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Education Essays Teaching

Should I Teach To Kill a Mockingbird?

As I write this, I am struggling with the notion that next year I have to teach the novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee for the first time. Therefore, I am using my blog to create a question paper, to write to learn about why I feel so hesitant.

Why am I struggling to accept that I must teach To Kill a Mockingbird (TKAM) this upcoming school year? Is it the fact that the N-word is present in the text and I have many problems with that word? Is it that a white woman wrote it and the story includes the arrest and trial of a black man accused of raping a white woman? Is it that I am not sure how 15-year-old students are supposed to grasp the nuances in the novel, just as I did not when I first read it?

Or is it that I fear students might be suffering from racism-fatigue? I don’t even know if that is a word, but it sounds reasonable, and are my students suffering from it? What do I do about students who are tired of talking about race, especially in our current cultural climate? How do I make this relevant to them? And what about the African American and Latin-x students I have in the room? How are they going to feel about this story? How are they going to feel about a white teacher presenting this story and trying to have honest conversations about it when she truly doesn’t understand? Haven’t they been through enough trauma?

Isn’t there a text by an African American or Latin-x writer that I could use instead? Or would that be like avoiding an honest-to-goodness discussion of race, white privilege, bias, perspective, and our nation’s history? Would it make more sense to let an alternative text lead the discussion, or would it be wiser to confront this one head on? What about the students’ families? How are they going to react to this text? Apparently, it’s been in the curriculum for years, but how will they react to it this year, a year in which yet another black man was killed for nothing? And why hasn’t it been challenged before now, and why should I challenge it now?

I think I know why I am so hesitant. I’m afraid. I’m afraid I am going to blow an opportunity to have an impact. I don’t teach merely to teach. I teach literature to help all of us understand the human condition and how to choose our place, our role, within the human community.

Thanks for reading.

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Education Essays Learning Life Teaching

This Is Why I Teach Literature

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Image Credit: Posted by Michelle Argo Parker, an AP® Literature teacher from Minneapolis

One of Mrs. Parker’s students created this peaceful protest message using apropos quotes from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. This is why I, and thousands of my colleagues, teach literature. As Mrs. Parker noted in her post: “He gets it.” We study literature to understand the human condition. It’s not all about the key concepts we are supposed to teach so that students understand literature better; it’s about the understanding. For more information on the six facets of understanding, as proposed by Wiggins and McTighe, check out this article.

Words Matter.

If you want to know how one lunatic managed to take over an entire country with his words, which were eventually backed up with military might, in the 1930s, take a look at tweets and hours upon hours of video showing history repeating itself. In recent months, Mr. Trump has been tweeting things like “Liberate Minnesota!” He’s also called for liberating other states which just happen to have Democratic governors. He held rallies where he riled up his followers, calling the press the “enemy of the people” and “human scum.” He called the protestors “thugs.” He hasn’t denounced the police officers who murdered George Floyd. He hasn’t called for their arrest either. Top law-enforcement officer? I think not.

Yesterday, he topped all this off by sending in a huge law enforcement presence, complete with tear gas and rubber bullets, to disperse peaceful protesters from a park, so he could walk through it to do a photo-op at a church while holding a Bible. A picture is worth 1,000 words, they say. Here’s one that I think tells the tale well. Granted, it’s the words in the picture that also matter, but it’s still a picture.

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Image Credit: Heather M. Edick

Here’s another one of a very unfortunate headline from The New York Times. Do better, NYT; you totally missed the point.

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From CNN’s Reliable Sources Newsletter

Image Credit: CNN Reliable Sources Newsletter

Then, this morning, I read that Representative Matt Gaetz posted a tweet that Twitter found to be glorifying violence.

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Image Credit: New York Times

On the same day, Trump gave a speech in the Rose Garden in which he said:

I am mobilizing all available federal resources, civilian and military, to stop the rioting and looting to end the destruction and arson and to protect the rights of law abiding Americans, including your second amendment rights.

From rev.com; emphasis is mine.

