Library Guff Blog

Entries here are pulled from a variety of published works as well as musing I have had. 

Ghost Story

May 11, 2023

I watched my son get closer and closer. The little icon of a car suggesting he was driving a little too fast. The small break in my heart that was peeling back, once again, under the weight of having to break his once again. Another ghost had just been added to the family of dead. 


April 25, 2023

I worked on a college campus for the majority of my adult life. In fact, I still hold a part-time gig at a college. And here is what you need to know… and something I wish I realized earlier. You aren’t likely to have the same type of connections you had with teachers or staff at your high school. It isn’t set up like that.

But the impact you have on the lives of those you come across in college is undefinable. I have read thousands of admissions essays. I have had hundreds of university students. And what sticks isn’t always the most sophisticated or the most well-thought out. What sticks is that authentic moment. That entryway into a view I hadn’t considered. The student applying to a program to become a psychologist who had just lost their brother and was so freshly gutted. The parent who focused every paper on their adult child’s traumas and miss-steps. The applicant who took a four hour bus ride that, 12 hours of flat tires later, turned into a 14 hour ride to admission. The white student who had never sat in a classroom with a black student before. The professor who admitted to not getting into the program they now worked at. 

Whatever you have been told about your value in the world— it shifts when you have a new environment. It has to. What you thought you valued in yourself may shift now that you don’t have the pressure to be that person anymore. 


February 1, 2023

Love us, as us. 

Love us, as we are. 

On Book Displays with LGBTQ+ Titles

June 23, 2022

I find myself, at the age of 40, in the same place that I was when I was 14. Over 25 years ago I would have been terrified to ask for a book that included a queer character. I would have avoided it entirely because in my world, (that is, the world curated by teachers and librarians and my parents), those characters didn’t exist. And thus, those experiences did not exist. We didn’t have the language. It certainly wasn’t in the curriculum or in the library collection.

But they did exist. Those experiences. They existed in my home. In the home of my closest friend. In the streets. In my school. In my journal. In my running dialogue in my mind. 

See… if you look at the photograph of me in 2nd grade you would see a young girl dressed up as a half girl/half boy. It meant, at the time, that I was “a tomboy.” What it was in actuality (I realized many years later) was a “I know who I am” moment. I knew I fit in identity somewhere other than 99% of the kids I went to school with. I just wasn’t any of “that”— that which I had spent my lifetime up until then learning. I wasn’t straight, though I had crushes on the same boys everyone did. I wasn’t girly, though I appreciated (and was equally scared of) the pretty full breasts I developed in 5th grade. I wasn’t gay- it seemed very involved back then. I wasn’t something that fit a mold. And to boot- my parents were splitting up (multiple times) in an era that people didn’t talk about their divorces. And we were a bit poor… 

And when I was 13, I found a friend who shared this other way of seeing the world. We gravitated to each other. We shared a sense of… Of being. Of experiencing. What the rest of the world saw as absurd, made sense to us. We could just be without definition. We were, quietly without telling a soul, together.   

We didn’t need a book or a TV show or a poster or a book display to tell us what we were. We just were. Happily. And the rest of the world, the world that was supposed to play the role of educating us for this world… was instead educating us for a particular piece of the world. Not the entirety of it. It failed. It fell short of including our experience and our way of seeing our world, except in the times history classes talked briefly about the oppression "others" experienced across history. 

I spent the majority of my childhood and adolescence quietly being this artsy, athletic , smart type… I fit into roles. I made no waves, despite my height. But I spent a lot of time lying to people. Lying is the wrong word—- just not elaborating. 

And no kid should be made to feel like they can’t elaborate. Whether trying it out or firming up their statements— elaboration is one of the keys to education. Dig deeper. Explore it. 

“Oh to have had heard a story like mine…” 

I can no more tell that 14 year old kid that her experience isn’t valid than I can tell that second grader hers is just a silly costume. And I refuse to participate in that process.

Remove my childhood experiences from the shelves that took so long to welcome them. Make my adolescent experiences something to argue about. Have the choices I made as an adult that would have landed me in prison and my spouse lynched “political” and not lived experiences. No. Simply- no. 

My Arab-American son has never seen himself in the curriculum. My African-American son has only ever seen himself in the curriculum as poor and oppressed. 

And, to be sure, it takes a lot of energy to be something other than the “mainstream.” It’s like having a favorite menu item that only the one pizza place ever serves… you constantly have to explain yourself to the waiter to get what you want. It is so much work to be something other in this world—- and this is a historical reality. A reality that has never done anyone any good. 

Before I post photos of books on display or reviews of major authors’ works… I freeze. I consider the ramifications. When I make the display, I worry.

I never do this when I share displays of mysteries or graphic novels or any other selection. Paranormal. SciFi. Dystopian… all share with ease… the world is ending, there are monsters among us, look at that mutated dinosaur ready to bring us all down— not a pause in that share. But the lived experiences of people being good people and sharing that love with others—- pause. 

In both cases I post it anyways. Because the kid who was brought up in one of the most open to anything homes has still never told her parents she wasn’t quite straight, that she always worried about the outside world knowing about their constantly pending divorce, and that she constantly searched for some sort of validation that this internal life wasn’t make believe. That it was worthy of being lived. That it had a place. That she could be all the academic and athletic and citizenship awards she won in all of those years and also this “other” person she was too. That they weren’t exclusive. 

Because that kid also would have been horrified for it to have been made a big deal. Because she just wanted to be. Because the white noise of life and labels and constantly being something to someone to be allowed to exist— wasn’t appealing either. 

But what it would have meant to explore the experiences of others trying to figure it out… what it would have been to hear the voice echoed in the experiences of others… what self-loathing it would have removed from years of hearing only silence. And, to be sure, the book display wouldn’t have just changed my life… it might have stifled James (now a teacher) saying “dyke” to me so often. It might have slowed the “whose your boyfriend?” questions. It might have made my story display-able as well. 

We Ask

March 12, 2022

Nazis. Slaveowners. Klan members. Terrorists. School shooters. Genocide. The plague. Domestic bombings. The Great Depression. Smallpox. AIDS. 

We ask students to learn a lot of terrible things. To live through a lot of terrible things. We ask them- as was asked of us when we were their age. 

On the weekends and after school and in the morning and while listening to a lecture on Nazis they are going through terrible things in their own lives. While taking a spelling quiz, there are at least a hundred thousand kids in a twenty mile radius that are also dealing with a stressful issue. A friend who is depressed. A boyfriend who has gotten a bit more aggressive. A parent who lost their job. A sibling who moved back home after flunking out. A close death. A friend who crashed their car. Peer pressure about drugs and alcohol. And on and on the list goes. The list is the same as it has always been— terrible and dramatic. Confusing and heartbreaking. Very real. And very near. And very constant. 

If we ask them to make sense of Nazis… can’t they ask us to help them try to make sense of their worlds and the worlds of their peers through fictional novels about difficult things from people who lives through them? Because, to be sure, most adults are sh*t at working through these things themselves. 


February 26, 2022

The thing about pain is... 


February 19, 2022

There are traces of it throughout the house. Something happened. And then it happened again. 

On Kindness

[from a lecture by director of Tibetan Buddhist Charitable Aid, Inc, Carol Mackauf]

"When we asked him why he did this for us, he simply responded, ' Because you asked me to.'"

The Matriarchs

Winter 2022

The matriarch. The keeper of the secrets. The cultivator. The keeper of the sense of things. The shapeshifter. The one tasked with being wiser than the rest of us. 

Part I: In Their Youth

There is a picture of her on New Years Eve, 1940 something. She is partially keeled over and laughing. She is surrounded by friends. They are in a basement. There is joy. Matriarchs in their youth are always joyful. They have experienced life with all of their available senses and one more. They learned what is precious by living it. 

Part II: By the Time

By the time you realize you are being relied on, it is too late. 

Part II: The Matriarchs

The matriarchs, by the time the title has been quietly or with great fanfare given over to them, can be picked out of a crowd. Whether the crowd be made of family members or strangers, the matriarchs hold the space differently. Not in an obtrusive or known way like that of royalty or celebrity. Rather, it is one that asks nothing of the others. The difference between a matriarch and a celebrity is not that the person is not loved and admired like one, but that it is entirely besides the point.

From 1619

January 17, 2022

"We produce continuously evolving interpretations of history."

"History as settled."

Really Long Time

November 11, 2021

It has taken me a really long time to put time to put this into words. This is what I can muster… at this time last year, she and I were starting to plan the surprise of her coming to stay for a month- after not seeing her grandkids or eldest son for over two years. 

She was the kind of grandmother into which your kids sank. They disappeared into her when she hugged them. She hugged them with her whole being. With her whole

existence- past and present. 

She was in love with being a grandmother in a way I have never seen anyone fall in love with anything before. When she held my son- the world slipped away. Nothing else mattered. Nothing else existed- it was just her and them. 

She taught them to cook. She read to them. She put her big fluffy socks on them when they were cold. She snuggled with them while watching movies on her oversized bed. She stopped her world for theirs, without pause. Without explanation. Without recognition. 

She was the Jedi Knight of his life. 

Whenever I have taken a photo of my son, I have immediately thought to send it to her. I do it instinctively. Even now. I go to send it and then I remember that she is gone…

She got him. She got him in such a way. She got him in a way I think only Terry and I understand about him. She was the grandmother warrior of his life- whatever the details, she had his back for life… 

I have seen her look at a photo before. She took more time to take it in than most. She sat with it. She stopped. She exhaled. She inhaled. She stopped the rest of the world for it- to take it in. She invested her whole moment into it. I’ve only ever seen one other person do this sort of stop-time way of investing in memories— my grandmother. She would look at a photo and take an audible breath. And exhale. I loved watching her look at photos of her grandchildren. 

It has been hard to put into words the _______ that losing Phyllis has been. Pain. Heartache. Abyss. Utter carving out of a piece of one’s heart. I don’t think my heart has ever broken in so many directions in one day before… for T. For his brothers. For Q. For M. For B. For me. 

She and I had conspired to surprise Q for his birthday… a visit from Grammy was all he wanted. She had been here three weeks. He watched her walk out of the house to the store… only to never return. He texted her that she was taking a long time. She had texted me and T and her other sons that she loved them and was going to the store. 

I don’t think my heart has ever broken in so many directions in one day before… 

I have this memory of my grandmother and Phyllis talking in her kitchen, having tea. She had this laugh… this belly laugh. This “I ain’t messin' around” laugh. I had heard her fake laugh before- this “ha-ha-ha” thing she did with strangers. But when she wasn’t faking it—- that belly laugh. 

I have a million memories of her holding my son. Of her making my son laugh. Of her snuggling with him. Of her reaching down to show him something. Of her baking with him. Of her being hours and hours late returning him home because she was obsessed with spending time with him. Of her sitting with him. Of her hugging him. Of her whole being giving itself over to being there with him. For him.

But that my stoic, big hearted, low words grandmother connected with this co-matriarch of the family… they instantly knew each other’s purpose to their family. And without pause they entered into getting to know each other— despite race and history and all of that bs their backgrounds suggested they should worry about. If you were in Inga’s circle- you were in Inga’s circle for life. And she was in Inga’s circle. 

I want to put a big bubble around every conversation she and I ever had. I want to hug it. I want to hold it against me. I want to be held accountable for it. 

She called me on my sh*t. She spoke to me with honesty. She loved the same man and kid I did. She felt with her whole heart. Without prejudice. Without expectation. But for me- she was the mother I had searched for all of those years. 

When I have tried to explain to Q's teachers the hole that this loss has left in his world— I feel I fail at it every time. When I have told them that he lost his favorite thing in the world this year and that we are lucky he is even making it to school— they think I am exaggerating. When I further that his demeanor that seems like he does not care is a result of the fact that he indeed does not care because he lost his most favorite thing in the world and is afraid he will lose his second and third favorite things anytime now… they think I am exaggerating. 

I can’t explain to my son how fragile life is. I can’t explain to him why his dad spent a night in the hospital two months later… or that a 46-year old close friend’s dad’s suddenly died a few months later. I can’t promise him that next month won’t include trauma. Or the next. Or the next. 

I don’t know that any loss is ever going to hurt as much as losing Phyllis. She was the Inga of this family, 30 years too early. 

I’ve got no other words. No other insight. 

His psychologist told me that when she asked him what his safe place in memory was— he said it was his grandmother’s house. And then he described it. He described the baking and the experience of being around her. 

I’m so mad at her for not being here with us to go through this pain of losing her with him. I’m so mad that she can’t just bake a pie or crescent rolls or rice crispy treats and make it all okay. 

In My Lifetime

October 29, 2021

In my lifetime… six months has never meant much. Half a year. A semester and a half. Usually closer to summer than not. Every once in a while it was an anniversary of a meaningful relationship. Six months means a ton and nothing at all.

Six months ago I stood in the ICU of a hospital grasping my best friend while she held onto her husband who was being kept alive by a team of medical professionals so that she could say goodbye. So that she could say goodbye. So that she could say goodbye (and ask what all that blood about). When I met them a decade earlier it never occurred to me that this is where we could be. Would be. Were.

But we were. We were there. We were there. She was there. In the ICU because he wasn’t going to make it. There because everything before that moment was over. We were there because the universe was breaking open. We were there because ______ (fill in the blank). Everything changed. 

We were there because he was there. And then… he wasn’t. 

At the outset, the whole thing about “what they leave behind” and them “living through us” isn’t a real thing. It is aspirational. It isn’t something that happens right away. I don’t even know that it has happened yet. It’s a gorgeous idea. It’s beautiful. And I think it is an eventual reality, at best. But it is not that simple. 

We were there because he was there. And then… he wasn’t.  

And I am so mad at him for not being there. For not being here. I am mad that he is not here pacing about why it’s almost midnight on a Friday and I am still here. But, too be fair… I am so mad at him for not being here for the next decade of her. 

That’s it. That’s my six month hell post. 

