victimizing victims, and moving forward in a way that transforms the cultural landscape for the future.

Here's the thing, I like Al Franken. I support his work in the Senate. I think he means it when he says he's an ally who wants this world to change. But now I need him to walk the walk and demonstrate what taking responsibility for those past actions means. Are there other ways to do that besides resigning? Perhaps. Are there other ways to do that besides resigning that don't become a huge distraction and road block for the momentum building against actually changing the culture surrounding sexual assault? I don't think so.

The chorus of "it's not as bad" that people are using to defend Franken in comparison to Moore, Weinstein, Louis C.K., etc. runs the risk of morphing. "It's not as bad" can easily become "it's not that bad," and that's a risk we cannot take at this moment. That's a risk we cannot afford at this potential tipping point.

There are lots and lots and lots of people out there right now desperate to hear "it's not that bad." They are coming to terms with the fact that all of those #MeToo posts mean that some of the behavior they passed off as "just a joke" or "boys being boys" or "I got a little tipsy" was actually incredibly damaging and weighed on the women in their lives. They feel guilty, confused, and frustrated. They don't want to be labeled as sexual harassers, assailants, or sometimes even rapists. The fact is that if 1 in every 6 women reports having been raped, there are a lot of rapists out there. There are even more sexual harassers. And many of them have never thought of themselves in those terms. Many of them have never considered that the acts they took could have long-lasting damage. But now that they see people they love and respect coming forward to say how harmed they've been, they're pausing, reflecting, and recognizing.

This is important. This is necessary. This is the step we have been missing! 

Al Franken demonstrating true remorse while simultaneously displaying the seriousness of committing to doing better is the symbolic response we need right now. That isn't short-term thinking. It's long-term thinking. It's hoping for a better future where we no longer accept sexual harassment and assault as the natural side effects of being human. If Franken really wants to be an ally, the easiest way to do it is to resign.

I hope he will do the right thing. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Acceleration to Nowhere? Only If That Was Always the Destination

There's an article over at Inside Higher Ed called "The Fast Lane to Nowhere" and it decries developmental education acceleration because "we have already promoted so many students at all levels who don’t know the material that we are drowning in a sea of bogus diplomas and degrees -- and far worse, the holders of those dishonorable documents are floundering."

Author John Almy makes many claims that I can't argue against. He says that "[w]e cannot continue to pass students and then hand them high school diplomas that they cannot read."


He says, "We are hurting students by not teaching them the material before we pass them, and that process begins in kindergarten and continues through college."


But he makes a logical jump from those valid points to an angry tirade against acceleration without connecting the dots.

Let's all jump to conclusions!

In part, Almy writes, "
We put remedial students who are incapable of surviving remedial classes into transfer-level classes alongside students who are supposedly prepared, and that, along with a little extra tutoring, will somehow provide the lower-level students with the desire and abilities to quickly acquire all the skills they have failed to gain in the first 12 years of their educations. Baloney!"

Except it isn't "baloney." We have the data to back it up. Acceleration (often by shortening the developmental course sequence) and co-requisite enrollment (where developmental students are placed in credit-bearing courses at the same time they take their "remedial" class) are sweeping the nation and making plenty of people nervous because we're disrupting the traditional gatekeeping mechanism of blocking student access to "real" college.

I take a lot of issue with Almy's claims. First of all, he himself admits that these students "failed to gain [the necessary skills] in the first 12 years of their educations." So one more semester is the magic bullet? They had 144 months to learn these things, but four more should do it?

This is especially troubling when so many "remedial" classes follow curricular models that look a lot more like high school, or middle school, or even elementary school than they do college. Students doing endless grammar drills or being forced to write a perfect sentence before they are given the freedom to express their ideas in robust and complete essays is a surefire way to kill any interest in the subject. Turn writing into an exercise in proving one's academic identity rather than a way to express one's ideas, and you're going to send a whole lot of first-generation, low-income, and minority students running for the door feeling like they don't belong. 

