Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't." ~Tyler Durden

As many of you are probably already aware, a middle school teacher got suspended for venting her frustrations about her students in her blog. You can read the story here, for all the details:

As per usual, everyone is "up in arms," criticizing her for her words, even citing the fact that she's eight months pregnant as a possible explanation for her rant. This particular issue rubs my nerves positively RAW. My guess is that everyone who is coming down on her has never spent one day in a classroom with this generation of students.

The issues she raises range from rudeness, to laziness, to entitlement. The Digital Generation is absolutely ALL of these things. Her attorney defended her by saying that she could be speaking about any classroom across this country. And again, he would be correct. The first major problem here is that her administration responded by suspending her. STUDENTS brought this blog to their attention. So, once again, we have reinforced their false sense of entitlement, coddling them and defending them instead of holding them accountable for the behavior that just about any instructor in this nation will confirm as a problem in his or her classroom. But they win. Again. They tattled, and were more or less told that SHE is the one who should be punished.

How bad does it have to get before the tables turn back to the days where it was not only acceptable to be strict and expect a certain level of decorum, respect, and adult behavior in the classroom, but absolutely required? How many more lazy drones do we have to raise up and send out into the world before we wake up and say, "Hey, we have a problem"? Everyone says the state of education in this country is abysmal, and while that may be true, we have to wonder if it's the quality of the actual education, or if it's because of the behavior that this instructor has complained about. And the kicker here is that it's absolutely nothing new. This has been going on for years. I would venture to argue that the quality of the curricula in many of these districts is probably sound. But how do you teach those who are unwilling to learn? This is a battle I face every day, and I find myself inevitably teaching to the three or four who take their education seriously.

I could give you hundreds of examples from my own classrooms, most recently an admission from one of my students that he doesn't come to our 8am class because he can't get out of bed in the morning. He oversleeps. But now that he knows he's failing, he "sees that he has to show up and do the work."He did not show up yesterday. And he did not submit the paper that was due.

But by far the biggest problem here is not what she said, what she did, or how it was handled. The most severe consequence is the absolute refusal on the parts of parents and administrators to take full responsibility for allowing the state of affairs to devolve as it has. They are responding with her suspension because they feel criticized. "Not my school." "Not my kid." YES. YOUR school. YES. YOUR kid. YOUR student body/children ARE a mass of lazy, disrespectful, mindless drones. And those of us who are in the trenches with these students day in and day out cannot correct this behavior alone. We may try, but the end result is always student backlash, with backing from parents and administration. On the college level, when I get strict, my students stop showing up. In middle schools and high schools, students act out instead of rising to the standard set forth. And we have no recourse. Some of us simply give up. We're exhausted. And we're tired of being the only ones who care.

By the way, I'd love to know when there will be outrage over websites such as Rate My Teacher and Rate My Professor, where students can log in and write whatever they want about a SPECIFIC instructor at a SPECIFIC school. Who is defending us?

Friday, February 4, 2011

"To see beyond what can be seen and be beyond what we believe... In separation, we come together. It never ends, change has just begun. Believing as we release the departed."

I had a very intense, in-depth conversation with a friend about spirituality last night. If I tried to map the course of this conversation, it would start in New Jersey and wind up somewhere in the handle of the Little Dipper. But it really got me thinking about something I think I've struggled with for most of my adult life: my own spirituality.

I remember my mother telling me once that faith and spirituality become important when you get older, and you begin to exercise or explore it more as you age. I tend to think that has something to do with dealing with our own mortality, but in my own case, I was made more fully aware of my own mortality far earlier than I believe is typical.

The passing of my older brother in 2009 is completely intertwined with my spiritual struggle, uncertainty, and question. Not in the sense of "Why did 'God' (whatever He/She/It may be) allow this to happen?" but more along the lines of what to do with this experience. What does it really mean in the grand scale of things? My aunt also told me that we're to learn a lesson from his passing, that it was meant to teach each of us something. For a long time, I struggled with the various explanations of my lesson. The most immediate and obvious was not taking life for granted, living it to the fullest, doing what makes you happy, etc. But I knew it extended far beyond those base ideas.

Shortly after his death, I felt the need to seek out spiritual guidance, and I thought that the priest at the church where I was baptized and then eventually married was a nice man. I knew at the very least, he would listen, but immediately I was concerned about the guilt of not having set foot in his church since the day I got married nearly a year prior. The Christian Guilt was heavy, but something beyond even that stopped me. It isn't a belief system I subscribe to. I've always struggled with a lot of Christianity's concepts beyond the basic tenets of being a good person, living a good life, do unto others, and so on. Those are wonderful moral guidelines, but at the end of the day, they really aren't enough. I never went to talk to the priest.

Thanks to my job as a book editor, I've had the fortune of reading a lot of New Age books, Pagan and Wicca titles, and I find those paths interesting. I always said that if I was going to be spiritual, I could see myself adhering to that line of thinking. But I never pursued it. Again, perhaps I was younger and not really in need of fulfilling that part of my life, but it would peek out at me now and then, especially when I'd read a book about it. I started to look into self-education, but there are literally tens of thousands of books out there, everyone suggests something different to begin with... it would be like reading the Bible cover to cover and then going out and trying to read all of the books connected to it in any way, shape or form. Just too much to handle. And for whatever reason, I don't think I was ready to really commit myself to that level of learning. There is a lot of study involved with Paganism, as there is with any religion.

It's been on my mind very heavily over the past several weeks, almost an urgency that I have to choose SOMETHING. Last night's conversation made me take a very focused approach to the need I am trying to fulfill. We started talking about the things that make us feel particularly spiritual or connected to something bigger, and it led me to the conclusion that we all instinctively know what awakens that part of us, but perhaps it's a feeling we largely ignore because we've been indoctrinated into whatever system our families are a part of, or that our culture dictates. We instinctively know what is pleasing to us when we eat, or we get a certain feeling when we see a particular person. That's a basic response that we immediately recognize and pay attention to. So, why can't spirituality follow the same path? If I know that when I am on the beach and I experience the ocean and think about the sheer power behind it, as it is governed by the moon, and that gives me that sense of being plugged into the universe, then there is a path that celebrates that feeling. If "blind faith" doesn't work for me, but I need to think about things beyond myself, higher consciousness, how it works, science in conjunction with powers beyond our understanding, then there are places for me to nourish those ideas, explore them and my own mind, and thereby expand my sense of spirituality.

Concepts within nature-based spirituality, transcendentalism, existentialism, Hinduism, and various other mystical systems have always held a fascination for me. But it is beyond interest: It tickles nerves in me, something that I can only reconcile as a total understanding or awakening, even if it is on one point, or only on a base level. Blind faith has never been comfortable for me, and these areas allow for exploration of the self, ideas, the body, our psyche. There is no "box" to think outside of. The entire universe is the "box." And that swirling vortex of questions that evolves from these lines of thought gives me what I can only assume is that feeling of peace or completeness that some derive from prayer in a church or a temple.

This image is a design from Alex Grey (, an artist/philosopher/spiritualist who is absolutely brilliant and has merged psychology, science, existentialism, mystical practice into this complex system of ideas that absolutely blows and bends my mind. This image represents "the foundation of our being, prior to physical reality as emptiness and awareness" (Grey). THIS is what I believe my spirituality is likely made of, at least in part. But the next step is being brave enough to wander out into that universe and see what is waiting for me. There is no "church", no "Bible", no "mass" to guide me. There are many. And it seems that my time to embrace this, to embark on this very new and uncertain path has come. Though a year and a half later,  I have a deeper and renewed sense of peace over the loss our family has suffered. My lesson has become clear.