Hashbrowns: ______ 


September 25, 2021

Growing up, my grandmother told just a few stories. One about her father in the 1920s, who only spoke German, learning to ask for steak in English so he could ask for it at the food pantry only to be told there was none that night. One about assisting a troubled girl to find help- all while she was in a secretary position in the social services office. And then there was one about being in 5th grade herself and writing an essay. It was an essay in response to something her teacher had said. They had made a sweeping generalization about the German people. It had not sat well with her— the teacher had likened all Germans to Nazis. It was not the first time that she, a girl born in Germany, with family at home who had fled the country in the 20s to move to New York, had heard such sentiments. But it was the first time the sentiment had been followed by a writing prompt of any sort. 

She wrote her essay on the pride she took in being German. About how some weren’t part of that whole. About humanity. She then told that story to her grandchildren (and presented us with a lifetime of examples of such small acts)- about resisting stereotypes and being better than those that came before us. 

When I was 20, my boyfriend and I moved into the apartment above her house. In the years that followed, I got to know her really well. She would tell stories at the kitchen table while she stared out over the Great South Bay. She told me that she had been scared most of her life of black people in public spaces, but knew that there was no reason why. She instinctively “crossed the street when a group of black men walked toward me, but would never think to do so for a group of white men… and there was no history [she] had experienced to make [her]do so.” She struggled, into her 90s, with these knee jerk reactions to those that didn’t look like her. She grappled with making sense of those reactions and the sort of pride she took in her own 10-year old reactionary essay. 

When I think of people wanting to ban books in schools- I think of my grandmother at the age of 10, writing that essay. She had everything to lose and despite that, what was being taught spurred in her a reaction that would not end in her lifetime. What was being taught was in direct opposition to what she knew to be true about herself and those that cared for her that shared a common identity. It, simply, was not the worldview they experienced. 

She was a pragmatist until her dying day. And I think that was a result of her taking that step (perhaps many more before it that she never realized). Presented with information in a classroom, she responded. And over the course of her lifetime, with every new person and thing and event that came into her sphere— she grappled. She mulled it over. She responded thoughtfully. 

I took physics in high school. Everything about it did not compute in my brain. I could draw the monkey swinging on the rope and imagine every scene that was happening in the question prompts— but the math of it all made no sense to me. I took with me fun stories of monkeys instead. 

If what you are presented in a classroom- at any age- does not align with your worldview or what you know of self— the responses available to you include more than just rejection of the thing. Grapple with it. Ask “why does this make sense to that person?” Wonder “can this understanding of our mutual space exist while my understanding is over here safe and well?” But keep grappling. 

Grapple with it. Teach your children the act of grappling. We have to trust them as they explore the world. We have to let them grapple with a world of complexities. 

Because if not now, then when? 

When we open a book, we open a piece of someone’s life. We open a worldview built on a set of experiences different than our own. I couldn’t write the same essay my grandmother wrote. Her daughter couldn’t either. Nor could my sons. Our worldviews and ways of interacting with the world are so different… When we open a book or read a story we aren’t given the truth of the world in its entirety - we are given a slice. A piece. A fragment. A tiny fragment at that. 

And so when people attempt to ban a fragment… they block a way of knowing. An approach. An option. Having options does not dictate final pathways. In some cases, having options allows the finding of the one that truly speaks to you. 

People have lived for thousands of years living out their own interpretations of the world. Each one making sense of things in their own way (and within that, each person having their own way of existing in that culture). Our children study those interpretations as key pieces of civilization and understanding humankind. And so many were in conflict, but had at their core this attempt to understand their worlds. We teach our kids to see the way these others have lived and be in awe. And yet, in our own time, it scares us to have others’ interpretations so close. 

Banning books runs counter to that all teaching of cultures across centuries. Banning books says, “No, not that way of looking at the world— only this one.” 

There is little less that is controversial than a kid reading a book or seeing a photo and responding, “This is me!” We all spend so much of our youth searching for “our people.” The search for our people is the search for people whose worldviews whether mirror our own and/or whose worldviews give us space to explore our own. 

I think of it like finding your bagel store. A real Long Islander will prefer a bagel from anywhere on the island over a bagel from off of the island… They will wait on line for an hour at their bagel store every weekend. We like what we like, we know what we know. We’ll eat at another place, but it isn’t the same. We can revel in the fact that we have OUR bagel store, but can entertain the idea of another, if we have to. 

But to be clear, we have to. At least a few times. And we have to let our kids choose their own bagel store. 

Because, to be sure, in essence… it is easier to go to just one store (story). To order the same thing every week. To know that at least that experience is secure... But we are all going to our bagel store. Your security lives in the same store as hundreds of others every week -- even if the orders are completely different. 

Cross Country

September 22, 2021

I went on a long cross county trip when I was 18. Skipped the D1 spot and the college plan for a cross country trip with my hippie friends. My plan was to go build furniture in Seattle. Instead we (accidentally) followed Phish and then I took a (solo) cross country train home. 

With one of my best friends, her boyfriend, and their 5 month old daughter we set out on September 11,  2000. It was stressful. Being with anyone in close quarters is stressful. Being with a couple is more so. It was 2000- no cell phones, little money, no easy debit card, and no real plan. But we went. With little to no incident for a month and a half. 

I knew immediately upon getting to our destination that I wanted to go home. I knew in Ohio. In Kansas. In Née Mexico. In Cali. But that was far more to do with home than it ever was to do with the environment of the trip. But you get stuck on this idea of the trip. The idea of the experience. The idea that if you left early because your gut told you, “No” you had somehow failed. And the people I was with were the nicest people ever. But every fiber told me to leave far earlier than I did— for me. 

When I heard about this [Petito] case and the idea of keeping the space neat— I think about the first time I ever made rice. It was in that 30 year old Winnebago. I made far too much and we had to pull out another pot to hold half of it. But it just was. When I think about the idea of sharing that small space with an abusive person - especially one who had been in my life for so long—- everything changes as to what you would or wouldn’t do. What you would or wouldn’t allow. What you do or don’t put up with. 

This song played on the drive home from Penn Station when my dad picked me up. I turned my face toward the window and neither of us said anything. 

20 Years

September 7, 2021

I was sitting in my first class in my first semester at college when we heard that the campus was being evacuated. My sociology teacher had gone out into the hall to tell students to lower their voices- she didn’t know yet what had happened. As I waited in traffic to get off campus, I got a call on my huge flip phone from my mother. She said that my father and brother, who were iron workers in the city were fine. It hadn’t even occurred to me until then the proximity of whatever was happening to our lives was so close. 

The sky was so blue that morning. The kind of blue a little kid colors their sky in a drawing that doesn’t look quite real. 

Like a lot of people that week, I watched the news all day every day. The world we knew changed that day. Every event became saturated by the grief of it all. My grandfather died that December and the priest went on and on about the towers. It was in the background of tv shows, nods to the FDNY and images of the towers. Two months ago I helped a student edit an essay she had written on losing her father in the collapse. It is always with us. 

A lot has happened in twenty years. In the world, in our towns, in our lives, and in our own minds. 

Lose the Thread

August 19, 2021

I have a theory. I am calling this theory the “Lose the Thread Theory.” It suggests that we all, quite often, lose the thread in our lives. Big and small things, important and mundane- we lose the thread of what we were doing, what we were thinking, what we were saying… and, on a bigger scale, of what we meant for ourselves and our lives. We lose the thread. It gets knotted and needs untangling before moving forward with the stitch. 


August 7, 2021

I heard a song on my way home from a visit with my one brother who I had not seen in over two years. One of the lyrics in the song was something like, “What are you listening to?” And all I could hear was this lingering question about what we listen to when we hear things. Because if history has taught us anything- it is that we do not all hear the same thing. Perhaps we hear the same words, but the meaning, the gravity, the call to action, the ringing, the nagging that something is off or on-point, or missing… it isn’t the same thing we have all heard. For many of us, the same “stuff” exists, but what we make of it is quite different. 

And I started to wonder. What aren’t we hearing?

It’s a hard thing to ask. Because our answers can only be a number of assumptions based on things we’ve heard others have experienced. (And those are, to be sure, to the heterosexual, nearing middle-aged person are generic at best... see? There it is - I did that assuming thing.)

There’s a lot of things about me that I wish I had been able to tell people earlier. But it was the 90s. There’s a lot of things I wish I could clearly say now. In both cases, I’m kind of “eh” on any sort of knowing out there in the general public. None of which was ever going to get me physically harmed (you don’t know me, but I’m 5’10” and not petite). 

What I listen for when I hear the story of a person… it is different from what you hear. I look for the things I have been trained to look for- the cultural references, the Arts, the social cues. I look for the things I have experienced mirrored in the person’s house experience. I look for the things I have been told indicate another kind of life- poverty, wealth, religion, close family, extroverted-ness, conservatism. 

To be sure, any one of those things would reflect a very different way of getting through the day. A different way of listening. 


July 2, 2021

In grad school I learned that the reason for the rise in racism (the type that came with intentionally specific violent acts) of the post-Reconstruction era was the result of an identity crisis by (mostly) middle- and lower-class white, heterosexual men. Whites were concerned (subconsciously or otherwise) that if black men were given the same rights and social capital as they had (limited as it was), it would mean there was no floor lower than them- even if it was a basement floor. Because while they themselves might be poor and “lower” than their wealthy (also white) counterparts, they at least were above others in the social strata so popular in public imagination, policy, and culture. Who they were was largely built on who they weren’t. 

Evidence of this came early on, in the Civil War when the Emancipation Proclamation freed black people and further asked white men fighting for the Union to fight for those newly minted citizens as their brethren. It came in the way of draft riots. The first, “Hell no we won’t go!” The first of the, “This is not who we are” moments. And while there were certainly people who believed to their core that who and what America was quintessentially included black people as equals (or at least with the same essential freedoms to ownership of land and freedom from shackles), the logistics of making that part of the majority public imagination failed to see this identity crisis- failed to replace those anxieties with any other way for middle- and lower-class white men in the late 19th century to see themselves. By othering black people and foreigners, they were able to center themselves in their lives. 

And think about it— we do this all the time in our individual lives. We make decisions about how to raise our kids because of something we went through as kids. We decide to be that kind of neighbor. This kind of colleague. We “at least I don’t…” or “I could never be like…” We define ourselves as much by what we are not as what we are. Online dating profiles are a list of all the pain someone experienced in previous relationships— hoping to define the new relationship as something different (often without fundamentally changing the individual writing the profile themselves). We explain ourselves by way of deficits. By othering ourselves, we are centering ourselves. 

Fall Aprt 

June 10, 2021

This is what I have been thinking this week:

The last time I watched my best friend fall apart was when I was 18. We knew it was coming (cancer), but the shock of when her dad finally was gone- it was like the air had been sucked out of me. That night I went to her house and we watched Good Will Hunting in her room. And then for the rest of that month we just drove around in my car for hours. We used to write in these notebooks back and forth- we have years of documented upheaval in slow motion. 

And the first time I ran away alone from the utter, gut-wrenching pain of it was three months before it happened— when I gave up a spot on a D1 team to go across country with hippies and their baby— to just be anywhere else. To feel anything else. But I called her from pay phones every other day. By the time we were in Santa Monica a month later, I knew I needed to go back. I stayed at our final designation, Seattle for 12 hours before taking a train home.

And I came back to a more broken moment. A farther down the rabbit hole. And then he died. And for a month I drove her around to avoid people and things and places and feelings and needing to be something for others. To avoid the image of her mother clutching the kitchen counter to hold it together. 

And then I left again... to be a theater major in Florida- as far away from here as I could muster. And it lasted two weeks. Unable to just go back to NY, I went to Delaware and came up to stay with her every other weekend. Until I moved back. And the grief that held the space for this family that had taken me in... I could do nothing for them. (And I’m a doer... a solutions... a fix it.) 

And out of options to leave again... I did the next closest thing to getting as far away from my life as I could— I married a man from another country who was 10 years my senior.  And I tried really hard to make myself believe that that felt safer. And she wasn’t around so much— she did the college thing. And she did the other sorts of coping thing. Stuff I couldn’t do while married and pregnant. 

I lost her that year— or lost us.

I took then to moving furniture and repainting rooms. And I’ve been doing it ever since when anything hurt or scared me. When I needed to work out how I felt or avoid feeling anything. When my mother-in-law Phyllis died in January- it took me one week to make my entire house look like a different place. Shifted boys’ bedrooms, removed shelves, moved a wall... 

As if, because they never saw it that way, it would somehow speed past the feeling of loss. 

Up until the past year we didn’t see each other more than once a year or so. She told me this story a while back- about her mother and her going to church on the 20th anniversary of her father’s death. And it was such a sad moment and she asked her mom if she wanted a cough drop. And the only thing she had was an old one... and how it was the noisiest cough drop wrapper in the world at that moment because it was so old and the church was so so silent and so there they were laughing their asses off in a pew at the church where they sat for his funeral 20 years earlier. And now that memory has replaced the one I have of her mom running out of the church and collapsing on the stairs, grasping to the railing as if the whole earth had just caved in. 

It was her mom that I called during shiva last month- to ask her what to do for my friend.

And all of this is to say... I’m painting my front and back house doors different colors today. Shifted a book shelf. And now I have a whole library to rearrange with grief and a total loss of what else to do. 

And that’s what I’m thinking today. 

(Un)intended Color-Coding Organization

Spring 2021 (Published in the Participant Observer of the Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program at LIU Post)

I am going to talk to you all for a little bit about call numbers: the numbers and letters on the spine of a book that organize the title amongst all of the other titles in the library. In the nonfiction section of a library that uses the Dewey Decimal System, there are ten sections. Within each, there are subsections. For instance, The Arts is all of the 700s, but architecture is kept in the 720s and Music in the 780s. The main sections are broken up by 100s. The 000s are for General Information. This houses anything from the Guiness Book of World Records to books on UFO sightings. The 100s are “Philosophy and Psychology.” More on this in a bit. The 200s are religion. The 300s are Social Sciences. 400s Language. The 500s are Science, notably where Psychology is not included. 600s are technology. The 700s are Arts and Entertainment. The 800s are Literature (poems, plays, essays, short stories, essays on essays, books with chapters that are essays on essays, etc). The 900s are History. I write this all out to demonstrate how far the 300s are from the 900s. At the time I wrote this, in my library, the sections were four classroom-lengths away from each other.