That's what we lose when we disrupt the traditional model of developmental education. We lose the chance to protect our precious definitions of what college writers should sound like (and by extension, often what they should look like, dress like, and spend money like).

This isn't to say that we should embrace all efforts at developmental education reform without question. Accelerated models deserve scrutiny, and they are not all created equal. This article from Alexandros Goudas points out that some attempts to create a co-requisite ostensibly modeled off of the very successful ALP model from Baltimore Community College have actually become nothing more than a cost-saving measure that slaps a one-credit-hour lab component to traditional credit-bearing English 101 with no curriculum support that actually follows the model.

I personally think that many conversations surrounding developmental writing reform have focused too much on the structure and not enough on the curriculum. Acceleration works only when both components are taken into account. Students don't magically learn the same material at a faster rate just because you deliver it quicker (though many students who are capable of doing the work but who have life issues that prevent them from successfully completing multiple semesters of developmental coursework might still benefit). The true benefit comes from a curricular model that puts belief in students' abilities to succeed at the forefront of course design. If we get rid of the grammar drills and insultingly low hurdles and instead place high standards and the means to reach them in our students' paths, we see success. It is really that simple . . . and that hard. 

The challenging part of developmental education reform is that it means not just reforming our classrooms and our curriculum, but reforming ourselves. We have fallen into tired stereotypes about developmental writers for decades, and Almy is going through them like a greatest hits record. His claim that students haven't learned any skills in twelve years of school is a ridiculous one. I have never had a student come into my developmental writing classroom without a rich rhetorical skillset. I have never had a student come into my classroom without complex experiences of rhetorical dexterity. They are not blank slates arriving to us to learn kindergarten-level sentence structure. Just because they do not write the way we want them to write doesn't mean they can't write.

I have been teaching remedial writing classes for a decade, and I have had hundreds of students enter my classroom. Nothing in my experience matches Almy's description of developmental students as "those who don’t want to or can’t learn" and who are "draining our valuable resources." I can count on one hand the number of students I have met who seem truly incapable of meeting the demands of a rigorous, complex writing curriculum. 

Furthermore, Almy pleas for us to "[t]each those of us who have the desire -- really teach us -- what our instructors neglected to teach us the first time. And above all, make us learn or leave. Make us accountable. Make us earn our way." 

That is exactly what I do! The fact that I do it in an accelerated format doesn't make it any less rigorous. In fact, my accelerated classroom is leaps and bounds more challenging than the remedial course profile I was teaching from before our redesign. My students are absolutely, 100% held accountable. They do "learn or leave," though I try very hard to make them learn rather than leave. I don't understand why Almy thinks that an accelerated model is somehow a guaranteed A. It isn't.

It is ridiculous when he goes on to suggest that acceleration is somehow at odds with the goal of high standards and accountability, that I am somehow not letting students "
feel pride in what [they] have accomplished" and am instead bestowing upon them "arrogance in how [they] circumvented the system."

The only "system" they are "circumventing" is one designed to make them take classes with no college credit while they eat through their financial aid allotment, dragging out their "two-year" degree for years and years while we continue to steep them in current traditional rhetoric practices that didn't work in the first place and then pat our backs about our "rigor" when they give up.

Then he calls upon remedial education and its lengthy sequence as a way to build grit. And we all know how I feel about that. 

It's a bad system, one rooted in systemic discrimination against minorities and anyone whose discourse identities don't align with our own sense of superiority. If it makes us uncomfortable to dismantle it (or, really, just disrupt it a little), then that says much more about us than it does about the students who have become collateral damage in a historical battle over our attempts to shore up our academic boundaries. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Archer in a Blindfold (A Look at Modern Parenting)

"You have an auto car!" my daughter said excitedly from the back seat.

"Huh?" I wasn't sure what she was talking about.