Coincidence? Hunt down people with our second-amendment-guaranteed weapons? Again, I think not. That, dear reader, was a ‘dog whistle’ if ever I heard one. Someone is going to get killed and it will all be traced back to these messages coming from these people. Hopefully, that will be today and not twenty years from now.

Words Matter.

During World War II, John Steinbeck wrote a propaganda piece called The Moon Is Down at the behest of the U.S. Government. It was meant to support those under Nazi occupation. It was so important to people that it was copied and distributed in Norway to bolster the morale of the Norwegian people in World War II. Steinbeck was awarded the King Haakon IV Freedom Cross for his work. The book was also distributed in numerous other territories occupied by the Nazis. Churchill was quite enthusiastic about the book as well. I highly recommend it. It isn’t the greatest piece of literature, but one of the more important.

Free men cannot start a war, but once it is started, they can fight on in defeat. Herd men, followers of a leader, cannot do that, and so it is always the herd men who win battles and the free men who win wars.

From https://Steinbeck.org/his-work/the-moon-is-down

Take that and choke on it, those who think that we should just take their word for it.

Words Matter.

We literature teachers look for the messages writers send in their works. Sometimes, we’re right and sometimes we are imposing our own reality on theirs, but that doesn’t mean we are necessarily wrong. When Charlotte Bronte wrote about many of the students in Jane Eyre’s school dying of typhus, was she not recalling her childhood and making a comment about the poor treatment of indigent children? When Toni Morrison wrote about Pilate’s complete capitulation to the police while in the station trying to retrieve her property, what message was she sending about the lengths that African Americans have to go to get any cooperation at all? What about Charles Dickens? Surely he was sending many messages about social disparity. And what was Alice Walker trying to say when Celie let loose on Mr. ___ and his son? That was a classic scene of a woman standing up for herself. My final example refers you to the first picture I posted. It will be the first novel we read in AP® Lit this year. Those are a few examples that come to my mind as I write this.

Somewhere, there is a writer crafting the first COVID-19 novel that touches poignantly on all the problems we have today: systemic racism, high unemployment, cuts to essential services to bolster “industry,” class disparity – and the list that goes on and on while one’s heart breaks. I can’t wait to read it.

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Education Essays Learning Life Teaching

Waxing Philosophical: The Purpose of Education

There are so many articles, blog posts, and books about the purpose of education that it might seem odd to see yet another one. However, this might be a good exercise for any teacher to try, if only to determine his or her own views on the subject. Reading about it, or listening to someone speak of it, is one thing; forming an argument is quite another.

If you ask almost any teacher why he or she entered the teaching profession, you are likely to hear something like this: “I want to help people, especially the kids.” And if you were to ask those same teachers what they think the purpose of education is, you are likely to hear that it is to help students learn what they need to know to become effective, productive, and happy people as they mature into adulthood and beyond. That is true.

That is not the whole story, though, and we all know it. History tells us that many schools were established centuries ago in the colonies to teach children how to read the printed word. The Bible was a popular text, for example, as Protestantism indicated that reading the Bible for oneself was virtuous and recommended. Instead of relying on the minister to show one the way, it was important that a Protestant was somewhat self-reliant and able to speak to passages in the Bible that were relevant to the situation in which they found themselves.

History will also tell us that as the country industrialized, so too did the education system. School became the main venue for teaching students how to work hard in factories, pay attention to directions, and do basic things like reading, writing, and math (the 3Rs). When you read literature about this priority in education, you will often see a photo of students sitting in rows of desks with their hands folded in front of them, patiently listening to the teacher. This helps the reader connect schooling to aspects of industrialization such as the assembly line.

Finally (at least in this post), schooling was used as an assimilation vehicle, too. As immigration to the United States increased, schooling provided the children with the opportunity to learn about what it means to be an American, and to learn English. Schools’ practices related to this varied widely, of course, depending on the location. Assimilation continues to be a priority today.

