Freedom Work: Veteran’s Day, My Family and What’s Next

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Last week, along with celebrating the wedding of my cousin and his bride in the Research Triangle of North Carolina, my family traveled from Raleigh to Wilmington, NC to visit the warship my grandfather served on during World War II (he’s top row, second from right in the photo). It made my grandfather’s legacy viscerally real for me to touch the work he did as a teenager. He and his four brothers were drafted or enlisted and all survived. Craziness. There is so much to say about this trip and I cannot wait to share these insights about this era and his generation with my students in the Spring when we cover those times. Thank you to the many Veterans of all ages, colors, creeds and conflicts. 


Now though…

With this new election we are seeing the result of what happens when people feel empowered by their political leaders to draw a clear line between people who ‘win’ and people who ‘lose’. I think we’ve all lost. My Grandfather would be astounded by what we’ve been reduced to.

While I see and read about the tangible evidence of hate crimes and hate speech expressed under the cover of the 1st Amendment, I refuse to acknowledge that the majority or even a large minority of people who voted for Trump condone these actions. But he won.

So I’d like that subset of the population to ponder this…

As many people have pointed fingers at our Muslim communities around the Western World to police their communities for extremists, our white communities must do the same. Obviously, expecting Muslims to report of their shady neighbors is not a reasonable policy for myriad reasons, but the shoe is on the other foot now. What is the responsibility of white communities to police this divisive and vindictive behavior that calls us toward ruin?

Everyone has a role in stopping this train from derailing. Especially the winners.

What have our Veterans fought for, if nothing else?


My students are shocked and worried.

I am trying to take a step back for them so I can pause their fears of this new world. I  promise them that we are better than this. That this election was not a referendum on  their humanity. Part of me feels like I am lying to them. Part of me knows I am not. 

My standing in society is secure no matter who wins elections. My students are not so lucky. I give voice to this, but my acknowledgement does nothing to change anything. 

I’ve also been emphasizing that their work begins now. Nearly everyone in the Sophomore class and older can vote in 2018. From that standpoint, these results are inspirational. (I know, easy for me to say)

This is Freedom Work. You know it. It’s the work of being an American: Black communities have never stopped doing this work. Native American communities have never stopped the fight to survive in the face of tarnished treaties and being rounded up, surrounded. 

White communities have fought too, often side-by-side everyone else. Standing against union-breaking and engaging with class issues and dreams of upward mobility are in everyone’s blood. From the Chinese Exclusion Act to now. From ghettoizing the Irish and Italians, how America treated its freedmen after the Civil War, how we gave life to the reservation systems, how women faced hatred in earning the right to vote. How these roots relate to now.

The Freedom Work, against all that does not liberate us, started as soon as Jefferson wrote all men are created equal

Freedom in this country is not validated or erased by an election. It is ever-evolving. It is ephemeral. It is bloody. It is everyone’s. It can be understood from many angles.

But if someone else is not liberated, no one is.

Ask our Founding Fathers. Ask our Veterans. 


A note to my family. 

Many of us have been on the sidelines throughout this election. This decade.

Members of our family abstained from voting in this election because they couldn’t justify for either side. Others of us voted Trump, contorting into and out of and next to and removed from all the ideological and moral darkness we knew he stood for. Others no doubt protest voted third party. Others voted for a status quo that they knew wasn’t inclusive enough or meaningful enough. Our wide Irish net is a strong example of the wide spectrum of American white perspective.

Many of us have been still or silent on the work of Freedom for all. In this context, our family is not unique.

Let me reiterate: I think many of Trump’s voters, on at least some level, are also deeply disturbed that he won. I think that’s fair to say.

So, it’s time to join this work even if you voted for him. Whether you are Conservative, Green, Liberal, or otherwise. Get involved with stiff-arming hatred and misogyny by confronting it. Engage with communities that are not your own. Read books that are rooted in the many perspectives of Freedom Work. Pray with your spiritual community and outreach to a different one. Knowing 49% of people did not vote, get people to participate. However you want to engage, get to it!

