I guess you can see that it took me a year to figure out what to write next? (Note the question mark). I've been a little confused because I didn't want this to become one of those parent blogs that details every aspect of their child's life ad nauseam. I mean, can you imagine being the teenage kid whose childhood unfolded before a bunch of strangers? So while I will blog about my child (I can't resist). I can't make this all about her.
So then I started thinking that my next post would be in response to the election from hell, but it seems that just as I get ready to write about one train wreck, another one happens. How can any writer keep up with all the things that the new president seeks to destroy? Do we chat about the environment, education, foreign policy, LGBTQ rights, justice department memorandums, healthcare, taxpayer-funded golfing trips, immigration, abortion rights, the Russia scandal, obstruction of justice? The sheer incompetence of the 45th president would take years to unpack. In just six months, he has created constitutional, domestic, and international crises while his Cult continues to support him. I wouldn't even know where to begin.
This is probably why I have started to consider life outside of America. What would it be like to live in another country for the next four, possibly eight, years? Now, I believe, is the time to go. Before other countries shut their borders to those crazy Americans. But the question would be, where should I relocate? Where do I want to live? At first I started thinking about teaching overseas in the Middle East. Talk about an excellent benefit package. What?! They will pay for me and my family to get there, put us up, and give me money to teach. Okay. I am there!! Wait! What do you mean everybody is mad at Qatar. Syria is at war with, well, Syrians. The US is dropping bombs on civilians and sending more troops into Afghanistan to restart a war. And Trump is still fighting to get his Muslim, non-Muslim, Muslim ban passed. Well, that should certainly gain us greater allies in the Middle East. It should come as no surprise that, for safety reasons, I decided to shelve the whole teaching overseas for ADEC plan.
So then I started thinking about the possibility of moving to the U.K. but some folks over there seem pretty pissed off, bombing stuff and running over folks. Plus, they have that whole Brexit (immigrant-free Britain) thing going on there. Isn't it absolutely amazing that the U.K. and the US, leaders in immigrating cultural treasures from other nations, are hell-bent on keeping immigrating people out? Perhaps, if we were being imported as slaves, our outlook would fare better. All I know is that I just don't think it is safe for non-white people to venture outside of their neighborhoods. But I guess the world has never really been safe for us, has it?
I could always move to France or Germany, I guess. I still don't trust Germany though after the whole Hitler and concentration camps massacre. What seeds must have been present in that nation for so many people to sanction a rise in hatred and silently condone genocide? When I think of Germany, I think of Hitler. I can't help it. In fact, lest I forget, European nations are to blame for African slavery. Did they not import African slaves? And they didn't stop there. No, they decided to divvy up Africa, destroy tribal boundaries, and rape her for her wealth. Why in the hell would I want to trade one destructive, conquering nation for another? Besides that whole Russia-Ukraine-Crimea thing proves that white-on-white wars are not exactly a thing of the past.
So then that brings me to the Caribbean (not quite sure why I haven't considered South and Central America but I am flirting with Costa Rica). I guess because you rarely hear about wars coming out of the Islands. When was the last time Bahamas or Turks & Caicos talked about a terrorist attack? And last time I checked, Europe and the US started losing their hold on the Caribbean back when Haiti embarrassed France. People like to talk about the violence in the i\Islands but the United States has more mass shootings than any other nation. Besides that, the police are murdering black men in the streets and homegrown white American terrorists are attacking Muslims. I'm just saying, don't be surprised if you read a post from me one day and I start blogging about my new island life.
In two weeks, I am heading down to Alabama for an NEH Civil Rights Landmark Workshop. I am incredibly excited about attending the workshop although I am slightly overwhelmed by the amount of reading I have to do. Part of the problem, I think, is that a couple of the books are waaaaay too academic. In the world of academia (college professors as authors) sometimes the message gets lost in the pretentiousness of the language. How annoying is that, right? When a great story on the Civil Rights Movement reads like a textbook. It's sad because the information that would be extremely valuable to the masses moves in a small, circle of people who already have access to the information. But that, alas, leads us to another discussion that I will save for later.
Today, I must discuss one of the books that I'm reading that is accessible and is, like Alice Walker's In Search of Our Mother's Gardens, a life-changer. Apparently Howell Raines wrote this book--My Soul Is Rested--back in the 1970's and somehow I didn't know that it existed. I was, in every way that matters, completely and totally robbed. How could I not have known about this book? So I have completed the pages assigned to us, but I haven't been able to set the book aside, which certainly highlights the power of first-hand accounts.
