Saturday, January 19, 2013

Gangnam Style in the Classroom: Randoms

This is going to be rambling, but here I go.  This was post was stimulated by what I saw in a classroom yesterday, but I will get to that later. 

Years ago after frustration and feeling the heartbreak that I was not appreciated as a teacher and had gotten the worse of it because of my race, I said I would never teach in America again.  I turned my back on my profession, my people, and the society.  I felt that my principal, many of my black students, and some of the white parents had taken my good intentions, enthusiasm, dedication, and concern slapped me in the face with them, threw them on the ground, and trampled them all underfoot. 

I had gone into my profession idealistic and ready to go, eager to make a deep and positive impact on young lives, but instead I had been faced with bad grades, indifference, breaking up fights in the classroom or having to run to one of my male colleagues to break up the fights, being cursed at once by a student, a parent who made it painfully clear she didn't want me to teach her little blonde daughter solely because I was black, another who subtly complained because she didn't like the fact that I taught her blonde son three different subjects. You see a black person even with a masters degree couldn't possibly be capable of giving her son a quality education because the few of us who got that far were just benefactors of the handout called affirmative action and were naturally less qualified than whites.  I faced a parent who complained I was giving too much homework, extracurricular activities were more important for her daughter than doing work at home to reinforce what she had been taught in the class. 

There was so much I faced as a young teacher so that after two years I said never again.  My soul had been slashed by knives.  My spirit deflated.  I rejected another contract for third year at that school, applied and was accepted into Peace Corps, went to the African nation of Botswana, enjoyed myself there,  felt more at home in Africa than I ever had in America, loved my students and my international set of  colleagues from various African, European, and Asian nations, loved one man in particular, it was a great romance, but it was not meant to be, came back home and went through a very dark period in my soul, recovered from the depression, and in the last few years taught English occasionally in Turkey. 

It is not easy being an educated black woman in America.  I have an Eastern bent to my mentality than most of the people I live among.  I am a hybrid of sorts, American in name but more Eastern than American.  African Americans used to be closer to our African counterparts on the continent and other Eastern people back in my grandparent's era.  My mother's parents were very much like some African and Middle Eastern people.  They were deeply religious and unselfish.  Even though they were poor they helped those they knew who were poorer and more desperate. They were devoted to the well-being of their families, hated divorced, were well liked by their communities and even by many of the whites they knew.  These were the heroes I looked at and were influenced by including my mother who is just like her beloved mother and father. They live on in her and in two of their other surviving children.  I didn't have to look to the TV and have some celebrity or sports figure as my role model.  I lived with and visited my role models. 

It is not easy to live in America.  It's even more difficult and lonely if you refuse to model yourself after everyone else.  The is a recipe to being an American, and most people follow that recipe.   Blacks expect you to be just like them, and whites expect you to be a version of their envisioned stereotype.   All my life I have longed to be free to be me, not have some vision of who I am supposed to be imposed on me by my own people or white people. 

I would say that life has gone nothing like I had hoped partly because I was very different from most in my environment from almost the very beginning.  At various points in my life I have been an outcast.  Other times I was applauded, usually by foreigners and a few others.  I've had few real friends. Either I got bored and frustrated with them or they got bored with me.  I refused to settle for less, so I have been often alone with mainly my family except in the last few years.  For a long time I have felt more at home with non-Americans than I have Americans.  I am not an optimist like many Americans.  I am more of a fatalist and realist, but I am attracted to mysticism.  The world of the mind and of a higher plain outside of what we can see with the physical eye is more real to me sometimes than the absurdity of this world.  

I have come back and for better or worse I am going to try and help my people again.  I have been substitute teaching randomly in the last several years when I was not teaching English in Turkey.  When I was certified to teach in my state, I could teach anywhere from grades 4 to 12, but after elementary school I was confined to only the subjects of social studies and English which are my two favorite areas.  If the children in these groupings are not taught love of learning and respect for teachers and other adults by this age there is very little that can be done, I feel.  This may sound harsh and discouraging to some, but by second or third grade many kids in this country are infested with arrogance and dislike learning.  Many including people in the government blame the schools, but few are courageous enough to blame the parents, but maybe they don't because of their own guilt over their lax parenting.  Some say the schools are grooming kids for our prison industrial complex, and yes the way some schools are formulated, this is probably true, but a lot of parents are also aiding in their kids' downfall.  Then at the same time there is the threatening cloud of the state taking away people's kids if there is the accusation of abuse which can come even if a parent is not being abusive, but is only trying to discipline an unruly child.  The system we live under craves more prison inmates and just sits there like some big predatory fish with his mouth wide open for small fish to just swim right in.