After Tuesday (and truly no matter who won), inaction threatens the Democratic process and freedom for all.

Lots of Americans have been doing this work every damn day. Their life continually depends on it.

Now ours does too. Live accordingly. It’s an opportunity to create alongside your fellow Americans! How great is that?

With love and openness,

Your Son, Brother, Grandson, Nephew, Cousin, Uncle, Husband, Soon-to-be-Father


I want to be as inclusive as possible in this final section while knowing I’ve already turned many away from this post. For some it’s not enough – they’re right. For some I’ve gone to far – they’re not ready.

Saying that people across the electorate are dissatisfied with the entirety of this election is an insulting understatement to how misrepresented we all really are. I understand there are issues that will always divide us: marriage equality, economic policy, ongoing war. That’s encouraged! It’s healthy, dammit. 

But. 

If this Administration is so distasteful to so many people, and so many Conservatives specifically, we have a grand opportunity to build new movements against immorality, disenfranchisement, injustice, misogyny and complacency. What will this Administration do (or has already done?!) to our spiritual communities and selves? Our environment? Our shared sense of Americanness? Our sense of building a better world for our children and grandchildren? Our obligation to our sisters and brothers from across the country and world?

How do my questions intersect with your uncertainty? 

The following is my new approach to the next four years.

How are we going to make America great again?

Not by violence. Not by hiding. Not by stoically watching it burn. 

‪We are obliged by this election to make Trump’s legacy one of bringing people together from across the aisle and the country because a movement such as that, in a profound sense, will deconstruct the narratives employed by a majority of his campaign/pundits/cabinet/trolls about the falsehoods and shortcomings of shared identity and diversity in American classrooms, ideologies, communities, electorates, coalitions, protests, Freedom Work.

This obligation pushes back against any perceived mandate of this election (Congressional and Executive sweep) because what will emerge is a new American sense of principled and spiritual responsibility. No matter who won, this election was (re)purposed to destroy that shared sense of humanity. Because of who won, we will (re)build this shared sense of humanity passionately.

Creating this new American interdependence of communities, people, and agency will clarify the hate politics for those who willfully overlooked them in their 2016 vote (or non-vote) and it will be the antithesis of how this President and far too many within his base will want these years to be remembered.

This election does not depress, dissuade, end—it is the beginning, a thrust, our call. We are impelled.

We have no choice but every way forward—

  • in supporting new politics and young leaders while acknowledging and owning the traditional foundations of our shared history of Freedom Work
  • by deepening shared understanding of planetary fragility to discover economic opportunity and collective civic purpose (as in localized food systems and education)
  • through sharing tables and tasks to strengthen spiritual coalitions and communities
  • by revitalizing our broken spirit to emphasize good and truth and ethics
  • in building a broader sense of the meaning of dreams and prayer for this America and what America is to come when we all are gone

—so that we continue the Freedom Work inherent to the opportunity of liberty and justice for all.


Proposed readings:

This post was inspired by my conversations, inspiration and reflection on these texts I have completed or queued up for this year and beyond. Buy yourself a Christmas present and boost that economy:

My Response to Brock Turner’s Father

How a Father Can Learn to Properly Estimate the Appetite of His Son

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I offer this poem as a tribute to my father for holding me accountable for the transgressions that, along with the consequences, shaped the person I am today. I offer this as an imperfect, justice-seeking, frustrated-with-the-world white male. I offer this to the young men who are new to fatherhood.

I offer this to the reality of white privilege, that events like these can serve to level the playing field in our judicial system and how we parent/teach/exist. I offer this not to assert the self-importance of another privileged white male voice in the dialogue but to assert a new vantage point since privileged white males perpetuate these crimes, hear these cases, defend these clients, report on these cases, rear men capable of such terrible deeds, brush aside the power of these personhood contexts.

I offer this as an ally against our pervasive rape culture. I offer this to the high school and college students of America today to understand the severity of your casual thoughtlessness and violences. I offer this to parents who see their children as people who can do no wrong, even when they commit profound wrongs.

