Countdowns and Reflections 2009

this whole week i have been pondering what to write as a last entry for the 2008 Roman calendar year. the last day of 2008 has finally arrived and i am still at a loss for words. new year’s eve day, an excuse to compile everything into a convenient “top 10” list or a “countdown”… which i guess is just our culture’s way of venerating experiences (in our own consumeristic fashion). and in a sense it is our means of self reflection. so, being just as consumed with my own culture as every other member i am going to take this opportunity to reflect and countdown/top ten it up. as i also prepare to celebrate this new year’s with close friends and family, i am slowly coming to realize that the beginning of a new year in the dead of winter (even though this is a meaningless expression in socal) seems less to fit my natural inclinations than does my wife’s culture’s new year celebration, which more comfortably falls on the first day of spring… at the height of rebirth. nonetheless it is an opportunity to turn back the pages of the calendar and see where i have been this year. and where the world and universe has taken me.

in the style of raw reflection that i used to encourage my students to pursue in wilderness settings with their old world technology that i miss so very badly at times, this is going to be done in as stream of consciousness as keys and spell check will allow. actually now that i think about it… i am going to trade my laptop in for my pen and journal. as much as i have tried to strengthen a new commitment to regularly write ideas that lead or continue a discourse (between others or within myself), i have just realized that i have weakened my commitment to communicate with myself, for only me to see and hear. the fact remains that you do write differently when you know that possibly others may read it. and although my readership is quite small, there are thoughts that cannot be expressed in this venue. there are also thoughts that have not been expressed as often due in part to the time it takes to express my thinking in the blogosphere. it is these thoughts that offer the true opportunity to reflect on my past year. it is those i will go write. but before i sign off in 2008, my compilation of “top 10 interests” in ’08…

may 2009 be continual progress…

my 2008 top ten frequented ish..
green in ’08
politics in ’08
youth activism in ’08
images in ’08
pt. 1
pt. 2
pt. 3
ed. in ’08 – thought i would try someone new…
popular media in ’08
unpopular media in ’08
famous deaths in ’08
blogs in “08 – just look at my blogroll and follow links

see you in 2009

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1 Step Forward, 2 Steps Back…

i have been meaning to write this post ever since the day after the election in regards to the passing of proposition 8 by California voters, but i was too afraid to voice my concern as to its significance in defining where we as a people, a species, are actually going…

but kenneth star has recently reassured me where we are all headed (referencing the cliched title of this post)…
in his own words arguing that the state supreme court does not have the authority to overturn proposition 8:

“For this court to rule otherwise would be to tear asunder a lavish body of jurisprudence,”
“That body of decisional law commands judges, as servants of the people, to bow to the will of those whom they serve even if the substantive result of what people have wrought in constitution-amending is deemed unenlightened.”

it is the last part of this that is so eloquently and frightfully written that concerns me. is kenneth star actually suggesting that the stewards of justice – that which is defined as the concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, fairness and equity – bear only one responsibility; to ensure that the majority wins (even if the majority is 100% in the wrong)? if he is arguing this, then yes… i deem thee UNENLIGHTENED!!! (is that even a word?)

so our courts – the highest symbols of fairness and equity (quite often no more than that, symbols) are supposed to stand by and ensure that nothing is done and merely observe while people exercise their “constitutional” right to lead us right back into the dark ages… ok…

and i am no law student (nor will i ever be if part of the job description is to lay down and roll over when what you know to be right is under attack) but i would say that there is plenty to suggest precedent in the “large body of jurisprudence” when it comes to majorities not always getting their way, even in the face of immoral and unequal treatment under the law… i mean just look at any number of presidential elections, barring the most recent election of course… president bush could attest this fact even more that it is within the court’s authority to NOT bow to the will of the people, even when they are in the right! have we forgotten all the precedents of the civil rights movement?

although i am not as versed in judicial theory as kenneth star (amongst many), it seems to me a logical assertion that the precedents set forth in numerous court cases finding conclusively that in this democracy, unfair and unequal treatment and protection under the law for any group is unconstitutional… discrimination of any kind is intolerable, even if some is deemed “enlightened” by certain religious dogma. but perhaps i am misunderstanding the meaning of “precedent” – so i have attached a very informative link courtesy of professor james fowler at UCSD.