Raines, a former New York Times editor, interviewed dozens of people involved in the Civil Rights Movement down in Alabama and Mississippi and then published their stories in a single oral history. How wonderful it is to hear the words of Fannie Lou Hamer, James Farmer or John Lewis! Women and men who were ready to give their lives to the movement. Their words help me to form a more complete picture of the movement and I am, truly, humbled.
If I wrote for the rest of my life in both poetry and prose, in fiction and in truth, I could never capture how deeply I am affected by those people who looked into the eyes of a domestic enemy and somehow found the courage to rise up in battle. Black men disappeared for registering to vote, but still others followed. Homes were bombed to frighten people away from education and economics, but still people sought to change a segregated America. When I think of how many public facilities were built with taxes that black people paid even as they were denied the rights of full citizens, I am humbled by the warriors who rose from that discrimination without hatred.
I am caught up in My Soul Is Rested because each story is one of strength and perseverance and triumph. Not every battle was won but, my, how soldiers were forged. I read that in Leflore County, down in Mississippi, there was one registered black voter but no one could find him. Can you imagine how terrifying it had to be to live in a time where death came for such insignificant reasons? Just sympathizing with those who demanded equality brought a death sentence. And we have the audacity to take our rights for granted!
How did any of them withstand it? Black people who were denied an education past the 6th grade, an education that only prepared them to clean other people's homes. Filing into separate schools and drinking from different fountains as if they were subhuman. I can't imagine investing thousands of dollars into stores that won't let you try on clothes and refuse to feed you at lunch counters. No wonder so many children wore handmade clothes, no wonder my siblings and I did. I can't imagine what if must have been like for women like my mother and men like my father to suffer these indignities every single day and still try to raise their children to be unapologetically Black.
As I read My Soul Is Rested, the desire to do more burns so strongly inside me that I struggle to breathe. This leads me back to Alice Walker's essay. For years, our mothers (our ancestors) were denied the opportunity to flourish. They were denied possibilities and you can hear it inside every story that Raines published. Millions of black people were robbed of the chance to become and that tragedy is one that can never be rectified. Pioneers like Ella Baker, James Meredith, Vivian Malone set the stage so that my generation and generations following mine can become, can flourish, can be all that America said they would never be.
But each civil rights activist from SCLC to SNCC, every determined student, every Freedom Rider, every rebel Reverend, every Black Panther proved that even though they were ordinary people, they were gifted with extraordinary powers. They changed America and no matter how often or in how many ways we tell their story, we can never do any of their stories justice. But, by GOD, we better try!
The frustrating aspect about blogging--one that I did not anticipate--was deciding what I would write about. I want to do a follow-up on my daughter's math test disaster but the conversation with her teacher deflated that bubble. My baby actually gets math. She's even in the top math group in her class (and I have no idea how that happened). Apparently, she's pretty good at the subject and she seems to be an awesome reader and writer, too. The teacher, being all proactive, just wanted to conference with me to make sure Nayeli stays on track. So my three-part series inspired by my baby's math test has simply fizzled and I'm left with topics heading in other directions. Like:
Lately, I've been reviewing my decision to become a teacher. I don't know if it was a decision, really. It was more of an accidental undertaking that I fell into because I needed a paying job that required little skills. Interestingly, that turned out to be teaching. I was (mostly) fresh out of graduate school, traumatized after a horrible experience at University of Florida, and sort of looking for work. Honestly, I didn't seriously seek a teaching position until a principal called me for a phone interview. Surprisingly, I wasn't offered that position because he had the nerve to want a more experienced teacher (those were the days). That got me thinking, though. What if I actually searched for a teaching position? What if I actually became a teacher?
I think this is one of those moments when I could have done with some angelic intervention, you know. I mean, God spent the whole Bible sending down angels to keep believers from making horrific mistakes. Why couldn't He have sent me an angel to--oh, I don't know--warn me about the teaching profession? Don't get me wrong, of course. There are many, many days when I love the teaching profession. I'm about to enter into five of them during spring break. But there are times when I have to question my choice.
For instance, teaching is the one profession where people from many other professions believe that being a student qualifies them to speak on teaching. If that sort of thinking governed all walks of life, then imagine the chaos that what would be happening in operating rooms and courtrooms. Being a student does NOT a teacher make. This factor alone makes me want to leave the teaching profession. If anyone can teach, then why did I need degrees and professional development and student loans to get me my own classroom?