I offer this to the victims of sexual abuse and rape whose notions of manhood and power dynamics and personhood have been shattered. I offer this as an apology and acknowledgement of your pain. I offer this to those Americans who think this case has nothing to do with them. It does. All of us teach morality through our example. I offer this as a way forward.

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If you need to get caught up on the coverage, here are some links. 

The victim’s intense letter to her rapist. Read aloud in court. I can’t imagine…

Dan A. Turner’s letter to the judge concerning his son’s new reality. This letter intentionally silences the violence, the victim, the chaos his son created choosing instead to focus on his son’s sterling reputation and promising future to this point. The title of this poem refers to Turner’s lament that his son’s appetite is disappearing.

And two artifacts to help us understand the role of language in naming, shaming or hiding our approach to sexual assault and rape. First, a video from Philip DeFranco on Facebook. Second, an annotated analysis of Dan Turner’s letter by Alyssa Peterson from Vox.

And finally, an important piece of media from CNN and an anchor who read aloud much of the victim’s letter to her rapist. Important coverage.

Vice President Joe Biden wrote the victim a letter. It is all over the Internet, but you can find it here.

 

 

Pedagogy is Poetry: Does My Classroom Matter?

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A student in my world history class just insisted she failed my class last semester. I didn’t agree with her, went to my computer and hunted down last semester’s results. She didn’t do great, but she earned a low C. It would have been a D had she not earned an 82 on my Final. So? Whatevs.

Actually though, she didn’t insist. She just kind of shrugged. You think you failed?—teacher runs to computer to dispute her self-failure world view—see, you didn’t fail! Shrug again. So, cool right? You could do even better this semester. Whatevs.

This Studentbot is sure she fell short of the classroom standard. Why? Shrug, that’s why. Because you always fail classes? Shrug. Because your language deficiency makes it so you don’t know what’s expected or quality? Encogimiento de hombres. Maybe you never saw your final report card from last term? You never log into the computer software that helps students track this data? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Maybe you aren’t conscious?

It could be a matter of consciousness. Awake, sure, but they’re never really alive. You’ve seen them. Studentbots are the zombies queuing for mozzarella sticks or orange chicken or some other grease from the cafeteria. You know, brick wall meets cell structure and sentience in the science lab. Bouncing some sort of social Frogger between classes—find this person, avoid that clique, alms to the vending machine, swing by this bathroom mirror instead of that bathroom with the people in those mirrors, plug in for the soundtrack to manage their chaos and your cool, don’t go down that teacher’s hallway in case you need to ditch later.

The increasingly dull environment of school has created some ignorant sense of nihilism. It always has. I participated in it when I was that age. But we didn’t have dozens upon dozens of hours cozied up with a standardized test. These Studentbots don’t know if they are rebelling against their future or protesting the lack thereof. Or, they are trying really hard to prove they are not trying really hard. Socially it’s way better to be clueless than shooting for 90s; adversely, Alicia Silverstone was consciously ditzy while arguing her way to an A.

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Another Studentbot this week was reviewing for an upcoming English quiz with a copy of that same quiz from 2014. I told her that seemed pretty shady considering that I know how deeply students struggle with that English class here in 2016. No—this was a studentbot insisting—I’m reviewing a quiz I took last week. That was a pretty fresh response. Not sassy. I mean fresh like some new fashion had hit the streets, like all of a sudden studentbots all over school review quizzes from last week—instead of like, you know, barely being cognizant of any academic deadlines otherwise. No, Mister! Reviewing-grades-that-I-can-no-longer-change-with-material-from-the-pre-Hotline-Bling-era is what’s up.

(Teacher note: That bullshit is some seriously misplaced nihilism. This wasn’t cheating for an upcoming assignment! This was not giving a fuck until there is nothing to give a fuck for! Way ahead of it’s time. I don’t always study, my friends, but when I do it’s already too late. The Internetati will look back on this moment and declare the Millennial generation dead. This is The Bot Generation. Do all things, but barely. Because, sure, it matters that I do well on stuff, but I can’t explain why stuff matters.)