"I saw the button up there. It says 'AUTO.' That means it drives on its own."

"What button? This car doesn't drive on its own, but if you tell me where the button is, I'll explain what it does."

It is the button for my driver's side window, and it means that the window descends completely with a single press instead of having to be held down continuously until fully open. I explain this, but then I am struck by a realization that I hadn't really had before. I am talking to my six-year-old. She has another decade before she will learn to drive. Will she learn to drive? 

"By the time you're old enough to learn to drive, though, it probably really will be an automatic car."

"Cool," she responds absently. She's moved on to other thoughts, humming along to the four thousandth playing of the Kidz Bop version of "Seven Years," which is being broadcast through my car's stereo system from one of her many personalized Spotify playlists via Bluetooth. A thing that holds no marvel for her.

I'm lost in a dense web of quickly connecting thoughts. What will teaching someone to drive look like in ten years? If she doesn't have the skills to drive, will that be limiting somewhere down the line? It's not that big of deal. I don't know how to bake my own bread, and that's not a big deal. Not all skill sets need to be preserved. Wait. Maybe it is a big deal that I don't know how to bake bread. What other skills are we losing? What do we lose with them? Will there be rogue parents who teach their children 'old-fashioned' driving? Will we be legally allowed? Will we have to buy antique cars with outdated features to do so? What else will she not know how to do? But think of all the things she gets to do that weren't even a fantasy when you were her age. It's a trade off. Everything's a trade off. 

At this point we arrived at our destination and my thoughts shifted to the minutiae of getting two kids safely out of the car and into the house. It didn't come back to me until I was in bed, trying to sleep.

It's not just automatic cars. It's everything. As I've mentioned before, I'm homeschooling my daughter, so that means that the parameters of curriculum are on me. I get to decide what knowledge is necessary for her, and it's a responsibility I take seriously. It makes the future-focused concerns of parenting emerge from the fuzzy darkness in a crystal clear way. I've read Outliers. I know about the 10,000-hour rule. What she learns now matters, will shape her skillset in the future, will determine where she places her focus somewhere down the road, will open some doors and shut others. It's not that I think my choice of which math workbook I buy will make or break her future career choices, but I do know that these early years are framing her worldview and her interests in a way that lasts. That matters.

The New Yorker ran a cartoon this summer entitled "Things I'm Afraid My Daughter Will be Doing in 2026."

It included anxiety about the continued encroachment of technology on our lives and also anxiety about the downfall of society as a whole. Her daughter, in her mind, has equal chances of spending her teenage years "hacking into my Facebook account and reading all the mean things I said about her as a baby" or "watching a flame in a busted-out TV like those kids in 'The Terminator.'" 

It feels like a coin flip. Heads: a world so technologically advanced as to be unrecognizable and threaten the core principles of society. Tails: a world in impoverished, dystopian ruin where the institutions of education, government, and social order have completely broken down. In the meantime, what songs would you like me to add to your Spotify list this week, baby? 

I try not to fall into paranoia about the future. I try to remain hopeful, but the fast-paced news cycle bringing a constant barrage of doomsday scenarios intermixed with constant signals that the future will be nothing like the present is whiplash inducing. Today I read about Jeff Flake resigning from a career in politics because (as he said in his speech announcing the decision) "our children are watching." He couldn't bear the thought of contorting himself into a Trumpian pretzel of debased values in order to win his primary. Today I also read that Amazon Key will now allow delivery drivers to enter your house when you're not home so that you can get your packages with ease. (A move that is surely making a blueprint for a future when the human element of the delivery is removed entirely, and I can't decide if the thought of robots entering my house when I'm not home is better or worse than the thought of flesh-and-blood delivery drivers doing so.) 