I did a search in my eldest son’s high school library’s catalog for the term “racism.” 75 titles came back. These are classified (by call number) as such: 8 are in the 100s (Ethics); 1 is in religion (Concepts of God); 31 are in Social Sciences (in sections for social groups, racial groups, conflict, control, Civil Rights, criminology etc); 1 is in Sciences; 1 is in The Arts (cartoons, caricatures, comics); 16 are literature (800s); 12 are fiction; 2 are biography; and 2 are in History (900s). Under the Subject listing for this collection of 75 titles, “African Americans” is the only subject label that indicates a racial group. Caucsians are not listed, even in the subject lines for the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacy. (Think of Subjects as sort of the hashtag of the library world). 

When I search for “African American” in the catalog, I get 365 titles. 42 are in Social Sciences. 12 are in History. When I search “Caucasian” I get 0. The call numbers for books by black authors include (but are not limited to): 305.800973 COA is “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. 305.896 LET is “Letters from Black America,” a collection of narrative histories. 323.4 KIN is “A Testament of Hope: the Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr.” 323 KHA is “When They Call You a Terrorist: a Black Lives Matter Memoir.” 362.1963 GAY is “Hunger a Memoir of (My) Body” by Roxane Gay. The subsection of 301-307 is “Sociology and Anthropology.” The subsection of the 320s is “Political Science (Politics and Government).” The subsection of the 360s is “Social Problems and Services.” 

I hope you’re still with me at this point. And I hope you are beginning to see the trend that is happening. The lives of black people are relegated to Social Sciences. The personal experiences captured in their own words in memoirs is recaptured into a separate space and, notably, not in the biography section that spans across so many types of experiences (authors, artists, autistic adults, parents, addicts, politicians, athletes, survivors of rape and abuse and sub-zero temperatures on snowy mountains). And I do not use the term “captured” unintentionally. Histories that include black people are captured in social sciences… as if we are still debating if those experiences really happened and mean what the authors say they mean. When we’re in the social sciences section, we are still working out what it means, making the connections between things, we’re grappling with the meaning… and while that happens, the history section is kept largely the history of white people. By capturing black voices in this way, we leave them as artifacts to be reconsidered. And to be sure, books don’t get re-catalogued into a different section. They don’t “grow into it” and gain new citizenship elsewhere in the collection. It is not until an individual librarian makes the decision to do so within their own individual library that the titles are moved. 

I started to consider all of this earlier in 2020 when I was pulling books for a display in my high school library for Black History Month. It was my first year in my own library. I had inherited a brand new space and a collection of about 75,000 titles. As I pulled titles, I noticed that all of the non-fiction titles I pulled were houses in the 300s section. James Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time,” sat on the shelf with 305.896 BAL on its spine. Morgan Jerkins’ “This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) American” at 305.48 THI. Her name wasn’t even part of the call number. Here are the other titles that were nearby on the shelf: "What are you?: voices of mixed-race young people; Anti-semitism; A few red drops: the Chicago Race Riot of 1919; Black stats: African Americans by the numbers in the twenty-first century; Farewell to Jim Crow: the rise and fall of segregation in America; Is it a choice?: answers to the most frequently asked questions about gay and lesbian people; Hearing us out: voices from the gay and lesbian community; and Youth who are gifted: integrating talents and intelligence. To be sure, a shelf read of the 300s includes all kinds of non-heterosxual, non-white stories. While one might find a handful of these stories in a well-curated biography section, one would be hard pressed to find these stories in the 900s. 

And so… so what?

To illustrate my point, consider for a minute if these were switched around. If in the history section (900s), all of the books on African American lives and historical moments were captured in the same way as that of white Americans. And all of the books on white Americans’ lives were captured in the Social Sciences (300s) - still up for debate, still being combed over by sociologists and anthropologists and political scientists. What if histories on civil rights and racism and white supremacy began with a focus on white people? What if in the histories of white people’s rage, racism, violent behavior, and collective identity crises the victims were just a small part of the larger story?

For my purposes, what if, when a student is told to look in the history section for a topic they want to research, they didn’t just find white stories? What if when they were told to look for a nonfiction book on a “controversial topic” they saw topics that put white behaviors at the center of issues of racism that get lumped next to abortion and gun control? What if when they are asked to find a memoir or biography, the shelves they look through house the lives of people across all experiences? 

But it isn’t just a public school issue. Here is your assignment: go to your local library’s website. Find the titles I mention above - where are they? 

[Note that if you look at a university library like LIU’s library catalog, you’ll see that they use the Library of Congress numbers. Class E 151-909 is United States. E176-176.8 is “Biography” under United States. E185.96-185.98 is “Biography” under United States then Afro-Americans. It is the only group that has its own separate call number. Further note that this is the same across universities, even Historically Black Colleges and Universities - for instance, James Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time” is located with the same E185.61 call number at LIU, NYU, and Howard University.]

This matters because the kids you see on the playground, on the athletic fields, in play productions, in your classrooms, and their parents, their family members (that chaotic structure of personal experience and identity that get all wrapped up and entwined amongst the people in our lives), have experienced this in their own educations. The space made to house the things deemed critical to know for those people is malleable. Historically, the able-bodied, white, heterosexual kids consistently see themselves in the space (even if it still feels all complicated as a teen). Non-white and/or non-heterosexual kids see themselves in the space as add-ons, if included at all. Februaries and Pride days and “additional reading” and “alternative texts” and flags announcing “safe spaces”- that is how these kids get “included” in the space. They are the things being done to “make up for the missing pieces.” And it is a result, I think, of a sort of collective laziness, a deflection of responsibility, and a continued “othering” as a response to requests to be considered human. [Consider, for instance, “Safe Space” signs. Spaces in schools do not need to be designated as such for any other reason than that non-LGBT adults allow for spaces that are not organically safe. The default is therefore unsafe, suspect, and always needing revision. The space has to be “othered” in order to be safe for non-heterosexual kids.]

But educators are working to change how schools look, sound, and feel to kids. I think though that we are focusing on it in such a way as to replicate the “othering” that continues to happen. The term “inclusive curriculum” and others like it have yet to grow into their own. We talk about diversity as if it is only a black thing. We talk about inclusion as if we are in the process of taping on parts of something not part of the original whole. The actual lived history and voices and experiences of non-white people in America were always there. The actual ones. The real ones. The ones happening in the moment on American soil. To include them in the curriculum and educational spaces (physical and otherwise) cannot be a trend. It cannot be a moment we’re having as a country. We have to fundamentally change how we organize our world in order to make sense of it. If we re-use the framework that got us here, we will fail. 

I don’t know enough about the history of cataloguing and the process to know how intentional the separation of black stories in library collections was (or is). But I have experienced how management companies have been trying to increase their response to “the moment.” Two weeks ago I was invited to beta test the school libraries’ management company’s roll out of “Diversity Topics” and “Social Emotional Learning” collection analysis tools. In short, all the titles in a library are analyzed and then the system tells you how many books cover X topic, how many cover Y topic, and so on. The topics are pre-set by the company. They included topics such as: Asian America, foster care, Caribbean, Diverse Families, Mental Illness, Poverty, Prejudice & Racism, African American, Jewish Americans, Muslum Americans, and so on. What they did not include, which I pointed out to the rep, was “Caucasian Americans” or “Christian Americans” or “Heterosexual.” When we jumped further into the well-intentioned tool, we saw that fiction and nonfiction stories that included black characters had a tag that indicated as much. The same tag was not present on titles that included white characters. 

By only setting the criteria for a “diverse” collection to only including non-white, non-heterosexual, and able-bodied stories we recreate the imagined mainstream and sort of paste all the rest of these onto it. And nothing changes in a significant way. A few more books get sold. People can find “Black Stories” easily on Netflix. Maybe your racist uncle tones it down (or digs his heels in). But nothing really changes. 

I struggle with how to end this piece. I could list the efforts I have undertaken to make change. I could tell you about the feeling of urgency from my own experience of talking to my 10 year old son about police brutality and that his 6 foot 6, bear hugs, would-do-anything-for-his-son father was seen as a threat to others and could be killed because of it. I could tell you about how over the summer I did what a lot of educated white women did - I started a book club focused on race. I could tell you that the difficulty of starting and maintaining conversations about racism with colleagues is as hard in secondary education as it is in academia. I could give you a reading list to start with. I could tell you about this card deck idea that I came up with to force discussions of diverse clients into classrooms. 

But I don’t have some amazing words of wisdom to leave you with. I do not have a solution. I do not have steps for you to take to be successful in this. I do know nothing changes if we stop talking about it. More needs to be done now. Lasting things. Fundamentally different things than have been done before. And when I say “we,” I mean white people. Even the ones married to black people. Even the ones who dated a black guy once. Even the ones with a black friend. Even the ones who went to a diverse high school. We need to do better. And we do that by actively dismantling the list, considering its many pieces, and thinking of ways we can actively do better and hold others in our sphere accountable for doing better as well. 

But also, I think I need to say… I’m so sorry I didn’t see it all sooner. 

World of Opposites, Don't Act So Surprised

May 17, 2021

From birth we are prompted to sort things. Shapes. Sizes. Colors. Animals. Emotions. And then we are surprised when kids do that with people- even despite the posters and memes and tshirts everywhere suggesting otherwise.

And- when we are bit older—  we watch videos and read stories in school about other people’s lives and difference of experience. And in every single instance, we are asked to relate. How has our experience been similar? When is a time when we have experienced adversity? What did we do? How did we feel? This “difference” thing is constant and consistently normalized. It is “ok to be different” and “we are all different” and “we are all the same.” 

And we buy tshirts and posters and pins and hashtags to match. We eat the food of other cultures and assume understanding and genuinely with all of our hearts fake tolerance.

And then we are somehow surprised when the average Joe or Sharon at age 20 or 30 or 40 or 50 or 60 or 70 or 80 cannot fathom that it isn’t that all lives don’t matter... but that right now (in the past 200 plus years) this set of people’s lives have mattered a whole lot less in public and private imagination and actions. That it is killing them. 

They’ve been told their whole lives to relate and relate and relate... because it made the lesson easier. The multiple choice accessible. The standardized test easier to swallow. The authentic assessment more shareable, more feel-good. 

And... I think... perhaps... we messed it up. We made a mistake. We aren’t all the same. Dumbing down complexity to fit into easy testable categories is killing people. Literally. We need to stop being appalled by where all the hate comes from— check the dittos, recall the picture books, try out a toddler’s toy. The answer is right there.  

That’s just my Sunday thought. My thoughts on incredibly unoriginal (also toxic) masculinity next week... 

The Words from Which We Learned Who to Be 

August 5, 2020

When you think about the books you read in your youth, which ones come to mind? Which ones shaped you? Which verified things you thought about your friends and family? Which ones challenged your view of the world? Which ones scared you? Which ones did you hold on to as an adult? How often were you asked to relate to the character? How often could you? How often could you not, even as an academic exercise? 

When I think about the books of my early youth, there are a few titles and authors that immediately pop up in my mind. Ann M. Martin’s The Baby-Sitters: Little Sister series, Cynthia Voigt, V.C. Andrews, The Sunset Series, and this short story about three brothers who live at a train station in the desert and head out in three different directions to see the world (I had to memorize a short story in fifth grade). I read a lot of teen mystery novels, though I cannot remember any of the titles or plots. In middle school, there was one that began with a car crash and a baseball season that I read as part of an assignment. When I think of the books I read as a young teenager, most are full of that low-key, comfortable, armchair angst of white suburban America.

Most of the books I read in my youth confirmed what I thought I knew about the world. Or, to be more accurate, at least what I thought I should know about the world. They mirrored the sort of drama I allowed my young mind to twirl through each day- the drama of friendship, the vague mis-understanding of romantic relationships, that heartache and evil and terrible things happened and then just lingered in people’s lives. Adults behaved badly and failed the kids they were supposed to protect. Help usually came too late to avoid trauma entirely. But life mostly went on for the characters… with a little more knowledge about themselves or their family, maybe in a new home or in a new school, but mostly it just went on. All were a bit closer to some mythical apex of self-awareness, coping, and acceptance at the end. 

But was that really what we were looking for in between those covers? In some ways, that tried and true confirmation of self (especially an under-developed, all audience-friendly version) is the most dangerous kind. Dangerous because it limits us. It, at times, imagines a sort of end-game to self-discovery. Capturing archetypes of American youths and sharing them for us to pick from is a staple of many young adult stories – from Dorothy and her crew in Oz, to the Hunger Games, to The Maze Runner, to Ready Player One, to 13 Reasons. Each of these familiar story arches present us with a handful of characters to choose from. Which piece of the puzzle are you? Each character has some redeeming (albeit generic) quality that adds value to the world, a fact they discover somewhere three quarters of the way through. And the generic lesson there is, “See, you play an important role.” 

I don’t yet know what I find so inaccurate about this formula. It is a formula that works well as an adult – in the workplace, with family, with friends, in a relationship, as parents – we all play a role and are supported by others who play other roles with different skill sets. Perhaps what irks me is that it is not all that simple, is it? We’re often completely alone. For many, youth is a time when being alone, both physically and metaphorically, becomes deafening. For as much as I read and as supported as I often felt by family, friends, and teachers – I am not sure that it was ever in books that I saw a mirror that made me feel less alone. 

Though, mirrors were sometimes fluttering on some topics. Even at a character’s slightest mention of something in my own experience – I jumped. At the end of elementary school and the beginning of middle school, when my parents split up and my father moved out on three different occasions over five or so years – it was in books that I found someone to mirror that experience and the melancholy that encompassed it. I do not even remember what the storyline was, but I remember a character with parents who split up. The slightest mention of a kid with divorced parents in a novel somehow confirmed that it would all work out, or at least it validated that it was indeed happening (since they weren’t talking about it outside of our home). As my parents wrapped up their years apart, determined to live miserably together in our family home - my two best friends at the time also had parents who were splitting up or were already split up – but there, too, no one really knew about it. It was the early mid-90s – divorce wasn’t something people did out loud yet. They did however, along the fringes at least, in books. But only the fringes.  