These insults, though, only add to the frustrations that I face every single day. In my classroom, I teach students to hold meaningful discussions, to listen to each other, to express themselves through poetry or rap or video, to collaborate on projects, to create PowerPoints or Prezis, and to present information to their classmates. Because, according to my state education department, this is what I am supposed to teach them. And then in June, they take a three-hour exam that tests their ability to read and write. Read and write. I am supposed to teach them to fly so that they can be tested on their ability to crawl? Is it no wonder I have reached the end of my teaching rope?
Honestly, though, I have to also acknowledge that the struggle in the classroom is real. I love when I have a student that enters class eager to learn. There is no greater feeling for an educator than when a student excels. But then you get those few students that, quite simply, have decided to stop you from teaching. Their mission in life is to disrupt the teaching process from the beginning of the period to the end. That could involve all manner of disruptions: outbursts, talking to other students, disobeying class and school rules, taking out their cell phones, complaining about you (the teacher), complaining about the class, having more outbursts. These students are not many. They are often less than five but their disruptions can cloud your entire day.
Usually, these students can be found in the same class because, of course, the programmer at your school has this wonderful knack of placing these students in the same classes. All. Day. Long. Some teachers prefer these students in large doses--all in one class so you can get them over with. Some teachers prefer that the love be spread out. I'm often torn on this idea. Either way, one tough student can make you flee the teaching profession.
For me, narrowing what I can teach in the classroom isn't a deal breaker because I will always teach in ways that allow me to engage the greatest number of students. I can even live with the disrespect that our profession is so often subjected to although it drives me absolutely crazy. I don't even think it's the disruptive students that have brought me to this crossroads in my life. But my reasons are a topic for another day.
So today I get an email from my daughter's teacher who is extremely concerned because my child received a 48 out of 100 on her math test. My heart, I promise you, dropped clear out of my chest. I didn't enter into a full-blown panic but there was a panic somewhere on the edge of my consciousness. A 48?! My child is in a gifted program so, automatically, I'm freaking out that she's not keeping up. So I'm thinking: are the other children keeping up? What if she's the only one failing?! Oh my God! What am I going to do?!
That "Oh my God!" of course was all about me and came from full acknowledgement of my aversion to math. What if, like me, my daughter was math deficient? I had received counseling in college just so I could earn my six required credits in mathematics. (The counseling department called it a Math Confidence [Anxiety] Group). So I arranged the phone conference with her teacher, requested that she send the test home, and wondered exactly how I was about to help my child.
With intense dread and a decent amount of fear, I took out my daughter's test as soon as we got home and lost my freakin' mind. I can't tell you what I saw on that paper. I can only tell you that it was like nothing I had seen before. All my life, even when mathematics became an absolute nightmare, I understood what addition and subtraction was. I even, in my traumatized childhood mind, got multiplication and division. I learned multiplication tables like a dutiful child and practiced my fractions in spite of my constant confusion. I actually adapted to word problems fairly easily since, although I hated the problem part I did love the words.
This math that she was doing, however, was some Common Core being that I didn't fully understand. I shouldn't have been surprised, though. The math packet that she was assigned during mid-winter break took me the whole week to figure out and some part of me still thinks that I got it wrong. One question on a test that she took earlier this year and got wrong, I simply gave up on. I had been defeated by grade school math years ago and it was defeating me yet again. More importantly, if I struggled with my daughter's math homework, how could I possibly assist her?
As an educator, I get having the same standards across state lines. I even get having higher standards so that students can do more rigorous work. I get all these educational pushes but what I don't get is that my child is already crying and saying that she isn't good in math. I at least developed a healthy distaste of math in 8th grade starting with Algebra I. Isn't my darling child too young to already dislike any school subject?
Well, tomorrow morning, I'm having the phone conference with her teacher which I am dreading as well. I'll have to remind her that it sometimes takes me a second and even a third reading before I understand my daughter's work. Maybe she'll be somewhat understanding. In the meantime, I'll have to start looking for a tutor well-versed in Common Core math because if I'm struggling with my daughter's math homework when she's in first grade, second grade is already a wrap.
Years ago, I read Alice Walker's "In Search of Our Mother's Gardens" and it made me think about legacies in a different light. Walker talks about our ancestors, our mothers who bore inside of them the need to create art that they were never taught, trained, or expected to create. These are black women who may have been driven with an intense need that could never be nourished and I began imagining how heartbreaking life must have been for them.