Some controversies surrounding public schooling can be traced back to the inequitable quality of education that groups of students received based on their location and the funding available to the schools / school districts. In higher-income areas, students enjoy more advantages: better technology, more experienced teachers, pristine infrastructure, and more extracurricular activities with up-to-date facilities. My high school benefited from affluent alumni; we received donations all the time to keep our facilities thriving. We needed those donations, as the school district was always in a financial bind. But other high schools in the district were not so fortunate, and it showed – crumbling buildings, ineffective faculty, disengaged students, and few resources. I subbed in one school district that featured a bank branch in its high school as well as its own TV studio from which students would broadcast the news during homeroom, and in another school district where trash cans served to catch rain as it leaked through the roof, and teachers had to buy their own copy paper. The quality of education was strikingly different. The affluent school district allowed teachers more freedom to innovate, and encouraged its students to develop 21st Century Skills. The poorer district forced teachers to use a ‘standardized’ curriculum that was scripted and required teachers to be literally on the same page each day. The students and parents lined up once a week to receive donations from the Panera located in the town adjacent to theirs. The students learned hand signals and cues to keep the class on track. My ‘favorite’ was “Clap once if you can hear me,” to get the students to quiet down. If that didn’t work, the teacher asked, “Clap twice…” and then, “Clap three times…” – you get the idea. There was also a procedure that involved snapping one’s fingers, but I can’t remember exactly when that was used. Teachers in this school spent a lot more time on classroom management than they did on fostering collaboration and creativity. No, it was not the kids who were to blame; it was the adults’ view of the kids’ capabilities that was.

Therefore, it would seem (to me, at least) that the practice of education often runs counter to the expressed purpose of education. In my study of education over the years, I have found the following expressed purposes of education. Some we can all agree with, others are worthy of debate, and some just make us cringe.

• To prepare children for adult lives
• To help them become “God-fearing” people
• To prepare them to become effective and informed citizens
• To inspire students to be creative, innovative adults prepared for jobs that don’t exist yet
• To further humanity down the road of progress
• To “produce” adults who know how to follow directions
• To “provide” the knowledge they’ll need to succeed in their profession
• To lift children out of poverty
• To help the nation become a melting pot of cultures that all get along
• To help children learn how to learn so they can be lifelong, self-directed learners
• To encourage children to approach life as fierce competitors, prepared to win
• To develop critical thinking skills that will protect children from charismatic and overly ambitious people
• To demonstrate that geographical boundaries are no longer as relevant as they’d once been
• To convince children that all can learn once they understand their own processes, and can construct knowledge
• To push children beyond their perceived limits and barriers
• To instill in children a realistic confidence in themselves – and others
• To promote collaboration in the world of work and regular life
• To enculture children in the content areas they study, which they may someday enter as academics or professionals
• To explore “strange new worlds”
• To inspire children to become teachers too
• To further the cause of education’s continuous improvement
• To identify the special and support their development

Those who have been disappointed by the U.S. education system may add the following.
• To give kids something to do
• To turn them into “sheeple”
• To help them “ace” standardized tests and become “standardized people”
• To control children’s thought processes and mold them into those that best serve authority
• To show children what their “place” is in the world
• To keep children tied to their communities
• To regulate the knowledge that students have access to
• To teach kids irrelevant stuff they’ll never use again

I think that the purpose of education emerges school by school, and perhaps even classroom by classroom. A beautiful principle that makes up the American Idea is that divergent thought is supposed to be supported. Even in the age of standardized testing, teachers still expressed themselves through their practice, and this is wonderful. What would help these creative, compassionate, passionate teachers would be to provide them all with the same access to tools they need to educate 21st century kids to use 21st century skills. What would be wonderful is to see the schools in any neighborhood in terrific condition, radiating hope for, and confidence in, the students it serves. Its doors would be open to the community, allowing anyone who wanted to learn the chance to do just that. If we could agree on just these simple things, perhaps we could fulfill the purpose of education so many teachers go into the profession believing to be most important: to help children become happy, healthy, productive, passionate, compassionate, critically thinking, creative, and loving adults.

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Blogging Essays

Here Are The First Five Reasons Why I Love Sensei Steve’s Class

Before you start reading about the topic of this post, I want to mention that all the classes at

Hoover Karate Academy

 are taught by well-trained, committed teachers who care about their students.  I wanted to focus on one class in particular, but that is no reflection on the other classes whatsoever.