I'm prone to anxiety and overanalyzing things, I realize, but I don't think it's far-fetched to think that the world my daughter enters won't look much like the world today in many ways. Truth be told, even the five-year age gap between my children is a big difference. When my daughter was born in 2010, I didn't have a smartphone. My son, born in 2016, has been video recorded and had near-daily pictures snapped of him since the moment he arrived in this world. Their earliest experiences of reality are already very different from one another, and they were born in the same decade. If my daughter sees no marvel in the pleasures of Spotify or Osmo games, my son will see even less reason to be impressed. He will probably see things that I would have looked at as alien technology as outdated relics from a distant and irrelevant past. And we're talking about five years. 

How do you raise kids in this environment?! 

I realize this is a question born of privilege and surrounded by privilege. Plenty of people throughout human history have raised their children in times full of much more perilous uncertainty. People have raised children through genocides and the ravages of active war. I'd much rather ask myself how I am going to prepare my daughter for an uncertain future career than watch the Black Plague claim my children before they escape infancy. Things aren't so bad. I know that. 

We focus on the constantly oscillating matrix of fear and hope wrapped up in technological advancements. Maybe we'll all lose our jobs when the robots take over and end up without a means to support ourselves in a pseudo-capitalist society under Hunger Games-esque wealth inequality . . . . or. . . maybe we'll be freed up from menial and dangerous labor to pursue nobler acts like art and philosophy, enacting the Greek ideal life without the unethical practice of forcing slaves to make our wages. Again. Toss up. 

In some ways the uncertainty is freeing. Instead of chasing after some specific future end point, it strips us down to our bare principles. What do I teach my child? To love. To learn. To think. To question. To explore. To experiment. To analyze. To grow. To adapt. 

And maybe also how to make electricity from a potato--just in case our robot overlords throw us into eternal darkness. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

A Tale of Two Dumpsters

Do you want to know how to lose faith in humanity and start disliking everyone around you? Shovel (literally shovel) someone else's garbage up for an hour on a Sunday morning.

Let me back up.

Despite this post boldly declaring that we were staying put in our smallish house because I had embraced a minimalist outlook (and the constraints of our budget), we actually moved a couple weeks ago. A series of events (some fortunate, some unfortunate, some neutral) led to us changing our minds and our circumstances, and now we're in a bigger space (more than one bathroom!!!) that really fits us well (a classroom for homeschooling!!)

The new house is very close to the old house. It's about a mile away, crossing one major city street. In fact, we can easily walk between the two. The differences between the two, though, are somewhat shocking.

That short jaunt put us in a different property tax bracket (ten times higher), a different alderman's ward, a different demographic make up (though both are pretty racially diverse), and . . . different dumpsters.

Well, actually, the dumpsters are pretty much the same. The city has dedicated alley dumpsters for trash, yard waste, and recycling. They look the same, plopped down behind houses, in both neighborhoods. But there is definitely a different dumpster culture.

The new house shares an alley with a very well-to-do block behind it. One of the first things I noticed when we were looking at houses was the immaculate state of the alleyways. Spotless! The alleyway behind my old house was frequently overflowing with illegally dumped garbage, a disgusting heap of disrespect and loss of hope.

I have dumpsters located immediately behind my house in both locations, and that means that I am legally responsible for keeping them clean. A recent local news story explores how frustrating this can be. I can get fined because my neighbors (or someone driving in from somewhere else and illegally dumping) leave the alleyway a mess.

This wouldn't be such a problem except for the house next to my old one is owned by this guy. Disbarred for immigration fraud, a former lawyer turned real estate "investor" has gobbled up a ton of very cheap houses in my former zip code, done the bare minimum to get them up to "code," and then rented them out with absolutely no oversight over who lives there or what they do. He's preying on low income individuals who don't have other housing options and leaving them to live in substandard squalor, disrupting neighborhood stability as he rakes in the money.

He has owned the house next to us for most of the time that we lived there. In that time, several families came and went. Many were great neighbors. Many were not. Some fought violently in the streets and left a litany of ordinance violations in their wake. Most were eventually evicted after the complaints stacked up and triggered the city's nuisance property process.

