Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

On heroing

Once upon a college-time, I found myself so useless–to myself, to others, to the world–that I wanted to die.

I challenged myself to find one thing I liked about myself; if I didn’t, I’d kill myself. If I could find one thing, though, I figured I could probably find more … with some patience.

I decided my calves were pretty rad. Seeing that one good thing paved the way for my sticking around to see more, so that one little thing meant everything: choosing life, as opposed to suicide.

Over time, I came to have faith in words. I understood them and became adept at shaping them to express precisely what I meant.

Then I began reading Neil Postman, who helped me understand some of the biases in words and word combinations, particularly English ones. Nouns are especially appropriate to represent some physical items (table; car; sandwich), but help create the illusion of stasis in some more dynamic “things” (language; people; school).

There’s a lot to this, but some of the biggest questions Postman opened for me were about this illusion of stasis, or unchangeability. By referring to “language” instead of “languaging,” English speakers may perceive language as an unchanging behemoth instead of sets of ongoing processes. By referring to people by individual, set names, we tell ourselves each person is one relatively stable unit instead of a changeable, changing entity who does the hard, ongoing work of “personing” in a rapidly changing world.

Some statements presented as fact aren’t, really.

“Projection,” as the term is used by semanticists such as Korzybski and Hayakawa, means that we transfer our own feelings and evaluations to objects outside of us. For example, we say, “John is stupid” or “Helen is smart,” as if “stupidity” and “smartness” were characteristics of John and Helen. A literal translation of “John is stupid” (that is, its most scientific meaning) might go something like this: “When I perceive John’s behavior, I am disappointed or distressed or frustrated or disgusted. The sentence I use to express my perceptions and evaluation of these events is ‘John is stupid.'”

When we say, “John is stupid,” we are talking about ourselves much more than we are talking about John. And yet, this fact is not reflected at all in this statement.

Language might actually be used to conceal more than it reveals.

At first, it felt liberating to be able to see some of the processes behind purported “things” I’d wrongly perceived as more or less stable. Slowly, though, it destroyed my faith in something that had almost always been a bedrock for me: that I could set forth words that showed precisely what I meant to almost everyone who read them. But if meaning is projected onto words by a perceiver instead of simply absorbed as stated, what I stated was far less important than the meanings being projected onto my words by readers/hearers.

With everything apparently objective revealed as potentially quite subjective, then, I lost faith in my ability to English-language … or that there was much merit in bothering to even try. I was especially disturbed by one kind of illusion I began seeing everywhere, especially in my own words: one of scale. Words can help things I’d consider enormous seem small, and can give small things an illusion of comparative enormity.

For example: If it’s a “disaster” when I flub an important meeting, what is it–apart from, of course, a crime–when hundreds of thousands of people lose their homes and retirement funds due to the bad behavior of a small number of extraordinarily powerful bankers? When those bankers aren’t even held accountable, but slapped on the hand by having less-than-incremental fees effectively taken from investors … as punishment? (How is that “punishment”? How does that deter abuse of power?)

If it’s “crushing” to remember a particularly bad memory, what is it, then, when entire villages are literally crushed by American-sold (and, often, -dropped) bombs? Especially when many of those bombs are “gifts” that keep giving for decades to come?

If an especially tasty hot dog can be “awesome,” then what’s the feeling you get standing and looking upon grand portions of the Grand Canyon?

If it’s “amazing” to get a great bonus at work, what is is when a family is granted asylum … and thus given a chance at life when they’d have almost certainly died had they stayed in their (prior) home?

With so many hard-to-see flaws in tools of meaning conveyance, words, I stopped seeing the point of trying to negotiate them.

If I was no longer a(n effective) worker-of-words … what was I, even?

Last week, I was fairly bludgeoned–multiple times daily, each day–by a word that I’d always translated as representing goodness. Read more…


I dream the world for you

Oh, sweet child born into poverty and abuse,

I have a story to tell you.

It’s a story about me, but it’s also a story about you.