I told her I was going to give her teacher the ancient assignment and leave it up to them. The Studentbot played it cool. A little talking under her breath. The          ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ equivalent of a pout. She wasn’t about to let her guard down about something she so desperately didn’t care about.

But everybody knew. The teacher-in-question is the biggest hardass in the building. That makes her the most important individual in the building. She doesn’t take shit. Unfortunately, teacher-in-question knows the studentbot-in-question specializes in shit. This teacher was quite happy to give her a zero for the assignment. I walked away and to my lunch knowing didn’t care was about to turn into meant to care.

Next period, Studentbots’s friend knocks on my door and needs me in the hallway. I tell her one minute, but forget and she has to knock again. Apologetically I hustle into the hall and see studentbot-in-question holding back her IRL tears. Did you know teacher-in-question didn’t just give me one zero, but erased most of my assignments for the semester? Bummer. What can we do about it? I just want to know if that’s OK with you? Bummer, but I understand how we have no control over your consequence. So this this is OK with you? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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The two students I have illustrated create interesting patterns of the 21st Century student. Student 1 is an ELL of Mexican-descent who can read English, but chooses not to. Student 2 is a Hispanic student who can read English, but only chooses to after she has to. Student 1 is a short girl with a normal body who is a little socially awkward, but seems to get enough attention from friends and boys to keep her sane. Student 2 is a cheerleader with an impossible slight frame who wears the type of clothing to accentuate that frame, attract attention and flabbergast the staff.

Student 1 has no understanding of how to pass a class, nor if she has or hasn’t. Student 2 has an innate sense of how to pass a class, and thinks she should be privileged in the execution of that how. Student 1 does not rely on anything to maintain her relationships with adults in the building because she has no relationships with adults at school. Student 2 leverages her athleticism and charms to work with the adults because she knows how to manipulate the world in her favor. Student 1 is in Guitar 1 and sometimes leaves her instrument in my classroom over the weekend. Student 2 is a two-time state champion with eyes on a third ring this April.

These women illustrate everything wrong with capital S school. People can’t be bothered to learn. Why does any of this matter? There’s a computer-based assessment with your name on it, that’s why. We are operating in a paradigm that has gone extinct, but teachnology has gussied it up enough to pawn it off on another generation. In their defense, sometimes my class sucks. Sometimes, I suck. Schools create sedentary citizens. Schools are places where creativity goes to die. Multiply that by four classes a day and you’ve got a pretty sucky day. I can sympathize. Until I can’t.

Because most days, we suck a lot less than they realize. They have teachers who are awesome. They have an incredibly clean (indeed, sometimes sterile) school. It’s safe. There are clubs and electives based upon, wait for it, classical art and mariachi and robots and metal fabrication and photography and drama and sports and green building and poetry and philosophy and forestry and other cool stuff.

Come on, Teach. Does it really matter if they cheat? Does it cost them anything to try? They actually learn more about the world when they cheat. Our whole existence is about getting that leg up on the competition. Where does it say we don’t have to earn our legs? And really, what’s the good in them knowing whether they passed or not? If the grades don’t matter, as you often insist they don’t to your students, why do you care if they know where they stand? High school is just a right of passage—it doesn’t have to be a means to an end. Saving face? Surviving? Sucking (it) up and sticking (it) out? That can be enough, right?

These are good questions. I am not trying to push my sense of (white male) morality/righteousness. Nor am I trying to push college (read: debt) onto my students. This isn’t Dangerous Minds or Freedom Writers. Rarely does a student change their academic horizon thanks to my tutelage. Honestly, they don’t. My students, the ones who have reached out after graduation, thank me for the support they had from me. Are they using commas correctly? Ha,ha right? Will they remember the profundity of the Treaty of Versailles? Yeah somebody won. It’s all I can do to even cover the subject in the face of this. There’s a name for the kind of teachers who sacrifice everything—personality, meaning, soul, facial expressions—sacrifice everything for plowing through content: Teachbots.

