Wednesday, January 22, 2014

For You and You and You...

A student angered me a little today. He felt that I was not teaching enough of the white male experience. Although he seemed to acknowledge learning a lot about White people in the text and just about everywhere, he felt that my lectures should also be devoted to uncovering that curriculum oversight. People talk about teachers being parents and mentors but I have to say the emotional restraint I demonstrated in that moment can only be compared to something I would do if I were born on Krypton. If ever there were a time to add superhero to the list of what teachers really are...That P90X must really be working.

I've mentioned my tendency to obsess so in an effort to get some sleep tonight, I wrote out what I intend to say to the kid tomorrow. I thought I'd share.

"The importance of teaching an inclusive curriculum is two-fold: people of color can't continue to either not see themselves at all or only as victims and White people need to understand that the greatness that is the United States did not come without the blood, sweat, and tears of African-descended peoples, Native peoples, Raza, Asians, non-Christians, women, non-heterosexual peoples, poor people, and colonized people. And if I can take it one step further, the persecution and existence of said people would not exist had it not been for the capitalist, imperialist ventures that occupy "whiteness."

"It's uncomfortable to be put in a position where your paradigm has shifted, where you are momentarily not the altruistic protagonist. And that's right. That's the point. So my goal isn't that you remember specific names and dates and places when you leave here. I want you to remember why you felt uncomfortable. My hope is that one day when you are confronted with something that removes you from that place where you are the hero of the story, that you think critically about how you arrived in your situation, how that person arrived at theirs. And I'm only asking for those few seconds of thought. That would be success for me."

I've been somewhat cataloging the reactions from the more conservative elements in the room.

When I called the Bracero program yet another example of the US' "immigration of convenience," he almost tossed his desk at me.

When I talked about the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, I got a reluctant nod and a mumbled "that was pretty bad."

Atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki? A very enthusiastic hand raise with five minutes on how it "wasn't as bad as they would have us believe." Whenever I ask who "they" is, it somehow ends up being Obama so I just stopped asking.

Seeing as how I am not a viewer of Fox News, I am particularly unfamiliar with this perspective on history and events and I must say while fascinating to watch, it scares the mess out of me.

Kids in another class would often joke with me about my seemingly rigid rules for Omar. In their defense, I did say he didn't need to go trick-or-treating because that was just begging people for stuff and he can get his own candy when he's old enough to get a job to pay for it. But I did end up taking him trick-or-treating.

The one thing I wouldn't budge on was Disney princess movies. I explained to the kids that it didn't have anything to do with heterosexual romances and why as a culture we insist on hetero-sexualizing children from birth, although that was part of it. I said that it is because as a male, I can see that he is learning a gender identity that includes women waiting on him constantly. If Omar wants some juice in my house, he gets it himself. If he needs me to do something for him, he asks and says "please." If he starts screaming and yelling, he doesn't get it. I make one dinner; if he doesn't like it, guess who isn't eating? While it seems harsh, the alternative seems worse--thinking that someone is waiting around for the kiss, just to pledge their devotion to someone they've known for all of three seconds, just seems to be the wrong way to raise children to have healthy friendships, colleagues, relationships, and commitments.

And that seems to be the same interrogation of privilege that I am trying to teach students. Crossing my fingers on that one.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Worrier

When my son's teacher said "we need to talk," I might have obsessed over it for a few days. It was probably a week and a half. I asked my colleagues and friends and shot out ideas about what could be the issue. I mulled over my parenting missteps over the last month, weeks, days, and hours. I came up with a pretty long list from too much television, to not washing his hands all the way that one time, to microwaving his dinner rather than making something hot off the stove. After days of this, when I went to drop him off at school and asked his teacher how I should set up an appointment, she said "I've been meaning to apologize for my lack of tact. I know you're a worrier." Dang, that obvious?

I realized that a good majority of my neuroses has more to do with what I'm frightened of rather than some quirky little tick that I have. All the cleaning? I'm worried about disease...and smells, definitely bad smells. The organic-panic? Disease again. I can stick in a word or two on nutrition but it's really about disease. Vegan? Disease. Hating close-talkers? Disease. Over-exercising? Disease. Disease. Disease. My obsession with reading? Probably not disease-related, but I can think of something soon enough.

