Monday, April 16, 2012

His grace was my path forward

There is a concrete path leading to the basketball court, at the park we frequent.  It's an old  path-- probably paved decades ago.  It is hard and well worn.  But substantial cement slabs weren't Sadia's preferred road.

She wanted instead to make her way to the court across the soft grass.  Freshly cut blades glittered the soles of her shoes, as she raced through the delicate field.  There's no paved way through the grass; she blazed her own trail.
Source: Corbis Images
When I was her age, I ran to basketball .  I clung to it.  I'd wake up early in the morning to practice on a makeshift hoop in my back yard.  I lived for the sound of the ball crashing through the net and wanted the arch on my shot to match my dad's.  I made certain to follow-through with my arm extended in the air, just like his.  Basketball was his passion and it wasn't long before it became mine, as well.

I felt a real connection to my dad through basketball.  He provided a soft place for me to land as I learned the game at such a tender age.  He absorbed my frustration when it took what seemed an eternity to make 10 shots in a row before retiring for the night.  He knew when to push me on the court, and when to pull back, sit quietly along side me, and listen as I ranted and cried.  He cushioned my falls, and made the court a place I loved and felt loved.

I've oft wondered what my dad felt the moment I picked up his sport.  He probably felt the way I did as I watched Sadia play today.

She made her way awkwardly to the free throw line the way she always does-- with reckless abandon.  She picked up the ball and dribbled rudimentarily towards the rim.  Typically, the ball careens off of the backboard or side post.  But not today.  Today, it sailed through the net.  Suddenly, that old familiar sound rang in my ear again, SWISH!  Only this time Sadia produced it as her arm extended into the air like mine had so many times before.  Her face beamed with pride.

I knew that look.  She was hooked.

I looked on from the grass and admired her tenacity.  She landed 9 more shots after her first -- a chip off the old block.  Some time passed and the sun began to set.  Dusk beckoned, but her 10th-made shot beckoned louder.  Until then, Sadia refused to leave the court.  When the final shot hit the bottom of the net, I bubbled over with pride-- careful to temper my excitement with caution.

I am challenged daily to keep my own ascriptions at bay when it comes to my child's life decisions.  Basketball is my first love, and not necessarily hers.  Her relative success on the court today doesn't confirm a shared dream to play basketball.  At this point in her life, when it comes to sports she's still trying to find her way.

I would love it if one day Sadia chose to pursue basketball.  Exhilaration would fill my depths if one day she decided to sign up for the local NJB team.  It would give me immeasurable joy to see her take the journey that I once started years ago.  Ultimately though, the decision is hers.

I can't live vicariously through Sadia, and it would be easy to try and relive a bygone era through her simple explorations.   Basketball was my path and I was grateful for it.  Where my path was long, windy, and worn, hers seems so small, graceful, and smooth.

When Sadia barreled off the court tonight, she collapsed next to me on the grass letting her body go limp across my lap.  She glared up towards the sky, and I embraced her through a realization that she must pave her own way in life.   Will she grow to love basketball as I have?  Only time will tell.  But this thought occurred to me:

Sometimes we see a path leading towards our desires and we take it even though we don't know the journey that lies ahead.

My dad got me started down my journey of athletic aspiration.  His gentleness helped assuage my fears and insecurities along the way.   His grace was my path forward.

Friday, April 13, 2012

I delight in seeing corny people get tortured...

I am so tired of the hacks driving the national discourse.  So-called journalists that destroy meaningful dialogue and prevent the nation as a whole from moving forward.  It's a love/hate thing really.

NEWS FLASH!!!!  Today's media outlets don't start meaningful conversations, they grind them to a screeching halt.

Case in point: I read an article the other day that cited TMZ as a source.  TMZ!  Don't snub your nose, because your news source looks to Twitter.  Po-tay-to, po-taw-to.   What next, attorneys citing Wikipedia?!!  Tabloids drive our 24 hour news cycle people!!!  It's the National Inquirer on steroids!!!!!

No one likes a dialogue hog TMZ! Quit leaking news  to real sources of information like primetime media and cable networks (wink, wink, nod, nod).  These purveyors certainly don't dominate discussions and dissuade people from having any real conversations.  They don't operate under a cloak of journalistic expertise to wrest control of truth and spin it for our delicate palates.

They're the kid in front of the class practically jumping out of his seat, motioning vehemently with his arms for attention.  The excessive enthusiasm drives them to cut off and choke out streams of potentially thought-provoking national debate.  They quarantine our conversations and inflate our minds with garbage.

But media outlets aren't solely to blame for the vitriol.  They're just giving us more of what we want.  Salacious headlines appeal to our base nature.  Just look at the recent explosion of Reality TV Shows.  It's a system of supply and demand, and public appeal drags us further into an abyss like a black hole.  The source consumes the audience it panders to.  Almost cannibalistic.

E. E. Weems Goya online gallery
Francisco Goya's painting of Mercury devouring his son comes to mind.  The dark nature in Goya's painting is purposive.  It's meant to make us uneasy, much like Spain left Goya with a distinct image of humanity.  Grotesque?  Perhaps, you prefer your blood sport less bloody.

Maybe you prefer instead to feed your boredom with a steady diet of turbulence, violence, and political brutality against citizens, and then wonder why your appetites is never satisfied.

Remember the Jerry Springer era?  How many of us followed the rabbit down that hole?  Honestly!  It was garbage, but we watched with bated breath in part to satisfy our curiosity, and partly to make ourselves feel better about our own lives.  It was vile and disgusting and we gobbled it up in super-sized portions.