Sensei Steve Turoscy, Jr. is a fighter.  I don’t mean that he is simply an excellent martial artist and an instinctive fighter.  I mean that Sensei Steve has overcome a number of challenges in the time I have known him, challenges that less-motivated human beings would have considered too difficult.   He has an internal locus of control that is inspirational.  He will not be held back by his circumstances; instead, he wants everyone to know that he is going to overcome them, and that if you find yourself in the same kind of situation, you will overcome them, too.

 

 

You have to aspire to inspire before you expire. Sensei Steve

Reason One: Everyone Is Welcome

I started Sensei Steve’s class as a white belt, after Sensei Kristie told me about the class and said I should try it out.  Others told me it was a very difficult class and that I should wait, but Kristie convinced me that I would be fine.  Therefore, I showed up the following Saturday morning at 8:00 AM, hoping that I would not be turned away.  On the contrary, I was welcomed.  I was also told to do what I can, and encouraged to continue to improve instead of expect to be able to do everything the first class, or even for several classes after that.  If I remember correctly, I was the only one wearing a white shirt that day.  Everyone else was a black belt.  Although that was intimidating at first, by the end of class I felt better.  I have been attending that class as often as possible since then.   Since then, too, other white shirts have joined the class.  They feel just as welcome, too.

Reason Two: You Are Always Challenged

When I think back to that first time and about how little I could actually do, and compare it to now when I can do so much more, I think it’s that Sensei Steve and the other students do not accept that a challenge is insurmountable.  What they do believe is that practice is the only way overcome internal and external obstacles to your progress.

 

 

 

Amateurs practice until they get it right. Professionals practice until they can't get it wrong. Sensei Steve

Reason Three: You Never Know When Sensei Will Break the Routine

We have a format that combines PT, traditional martial arts, and fighting, and there is a certain rhythm to the class.  You never know, though, when Sensei Steve will say he wants to try something different.  He’s very creative, too, so those “different” things could be almost anything.

Our current schedule is:

– First Saturday: Regular Class
– Second Saturday: “Creative” Class
– Third Saturday: Regular Class
– Fourth or Last Saturday: Technique Class

Still, you never know if that regular class is going to turn into something you weren’t expecting.  Sensei Steve can add something much more challenging when he is in the mood.  He is also an observant teacher and knows when to change the routine to accommodate those of us whose achy joints and bones just can’t handle the regular routine that day.  He has also been very kind to me personally, allowing me to modify as I must when doing some things.  The point is: Sensei does what every good teacher should do.  He reads the room and acts accordingly.

We often have more students join us the fourth / last Saturday of the month for Technique Class.  It’s a great class!  It gives us a chance to work on the techniques and kata that we need to know for our next test.  I wish more people would come to the other classes, too.  I’m sure they would find them enjoyable.

When I was training somewhere else, our classes were all the same.  It was cookie-cutter curriculum that had to be followed by every teacher, handed down from corporate headquarters to the franchise owners.  It was boring.  So, it’s special to me to have teachers be able to try something new to get their point across.  Additionally, Sensei Hoover is not one to sit back and let the curriculum get stale.  He is constantly thinking about it, it seems.  Changes to the curriculum happen all the time, in the hopes that our techniques will become more effective and efficient.

When you come regularly to a Saturday class at the North Dojo, you learn so much – about yourself, about the practice, and about dozens of absolutely wonderful people.

Reason Four: He Has Welcomed My Son into Class

My son is 15 1/2 years old, and this class is for adults.  However, when he started working last May, I asked Sensei Steve if my son could come to class so he wouldn’t miss training on a Saturday.  He agreed without hesitating.  Recently, my son has been a regular in class, and in just the short time he has been coming regularly, I have seen a change in my son, both in practice and in spirit.  He works very hard in that class; as a result, he is stronger, a bit more confident, a bit more strategic in his practice, and a lot more skilled as a fighter.  My son has always been my best teacher, but now he is my teacher in martial arts class, too.  Being able to train with him on Saturdays (as well as on Tuesdays) has been a blessing.