To be sure, I did not love reading as a kid or a teen. What I loved was the conversations books allowed me to have with people who trusted me with those words. The internal dialogue I could have with the authors and their characters was what I craved. I craved being trusted with others’ words. Being entrusted with their stories. 

And as I think through my own sort of literary history, I wonder how many stories I missed – due to proximity and curricular choices and librarian knowledge and the publishing industry and this debilitating idea of a mainstream and (as we got older) particular grasp of the Western canon that determined our worth as thinkers and educated individuals in some imagined space that the tyranny of knowledge as defined by people at the proverbial top assumed. In the thousands of pages I read back then, I never had a dialogue with a teen struggling to find her sexual identity or whose mother’s mental illness tore at her children’s own identities or a girl whose mother screamed at her when she got her period or whose family was broke or whose father lied about money or whose cousin got pregnant as a teenager or whose alcoholic uncle ruined her tenth birthday. I also never had a dialogue with a character that wasn’t white and middle-class. Of the characters who struggled, their struggles were one-dimensional, easily fixed by page 127. They didn’t continue to face systemic racism or discrimination. Their families were not forever changed by a system. They were rarely ever truly powerless. Non-white characters either played minor roles or dealt solely with racism and discrimination.  

I weeded the fiction collection at my high school library earlier this year. I removed novels that had not been checked out in decades. I would estimate that more than half of these included cover art with a long wispy haired blonde or brunette girl looking desperate about a chisel-faced boy, sometimes leaning over a Corvette and often set in some country-side field. And it felt somehow so familiar – that whimsy felt so familiar. Like returning to your home town to see the diner on the corner still existed, untouched. It felt familiar not because I lived what was held in those pages, but because that was most of the available set of narratives. That longing and wanting of that whimsy. That was one of the major zeniths to aim for… at least to me – in a suburban, working-middle-class, white town. 

As I watched the 2020 Netflix remake of The Baby-Sitter’s Club, I was in awe of the multitude of characters that seemingly suddenly was possible to a mainstream audience. Similarly, while listening to the collection of short stories, “Fresh Ink” I wondered what it would have been like to have heard these when I was my sons’ ages. A line from a comedy show runs through my mind every so often, “Oh, to have heard a story like mine…” Hannah Gadsby says it in her show, Nanette, where she speaks about growing up gay in a conservative part of Australia (and how the pride flag is frankly “too busy” for her liking). For so long, the diversity of lived experience has been washed out over and over for convenience sake. Perhaps due to a lack of creativity. Perhaps because publishers saw these stories as “black stories” or “Asian stories” or some piece of a “movement” rather than stories all audiences needed to hear because they simply needed to be told, like any other story. Perhaps because it hasn’t quite come of age. By “it” I mean what chef Jeff Henderson calls, “the permission to dream.” Dream something personal, something entirely yours. To dream something others will not understand. To write something that will not succumb to the tyranny of trying to relate to it that is American education. Lived experiences that make us consider the world another way, even if we cannot imagine wanting it that way… and lived experiences that push us to want to change it when others do not either.  

The heartache and pain in the stories that I read in my youth largely came from within – within families, amongst circles of friends, and (of course) within one’s self. Simplified and flattened were the contours of reality of many lives. The complicated “there’s no solution to this that you will be able to work out” issues like poverty, war, racism, discrimination, non-heterosexual relationships, non-Christian traditions, more than one non-white character at a time – these simply were not part of our book stack. Neither was any pure joy at finding one’s own way without the upheaval. The white, heterosexual lived experience in books has a sort of luxury of simple problems. The non-white characters in our curriculum were never afforded that luxury. There was no black version of Holden from Catcher in the Rye. There is no queer Asian Gatsby. There is no multiracial Atticus Finch. Frankenstein isn’t a gay, Hispanic man. Miss Havisham isn’t a wealthy black woman. And why not? What changes if those characters change? What worlds open? What worlds close? What knowledge do those characters’ backgrounds bring or limit or confuse about the storyline? 

I was working with a college student in a Writing Center once. Poised, articulate, interested in her topic- she was being diligent about the assignment in front of her, that included some information about the 13th Amendment. When I had her look it up to clarify a point she was trying to make in her paper, she quietly said, “Oh wow. I should know that information – I know I should know that information.” This young black woman had the weight of the world on her as she said this. I’ve often thought about her reaction. She has been told that that weight is hers to carry. And maybe it is, but clearly she had been doing well without it. 

I listened to the book “On the Come Up” by Angie Thomas earlier this week. In it, the main character works to become a rap artist. The novel talks of what it would mean to the character’s community if she were to make it in the industry. And just now I began thinking of how many kids I grew up with have made it in the music and theater industries – Broadway to world tours – there is a huge handful of people I knew personally who “made it” in those industries. And while I think it speaks to a sort of strange concentration of natural talent amongst students so close to one another (a grade or two apart) and the strength of the music department in our school district, it isn’t something the community needed to feel validated. It doesn’t mean as much. Their headshots have not even made it to the alumni hallway walls. They had the luxury of achieving a dream without the weight of the dream of a community. Family, maybe. Friends, sure. But it wouldn’t have been so heartbreaking and stifling if they hadn’t because they did not come from a poor, largely black community struggling in the chaos. 

When did that focus get decided? And by whom? We don’t have a black Gatsby because the blackness would take over in the story. We don’t have a black Holden because he would either be “an exception” or a disgruntled kid from the projects. We don’t have a black Miss Havisham adopting Estella because it becomes about the trauma of the reality of their situation (as situated in white America) more than any other theme. The focus shifts when we tell black stories in white America because the weight of racism becomes theirs to carry (not something white America created). [I’m borrowing from historian Barbara Fields here.] Black characters cannot simply be people because for too long we have forced them (in public imagination via books and movies and decision by news outlets and segregated school districts) to be this monolithic black experience. 

But, to be sure, we forced that on the white American experience too. For so long, the canon has been about achievable stories. Relatable stories. Everyman stories. And it, too, failed to connect to the diversity of experience amongst all of us. I can no more imagine living the lives my three very different brothers have lived than I can imagine living the life those wispy-haired characters on the covers of novels from the 80s and 90s did. I am no closer to being able to run away from boarding school for a few days in the city (like Holden) than I am to bring a crowd to its feet with applause with my singing skills. It wasn’t until I was 38 years old that I read a story about a bisexual teenager whose friends did indeed stand up for them. I was 34 before I read of growing up with a mother like mine. 

For so many years I tried to write the stories down, to get them out and share the dialogue with others. But it wasn’t until I began re-thinking this personal history of consumed stories of others that I began to wonder how stifled my ability to experience my own and to just listen to the experiences of others. 

I think we all suffer from this debilitating relatability clause in our existence. There's this constant need to be in the know. To have an untouchable identity, even if that is still under development– the development process is familiar to all, relatable still. Identities that are unable to be sullied by those not similarly pushed to lean into that identity the same way for the same reasons looking for the same experiences. 

And so, I guess this is an invitation to think about our personal and collective history of consuming the lives of others – in media, books, film, history… How often have we looked for markers as we consume, indicators that we are on the right track? Perhaps our indicators must change. The pre-approve themes. The meanings. The familiar dynamics. The arches. 

It is that old, teenage angsty question – how much of who you are is because you were told you were allowed to be just that? Extend it – who hasn’t had that luxury? And, more personally, what have you yourself missed because of that pre-approved list? 

I think we all suffer from this debilitating relatability clause in our existence. And there's this constant need to be in the know. To have an untouchable identity (even if that is still under development – the development process is familiar to all, relatable still). Identities that are unable to be sullied by those not similarly pushed to lean into that identity the same way for the same reasons looking for the same experiences. 

So let’s say students should read outside of their experience. I’ve made the argument that the books I read did not reflect anything but glimpses in my own life or most of the lives of the people I grew up with. The canon doesn’t (with their boarding schooled Holden, Melville’s ship crews, Twain’s South, Dickens's cities, etc). But getting to know those lives, those values, those solutions, those experiences – why them? If we look for themes or way to teach literary techniques, as well as these coming of age and other tropes – what could change and still manage to teach those same things? The majority of the canon is very white, very old, mostly dead, and very male. When there are diverse authors, their work often focuses on racism. How often is a coming-of-age story about a white person dealing with racism (meaning their own racism, not the victim of it)? I mean, isn’t that what we need more of? The trauma of our youths and parents and communities – don’t we need examples of what we could do better – not how we can find our place in that broken world? [Is this what magical realism and/or Afro-futurism is about?]  

When we teach economics, why not the economics of a small rural village? When we teach supply and demand, why not look at non-Western examples? When we teach religion, why not look at spirituality’s role in the creation of cultures – across the board, rather than the 3-5 “major” religions? What matters more is what the religions do for/to the people, not the particulars… so why focus on the what and not that “what of it”? This then places religion into a larger context of worldviews, psychological needs, economics… self. It takes some of whatever personal connections the student has to one religion and abstracts it in order to better understand religion as a force in the world. 

[to be continued… reworked, fixed, reorganized, rethought, and other assorted editing tasks]

Relationships & Self in the Curriculum

October 2020

This writing started as a result of a few things. One, I spent the last year almost exclusively reading contemporary YA fiction that challenges “heterosexual as the default.” Two, from the discussions of my former doctoral students, whose words and inquiries still linger and roam around in my mind. Three, from trainings and readings in the literature on inclusive educational spaces. Four, from being blessed to be sharing my library during this pandemic with multiple teachers across multiple disciplines. Throughout my day I hear snippets of lessons in almost every discipline- math, ELA, social studies, foreign language, computer science, and life skills. And five, personal experience. 

I’ll call this section, “What we talk about when we talk about relationships in the curriculum.” What would you hear if a teacher said, “You know, it’s like when you’ve got a girl out on a date and you have to pick up the bill”? What would you think when almost every example of people in power of history is a white, heterosexual person (usually male)? What would you think when, “Boys and girls take your seats” rolls off the tongues of every teacher you’ve ever had? What do you think when only in February brings around an extra article or poster on a non-white astronaut or inventor in your math and science classes? What do you do with anecdotes your white heterosexual teachers share about their lives with their classes over 13 years of formal education?

After an education like that- if you identify as a white heterosexual person— one would think this world was created for you. The examples, the nuance, the connection— it all feels comfortable, familiar. 

If you identify as a person that is not heterosexual and/or not white, the list of commonly heard phrases, anecdotes, and examples is a world your education is preparing you to enter. You’re not yet there. 

Now, if you’ve bought into the additional teachings about self-esteem and self-worth, you might fight against this notion. You’ll be your own person despite it all. In some cases, you’re just waiting it out. You’ve found a network of people online who speak your language. You found a book in the “diverse voices” section that spoke to you. You found something else to get you through. 

I am going to put those kids on hold for just a second longer. Because when we talk about the issue of inclusive education, we often focus on representation for the kids who fall into (some imagined) minority. We focus sensitivity training and diversity trainings on adding accents to what we already do in the classroom. I think of it like the old Overhead Projectors where the teacher would place a second clear plastic page with additional information over the main lesson. It is seen as extra. It is a sidestep thing to make space for. And I think that’s problematic. 

I want to stop for a minute and also give credit for getting my mind thinking about this idea to one of my current high school students. She described a research project she wants to do— she explained that disability is often seen as a set of additions. Additional services, altered spaces for accommodations, something different than the “norm.” But, she explained, 25% of the population is designated as having some sort of disability. That’s a lot. How then, she went on, can these be disability services... shouldn’t they be a part of the mainstream? The world should be accessible to all, in as many ways as we can think of. But it’s not. 

Back to those kids whose educational sphere has always represented a familiar nuance and comfortable setting... as they sit in class after class, year after year, they are given the impression (with documentation) that the world was built for them by people that looked like them, practiced their faith like them, sounded like them, interacted with family and friends similarly, ate similar meats and vegetables, entered into similar relationships and marriages... All of it fit on a sort of linear timeline of progress. They could see themselves on the timeline. Sure some “faltered” and found themselves in a “broken” marriage, affording only certain meats, going to church on Sundays, trying to “keep up with the Jones” and always falling short... but this type of “struggle” and “pain” too, was a possibility they were prepped for (via American History class and the Western canon). And that is expanse of it. 

Except it is not. What we fail to teach these kids is the immense expanse of experience as a part of the world they live in. We fail to infuse their thinking with expanding ideas. We limit them- and it reverberates in their personal and professional lives. 

Allow me to give an example. Mr. Smith introduces a lesson about the start of the  American Revolution by likening it to a bad break up over a text message. In his examples he tells an anecdotal story about a girlfriend he had in middle school for a week. He tells another story about a girlfriend who finds a note to another girl written by her boyfriend and dumps him in a passive aggressive manner. This cheeky, clever introduction to people of European decent living in the colonies breaking away from their colonial monarchy hooks the kids in. They are laughing and engaged. The connection is familiar— relationships and breakups and how terrible it can be. 

But in this example every connection is to an example that is heterosexual, white, and (mostly) male. [I am going to skip over the fact that those living in the colonies and the monarchs that put them there were both guilty of theft, murder, and worse to the indigenous people living on the continent... just for a second.] 

What if the example he gave was an anecdotal story about a person of African decent running away from a white man who said he was his property? Or a homosexual individual breaking away from the church whose pastor said they were less than human and abomination to god? Or a trans child whose parents won’t let them dress that way and so the child finds little ways to be themselves despite? Or an American of Middle Eastern descent who was terrorized in their neighborhood as a threat to others after 9/11, who needed to find a different way to be American for their own safety? Or the kid in the wheelchair who has to claim their space over and over in a world created for others? These are all stories that portray a person needing to break away and break up with a life someone else dictated for them. In each, they thirst for life and freedom. They are all easily understandable to us. They all exist in the real world as examples of lived experiences— quite frequently. But these aren’t our go-to examples of heartache or any other experience. These are our go-to examples for discrimination and determination. Determination against... essentially this world that we have created that can relate to a breakup via Post It or text message more than it can relate to pain that rocks one to their core and forces them to take drastic action. 