admittedly not having read it all, i put that heavier reading on pause to watch this:

america is calling us…

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A Cold Day in L.A… especially if you are a student at John Muir

i arrived at work this morning to one of the coldest days of the year… both literally and figuratively. the temperature was an unusual 42 degrees. the kind of temperature that most souther californians are not used to… upon the first bell ringing i observed the not so uncommon droves of tardy students, shuffling to their homeroom with no great sense of urgency. perhaps it was the chill in the air but as i already mentioned, not too uncommon at Muir. i mean, not to alleviate our students of personal responsibility getting to class on time but… it is hard as an adolescent when your should be role models are consistently tardy themselves no?

as i watched the hordes of youngsters stroll ever so nonchalantly towards their first “educational” encounter of the day (homeroom is underutilized could come out of nowhere and take down every understatement of the 2008 season), i also watched one of my administrators walking down the main drag of campus, seemingly oblivious to the multitudes of students out of class. perhaps this administrator was exhibiting some unusual faith in her staff’s abilities to positively affect the school… but i doubt it. as she walked by i overheard her commenting to one of the campus aides how “tacky” she thought that was and that her daughter tried to leave the house looking like that once and was giving hell to pay or something to that effect. i turned to look in the direction they were walking to create a context and soon realized what had so abruptly captured their attention (because it sure as hell wasn’t the ineffectiveness of our encouraging promptness as a tenet of our campus culture). instead it was two students whom had brought blankets to school and were using them for the suspicious motive of keeping warm. ironically the campus aide who assisted this seizure was wearing a blanket of a different sort, only distinguishable by the cultural hole in the middle cut out for her head. as my stomach sank and my blood boiled at the premonition of what i was about to witness i continued to just observe. out of range of my hearing, i am only slightly interested to hear the conversation that led up to the administrator confiscating the blankets. if it was anything like the conversation that followed between her, my self and my co-chair for the union, then i am glad i was too far to hear it… condescending as it must have been.

maybe only white students should have the right to have blankets at school? i guess the argument could be made that they do positive things with them anyway?
maybe only white kids deserve blankets at school...

and since i was not really able to respond during this “professional” interaction and i was most definitely not heard by my administrator… i would like to take this time to reply to some of the thing that were said to me (as close to quotes as i can remember, amendable upon request and proof)

administrator statement: “i was on my way to do my job. to make sure that someone i am over, that i supervise, to make sure that they were doing their job. which i cannot do now because of this conversation.”
me: sounds administrative, but just to clarify… if you see students and teachers who are late to class, this does not fit into your administrative priorities? is not part of your job as an administrator to engage in conversations with colleagues (even the ones you are “over”) and solve problems with some collaboration and transparency?

administrator statement: “it is a uniform issue. and if we let this slide, where do we draw the line? these students need to prioritize their spending and buy jackets…” i think i stopped listening after this point… because i was thinking… oh yeah! its right below this…
me: so you are saying that there is a clause in our uniform policy that specifically prohibits blankets on the coldest day of the year so far? yes i would like to come by your office and see that for myself (assuming good will of course)… and i think we can draw the line somewhere in may when the masses of trend following students realize (no deficit thinking aloud) that wearing blankets in opposition to authority is not the move in socal. as far as upside down priorities… i cannot assume to be an expert on this so i would just refer you to this man

btw – later on in the day i heard that she told a fellow colleague (my wife) that she was to produce a doctor’s note to our plant manager (yeah, the guy in charge of fixing facilities… not credentialed personnel.. i thought it was weird too) stating the legitimacy of her allergy to chalk if she were to ever get a whiteboard to replace it…. i for one agree, because if she gets a whiteboard before i do (my request has been in since the first day of school, along with my roll down maps) i may just have to talk to the union about filling a grievance. and i also want to know if she really needs to be sneezing that loud and often in the morning.

in any case, i hope it is not so cold tomorrow…

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The Next Step… possible?