The tenants who were in this house most recently had been, to put it lightly, not great neighbors. They broke out our windows, fought constantly, dumped trash in our yard. There were also at least thirty people living in a two-bedroom house. The ongoing issues were one of the reasons we decided to move.

Ironically, they were finally evicted just one week after we started living in our new house. They also left me some parting gifts when I returned to do some cleaning this weekend.

I wish I could say that I was shocked, taken aback, completely flabbergasted by this. But it was not the first time (though I hope it is the last time) that I had to take a snow shovel and literally scoop up other people's garbage. 

There's something intimate about garbage. Here I was scooping up bras and full, unopened canned goods. I found the cover of a Charles Dickens adaptation for kids. There were the toys that the children had played on for hours upon hours left in heaps. 

It's weird to feel so much sympathy even as you feel so much anger. I had talked to these neighbors several times. Their kids had played with my kids in my backyard. I didn't want to see their life thrown into upheaval with an eviction anymore than I wanted to be scooping up the aftermath of that resolution, but I also didn't want to keep living next to violent outbursts.  

I left the alley in better shape than I found it, but it still doesn't hold a candle to the immaculate cleanliness of the alleyway behind our new house. 

I don't have any conclusions to this post. I don't know how to address gentrification, substandard housing, predatory slumlords, the instability of poverty, or my own place in it. I don't know how to feel about fleeing one neighborhood for a "better" one. I don't know what will happen to my former neighbors. I just know that the materiality of the dumpsters tells a tale of St. Louis in a way that makes all the statistics and handwringing very, very concrete to me. 

While my new neighbors use social media to advertise alley way pick up posts of their gently used and unwanted discards, my old neighborhood will continue to fill up with the haphazardly displaced belongings of evicted tenants. And I will continue to not know what to do or how to feel about it. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Am I On Team Human: A Social Media Project Approach to Overthinking Things

Am I on Team Human? It seems like an odd question. On the one hand, what other team would I be on? Not only am I a member of the human species (the most obvious reason for my allegiance) but I’m also a member of the “humanities” discipline, ostensibly dedicated to researching, cataloging, examining, and spreading what it is to be human.

The question of whether or not I am “on Team Human” references a podcast titled Team Human. I stumbled upon it looking for something to listen to on a long drive. It’s hosted by Douglas Rushkoff and features thoughtful and thought-provoking conversations with experts across a range of disciplines as they examine the intersection of technology and humanity. Rushkoff’s tagline is that Team Human is the “last best hope” for humanity.

I’ve listened to a half dozen or so of these episodes since my initial stumble upon them, and I recommend them. They’re interesting, and they definitely touch upon relevant questions that we should be asking.

That said, I haven’t been able to figure out if I align myself with “Team Human” as an opposition force. Am I against the rising technology around us? Do I believe that it is negatively impacting (or even eradicating) humanity? Can I be on Team Human if a robot vacuums my floors?

While many of the episodes in this series have caught my interest, it’s the very first one I listened to (which is actually a two-parter) that has stuck with me. I listened to the first part in its entirety without distraction as I drove a very long and uneventful stretch of Midwestern highway, and then I listened to the second part on that same stretch of highway heading the other direction two days later.

For both episodes, I was left vacillating rapidly between cries of “YES” and “are you fucking kidding me?” This is unusual. Something that makes me move between total agreement and almost angry disagreement so many times is . . . worthwhile? Intriguing? Probably sitting at the intersection of some contradiction worth exploring?

The episodes in question feature a conversation between Rushkoff and his college best friend Walter Kirn (author of the novel Up in the Air that became the George Clooney movie). The conversation is easy and engaging, and it winds through several different topics. I tried to summarize what I agreed with and what I disagreed with, but it didn’t work. The concerns were too tangled, and my own thoughts were bouncing too quickly into subtopics, wandering off into the woods.