If instead Mr. Smith talks about a relationship between people (not a girl or a boy), talks about the pained response of the hurt party (rather than normalizing passive aggressive behavior), talks about all of the other things each person was going through (context) as well as the influence of those around them (deeper context)... we get the story of a lived, shared experience. We get the homelands of indigenous people, the labor of enslaved bodies, the multitude of options available to all sides, and the ultimate consequences of a set of intertwined choices. Because it isn’t about the Post It, is it? 

When we use “people” in our examples, we remove the normalizing of gendered thinking. We take away all of the cultural nuances that roam around a students mind when we give the example— we open it up to roam around in different ways, in different minds. When we constantly force kids to relate to something in a certain way, we force them into thinking they have to relate to everything. That they can indeed find connection in everything. That they deserve that connection. We thereby stifle real experience. We stifle the pathways of thinking that leads to true empathy and openness as well (and most importantly) a sense of self that isn’t based on some imagined mainstream worldview that they fit into but that they need to feel empathy and compassion for those that don’t (as if that’s the thing to achieve... that they ironically (and here’s the whole problem) achieved without effort). 

One more example. Young children are given different color and shape blocks to sort into a sphere that has specific holes for each shape that corresponds with the color. We ask them to sort things for “likeness.” We tell them to circle “the one that doesn’t belong.” We tell them, “It is ok to be different.” And then we are baffled when they sort the world this way well into adulthood. Us and them. Normal and different. Traditional and nontraditional. And this new (somehow politicized) concept of “diversity” that exists in the same place “urban” used to when people really meant non-white.

I think we would much better off sorting out the world like that series of stacking blocks of all different shapes and sizes. They can stack in different orders. They can lay flat next to each other. They can be made into the shape of a building or animal or just a nothing. They can remain in their bag. The only restrictions are gravity, the amount of blocks, and the ability to manipulate the pieces... and to afford the blocks... [an example of why overarching examples don’t work] and importantly to be taught in such a way that what one does with the bag of blocks is personal and valid and worthy of an educational moment to expand the way in which we organize our shared and individual world experiences. It confirms as much as it questions. It leaves open the chance to knock it all down and start again.

Where I Am Coming From: A Reflection that is Always in Draft Form

July 2020 [shared for book group focused on equity]

When we talk about race and racism, I think it is important to think about what experiences (and lack thereof) have shaped us. And so… here are some of mine that I have been thinking about in my own history. My hope is that we can start a dialogue that is as genuine as it is brave and as timely as it is urgent. 


The first black teacher I ever remember having was when I was 15 years old. He was my painting and drawing teacher at the New York State Summer School for the Arts Visual Arts program in the mid-90s. Randy Williams is his name. The next time I would have a black educator at the front of a classroom would be in my first year of college for a Contemporary World Literature course. And then not again for another decade. Those three people make up the whole of my formal education that was not relayed by someone with a white face, white experiences, and white privilege. I never had a black coach. I never had a black religious leader. I never had a black camp counselor. My parents did not have black friends. 

I can count on one hand the names of black students across 13 years of public schooling that were in my educational experience as peers in my classes. Shamika, Maggie, Eliot, Josh. After middle school, my classes became almost entirely white faces, even in a class of over 600 kids. The next time I would have a non-white peer in my everyday life would be my third year of college – on the Women’s Volleyball team I played on. What I knew of them was a shallow list of facts. Shamika was a Girl Scout in my troop. Her mother had this deep belly infectious laugh. Maggie was super-fast and always beat me to the front of the line at recess. Eliot had a high top haircut and was always in trouble with Mr. Sweeney. Josh’s mom was white and he was a theater kid. Only Maggie and Eliot were ever in school together. Besides Josh, they all left the district after just a few years. Nicole, the volleyball player, was a twin. 

Eight. 8. Eight people. That was my scope of influence from non-white faces in my educational sphere for 22 years.

Randy Williams changed how I thought about myself as an artist and how I painted. My Contemporary World Lit professor’s feedback on my work pushed me to become an English major. I had one month in Randy’s classes. I had 4 months in the Contemporary World Lit class. Less than a year of black experiences teaching me. 

Five. 5. Five months. Over 22 years. 

This lack of black faces in our educational spheres is something that many white people have in common with black people. 

The first time I ever worked with a black person was when I was 30. She worked part-time and was within the year the person recruited to teach the “Multicultural Issues” class. The first time I ever worked with black students, I was 24. The faculty in the program I worked in were all white. It was 6 years before the program had that black professor and she was chosen to teach the class because the students had asked over and over for more diversity in the program’s faculty. She left the program after a few short years. 

When I was 26, I fell head over heels in love with a black man. T was tall and dorky and we had a lot of the same experiences growing up on Long Island. We both played the flute. We both came from big families that valued education. We both mumbled. We were both on the other side of first marriages. We both had one small child from those marriages. We both could talk for hours about random topics. 

Over the last 11 and a half years, I have come to see that while the container of our experiences growing up – that 80s and 90s, middle/working-class Suffolk County neighborhoods, youth sports, and a standard mixture of parental marital issues –  many of the undercurrents of that childhood and adolescences were different. I was called names like “dyke” and made fun of for my height and size since elementary school through high school. My experience felt like that of a constant outsider – too tall, too weird, too soft spoken, too not like most, too athletic for an artsy kid and too artsy for an athletic kid, too much dark clothing. My parents split up and got back together multiple times (at a time when divorce was not common). Difference was to be avoided. Indeed, at the beginning of my high school years, I had a romantic relationship with a female friend for over a year that I hid to escape more of the name calling of “dyke” and “lesbo” and every other 90s iteration. I had two more relationships in high school that I also hid from most people – because they were skinny guys with whom my world had told me I was too big to be with. And while I tried to not be “too” much of what I was so often growing up, being “too white” was not on my list of things I worried about. 

None of that “just being me” ever put me in danger the way his just being black did. Does. 

My paragraph about all the reasons I felt like an outsider and different and somehow offensive to others so much so that I hid myself in different ways – is not long. But it couldn’t be summarized in just one or two words. His can: black.  

[As I wrote those last two paragraphs, I thought about whether I was speaking for him in a way that was not accurate. So I just asked him about the ways in which he felt different growing up. To this, he said, “About being black?... I felt like an outsider in terms of class – I hung out with rich kids.” He added that it was worse when he found out his father did have money, that he just did not share with his three sons. And later, as a young adult, when T and his first wife moved to a town in Arizona, he immediately felt like an outsider – a black man married to a white woman in a very white, very poor, very religious, very blatantly racist town.] 

[So, I re-write] His can: black and poor. 

Family lore tells of my mother attending school board meetings that ended with, “Is there anything else, Mrs. Gustafson?” Of her having the superintendent on speed dial. When a teacher tried to send my brother Tim to after school detention for being late to class, there was never a question in his mind that when he instead walked into the superintendent’s office after school to have that detention removed it would be done. When my other brother Erick got into a fight in middle school, the principal called my mother and apologized for having to send him home. I grew up in a household of implicit white privilege with a very explicit and often utilized white mother who scared people in charge. 

While my household growing up was one we considered open and liberal and not-racist – at the age of 12 my grandmother told me I could bring home anyone (as a romantic interest), just “not a black person.” That my “politely racist” Republican grandmother later voted for Barack Obama continues to be a big deal when my family members talk about her. She “loved Oprah” is often added. My other grandmother once went on a full rant about Arabs “trying to take over our country” while she was sitting next to my first husband (a Muslim Arab) and she was holding out a juice box for our Arab-American son. I pointed this personal connection that she herself had with Arabs. She had no idea what I was talking about. 

My doctoral students taught me about the concept of the “good white person.” It was about all the ways we, as white people, constantly search to demonstrate we are “good white people” who “aren’t like those bad white people.” They point to black friends and ways in which we have been “helpers” to others. Some mention being “blind to skin color.” I thought, when I first heard about this concept of “the good white person” that I knew what it meant. I thought I recognized that reaction in my family members and friends. I did want to be the “good white person,” but I also wanted to be called out when I wasn’t, when I missed a point, and when I let slide an opportunity to correct myself or others. 

I have admitted struggling with ways in which to talk about my young sons’ experiences without being a white woman appropriating their experiences… and then being immediately concerned that even talking about that was indeed appropriating it. I think I do assume a lot about their experiences- in the same way many mothers do about their sons… but then also in ways I cannot quite ever grasp about their experiences (past and future) as an Arab-American male and as an African-American male.

T and I once went to a party at the house of a rich white family I had worked for a decade earlier. He was the only black person there. As we walked up to the gigantic, glowing white house, I clutched his arm and joked that I just realized I was taking him into a scene from the movie “Get Out.” I then proceeded to spend the night trying to divert conversations other guests tried to have with us about having likely played basketball (because he is so tall). When I retold this story, it came off as me sort of “saving” him all night from the villainous white people. I did not realize this until he jokingly said to me, “Ok white lady…” To be sure, I would have tried to divert the conversation away from sports if I had been there with my tall white high school boyfriend (who also never played basketball). But I wouldn’t have thought so highly of myself for doing it. I wouldn’t have told other people about it. Sure there was the moment this experience lived in– the movie had just come out, it was indeed a mansion full of rich white people, he was black and I was white, and the program I worked for was in the midst of constant dialogue about race. While there was an experience there that we, as a couple, were having – it wasn’t what I focused on that night or in the weeks that followed. I was, I think, aggressively trying to be (and displaying being) the “good white person.” The person who understand what was going on. And for my black students at the time, it was a, “See? You can talk to me. I get it…” story. 

The facts are that I am the mother of two sons whose backgrounds are both enormously similar and incredibly different than my own. On paper, their own backgrounds are different from one another. Both of my sons had the same black 1st grade teacher. For the first six years of their formal education we lived in a rich district (Roslyn) with a total of 8 black kids in the entire district. Then, for two years we moved to a district that was more diverse on paper, but not in terms of social interactions. Neither son has had another black teacher since the 1st grade. 

I have moved us back to the town I grew up in and yet their own experiences here are and will be quite different from my own. The district is more diverse in student body than it was, though the makeup of the faculty across the district remains mostly the same. When I grew up here the newly immigrated kids were shoved into Resource Room and Special Education classes. Their peers called them “spics” and the groups never interacted with one another. That the two black kids in middle school were also theater kids resulted in the phrase, “Not that black” from our peers and parents. I do not yet know what my sons’ experiences will be here. My younger son "looks white," particular when he is standing next to me - but less so when he is standing next to his father. My older son looks white. He told me a few years ago that his friends did not believe he was what he calls "half African" (because they thought all Africans were black-skinned) until he showed them his passport and a map of Africa, pointing to Tunisia (the place he visits every summer to see family). He doesn't do it so often now, but when he was younger he would speak back to his father in English, even though he is fluent in Arabic. It was a little thing - but ultimately he was changing who he was in public to flatten himself for the sake of others. 

I do not know in what ways I will need to do more as a parent in the district to shape that experience beyond its current imagined limitations. 

This short essay about my experiences does not capture a lot of other pieces of my history. (A history that, to be sure, would be very different if I had married white men). It doesn’t talk about the years my second husband and I struggled together as a couple. It doesn’t dive into standing on line for hours in the cold for “Special Registration” with the INS with my first husband after his country had been deemed a danger. About the experience of being the only blonde person in an Arab country for a summer. It doesn’t talk about my many conversations with doctoral students, staff, peers, and others about the topics of diversity and race and racism and change. It doesn’t look at the college courses I took that taught me a deeper history. It doesn’t mention that time (on a job interview fresh out of college) that I equated the special needs kids with black kids (as if the terms were synonymous) when talking about a school my mother worked at when I was growing up. It doesn’t mention the college professor who wrote a letter “Racism Works Very Well That’s Why it IS a Problem” in response to a “Racism Doesn’t Work Tunnel” on-campus. It doesn’t talk about teaching the essay “Just Walk on By” to two classes of freshman at local colleges – one almost all black and one almost all white. It doesn’t mention the conversations I have had with my mother-in-law about being terrified as mothers of black sons. It doesn’t discuss that time Nazis showed up in North Carolina and I watched my son’s father cry at the sight. It doesn’t mention breaking up with a guy because of the racist remarks he made, but not calling him out on it. It doesn’t talk about the image I have of my own white grandmother (who admitted she crossed the street when she saw a black person coming, but not a group of white men) and my black mother-in-law having tea and laughing together. It doesn’t mention the completely unprompted conversation our couple friends had with us about taking down the Confederate flag from their garage bar because they learned from others that it was offensive and they themselves had never heard that before. It doesn’t mention the times I mixed up the names of black students I knew for years or the times I called out coworkers for messing up black students’ names. It doesn’t mention the time I strongly encouraged a student not to work with one professor because all he was ever going to see was that she was black (and not that she was brilliant). It doesn’t talk about the number of times T and I have had to explain to cashiers or hostesses that we are together. Or the number of times we had to elaborate on that in the moment when the person tried to cover up their first assumption. It doesn’t discuss how I would go alone to look at apartments before bringing him to see one. It doesn’t mention the sort of common aggressive “love everyone” stance my family takes. It doesn’t mention the “black jokes” my eldest brother tells with an uncomfortable yet familiar ease. It doesn’t talk about having to correct (multiple times) the demographic questionnaire for my son because the school staff had only ever met me and thought I filled it out incorrectly. It doesn’t mention the bit too excited preschool teacher holding up my younger son’s self-portrait and exclaiming to the whole room that he used multiple colors for his skin tone. Or the time T walked in to pick up our son from preschool and she shouted at him, “Tell daddy what new n-word we learned today!” It doesn’t talk about watching a movie with my younger son and having him snuggle up a bit closer to me when the reality of racism came to both slow and fast moving violence. 