Reality TV today is a slightly less messy twist on the 90s tabloid talk show.  I fully realize this, and yet I tell myself, "I only watch for the (fill in the blank with any line of justification reaching for precious insight into the human condition)".  The truth is I delight in seeing corny people get tortured.  The jilted bachelorette, the American Idol rejectee stubbornly convinced of his vocal range (maybe the judges are really the ones that are tone-deaf), and Real Housewives that look more like beauty pageant contestants than actual housewives (you mean you don't perform domestic duties in six-inch stilettos, full hair, and make-up?).  It's tragic, but I have to force myself to look away.

I even discuss their lives in the lunch room over the water-cooler ad-nauseum as if their TV personas actually transcends the printed page.  Despite better judgement, I convince myself that they're real.  Come ON!  It's not like I'm watching WWF Wrestling or anything like THAT.  Everyone knows THAT stuff is totally scripted, whereas Reality TV is real.  It even has the word real in the genre.

I'm willing to admit to having my major exposure to current events fed to me by fake news shows produced by The Onion,  Jon Stewart, or Stephen Colbert?  (Naw I'm just kidding.  That stuff's real.  They're not competing for ratings or anything.)  Oh, lighten up.  It's just entertainment.  Right?

Who doesn't get lost in these 24 hour news cycles competing for our attention.  What seasoned teacher doesn't get sucked-in to the kid eager to feed her what she wants to hear.

It would be easy to blame the media who produces the embarrassingly immature content that dominates our news feeds.  But are these sources really influencing national discourse?  Or is it merely echoing public opinion?

I guess if we want to return civility back to public discourse, we must first start with self.  It isn't enough merely to point-out the need to tone down our national rhetoric.  The content is not to blame, but the sources themselves drive the conversation into the gutter in the first place.  We need to stop driving demand.   "The medium is the message" and the more of it we consume, the less critical we become.

Demanding higher standards for ourselves means that we have to expect more from the media pandering to us.  We have to build stronger reflective filters.   As my father put it we need to pick up a book!

My tv and my computer have an on/off button.   I know how to use it.  This idea may seem obvious to those of you who've already begun the practice of re-routing the source of your discourse, but controlling content for the rest of us will be a process.

As a society, we can do better.  We must do better.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

A Glory Over Dentist Racism-- Yada Yada

I'm not sure if this narrative translates well in written form or whether my writing style does it justice.  Nevertheless, I want need to document the story for future posterity.

I teach predominantly Hispanic students.  During a student lead discussion today on Ann Petry's biography, "A Glory Over Everything" (which documents Harriet Tubman's life in the 1800s)  a question of social justice emerged.  Quickly the conversation shifted towards demographics.

But first a little context:   

In 1680, blacks made up about 7 percent of the North American population.  By the mid 1700s, they accounted for more than 40 percent.  More than 90 percent of slaves lived in the South.  By 1808 Congress had outlawed the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but not slavery itself.  By this time, less than 10 percent of slaves were African-born.  

Now, back to the discussion.

Students abruptly narrowed the focus on Tubman's struggles  associated with slavery and punctuated by her life in the cotton fields.  Petry imparts Tubman's glory and triumph through her freedom songs, chants,  and quilt squares while laboring on the plantation.  

"Can anyone  connect to Tubman's experience here?" I asked awaiting my first brave volunteer.  

Since making sound connections  is always difficult for 12 year olds I allowed lots of wait time.  Suddenly, one student called out, "What was going on with Mexicans during all of this?"

There it is! I thought.  An initial attempt at a connection.  I stirred the pot.  "What do you mean?" I asked

"Well..." he said reluctantly, "...While blacks were being mistreated, how were Mexicans being treated?"

I stood quietly and let the weight of the question linger.  Seconds later Student E offered, "This reminds me of the way Mexicans are treated in the U.S. today."

"Can you support that claim? " I proded.

He continued.  "Mexicans are mistreated today, like blacks were then.  Some states are even passing laws making it legal to discriminate against Mexicans." 

A lightbulb went on in students' eyes.  Many nodded in a collective sense of discovery.  From that point, I began to frame the discussion in a context of victory.  "And for the Latino community," I asked "what  triumph will emerge from the injustice? What will stand out from their collective experience like a glory over everything?"

A few others responded, but one in particular wrapped up Student E's connection with this jewel, "a sense of community" he added.

I was so proud of the shared knowledge they had constructed.  The meaning they had strung together shone brightly like beads on a bracelet.  Eager to continue in this vein of self awareness, I moved on to another student standing on the precipice of discovery.  The hand adjacent to Student E's caught my eye.  "Student A, what connections did you make to the text?" I asked.

"This reminds me of something I saw on TV." Student A offered.

Great prelude.  Maybe Student A will share any number of social injustices saturating the news these days.  I thought to myself.  I asked Student A to be more specific.  She continued.

"Haven't you heard of dentist racism?  My mom and I were watching a show where the people were discriminating against dentists." she said, intending to be informative.

I admit, the reference escaped me.  Without sounding dismissive, I asked her to clarify.  She went on to describe a late  night show she had watched with her mom about dentist racism. 

Silence fell over the room.  

Pair by pair, I felt students eyes scan my face in desperate search for their cue.  Should I laugh?  Should I nod in agreement?  These thoughts painted their expressions.  

Again, I drew a blank but couldn't risk extinguishing Student A's delicate enthusiasm.  

All of a sudden, my Teacher's Aide erupted in laughter.  I shot a look of confusion her way.  She took a moment to gather herself -- prolonging a moment of discomfort--and in deadpan 
delivered these sage words:

"Rabid Anti-dentite."

Do you remember that episode of Seinfeld?  Student A couldn't remember the actual term coined in this clip, so she improvised dentist racism.

My students amaze me.  They make me proud.  They make me think.  The make me do double takes.  They give me stories to tell.  But most of all, they make me laugh.  And that is the glory that prevails.


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