I’ve been wanting to unpack my thoughts on this conversation for almost two months now, and I’ve finally decided that the only way to really do it is to listen to it again, pause when I get to something that makes me have something to say, and then write about it.

So that’s what I will be doing. I’m going to find out if I’m on Team Human or not. And if you have an interest in the intersections of technology, humanity, and the future of both, you might be interested in giving these episodes a listen and asking yourself that question with me. (Part 1 is here; Part 2 is here). 

Photo: Mike Mozart

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Hey, Guess What! We're Homeschooling!

So, we're homeschooling.

I have tried to write this post five times. I have five separate versions of this post sitting in various states of completion in multiple mediums. That usually doesn't happen to me, so I know I'm sitting on some raw emotions. To date, I have the following versions of this story:

  • The Angry One- In this post, I rant and rave about a school system that failed my daughter and mistreated her so badly that I could not see straight. I get deep into the well of emotion as I describe watching my bright, funny, energetic little girl turn into a sullen, anxious, cloud of misery.
  • The Positive One- In this post, I present my excitement about this new educational undertaking and go on and on about the possibilities that I've uncovered, the supportive communities I have found both virtual and in person, and the ways that it has already improved my daughter's mood and educational outcomes. 
  • The Self-Dissecting One- In this post, I try to unpack what it means for someone who has staked much of her identity (professional, political, and personal) on the principles behind public education to pull out of the public education system. I was educated in public schools through my BA. I teach in a community college. I believe in open access, publicly funded schools that meet the needs of a diverse set of learners. 
  • The Activist One- In this post, I veer quickly from my personal story to stats and anecdotes about the needs of "Twice Exceptional" children, the label that best fits my daughter. These are children who have both a diagnosis of giftedness and a diagnosis of some kind of learning disability or challenge (like ADHD). Often, they're emotional and social skills lag while their academic abilities soar, and the result is never finding a way to get their needs met on either side of the equation. 
  • The Overwhelmed One- In this post, I panic about the fact that my balancing act now includes finding a way to work full time, manage a household, raise two children (one still nursing and in diapers), and homeschool a first grader with special needs in multiple directions. 
Any one of those posts would have been a valid, honest account of what I've been thinking about, researching, and doing in the past four or so months, but none of them was quite right. I am at once disappointed, excited, overwhelmed, scared, hopeful, angry, and getting by. There are days when this seems like the best decision I have ever made and days when I don't know what I have gotten myself into. My kitchen table has been completely overtaken by workbooks, chemistry experiments, and library books. I am awash in a million open browser tabs of free resources, curriculum plans, and homeschooling blogs. I go down rabbit holes and make two weeks worth of lesson plans only to scrap them all the next day and start over. 

I imagine that some people reading this who know me have some questions. How long will we do this? Will we homeschool both kids? Will we try a private school? 

I don't know. I don't know the answer to any of those questions because this whole experience has taught me that my penchant for planning (and it is a strong one) is no match for the fact that life is unexpected and throws you some curveballs. This is not the path I imagined walking, but it is the best one for the moment, and I'm going to stay on it until I find a better one. 

Because here's the part that needs to stay from that angry post I mentioned above: at one point in this whole process, I was finding myself up against the need to fight for my daughter, to go to battle with the school district and insist upon accommodations. And that's what it felt like: a war. It felt like I was fighting the people charged with educating my daughter to educate her. And if we're fighting, we're on opposing sides, and my side is that I want my daughter to become a self-sufficient, supported, kind individual. If you're on the other side of that, what does that mean? 

Ultimately, my husband and I made this decision because we refuse to put our child in an environment where there is a battle over her well-being. Educating a child should not be a war. There should only be one side. And whether I homeschool for the rest of my daughter's childhood, send her to private school, or figure out some other arrangement, I know one thing: I will not settle for an educational environment that doesn't want her and support her. 

Photo: Philip McEarlean