The list goes on and on… and will continue to accumulate. And that’s why we need to do more. The list of things that racism brings needs to stop accumulating – from the violent to the non-violent. And we do that by actively dismantling the list, considering its many pieces, and thinking of ways we can actively do better and hold others in our sphere accountable for doing better. 

And it is from this, and many more experiences and non-experiences, that I come to this moment. As we go on in this endeavor, I hope we can continue to look into, consider, and truly unpack our experiences – whether they be shared, divergent, or otherwise. 

To be sure, it is on us to teach ourselves. It is on us not only to see others’ experiences around us, but to ultimately make changes that forever alter the landscape of available experiences all around. It is on us to be different in a whole new way… that we aren’t too afraid to show. 

Tyranny of Constant Experience

August 31, 2019

I want my boys to know... that they will mess up. They will be an idiot. They will be a jerk one night. They will say the wrong thing. 

I want them to know how to not just apologize. How to reflect. How to readjust not only their actions, but the actual thought processes that led up to it. 

But I want them to know the experience of the tyranny of constant experience. To be able to acknowledge it. 

Be It

August 24, 2019

In fifth grade, there were about 60 kids in my grade. Of them, 4 did puzzles every Tuesday at 2:00pm. Joe, Mike, Justin. And me. Tuesdays at 2:00pm every other kid in the fifth grade went to chorus. That’s how poorly I sing. I am completely tone deaf. 

But that same music teacher had six rows of xylophones in her classroom once a week. I was paired with Carmen most weeks. We shared an instrument. The big wooden xylophones in the back row. Carmen had some sort of learning disability- I do not remember what and there likely wasn’t a term for it then. Carmen could never get the notes right. And then one day I stood behind her and tapped out the notes on her back as the rest of the class went along. And she got it. She got it for the rest of the year. For me, I could not tell the difference between all the musical notes and tones— but the mechanics of it always made sense to me. But I could translate my own understanding to her understanding of the physical space in a way the notes alone could not. 

There has never been another life lesson that has taught me something more useful about interacting with others than that experience. 

If the educational space is not giving access to multiple kids... it isn’t working. If you have an opportunity to be the conduit between that kid and the world or even just to the moment. Be it. 

Midnight Musings

August 24, 2019: The memory of intimacy.

May 10, 2019: Don't you worry about gravity?

June 3, 2018: Who are we while sleeping

June 3, 2018: What were the scary things...

Do Animals Make Mistakes?


I was two blocks from the train station, headed west with my children in the car when the question popped into my head.  “Do animals make mistakes?”  Likely not, I thought in response.  “But if they do, what sort of mistakes could they make?”

Worms for example.  They drown all the time.  Squirrels must fall every once in a while when climbing across a telephone wire.  They must slip and fall to their death every once in a while.  Birds fly full speed into glass windows reflecting the sky.  Horseshoe crabs wash up on beaches night after night.  Baby turtles get swallowed up shortly after hatching, their parents having laid them just far enough from the water to make it a struggle to move on.  Fish swim too close to something larger and get eaten.  Ducks keep getting shot.  And crabs fall for it every time a wire box is thrown anywhere near the places they call home.  

But are these mistakes?  

Is the squirrel chasing the other around and around the tree in a huge flurry of noise because they both did the right thing?  Is dying before “their time” something that happens to animals naturally?  Without human interference?  

Mistake is defined as an ‘action or judgment that is misguided or wrong’.  As a verb, it is ‘to be wrong about something’.  

Perhaps then something less closer to death.  Does the squirrel misplace his buried nuts?  Does a swan forget to bring food home for its babies?  Does the mother bird swallow a worm on its way back to the nest leaving one baby bird without?  Does the bug fly straight through the spider web because the spider forgot to finish the last corner?  

For people mistakes are, in a sense, a personal decision.  The terms ‘misguided’ and ‘wrong’ are laden with meanings other with much larger implications than misplaced nuts, caring for others, or a hole in one’s dinner plate.  People drown all the time.  People fall from various heights.  People crash into things they see and do not seeing coming.  People wash up on shores.  People leave their children in danger early in their lives.  People get close to animals and machines that kill them all the time.  People get shot.  People fall for various forms of “it” time and time again.  

And is the action misguided or wrong?  

When animals “make” these mistakes, they are being animals.  Acting as nature will.  When humans make these “mistakes”, they are said to be making misguided choices, judging incorrectly, or being wrong about something they thought true.  As if there was an alternative to the story therein. 

Subject: WWJD, Toothpaste, Global Issues & You: Highlights from the SoE, Spring 2010

[Part of a series of reflections on a very frustrating multicultural education graduate course]

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Final Class Meeting of "Teaching Diverse Student Populations." 

This recollection is set to the first 7 seconds of the song "Mr. Wendal" by Arrested Development, repeating over and over again.  Available for listening  (google it). 

Ethnic food table.  Mmm, arguably.  My ethnic food was coffee cake.  I had prepared my relevant ethnic story... the one about my brothers and me associating death with coffee cake because it is the only thing and only time our mother ever baked when we were young, but alas, the food was just food with title cards next to each dish.  No narrative needed.

Hmrf.  Luckily, I had purchased the coffee cake on the way to class after quickly deciding that it was part of my ethnicity... that over the other choices.  The professor had knocked down the recipe for beer I posted, saying that she would need to apply for a permit to have alcohol served in class.  Damn the man, I might have said... but by this point I am tired.  

While we all ate each others' ethnicity, we listened to the panel of Jehovah Witnesses that the profess had assembled for us.  One mother and her 12 year old daughter and another mother and her two daughters and one son.  And they came with materials to hand out!  First they did a role play for us with the mother (acting as a teacher might) and the child explaining why she could not salute the flag or write 'god bless america' on her homework assignment like the other fictional classmates.

Ok fine, good point.  

And then the Q&A.  Whew.  I think I will claim bias for the group... That said, I will refrain from relaying the details of the "We're not trying to convert you" (we just think you're all going to hell and want to take our children with you) portion of the evening.

 And where did the professor take the class after that portion you ask?

...... no where!  Class ended.  People packed up the leftover food.  And left.  

 But what had we been promised to walk away from the course with?  What was the supposed point?  The original objective?  What was the "so what?"  

From the syllabus: 


"Course description: 

The principles and practices of multicultural education are studied in this course, which provides a practical approach to implementation of a culturally diverse curriculum. Major issues covered include: human rights, involvement of parents and the community, criteria for multicultural curricula, assessment and evaluation strategies, global issues in education, and formulating an agenda for educational and social action.

Goals for our multicultural classroom:

The following goals, taken from Noel (2000), will guide both the work of this course and the evaluation of the class participants. Individual students should regularly reflect upon these goals and evaluate their own progress towards achieving them. Students should also reflect upon ways to incorporate these goals into the daily planning and practice of their teaching. 

You, your fellow students, and I will...

1)demonstrate an awareness of and sensitivity to each others' cultural backgrounds.

2)work together to gain an understanding of different perspectives on life in the United States.

3)work together to develop an understanding of the cultures of specific groups.

4)work actively to reduce stereotyping, prejudice, and racism within ourselves and within society.

5)help each other to develop subject-specific skills needed to take action on social problems.

6)guide each other to recognize and understand how our respective subject areas relate to current global issues."


So, how did we do...?   Well, "we" made about 45K.  Everything else?

Human rights                                      0

Parents Involvement                           0

Community                                         0

Criteria for Multicultural Ed.              0 (or at best badly relayed)

Global Issues in Ed.                            0

Agenda Formulating                           0

Social Action                                      0 ('write your senator' just doesn't do it for me)

"Sensitivity!"                                       100 

Social Problems                                   0

Current Global Issues                         0

Does it occur to anyone that when someone uses the word "sensitivity" in other contexts it usually is associated with a painful, retracting, or eye winching reaction to something?  Like toothpaste "for sensitive teeth"... or "sensitivity to light."  

On my course evaluation I recommended a cross-discipline syllabus review for suggestions on alternative, non-archaic methods of teaching such a class.  

Despite not having learned a single thing... my grade for the semester is an "A."  A for Acceptance.... not going to happen.  Depression will continue into the next education course, surely enough.  

 Until then... enjoy your neighborhood ethnic food.  

Subject: 8 out of 30: Highlights from the SoE, Spring 2010

[Part of a series of reflections on a very frustrating multicultural education graduate course]

Sent: Tuesday, April 27, 2010

My notes, exactly as they are in my notebook, from this evening's class... sorry, from this evening's class on teaching students in grades K-12:

4/27  LGBTQ

"This **allowed** individuals to develop a feeling of homophobia..."

[my emphasis added]

"8 out of 30 will be directly affected by homosexuality"

Homosexuals have less sex because of the stress from society.

--Student:"... "the down low" in my personal experience..." 

--Professor: "Well, not necessarily YOUR personal experience..."

NYC campaign - not women's fault, but macho men hiding out and "bringing homosexual sex back to their heterosexual relationships." 


____ Next presentation_____

 Judaism - Abraham... photos... history...  [I wish Ted was here...] {insert cartoon from youtube of baby Moses being put in a basket and sent down river} -{how to make} Kosher marshmallows -sex through sheets -Lucy and Desi "Important to have celebrations... especially through a divorce."

Jewish was Jesus (switch that

"There is a reason for Jewish hospitals...

"Well-publicized gas camp"

..... So.  Yes, there was talk about creating safe environments for students in classroom.  Creating a space of mutual respect.  "Calling kids out on their crap."  Dealing with parents.  

 As I drove home after class, I had the urge to listen to "It Ain't Me Babe" over and over again.  I am at a loss for anything else to say...

Must go post my "ethnic recipe" for next week now and then do a self-evaluation on my growth "as a result of this course."  Meatball Week Part II, here we come... Jehovah Meatball Week, that is. 

Subject: Rely On This Image: Highlights from the SoE, Spring 2010

[Part of a series of reflections on a very frustrating multicultural education graduate course]

Wednesday, April 21, 2010 

Tuesdays are often times like Christmas.  The past two; however, were not.  

Now, I say "Christmas" because I celebrate Christmas in the sense that my family has always been huge fans of gifts.  Lots of gifts.  Also, I happen to like Christmas decorations and all of the St. Nick stories.  And that sappy "Christmas Shoes" song puts me in tears everytime.  SO, I did not say "Tuesdays are often times like Hanukah" because frankly, I don't even know what that means.  And Hanakah necessarily has to fall on at least one, if not two Tuesdays every year... so the joke is kind of lost.  Same thing for Ramadan... and at least 4 of those Tuesdays particularly suck because of the no eating all day thing.  SO, in conclusion, I said "Tuesdays are often times like Christmas" not because of my audience, or my (parent's attempted) religious background, or anything to do with pasty white baby Jesuses anywhere.  

Whew... sensitivity intact.  Group hug, group hug (unless you've got contact issues, then we're good with an air high-five).  

I missed one class due to a terrible stomach flu.  I missed half of Muslim day, but luckily the professor finished up her Muslim students presentation last night.  And what, you may ask, did this crescendo include?  Dressing four students up in the various types of clothing Arabs often wear and a list of what Muslims can and cannot do.  The educationally relevant discussion about Muslim students was nowhere to be found.  As an alternative, the class discussed how hot the outfits could be and the limitations to "feeling sexy" in such garb.  And I'm just going to go ahead and assume that last week's discussion didn't fill in any gaps or even create the awareness thereof. 

The evening also included the sole black guy in the class giving a very slow presentation on how to teach about white privilege.  I was impressed by his ability to navigate the Mac computer and jump from program to program.  But PC-privilege wasn't the topic.  I'm not sure white privilege was either... That textbooks suck and the canon is a bit dull may have been.  

I decided about half way into the presentation that I was setting my hopes too high.  As such, depression stuck at about 7:45pm.  With two more classes left, the final stage of grief, acceptance, may be a long shot... We took the kids to the zoo last weekend and the aquarium this past weekend.  Perhaps my mind is set to visuals of cages, but something about this class is beginning (beginning?) to look like a slow-moving freak show display or attempt thereof.  Despite its best efforts to be something else... 

"Cultural generalizations that you can RELY on." 

"... I can't learn anything from you, [that] I can't read in some friggin' book."

Next week classmates are giving a presentation on gay and lesbian students.  And then a small set of Jehovah Witnesses will be visiting the class.  

$3600-worth more to go...

Subject: Fluffy Feelings (or, Leave the History to the Historians): Highlights from the SoE, Spring 2010

[Part of a series of reflections on a very frustrating multicultural education graduate course]

Friday, March 26, 2010 

Did I really skip two weeks of commentary?  Tisk, tisk.  

Tuesday, March 23rd:

Mail Call!  Oh the awkwardness continues!  We were made to sit in our biography groups, read one another's thank-you notes, and then talk about each other.  Maybe it is an occupational hazard- but this kind of group cathartic experience just doesn't do it for me or the amount of money that the gas in the car to get up to class costs me.  Not that I don't appreciate the stories of others, but this degree program is in teaching adolescents... Reading autobiographies of adolescents might have been a bit more appropriate.  Because at the moment, the class has only walked away with fluffy feelings about how diverse and similar people's lives can be.  Fluffy feelings at the cost of $200 each for the class session.

Next presentation: Teaching Asian American Students.  Highlights: stress comes in many forms from many locations, be on suicide watch and don't give out B's without thinking twice.  Presentation to be concluded after spring break... 

Speaking of depression... there are four more classes this semester. 

Subject: Presentation Night.

[Part of a series of reflections on a very frustrating multicultural education graduate course]

Tuesday, March 16th:

But first, we handed in our thank-you notes for the cultural autobiographies that we read from our group members.  400-word thank you notes.  I was also working on making a list of my biases for a homework assignment, so as I wrote the thank you notes (or more accurately as I pretended I worked for Hallmark's long-winded division), I examined why the assignment was so nauseating to me.  The autobiographies had no names on them, but we were encouraged to guess.  Now, admittedly I often read the personal statements from our applicants.  Not read, glance would be more appropriate.  Perhaps I am jaded from that, since it seems so many have absurdly horrible life experiences which have brought them to want to be in our program.  And since she asked us at the beginning of the semester to examine why we were doing things throughout the semester- I had to ask myself: What did I learn from the assignment?  (I am taking suggestions still...)