Next week I begin an experiment to help my people. I will be teaching a course at a local community center on African historical figures from J.A. Rogers' first volume of World's Great Men of Color.   I have Facebook friends who live in other countries, a few who help and try to enlightened others.  They have been a big influence on me and an inspiration even though I haven't met any of them face to face.  They write prose and poetry, have gatherings to talk about geopolitics and write articles about wars and their consequences. Some are guests on international news networks that I watch online.  Some have gone on peace missions, and organize and go to demonstrations.  In other words they are trying to make a difference, a phrase commonly said in this country.   I am invited to some of their gatherings, but sadly I live too far.  Even though my residence is in a small city with a huge state university, this place is an intellectual and cultural wasteland.  I was a part of a writer's group for almost four years, but no deep and honest critiquing of anyone's work was done, When the leader of the group become so self obsessed, stop coming with anything to read and only wanted to talk about gifts she got from her grandson and men, I quit silently without saying another word to her or sending an e-mail.  I was also a part of what I call a pseudo-intellectual group run by some so-called friends who are Turkish.  They are mostly doctoral students, but they don't seem to have the dedication or level of knowledge to be Ph.D candidates. To me is it very strange to sit in a room with a group of people working on higher degrees who are too afraid to voice their own opinions.  I got tired of being one of four openly expressing my views in that group when all the rest were too afraid to open their mouths.

Recently I was invited to a gathering of black ladies, but after sitting through a presentation given by the head of the local Red Cross, a middle aged, dyed blonde, fat, white female who acted like she was still God's gift to men I said I would not go to a second meeting which I was invited to.  I've so tired of going to some prosaic gathering dressed up as something interesting and refreshing when it really isn't just to get out of the house.  I like my own company better than being bored to the edge of insanity.

As to Gangnam Style, it has replaced one of Justin Bieber's songs in some of the elementary schools here.  The pre-K and kindergarten set require more than Mary Had a Little Lamb and The Itsy Bitsy Spider nowadays.  Such nursery rhymes and childhood songs just don't cut it with kids raised on TV and Gameboys.  Learning must be backed up by entertainment or the kids go cold to it and stay jittery.  Yesterday I worked in a pre-K class and the parapro couldn't get the kids to pay much attention to swaying houses with lyrics about numbers and days of the week, but when she pulled up a version of  Psy's Gangnam Style on the smart board, the kids were all eyes.  They wouldn't dance before but when Psy and a woman dancing in hot pants, garters, and police cap got on the screen they did.  At four they are already being conditioned to become disciples of fads and commercialized entertainment like the rest of the population.  Today's media is extremely adroit in indoctrinating all ages.  It was sad to see that early they are learning to conform to what doesn't promote art and culture, the here today gone tomorrow opiates that the media pushes down their throats.  Learning for learning sake died some time ago in this country.  It is advocated in educational circles that education and entertainment must be wed in the American classroom.  American kids need an assortment of extras to get excited about learning.  Still so many of them fall short.

I liked the parapro at the school today.  Despite hating her choice of putting up a video of Gangnam Style, I guess she felt the only way she could grab the attention of a large class of 4 year olds, a number of which were highly jittery was to start up a popular pop song. She and I sat together at recess and talked, finding common ground since both of us plan to take the state teacher's certification exam this spring.  She even asked me about myself.  Often as a substitute teacher and being a black woman people just expect that you probably have only a high school diploma or less.  Most don't ask me about myself. Living abroad where people were often curious about me resulted in my being spoiled a little. I was more visible abroad and sometimes got weary of the attention.  At the schools here they probably couldn't imagine that I have taught both here and internationally and that I have a higher degree.  Sometimes as a substitute I feel invisible, but I make myself feel better about that invisibility by conducting myself professionally and dressing better than the majority of the teachers.  I still believe in professionalism in attire on the job.  In Botswana and Turkey the standards for dress at work were higher than here.  It's difficult for me to go to schools and see teachers dressed in jeans, tennis shoes, and some even showing cleavage.  What happened to high standards and dress codes?   

I don't worry so much about the majority or white culture around me.  My concern is for my people.  I am not sure there is much hope for us locked into an alien identity that has scarred us.  I am not saying that all white people are bad, but there is so much that is wrong in the culture which destroys lasting human connections on so many levels.  I remained connected to my ancestral values mainly due to how I was taught by my mother and witnessed from her parents.  My father is very American in his outlook.  He admits that even as a child he dreamed of having what white people had.  His family was not close and very dysfunctional.  He and some other family members say they don't like having people coming around visiting all the time.  In all the years that he visited his in-laws he never allowed himself to open my grandparents' refrigerator once even though almost everyone they allowed into their home were treated with hospitality.  You're at home, my grandmother would say.  I wonder how my grandparents felt about my father never trying to really make himself at home for all those years.  Dad's mother grew up in an abusive and violent home and then married my grandfather who drank, was abusive and unfaithful.  He said she would tell him to never accept food at the home of his friends even if he was offered it.  I feel the suspicion, competitiveness, narcissism, and paranoia that some of the members of my father's family have, including himself, are some of the worse symptoms of white American culture.  However, despite the differences I've had with my father and continue to have I must say that one spot I praise him in is that he has successfully run a small business for many years and states that black people must become more independent, productive, and have their own businesses.

So this is my rambling post.  I guess I just wanted to get a few things off my mind even though this was inspired by seeing little kids dance to Gangnam Style in a classroom.  I wonder often where are we going as people.  It never gets better despite all of the so-called improvements, all the "grand" propaganda that is touted.  It will never get better until we examine ourselves and realize where we are heading.  


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