Back to my son's school, we somehow got on the topic of my teeth. Strangers, co-workers, friends, and family--somehow the topic of my teeth comes up I'd say about once per week. I get it: they are very white and straight, especially considering I haven't had anything done to them except for when I brushed them so much I literally brushed away the gums and had to have some grafting done. But never a cavity nor braces. I have enjoyed comments from dentists: "I never make any money off you" or "I could torture you by pretending to scrape but there really isn't anything to scrape." Someone once asked me how long my teeth-brushing ritual is each night. I said that I once got up during a commercial break to brush, floss, etc. and came back and it was still on the commercial break, or so I thought. I later figured out it was the next commercial break. Point is, they are a conversation-starter just as they were this particular day at preschool. So my son's teacher said something, and I said, "it's actually a problem for me since I've spent most of my life brushing my teeth...probably." She laughed which was a good thing since that meant she thought I was exaggerating (as if!) and then got this really thoughtful look on her face and said "well, that explains it." She went on to explain that my son really likes things in a particular way and gets really focused on getting things just right and gets super bent out of shape when things don't go his way. I said "if OCD isn't hereditary, then it is certainly contagious (disease!)" and I decided at that moment that vis-a-vi Oprah, I would "let it go and let it flow." So with this being resolution-season, here are the Top Ten Things I Am Not Tripping Over in 2014:

10) What you're doing and by "you" I mean the Kardashians. Fortunately I assume there won't be any more proposals that interrupt commuting so we might be all good anyway.

9) What you're doing and by "you" I mean selfie-takers (Kardashians included here too). I'm not sure of the depth of self-esteem-searching found when someone does a rep or two at the gym or puts on a bathing suit when she isn't at a beach or pool then snaps a picture and posts it for the world to see then waits for the obligatory "you look great" comments to roll in just to reply back with some sort of "oh stop" BUT I don't want to be a part of it!

8) My dress size. I am really starting to be convinced that those sizes are manipulated just to send women to Weight Watchers meetings in droves so I'm good with that too.

7) Obama-haters. I can't keep up with where we are in the he's too Black/not Black enough dialog anyway. My thought is that he is a politician and a president which really means his main objective is to appease meaning he can't be the Socialist/Atheist/Border-opening/No-war having/Free-university-education-giving leader I want him to be anyway but yo, he's the FIRST BLACK PRESIDENT of this country and only one person in all of history can say that and he's smooth too...He's definitely alright in my book.

6) Organic, non-seasonal, non-local produce. I've spent a good amount of time at Whole Foods staring at the organic Peruvian bananas in December. I start thinking, those suckers are pretty pricey. Did we jack up the price like we did quinoa so Peruvians can't get a decent banana? In Nicaragua, it's pretty much beans, bananas, and rice so I know Latinos would be hurting without our bananas and their plaintain cousins. Then I start thinking, how did they get here? Were they picked too early so they would be yellow by the time they got here? Shouldn't "organic" also include how it got here? I mean, it's one thing to go without the pesticides when it's in the ground but I'm kinda thinking I want those chemicals back if the fruit is making some wild 5,000 mile sea, air, and land trip to get to me. See that? It's too much so I'll just keep it local and quit staring at the bananas.

5) Omar's Spanish pronunciation. He's a toddler so he has that lisp which means when he speaks Spanish, he sounds Cuban. I got yelled at a lot for funky pronunciations (I can't even say when I was just a kid because I still get yelled at) and it's made me super self-conscious about speaking Spanish especially around native speakers so I just avoid it or try to say things that don't have the letter "r" in it (pretty much impossible). Needless to say, I get out of practice and I'm really hoping my son speaks better Spanish than me so for now, "uno, doth, breast" will have to do.

4) Painting my nails. I've spent a lot of time and money on my nails and it's not like it's an investment so I'm pretty much done with that.

3) My Suze Orman plan. Not because it isn't the best but because I have it down so well, I can pretty much follow the steps by rote. It's kinda cheating but at least I'm not reviewing the book over and over again.

2) What you're doing and by "doing" I mean tagging me in pictures where I am sweaty or prior to my introduction to tweezers. Just ask: if this were a picture of me, would I want it all over the internet? Save me the obsessive staring!

1) The past. I read once that we seem to hold on to the period in our lives where we think we did our best. For me, that's the 90s. Most of the music in my iPhone is from that decade. When I go for runs, I think about how in the 90s, I used to be able to run ten miles, take a shower, then hang out all night. I think about all the great people I met in the 90s and all the fun we used to have. In my reminiscing, I forget how those valuable friendships are in the present and how I can travel most anywhere in the world and hang out with someone I met in the 90s and pick up like we never lost any time. I lose track of the great artistic things happening now, that I can do now, because of what sparked my interest in the 90s. But more importantly , when I'm thinking about my high school and college graduations, I forget that I have my son's high school and college graduations to look forward to, my own doctoral graduation to look forward to, and sparking an interest in athletics and arts, travel and languages for my son, creating a better version of the caring and curious person I once was and hope to still be.

So that's my new obsession and my focus for 2014.