But, let us digress... In 2010, the availability of others' autobiographies is something those of us in our twenties (and below) have grown up with.  Again, there is nothing this course is attempting to teach that we have not already picked up from MTV's Real World Series (now in its 20th year, I believe), True Life, and all of the rest.  The only relevant information to date has been the students' presentations last week in regards to legal issues concerning ELL and students with disabilities.  

I spent the morning online chatting with the professor about the final touches to my presentation.  I argued that including statistics about past education performances wasn't educating the class with useful information as to methods of teaching or background knowledge, but instead reinforced the idea of a small enclave of "exceptional" African Americans how beat the statistics and break out of their alleged demographic.  After all, this wasn't a history course, this was a "how to" teach course... A "what now"... A students as individuals... A be smarter... A reflect before reacting course... Well, maybe I'm in the wrong school... um, oh, I meant wrong class.  She said I had to include it and that I was free to elaborate on anything throughout.  

So my presentation went... lots of conversation from questions I asked.  I made the class take a "what LI school districts wouldn't you send your children to" and why list?  And then at the end I explained how absurd the topic (How to Teach African American Students) as a topic was to me, pointing to a photo of Q and my brothers' twins in matching pajamas.  I said, this topic kind of implies in name that one might teach my son different than my niece and nephew simply because he is African American.  And asked the class what they thought.  A few also noted the awkwardness of it and their assigned topics (i.e., ELLs, Hispanics, etc).  Then the professor went in to her own defense of the numerous ways that one could arrange a course like this and that she choose this way so as "not to leave anyone out."

Then we watched a student-made video on Hate Crimes in Nassau County Schools.

Subject: Well Deserved

[Part of a series of reflections on a very frustrating multicultural education graduate course]

Tuesday, March 9th:

Well-deserved props to those who presented on Teaching ELL students and on Teaching Disabled Students.  Appropriate use of information, good sources, good hand-outs, great information on legal aspects and IEPs, and the one guy spoke with an accent- so my day was made.

We did not do the sharing of our autobiographies with one another like I thought we would.  Instead, the professor said she would email us 4-6 of our classmates' papers (without names) and we would read them and then write hand-written thank-you notes.  Now the assignment itself skirted some lines of privacy issues, but emailing such papers to other students?   In the back of my mind I pictured making my millions from a novel about coincidental consequences of personal information revealed the classmates (or future colleagues/competition) under the guise of educational benefits in college being used for professional gain and/or blackmail later on in one's career.  

The other thing that popped into my head immediately was the plot line of a novel by Krauss where the man's memory is replaced by another's memory of an atomic bomb test... Feel free to guess why that might be appealing at this point in the semester.  ...Okay, any point in the semester.  

Subject: Everyone's Got an Authentic Jesus: Highlights from the SoE, Spring 2010

[Part of a series of reflections on a very frustrating multicultural education graduate course]

Saturday, March 06, 2010 5:49 PM


A quiz for you:

The following items represent what: Black Santas, skin whitener, allegedly clear band-aids, black toothpaste, black soap, black band-aids, canned goods, shampoo, multicultural crayons, pantyhose, a black baby Jesus manger scene, mammy trinkets and pot holder

    a) a trip to the dollar store

    b) appropriate items to bring in to a graduate class

    c) a waste of an hour

    d) a poorly laid out plan for "exposure"

    e) a message about the lack of marketing research

    f) "a set of cultural generalizations you can rely on"

The frustrating part however came with the idea that what "we" were trying to accomplish was to learn more about others in order to have that knowledge available to us in case we ever have "one of those students."  She was quick to point out that the difference between a generalization and a stereotype, but I'm pretty sure that The Real World has done that for all of us in a far more entertaining fashion since the 90s.  

At first I was going to use my fall-back reasoning, that the issue was a generational thing.  The professor was from an older generation and this kind of thing wouldn't happen with someone younger.  Then she mentioned that she just turned 40.  Not enough of a difference... So I decided to continue bargaining (stage three) for explanations.  

I will say that for a total of fifteen minutes, spread out throughout the two-hour class, there were relevant remarks made about teaching.  But these were even more depressing when they did not last more than 3 minutes at a time.  $200 for 15 minutes.  (Ka-ching minus endowment possibilities = ?... oh right, wasted money on marketing to graduates of programs)

To top the week off, I had to meet with my "academic advisor."  Now, I can procrastinate at work like the best of them (hence the amount of spreadsheets associated with program files these days).  However, this woman sounded like she was selling my an insurance policy.  So robotic.  So likely not to have a background in anything that might qualify her to advise would-be teachers on anything.  And when did we become like Fort Knox?  She says she emailed my student email account back in October and never heard back from me and that she could not legally use another email address to get in touch with me.  Really?  One try?  After I had corresponded multiple times from my work email account at the same college that same month?!  Perhaps no one sent her the memo that the university isn't doing so well financially and might want to up its customer service proficiency.  Regardless, I signed here, here, and here... and was then told I needed to set up a meeting with my "faculty academic advisor" to have him go over the program I am in with me.  To which I replied, "I am one class away from being done... I still need to meet with someone to tell me about what I already took?"  "Yes, it is mandatory."  She then sent me over to the student teaching office to get more forms to do other things with and they sent me to the website to get more forms online.  I am going to go out on a limb and just guess that our competitors have their shit together and all in one place.  

Sadly I was wrong about the cultural autobiography discussions.  They'll happen this coming week.  My draft of my presentation on how to teach African American students is officially late.  I'm at a loss and lack the video editing software to cut episodes of Dangerous Minds down into a 25-minute presentation.  


Subject: Dry-e-race Boards: Highlights from the SoE, Spring 2010

[Part of a series of reflections on a very frustrating multicultural education graduate course]

Fri 12-Feb-10


It's Census 2010 Propaganda Week!  You didn't get the memo?  Not a very exciting week. but, they can't all be so much fun, can they?

Before I explain the two-hour fun, allow me to once again highlight that these classes cost about $200 per class session.    

The "Do Now": what does "balancing the voices" mean?  How would you "balance the voices" in your classroom?

What she meant by this was what were each of us going to do in that class to balance the voices.  So, she went around the room and asked each student what their plans were.  While this fits into the idea of having students from all backgrounds be able to offer their thoughts in different manners that fit their particular personhood. This, I think, was meant to be directed towards "Ted."  I suggest this only because the look of disappointment in the professor's eyes when "Ted" answered, "I think I could participate more, you know be more involved in discussions" was priceless.  She proceeded to try and finish his sentence with what she had wanted him to say. About staying on-point, allowing others to speak, not taking up time, etc.  The whole class kind of sighed to watch the escapade.   

Group Work and more newsprint.  Write your definitions together as a group for your word or phrase.  We got as far as "Race", the first definition.  That newsprint had more mixed signals than. someone with a lot of mixed signals.  Cause for certain outward appearances, check.  Socially constructed, check.  Asian, African American, white, Hispanic, check.  DNA and percentages.  And then came the dry-erase board and the census.  Hispanic on one side, African Americans, Asians, Native Americans, and White/European Americans on the other.  Okay, fine- this is straight out of the census form.  The word arbitrary was used.  Maybe "old categories".  Maybe "justification for imperialism."  That was her point. And then alphabetizing the arbitrary distinctions became important. and then we. are...  And worse, we are still forced to check a box and do so for our students in the future.  The resident Snooki pointed out at this point that whites were the majority, so they should go at the top.  Okay. so. um. going on to the next thing.  

Q&A about group presentations.  We were informed that we are supposed to interview a member of our "group."  It is further suggested that we should "do something nice for the person... like take them out to dinner, buy them a Starbucks card. you know, something that says thank-you for your time, I appreciate it."  Now, I had already planned to interview T as my I-represent-the-whole-group-black-man, so when she suggested this I turned completely red.  .Perhaps it's the post-pregnancy hormones.  However, my redness was immediately concealed by the question from Snooki, "What are we supposed to do, go up to someone and say, 'Are you poor?  Can I interview you?'."  

Now, let's review the first few classes.. What have we learned?  If one of your students isn't looking you in the eye when you reprimand him, perhaps he's not being rude and obnoxious, perhaps he's just Hispanic and taught not to look up when yelled at.  So says a study done in Deer Park.   


A quote that comes to mind:

"You think I know the first thing about how hard your life has been, how you feel, who you are, because I read Oliver Twist? Does that encapsulate you? Personally... I don't give a shit about all that, because you know what, I can't learn anything from you, I can't read in some fuckin' book. Unless you want to talk about you, who you are. Then I'm fascinated. I'm in. But you don't want to do that do you sport? You're terrified of what you might say. Your move, chief."

"...A dollar fifty in late fees at your local library."

Subject: Metal Detectors for All: Highlights from the SoE, Spring 2010

[Part of a series of reflections on a very frustrating multicultural education graduate course]

Tuesday, February 09, 2010 

 (Set to the tune of the remake of Supertramp's "Breakfast in America")

We'll call this week: "Metal Detectors are for Rich Kids Too, You Know!"

I'm going to say, just as a general rule, that any college course where large pieces of newsprint are taped to the wall and in which students are asked to create lists isn't going to be life-changing.  Granted, I've never been thrilled about even art classes where newsprint is a key component, so I am biased.  But hey, who doesn't have a paper thickness preference?

But back to the life-changing events- let's examine what happened here:

Professor tapes four large pieces of newsprint to the walls at the front of the room.  She titles the four 

·         social and racial groups most likely to be represented at a well-resourced school 

·         social and racial groups most likely to be represented at a poorly funded school

·         what a well-resourced school looks like

·         what an under-resourced school looks like

Guess what went where: Hispanic, African American, white, rich, upper-class, poverty, metal detectors, clean, small classrooms, lots of materials, computers, makeshift classrooms, Asian

The only comment made in reference to these lists, "but metal detectors are at well-funded schools too."  The one woman who wrote "clean" under well-resourced was compelled to explain her answer in terms of "how much soap" was available on any given day in the bathrooms "and stuff like that."  

At that point in the class session, we moved on to something else… and I began to wonder about which of the five stages of grief I was up to: Denial and Isolation or Anger or Bargaining or Depression or Acceptance.  I think I am still up to denial.  The professor must be setting us all up for a huge eye-opening moment.  If not, why else would she not have fleshed that activity out a bit more for the collection of middle-class, 20-something Long Islanders?  She couldn't possibly be thinking that the students would, without being prompted, consider the term "tax-base"  when they saw the word "funded" and/or not leave the activity as a confirmation of visual images they already acknowledged as static because after all, this is the twenty-first century, "and I have friends at work who are [insert group name]."  After all, we did establish during meatball week that most of the class still lives with their parents.  (I'm not judging, I'm just saying.)  She must be going for a big finish... which will hopefully come before we must all begin to endure classmates' 25-minute presentations.  

At the end of class - final assignment of presentation topics.  Let's see if you can guess which group I got!  Here are some possible activities which I have thought would be appropriate or which have been suggested to me by friends:

·         I wear baggy pants and my hat on backwards for the whole presentation

·         Showing of the film Dangerous Minds

·         Showing of the film High School High

·         Showing clips from the HBO series "The Wire"

·         Showing of the film, "To Sir With Love" (.?)  

·         Bring B and M in and teach them something, using two different techniques

Perhaps though any of these would be assuming too much about the ability to see the blatant cynicism (like the newsprint activity, but more with a better soundtrack).  And, if one is going to be cynical of a required course component that makes students present on "groups" in order to promote "tolerance" and "understanding" of "others", one should do so before the onset of the "anger" stage which is likely to occur as one endures such presentations.  

Oh, and you guessed it!  I have been assigned to give a presentation on how to teach African American students.  What will these be graded on you ask?

Content - appropriate depth and breadth, accuracy of information presented, current sources used

. Relevant information on the group's history

. Dispel/explain persistent stereotypes

. Presence in NY (demographics)

. Past educational performance and current needs

Does it occur to anyone else that these distinctions are likely also to be found on the clip board of someone studying caged animals at the zoo?  

 The education portion of the presentation (or, if you will, the iceberg revealed): 

Suggested strategies for culturally relevant teaching 

. Include strategies for K-12 grades and all subject areas

. Discuss modifications for both curriculum and pedagogy

. Bring in classroom materials to circulate during presentation; provide bibliography

. Give handout with key information, including classroom tips and webpage addresses

Lest we forget- "modification" indicates that a teacher should "modify" their "original" techniques for this "group" of students.  "Modify" indicating a mainstream technique for some other group. Hmm. who could that be?  …Here's a cultural representation for you: 


Oh wait, there it is... stage two: Anger.  

Class this evening. more group work, sans class.  Pun intended.  $5,400 to the bank-o-university. 

Subject: Meatball Week: Highlights from the SoE, Spring 2010

[Part of a series of reflections on a very frustrating multicultural education graduate course]

Wednesday, January 27, 2010 1:37 PM

January 26, 2010, 7:00-9:00pm

Class started off with the professor asking us how we would get a noisy classroom to quiet down.  She then alerted us to the fact that from now on she would be holding up her "fox" to get us to quiet down.  This means two fingers up, the other three touching, like a fox's face.  To make the whole thing more _____ , she expects the whole class to follow suit in order to get everyone to quiet down sooner.  

 (I'll pause here to let you consider being told that in a class.  Or, if you'd like, imagine telling a graduate class that policy with a straight face).  

Show & Tell Time:  

meatballs, running shoes, photos, a ram's horn, a Pagan's knife, a book on religion, a fan. four people gave short explanations for the class about what they brought.  "Ted" gave a very long explanation about Paganism and how he found himself in it, has friends in it, and is still in training.  The professor did successfully stop him as he started to go into what could be considered a cross between a clinical intake and a Pagan history lesson.  For the rest of class, he continued to play with the small "symbolic" knife he brought in.  