I can't recall a time in my life when I was not determined to write. I wrote as an elementary aged child and I continued to write through my secondary years. I would write poetry and stories and even novels that were painstakingly inked out by hand. I needed to write because there was some beast deep inside me that wanted to be fed. The earliest piece that I remember was a poem that I wrote when I was nine in response to my father's sudden death. I'm quite sure I wrote before then, but that poem was put on the cover of my father's obituary. That, in many ways, marked a beginning for me as a writer.
Most importantly--even more than my desire to write--was that I was given the tools to write. Not only was I given the chance to be educated, but my mother's choice in schools for my siblings and I offered me an excellent educational foundation. I, the budding writer, was given the tools that I would need for the craft of writing. And that knowledge helped me to understand the depth of Walker's peek into the lives of our ancestors.
I found myself imagining the number of slave women who, like me, had been gifted with the desire to write. They must have heard the voices of characters and seen places so vivid that they began to believe they had visited those places before. They must have felt the desire to write a story--to bring a body, a thought, a personality into being but know that they never could. How many slave women had dreamed of words or heard music in their sleep? How many had felt the urge to capture nature on canvas but knew that their artistry would never find a means of expression?
I have always known that laws robbed slave women (and men) of their chance at education but how many were driven to madness because they could never and would never be able to create? I had not thought of that at all until I read Alice Walker's essay and realized that denying slaves an education traveled well beyond denying them the chance to read or write.
Did my mother's parents, who did not finish high school, dream of artistry too? What did they lose to the systemic miseducation and lack of education that devastated black communities? I know that there were Charles Chesnutts, Anna Julia Coopers, Langston Hugheses and Zora Neale Hurstons but what of all the other writers who lacked the tools they needed to flourish. What of all the writers who could never pick up a pen to write because they had never learned how?
I think of all the artistic genius that was lost to slavery and segregation and I fully understand how important it is to write or draw or sing or create--not just because we want to--but because we can.
There are way too many things for me to write about. I think that may be why it took me so long to start my blog.
For one, I have opinions about a number of topics. How does one choose which topics to discuss in a perfectly adult manner? I'm an educator so, of course, I find myself drawn to talking about work. But I don't really want to talk about work. I don't even want to go to work much less talk about it. It's the natural evolution of teaching, however. First, you start teaching and then you start venting about teaching and then you start venting about how much you vent about teaching. And then, next thing you know, your entire existence is consumed by teaching. You see where I am going with this.
And then you have to decide what, exactly, you're going to talk about when you start venting about teaching. Do you talk about the students? But that doesn't seem fair, does it? Your students come with issues that began long before they stepped into your classroom and will continue long after you've battled each other. So it's almost anti-education to complain about your students because, well, you lost your right to complain about your job once you became a teacher. Especially since the future of American society is entering into your classroom so that you might continue smiling after an absolutely wonderful day of teaching.
And now, three paragraphs in I have talked about--of all things--teaching.
I could, of course, discuss my wonderful, bossy six-year-old who is a miniature version of my current self. She's not me when I was a child. No, the universe could not fulfill the old parental curse. You know, the one where they tell you that you'll have a child just like you. I wouldn't have minded that. I was a scared, obedient, nerdy six-year-old. My daughter, on the other hand, is me RIGHT NOW. I have loads and loads I can say on that experience. Especially since she has taken the current me and morphed into some other alien being. I'd love to write about our battles, but I am as likely to lose as I am to win one which is quite embarrassing. But there are other really great things to write about, but then I risk becoming one of those parents, right?
So no to education-centered blogs? No to parent-centered blogs? No to finding my author-identity blogs? I mean, do I really want to write about how I am rediscovering the writer in me? That might prove interesting. There are two things that I am clinging to with quite a bit of energy. Words of wisdom from Stephen King and words of wisdom from Alice Walker. I think I'll save those words for another, later post. Cause why can't my blog be just about me, right? What I think about the world that I live in.
Sometimes that world is parental. Sometimes it's teacherish. Sometimes, it's pure writer-poet. I might even want to talk about the state of the world (i.e. Donald Trump and other insane American moments). Whatever I decide to write about, though, I refuse to narrow my focus because the world is just too entertaining, too...intriguing.
So for now, like Steve Biko, I write what I like.