These students, Jennifer and Marissa, are great examples of how the education system and Teachbots have failed them for the last 11 years. At one time, this educational paradigm was perfect for churning out the next factory workers and management types—albeit largely white workers and types. Well, that world is gone. Teachers (and politicians) are the brontosauri waxing about a pre-comet planet. Few of the species adultus-worker lived to tell the tale, but the Teachbots insist to the Studentbots they are adequately prepared to exist in the same ol’ world. Let’s ground this paragraph in an example. We praise teachnology, but insist its best use is assessment.

Jennifer and Marissa are just like me (!). They know bullshit when they see it. But, between the three of us, I’m supposed to know what to do. I don’t. I have to predict the future. My crystal ball is telling me to subvert administration. Monkeywrench tests. Radicalize my paduans. Teach from the ceiling. Incorporate interpretive dance. Incorporate sadness and glee. Suffuse my classroom with oxygen. Actually? That last one is not a bad idea.

Jennifer and Marissa are suffocating just like me. So, the oxygen? Work to erase a decade’s worth of negative energy associated with classrooms. Push students for excellence, before work is due. Push students for excellence as demonstrated by meaningfulness of the work. Engage students in conversations about what it means to pass and fail—what it means to fail passing and pass failing. Insist that students are aware of their waking state. Insist that I am aware of my own.

Bots? Nah. We are brains. We are potential. We are everything. We matter. Really though, I can’t fault these girls for not realizing this. It’s how they were taught.

Sunday Rant: #BonerForPresident

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SCORCHING HOT TAKE DISCLAIMER- TeachPoet is not a political analyst. Consider the following blog post with the same grain of salt by which you are considering the value of this lovely picture of these humble Americans.

Gawd! That Saturday Night Live skit was funny. Or too close to home. Or horrendous. Or pandering. Whatever. It’s just…whatever.

I mean they captured Donald perfectly, right? He is a racist. Or, wait. Maybe he’s just playing to a racist crowd. Maybe he is the smartest guy in the room. Whatever. It’s just whatever. There’s no way he’ll win.

That’s the feeling I get from my students. Whatever. He’s a jackass. He’s a this. A that. They’re plugged into the political process now. They seek out John Oliver’s tele-editorialism. That’s cool. They might’ve heard about #BlackLivesMatter and #BlueLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter now. That’s a step in the right direction; they have to take in many sides of any issue. In some ways Trump is exactly what we need. He’s the stark wake up call. My students realize at least that much.

But the media has a huge #BonerforTrump right now. It’s tremendous, I can assure you. I’m not referring to the televised media solely. New York Times, NPR, Slate, Esquire, Five Thirty Eight, Democracy Now, The Intercept, The Drudge Report, Breitbart. All of it. Largely I am thankful for the abundance of coverage; a Rubix Cube needs to be toyed with in order to solve it. But more and more, it feels like we are being trolled. Or scammed. Maybe we’re the jackasses. Maybe we’re the Rubix Cube!

The #BonerforTrump has obfuscated everything. Everything about his campaign and the political Dark Ages we find ourselves revisiting/entering. Trump sells, so we only hear his most virulent moments and not the hours of boring stumping his rallies usually look like. Trump excites/incites, so we consume his flashiest/crassiest turns of phrase. The #Boner has already won.

Yes. I hear you. It’s important to understand how he wants to reinstitute torture as a pillar of our foreign policy. It’s important that he has no foreign policy. It’s important to understand his rhetoric about immigrants and walls. It’s important to contextualize his jockeying to be the savior of the working American. It’s important to understand his juxtapositions are as much intentionally nuanced as they are blatantly obvious to create a level cognitive dissonance that can only be described as Trumpian. Maybe Americans are too lazy to parse through the farce?

It’s also important to understand what Cruz is selling us as the reasoned, positioned GOP candidate. I know! That’s crazy! It’s important to grapple with the rhetoric he is selling. It’s important to know a lot of all of this. Keep watching, reading, consuming.

Remain glued, America.