He isn’t the only young adult who has been able to train with us on Saturday, and those who do are special kids.  They are bright, talented, and mature.  We who are able to train with our children have been given a special gift.  Sensei Steve would be the first to tell you about how much that gift meant to him while he was training with his own son, also named Steve, who now teaches at the West Dojo.  One day, he told Lucas and I about how important those years were to him.  Having seen the senseis interact, I know they were special to his son as well.

One of my favorite stories comes from another Mom who trains on Tuesdays and Saturdays.  Her daughter often trains with us on Saturdays now.  She says that at times she will think of a technique or a kata and struggle to visualize it properly.  Usually, her daughter is on the bus going to school when this happens.  So, she will call her daughter and ask her about it, which always leads to her daughter asking her in an exasperated voice why she is thinking about that now when she has work to do.  Nonetheless, her daughter has the answer!   Training with her child has added a complexity to their relationship, and another stretch of common ground upon which they can stand together.

How cool is that?

Reason Five: Class Starts at 8:00 AM

For the longest time, my workday has started at 5:00 AM when I first shuffle down the stairs to make coffee.  Some days, I do start working at about 5:15, but more often, I am trying to wake up and ease into my day.  Therefore, a class that starts at 8:00 gives me a chance to sleep in a bit (till 6:00!), but still get in a class early enough in the day that the rest of my day is mine to do with what I will.  That usually involves a nap!

Because of the early hour of the class, my son is able to attend and still go to work on Saturdays.  He loves that.  Those of us who go to that class all agree that it is an ideal time, for any number of reasons.

Come in at eight, punch your ticket, and the rest of the day is yours. Sensei Steve (paraphrased)

 

 

 

These are just some of the reasons I love Saturday’s 8 AM class so much.  I’m sure that my classmates have many more to contribute as well.  Please leave a comment using the form below.  Thank you for reading.

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Education Essays Teaching

We Owe Our Children Everything

Our children do not come to us in a dream and ask to be born.  Instead, we make a choice to bring our children into the world.  They owe us nothing.  We owe them everything.

That does not mean that they are allowed to walk all over us and demand every wish be fulfilled.  Rather, we owe them every opportunity to practice becoming honorable, loving, conscience-bearing human beings.  We owe them our patience and kindness as they struggle through the learning process that every human must go through to truly understand their purpose and place in the world.  We owe them our willingness to be their role models, and to practice ourselves, every day, what we expect them to adopt for themselves as they journey toward adulthood.

We owe them their education in things such as the six “selves” philosophy that our martial arts dojo espouses: self-awareness, self-confidence, self-control, self-defense, self-discipline, and self-respect.  When they violate our right to one or more of those, we owe it to them to help them understand those actions are not acceptable.  When they violate their own right to one or more of them, we owe it to them to help them understand that those actions, too, are unacceptable.

We owe them the opportunity to learn deeply, think critically, and to take risks.  We owe them the chance to fail, but to fail productively.  We owe them the chance to feel unconditional love, not only from their parents, but from everyone around them.  We owe them the chance to love unconditionally, to forgive, and to express frustration.  We owe them the right to have their own voice.  We owe them the right to make an argument, to win it if they have done their part effectively, and to lose it if they have not.  We owe them the right to experience disappointment, to express disappointment, and to find the joy in overcoming it.  We owe them the opportunity to learn to accept disappointment from others, too, but we owe them the right to protection from needless heartache.

We owe them the right to expect us to respect them, and to learn to respect us and others, who also have the right to expect respect from them.

Children do not ask to be born.  We parents make a choice.  From then on, till death do us part, we are forever in their debt.  Someday, they will be in debt to their own children.  If we have done our job right, their children will feel as loved, cared for, respected, challenged, and important as we tried to help our children feel.  If we have taught them well, and they have learned well, we can all truly be the positive change we want to see in the world*, working with one precious child at a time.

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*Although Gandhi didn’t actually say “be the change you want to see in the world,” what he did say that inspired that sentiment is so profound that I included it as the featured image for this post.