after organizing my staff to a pleasing turnout at our union action to protest proposed district cuts to our health care, increased class size, and other cuts to the classroom… the question becomes, what is the next step?
Will teachers every unite against their ineffective own in the name of students?
although i have not written recently about the specifics of Muir lately, rest assured that i still work in south central… a middle school with over 2000 students and many teachers… not all of them up to par (and that is putting it very nicely due to the hour and sentiment of the day).

the other day i grabbed a Time magazine from Best Buy (it was the best kind – 5 finger discount… i felt justified since the cashier watched me take it from her hands). the title alone “How to fix America’s Schools” relegated the magazine into the right hands. and even though the cover and subsequent article features yet another TFA alumni (see my previous rants for background knowledge), this TFAer is doing something that i have long given thought to. and it looks like Michelle Rhee (read the shorter NY times version here)has outlasted the average shelf life of a TFA teacher.

teacher unions protecting shitty teachers was exactly why i did not want to become involved at all with out union… and now look at my dumb ass. waist deep in union politics. yet this could prove to be a good thing. there is a need at our campus to address ineffective instruction (at times the code word for detrimental daily interaction between certain adults on campus with our students). there are teachers who just simply ruin lives on the daily. lately i have been hearing a stronger call to address those individuals now. put them “on notice” in house and not wait for some district juggernaut to come and do it for us. yet there is one key thing that stands in the way… the very union that i represent.

clay burell addresses the surface of the idea at the end of this post as heretical close, as does this blog post by corey (i believe)…

curious to see how our staff unifies around dialogue of this issue. for i intend on bringing it up soon. there is so much shrapnel flying around our district at this point, i have nothing to lose (or do i?) i find my self at a very interesting crossroads between representing teachers and serving in the best interest of students. luckily i just remembered that the former (although elected by the staff) was a voluntary position… the later is not only my job. it is my passion and my duty.
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Life Lessons (pt. 1)

it has been exactly one year since mi Abuelita has passed on to the other part of her journey. talking to my Mother today, she said she wasn’t sure she was doing enough. it got me thinking about how much is enough? questioning how much is too much? in regards to myself, being who La Profesora was as a person, i cannot say i don’t empathize with my Mother. there are more times in a week that i feel that i am living – not in her shadow – but in the reflection of light that she radiated all around her, leaving a legacy that required the president of her country to take time out of a busy politician’s schedule to pay his respects to someone who did more than enough…

which leads me back to my question as to what is enough? and when do you over-exhaust yourself to the point of ineffectiveness? when do you care so much about others that you stop caring about yourself? your wife? having spent the last 3 months being a football coach, a union “boss” (comic emphasis added), history department co-chair, learning teams lead teacher, addict meeting attendee/organizer, new school advocate/activist, and… oh yeah, almost forgot… i teach too. this pseudo resume is not meant as a list of accolades that promote the self, stimulate the ego, or ease my passing of La Profesora’s picture as i pass by in the hallway of my small apartment. it is meant to serve as a mental pause… one that allows me some space to breath, to reflect.

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i have begun to take an interest in my health again. holistically. if i have to have so many meetings then damn it, i am going to schedule at least one of those meetings in the water, where i can see the sunset, surf some waves, and discuss union business with my co-chair… this is exactly what i did yesterday. i bolted out of school exactly at 3:30 PM (right after sitting in on an informational meeting about how we can tie the UN’s millennium goals into our curriculum – thru the dream project) today i jogged up to the griffith observatory with another colleague and friend, puffing all the while about the f#@ked up state of our school and the proper means to change it for the better (see previous rants of incompetence and times that by 4 months). it felt good to be outside, running up a trail. another sunset to appreciate. knowing that my grandmother was with me, reminding me to appreciate, to slow down, and take care of myself.

i don’t know what she did to always muster the strength and wisdom it took to raise a family, inspire strangers, and help build a movement to the one i am desperately trying to be a part of… or even if she did anything at all to hold it down the way she did. but i do know that if i am going to come anywhere close to leaving the positive impact that she left on this planet, then i cannot forget why i would want to leave this planet a better place. part of that remembering is getting out and enjoying it. part of that is allowing the planet and its inhabitants to heal me. part of that is learning how to take while giving… responsibly.

if we take the qualifier off the question and just simply ask: am i doing? then we get to the heart of the matter. i am doing. and so is my mother. you are doing… enough already. to bed with me.