But, we have some serious blinders on right now. The thinking goes: If the Republican establishment, or Hillary, or Glenn Beck can discover his kryptonite in time for the general election, American values will be restored. It will go to show that we have not lost our minds. If we can just find a way to isolate the man, we’ll be fine. But, the #BonerforTrump isn’t going limp any time soon. There may not be any kryptonite.

His supporters, win or lose, are now politicized and engaged. They are voting like never before. The vicious, the vociferous, the vain have emerged from the shadows of the American electorate and are showing up en masse. Yeah, in some ways, it’s that simple. They are voting more than other political blocs. Maybe that’s temporary.

But we cannot disregard the vehemence and violence and vitriol this voting bloc foments. If #Boner wins, the marginalized and largely white audience will be vindicated in their passions for bigotry, celebrity, empty policy, free speech, free guns, greatness. That kind of mandate for a new president will be dangerous, we fear, for the entire world.

But let’s get honest with this bleak American political landscape. These Americans are not going to recede into their exurbs, insularity, whiteness after this election if he loses. His victories in Massachusetts, Virginia, Kentucky and Nevada exemplify this reality. This take back. Their worldview has already been validated.

Let’s play the If game.

If Trump wins, calm down. Won’t he get shutout by Congress? The political gridlock will continue even more than what Obama has endured. But, his rhetoric, in response to this stalemate and increasing ungreatness, will discover more scapegoats, more channels for voter frustration. Understand, if #Boner can’t achieve anything as President, it won’t be his fault. The anger that may put him in office will only increase.

If he loses this election, the voters who are fed up with career politicians and corruption aren’t going to take it in stride. What good is Hillary or Cruz going to do that will redirect our ungreatness? Imagine Trump running again in 2020 as the antidote to a four-year lame duck Executive. Even if he doesn’t run, the media isn’t going to stop covering his takedowns and insults of the person who wins come November.

The two-party system is on life support, if it even exists at all. Hillary is no more a Democrat than Trump is a Republican. The Democratic base is just as schizophrenic and wildly angry as the right side of the aisle. But, the media has not covered their fracture nearly as intently as the Republican side of the circus tent.

As much as anything this election demonstrates that America is the midst of the greatest con of all time. #Boner’s lack of policies and political acumen aren’t going to set up the next generation for a better America, but many Americans may not really care. And Hillary’s is a campaign that all but acknowledges 8 more years of a 21st Century status quo (endless war, pro-Corporate economics, a Machiavellian class of wealth and power controlling the coffers and the drones) as the lesser of two evils. The candidacy of the Left is an assurance that there will be nothing but gridlock. Think a Sanders White House is going to get anything done? This stalemate will perpetuate our infrastructurally unsound country. The ungreatness will abound.

Trump or not, this abundance of ungreatness will open the door to more scapegoating policies by future candidates. Don’t kid yourself. The next generation of politicians/entertainers/con artists are taking note of the excessive success of the #Boner campaign. In the future, it’ll get uglier. More platforms of racial divisiveness. More of the determinism that America needs leaders of strength and tenacity. Leaders who quash dissent. Who bully their own colleagues and citizens. Who dare the world to fuck with us.

When balancing our options in an election, sure, decency usually wins out. Yes, rationality, or something akin, unites us. But if there is one thing I am learning this election cycle, it’s that we’re participating in a game that no longer give points for decency and rationality. Those metrics are for pussies. And, we can’t forget, there are more people playing the game than ever before. Sure, they’ve always been able to play, but they preferred to jeer from the sidelines. Now they’re terrorizing the field of play. Louder and more incendiary. Angrier and less patient. More apt to gravitate toward candidates who say what’s on their mind than someone who says what’s actually believable.

So, let’s continue gobbling up the hysterics as if we’re simply binge watching Season 4 of House of Cards. It’s exciting to be watching something so brazen and alarming take place at political rallies and in our streets. It’s reassuring to know that no matter whom we elect, our children are no better off—because think of the possibilities for what’s to come next season! We won’t be making the world safer. And that’s entertaining too!

My students are going to be so lucky when they’re my age: Can you imagine what the 2024 season of #BonerForPresident will be like? I think I do. We’re gonna wish it was as benign as 2016 again.