My mom was twenty years old when her then-future husband–my dad–tried giving her away before their wedding.

She stuck with it. She stuck with him. Back then, she believed she had the power to change him. She would win him over with her love, her cooking, and her tender, joyous care for the children she would bring him. Read more…

Beyond where stars twinkle

I held
my sister’s hand
on her sofa in Portland
(and also Metropolis)
as we finished watching
The Man of Steel

I thought how
wondrous it is how
we humans create
such marvelous
fictional problems,
and (often)

Where filmmakers
and authors fail,
others offer
and even thousands

How hopeful!

We humans
are good at
creating problems
but we are also
about resolving them,
politics usually excluded Read more…


This morning, my six-year-old son asked if he could stay home from school.

I asked him why.

“I’m stupid,” he told me.

“Oh, sweetie. You’re not stupid. Why do you say that?”

“I do everything wrong,” he replied before rolling over and burying his head under a pillow.

Trying to conceal how stricken I was, I said with as much calm as I could muster, “Sweetie, the fact you feel that way means something is wrong, but it isn’t you. It’s in you being forced to ‘learn’ through worksheet after worsheet that prepare you for test-taking instead of helping you learn by real world exploration and play. At my iob, they understand everyone learns different ways–but most of all by really doing, not by doing pile after pile of repetetive worksheets–and they encourage that! But then I send you to school, and you are expected to be like everyone else and learn like everyone else and show your learning in the exact same way. Teachers lose when testing is everything. Parents lose. Kids lose. You aren’t stupid, sweetie. It’s adults who are doing everything wrong, and I am so sad you are suffering for it.”

I only barely did not cry, a fact that has barely remained true throughout the morning so far.

I must work. My law degree and bills won’t pay themselves.

I like working. I don’t feel like I’m abandoning my kids when I am doing something that challenges me and they love what they are doing.

But when one of my kids is miserable and my short-term solution is “just keep sucking it up as best you can, mmkay?” then I feel like I am abandoning.

That it’s not my child who’s failing, but I who am failing him.

To Big D with Love

A decade and a half ago, my brother dropped out of high school.

Today, he received his M.Ed.

I’ve never seen him smile so wide for so long.


With or without any piece of paper touting any accomplishment, I am proud of him.

Today, I am proud and thrilled, seeing his smile and knowing he will inspire many students in the years ahead.

I am so proud.

We are so proud.


Categories: Education, Family Tags: , ,

Soul-crushing number-crunching

You know how I usually try to be eloquent?

Not tonight.

‘Cause, you know …

You know what’s even worse than three hours in traffic daily?

My first grade son’s homework.

After 90 minutes of driving, we get home at 4:30 p.m., which early arrival is thanks to a flexible work schedule at a company I’m excited to call my employer next week.

Do I get to spend my evening at-home time hanging out with my kids, having fun and celebrating our closeness?

No. I get to spend it trying to keep my six-year-old on task through an hour of homework that doesn’t challenge him to be more inquisitive, more incisive, or better prepared to rock the workforce when he later enters it.

By the time he’s done with his soul-crushing number-crunching, his younger brother is already in bed, and it’s time for me to start his bedtime. So I’ve “helped” him complete a bunch of banal worksheets that don’t much appear to enhance his learning–not a knock against his lovely teacher, just how things are nationwide currently–at the cost of getting to spend an hour just sitting and joyously being together, the way I remember once doing with my siblings.

Categories: Education Tags: , , , ,

To life! To learning! To love!

My last Freshly Pressed post was a letter to my deceased mother: abused, abuser, and so much more than either of those two words could ever tell you. In that post, I wrote to my mom:

You loved [Little Golden Books] more than any of the countless others you brought home in my childhood, telling me and my siblings that knowledge would bring us freedom. It would be our key out of poverty.

I bawl every time I read that post. In a thousand words, it’s what I always thought it would take me hundreds of thousands of words to tell her.

But why am I thinking of that post today? Why, indeed! Read more…

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