 So let's see how any of that relates to teaching in grades K-12.  Obviously the task was created to highlight differences, similarities, and promote sensitivity and awareness.  Initially I wondered if the meatballs had any pork in them.  If so, the Muslims (which the professor suggested "may be in the room without us knowing") shouldn't have been offered the meatballs.  The running shoes were put up on the desk. the desks some ate the meatballs from.  The ram's horn was actually blown (by the overly proud divorcee who drives stick shift and drinks vodka).  Woohoo on that front- kids always love loud noises!  And the knife. no matter how symbolic will still get you out of school suspension. particularly playing with it for the rest of the class period the way "Ted" was.  I am stumped by the book on religion choice.  She said she couldn't find a Bible at the Post library, so she got a book on religion instead.  I think the cultural artifact there is the inability to locate a text in a library and/or to have remembered/planned to bring said Bible from home (if it were really so affixed to her identity).  The fan was pretty, from Spain, and talked about by someone with a smoky voice.  I'd have listened to my teachers far more than I did if they had spoken with that voice.  

So now, what did we learn (at just under $200 per class session)?  

·         Definitions: culture v. cultural border v. cultural boundary

·         Fun science fact: 90% of icebergs are under water.  

·         People are 90% under the water. oh wait, maybe I copied the slide down wrong.

Okay, so the professor got out the whole people are more than appearances thing.  Next on the list?  Pick a minority group to do a presentation on!  There's  Latino/a week, Asian week, African American week (including African American language), Native American week, low-income Week, Bullies and the Bullied Week, Gender Week, "LGBTQ community (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning)" Week, Jehovah's Witnesses Week, Muslim Week, Sikh Week, Whiteness week, and Others of LI interest Week.  

Onto the other big assignment for the course- our cultural autobiographies.  Limit 6 pages, with 5 guiding questions.  "Ted" noted for us all that he could go on for 20 pages, once again highlighting that "we" (the university) are just stealing this man's money, as there is no way he will ever get by an interview round for a teaching position.  We began these autobiographies in class by creating lists of our group identifications.  Or, as one student put it, "I feel like I am writing a personal ad."  A good skill for any teacher of adolescents to have. and writing lists is important.  

 Admittedly I did add "Heineken drinker" to my list after the proud divorcee said she was including "vodka drinker."  I also admit that I do have a bias against light beer drinkers and boxed wine drinkers.  Accordingly, I give them horrible looks in the grocery store and generally try not to stand behind them on line.  Is that wrong?  Should it be wrong to teach adolescents that if they are going to engage in underage drinking, they should at least do so with real liquor and good beers?  Was that what I was suppose to begin pondering after this assignment?  

Some other fun facts:

·         The term "straight" has no opposite, unless you consider that some people call themselves "curly"

·         That we would be building a community in which sharing our cultural autobiographies with one another would be comfortable for everyone.

·         Italians are sexist

·         You cannot be straight because there is no opposite, but you can be "verrrry Italian" 

·         Never kiss a German on the cheek 

·         A nicely dressed black man sitting in his nice car in front of a bus company is suspect (This was, of course, "Ted"'s addition. And yes, "black guy" was whispered as if not to offend anyone in the room.

·         Obama's name has been changed, to "you know, Obama"

·         Paganism is really a woman's religion.

·         Cada cabeza es un mundo.  

In case you are wondering, I brought in photos of my children, who for the purposes of the assignment were my "African American and African-American children."  Maybe next week B can be my Muslim son. I haven't decided yet.    

That's 2 classes down, or $3,600 to the university.

Subject: Highlights from the SoE, Spring 2010

[Part of a series of reflections on a very frustrating multicultural education graduate course]

Monday, January 25, 2010 3:03 PM 

And without further ado. 

"Teaching Diverse Populations," Spring 2010, 20 graduate students, every Tuesday evening, a required course for any education major


Quote of the evening, "... to countries like Europe." 


The professor began with an introduction of herself and the course topic.  At some point she mentioned dealing with our own racism in terms of "anger", "denial", "tolerance,". you know, the five stages of grief.  

The rest of the course introduction included a promise that "we" would talk about all of the things you don't talk about in polite company, "like sex and age."  And here I thought both were the "in" things to talk about. Aren't we post-Sex in the City and onto the Jersey Shore?  Granted, it did seem from the expression on her face that she had meant to say something far more appealing and academic than sex and age, but wasn't getting the feeling like that would work with the group in front of her.  But, such is. 

A few group members already stand out. the unshaven, late-20s to mid-30s overweight Pagan bus driver who looks to be in his mid-40s and is first on the contact list for his terminally ill grandmother's health responder.  Let's call him Ted for the remainder of the semester.  He also has a background in technical theatre which he plans on using in the classroom.  He added, at one of the random points throughout the two hours, that he tries to teach the kids on his bus, but never wants to go too far so that he does not overstep their teachers' authority.  …I don't know, an English teacher might think that a creepy bus driver in t-shirts with graphics on them and army pants is a good experience for every budding adolescent writer.  And for the younger kids, it does refresh what one will be faced with right before they are supposed to yell "stranger!" repeatedly at the top of their lungs.  That said, I am going to guess that Ted is a cat person.  More on him as we go on.

Other introductions were not so grand. or repeated.  However, we have an overly proud divorcee, a small dog owner, a PhD returning to get certified to teach, a very thick-accented Long Island woman with fuzzy boots, and the deer in headlights twenty-one year old who included hearts on her name card.  Oh, and the Jamaican woman who, when asked what was special about her as we all were, said she was "passionate."  

When it came to my turn to "share", I said I worked at there. which is special enough, I thought.  I was corrected though and the professor (who I had over the summer), continued for everyone in the class that I also had very young children, worked full-time, and had connections to CLAS. I'm pretty sure there is something illegal in her having offered up that personal information about me. but hey, I'll play along.


This week's homework assignment (I kid you not.):  

Please bring your cultural artifact to share!


We will do a "cultural pair and share" in class. Please bring a cultural artifact that represents a part of who you are, culturally speaking. This might reference your ethnicity or religious beliefs, but might also reference your hobbies, career, groups you are a member of, your sports interests, your roles such as parent or mentor, etc.


More fun to follow after this week's class. I am taking suggestions on the "cultural artifact" I should bring in. 

Subject: Highlights SOE

[Part of a series of reflections on an education graduate course]

March 5th, 2009

Mini-legal session Tuesday!  Alcohol, drugs and kids - oh my... Solitaire girl led the discussion with her "why I didn't want to try heroin" story, followed by others' stories of woe and the degree of effectiveness of crashed cars in front of schools.  Luckily, the professor gave us some great statistics on the percentages of kids who drink to get drunk before their senior year... read verbatim from one article written on one study, which including the interesting tidbit that the number one predictor of juvenile delinquency was if the child had had sex by 8th grade.  Uselessly unelaborated on for a class full of would-be teachers.  Story-time included the professor, a retired principal, telling us a story of why not to hold marijuana found on a student overnight and why never to trust a cop-father.  We finished with a discussion on what binge drinking really is...  

Subject: Highlights from SOE

February 26th, 2009

In-class writing: What are the major issues facing teenagers today?  As if this were not the age of reality television, after-school specials, and Nickelodeon shows that make my grandmother blush- this question drew out into an hour and a half discussion including statistically "sharing" of how much time teenagers spend with their parents.  We also discussed salaries for coaches and Army recruiting in schools.  Useful.  The most talkative student in the class was totally in on the "discussion", while playing a high stakes game of solitaire on her laptop.  Multi-tasking is a useful skill.

Thursday was awesome... really.  Truly.  "What instrument would you use to teach touch?"  Violin, drums, and the trumpet won out over piano with this group.  Next: red meat and vegetarians' intentions... "...would you kill a cow if you had to do it yourself?", meat-eating kids and, despite the lack of Lamborghinis, there were Powerpoint hand-outs!   

With just eight weeks left in the semester and with the university having made approximately 21K off of three courses- I will say that the Methods course is actually useful, though really should be more intensive.

Subject: Highlights from SOE

February 19th, 2009

Monday was a Tuesday at ye old university, so no Psych or Methods... But, of course, there was the joy of education for happiness class.  I don't know if I want to call today, "$1000 or $20 clothing?"  [someone just answer the woman!]  or "We all want to be Amish."  

When asked what the famous fables are, the class shouted out a list of Disney movies.  We then went over the moral behind the tortoise and the hare.  

Our in-class writing assignment was to make a list of things that we would limit or eliminate when teaching and/or with our children.  Answers: not everyone had to be the best, dressing like a dork is okay, Oprah, media, and cool, and last but not least (because it wound up being a 30-minute conversation), cell phones and kids!  

The cell phone comment took on a life of its own.  Most professors would have stopped the discussion one or two comments in... but nope... freedom in "education" it is.  [flinch- book throwing again]  Next week a paper is due... a paper in which the professor said it is okay to write "I" throughout... as it is a philosophy paper... for a graduate course...  

We also received our group presentation assignments.  Thoroughly intrigued and engaged by the prospect of doing a group project with 5 other people on 12 pages of reading... Powerpoint is a must.  Beginning on the 5th, the next five weeks will be group presentations on portions of the reading.  Stay tuned...

Subject: Highlights from SOE

February 12th, 2009

The psychology of the adolescent student professor asked us to write in our journals whether we thought myspace promoted positive peer-relationships.  The discussion which followed included, but was not limited to:  multiple West Side Story references, a completely drawn out conversation on the legality issues surrounding cell phone porn between dating teenagers in a school, "old fashion beatings", and the socially awkward Star Wars geeks.  One question - would the "greasers" of today be internet savvy?  

The number one quotable moment came from the professor, who, when trying to make a point about how difficult it is to teach adolescents, said, "You know, this [working at the university] is the easiest job I have ever had.  There are no expectations for me here [from the administration].  Your expectations are so low... I could be the most boring person and you will sit there and take it."  To which the class laughed and nodded.  

Next week's agenda: making a survey for 8th and 11th graders to take!

The social foundations of education are found in happiness seeking!  The world's happiest country!?!? Denmark!  I know, I couldn't believe it either.  Luckily the professor brought in a clip from a 20/20 special on it.  Oh, and hippies didn't like modern devices because they wanted to keep up their morality.  Just before we moved on to a short mothers' therapy session, we once again went back to $1000 v. $20 clothing and Lamborghinis.  There was also the throwing of a book to stimulate Rosseau's belief in early childhood education... but this, like the Lamborghinis, was not relegated to just this class (for more, see next week!) 

Subject: Highlights from SOE

February 6, 2009:

Part III, The Accidentally Quotable

Though a snow day lead to two classes being cancelled on Tuesday night, Thursday proved to be packed with amazing insight and remarked "remarkablility."  Another quote filled evening:

One of the four students discussing recent vacation trips to Florida and discount tickets said, "Yeah, my boyfriend and I went last year to Florida a week before Spring Break.  I mean, we had to miss a few classes, but it was so much cheaper than flying that next week!"  Replies: "So true."

Powerpoint slide handouts!  Need I say more?

The Cave Allegory Sessions: (Let us remember that this is an education course that is 10% of the required credits in the pedagogy only graduate program and that the professor spent three weeks getting to her point).

You all remember the horrible chalk drawing on the board?  

In reference to the light coming in from outside the cave, one person said, "This is before Christianity, right?  Well, that is just so remarkable that he had the thought about the light so many years before!  Isn't it?!"  "Yeah, yeah," answered the professor.  

But it did not end there: "Is this where the phrase, "I see the light now" comes from?"

Socrates was next compared to Oprah.  

And then, someone noted that the Indians couldn't see the pilgrims' ships not because they weren't there, but because they had never seen a ship before.  "It's like that, right?"

Then there was a drawing of a boomerang and a follow-up lecture on how we know something is a bed even if it looks different than the beds next to it.

Lastly, we did group work on what we would do to convince the prisoners to come out of the cave.  This ended in possibly the only slightly relevant piece to actual teaching, reflecting on teaching methods... Of course, the professor neglected to make this point with an emphasis on reality and it was completed through IN-CLASS writing... in a graduate course...

Subject: Highlights from SOE

January 29, 2009:

Part II of Trials in the School of Education:

After an hour of powerpoint copying and weird drawings of people with big heads and little bodies, people with big bodies but little heads and little legs, and people with little heads, little bodies and big legs... I asked the question, "What exactly does this have to do with the social foundations of Western education?"  To which, I received laughter from the class and... the professor.  "That's a good question."  Then we moved right on to equality of the sexes in The Republic - a two-bullet slide.

Tuesday's lecture, in the Psychology of Adolescents, on peer-groups ushered in a very informative discussion/group therapy session.  The students actively participated in the professor's self-professed concern over having dinner with an old friend from elementary school and their lack of common interests after all these years.  Actively participated, including, but not limited to: encouragement, possible conversation topics, personal experience stories, best friend stories, and the suggestion of having a conversation like any adult might.  

The in-class writing assignment: What clique did you belong to in High School?  And should schools break cliques up?

Subject: Highlights from SOE

January 22, 2009

The first installment of graduate-level teacher training in the School of Education:

Top quote of week 1: from a student who is already teaching in Brooklyn and in her second to last semester at Post, "I only have to take one more class... you know, the one with all the writing?"  To which the group answered unenthusiastically, "Oh right..."

First writing assignment (in-class for twenty minutes) for the Psychology of the Adolescent Student: "Describe a teenager to an alien."

For the second meeting of Social Foundations of Education: I spent an hour and a half watching a class of 30 copy down the professor's notes on the reading she assigned for this week (a whole 80 pages in large type).  Nothing included in those notes was profound or anything other than what should have already been in their notes from the reading.  

She noted Jesus and Socrates as the greatest educators in Western culture, and repeated the Jesus part four times.  She also somehow managed to mention "Lamborghini" at least six times (I wasn't counting at first, so it could have been more).